Jesus Himself, is speaking here, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write.” The glorified Savior is speaking to the apostle John on the isle of Patmos. “These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” That’s Jesus Himself!
Jesus is speaking here to the true church, the true people of God. Listen to what He says to this small but beautiful congregation. “I know thy works: for thou hast little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” Listen again to what He says in our text, “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” The wicked have nothing in the way of salvation, and certainly they have no crown that can be taken away. Clearly, therefore, Jesus is speaking here to the true people of God.
It follows, therefore, that this exhortation will certainly be heeded. These words of Jesus do not imply, that it is indeed possible for this people of God to let go of what they have, principally and permanently, and still lose their crown. There is no falling away of the saints. God’s church will hold fast and no man will take her crown. True, the church as we know and see her in the world, the church visible and institute, a certain congregation or denomination, our Protestant Reformed denomination, can certainly lose what it has. What was once the true church can in time become the false; what began in the light can end in total darkness. Therefore the more, as members of God’s church in the world: Hold fast that thou hast! However, the true church cannot fall away; will persevere to the end. “No man“, says Jesus, shall pluck them out of my hand.” “I am persuaded that neither death nor life . . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” “We are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
Even so, there is room for this admonition, and this earnest exhortation comes to this very church and people of God, collectively and individually, “Hold that fast which thou hast!”
What do we have, and to what must we hold fast?
Centrally, all that we have may be summed up in one blessed name: Christ Jesus.
This word of God is not referring merely to something outward: church membership, sound doctrine. Beware that you don’t forsake the truth or go along with them who corrupt the doctrine! That’s not enough. That alone does not give a crown of life, however important sound doctrine may be and however true that we cannot do without it. Your conception of doctrine may be ever so sound, you may be ever so Reformed and have ever so wide a knowledge of Scripture and confessions. That does not make you a Christian or give you a part in the kingdom of God. Make no mistake about that!
Jesus is speaking here of a spiritual (not formal) possession of Himself. “Hold that fast which thou hast” means therefore: hold fast to your Christ!
In connection with that Christ as the central benefit of God’s grace, the eternal Word become flesh, the Fount of all our salvation, “That which thou hast” refers to all the benefits of salvation in Him. In Christ we have the saving knowledge of God the Father; the assurance that He has elected us unto eternal life; the assurance that He has loved us with an everlasting love; the assurance that He will dwell with us and we may dwell with Him in unending covenant fellowship. In Christ we have the knowledge of atonement, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, eternal reconciliation with God. In Christ we have the hope of eternal life; the promise of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away; heaven; glory without end; everything.
“Hold that fast which thou hast” means, therefore: hold fast to your God, your election, the love of God, the covenant of God, your atonement, forgiveness, justification, preservation, hope, promise, heaven, everything!
That presupposes, on the one hand, that there are all kinds of enemies who do all they can to rob us of what we have, to persuade or compel us to let loose. How true this is we all know by hard experience.
You know who they are: Satan himself and his hellish legions, millions and billions of wicked spirits: the whole, manifold, deadly power of the world; the carnal seed in the church.
You know their purpose: to deprive us of what we have; the Word of God itself if possible; the true conception of the Word of God: Christ and all His benefits: God and His covenant life and friendship.
You know their methods: persuasion and force. Sometimes they come as angels of light, with their cunning and deceit, their subtle philosophy and false doctrines, their promises of honor and fame, wealth and pleasure. Then again they will come as roaring lions, with mockery and scorn, prison and torture-racks, stakes and scaffolds. But always their purpose is the same: to make us let loose, cause us to fumble.
Those enemies have always been. They were present at the time Jesus wrote these words to the tiny church of Philadelphia. Throughout history they tormented the church of Jesus Christ. They are with and round about us today, more numerous, more hateful, more dangerous than ever.
The exhortation has them in mind. Hold fast!
On the other hand, it is presupposed that in us, the people of God, there is always the tendency to let loose, to fumble. We are such stumbling Christians. Our old nature allies itself with that mortal enemy. That the real triumvirate, that threatens our spiritual life: Satan, the world, our own flesh. Often we are inclined to waver and yield because of fear. When that lion begins to roar in his great fury and show his ugly teeth, when the enemy threatens with fire and sword, we’re afraid. Then again we tend to make common cause with the foe, simply because we are one with him by nature, we love the darkness rather than the light, the world rather than God and His kingdom. And so there is the constant danger that we relent, fall asleep, fail to go all out in this battle against the forces of darkness.
Therefore, hold fast! Church of God, redeemed in Christ, young people – hold fast! Hold fast to your Christ, His atoning death, His resurrection; hold fast to your God, your election. His love, His covenant; hold fast to your salvation, your hope, the everlasting and sure promises of your God! Don’t let loose! Don’t fumble! Hold fast by much prayer – your only strength. Hold fast by seeking the things of God, not those of the world. Hold fast by fighting all sin, in doctrine and life.
Hold fast by clinging in faith to the whole infallible Word of God. In this life all that we have is contained for us in the Holy Scriptures, and in the Scriptures only. That does not mean, that all who have the Bible also have Christ and all His riches. It does mean, that you cannot have the latter, possess Christ and all His benefits, rejoice in them, grow in them, hold fast to them, without the Bible. Hold fast, therefore, to that Word of God. Know it, study it, personally and as societies, prayerfully and spiritually. The truth must not be on the shelf; it must live in your minds and hearts. And hold fast to the pure Word of God, the true conception of that Word. Remember, all departure from the truth deprives us of the Word itself and obscures, blurs our vision of Christ, of God, of your salvation. In that case the Bible itself may be ever so pure and true, but you are not tuned in properly, your picture is not clearly focused. Every departure from the truth, therefore, results inevitably in losing that which you have. You are substituting the lie for the truth; the word of man for the Word of God. That applies especially to those great truths that have always been the bone of contention in the history of the church; human depravity, election, the death of Christ, irresistible grace, the perservation of the saints, God’s sovereignty and free, unconditional salvation.
Now, how must all this be understood?
Does our salvation after all depend on ourselves? Just a bit? A tiny, little bit? Is it so, that God prepared for us a crown of life in Jesus Christ; that this crown can still be lost if we let go; and that we can do just that if we so desire? Hence, the ultimate victory depends on man himself. The crown is God’s: the holding fast is ours.
Of course not! The Christian’s crown cannot be lost. God’s child cannot let loose. Salvation is of the Lord! “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” That grace is irresistible. “It is God which worketh in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philipp. 2:13. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philipp 1:6. And what does Jesus say in this very letter to Philadelphia? “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.” God works our entire salvation with divine, eternal, immutable sovereignty. All this is our absolute guarantee that no man shall pluck us out of the Father’s hand.
Hold fast to that too! That the Christian cannot let loose! That God preserves to the very end! That you are safe in the hands of your eternal God and His mighty Son!
God deals with His people, not as stocks and blocks, but as moral, rational living creatures. He saves us in such a way, that we are made to fight, to love, to be faithful, to hold fast, to believe, to persevere; that our salvation may be our personal victory, the reward of our labors.
Therefore it is certainly true, that those who do not hold fast will receive no crown. There is no victory without a battle, no reward without labor, no crown without a cross, no glory without the struggle and perseverance of faith. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” Rev. 3:5. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God.” Rev 3:12.
Therefore there is room for this and other admonitions. God works by the Spirit and the Word. We need them; are not saved without them.
However, when we heed them, and this we shall, it is not our own work, but that of God’s grace in and through us.
Thus man is active indeed in the work of His salvation, but the glory is God’s alone. Remember, Jesus is speaking here, not to the dead sinner, but to His regenerated sheep; not to the flesh, therefore, but to our faith. And that living faith responds, by the power of the Spirit: Hold fast I will!
Thus we know, come what may, that no man can take our crown.
Hold fast, therefore, whatever the price in blood and tears!
Remember always: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
PEACE, by Jim Jonker
The sounding surf so surgingly
Pounds the sandy shore;
The wrathful waves break ceaselessly
And ragingly they roar.
The howling, whistl’ing, whipping wind
Blasts a salty sandy spray.
Nature has no peace nor rest
As I look up to pray.
And then I see His star-lit heavens;
The soft moon shines above.
In my heart and nature there is peace
For He looks down in love.