Saturday, November 29, 2008

What the duty of holding fast means

This post looks at the text that heads up this blog. Revelation 2:24-25 “I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”

Undoubtedly we live in an evil day. What we have in these words from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ is valuable counsel for His Church in the midst of an evil day. “That which ye have already, hold fast”. To hold fast implies that when we make a sincere and open profession of the truth there will be significant opposition in our way and there will be great difficulties and even danger in fulfilling this duty.

Holding fast also implies that in an evil day our main responsibility and duty is to retain and maintain the heritage or deposit of truth with which we have been entrusted: “I will put none other burden upon you”. “Hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This is our basic duty. It may take all of our energy just to swim against the high waves of opposition and iniquity, even just to hold our ground. The man who slackens to attend to anything else while swimming against the tide will never succeed in either task by which his attention is divided.

Christ gives us “none other burden”, we are not to take additional burdens from anyone else. Men love to add burdens, the Pharisees piled duties upon the people which blinded them to the real necessities of their responsibility towards God. “I have spoken to them the great things of my law, but they were accounted as a strange thing”. The apostolic Church could say of their synodical decrees “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things’ (Acts 15:28).

In a day of small things men like to add new burdens in the Church of God. They bring in inventions of their own, innovations in the worship of God which are neither commanded nor necessary. These are the burdens of men and they hinder rather than help us in holding fast. It is gross disobedience to “teach for doctrines the commandments of men”. Others will remove from the testimony and water down the whole counsel of God in order to make the truth more palatable to a rebellious age. This too is forbidden. We are to maintain the whole truth and nothing but the truth: “that which ye have already, hold fast”. “Earnestly contend for the saints once delivered to the saints”.

Men also like to bind burdens on the people of God which will detract from a careful and holy profession of Christ. There were trends in the Church in Thyatira which encouraged walking closely with the world, conforming in certain areas to whatever was required in the trade guilds such as eating in the temples of idols. No doubt there were those who could justify it from the perspective of building bridges with the world but the truth is, as in our own day, that those who advocate running to the same places of sinful pleasure with the world are not extending the influence of the Church in the world but rather that of the world in the Church. Such are seeking to weaken the grip of the Christian and even wrestle out of their grasp the burden that Christ has given to them. In the natural world we often see a bird find a morsel of food, no sooner than he can make away with it in his beak he is pursued by another and then by several birds harrying and chasing to see if they can make him drop his prized meal. So it is with the Christian, no sooner does he take up a profession of the Saviour and the world, the flesh and the devil are all upon him to see if they can make him lose that which he must hold fast.

What we must hold fast
We must hold fast the full deposit of truth and sound words as it has been once delivered in the Scriptures. This is emphasised throughout the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

We must not seek to hold merely the bare minimum; we have not been called to reduce the burden for our own ease. The Church must hold to all that it has received. If we do not maintain our heritage what deposit of truth will there be for future generations? We must seek to hold fast in order to pass the deposit of truth on to the succeeding generation, that is truly guarding or preserving it. That is truly holding fast.

The Church must be agreed on the confession that it is collectively holding fast (Hebrew 10:23 & Philippians 3:16) hence the value of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms which are accurate summaries of the truth. Hence also the value of subscribing all of these truths and professing them to be our own personal confession, ‘holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience’. There is a sacred deposit of truth, the form of sound words. This must be maintained and asserted at all costs. Many believe that the old truths are outworn and must give place to new ideas. They believe that we can improve on what we have received. They believe that we must lower the biblical standard so that we can arrive at something more acceptable to a greater number of people. Needless to say, this is not holding fast the truth.

One vital way of holding fast in this connection is the instruction of the young within the Church. They must receive the knowledge of the truth. A great encouragement in this work is Isaiah 59:21: “My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever”. This promise guarantees the continuance of a profession of the truth but it does not thereby take away our responsibility to instruct our seed. That responsibility is enjoined in Deuteronomy 29:29 “those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law”. This is a solemn duty and privilege. Fathers, elders, ministers must be vitally concerned that the children of the visible Church are immersed in the truth. (Deut 6:1)

God willing, we may be able to look at how we must hold fast in a future post.