Have you ever feared that your faith might fail? Have you worried you might not be able to “hold out” or “hold on” in the long, arduous journey of the Christian life?
Robert Harkness (1880–1961) was a gifted Australian pianist who traveled the world in his twenties with the famous evangelist R.A. Torrey. One night, at an evangelistic rally in Canada, Harkness met a young man, recently converted, who feared he might not be able to “hold out.” Harkness longed for the young man, and countless others impacted by the revival meetings, to have confidence deep in their souls that their finishing the race, and keeping the faith, did not fall finally to themselves. He wanted this young man and others to know that God finishes what he starts.
Jude celebrates God’s keeping power in his beloved doxology: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). It’s a truth the apostle Paul often rehearsed, as he did with the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And when he told the Thessalonians, “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). And when he testified of his own endurance, that the decisive cause of his pressing on was not his own reaching and pushing but “because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).
Yes, Paul pressed on. He was diligent. He labored. He applied himself. He strained to endure and increasingly make Jesus his own. But he knew that all his striving and enduring was enabled decisively by the power of Christ, who had made him his own and would certainly hold him fast.
Weakness, Sin, and Satan
The young convert in Canada was not wrong to doubt his own ability to “hold out” or “hold on.” Indeed, he should have doubted himself, as we also should doubt ourselves. But what the young man didn’t yet know deep in his soul was that his perseverance in the faith wasn’t simply left to him. When God truly has started the work, he will finish it (Philippians 1:6). If Jesus has made us his own, he will be faithful to keep us till the end (1 Thessalonians 5:24; Hebrews 10:23).
And not simply from our own sin and weakness and proneness to wander, but also from satanic attack. He will “guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Jesus prayed for his people the night before he died, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) — and the Father never fails to answer this prayer for those who are truly his Son’s.
God Will Do It
After the unsettling conversation with the Canadian convert, Harkness wondered how he might help other Christians celebrate the power of God’s sustaining hand in our perseverance and have this sweet truth bore deep into our souls. The answer was obvious for a musician like Harkness: a song. He mentioned the need in a letter to London hymnwriter (and friend of Charles Spurgeon) Ada Habershon (1861–1918) — the need for songs to encourage “definite assurance of success in the Christian life.” Inspired, she wrote seven. One she called “When I Fear My Faith Will Fail.” Harkness then wrote the original tune.
A century later, across the pond, an American worship pastor in Washington, D.C., Matt Merker, took out Habershon’s words, given to him by a congregant, during a trying season. He found fresh comfort and hope in the lyrics, put new music to the old hymn, and added a third verse. He shared the song with his wife and then senior pastor, Mark Dever, who thought the church should try singing it. “The church quickly owned the song and began singing it with joy (and really loud voices!),” Merker says. Word soon spread, and churches far and wide now sing Habershon’s old hymn with Merker’s new tune. Says Merker, “It reinvigorates us to know that God is in control and he will preserve us to the end.”
He Delights to Keep His People
Not only is God able to keep his people, but he does so “with great joy” (Jude 24). Habershon’s hymn echoes the truth and beauty of Psalm 149:4, “The Lord takes pleasure in his people,” as she writes, “Those he saves are his delight / He will hold me fast.”
Not only will God keep his people, but he delights to do so. Not only does he hold us fast, but he does so with great joy. And there is no safer place to be in the universe than hidden with Jesus in the heart of God’s delight.