Hold Fast ‘Till I Come

Major Daniel Whittle was preaching his heart out at a YMCA conference, doing his best to encourage the audience to keep on working for the Lord. There had been signs of discouragement among those ministering to the young men who were present, and the Major wanted them to realize the importance of what they were doing.  So quoting from Revelation 2, he challenged his hearers to “hold on to what you have until I come!”

He closed his sermon with an illustration from the Civil War, where he had been an officer in the Illinois infantry. After the fall of Atlanta, the Confederates under General French tried to cut the Union supply lines and force a retreat. The battle centered around the Allatoona Pass; not only did it contain the main railroad linking the Union forces to Chattanooga, but stored more than one and a half million rations needed by Sherman’s army.

When the fight began in October 1864, the Federal troops were outnumbered four to one, and the fight was looking grim.  Completely surrounded, the bluecoats were forced into a small fort at the top of a hill, but refused to surrender. General Sherman realized their danger, and directed General Corse to send in critical reinforcements. Union signalmen on Kennesaw Mountain sent messages via communication flags to the embattled troops and officers, keeping them updated as to what was ahead. “General Sherman says hold fast – we are coming!”

The men cheered, knowing that help was on the way. Although half the men in the fort ended up killed or wounded, they DID hold their ground for the next three hours until the new troops arrived, leaving the Confederates unable to break the line or take control of the pass.

At the end of his story, the major made it clear that no matter how hard we may be pressed or tempted to quit, God’s help is always there and ready to help us hold on.

In the audience that night was one of Major Whittle’s assistants, a well-known songwriter by the name of Philip Bliss. Inspired by the story, he went back to his hotel room that night and wrote the words and the music to a new hymn. 

The next evening, he wrote the chorus on the blackboard behind the podium, introducing his new song to the YMCA audience. Hold the Fort quickly became a favorite throughout the United States, and even in Europe it turned into a hit. The stirring refrain of “Send the answer back to heaven, by thy grace we will!” always encouraged the hearts of the listeners.

Philip Bliss never considered this one of his best songs, but his monument in Pennsylvania contains the reference that here lies “the author of Hold the Fort.”

So what does this song mean to us today? Not only does it tell us that God is always there when we need the help, but it is our job to “occupy till He comes” – to keep our school and our church and our families working and praying together for His soon return.

But above all, it tells us not to develop this attitude:

  “I’ve taught a class for many years, borne many burdens toiled through tears,

   But folks don’t notice me a bit, I’m so discouraged, I’ll just quit.

   I’ve led young people day and night, and sacrificed to lead them right;

   But folks won’t help me out a bit – and I’m so tired, I think I’ll quit.

   Christ’s cause is hindered everywhere, and people dying in despair;

   The reason why? Just think a bit – the church is full of those who quit.”

                                                             - Author unknown

Instead, be sure and hold that fort! - Dave Fairchild

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