Sometime during the 1660s, Isaac Newton (later, “Sir” Isaac Newton) began to think seriously about gravity. No, the apple did not hit him on the head, but he did recount his watching an apple fall and thinking about the force that made it do so. Newton is credited with the discovery (according to some public school test results, “the invention”) of gravity. I am fairly certain he did not invent it, and some think it incorrect even to say he discovered it. What he did do was write the masterly “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” (which few of us are able to properly pronounce let alone rationally read). In it, he explained gravity and other weird stuff, like physics and calculus. An interesting fact about this is that the apple incident, and his initial thoughts about gravity, stem from something eerily similar to your situation just now. In October of 1665, another outbreak of the plague (the bubonic) was scything down people throughout Europe. Just as in 2020, an invisible killer was rampaging through the land; history calls it “The Great Plague.” It lasted from 1665 to 1666 and was the last major bubonic plague epidemic to occur in England. People were terrified. Schools closed. (Sound familiar?) Newton’s school, Cambridge University’s Trinity College, shut down. So Newton returned to his country home in Woolsthorpe. One biographer wrote, “The two years he spent there were an extremely fruitful time during which he began to think about gravity.” One can envision the young scholar, musing in a field, when gravity struck and, voilà, where you and I would be thinking about apple sauce, Newton’s thoughts apparently tended a bit higher … “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” began to germinate.
Being somewhat less scholarly than Sir Isaac, and quite modest, I hesitate to stake a claim to any revolutionary discovery; but I have formulated a corollary to Newton’s Law of Gravity. Here it is: “Whenever you are balancing a number of packages, and you reach for your keys to unlock your door, gravity will exert its greatest force on the most valuable or vulnerable thing that you are trying to hold.” You will drop your cell phone, not the celery. Gravity will grab for the eggs that splatter, not the envelopes that flutter, to the ground. In fact, so bedeviling is this sinister force that it will even reach for your keys themselves in an attempt to make you let go of everything else to grab at them. This works mostly for men, and mostly in Haddonfield, but further tests may prove it to be universal. The only way to defeat this perverse and pervicacious principle is to hold tightly – hold fast – to what you have.
Remarkably, this has a parallel in the spiritual realm. Many times the Word of God exhorts us to “hold fast.” In fact, unlike other words and terms which can have both a positive and negative application, the 7 times that “hold fast” occurs in the New Testament is always in a positive context. This is all the more noteworthy since the only two other occurrences in the whole of the Bible are in the OT and have that afore-mentioned negative connotation (ignoring for a moment the use of the reversed phrase “fast hold” in Proverbs 4:13). Here they are:
- Pride and self-righteousness: Job 27:6, “My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.”
- Deceit and stubbornness: Jer 8:5, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.”
Now look at the usages in the New Testament:
- 1Th 5:21, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
- 2Ti 1:13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
- Heb 3:6, “But Christ as a Son over His own house; Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
- Heb 4:14, “Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”
- Heb 10:23, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;)”
- Rev 2:25, “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”
- Rev 3:3, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.”
Notice that we are told what to hold fast:
- that which is good
- the form of sound words
- the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope
- our profession
- the profession of our faith
- that which ye have already
- how thou hast received and heard
We are told how to hold fast:
- in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus
- without wavering
We are told how long to hold fast:
- unto the end
- till I come
Because we are prone to judge the significance and value of things by how they pertain to us or to our family, there is always the danger of our downplaying the importance, and depreciating the value, of the things of God. That is why the exhortations are so numerous to hold fast. There are forces at work, with a subtler power than gravity, to loosen our grip on divine things. The things of God are precious to Him and, therefore, should be precious to us. They are precious to Him because they are inseparably and inextricably linked with the Son of His love. Headship, head-covering, shepherd work, evangelism, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, the apostle’s doctrine – these and so much more are dear to God’s heart because they add to the honor being paid to His Son in a world of rebellion and anarchy.
For old-time sailors, “hold fast” was both a noun, (a “rope”), and a verb, meaning to grab the rope. Sailors would often get the phrase tattooed on their hands – one letter on each finger – in order to remind themselves to stay vigilant in holding the lines; superstitious sailors believed the tattoo protected them from falling while climbing up the rigging.
Unlike Newton, it’s improbable that this forced hiatus will result in your discovering a fundamental law of the natural world. But perhaps it will help us all to strengthen our grip on the things of the eternal world – the things of God. It is, without question, a difficult day. But it is when faithfulness is most difficult that it is most necessary – and most valued by God. So if the Wuhan Virus, and this period of dialed back activity, make you let go of anything, make sure it’s the celery and not the sacred body of truth committed to you to “hold fast till He come.”