To Have and to Hold
W. Ross Rainey, Dearborn, Michigan, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Facing death, Samuel Rutherford said, ‘I am in the happiest pass to which man ever came. Christ is mine, and I am His; and there is nothing now between me and resurrection, except – Paradise’. As a rule, young people are not facing death but life, and the great, all-important issue is simply this: can you say, as Samuel Rutherford could say, in life as well as in death, ‘Christ is mine, and I am His’? If, then, Christ is mine, and I am His, we need to take to heart the words of the apostle Paul to his young colleague Timothy and ‘lay hold on eternal life’, 1 Tim. 6. 12. What did Paul mean?
Timothy, who already had eternal life, was commanded to get a grip on his never-ending life in Christ, to enter into that life from a practical standpoint, that life which alone is rich, real, radiant, running-over, and rewarding. And this command has its application to all true believers. If we have Christ as our Lord and Saviour we have eternal life. In view of this, we have a definite charge to lay hold of that life in Him, something to be appropriated practically here and now. If we are going to fulfil our God-given charge then certain basic responsibilities must be carried out.
In the midst of ‘the good warfare’, 1 Tim. 1. 18 JND, in which he participated as a young soldier of Jesus Christ, Timothy was exhorted by Paul as follows, ‘Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck’, v. 19. Some, like Hymenaeus and Alexander, had made shipwreck of their faith because of a failure to hold faith and a good conscience. They are not unlike many today. Nevertheless, two things would help Timothy in his warfare and enable him to avoid the pitfall of his erring and wayward brethren. First of all, he was to take a firm hold of faith in the Captain of his salvation, an unshakeable trust in his Commanding Officer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, he was to hold a good conscience. This means avoiding: those who have a seared conscience, a conscience that is like branded flesh – dead, 1 Tim. 4. 2; some who have a defiled conscience, Titus 1. 15; and still others who have an evil conscience, Heb. 10. 22. May we be as those who hold faith and a good conscience day by day, holding a conscience which is truly under the control of the Holy Spirit and sensitive to His voice.
While Paul’s words to Titus have to do with one of the required qualities of an elder, they nonetheless have their application to all believers, ‘Holding fast the faithful word’, Titus 1. 9. If we are going to really hold faith and a good conscience, then we must be in the word of God as a daily habit, clinging to it, and holding oneself face to face with it. The scriptures are described here as ‘the faithful word’, and this is so because their Author is infinitely faithful. The Bible is the book to live by, that is, to continually read, believe, obey, and hold fast to along life’s pilgrim pathway.
It was George Müller, one of the truly great men of faith and prayer, who wrote, ‘The vigour of our spiritual life will be in proportion to the place held by the Word in our life and thoughts’. Out of his long and fruitful experience, he has given six suggestions on ‘How to Read the Bible’, and they are:
- Read the Scriptures through regularly.
- Read with prayer.
- Read with meditation.
- Read with reference to yourself.
- Read with faith.
- Read in order to carry into practice.
Writing to the Philippian Christians, the apostle Paul said, ‘Holding forth the word of life’, 2. 16. In the previous verse we are reminded of our position and purpose to ‘shine as lights in the world’, a world that is ‘crooked and perverted’ JND, because of sin. With untainted life we should be shining (not whining, please!) for our Lord and His glory, showing forth His life and shining forth His light, John 8. 12; Matt. 5. 14-16; Eph. 5. 8.
‘Holding forth’ means, literally, ‘offering’ or ‘presenting’, and, as followers of the very Lord of life and glory, we should be willing to spend and be spent, even to the point of exhaustion, in presenting and proclaiming the word of life and light amidst a spiritually dark world.
Many years ago the Light of life, the Lord Jesus Christ, flooded and filled the heart and life of a brilliant Cambridge student named Henry Martyn, setting him ablaze for God. Answering God’s call to go forth as a missionary, he said, on the eve of his departure for India, ‘I go to burn out for God’. And he did! Within the scope of the Philippian letter we have three splendid examples of those who, in their day, faithfully held forth the word of Life – namely, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. How faithfully are we fulfilling this glad, yet great, responsibility today? It has been rightly said, ‘Don’t expect God to use you as a lighthouse somewhere else, if He can’t use you as a candle where you are’.