A Song of Assurance: “He Will Hold Me Fast”

two worship leaders teaching new worship songs

While in Toronto in 1906, songwriter Robert Harkness had a conversation with a new believer who was struggling with the idea of staying faithful to Christ throughout his life. Later that day, Harkness wrote a letter to lyricist Ada Habershon about the “the need for a song which would give definite assurance of success in the Christian life.”

A short time later, she sent back lyrics to seven different songs. One of them was “He Will Hold Me Fast.” Harkness wrote music for the hymn during church one morning, and four thousand people sang it that same evening.

Matt Merker, a pastoral assistant and writer at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, first learned of the hymn when someone at his church recommended it for congregational singing. He didn’t think much of it until he entered a difficult time in his life. He returned to the hymn and rewrote the melody, and his local church took to it immediately and sang it out with passion.  

Biblical themes

“He Will Hold Me Fast” reflects on the wonderful truth that God watches over and sustains our faith. Scripture is clear about this saving grace:

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain. – Hebrews 6:19
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 24-25

“He Will Hold Me Fast” proclaims a hope that surpasses our weakness.

With our weaknesses continually before us, it’s easy to believe that one day they will certainly nullify our faith. We need to drill it into our hearts and minds that God is the one who sustains our faith. Habershon repeats the phrase “Christ/He will hold me fast” over 18 times to emphasize this truth and lodge it into the deepest chambers of our hearts.  

When we settle our souls on the truth that Christ alone keeps us, we believe the doctrine of justification by faith alone more fully. It’s one thing to agree with Paul that God saves us, not our works (Eph. 2:6). It’s another thing to believe it’s also God who keeps us. If we don’t do the saving in the first place, why would we think we do the keeping?

Lyrical analysis

Verse one fixates on Christ keeping us through our fears, the turns of life, our temptations, and the weakness of our desires for God:
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast
Verse two tackles the question of the security of our souls.
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

The bedrock of our eternal safety is Christ’s costly sacrifice. As the logic goes in Romans 8:32, how will God let us go if he paid for us with his own blood?  

Verse three moves further still into the realm of Christ’s return and His safekeeping of our souls until that day. It also features the hope of the finished work of Christ and the closed case of our righteousness through the One who bore our guilt and paid our penalty.
For my life He bled and died

Justice has been satisfied
Raised with Him to endless life
Till our faith is turned to sight
When he comes at last

Musical analysis

Matt Merker’s retune breathes fresh life into the old hymn. It has a hymn-like feel and a modern, singable melody—especially the chorus.

The first two lines of the chorus rise slowly with the words “He will hold me fast,” crescendos at the declaration of Christ’s love—“For my Savior loves me so”—and then decrescendos for the final line. In this way, the chorus mirrors the lyrics to provide a reassuring, satisfying feeling.

Modern hymns like this are well suited for any band. They work just as well with the big sound of a full worship band as they do with only voices and a piano. (A violin added to that mix would sound wonderful.)

If you’re looking for a new song to sing in your congregation, “He Will Hold Me Fast” is a great choice. It’s a reminder that God is in control, is trustworthy, and will keep His children in His arms into endless life.

For anyone who is struggling to hold onto their faith or endure trials, this song can be used today as it was originally: to encourage the believer with assurance that what God starts, He finishes. It’s not our salvation to hold onto. We don’t have to live in fear of losing it. There is only One strong enough to keep it. This is God’s salvation.

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast

This is a guest post by music professionals Cody Norris and Stephen Folden. 

Written by
Matthew Boffey

Matthew Boffey (MDiv, Trinity International University) is the pastor of worship at Christ Church Bellingham. He is also editor-in-chief of Ministry Team magazine, has edited several books, and has written for several blogs and publications, including Relevant online, the Logos blog, and the Faithlife blog.

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Written by Matthew Boffey
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