“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
In the letters to the churches of Asia Minor, recorded inRev. 2 and Rev. 3, the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia are characterized by three things. First, these churches are not rebuked by the Savior. The other churches are rebuked and admonished to repent. Secondly, both. churches are small and weak This refers, of course, to material poverty; and that they are little means that they are little in numerical strength. And, thirdly, both churches are spiritually strong. Of Smyrna the Saviour declares that they are rich. They are rich, of course, spiritually. And of the church at Philadelphia we read that they have kept the word of His patience.
Where do we now stand as Protestant Reformed Churches as we celebrate and have celebrated this year our fiftieth anniversary? Does this characterize us? Are we busily engaged in holding fast what we have? As churches and also as individuals? Are we holding on to the truth, with grim determination and tenacity; is it being proclaimed and taught among us, not only practically but also doctrinally and distinctively, to the utmost of our ability and capacity? The admonition is urgent: hold fast which thou hast.
This crown is a crown of victory. There is also another word in the original Greek which is translated “crown.” This other crown is a royal crown, a diadem, the symbol of royal dominion. This word, e.g., appears inRev. 13:1. In this text, however, a crown of victory is meant, a prize which one obtains when he is victorious. Victory and struggle, battle and affliction, glory and shame characterize the Christian and the church of God in the midst of the world. We must hold fast, that no man take our crown. In this text the word. crown appears without any further description. However, in II Tim. 4:8 we read of this crown as a crown of righteousness; in Rev. 2:10 the Saviour speaks of it as a crown of life; and in I Pet. 5:4 we read of it as a crown of glory.
It is striking that the word crown appears here in the singular. The Saviour addresses in this scripture the church at Philadelphia. This, of course, applies to the church of God of all ages. For that church of all ages a crown of righteousness, life and glory has been laid away, the full and perfect and complete manifestation of all the riches of the grace and glory of the living God in Jesus Christ. He is the fulness of the glory of the living God, and the church is the reflection of that fullness of glory in Christ Jesus. This is the crown of victory laid away for the one church of God of all ages. Nevertheless, in that fulness of glory each child of God will receive his own particular crown. This explains why we read, in the singular, of him that overcometh in verse 12 of this chapter. Every child of God must fight personally, persevere unto the end, and finally receive his own crown, his own place in that mighty chorus, his own divinely appointed place in that building of God, his own particular place in glory. Indeed, to the church of God of all ages, and to each child of God in particular is addressed the admonition: hold fast which thou hast.
We must persevere unto the obtaining of the crown. We must not understand this, of course, in the Pelagian sense. He speaks of a crown that is laid away for God’s people, God’s child. But this crown is laid away for those who believe, who hold fast which they have. And this, of course, is true. But the Pelagian presents this obtaining of the crown as dependent upon our persevering unto the end. How wicked is this view! It is contrary to this text. The Saviour here is addressing the church at Philadelphia. And when He speaks of “thy crown,” He refers to the crown which belongs to that church and to the church of all ages. Besides, it is so contrary to all of Scripture. May this one passage suffice— Rom. 9:16: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” God has willed the glory; but also the way that leads to that glory; He has willed the crown but also the struggle to the crown, inasmuch as it is given unto us, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake.
Indeed, we must persevere. We are moral-rational beings. Our difference with the Pelagian is exactly that we maintain that the outcome is solely dependent upon God’s divine and sovereign grace. And our difference with the false mystic is exactly that we maintain that we are no stocks and blocks, but that the grace of God, almighty in its power, does not simply carry us into glory, as in a pullman sleeper, but that it operates through us, setting our hearts and minds on fire for the cause of God and of His Christ. Indeed, we must persevere, tight unto the end, hold fast what we have.
To obtain this crown we must hold fast. We must hold fast—to what? Verse 8 is important: “And hast kept My word, and hast not denied My Name.” The church at Philadelphia had kept Christ’s word. This is the word of truth, the word of the gospel. This is the doctrinal aspect of our calling, the Scriptures as they center in Christ and in God as the God of our salvation. This means, for us, the truth as we profess it as Protestant Reformed Churches. O, Protestant Reformed doctrine is not a certain Protestant Reformed pet conception or theory. Protestant Reformed doctrine is, as we read it in our Baptism Form, the complete and perfect doctrine of salvation, the truth as taught in the infallible Scriptures. Very important, too, is this—that we have not denied His Name. This is the practical aspect of our calling. Not to deny Christ’s Name means that we confess it; this means that we not only know the truth, but also practice it, are living examples of being saved by grace.
Verse 10, too, is of great significance. There we read of having kept the word of Christ’s patience. This “word of Christ’s patience” is surely the same word whereof we read in verse 8. This word of Christ’s patience is the word of Christ as it exhorts us to patience. Patience presupposes suffering and affliction and persecution. If we maintain Christ’s word of truth and do not deny His Name, affliction and suffering will invariably be our lot. And therefore Christ’s word of patience is also always a word that exhorts us unto patience, the willing and joyful bearing of our affliction because of Christ and for Christ’s sake, knowing that to suffer for the sake of Christ is a privilege of grace, inasmuch as it is in His behalf, in His interest, in the sense that He will be glorified through it all. We suffer, not to show how much we can do, but to reveal the power and wonder of His grace.
Negatively, Christ, according to Rev. 2 and Rev. 3, has also something else to say to His church. The churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia escape rebuke. The other five churches must all repent, and are exhorted to do so. Do we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, dare to appropriate unto ourselves the beautiful pictures of the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia? Have we maintained our first love; are we strong in discipline; do our hearts and minds burn with zeal and are we on fire for the cause of the Lord and His word? Do we practice what we believe; do we love doctrine and its distinctive preaching; do we study and prepare ourselves for our society meetings, and are we faithful in attending them? Do we fall short? Let us, then, turn from evil and unto the Lord.
Positively, hold fast which we have. As is evident from verse 12, this admonition surely comes to each of us personally.
Hold fast to pure doctrine; love it, study and know it, maintain it, and reject all heresies. Hold fast to the practice of it; do not deny Christ’s Name; confess it; practice what you know to be the truth. Doctrine and life are inseparable. Keep your garments clean and unspotted in the midst of the world; seek not the world, neither the things that are in the world; be strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Hold fast which we have also as churches. This admonition is also addressed to the church, to its officebearers and its entire membership. We must maintain sound doctrine and the pure preaching of the Word, always emitting a clear sound. We must be true watchmen upon the walls of Zion; be vigilant and true in discipline; never become lax. The wolves outside the gate are dangerous but, inside the gate, they are devastating. May our catechetical instruction and all our societies be characterized by the Word of our God; hold fast, hold on “for dear life”; hold on tenaciously; never let go, keep what we have. Be sure that we ever retain our vigilance, in the home and in the church and in the school.
And, how necessary it is that we heed this exhortation of the Word of God! We must never permit the enemy to take our crown. O, he does not want this crown, but he would deprive us of it. How important it is to maintain the pure doctrine as it is according to the Scriptures; how necessary is the truth of divinely free and sovereign grace! How important it is that we practice it, that we are in the way of the Lord, that our sights are trained upon that City of our God as we are running the race, and stretching, reaching out to that crown of everlasting life and victory!
Behold, I come quickly! What a glorious, blessed incitement this is! Who is coming? Indeed, this is Jesus, of Whom we read in verse 7 that He is holy and true, that He has the key of David. This is Jesus, the glorified Head of His church, Who suffered and died and rose again, Who holds the keys of His kingdom in His hand, controlling and directing His church and also all things.
When will He come? He surely comes when we die, then to take us unto Himself. This is clearly implied inRev. 2:10. But He also comes at the end of time, the end of this world. In that day He will make all things new.
How does He come? Notice, please: I come, or I am coming. Christ is coming, throughout the ages of the New Dispensation.
He is coming, inasmuch as He is working all things unto the realization of His kingdom.
He is coming, through the gospel, saving His own, and He is coming through wars and pestilences and famines and earthquakes.
He is coming through all things.
And, He is coming quickly.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is in a hurry; He is constantly hurrying, coming at a constantly accelerated pace, because He wants all His own to be where He is, in everlasting glory and heavenly immortality. Are we eager for Him to come quickly?
What a blessed incitement and encouragement this is! Indeed, bitter is the struggle within us and all around us! How bitter is the struggle against sin within us! And then there are the enemies of darkness confronting us! How hopeless is our lot! All the resources and man-power are on the side of the enemy, of those who would take our crown!
However, behold! Behold, look and see! There are wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and tidal waves, persecutions and famines and pestilences. They are all signs of His coming. Do we hear them; do we hear Him, the rumblings of His coming? Behold, take courage, lift up your heads, be comforted! Your struggle will soon be over, the battle fought, and then the crown will be given you, in everlasting life and glory
Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.