Blog,  Devotional,  hymns

Holding fast

Sometimes I wish we still use some ‘Old-English’ terms! This term, for example – “Holding Fast” has such depth to it. When researching what the term meant, I saw that what I knew about the term was just the tip of the iceberg. When I looked up the meaning of the term ‘to hold fast’, this is what it showed:


hold fast- phrase of hold

remain tightly secured.”the door held fast, obviously locked”

Definitions from Oxford Languages


And this is what I knew as well- that to hold fast meant to hold securely, tightly. I didn’t realise that there was a whole other layer of meaning for sailors, probably around the time this song was written. Description below:


The phrase “Hold Fast” traces back to Norwegian and Dutch sailors who had the saying “houd vast” meaning “hold tight”. Upon first impression, the meaning of hold fast seems obvious, but to a sailor, “fast” is a term meaning to make tight. If a sailor was to make fast the line, it would mean to make the rope tight. Sailors, being a superstitious group, began to tattoo “hold fast” on the four front-facing fingers of each hand. This was done for good luck while holding the lines and as a reminder that no matter what, the sailor would not let go. (Info from

So – to hold fast was literally to lock or clamp something together – so tight that nothing could pull it apart! What an amazing picture to see God holding me tight like that! So safely and securely that absolutely nothing can tear me apart. I am not a big fan of waves – even though we lived so close to the ocean as kids, and our dad would swim way out into the deep so we could only see the tiny dot of his head (he stopped because he thought he saw a poisonous sea snake once, but that’s a story for another day!). And I really don’t enjoy watching those enormous waves in movies – 20 to 30 ft waves looming over ships! It scares me! BUT – this expression, this phrase, helps me to see just how tightly something would have to be tied in order to survive the thrashing of the waves on the ship. And it helps me understand the meaning behind this beautiful hymn. For more information on the history of the hymn, do click here.

When I looked up the synonymns for ‘to hold fast’, the words that appeared were: clasp, lock, adhere, fasten, stick, bond, stick-to, clamp and bind. All these words help me to understand the depth of meaning of the lyrics to the beautiful hymn below.

A carpenter using a 'holdfast'
A holdfast or hold fast is a form of temporary clamp used to hold a workpiece firmly to the top or side of a wooden workbench or the top of an anvil.[1]

So, sit back and grab a cup of chai or coffee or whatever it is that calms you down. Allow the words of this hymn written so many years ago to wash over you as you remember just how tightly and securely you are being held today. May you be blessed.

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