If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139: 9 & 10
As they were written so many, many years ago, the English meaning of these hymn lyrics sometimes don’t come through to those of us on this end of the spectrum. When I looked up the meaning ‘to hold fast’, the words that popped up were: bind, stick to, adhere, cling. So what this song is talking about is how God will stick by us – even if we’re not strong enough to, or if our ‘love is often cold’ towards Him. That’s pretty amazing – that He will hold onto us in spite of our weakness. All we have to do is acknowledge our weakness and realise that we can’t do it on our own. What a hope-filled thought!
A recent version of this song is also available, one that has a new tune and some additional lyrics. That song is also beautiful, but I’m not a huge fan of changing old, beautiful melodies when the old is so beautiful and still ‘singable’. This hymn is special to me, as it shows me that human beings are the same the world over, and centuries over! We all feel frail, faithless and useless at times, but what a comfort it is to know – firstly that we are not alone in our feelings (others also have crises of faith), and that God Himself holds us, sticks close to us because of His great love towards us. Know that you are not alone.
The interesting thing about this hymn is that the author was an established Bible teacher, and forged the path for many other women teachers. Another interesting point was that the team that created / performed this song had even travelled to India in the early 1900s (Around 1902 – 1906)! That brings this hymn a little closer to home.
For the backstory on this hymn, please read the details found on this lovely website for hymns. Ada Habershon wrote the hymn with the aim of helping those who were struggling in their faith.
Here’s an interesting anecdote about the hymn, involving Charles M. Alexander (the man who recruited Robert Harkness and was instrumental in making hymns known all over the globe) written by by George C. Stebbins Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories (1924) about Alexander
“Some years ago I was assisting one of the New York pastors in a series of Sunday evening services, which were being held in a well-known theater. Just before the sermon, one evening, a note was handed to me saying that Mr. Alexander was in the audience. I handed it to the pastor, who decided it best to go on with his sermon and to call for Mr. Alexander at the close, which he did. After some persuasion, Mr. Alexander came down from the topmost gallery, accompanied by his pianist, and sang the chorus of “He Will Hold Me Fast,” until the audience had learned it. He then announced that he would present a copy of the song to anyone who would stand up and sing it correctly. A colored man rose in the body of the house and sang it perfectly; after which Alexander said: “Good, my man, are you a Christian?” “Yes, Sah,” responded the negro, “an’ mah name’s Charles Alexander—an’ ahm from Tennessee, too!” My first thought, after the laughter ceased, was, “How will Charlie meet such an unexpected situation?” He lost no time, however, in saying to the man, “Come down here; I want to shake hands with you.” The man walked down to the footlights and Mr. Alexander reached over, took him by the hand and assured him he was glad to meet him; he then requested the fellow to face the audience and offered prayer, which restored the thought of the congregation to the serious subject that had engaged their attention during the evening.”