It was October 5, 1864.
The US Civil War was raging and Union Major General William T. Sherman was determined to end it as early as possible by crushing resistance in the southern state of Georgia. Storing vital supplies at a Federal Garrison near Cartersville, Georgia, Sherman left Brigadier General John M. Corse in charge of protecting these provisions. Confederate Major General Samuel G. French, realizing the importance of the supplies to the Union cause, and determined to hinder Sherman’s plans, attacked the smaller Union force guarding the garrison. The clash, now known as The Battle of Allatoona Pass, was fierce and blood-soaked. The beleaguered Union Fort – outnumbered, surrounded, and suffering heavy losses – was nearing the point of total exhaustion and certain defeat …
And then, stirring news reached those hard-pressed soldiers and gave them fresh heart. Relayed by signal flags, this was the message from Major General Sherman, who was hurrying to relieve his men:“Hold the Fort, for I am coming!” Strengthened by the realization that help was on the way, the Union soldiers did, in fact, hold on till Sherman arrived, bringing with him victory.
After the war, Sherman could not recall using the word “fort.” He thought the message he sent was, “Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out!… Hold Fast! We are coming.” But he admitted that “Hold the Fort” was undoubtedly his intent. The signalman who sent it, though, distinctly recalls the words as, “Hold the Fort, for I am coming!”
Whether the message was “Hold out!” or “Hold fast!” or “Hold the fort!” is of little importance. The public heard that the message was “Hold the fort” and 6 years after the event, evangelist Philip P. Bliss wrote his well-known hymn:
“‘Hold the fort, for I am coming!’ Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven, ‘By Thy grace we will’.”
As Christians living in a hostile world, we too are engaged in a battle. Representing our absent Lord in a world engaged in a cosmic rebellion against Him, we may often feel outnumbered, overwhelmed, and near exhaustion. Perhaps, to use the poet’s words, we can
“See the mighty hosts advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty men around us falling, courage almost gone.”
But a message of deliverance reaches us as well. To His beloved people – to you – left in an antagonistic world, battling foes within and without, our soon-coming Lord sends the gracious words He gave to a faithful remnant in Thyatira: “That which ye have already hold fast till I come.”
The New Testament often exhorts us to “hold”. “hold on” and “hold fast”. However fierce the fight or formidable the foe, can you hold on a little longer? Can you “hold the fort”? He is coming! Maybe the year that is ending has left you exhausted, wounded, feeling defeated, and ready to give up. Don’t let go! Don’t give up! Not now! Not after so many years of faithfully holding fast! Not when we are so near to the end of the age and the coming of our Deliverer! Few of us could have foreseen the changes and trials 2020 was going to cause and none of us can tell what 2021 will bring. But while the world does not know what is coming, we know Who is coming. And His last words to us, chronologically and canonically, are:
I don’t think too many of us will have trouble responding, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Eugene Higgins (New Jersey, USA)
Jan 1st, 2021