There are two different words used by Nephi regarding contact with the “iron rod” or word of God. Joseph Smith translated the two words as “cling” or “clinging” for one, and “hold” or “holding” as the other.
The different word use raises the question of meaning. If they meant identical things, then the same word would have been translated. Therefore, there must be a reason for the different words.
Below are examples of the different words in the context of the record:
24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
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30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
Some catch hold, then cling.
Some hold, then hold fast.
So the question becomes why the different description. Both of these different approaches result in the persons reaching the destination, then partaking of the fruit. But they are situated differently as they move along the process. Some are “clinging” and some are “holding” as they move toward their destination.
To “cling” implies something frantic, something charged with emotion, and something more desperate than to “hold.” “Holding” seems calm, thoughtfully committed and more methodical than does “clinging.” From this, I conclude that there are at least two kinds of people who will make their way to partake of the fruit of the tree of life in this world.
For one group, the process is unnerving, fearful and emotionally wrenching. They cling on despite earth and hell. They fight to retain their grip, and they make heroic efforts in the opposition they face. They cling because they cannot relent, cannot relax, and know they face peril as they live their lives daily. For them their hopes are kept despite all their fears. They cling because they desire more than the opposition can deter them.
For another group, the process is less emotional, but nonetheless filled with determination. They are not as charged with fear, but face what comes to them calmly and with the assurance that the Lord’s word is in their hands and will be a refuge that will bring them to eternal life.
I think there is another, more likely possibility, as well. There is not two groups, but only one. From time to time everyone faces moments of difficulty. The only way to stay with the rod is to cling. Then the seasons change, the storm relents, and calm returns. During those times when life improves, the person can continue to hold and move forward, but they have purchased the season of calm by the things they have endured in faith. Now they know it is only necessary to hold on, and all things will come to them.
I do not know of a life that gets lived without challenge, difficulty and seasons of despair. I believe all of us will at times be required to cling, and at others have the ability to hold the course. Whether it is the one season or the other, however, at the end of the journey you will lay hold on eternal life. Press on.