Abide With Me

“Abide with Me” is one of the best-loved English hymns of the past 150 years, and was inspired by Luke 24:29, where the disciples meet but do not recognize the resurrected Jesus. “Abide with us,” they ask him, “for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”

Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was a Scottish Anglican priest and vicar, as well as an accomplished poet and hymnwriter. For most of his life Lyte suffered from poor health, and when he developed tuberculosis Lyte turned to the scripture in Luke for guidance in prayer. Just weeks after composing the prayerful hymn, he pass away at the age of 54.Lyte wrote an original tune for the hymn, but it is most often sung to the beautiful tune EVENTIDE by English composer and organist William Henry Monk. The story goes that Monk composed EVENTIDE in ten minutes, during what his widow recalled as “a time of great sorrow. Hand in hand we were silently watching the glory of the setting sun (our daily habit) until the golden hue had faded… Then he took paper and pencilled the tune which has gone all over the world.”

This beautiful hymn has provided peace and hope for generations ever since, resonating deeply with the hearts of those who feel their need of God’s presence. Part of its comfort comes from the repetition of the plea to “abide with me”. When we sing it, we acknowledge our profound need of God in every single part and stage of our lives. Also, Lyte’s change of the disciples request to “abide with us” to the personal pronoun “abide with me”, gives the hymn a comforting emotional intimacy.

Abide With Me has been a favorite hymn since its composition, especially for times of personal pain or tragedy- it’s a commonly request hymn for funerals. It’s also been a source of national and global comfort during times of public tragedy. It was hugely popular in the trenches of the First World War, and was sung by Nurse Edith Cavell the night before the Germans shot her for helping British soldiers escape from occupied Belgium. On Sept 21, 2001, it was unforgettably played at Ground Zero by a Salvation Army band during the commemoration of the September 11 attacks.

Though this hymn can be a vast comfort during these times of pain and sorrow, I’d like to encourage us not to relegate this beautiful hymn just to our days of hurt. Instead, let it remind us that even in the times of joy, we need to call on Him to guide us. As Lyte wrote, “I need Thy presence every passing hour… In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Sources: The Telegraph (UK), Tim Challies (challies.com)

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