This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
Abide With Me
Throughout this year, I will be spending time reflecting upon various hymns. We may not think about hymns as a way that we teach and pass on the faith, but the reality is that many of us can remember hymns a lot easier than memorizing scripture.
Sometimes knowing about the life of the hymn writer or significant events in the author’s life can bring greater understanding to the words of their hymns. This is the case with Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847) who is the author of the hymn ‘Abide with Me.’
Henry F. Lyte was an Anglican Priest and served a small congregation in Lower Brixham, England. Lyte struggled with ill health much of his life. He battled tuberculosis and though his body was weak, he was known as a man strong in spirit and faith. He is also attributed with coining the phrase, ‘it is better to wear out than to rust out.’
Because of his failing health, he decided to retire from the congregation he was serving in order to move further south for what was supposed to be a better climate (warmer and sunnier) for his health conditions. It was recorded that for his final sermon he has to nearly crawl into the pulpit to give his sermon. His final words to the people were: ‘It is my desire to induce you to prepare for the solemn hour which must come to all, by a timely appreciation and dependence on the death of Christ.’
Sue Vander Byl on the website for SCC Parish Church, Cumbria, a parish church of Scotby (All Saints Church) and Cotehill (St Johns Church) with Cumwhinton—writes about the history of the hymn ‘Abide with Me.’ She writes:
He had become very attached to his congregation and his ministry among them. The Sunday before he was due to leave he took his last service, preaching his last sermon. administering them communion, and committing them to the Lord in prayer. That same evening at home overcome with grief and anguish over the coming parting and in search of solace and comfort, he wrote the five verses of this hymn. Then before retiring to bed he handed them to his daughter, and the next day left for Nice. It was barely two months later that he died at the age of 54.
As you hear this story, it gives new depth to the words of the hymn. As his health failed and leaving parishioners he loved, he still clung to his faith and his desire to have Christ abide with him through everything. We hear this in his words: ‘The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide’ He goes on to proclaim that no matter what God is still there. Listen to these statements of faith: ‘Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness, Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, they victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me!’
These themes are one reason that this hymn is often sung at funerals—it expresses grief and anguish, yet powerfully proclaims that through everything God is with us. The hymn finishes with these words:
‘In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.’
May we sing with faith these words and know that God is with us always and at all times we should seek to abide with Christ as we know that he will constantly Abide with Me!