In God’s economy, things are often upside-down or backwards from what the temporal world holds to be true: the poor are rich, the last are first, the least are the greatest, and we are strongest when we are weak. Those who live in the kingdom of God understand that the most important aspects of worldly living are “vanity and a chasing after the wind” and that the most enduring aspects of human life are in truth fleeting, even momentary. You see, it’s a matter of perspective, and an eternal perspective is what the hymn “Abide With Me” provides.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NASB)
Although Henry Lyte suffered from asthma and frail health all of his life, he never let it keep him from doing the will of God for his life. In fact, it was his familiarity with infirmity in this life that may have strengthened his reliance on God and helped him to focus on the eternal instead of the ephemeral. It is recorded that his poems, hymns and sermons often conveyed the messages of the power and majesty of God.
After graduating from Trinity College in Ireland with a Doctorate in Theology, Henry Lyte pastored a number of congregations, mostly in small villages. In 1824, at the age of thirty-one, and already in frail health, he settled in the fishing village of Lower Brixham in England where, ironically, his congregation was comprised of many strong fishermen as well as soldiers from a local garrison.
To Dr. Lyte, life was service and despite his frailty, he often disregarded his own condition in order to minister to the sick. In fact, he is attributed with coining the phrase “it is better to wear out than to rust out.” This excellent slogan would end up being an accurate description of how this man of God would end up leaving this world and entering into God’s rest and reward.
Dr. Lyte continued to preach and minister to his congregation for well over twenty years until, in the late 1840s, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which at that time was usually fatal. Still unwilling to give up, he continued God’s work for a short time, but due to increasingly poor health, he reluctantly gave in to his doctor’s advice to move the warmer climate of Rome, Italy.
Dr. Lyte’s health was so degraded by this time that it is said that he almost had to crawl into the pulpit to deliver his final sermon. Determination won over infirmity as he stood to deliver a passionate plea for his congregation to prepare for the time that they themselves would meet their Savior face to face.
Following this sermon, Dr. Lyte returned home, and with his passion unabated, he wrote the words to the simple yet inspiring hymn “Abide With Me” based on the
“Road to Emmaus” passage in the gospel of Luke.
But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. Luke 24:29 (NKJV)
That same evening Dr. Lyte handed the hymn to a relative and prepared for his trip to Italy, a trip he would never complete. He had only made his way across the English Channel and arrived in Nice, France when he became too weak to continue. Dr. Lyte took to his bed and died a month later.
The hymn was eventually translated into many languages and its deep and reassuring message touched the lives of people all over the world. At the 100th anniversary of Dr. Lyte death, many people wrote letters attesting to the benefit that the hymn had provided them. A group of ex-POWs from England shared how they had sung the hymn while in captivity. Survivors of the Titanic recalled hearing the hymn on the lips of passengers trapped aboard the sinking ship. It was also reported that Edith Cavel, a British nurse, sang the hymn while meeting her death by German firing squad.
The hymn was discovered later by William Monk, editor of the popular Anglican hymnal “Hymns, Ancient and Modern”. In less than half an hour, Mr. Monk composed the music, entitled “Eventide”, for Dr. Lyte’s lyrics and the hymn was published in the first edition of the hymnal in 1861. The hymn has been popular since, especially at funerals, perhaps the most famous of which was the service for Mother Theresa.
Abide With Me
Words by Henry F. Lyte
Music by William H. Monk
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
I need Thy presence ev’ry passing hour
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r
Who like Thyself my Guide and Stay can be
Thro’ cloud and sunshine O 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 thro the gloom and point me to the skies
Heav’n’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life in death O Lord abide with me