Henry F. Lyte, the man who wrote this hymn faithfully led a small church for over 20 years when his failing health forced him to take an early retirement. September 4, 1847 marked his last sermon to his congregation. During his sermon, Lyte is reported to have said his desire was 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.” He is supposed to have written this song that evening. Lyte died later that year from tuberculosis, a sickness that had gradually been wearing him out for 23 years.
Indeed, Lyte was right: the only preparation for death is complete trust in the work of Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension. This perspective is not just for those who are dying, however. “A timely appreciation and dependence on the death of Christ” is just as needed by family and friends who have to watch a loved one die. Today, a sweet friend of mine became an aunt for the second time. Her little nephew is not expected to live long; he was born over a month early and with Trisomy 13. Many, many miles away, a dear lady is between life and death as her heart fails and then revives, while her family waits.
God is not far from either of these families, or the hundreds like them. “Abide with me” is not a request for the presence of God, but a cry for a reminder that He is present. A cry to feel His presence, because with His presence is true comfort and peace.
(1) 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!
(2) Swift to its close effs 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!
(3) 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!
(4) 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!
(5) 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!
Here is a wonderful arrangement of two verses of the hymn.