Abide With Me
One of the things that is unfortunately missing in hymn books is the background or story behind the hymns and their authors. Often times we have no idea of the circumstances or the perspective from which a song is written, but once we do, it really impacts us. Little words or phrases take on new meaning when we understand some background information. That is one of the goals of the “Hymn Alive” blog. One goal is to encourage you by posting a song that may have ministered to you years ago, and one that you hadn’t heard in awhile. But also to shed some light on the give some additional meaning to the lyrics we have become so familiar with. Maybe one day, I will compile a hymn book with hymn stories and author biographies that we could use in our churches. I think it would add so much to the congregational singing if we had something like that.
The hymn Abide with me is one of those hymns. The author of this hymn is Henry Francis Lyte. Mr. Lyte suffered from a lung condition which eventually became tuberculosis. He preached his last sermon on Sept. 4, 1847 at the age of 54 because he was no longer physically able to preach. After his last message, he had planned a trip to Italy for a therapeutic vacation to get some relief for his lungs. He was leaving his hometown of Lower Brixham England because the climate was so hard on his breathing. One afternoon while preparing for his trip, he went to his room and later emerged with the words to the hymn below – “Abide with me.” One account of this story is that he wrote this song that afternoon – recognizing his physical condition and travails and their potential impact on his health. Another story suggests he had written the hymn years earlier, but had found it while packing for his trip to Italy. I tend to lean towards the first story and here’s the reason why:
Within 90 days of his last sermon, Mr. Lyte died in Italy from his lung problems and tuberculosis. When reading the words of this hymn, I think it is important to consider his words from the perspective of one who was, barring a miracle from God, facing death’s door. It appears to be the honest prayer of a man who had lived a life for the Lord, but was still praying for the Lord to be with him and to abide with him. I hope today, whether you are facing a serious illness or not, that this is your prayer. I hope that we can all yearn to have this kind of relationship with the Lord without having to necessarily hear death knocking at our door.
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.
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 not 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.
Couple of comments on the lyrics:
Help of the helpless, O abide with me – If you are like me, I really don’t like the adjective helpless. To be honest, I hate to think of myself as helpless, and I don’t think of others as being helpless. I want to be a “pick myself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. But, in regard to our sin, we were helpless. We couldn’t help ourselves. We needed a Savior. But we weren’t just helpless in our sins. We were helpless in other areas of life. Matthew recounts a story of Jesus encounter with “helpless people.” In Matthew 9, the Bible tells us “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus saw me, He had compassion on me because I was helpless. I was a sheep without a shepherd. I needed Him, whether I recognized that need or not. I was helpless, but I am glad He is the Helper of the helpless.
O thou who changest not, abide with me – In Malachi 3:6, the Lord is speaking and says “For I am the LORD, I change not;” I think this is an important quality of the Lord to be reminded of because we live in a constantly changing world. The weather changes – one week 10 degrees the next week 35 degrees. Our moods change – on cloud nine and then in sorrow and desperation. Our circumstances change. Our bodies change with age and with sickness. But God is not like that. When the Bible tells us He is kind and compassionate, we can trust that His nature won’t change and that He will always be kind and compassionate. When the Bible tells us He is strong and all-powerful, we can trust that His power won’t change or diminish. If He has moved in situations before, we know that He has the power to do it again. When He tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us, we can trust that He is with us during whatever situation we find ourselves. We can trust that our change-less God will abide with us.
7 times in this hymn the author prays that the Lord abide. He prays that the Lord be near. In Isaiah Chapter 7, the prophet speaks of the Messiah and describes Him as “Immanuel.” I am sure most, if not all, of you know that Immanuel means “God with us.” I heard in a sermon that If you go back to the Hebrew, the word actually derives its meaning from a board leaning against a wall. I get the mental picture of God right next to us, leaning on us, shoulder to shoulder. What an image of God being near!! He is not in our face screaming at us. He is not behind us letting us face our struggles on our own – face first. He is not looking down on us. He is not distant. He is right next to us. He is near. He is truly abiding.
I hope you know that the Lord is near. I hope you recognize that our Lord promised to be near us. And I hope today you feel Immanuel right next to you. That is the kind of helping, unchanging, and abiding God that we serve. O LORD ABIDE WITH ME!