Posted by: rcottrill | September 16, 2011

Abide with Me

Words: Henry Francis Lyte (b. June 1, 1793; d. Nov. 20, 1847)
Music: Eventide, by William Henry Monk (b. Mar. 16, 1823; d. Mar. 1, 1889)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The original hymn had eight stanzas. Present hymn books tend to use only CH-1 and 2, and CH-6, 7, and 8. The intervening stanzas are perhaps not as singable, but they contain some interesting thoughts. For example, here is CH-3.

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.

The other stanzas can be examined on the Cyber Hymnal link, and you can find the touching story behind the hymn on the Wordwise Hymns link.

Without question, this ranks as one of the finest hymns in the English language. In his careful study, published in 1885 (Anglican Hymnology–Being an account of the 325 standard hymns of the highest merit, according to the verdict of the whole Anglican Church), James King puts it in fifth place overall. I see no reason to move it to a lower spot. And William Monk’s beautiful tune is equal to the task of providing a splendid setting for Henry Lyte’s text.

The hymn is often put with the “Evening Hymns” in our hymn books. The opening lines were obviously inspired by the appeal of the couple on the road to Emmaus, who met the risen Christ (though at first they did not recognize Him). When they reached their home, they said to the Lord, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Lk. 24:29). However, it’s clear the author didn’t have the close of day in view when he wrote, but the end of life. Sunset is simply used as a metaphor for the ebbing out of “life’s little day” (CH-2).

The abiding presence of the Lord is an assurance given to every believer. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). Nor will this ever change, even in eternity (I Thess. 4:16-17).

In CH-2 the author also contrasts the immutability of God (to use the theological word) with the constant change and deterioration of things in this world. God declares, “I am the LORD, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6). Yes, He uses different methods, at different times in history. But His nature and character are unchanging, and so is His righteous standard. That’s a truth the Bible emphasizes a number of times (cf. Ps. 90:2; 102:27; Heb. 1:12; 13:8; Jas. 1:17).

All around us things are changing–and the change seems to accelerate, as time goes by. What a comfort to be a child of God, cared for by One who is unchanging.

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.

When God is with us, we are able to be victorious over Satan’s temptations. With the hymn writer we say (CH-6):

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Even “the valley of the shadow of death” holds no terrors for us, when we’re assured that even there the Lord will company with us. That’s the theme of the final two stanzas (CH-7 and 8):

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.

1) Why is the unchanging nature of God a comfort to believers, and a terror to the unsaved?

2) What practical help is it to you, today, that the Lord “abides” with you?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Beautiful hymn! Here’s more on the writing of it:


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