“Music is a supernatural force on the earth. It has the power to transform the heart and mind.” Kathy McClary
The text for our hymn for this day, Abide With Me: Fast Falls The Eventide, was written by Henry Francis Lyte in September 1847, just a few months before his death. Lyte was born in Scotland (1793), and was orphaned at an early age. During his advanced studies at Trinity College in Dublin, Lyte was awarded a prize for his poetry on three different occasions. Yet despite these high honors for his poetry, Lyte believed that he was to pursue a career in medicine. But God apparently had other plans for this man, and by his final year at Trinity, Lyte changed his coursework, responding to a call to ministry, and was ordained by the Church of England in 1815. Over the years, Pastor Lyte wrote a large amount of poetry, hymns and psalm paraphrases, many of which were published in various volumes between 1826, and posthumously, in 1868.
From 1823 to his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1847, Pastor Lyte served the same parish of Lower Brixham, a small fishing village in Devonshire. It was there, in ill health, on September 4, 1847, as Lyte sat watching the setting sun, when he wrote his most famous hymn:
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 changes not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like Thy self my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless,
Though ills have weight, and tears their bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold now Thy Word 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.
Lyte’s words were later set to music (the tune EVENTIDE) written by William H. Monk and first published; in the format we now sing it in 1861. Over the years, because of Lyte’s references to eventide (evening hours), and the fact that his words were inspired by the Gospel of Luke’s text (24: 29) in which the two travelers to Emmaus asked Jesus to “stay with us, for it is nearly evening,” church hymnals have placed this great hymn with others to be sung in evening services. In truth, Lyte’s words were written instead as a metaphor for the close of life, a transition from “life’s little day” (verse 2) to “Heaven’s morning” (verse 5), which Lyte himself was quickly approaching when he wrote this hymn.
According to a British Weekly story referenced by Arthur Bailey (The Gospel in Hymns, 1950) Pastor Lyte, after preaching his final sermon at his parish, knowing his time on earth was drawing to a close, “walked in the valley garden in front of the home, then down to the rocks, where he sat and composed. It was a lovely sunny day and the sun was setting over distant Dartmoor in a blaze of glory. On the left lay Brixham harbor like a pool of molten gold, with its picturesque trawling vessels lying peacefully at anchor. After the sun had set, Lyte returned to his study. His family thought he was resting, but he was putting the finishing touches to his immortal hymn.” Lyte died less than three months later on November 20th, 1847, an orphan now going into the arms of his loving Father, abiding with Christ for eternity.
As I see it, Lyte’s verses pretty much cover nearly every aspect of this life and the life to come and the great need we all have to be comforted in the abiding love of God during each of these difficult seasons of life. In verse one, Lyte addresses the loneliness and pain we feel when friends fail us…in verse two, the horrors we face when everything around us seems to change or decay. Verse three speaks of the times when evil attacks; while verse four beckons the fears we all have when death seems near. Finally, in verse five, Lyte brings us home to the time when we will all pass from this life to Heaven’s glory. And the common denominator in all of these seasons is our great need for Christ to abide with us. Thus we pray:
My prayer:. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what trial or hardship am I facing today that prompts me to ask for the abiding presence of Christ? Am I attempting to traverse the problems on my own or am humbly coming to His throne of grace, calling on the Father, Son, and Spirit to come close during this season of life?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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