June 26, 2015 by Joseph Krohn
The words are the work of Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), a Anglican vicar who spent most of his life in the village of Brixham, England. Rev. Lyte wrote Abide with me to his own tune, but today it is sung to Eventide, composed in 10 minutes by the organist William Monk, during what his widow recalled as “a time of great sorrow.”
It has become a favourite of many…
- Abide with me was hugely popular in the trenches of the First World War, and was sung by Nurse Edith Cavell the night before the Germans shot her for helping British soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium.
- A great favourite of the Royal Family, it was played at the weddings of the future George VI to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and their daughter Elizabeth to Prince Philip.
- On Sept 21, 2001 it was unforgettably played at Ground Zero by a Salvation Army band during the commemoration of the September 11 attacks.
Rev. Lyte, was also a published poet and accomplished hymnwriter who also penned “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” and “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.” For most of his life Rev. Lyte suffered from poor health, and he would regularly travel abroad for relief, as was the tradition in that day. He developed tuberculosis and, at the age of 54, came near to the end of his life. His daughter, Anna Maria Maxwell Hogg, recounts the story of how “Abide with Me” came out of that context.
The summer was passing away, and the month of September (that month in which he was once more to quit his native land) arrived, and each day seemed to have a special value as being one day nearer his departure.
His family were surprised and almost alarmed at his announcing his intention of preaching once more to his people. His weakness and the possible danger attending the effort, were urged to prevent it, but in vain. “It was better”, as he used to say often playfully, when in comparative health, “to wear out than to rust out”. He felt that he should be enabled to fulfil his wish, and feared not for the result. His expectation was well founded. He did preach, and amid the breathless attention of his hearers, gave them a sermon on the Holy Communion… .
In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, ‘Abide with Me’, with an air of his own composing, adapted to the words.
Just weeks later, while on holiday in Nice, France, Henry Lyte went to be with Jesus. It was November 20th, 1847.
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.
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.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, 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 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.