Henry Lyte wrote the words to this hymn as he was dying of tuberculosis. In fact, he died only three weeks after finishing this hymn. He knew, quite literally, how fast the eventide was falling on his life.
This hymn gives us a great picture of what it means to abide – for God to abide with us, and us to abide with Him. To abide means to remain faithful to; to be constant, steady and unchanging. That certainly describes God. Does it describe us?
When reading through the Gospels, it’s easy to see how many times Jesus helped the helpless – giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk, raising the dead. As I thought about this, I realized that we are the most helpless of all. We, as sinners, were helpless to save ourselves. So God sent His son to be our helper! He took our sins on Himself so that we would be forgiven and made clean, white as snow.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:3
It is so easy to become discouraged and depressed when we look around us – as the hymn writer says “change and decay in all around I see.” That the God of the Universe who doesn’t change, wants to abide with us, is really quite mind-boggling. Our hope is in the Lord who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
“For I, the LORD, do not change.” Malachi 3:6
I love verse three – not included in many hymnals – why not? Look at the beautiful picture we have here:
Not a brief glance, not a passing word,
but as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples Lord
The writer yearns to have God abide with him the way Jesus lived with the disciples –to be familiar, well-known. The author is saying “Jesus, come live with me the way you lived here on earth and interacted with the disciples – as a friend, humbly and patiently dwelling with us.”
Come not to sojourn – a sojourn is a temporary stay, a stop over – don’t just stop by, Jesus, but ABIDE.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
The next verse is another that’s usually not included in hymnals, maybe because it hits too close to home and people would be uncomfortable singing about their rebellious and perverse youth… but look at the great truth: “Thou hast not left me.” In the Old Testament, God assures Israel that He will never leave them nor forsake them. (Deuteronomy 31:6) Many generations later, these promises were remembered (I Kings 8:57). And in the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews reminds us of that promise (13:5). I find great assurance in knowing that He will never leave us.
The next verse is really my heart’s song: I need Thee every hour. Who, but the Lord, can be my guide? He’s the only One who knows what the future holds, and what His plans are for me.
'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ Jeremiah 29:11
With God as our helper, we can triumph over any foe, human or otherwise. God is on our side, and we need not fear man, or what man can do to us.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? Psalm 56:4
Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross has destroyed the power of death for those who believe in Him.
Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15
In the final verse, we have a wonderful picture of what death will be like for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ: heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee! Our Lord and Savior will be waiting to welcome us to our eternal home! Doesn’t it make you want to shout “Hallelujah!”?
Dear Jesus, in life and death, in cloud and sunshine, be my comfort, my helper, and my guide, but most of all, abide with me.
Abide with Me
Words by Henry Lyte
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.
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.
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.