Abide with Me

We probably all have songs or hymns that touch us deeply or move us to tears. For me, it is Sister Miriam Therese Winter’s Spirit of God. For the priest who regularly conducts the mass I attend on Sunday, it is Henry Francis Lyte’s Abide with Me. He loves the song so much that he has translated it into Chinese to be sung by worshippers in masses. It is a job masterfully done.

Regarding Henry Francis Lyte, the biography written by Evelyne Miller makes interesting reading. Lyte was born in Scotland in 1793. Three people had particularly influenced his life.

It was his mother, Anna Maria, who had told him of the love of God, taught him his prayers at her knee and read him stories from the Bible. Sadly, this very close relationship was short-lived as his mother died when he was nine.

The death of his mother left him without any means of support as his father had abandoned his family. Lyte owed his education to Dr. Robert Burrows, the headmaster of his school, and his wife Mrs Burrows. They took him into their home and paid for his education.

When he became Curate to St Munn's Church, he met an Irish clergyman, the Reverend Abraham Swanne who was to have a great spiritual influence on his life. Lyte attended the Reverend Swanne when he was critically and had many deep spiritual discussions with the very devout pastor. The courage and confidence Swanne had in his divine beliefs and faith made a lasting impression on Lyte, who always looked back on those years as a great milestone in his spiritual and pastoral life.

Abide with Me was Lyte's last hymn, written during his last serious illness. He was in Avignon to avoid the cold, damp English winter, and as he knew that it was very unlikely that he would ever return home, he sent the finished manuscript to his wife Anna Maria. Shortly afterwards, he died in Nice on 20 November 1847. The hymn is a beautiful, touching tribute of a dying man to God:

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.

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.
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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