Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #11
I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.
The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Luke 24:28-29 which reads: “And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.”
The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Martin Luther. He said: “Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honor. And we see how David and all the saints have wrought their godly thoughts into verse, rhyme, and song.”
The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Matthew Henry. He said: “Those that would have Christ dwell with them must invite Him, and be importunate with Him; though He is often found of those that seek Him not, yet those only that seek can be sure to find; and, if He seem to draw off from us, it is but to draw out our importunity; as here, they constrained Him; both of them laid hold on Him, with a kind and friendly violence, saying, Abide with us. Those that have experienced the pleasure and profit of communion with Christ cannot but covet more of His company, and beg of Him, not only to walk with them all day, but to abide with them at night. When the day is far spent, and it is towards evening, we begin to think of retiring for our repose, and then it is proper to have our eye to Christ, and to beg of Him to abide with us, to manifest Himself to us and to fill our minds with good thoughts of Him and good affections to Him. Christ yielded to their importunity: He went in, to tarry with them. Thus ready is Christ to give further instructions and comforts to those who improve what they have received. He has promised that if any man open the door, to bid Him welcome, He will come in to him.”
Our hymn for today is “Abide with Me” by Henry Francis Lyte. It reads:
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 terror, 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, thus 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.
Now here is the history behind the hymn, “Abide with Me”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:
Some have cited Henry Francis Lyte’s poem as the quintessential Victorian hymn. It appears in virtually every hymn book in the English language.
Lyte was born in Kelso, Scotland, on June 1, 1793 and died in Nice, France, on Nov. 20, 1847. He was educated at Portora, the Royal School of Enniskillen (En-nis-kill-en) in Enniskillen (En-nis-kill-en), Ireland, and at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where he graduated in 1814. During his tenure at Trinity College, Lyte was awarded the English Prize Poem on three occasions.
After graduating, he intended to study medicine but instead took holy orders in the Anglican Church in 1815. Lyte served the curacies at Taghmon, Marazion and Cornwell. His longest appointment was perpetual curate at Lower Brixham, Devonshire, in 1823, where he served for 24 years.
During Lyte’s lifetime, he published several works that were mainly religious poetry: Tales of the Lord’s Prayer in Verse (1826), Poems Chiefly Religious (1833), The Spirit of the Psalms (1834), and an edition of Poems of Henry Vaughan (1846). Most of the hymn texts that appear in today’s hymnals are taken from the collection The Spirit of the Psalms.
There is some controversy to the exact dating of the text to “Abide with Me.” An article in the Spectator, Oct. 3, 1925, says that Lyte composed the hymn in 1820 while visiting a dying friend.
However, in 1847, Lyte wrote a letter to his daughter Julia, where he referred to the hymn as “my latest effusion.” There is no clear evidence on when he actually wrote the hymn. According to Raymond Glover, editor to The Companion to Hymnal 1982, Lyte probably wrote the hymn in 1820, and recalled the hymn during the illness that led to his death in 1847.
The hymn is based on Luke 24:29, part of a post-Resurrection narrative telling the story of Emmaus: “But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.”
Hymnologist J.R. Watson notes, “Lyte’s genius takes the quotation and turns it into a metaphor for human life in all of its brevity. At the same time, by changing ‘Abide with us’ into ‘Abide with me,’ he deepens the feeling by making it speak to the individual, in prayer or meditation.”
It is perhaps the personal intensity of the text, the use of the metaphor of evening and the closing line, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me,” that makes this hymn a favorite at funerals.
Of the original eight stanzas, The United Methodist Hymnal uses five. The second stanza reflects much of the Victorian spirit:
“Swift from my grasp 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.”
A focus on death and the corresponding transience of life is characteristic of Victorian hymns. John Bell, troubadour of Scotland’s Iona Community and a liturgical reformer, traces some of the complacency of the church over the years and its inability to change to the theology embedded in the third line of this stanza: “Change and decay in all around I see.”
Ian Bradley, a leading scholar of Victorian hymns, names his book on this subject, Abide with Me: The World of Victorian Hymns. He notes, “John Bell, the leading contemporary Scottish hymn writer, has pointed to the damage done to the cause of reform and moving on in the life of churches by the deadening effect of [this line] from ‘Abide with me.’”
The text to “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide” first appeared in the famous Hymns Ancient and Modern, but it may be the hymn tune EVENTIDE by William Henry Monk, the musical editor of the hymnal, that has assured its continual use.
In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” by John Fawcett.
Let’s Pray —
Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.
First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.
Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.
May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.
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