247) Abide With Me

 English: Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

       Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland in 1793.  His father moved the family to Ireland; and then he abandoned them.  When Henry was nine, his mother died, leaving him an orphan.  The superintendent at the school he was attending invited Henry into his home and made him a part of his family.  Henry was a brilliant student and a gifted writer.  Already while in school he had won several prizes in poetry contests, and after graduating from the seminary became a successful pastor and an eloquent preacher.

     But his faith in those early years seems to have been more a matter of the head than of the heart.  As a young pastor, he had become friends with another pastor, Rev. Abraham Swanne. Swanne became terminally ill, and Lyte attempted to console his friend.  But both of them, though pastors, found they were woefully inadequate to deal with the prospect of death.  They found little comfort in the faith they had been proclaiming.  However, together they searched the Scriptures, and both came to a deeper faith and a more solid hope.  The dying man came to a true understanding of the promise of eternal life that was his in Christ, and soon went joyfully to be with his Lord.  Of himself, Lyte later wrote:  “I was greatly affected by the whole matter, and brought to look at life and death with a different eye than before.  I began to study my Bible and preach in a different manner than I had done previously.”

     Lyte had good reason to think deeply on death.  He himself was in poor health for much of his life, battling asthma and then tuberculosis.  Despite his physical frailty, he worked hard and was greatly loved by his people, the humble fishermen and sailors of his parish in the seaside village of Lower Bixham, England.  He was told by friends, by physicians, and by his family to take it easy and not wear himself out.  He responded by coining what is now a well known phrase, saying, “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”  And his spiritual fervor and hard work often did indeed wear him out.  He was sometimes forced to spend the winter in a warmer climate in order to restore his health and strength.

     Eventually Henry Lyte wore out completely.  On Sept. 4th, 1847, he preached what was to be his last sermon to his congregation.  It was again necessary for him to go to Italy for the warmer climate in the hopes of renewing his strength.  But his respiratory difficulties that had plagued were now worse than ever.  It had weakened him so much that just getting through the service left him exhausted.  In his final words to his congregation that day he said, “It is my desire to induce you to prepare for that solemn hour of death which must come to all, by a timely appreciation for and dependence on the death of Christ.”

     Later on that very same day he walked out on the grounds of his home on the seashore.  It was a peaceful beautiful Sunday evening, and he gazed at the beautiful sunset.  He strolled along thinking of the abiding presence of God and no doubt well aware of the fact that the sun was soon to set on his own life.  Returning to his home, he shut himself up in his study for about an hour and when he came out he handed his family the hymn Abide With Me.

     Shortly afterward, Henry departed for Italy.  He never made it.  On November 20, 1847 he died in a hotel room in Nice, France at the age of 54.  His faith gave him hope and comfort at the end.  His last words were “Peace!  Joy!”

     Lyte’s inspiration for this hymn came from Luke chapter 24, the story of the Lord’s appearance to two men on the road to Emmaus.  In verse 29 the men who had been walking with Jesus say to him, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”  The day of Henry Lyte’s life was indeed far spent for him, and he began his hymn with these words, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.”  Soon everything would be gone for him, and only God would be left; but therein was a solid hope:  “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, Oh abide with me.”  And then, “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, Oh thou who changest not abide with me.”  To someone facing death, or to someone facing the any of the other transitions of life, the song sings joyfully and confidently of the abiding presence of God.  

     Lyte had also written a tune for the poem, but that never caught on.  The tune now used was written a few years later by William Monk while he himself was experiencing a time of personal sorrow. 

     When Henry Lyte died in 1847 he was little known beyond his humble seashore parish in England; but he is now remembered as the author of one of the world’s best loved hymns.  It was, in fact, a life-long wish of his that he might leave behind a hymn like this.  In an earlier poem he had voiced the longing that he might write, “some simple strain…, Some sparklet of the soul that still might live…  when I was passed to clay… O Thou… grant me, swanlike, my last breath to spend, In a song that may not die!”  God did grant him that prayer, and with what was nearly his last breaths, Henry Lyte was given the words to write this wonderful song which has indeed endured.  The last two lines of the song are engraved on his gravestone:  “Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee, In life in death, oh Lord, abide with me.”


Luke 24:28-29  —  And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went:  and Jesus 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.


Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.  Abide with us, for the days are hastening on, and we hasten with them, and our life is short and transient as a dream.  Abide with us, for we are weak and helpless, and if thou abide not with us, we perish by the way.  Abide with us in the end of the day, in the end of our life, in the end of the world.  Abide with us when there cometh over us the night of affliction and fear, the night of doubt and temptation, the night of bitter death.  Abide with us and with all thy faithful, through time and eternity.  Amen.

–From two prayers: A German Lutheran prayer and one by James Burns



ABIDE WITH ME by Henry Lyte

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

5. 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.


NOTE:  Henry Lyte’s original version had three additional verses.  This is the third of the three verses usually omitted:

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.

166) The Man Who Wrote “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

     Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Behind the writing of many of our best-loved hymns are stories of trouble:  personal tragedy, ill health, early death, or conflict.  And when we are in trouble, it seems, we are more likely to look to the Lord than when all is going well.  As the verse says, “the Lord is close to those who are broken-hearted.”  And for some who were able to express their thoughts in words, the result has been some of our greatest hymns of comfort and hope.  The hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus was written by a man who twice lost his own best friend to an early and tragic death.

     Joseph Scriven was a young man who seemed to have it all.  He had wealth, a devoted family, education, and a pleasant life in his native Ireland;  and, he was in love and about to be married.  But the night before the wedding, there was an accident.  Scriven’s fiance was thrown from her horse into a river, and she drowned.  Those who knew him say that he never recovered from the loss.  It soon came clear to him that he could not stay in Ireland.  There were too many memories and he had to get himself out of his despair.  So he immigrated to Canada where he worked as a tutor in Port Hope, Ontario.  There, he did come out of his despair enough to fall in love again.  And then tragedy struck again.

     Not long before the wedding, his fiance became very ill, and then, quite suddenly, died.  Again he was left alone.  Scriven never did marry.  In fact, he became somewhat of a loner, even a bit odd, some thought.  At first, people who didn’t know better picked on him because he was different.  He could not keep a steady job, but just worked here and there as he was able.  And he was never able to afford to own his own home. He just lived with whatever friends would let him stay for a while.  And, this man who had so tragically lost his best friends, became a helpful friend to anyone in town who was in need.

     It was said he was the handyman for anyone who couldn’t afford to pay him– the poor, the elderly, the handicapped.  For anyone who needed help he would fix things, cut wood, or run errands.  If they needed money, he would give them money (if he had it), and he would give them food if he had any on hand.  He would even give away the winter clothes off his back.  Even though he was odd, he gained the respect of all who knew him.  After his death, one of the local townspeople said, “If ever there was a saint on earth, it was Joe Scriven.”  He became know as the ‘good Samaritan of Port Hope.’  Along with his good deeds, he would tell everyone who listened about the love of Jesus.

     Scriven had left Ireland in 1845 when he was 25 years old.  He never returned.  In 1855, ten years after he left, his mother became ill and was dying.  Scriven was not able to afford the trip back to see her, but he wrote a poem to comfort her and sent it along in a letter.  After her death, the poem was found in her papers.  The poem had been separated from the letter, so no one knew who wrote it.  The poem was copied and passed around, and eventually found its way to Richmond, Virginia where it was put to music and became the popular hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  Famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody started using this hymn in his crusades, and soon people all over the world were singing it.  But still, no one knew who wrote it.

     Thirty one years after his mother’s death, and sixteen years after his poem was put to music for all the world to sing, Joseph Scriven himself was ill and on his deathbed.  Friends took turns caring for him, and in one of the long night watches, one of the friends started paging through an old scrap-book.  There, he found an old handwritten copy of the popular song.  He looked at the dates on some of the other items on those pages, and he started thinking about it and putting two and two together.  Finally, he asked Scriven about the poem.  “Did you write this?,” he asked.  “Yes I did,” admitted the modest man, “I wrote it many years ago for my mother.  I didn’t intend anyone else to see it.”

     This hymn, which is now among the most popular, was written for the comfort of one person only, and kept hidden for years by its author.  And yet, its appeal is so broad that it crosses all denominational lines and appears in almost every hymnal.  It makes it in the top ten of every survey of best-loved hymns, and it has been recorded by dozens of singers.  Many missionaries have said that this is the first hymn that they teach new converts, so simple is its message, and so profound in its deep dependence on Jesus in prayer.

     Scriven wrote; “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,” and he had some huge ‘griefs’ to bear in his own life.  Yet through it all, he maintained his friendship with that greatest friend of all, Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.  “Can we find a friend so faithful,” he wrote, “who will all our sorrows share.  Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”


John 15:13-15 — (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends, if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father, I have made known to you.”

Psalm 34:18 — The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.


What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.   –Joseph Scriven

2) Precious Lord, Take My Hand

By Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993); Guideposts magazine, October 1987

    Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband.  My wife, Nettie, and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s South-side.  One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting.  I didn’t want to go.  Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child.  But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis.  I kissed Nettie good-bye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.
    However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case.  I wheeled around and headed back.  I found Nettie sleeping peacefully.  I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay.  But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.
    The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again.  When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram.  I ripped open the envelope.  Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED.  People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out.  I rushed to a phone and called home.  All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead.  Nettie is dead.”
    When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy.  I swung between grief and joy.  Yet that night, the baby died.  I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket.  Then I fell apart.  For days I closeted myself.  I felt that God had done me an injustice.  I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs.  I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. 
    But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis.  Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie.  Was that something God?  Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died.  From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.  But still I was lost in grief.
    Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Fry, who seemed to know what I needed.  On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s College, a neighborhood music school.  It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.  I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.  Something happened to me then.  I felt at peace.  I felt as though I could reach out and touch God.  I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words– they came into my head and just seemed to fall into place:
        Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand! I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
        Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.  Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home…
    As the Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit.  I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power.  And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.
   NOTE:  Thomas Andrew Dorsey was an African-American blues band leader, but after becoming a Christian, he turned to writing Gospel music.  He wrote more than a thousand Gospel hymns, including the “Peace in the Valley.”  He is not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956), a Caucasian jazz musician and big band leader of that same time period.  “Precious Lord” has been translated into 32 languages and was the favorite of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was sung at King’s funeral.
Isaiah 41:13  —  For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you.  Do not fear; I will help you.   (NIV)
Psalm 73:21-26 —  When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
   I was senseless and ignorant: I was a brute beast before you.
   Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
   You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory
   Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
   My flesh and my heart may fail,
   But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 139:8-10  —  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide, your right hand will hold me fast.
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.


This great hymn can also make a great prayer.  Print it and keep it in your Bible.  It can be a comfort “when the darkness appears” in your life.

Use this link to learn more about Thomas Dorsey and to hear him tell the story behind the song “Precious Lord.”       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEosw5GUCzQ

To hear it sung by Elvis Presley go to:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMbxg5jh0Fo