Lyte preached as a dying man to dying men. He knew that life was but a vapor and that sinful man must make haste to close with Christ. And even as his own life began to fade, Lyte pointed others to the solace that he found in knowing that our unchangeable God abides with all His people in life and in death.
I don’t like change, and I know I’m not the only one. Change, even if it is a good and needful change, carries with it a tinge of sorrow and uncertainty. As we reflect upon the goodness we’ve enjoyed and so often overlooked, we wonder if that same goodness will be on the far side of change. “Will my children make new friends after the move? How will I handle being an empty nester? What if my new career ends up being worse than my old one? How will I spend my time when I’m not going into the office every day?”
The feelings of sorrow and uncertainty are only magnified when the change is unexpected and unwelcome. “What happens if our country goes to war? What will the world look like for my children and grandchildren? How can I get out of bed in the morning without my spouse by my side?” As time changes everything about us and around us, the hymn “Abide with Me” provides special comfort to those who long for something constant, something that forever remains the same.
“Abide with Me” was written by the Scottish Anglican priest Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847). Lyte was a reputed poet and hymnodist (“Jesus I Thy Cross Have Taken” and “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” come to us from Lyte’s pen), and a faithful minister serving All Saints Church in Lower Brixham, Devonshire, England for 23 years.
Lyte’s health was always fragile; asthma and tuberculosis were constant threats to his wellbeing. Shortly before journeying to Italy to escape the biting cold of winter, Lyte preached what would be his final sermon. The story goes that “Lyte nearly had to crawl to the pulpit and his message came as from a dying man. His final words made a deep impact upon his people when he said that it was his desire to ‘induce you to prepare for the solemn hour which must come to all by a timely appreciation and dependence upon Christ.’” Lyte’s daughter tells us that it was on that same night that he placed the words of “Abide with Me” into the hands of a family member, together with a tune of his own composing. Two months later, Lyte succumbed to tuberculosis and died in Nice, France on November 20th, 1847.
Lyte preached as a dying man to dying men. He knew that life was but a vapor and that sinful man must make haste to close with Christ.