Keeping the Hymns Close By

Abide With Me

Author – Henry F. Lyte, 1793 – 1847
Composer – William H. Monk, 1823 – 1889
Scripture Reference – Luke 24:29
Written in 1847

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

Henry F. Lyte was born in Scotland on June 1, 1793. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and graduated in 1814. At one time he had intended studying medicine; but he chose to become a pastor and was ordained in 1815. Throughout his lifetime he was known as a man frail in body but strong in faith and spirit. Despite his physical frailties he was a tireless worker with an established reputation as a poet, musician and minister. He coined the phrase, “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”

Henry F. Lyte

For the last twenty-three years of his life Henry pastored a parish church in the fishing village of Lower Brixham, Devonshire, England. His health was continually threatened by asthma. Lower Brixham suffered damp winters, and while in his early fifties Henry realized his lung disorder had deteriorated into tuberculosis. On September 4, 1847, at age 54, he entered his pulpit with difficulty and preached what was to be his last sermon. He had planned a therapeutic holiday in Italy. “I must put everything in order before I leave,” he said, “because I have no idea how long I will be away.”

That afternoon he walked along the coast in pensive prayer, then retired to his room, emerging an hour later with “Abide With Me.” Some accounts indicate he wrote the poem during that hour; others say that he discovered it in the bottom of his desk as he packed for his trip to Italy, and that it had been written a quarter century earlier. Probably both stories are true. It is likely that, finding sketches of a poem he had previously started, he prayerfully revised and completed it that evening.

Shortly afterward, Henry embraced his family a final time and departed for Italy. Stopping in Avignon, France, he again revised “Abide With Me” and posted it to his wife. Arriving in Nice, France he checked into a hotel and there on November 20, 1847, he passed away. His last words were “Peace! Joy!”. When news of his death reached Brixham, the villagers asked to hold a memorial service. It was on this occasion that “Abide With Me” was first sung.

William Henry Monk

The hymn’s first appearance in America was in 1855 in Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Collection. Later it was discovered by William Henry Monk, music editor of the Anglican Church hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and it was included in the first edition of that hymnal published in 1861. It is said that in less than half an hour he composed a tune named “Eventide” for Henry Lyte’s hymn. He was inspired by the beauty of a glorious sunset while yet experiencing a deep personal sorrow. William Monk was also choir director and organist at King’s College, London. He also supplied the music for the hymn, “Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious” and “The Strife Is O’er”.

Henry Lyte’s text for this hymn was taken from the account of Christ’s appearance with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and their statement, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” And He went in to tarry with them (Luke 24:29).

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Taken from Then Sings My Soul Keepsake Edition by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2011 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson