Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was an Anglican priest who faithfully served 23 years as a parish pastor in the small fishing village of Brixham in Devonshire, England. Though suffering from ill-health most of his life, Lyte worked tirelessly in his parish, as well as tutoring local children and writing poetry.
In 1844, Lyte contracted tuberculosis. His already frail health quickly declined to the point where he was no longer able to carry out his pastoral duties. Against the urgings of his family, he preached one last sermon on September 4, 1847. Later that afternoon, he took a short walk on the beach and then retired to his study.
About an hour later, he emerged with a poem based on the words the Emmaus disciples spoke to Jesus on the first Easter: “Abide with us, for it is toward evening” (Luke 24:19 KJV). Lyte understood that the day of his life was drawing to a close. He made the words of the Emmaus disciples his own.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpess, oh, abide with me!
“Abide with me” was Henry Lyte’s prayer. As he faced the coming darkness of death, he asked God to be with him. Lyte’s prayer for God’s presence, however, was not a desperate plea of a man afraid to die.
“Abide with me” is a prayer of confidence.
Lyte prayed with the confidence that God would come, not “in terrors as the King of kings, but kind and good with healing in [his] wings.” Lyte was confident that his Savior – “the friend of sinners” – would abide with him.
Lyte prayed with confidence because he could look back on his life and see how God had been with him even when in his youth he had been “rebellious and perverse.” Throughout his life, God had been his “guide and stay.” “Through cloud and sunshine” God had been with him.
Lyte prayed with confidence because he knew God would be with him the rest of the way.
A number of years ago, I was watching a hospital drama on TV. A doctor informed a patient she was dying. In tears she wailed, “I don’t want to die alone.”
“We all die alone,” responded the doctor solemnly.
In one sense, the doctor was right. Even when surrounded by friends and family, we all die alone. No one here on earth can walk through death’s door with us.
Soon after preaching his last sermon, Henry Lyte traveled to the city of Nice, which is now a part of the French Riviera, hoping that the warmer climate would help him recover. Only a few days after arriving, though, on November 20, 1847, God called Lyte home to heaven. A fellow clergyman who was with him in the hours before he died, reported his last words to be, “Peace! Joy!”
Henry Lyte did not die alone.
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!