Faith, Religion & Scripture, Notes & Essays by David Rodeback

“I triumph still, if Thou abide with Me” (a reflection)

Abide with Me

One of the unsung joys of Christian worship — there may be a pun there, alas — is encountering verses of a beloved hymn which aren’t in the hymnal you happen to use. A double blessing is discovering (or later remembering) them in a time when they are immediately relevant to you, your loved ones, or the state of things around us generally. This week, I was struck by these lines from the well-beloved hymn on Henry Francis Lyte’s text, “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.

What I Knew

Those lines were new to me. The hymnal I’ve used since 1985 has only three verses:

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.

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 grew up with those three verses, and I’m not complaining. They’ve been a song of my heart. But until this week, I had never done with this hymn what I sometimes do: hunt for more verses.

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The Wartburg Choir: “Abide with Me”

I have the superb Wartburg Choir to thank for my discovery of the verse I quoted first above. Here they sing the three verses I knew, plus that one:

Four More Verses and a Story

Soon I found four more verses and a story. Here’s the last verse of eight:

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.

Here’s the story:

The Musical Times of January 1, 1908, (pp. 24-25) notes the results of its poll: “Abide with Me” beat “Lead, Kindly Light,” and “O God, Our Help” for first place. (They list the top twenty.)

Then they quote Lyte’s daughter’s memoir of her father’s last season. He was 57 and failing from tuberculosis.

“The summer was passing away, and the month of September … arrived, and each day seemed to have a special value as being one day nearer his departure. His family were surprised and almost alarmed at his announcing his intention of preaching once more to his people. His weakness and the possible danger attending the effort, were urged to prevent it, but in vain. ‘It was better,’ as he used to say often playfully, when in comparative health, ‘to wear out than to rust out.’

“He felt that he should be enabled to fulfil his wish, and feared not for the result. His expectation was well founded. He did preach, and amid the breathless attention of his hearers, gave them a sermon on the Holy Communion … In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, ‘Abide with Me,’ with an air of his own composing, adapted to the words.”

Lyte died in mid-November of that year, 1847.

Two More Choirs (Plus a Congregation)

Here’s a video with a long organ introduction, which I like, followed by the three verses I knew and the two additional verses I’ve quoted here. Skip to 2:15-ish to start with the singing, if you must. (But really, must you?)

Finally, because good things happen in threes, here’s a performance of just the three verses I already knew. A Brigham Young University-Idaho choir sings in the Conference Center at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Where We Began, Almost

I could walk us through the hymn, a line at a time, and try to comment and explain. But the words speak for themselves; I could scarcely do better.

So at the risk of repeating what you’ve read once and heard twice just now, perhaps, these lines linger in my thoughts:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. …
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

From the Author

David Rodeback

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And if you want to see what happens on the rare occasions when I try to write devotional verse, here’s “Thou, Lord.”

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