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 pow’r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
4 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.
5 Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes:
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
This beautiful hymn is the reflection of one approaching death and calling upon God for comfort and assurance as he passes.
We are not all dying. But then again, we are. In 2 Corinthians 6:9 Paul describes himself as “dying, and behold we live.” He is not here commenting on his particular circumstances, but rather on the fact the Christian life is a death to the world and self, an embrace of that death as passing into life. Just two chapters earlier he said that he is “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2Co 4:10 NKJ)
The pride of life is sin (1 John 2:16). We are under the curse of death, and for us to boast in our life, to be lifted up in pride in our physical strength or good health or intellectual capacity is to fall into the pride of life, and to fail to recognize the curse of death that is on all of us. If we are in Christ by faith, then that curse of death becomes a blessing, a deliverance, as we are released from this body of death into the glorious life to come. But even as a saved man, the reality of death constantly hangs over me, and it is a reality I should embrace as my deliverance, not to flee from. So the hymnist’s attitude should be all of our attitude whether we are close to death in our estimation or not.
To “abide” is to stay or remain in place. The hymnist is calling on the Lord to remain by his side, to stay with him, throughout the coming darkness. He can endure it if he knows God remains his faithful God, and Christ his faithful savior, throughout the ordeal. There comes a time in all our lives, sooner or later, when troubles overwhelm the ability of even the most faithful and loyal friend, when loved ones are silent and throw up their hands in despair. But God is never overwhelmed at our sorrow and trouble, and can and will be a friend to us when nobody else is.
One does not have to live very long before earth’s joys start to grow dim. The things that used to give me such joy as a teenager, mysteries of life that I longed for, become unfulfilling when now experienced regularly. Buying a new album or seeing a movie in the theater is nice, but not particularly exciting. I remember how glamorous it used to seem to fly on an airplane or stay in a hotel, experiences I now simply endure. “Change and decay” is indeed all around, and the fundamental brokenness of the world becomes more apparent. But the Lord’s comforting presence throughout guides us through.
In verse 3 the writer recognizes that change and decay in himself as well. The devil’s constant attacks, only made more potent by the despair and hopelessness in the things of this world, would ruin us if not for God’s constant presence. The Reformed doctrine of perseverance of the saints does not deny the need for us to stay faithful throughout our lives to avoid falling away; nor does it teach an inherent power in the believer to do so. It teaches that God will abide with us; that those united to Christ by faith will be preserved by God’s power throughout.
The cross, then, is our guide throughout our lives. Jesus’ victory came not through earthly triumph or glory, but through dying. We must enter into His death, that we might enter into His glory. The life of the Christian must be cross-shaped throughout, for if we look to the glory and pride of this earth to bless us, we will be sorely disappointed, and ultimately lost. The cross is God’s verdict against all the world and its glory, and our salvation depends on us embracing that cross—not as an abstract principle, but as a living reality deep down in our bones that shapes our whole lives, right up to death. Then we can say with Christ, “Not my will but Thine be done, Father.” We can accept whatever pain or humiliation the world dishes out, knowing that Christ’s glory came through suffering and death.
So too will mine, if He abides with me.