Two disciples meet up with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus as the sun sets on Easter evening. They do not recognize the Stranger who opens the Scriptures to them there in the roadway. But as the sun sets, the two men say to the Stranger: “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 KJV).
Some Bible passages have a way of inspiring paintings and hymns. This particular passage, so familiar in the wording of the King James Version, moved a man named Henry Francis Lyte in just that way.
Henry Francis Lyte was born in 1793. Though orphaned at an early age and beset by frail health and poverty, he made his way through college, wining prizes on three different occasions for his poetry.
Lyte started out to be a doctor. Somewhere along the line he decided to study for the ministry.
A little later, the death of a close friend, a fellow pastor, brought about a profound change in Lyte’s personal, spiritual life.
Searching the Scriptures together with his dying friend, he came to an even firmer faith in Christ. Lyte wrote of his friend: “He died happy under the belief that though he had deeply erred, there was One whose death and suffering would atone for his delinquencies, and that he was forgiven and accepted for His sake.” Lyte wrote of himself: “I was greatly affected by the whole matter, and brought to look at life and its issue with a different eye than before; and I began to study my Bible and preach in another manner than I had previously done.”
For nearly 25 years after this incident, Henry Lyte labored as a pastor among the humble fisher folk and sailors of the little church along the sea at Lower Brixham, England. His deep spiritual zeal and fervor often led him to overtax his frail health so that he often had to spend winters on the European continent in friendlier weather.
This is where he was preparing to go on September 4, 1847 when he stepped into his pulpit to preach a farewell sermon for that season. Family and friends urged him not to preach in his weakened state, but he insisted with that now famous line: “It is better to wear out than to rust out.”
That afternoon, he walked along the shore of Lower Brixham to watch the sun as it was setting in a glory of crimson and gold. Returning home, he shut himself up in his study for one brief hour. When he came out, he handed one of his relatives a manuscript.
Soon after, Henry Lyte left for Italy to spend the winter. He got only as far as France. He died there on November 20, 1847. His last words were: “Joy! Peace!”
And that manuscript he handed to the relative? It was a hymn:
“Abide With Me! Fast Falls The Eventide!”