Friday, March 26, 2010

"Abide With Me?"

I love the hymn "Abide With Me" in both lyric and music. Written by in 1847 by Henry Lyte as he lay dying of tuberculosis, the melody is sublime, and the sentiment of seeking God's continuing presence expresses that which every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ desires to experience.

"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."

There is, however, a problem with the hymn. The Bible promises God's abiding presence as an eternally fixed reality in the spirits of all who believe. "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" assured the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 13:5). The presence of God is perhaps the greatest aspect of salvation in the Christ who dwells not only with us, but within us. "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). Asking our Lord to be with us, therefore, is superfluous, and an inadvertent forgetting or ignoring of His most precious promise. "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26).

He is with us in blessing, and is in fact the Gift of every gift (Philippians 4:19). He is with us in difficulty, and is "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). And He is with us in the everyday and the mundane, supplying "life and breath and all things" whether we are consciously aware of His abiding presence or not (Acts 17:25).

I suspect that the latter point was Lyte's true meaning. He desired not only the presence of God, but also the knowledge and awareness of it. We all understand such longing, especially when we are hurting. However, it is vital that we establish within our hearts and minds the doctrinal verity that the presence of our Lord does not come and go. This is not first a matter of experience, but of knowledge and faith. If we have been born again by trusting in the Lord Jesus, the presence of God is never more or less in one moment than in another. Certainly our awareness, experience, and application of such truth varies, and our response to the Lord has much to do with apprehending Him. The truth, however, never changes. When our Lord inhabits us, He comes to stay, through thick or thin. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" He said, and never means never.

We conclude with the remembrance that the price of God's abiding presence was the forsakeness known by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46). To the degree He was abandoned by His Father for our sakes, we will for His sake never be abandoned. Such remembrance adds a devotional aspect to our doctrinal conviction, making our affirmation of His presence a matter not only of truth, but of grateful and devoted love. Indeed, our Savior embraced a loneliness beyond any emptiness of heart ever known, and He did so in order that we might never be alone. Believing that God is with us requites such sacrifice, especially in those times when "Abide With Me" may feel most appropriate. No disrespect intended toward Mr. Lyte, and I will keep singing his hymn with much joy and appreciation, but the truth of the matter is that, thanks to the Lord Jesus, the born again believer never has to make such a request.

"I am with you always, even unto to the end of the world."
(Matthew 28:20)

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