Was there ever a time when you were laboring alongside fellow Christians to fulfill a task that the Lord laid out for you, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, you were left to complete the work alone? Have your spiritual comforts ever been eclipsed by the loss of a helper?
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” (2 Timothy 4:9-10) Henry Francis Lyte suffered this kind of abandonment too, and he alluded to it in his famous hymn, Abide With Me.
Lyte was born in Scottland, and he entered the ministry at an early age. His first pastorate was in Ireland, about seven miles from Wexford. He described that post like this: “remote from towns, in almost perfect seclusion, giving myself up to the duties of my situation, writing my sermons, visiting my sick, catechizing my children, without other companions than my flute, my pen, and my books.”1Quoted in Louis F Benson’s Studies of Familiar Hymns.
Lyte faced a particularly difficult period in his ministry. Not long after this, he took up his pen and wrote Abide With Me, in part, with his desertion in mind. Years after Lyte’s death, a man who had previously been a member of his choir in Brixham explained what happened. He said:
I and a dozen others were members of the choir, who are all dead now. We were deeply attached to Mr. Lyte. He had the gentlest expression and most winning manner possible, and yet I suppose we caused him more grief than all his trials of ill health. We left his choir and gave up teaching in his Sunday School, and though I should probably do the same thing tomorrow under similar circumstances, it gives me a feeling of intense sadness even now when I think of it. This is how it came about. A short while before he left us to go to France, where it was hoped the climate would benefit his health some influential members of the Plymouth Brethren visited Brixham and persuaded some of us to join them. After due deliberation we went in a body to Mr. Lyte and told him that we intended to leave his church. He took it calmly enough, though we practically constituted his entire choir, and said that nothing would be farther from his thoughts than to stand between us and our consciences. He asked us to think the matter over very seriously and come to him again in a few days. We did so, but our decision remained unaltered. We left him, and never entered his church again. When ‘Abide with me’ came to be written, each of us was given a copy, and then we realized, perhaps more keenly than any one else, the true meaning of those words—
‘When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.’2Adapted from William Budd Bodine’s account in Some Hymns and Hymn Writers.
Have your helpers failed you? Have your comforts fled? No matter what the reasons may appear to be for this desertion, know this, dear brothers, it is for your good. For when we are deprived of those helpers that have become so dear to us, it is then that the Helper becomes dearest. Can you see the blessing of your loss? Your heavenly Father is working for your good because you are his and his love for you is steadfast. Samuel Rutherford said, “If you were not Christ’s wheat appointed to be bread in His house, He would not grind you.” When your comforts flee, you flee as well; not to attempt to take back those fleeting helpers, but flee to the only eternal Help of the helpless. He will abide with you. Behold, your Help stands at the door, and knocks: if any man hears his voice, and opens the door, he will come in to him, and will dine with him.
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