Both the words and the tune of this hymn have suffered in a way from their immense—and deserved—popularity. A few months before his death in 1847, Henry Francis Lyte gave it to a close friend, though it may have been written as much as twenty years before. The key words at the beginning of the hymn and the end of each verse echo the words of the disciples in Emmaus inviting the risen Christ to ‘Abide with us for it is towards evening, and the day is far spent’. The author weaves together the sense of the end of the day and the end of life which, because Christ is risen, is not to be approached without hope. W H Monk, who had an extremely distinguished career as academic and church musician in London, was the music editor of the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) in which the tune appeared for the first time. His widow said that it was written in their garden as they watched the sun set. The opening pattern of four notes to the key words of the hymn provide the material that binds the whole tune together; they are repeated three times in falling form and given twice in an inverted, rising version, and then are the final notes of the tune. If one believes in the power of hymns then one should expect that its constant repetition, even at football matches, is powerful enough to get something of the Christian faith into the hearts of those who sing it.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2001