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Jul 2012

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. – Psalm 13:5-6

This Sunday we will be introducing a new hymn to our Sunday gathering entitled O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, written by George Matheson. On the day that one of his sisters was married, Matheson wrote this hymn. He recorded this account of that experience in his journal:

My hymn was composed in the manse of Inellan on the evening of June 6, 1882. I was at that time alone. It was the day of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of my family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something had happened to me which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high. I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse.

George Matheson suffered poor eyesight from birth, and at age 15 learned that he was going blind. Not one to be easily discouraged, he enrolled in the University of Glasgow and graduated at age 19. He then began theological studies, and it was while pursuing those that he began totally blind. During this time, he was engaged to be married, but when he broke the news to his fiancee that he would soon be completely blind, she decided she could not go through life with a blind husband, and left him.

Matheson’s three sisters rose to the occasion, and tutored him through his studies, even going so far as to learn Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to be able to help their brother. With their help he was able to complete his studies. After graduation, he answered a call to serve as pastor of a church in Innellan, Argylshire, Scotland.  He had a successful ministry there, and was later called to serve as pastor of the much larger St. Bernard’s Church in Edinburgh.

During this time, he had been living with one of his sisters, but the day came, however, in 1882, when his sister fell in love was preparing to get married herself. The evening before the wedding, George’s whole family had left to get ready for the next day’s celebration. He was alone and facing the prospect of living the rest of his life without the one person who had come through for him. On top of this, he was reflecting on his own aborted wedding day twenty years earlier. It is not hard to imagine the fresh waves of grief washing over him that night.

It was in the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gives him this hymn, written, as he says above, in five minutes. Looking back over his life, he once wrote that his was:

…an obstructed life, a circumscribed life… but a life of quenchless hopefulness, a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstance, and which even at the time of abandoned work has said not “Good night” but “Good morning”.

Here are the lyrics to the hymn:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
My life is not my own, its yours
My life is not my own, its yours

O light that follows all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
So light the fire in my heart, I’ll burn for you
So light the fire in my heart, I’ll burn for you

O Joy that seeks me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
So anoint me with joy, joyful I will be
So anoint me with joy, joyful I will be

O Cross that’s lifting up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
And we will sing, holy, holy, is the king of kings
And we will sing, holy, holy, is the king of kings

All of us suffer some sort of heartbreak, or disappointment, or disability at some point in our lives. Matheson suffered two severe blows that could have stopped him: the loss of his eyesight, and the loss of the woman he loved. As this hymn reveals, it was his faith in God that kept him going through the adversities that he suffered. He believed that God’s love would not let him go, and that God’s light would follow him all his way, and that God’s joy would seek him through his pain, and that faith made all the difference.

You can listen to an arrangement of O Love That Will Not Let Me Go below by clicking the video, and you can purchase and download the hymn by clicking here. I pray that this song would be one more way we lay hold of the greatness, the glory, the wisdom, and the knowledge of God.



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