"O Love That Will Not Let Me Go"

I Peter 1:6, 7 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

In my schoolroom sits a source of distraction to myself and several of my children. Sometimes we are tempted to steal over to it and while away a few minutes when we ought to be doing school. No, it is not a computer, but rather our piano. (Now, if you wonder why we have it there anyway, I’d tell you that the plusses far outweigh the negatives.) The past week or so the song I keep coming back to is a favorite hymn of my daughter, Kara, and myself.

Born out of suffering, "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” was written in 1882 by a Scottish pastor, George Matheson. Mr. Matheson entered the University of Glasgow at the age of fifteen, and after graduating with honors he studied theology, and was recognized as an up and coming leader of the church in Scotland. He eventually served as a pastor at two churches for some 31 years.

Pastor Matheson’s life was filled with difficulties though. Born with partial blindness, he completely lost his sight as a young man. A brilliant scholar, Matheson was unable to follow this path because of his vision loss. Beyond that, when his fiancĂ© learned of his disability she broke the engagement, saying she did not want to go through life as the wife of a blind preacher.

Because he had a phenomenal memory Pastor Matheson was able to recite something if it were read to him twice. So he was able to compose sermons which his sister, who lived with him, then read back to him until he knew them by heart. This allowed Pastor Matheson to carry on a significant pastoral ministry, often preaching to a church of 1500.

This rich hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” was written on the day of his sister’s wedding. Though he does not explain the exact cause of his anguish that day, some speculate it was his fear of losing his ministry now that his sister was marrying. Or perhaps he was recalling his fiancĂ©’s rejection years before. Here’s what Pastor Matheson wrote later about that day:

My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something 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 rather 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 ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring on high.

O Love that wilt 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.

O Light that follow’st all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray, That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me thru pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow thru the rain, And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up me 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.

I searched online to find out the “end of the story,” wondering what happened after his sister’s marriage. I did learn that Pastor Matheson served 18 years at Innellan (where he composed the song) and then 13 years at St. Bernard’s Church in Edinburgh, so the Lord must have provided some means for him to continue to serve his as a shepherd of a local church.

Check out the Reformed University Fellowship website to find piano or guitar music for the updated tune for this hymn, plus more on the story behind it’s writing.


mrsd said…
O Joy that seekest me thru pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow thru the rain, And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

These words speak to me. Thank you.
Thank you for the information concerning Pastor George Matheson.
What blessing to see what our wonderful Lord does in the lives of the hurting.

I minister at a long term shelter for used and abused hurting women and children.

In discipleship it is a joy to share the testimonies of those who have gone through extreme tragedies and difficulties and let them read about believers such as Joseph Scriven and others who out of their difficulties God had them write a poem that would eventually
minister to hundreds of thousands around the world.
Out of what was meant for evil our glorious God turns into blessing.
Joseph and also Deut.23:5.

In His care and for His praise,
Esher and Elisheva Shoshannah

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