At the age of 15, George Matheson (1842-1906) was told by doctors that his shadowy eyesight would soon become total blindness. However, that setback did not stop the teenager from enrolling in the University of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1857 where he graduated with a Master of Arts with first-class honours in 1862.
Matheson eventually lost his eyesight during the years when he was studying theology in preparation for the Christian ministry. His devoted sisters aided him in his theological study by mastering Hebrew, Greek and Latin. But even their love and devotion could not mend his broken heart when Matheson’s fiancée broke off their engagement by returning his ring and writing: “I cannot see my way clear to go through life bound by the chains of marriage to a blind man.”
Broken but not crushed, Matheson never married but went on to become a poetic, eloquent preacher and well-loved parish minister of the Scottish Church. He was 40 years of age when one of his sisters got married in 1882. Old wounds of heartbreak and rejection opened as he sat alone in his study in the parish of Innellan, Argylshire (western Scotland), brooding over his sorrow.
From the depths of his despair, Matheson reached out in faith and laid claim to an eternal love that would never be broken. In a few minutes, he penned the four stanzas of his great hymn, ‘O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go’.
Matheson recounted: “I was alone in the manse on the night of my sister’s wedding… Something happened to me, which caused 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.”
Indeed the love that would not let us go was demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, where sinners can find rest for their weary souls. The light that follows us all the way gives us sight to see God’s fairer days (stanza 2). The joy that comes in our dark and sorrowful hour points to a cloudless morn (stanza 3). The Cross that raises us when we finally let go will usher us into life without end (stanza 4).
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
(The United Methodist Hymnal, #480)
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 followest 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.
O Joy that seekest 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.
O Cross that liftest 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.
Words: George Matheson, 1882
Music: Albert L. Peace, 1884
1 Ernest K. Emurian, Living Stories of Famous Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), 99.
2 Ibid., 99.
3 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 183.
4 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 48.
Picture by suksao/Bigstock.com
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.