compiled by Michael Jeshurun

At age 20 George Matheson (1842-1906) was engaged to be married but began going blind. When he broke the news to his fiancee, she decided she could not go through life with a blind husband. She left him. Before losing his sight he had written two books of theology and some feel that if he had retained his sight he could have been the greatest leader of the church of Scotland in his day.

A special providence was that George’s sister offered to care for him. With her help, George left the world of academia for pastoral ministry and wound up preaching to 1500 each week–blind.
The day came, however, in 1882, when his sister fell in love and prepared for marriage 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 doubtless 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.

In the darkness of that moment George Matheson wrote this hymn. He remarked afterward that it took him five minutes and that it was the only hymn he ever wrote that required no editing.

O love that WILL NOT LET ME GO!

I have learnt that nothing on this side of heaven stays with us for long! Like Peter, many who today tell us that they are ready to go both to PRISON and to DEATH for us, may tomorrow DENY THEY EVEN KNEW US!

There is ONLY ONE Friend who sticketh closer than a brother (Prov 18:24), and who will remain with us until the END, and His name is the Lord Jesus!

When everything else is passed away, you’ll still have Jesus! When everything else is gone, there’ll still be Jesus. When all others forsake you, there’ll still be Jesus. When you haven’t got anything left, there’ll still be Jesus. When the World has nothing left, you’ll still have Jesus! When all your hopes are gone & all seems to fail, even when your dreams are shattered & your ships come home with broken sails, you will still have Jesus!—

And Jesus is all you really need! Hallelujah!

Here’s the complete Hymn –

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.

Matheson later wrote concerning this hymn 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.”

Matheson obviously didn’t intend to tell us what caused his “most severe mental suffering,” but people who know his background strongly suspect that it had to do with a heartbreaking experience several years earlier. His fiancee had broken her engagement to him, telling him that she couldn’t see herself going through life married to a blind man. Matheson never married, and it seems likely that his sister’s wedding brought to memory the woman that he had loved and the wedding that he had never enjoyed.

At any rate, Matheson’s “severe mental suffering” inspired him to write this hymn, “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go.” The hymn celebrates the constancy of God’s love––”love that wilt not let me go”––”light that follow’st all my way”––”joy that seekest me through pain.” It concludes by celebrating “Life that shall endless be.”
Albert Peace, organist and editor of a journal called The Scottish Hymnal, wrote the tune, “St. Margaret,” that is associated with the hymn. His experience was amazingly like that of Matheson, in that the music came to him quickly and he was able to write the tune in only five minutes.

When I read the various accounts of Matheson’s writing this hymn, one sentence struck me as especially important. It was this––Matheson said, “The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.” There is an important lesson in that. All of us suffer some sort of heartbreak or disappointment or disability at some point in our lives. What makes all the difference is our response ––whether we let the hardship stop us or inspire us to greater effort.

Matheson suffered two severe blows that could have stopped him––the loss of his eyesight and the loss of his beloved. In both cases, he made the best of a bad situation––and we are all the richer for it. 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.


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