Friday, February 04, 2011

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Fridays with Susan...


I have heard this hymn by George Matheson hundreds, if not thousands of times before.  It's funny how you can hear something so many times and then - suddenly! - it's like you're listening to it for the very first time.   After running across it on Youtube today while searching for something else, and then stopping to let the words and music flood over my heart and restore my soul, I thought I would look up the history of how this great hymn came to be.

George Matheson was forty years old on the evening of his sister's wedding day when he penned these words.  He was alone in the house as all his family members were away, presumably staying closer to where the ceremony had taken place.  In his own words,

“I was at that time alone, it was the day of my sister’s marriage . . . 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.”

Some years earlier, his fiancee had broken his own engagement when it was learned that his ability to see was rapidly degenerating and there was nothing medically that could be done to save his sight. "I cannot live with a blind man... " she had told him.

By the time he was twenty he was completely blind, but even so he had completed his studies at the University of Glasgow with the highest honours, placing first in his class in logic, classics and philosopy and went on to enter the ministry.  His sister, the one who was married that day, was his ardent supporter, companion, and aide, and had even studied Greek and Hebrew in order to be able to help him with his sermons.  They had lived and worked together for twenty years when she got married.

Who knows what his "mental suffering" consisted of that night when this hymn flowed (in five minutes, he said) from a heart that in the midst of the pain sought after God alone.  We can only guess that it could have been that he was mourning the loss of his sister's singular devotion to himself, his life and his work.  Perhaps he couldn't imagine life without her.  Or perhaps it was the thought of his own unrequited love and rejection of years past?  Was his former love a guest at the wedding?

There were other disappointments in his life, including bitterly disappointing reviews of a learned book on theology.  He was criticized for being "an inaccurate student" which reportedly was "heartbreaking" news and understandably so.  Friends wrote of this event:  “When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field – not without pangs, but finally.”  He left the academics of theology and entered the pastoral ministry ending up at a church where he preached to more than 1500 people every week.  But he had only been able to do this with the assistance of his sister.


Whatever was the deep pain and mental anguish that he experienced that night, we can see and feel the result of turning to God in such an time and in such a way.

 George Matheson died of apoplexy just a few years after writing this hymn at the age of 46.  What a lesson in
how God can use the simple entrusting of our hurting hearts to Him!

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Susan,
I've long had this chosen for my funeral (singer has been asked :o) )
but thanks to your post I'm thinking it should be an anthem for my living as well as my dying.
Thank you for using your gift,

Deborah

Dave Hingsburger said...

Susan, I loved this ... the disability angle is very, very, interesting ... I'm going to write something about this guy on Sunday and link to this post if that's ok with you. Ta ... drop by Sunday, I'm a lateral thinker and I'm going to do a 'twist' on this.

Liz@WashingtonPharmGirl said...

Simply amazing, and inspiring. Thank you.

Belinda said...

Deborah, Are you like me--wishing you could attend that event you planned--with all your favourite music?! :)

That is a wonderful hymn for a funeral, but I love that Susan's post inspired you to use is as anthem right here; right now.

Belinda said...

Susan I loved the version you chose of this song. Awesome!

Susan said...

Deborah, I'm glad this made you think - it did me. And thank you for the encouragement.

Dave, I can't wait for the next few hours to pass so I can read your disability twist! I actually thought of you when I was writing it..

Liz, I visited your blog today - I'll definitely be back. I love it!

Belinda, I'm sorry I'm going to miss all your favourite music, but I'm just not planning to stick around long enough to be at your funeral. But I hope you have a great time at mine! :) (There's no way you're going first!) And yes, I love that version of the song too. I loved how they were trying to help the bass learn his part and how they celebrated together when he nailed it in the end.