“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”

"I have loved you with an everlasting love…with loving-kindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31.3)

     INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us of the everlasting love that God has for us is "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go" (#255 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #265 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by George Matheson, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on Mar. 27, 1842, the son of a merchant. As a boy, he had only partial vision, and after entering Glasgow University his sight failed rapidly until he became totally blind at eighteen. Despite his disability, he was a brilliant scholar and finished his studies with high honors. Becoming a minister in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in 1866, he served first at Sandyford in Glasgow and then, beginning in 1868, at Innellan in Argyllshire, a popular resort on the Firth of Clyde in western Scotland, where he remained for eighteen years.

     Concerning this song Matheson wrote, "My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the sixth of June, 1882. I was at the time alone. It was the day 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 completed in about five minutes. Much conjecture has been made regarding the cause of this mental distress. A popular account, although never substantiated, is that the hymn was the outgrowth of the fact that Matheson’s college fiancee had left him just before their marriage when she learned of his impending blindness. It is reported that she had said to Matheson simply, "I do not wish to be the wife of a blind preacher."

     Some have suggested that the wedding of Matheson’s sister may have brought back all the heartache of that occasion. In any event, the poem first appeared in a monthly magazine of the Church of Scotland, Life and Work, Jan., 1883. The usual tune (St. Margaret) was composed for this text in 1884 by Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912). The hymn as we know it was first published the following year in the Scottish Hymnal. In 1886 Matheson became minister at St. Barnard’s Church in Edinburgh, remaining there for thirteen years until ill health forced his retirement in 1899.  His book of verse, Sacred Poems, was published in 1890, and and he died at North Berwick, Scotland, on Aug. 28, 1906.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 (each of which has two tunes, the alternate by L. K. Harding) both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1; with the Harding tune), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today, it it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song suggests that because of God’s everlasting love for us we can have four things.

I. Stanza 1 mentions a life of fellowship with God
"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."
 A. We know that God’s love, manifested to us in Christ, will not let us go because nothing can separate us from it: Rom. 8.38-39
 B. Because of His love for us, Christ, who is the personal embodiment of God’s love, offers us rest to our weary souls: Matt. 11.28-30
 C. Because God’s love will never let us go and offers us rest in Christ, we can be in fellowship with God and Christ as they come into us and make their abode with us: Jn. 14.23

II. Stanza 2 speaks of sufficient light to be a disciple of Christ
"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.
 A. God so loved us that He sent His Son to be the light of the world: Jn. 8.12
 B. We yield our flickering torch to Him by walking in the light that we might have fellowship with Him: 1 Jn. 1.7
 C. The means by which He makes His sunshine blaze to enable us to see the way clearly to walk in Him is through His word: Ps. 119.105

III. Stanza 3 refers to the joy of being God’s children
"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."
 A. The light that shines from Christ directs us to obey the gospel that we might receive salvation from sins and go on our way rejoicing: Acts 8.39
 B. This joy is like the rainbow by which God promised never again to destroy the world by flood: Gen. 9.13-15
 C. Just as God has kept that promise, we can also joyfully look forward to His promise of a tearless morning in eternity: Rev. 12.4

IV. Stanza 4 talks about the cross to wash away our sins
"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."
 A. The cross symbolizes the message of salvation: 1 Cor. 1.18
 B. Therefore, we should never seek to fly from it but rather glory in it: Gal. 6.14
 C. The mention of the color "red" seems to refer to the blood which Christ shed when He died on the cross, by which He makes possible the joy of salvation by washing away our sins: Rev. 1.5-6

     CONCL.: The four key words of this song, Love, Light, Joy, and Cross, comprehend the total fulfillment of God’s purpose for anyone whose life has been totally dedicated to doing the will of God. They tell us that in God’s love for us we have a tie that will bind us to Him eternally. And we give praise for that tie as we sing, "O Love that Will Not Let Me Go."


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