A personal favorite of mine, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, was written by pastor and scholar George Matheson, D.D. (1842-1906). Matheson wrote, “My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan [Argyleshire, Scotland] 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…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 from 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 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.
English composer and organist Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912) wrote the hymn tune ST. MARGARET, the tune most commonly used for Matheson’s hymn. Peace first played the organ professionally at age nine, and was a parish organist and recitalist for the remainder of his life. Peace said that this tune came to him quickly and he was able to write the tune in only five minutes, about the same of time that it took Matheson to write the text.
We do not know what “severe mental suffering” Matheson was experiencing when he wrote this hymn. Whatever it was, the powerful poetic imagery of the hymn text declares his assurance of God’s hand in his life.