“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”

George Matheson

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.