When having a piece of dessert too rich for our palate, there is a degree of unpleasantness. Similarly, when the Lord is sanctifying His children, there could be sorrow and pain—also unpleasant. But, where the richness of the dessert ends up leaving a bad taste in our mouths, the richness of the Lord’s mercies will leave us satisfied in tasting that the He is good. In the same vein, the ancient hymns of old tell us a rich story, for, so many of them were born out of the highs and lows of this world making them burst forth with life.
Studying the history of hymnody lately, I came across a few stories the professor was lecturing on that brought tears to my eyes and a new appreciation. New life came into that hymn and I soaked it up. The experience made it personal to me, making me feel connected to the saints who have gone before. We all know that the best stories of life make the best movies and books. That is why the Gospel is the greatest story ever told. But, George Matheson’s story is a great story as well.
Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go
The pain of rejection is real. It penetrates into the recesses of the soul. For so many, the reminder of their lost love will continue throughout their life. This is the case with the author of this tune. As Indelible Grace explains, this song was written right before George’s sister’s wedding. He was able to write this beloved tune in the matter of minutes. However, there was a drive behind his ability. He was in a low spot in life. You see, he began losing his eyesight when he was young. A bit more grown up, he became engaged to a woman. When his fiance became aware that he was going blind, she told him that she did not want to go through life with a blind man. She cut off their engagement.
When the time came that George indeed went blind, his dear sister cared for him. Some even said that if it weren’t for him going blind, he might have become a major leader in the Church of Scotland. Because he went blind, he left the academic world to become a pastor. This sister enabled George to pastor a congregation of 1500 people, for, he was a brilliant man.
Tragically, this ‘dear sister’ George had, was the one who was getting married and would now leave him as well. Now that his caretaker was gone and his job as a pastor most likely gone as well, who would care for this blind man? Who would want to go through life with a blind man? Alone, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, he penned verses like this:
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.
Every time I sing this hymn, I will know its history. I will know of the man, George Matheson. I will know of his life struggle and of his dependence on the Lord and I will be encouraged. If the Lord was faithful with George, won’t he also be faithful to me? He will not let me go. Hymns have a richness that modern pop songs don’t have. Hymns have a rich heritage that informs the Christian identity. Modern pop songs are based on money, not on real life stories. Oh to see these old songs come alive.
For Further Discussion:
Tim Challies on the History of Abide with Me