Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

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Thursday, July 18, 2013


This hymn is generally considered to be one of the best-loved hymns written during the latter part of the nineteenth century.  The writing of this thoughtful and artistically constructed text is even more remarkable when it is remembered that it was authored by one who was totally blind and who describes the writing as the "fruit of much mental suffering."

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, March 27, 1842, George Matheson had only partial vision as a boy.  After he entered Glasgow University, his sight failed rapidly and he became totally blind at the age of eighteen.  Despite this handicap he was a brilliant scholar and finished the University and the Seminary of the Church of Scotland with high honors. In 1886 he became pastor of the 2,000 member St. Bernard's Parish Church in Edinburgh. He went on to become known as one of Scotland's outstanding preachers and pastors, greatly esteemed in Edinburgh, where his eloquent preaching consistently attracted large crowds. 

Many conjectures have been made regarding the cause of the mental distress which promped the author to write this text.  A very popular account, although never substantiated, is that this text was an outgrowth of Matheson's fiancee's leaving him just before their married when she learned of his impending total blindness.  Although this story cannot be documented, there are many significant hints in this hymn reflecting a saddened heart, such as the "flickering torch" and the "borrowed ray." in the second stanza, the tracing of the "rainbow through the rain" in the third stanza, as well as the "cross" in the last verse.

Innellan Manse, Matheson's birthplace, is were he wrote this becautiful hymn.  Fornunately, D. Matheson did leave an account of his writing of this hymn:

My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882.
I was at that 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 the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.
I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice ...
than of working it out myself.
I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes,
and equally sure 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.
I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse.

The four key words or symbols of "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go" are LOVE, LIGHT, JOY, CROSS.  These words have been described as the total fulfillment for any believer whose life is totally committed to the will of God.  One could probe for considerable time the depth and personal significance of these four expressions.

Click photo of hymn to enlarge.

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