Behind the Hymn: O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go was written by George Matheson.
Matheson was born on March 27, 1842, in Glasgow, Scotland to George and Jane Matheson. At the age of twenty, he was engaged to be married and studying for the ministry. He discovered that he was going blind when his fiancée told him she could not go through life with a blind man. His sister cared for him as he went blind and finished his
studies to become a minister with the Church of Scotland. He served parishes in Glasgow.
Twenty years later, his sister was getting married. Matheson was forty years old and his sister was leaving him. He was sad and reminded of the heartbreak and loss he’d suffered years earlier.
Matheson wrote “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.”
He went on to write, “My hymn was composed in the manse of Inellan on the evening of June 6, 1882. I was at that time alone. It was the day of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of my family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something had 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 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 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.”
This hymn was published in 1882 while he was in Innellan, Argyllshire. It was first published in the Church of Scotland monthly magazine Life and Work in January 1882 (some say 1883) and soon afterward in the Scottish Hymnal (1885).
Matheson died on August 28, 1906. He never married but proved that it is possible to overcome a disability and serve the Lord.
The Scottish hymnal committee asked Albert L. Peace, a well known Scottish organist, write the tune for the lyrics. According to Peace, the tune came to him as quickly as the text had come to Matheson: “After reading it over carefully, I wrote the music straight off, and may say that the ink of the first note was hardly dry when I had finished the tune.”
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