by Rev. Everette Chapman
Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, in his book, Climbing the Rainbow, tells about the blind minister and hymn writer, George Matheson, and how he came to write his great hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Allow me to share the story.
It was late in the evening of June 6, 1882. The pastor of the kirk in Inellan on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland sat alone in the darkness of his study. There was no need to turn on the gaslights; he was blind.
Forty years old at the time, he had emerged as one of Scotland’s most brilliant preachers and most compelling poets. Crowds flooded to hear him whenever he preached. Prestigious churches in Edinburgh and Glasgow sought him to be their pastor. His books on scripture and his poetry were read throughout the land.
On that night in June, however, the darkness that had increasingly gathered about him since childhood was matched by a terrible darkness in his heart. This day he had experienced an inner anguish that all but defied description.
It had been a long day. In the morning he had attended the marriage service for one of his sisters. A mixture of happiness for her and pain for himself surged in his heart. This sister had served as his eyes throughout his student days in college and seminary. She learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew so that she could read for him. With her assistance he had been a brilliant student, graduating with the highest honors the University of Glasgow had to award.
She accompanied him as he began his ministry, writing out his dictated sermons and reading them back to him until they were fully memorized and could then be delivered with his impelling oratorical skill. What would he do without her?
After the wedding, the blind poet-preacher took a steamer from Glasgow to Inellan. “Something happened to me,” he wrote later, “which was known only to myself and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.”
Was it facing the demands of his life and ministry without his sister’s eyes? Was it that his sister’s marriage forced him to realize that he probably would never marry? Or had he already endured the rejection of someone he had hoped to marry? Were there fantasies too aberrant to share that were stalking the corridors of his mind?
Dr. Ogilvie goes on to suggest that we might never know what that “something” was to which he referred. What we do know is that it was probably out of that physical, mental, and emotional darkness that he came to write his most famous poem, one that we sing in our churches. Matheson claimed that this poem/hymn was “the fruit of my suffering.” He wrote:
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 it flow
May richer, fuller be.
Out of George Matheson’s deepest darkness came His best work, because God was with him in his darkness. He was with blind Fanny Crosby, too, as she wrote hundreds of hymns, not the least-loved of which is “Blessed Assurance.” He was with sightless John Milton as he wrote “Paradise Lost,” “Paradise Regained,” and “Samson Agonistes.” He was with Beethoven, who found the grit and the grace to compose glorious music even after he had lost his hearing. And He will be with you and me in whatever circumstances we face. He is that “Love that will not let us go.” He never will. You may trust Him to hold you fast.