This is a very touching hymn. Many years ago we met a young Christian man named John who played the guitar and led his cell group in praise and worship. He memorized many hymns and short choruses. He became blind after a wrongly diagnosed illness. He lost his job and fiancée after that.
My sister flew in one day for her check up from another city. She was suffering at that time from an illness that increasingly weakened her to the point that she could not walk without support. We took her to this cell group the same evening. She was touched when she saw John playing the music and singing joyously praising God despite his personal tragedy. He told us he was engaged to be married but the sudden blindness made him break off the engagement as he could no longer take care of his fiancée who needed special care.
it was a memorable evening for my sister. She later told us that she prayed and let go (of something that she had been hanging onto) that night. She became healed after that!
The power of God’s love is awesome!
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 climb 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.
It was on this day, June 6, 1882, the day of his sister’s marriage. His family was staying overnight in Glasgow, Scotland, leaving him alone in the Manse (a parsonage). George Matheson was hurting. It was not physical pain that cut him, or regret for the blindness that had robbed him of sight by the time he was eighteen. Rather, it was anguish of spirit. As his heart moaned, words welled up in his mind, words of comfort. “I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself,” In less than five minutes, the poem was complete. (excerpt from : http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/blind-matheson-penned-immortal-hymn-11630603.html)
Matheson obviously didn’t intend to tell us what caused his “most severe mental suffering,” but people who know his background strongly suspect that it had to do with a heartbreaking experience several years earlier. His fiancée had broken her engagement to him, telling him that she couldn’t see herself going through life married to a blind man. Matheson never married, and it seems likely that his sister’s wedding brought to memory the woman that he had loved and the wedding that he had never enjoyed. (excerpt from: http://www.lectionary.org/HymnStories/O%20Love%20that%20Will%20Not%20Let%20Me%20Go.htm)
These verses written in pain became one of the great hymns of the church.
Words: George Matheson, in the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work, January 1882.