The hymn below was written by George Matheson (1842-1906), son of George and Jane Matheson of Glasgow, Scotland. Of the hymn he wrote:
“My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882…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.”
Each stanza of the hymn keys on a specific theme – love, light, joy, and the cross – especially relating the ever-faithful presence of God.
This hymn was first published in the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work in January 1882. It was later included in The Scottish Hymnal in 1885. At the time the hymn was published in 1882, Matheson was living and preaching in Innellan, Argyllshire. George Matheson went blind in his youth, graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1862, and became a minister of the Church of Scotland. In 1886 Matheson became the pastor of St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He published a volume of hymns and poetry, called Sacred Songs, in 1890. “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” rather than a more standard meter, consists of four lines of 8 syllables and a closing line of 6 syllables (184.108.40.206.6).
Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912) wrote the tune St. Margaret for this hymn at the request of the committee for The Scottish Hymnal. As with Matheson’s hymn, Peace relates this tune coming to him and being completed quickly: “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.”
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
4. 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.