HYMN 243 O Love that Wilt not Let me Go
German: O Liebe, die nicht lässet mich
Jeremiah 31:3; Matthew 11:28; 1 John 3:1-2
Text: George Matheson (1842-1906) Tune: Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912)
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 follow'st all my way, I yield my flick'ring 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.
MEDITATION I couldn’t get the rhythm right. Here I was playing this hymn on the Baldwin electronic organ for morning chapel at Augsburg College in Si Melby Hall, probably in 1963. The bleachers were full as per usual. Everyone, including me, knew the hymn and loved it, but for some reason the rhythm on the page undid me. As I struggled, Leland Sateren, the choral director, rose up and came to me and started directing me! I can still see his figure looming out of the corner of my eye!
A vivid memory that always comes to me with this great hymn.
The story of the hymn has moved many people over the years. Matheson, a Scot, born in Glasgow, became a minister in 1868 after his university work in Edinburgh where he did well, although his eyesight was failing. By the time he was twenty he had gone completely blind. He resolved that this would not stop him in his callings and it did not. He served parishes in Scotland while continuing to write. He became one of the most eloquent preachers in the country. He preached once to Queen Victoria who found his sermon moving.
By Matheson's account this hymn arose from a time in which he was filled with a terrible despair and as he was dealing with it, he said, “It was the night of my sister's marriage...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 of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself."
The hymn expresses his grief and sorrow well, but also the hope he found in the Lord. It is a vivid text with many visual images that stick. The beginning two words of each stanza O Love, O Light, O Joy, O Cross, are really names for Jesus. He describes in strong images what these names imply—Christ’s Love is like an ocean in which he loses himself, the Light of the world that gives him light, Joy that seeks him and shows him “the rainbow through the rain” and the Cross that lifts him and becomes the place from which life arises, “there blossoms red Life that shall endless be.”
This is a hymn that brings solace in the midst of great stress and suffering. Something we need today. It is interesting to see how well the hymn has done on Youtube today. People are finding it a great comfort during COVID-19 time. The comfort that Matheson found in God’s love, knowing that even if he lost his grip on Jesus, that Jesus would not let him go, or abandon him, is a promise that many of us need to hear now.
Even if one’s own faith seems weak, Matheson teaches us in a wonderful hymn that got a lovely tune, God will not let us go. To know that all we have to do is look at the cross where life is blossoming. Our future is secure!
HYMN INFO This hymn, as I noted above, came almost instantly to Matheson. Despite his handicap he became a noted pastor and scholar, honored with lectureships at Edinburgh University. He served at Innellan, Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde, for many years. The poem was published in the Church of Scotland magazine, Life and Work, in 1883. It was then included in the Scottish hymnal of 1884. Matheson published it in his Sacred Songs that came out in 1890. The tune by Peace is a fine Victorian tune that lends itself to barbershop harmonies or now kind of the Swingle Singers sound. About Peace we know very little except that he was English.
Westminster Chorus https://youtu.be/ZiZ9xXoZ1Mk
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Elaine Hagenberg New Voices with cello
Art Turner Piano Solo https://youtu.be/_OBYYe0d9Dc