It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and I have so many things to be thankful for. How about you? To help you give thanks, we’re going to go a little bit ancient-modern here, all the way back to 1882. In that year, the blind George Matheson penned a song that gets to something that I am so very thankful for. He called it “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”
I love to hear how a song is birthed because it adds depth and meaning to the lyric. So, here’s the backdrop of this hymn:
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” was written on the evening of Matheson’s sister’s marriage. His whole family had went to the wedding and had left him alone. And he writes of something which had happened to him that caused immense mental anguish.
There is a story of how years before, he had been engaged until his fiancé learned that he was going blind, and there was nothing the doctors could do, and she told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all these years, but now she is gone.
He had been a brilliant student, some say that if he hadn’t went blind he could have been the leader of the church of Scotland in his day. He had written a learned work on German theology and then wrote “The Growth of The Spirit of Christianity.” Louis Benson says this was a brilliant book but with some major mistakes in it. When some critics pointed out the mistakes and charged him with being an inaccurate student he was heartbroken. One of his friends wrote, “When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field – not without pangs, but finally.”
So he turned to the pastoral ministry, and the Lord has richly blessed him, finally bringing him to a church where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week. But he was only able to do this because of the care of his sister and now she was married and gone. Who will care for him, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, over his fiancé’s refusal to “go through life with a blind man.” It is the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gives him this hymn – written he says in 5 minutes! (citation)
Fast forward to the modern church, and we see in our day the resurgence of hymn-singing joined with the music of our contemporary culture. One of the leading centers of this movement is Indelible Grace Music, which grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). Their hope is to be a voice calling our generation back to something rich and solid and beyond the fluff and the trendy. They want to remind God’s people that thinking and worship are not mutually exclusive and to invite the Church to appreciate her heritage without idolizing it. Check out their website and music here, and get lyrics, lead sheets, guitar chord charts, and even piano sheet music here.
So, it’s the Indelible Grace version of “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” arranged by Christopher Miner and sung by Sandra McCracken that I’ve fallen in love with over the years and pass on to you today. And by way of testimony, I want to say that I am thankful for God’s unfailing, unflinching, unrelenting, unconditional love. In trials, His love is my provision and my salve. On the mountaintops, His love leads me to soar higher. And, everywhere in between, His love sustains me, giving me life and hope not only in this age but also in the age to come. I’m so glad He refuses to let me go!
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 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 trace 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.