Friday, October 16, 2009

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go – George Matheson

George Matheson’s life was about to change in 1882, and so he wrote a poem that became a song just over a year later. One can guess that something deep inside his heart, something about love, was on his mind. Was he feeling melancholy or troubled? Yes – in his own words, he was suffering ‘severe mental anguish’, although he does not say why. We know that his sister had been married that day, June 6th. Matheson’s only engagement had ended some 22 years earlier, and since that time he had relied on his own flesh and blood, his sister, to provide much of what he could not himself do in his preaching ministry in Scotland. And, we know that by this time, when he was 40 years old, George Matheson was blind. So, as he sat by himself that evening, maybe he was struggling with loneliness. ‘Why me?’ might have been his soul’s cry. He tells us that the words came quickly, as he reached out with fidelity and determination to someone he knew would not leave him. God is true and faithful, and fulfilling. That sense comes through in Matheson’s words, a hope that he was calling upon to lift his spirit that night. Every verse of his song hints that he was struggling with his own downcast emotions, and that he desperately needed his Friend, the Lord, to not just be a temporal companion, but a source of supernatural strength. We all have probably felt despondent occasionally, but how many of us have written words like Matheson’s? He didn’t just wallow in self-pity, but sought His provision, knowing that God’s presence does more than salve a hurt. God brings me to another plane altogether. That’s how He fulfills, transports me, if I let Him. Matheson’s testimony about this song’s swift creation also implies that he was hearing the Spirit speak to him that night. Maybe that’s what George Matheson discovered in writing the song’s words – that if I lay prostrate, and depend completely on Him, as Matheson’s words suggest he did on June 6th, then God can take me above the fray. God’s Spirit is available, and if I’m alone, then I can hear, really hear like I’ve never been able to before. Perhaps that was easier for Matheson, since he wasn’t bombarded with visual stimuli to distract communication with Him. I cannot help wondering if Matheson ever met Fanny Crosby, a contemporary who also experienced God’s empowering Spirit. She too was blind and undeterred, although completely dependent on others for sight. Matheson is yet another whose existence defies the word ‘disability’. Isn’t it great that God makes a mockery of that word, and reminds us of that when we sing Matheson’s tune? He won’t let me go…he turns my world inside out. My ‘flickering torches’ are lit into a sunshine-like blaze (verse 2), my life is consumed in His ocean-like life (verse 1), my tears are dried in His presence (verse 3), and my death is stood on its head in a never-ending home (verse 4). You see? George Matheson did. Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.

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