Church Worship

George Matheson ~ "Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go"

  • Lucy Neeley Adams
  • 2010 10 Feb
George Matheson ~ "Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go"

I awoke crying, quickly reaching out to touch my sweet husband, Woody, as he lay beside me, peacefully sleeping. 

But in my dream - or nightmare - he was the man who walked into our home after a brief absence and quietly began taking pictures off the wall. He casually remarked,"These have always been my favorites, you can keep the others. I won't be coming back again."

I sobbed as he left, begging him not to go.

Waking up from that dream was a delight. What a relief to realize it was just a dream. I snuggled close to Woody and thanked God that our marriage was solid and we never had thought of divorce.

So why did I dream a thing that had never been discussed or feared? Possibly because I had recently talked and prayed with a friend about her marriage troubles and her pain may have seeped down into my subconscious.

Weeping, she had told me she realized that if her marriage was based on nothing more than physical attraction, it would not last. She lamented that it had been that way from the beginning.

Someone once summed up this kind of love in a few words: 

"Love starts with a smile - Grows with a kiss - Ends with a tear."

Those words may express the tender feelings behind the composition of a beautiful poem by George Matheson, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go." He did not say specifically that he was rejected by the woman he wished to marry, but he expressed his sorrow as he wrote:

"I was alone in the manse, the night of my sister's marriage. Something happened to me which is 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. The whole work was completed in five minutes." (June 6,1882) 

"Oh 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."

What was the "severe mental suffering" that caused Matheson to write words that express such a longing for deep love? He did not tell. However, as we continue reading his poem, we see that the only love that lasts a lifetime is Gods' perfect love. That everlasting experience is also expressed in the next three verses that begin, respectively, "O Light... O Joy... O Cross."

When George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1842, he had only partial sight. By the time he was college age, he was totally blind but graduated with honors from the University of Scotland. His beloved sister had the eyes that he needed to become one of the most outstanding ministers in the history of Scotland. God used a physically blind man who could see the depth of his Christian faith and communicate it to others.

Toward the end of his ministry, he was the pastor at the 2,000-member St. Bernard's Parish Church in Edinburgh. He died in 1906 at the age of sixty-four.

Of the many sermons that he preached, none could have had a more far-reaching impact than "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go." The beautiful music that has carried it all over the world was written by Albert Peace, the organist and music director of The Scottish Hymnal. His words express another miracle:

"After reading the poem carefully, I wrote the music straight off, and must say that the ink of the first note was hardly dry when I had finished the tune."

Through these two powerful ministers, I believe that God spoke of His intentional will for love. For some, love may become shallow and wrought with pain, while others may never know the precious love of a blessed marriage.

But there is no doubt that all of God's children are meant to know the perfect and fulfilling love of our Heavenly Father who created us to experience that fulfillment.

O God, we bring our total being to You. Sometimes we come in pain and questioning, but are assured of Your love. What a joy to dig deep into your Holy Word and see Your love most perfectly revealed in Your Son, Jesus Christ. It is a blessing to read, "...we know love because He laid down his life for us" (I John 3:16). In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Lucy Neeley Adams  has always loved music. She began telling the story of hymns on Christian radio WWGM in Nashville, TN, in the '80s. She then wrote a newspaper column titled "Song Stories" for five years. During that time Lucy's book, 52 Hymn Story Devotions, was published by Abingdon Press in Nashville. Each of the 52 stories contained in the book is written in a devotional format, with the words of the hymn concluding each devotion. Lucy lives at Lake Junaluska, NC, with her minister husband, Woody. They have four children and fourteen grandchildren. She may be reached for comment at Visit her at

Original publication date: February 13, 2008