Forest Lake Talks

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

April 2, 2019

The hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” was written by George Matheson in 1882.   It was included in the Scottish Hymnal in 1885.  According to Matheson, “I was at that time alone…Something had 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.”  (William J Reynolds) The tune was composed by Albert L. Peace, specifically for Dr. Matheson’s hymn text.

The words of each verse are poetic and evoke powerful images.  Can you envision a love so great that it will not let go?   Isn’t this what reconciliation is about?  Our sin separated us from God, but God did not abandon us.  Instead, God reconciled us to God’s self through Jesus Christ.

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.

The first three verses of the hymn address God as Love, Light, and Joy.  I think light is a common image that comes to mind when we think of God.  In the second verse, our fragile lives are described as torches that are about to go out.  It contrasts our weakness with God’s strength.

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.

The third verse alludes to the pain that Matheson was experiencing when he wrote this hymn.  Sometimes when we are suffering, we pull away from those who love us most.  It is important to remember that God remains present and faithful.  We must trust God as our source of hope, healing, and joy.

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.

The final verse brings us to the cross.  During Lent, we are given many opportunities to contemplate the cross.  We become increasingly introspective.  What am I doing that separates me from God?  What do I need to give up?  What can I take on?  The cross reminds us that we are reconciled to God through Christ.   “God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

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.

Maybe the question for us this Lenten season is “How will I open myself to this Love, this Light, this Joy, and this Gift of the Cross?”  It is a gift not earned, but freely given.  Thanks be to God.

Dr. Beth Mears – FLPC Music Director

Listen here to a beautiful acappella version of this hymn.

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