by Bernard R. DeRemer
Popular myth has it that George Matheson wrote the powerful, poignant "0 Love That Will Not Let Me Go" when his fiancee rejected him because of his approaching blindness. "Just the facts," however, are far different. He began going blind in childhood and was never in love, much less engaged!
How, then, did such a wild, fanciful tale ever get started and gain wide, nearly universal, circulation? I can only cite D.L. Moody's apt observation: Falsehood can race around the Earth while Truth is putting on its boots.
Matheson himself said that the famous hymn " . . . came to me spontaneously, without conscious effort, and I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse."1 Surely a crisis in his life was involved, "but he did not say what it was. My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of June 6, 1882. 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.'"
For more than a century, the message of the inspired song has blessed multitudes suffering various trials, and it continues to be widely used.
Matheson was born at Glasgow in 1842. Despite failing sight, he completed basic schooling wearing very strong glasses. By 18, however, he required assistance. His sisters greatly helped, even learning foreign languages to tutor him.
Growing up, he was high-spirited and fun loving. Friends would say that "he not only saw them, but saw through them."
After college he felt called to the ministry. In 1866 he became assistant at Sandyford Church, Glasgow. Next was Innellan, then he was installed as pastor of St. Bernard's Church, Edinburgh, in 1886, where he remained 13 years.
How did he function with such a handicap? Wiersbe explains; "Matheson would have the capable assistance of his sister and the officers of the church. But only he could gather the material for his messages, plan the Sunday services, and lead the church in worship. He memorized not only his message, but also the hymns and the Scripture readings. And he never missed a word!" Also, he employed secretaries to read and write for him.
After his farewell sermon, in 1899, he retired to write and preach occasionally.
Numerous honors came his way. He received M.A., B.D., D.D., and LL.D. degrees-an impressive achievement in itself. Also, he was invited to give special, prestigious lectures on various occasions, and to preach before the queen at Balmoral.
His writings were in three fields: philosophical, expository, and devotional. But of course it is in the latter area that he is chiefly remembered. Many of his books enjoyed enormous circulation, and were translated into numerous languages, including Chinese.
Of his many books, only a few can be mentioned here: Rest by the River, Messages of Hope, Moments on the Mount, Leaves for Quiet Hours, Times of Retirement, and Searchings in the Silence.
Wiersbe noted that Matheson "warmed one's heart as had the Saviour those of the Emmaus disciples." Here are a few selections from various sources to whet your appetite:
"You cannot cure your sorrow by nursing it but you can cure it by nursing another's sorrow.
"Do the commonest and smallest things as beneath His eye. If you must live with uncongenial people, set to their conquest by love. If you have made a great mistake in your life, do not let it becloud all of it, but locking the secret in your breast, compel it to yield strength and sweetness.
"To run with patience is a very difficult thing. Running is apt to suggest the absence of patience, the eagerness to reach the goal. We commonly associate patience with lying down. We think of it as the energy that guards the couch of the invalid. Yet I do not think the invalid's patience the hardest to achieve. . . . To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adversity's fortune, implies strength greater still . . ."
Matheson went to be with the Lord at North Berwick in 1906. When he was laid to rest in Glasgow, the words he wrote 24 years earlier were wonderfully fulfilled:
I lay in dust life's glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
1. From Listening to the Giants, by Warren W. Wiersbe; excerpts used by permission.