Elisabeth Elliot writes in The Path of Loneliness of George Matheson and the poem he penned titled “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go” :
“A hundred years ago a man’s experience of desolation gave birth to a hymn with has been for me and for many the balm of heaven. George Matheson went blind shortly after becoming engaged. His fiancee broke the engagement. Perhaps there is no more bitter loneliness than that of rejection. Not only must one learn to do without someone he had come to feel he could not live without, but he must endure dagger-thrusts to the heart, such as: You deserved to be rejected. You are not worthy to be loved. Who would want you? You are condemned to loneliness forever, and nobody cares. Fear and anger arise. If I turn to God He might reject me. How can I turn to Him anyway? He could have prevented this from happening. What else is He likely to do to me? The devastating conclusion is reached: I am alone. Matheson’s grief, instead of turning to bitter resentment against the lady who had caused it, was transformed. Totally transformed. These profound and simple words show how that happened:
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.
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.
What, exactly, did Matheson do? He gave back his life, restored the light of his life, opened his heart, laid down life’s glory. That spells surrender, which can only come of trust. His blindness and rejection proved to be for George Matheson the very means of illuminating the Love of God. He may have asked the age-old question, Why?, but God’s answer is always Trust Me. Matheson turned his thoughts away from the woman he had lost, away from the powerful temptations to self-pity, resentment, bitterness toward God, skepticism of His Word, and selfish isolation which might so quickly have overcome him, and lifted up his “weary soul” to a far greater Love – one that would never let him go. In the words “I give Thee back the life I owe” Matheson understood that there was something he could do with his suffering. It was the great lesson of the Cross: surrender. If Jesus had been unwilling to surrender to humanity’s worst crime, humanity’s salvation would have been impossible. But at Calvary the Lord of the Earth surrendered Himself into the hands of evil men.Yet, paradoxically, no one took His life from Him. He laid it down of His own will, offered Himself to the Father, “poured out His soul unto death,” became broken bread and poured-out wine for the life of the world. We live because He died. The power of the Cross is not exemption from suffering but the very transformation of suffering.
Christianity is not a complete coverage insurance policy. Jesus suffered “not that we might not suffer,” wrote George MacDonald, “but that our sufferings might be like His.” The Way of the Cross for George Matheson was heartbreak. God’s power could have spared him that, but God’s love chose instead to give him something far more precious than the happiness he had lost – the Oil of Joy. God gives that oil to those who need it, to those who mourn. Its price, in other words, is mourning. If he had not entered the lonely wilderness, George Matheson would not have found His sweet treasure. Would you say the price of that was too high? Your answer depends on where you set your sights – on the short range or the long one. Think what Matheson would have missed had he been given the form of happiness he hoped for. Denied that, he looked for something better. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better. With what misgivings we turn over our lives to God, imagining somehow that we are about to lose everything that matters. Our hesitancy is like that of a tiny shell on the seashore, afraid to give up the teaspoonful of water it holds lest there not be enough in the ocean to fill it again. Lose your life, said Jesus, and you will find it. Give up, and I will give you all. Can the shell imagine the depth and plenitude of the ocean? Can you and I fathom the riches, the fullness, of God’s love?”
-excerpted from: Elliot, Elisabeth. The Path of Loneliness. chapter 4.
Indelible Grace sings “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go”: