I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)
On the 6th June 1882, the forty year old Dr George Matheson was sat alone in an empty house when he was subject to an extraordinary occurrence which produced an extraordinary hymn. He tells the story:
My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something 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. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.
What was this severe mental suffering? Some wonder if it was to do with his engagement when he was at college. His sight was failing and total blindness coming ever closer and when he told his fiancée of this she is said to have to have replied “I do not wish to be the wife of a blind preacher.” Was the everlasting love of God being compared with this failed love of his youth? Had his sister’s marriage brought this hurt sharply into his mind?
We may not know, but we certainly can dwell on the great difference between a divine love, and its fleeting human echo.
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.