Imagine being born with bad eyesight, which grows worse and worse until you’re nearly blind. I have a hard time imagining it. How much of my life would be different? No browsing through Facebook, no looking into the eyes of my children, no editing, no writing (except with a lot of errors), no driving, or taking photos, or watching my children run and play and learn and grow.
George Matheson was born with poor eyesight, which deteriorate to the point that he was virtually blind. But, to combat every difficulty or challenge, we often receive a compensation. Mr. Matheson was very gifted in learning. He also had a supportive family. His sisters even learned the academic languages of his time – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – in order to help him in his studies. He had the ability to learn entire chapters of the Bible and long passages of books and information.
After obtaining a masters at the University of Edinburgh (MA 1862), he pastored churches for over 30 years. Those to whom he preached often didn’t realize he couldn’t see. His speaking was so powerful, and he could quote scriptures and sermons from memory.
He changed his focus from preaching to writing. His most famous work is most likely the following poem/hymn:
O Love that will 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 lightest 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.
To trace a rainbow through the rain, don’t you need to see? Perhaps not. Perhaps, when our eyes have been closed to something, is when our deepest understanding of it can be brought about, of a love that will never let us go.
George Matheson said about this hymn:
My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan [Argyleshire, Scotland] 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.
He doesn’t say what the issue was, only that it was something that caused him severe mental suffering, and that the hymn was the “fruit” of those moments. We all have those moments, don’t we?
When our “flickering torch” feels more like a candle that has burned to the end and has no life remaining.
That no morning which dawns will ever again be tearless.
Yet through it all, this man who cannot see traces the rainbow through the rain, and knows that joy will come again in the morning. The words did not come from his own mind, anguished and sorrowful, but from a faith beyond himself, a knowledge that has been proved a thousand times over in the hearts of all those who believe in a Love that will not let them go, in a “life that shall endless be.”