One of the reasons I love this hymn, written in 1882 by George Matthison, is for its rich poetic content. If you like, here is the story surrounding the hymn. The lyrics deserve to be read slowly, and you will find Chris Rice’s version of the song below.
“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.”
A verse that comes to my mind is Psalm 119:25 “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.” The composer is a weary soul, a flickering torch, in pain, in rain, laying down in the dust, feeling as though this life’s glory is dead. But he knows what he needs. And he knows that what he needs will not be found within himself. He knows there is another source.
If left to himself, this weary soul will wander. But there is a love who will not let him go. He surrenders his life to that love and trusts that in that vast ocean his soul will prosper once more.
His heart is likened to a flickering torch. Not totally smothered, but not strong and vibrant either. His way, or his life, is also uncertain. Noting that the author was blind and facing frightening changes, it is clear that in more than one sense he can’t see where he is going. Here he remembers that God lights his path and guides him. He sees that all the good he has is borrowed, or is in a God who “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1Corinthians 1:30).” Within that endless, tireless blaze of sun, his heart can be strengthened and his path is secured.
In pain and torrent he knows there is yet a God who is the source of all joy, who will pursue his very own heart. All around clouds billow and rain falls in sheets, but through eyes of faith he sees the rainbow. God’s promise will not prove vain at last. A day is coming when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).” Seeing that rainbow through the rain, his heart cannot stay closed to joy.
God reminds him of Christ’s death on the cross. “You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3).” What does he see when his head is lifted to behold the cross? I think first he sees the love of God poured out for him in the atoning work of Jesus. Then he sees a Savior so worthy, so wonderful, that even at his very lowest, he remembers that there is a God worth living for. If Christ suffered in such a way, how could this man leave His side? How could he not endure suffering for His sake? He will surrender at the foot of a blood stained cross; He will find life and light again, and he will rest knowing that at this long journey’s end God will bestow on him eternal life.
Philippians 2:1 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…” The answer to the “if” here is “of course there is.” Weary and discouraged souls need to remember all that God has made available and secured for them in Jesus Christ. They need to be reminded that there is a God who comforts, who loves them, who fellowships with them in the Spirit, who has “tender mercy (Luke 1:78),” and has become “a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:17)” and one who is “able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).”
This hymn well reflects the hope and faith necessary to sustain weary and discouraged souls, and for that reason I commend it to you.