George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 27, 1842.
The story has been told of this Glasgow-born clergyman who was jilted by his fiancée, when she realised that he was going blind. And how, saddened and alone, he penned the immortal hymn:
O Love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul on Thee …
True … he wrote the hymn. But that was in 1882 – and he was “wholly blind by his 18th year”. Matheson himself tells us that his famous hymn was written on 6 June, 1882 – “the day of my sister’s marriage” – and it may well be that the events of that day evoked sad memories of a romance that came to naught 22 years earlier. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all those years until her own marriage.
Despite his blindness, George Matheson became a pulpit giant, even being summoned to Balmoral Castle to preach before Queen Victoria. Matheson had learned to memorise well and so he would commit sermons and entire passages of scripture to memory. Consequently his listeners were often unaware of his blindness.
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For 13 years he ministered to crowds of over 2000 at St Bernard’s Church in Edinburgh. He was “one of the outstanding Presbyterian ministers of his day,” says one biographer. It is suggested that, had he not been blind, he would likely have led the Presbyterian movement of his day.
However another writer points out that Matheson’s book, Aids to the Study of German Theology (1875) tended toward Neo-Heglianism! Matheson gave up scholarly writing when one of his books, The Growth of The Spirit of Christianity, was heavily criticised for inaccuracies. This convinced him that his blindness kept him from that are of his interest.
However, in his pastoral ministry he shone with great effect.
He also wrote the moving hymn:
Make me a captive, Lord,
and then I shall be free.
Help me to render up my sword
And I shall conqueror be.
Matheson maintained a determination to serve the Lord despite his limitations. In the face of all obstacles he kept his eyes toward God’s promises, as expressed in his most famous hymn: “I trace the rainbow in the rain, and feel the promise is not vain”.
George Matheson died in Edinburgh on 28 August, 1906.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com