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O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go – Stanza 1

This is the first of a four part series examining the lyrics to O Love That Wilt Not Let Me 
Go by George Matheson. Don't forget to enjoy the video at the end.

I absolutely love the hymns that are packed with the gospel. They remind me of my desperate need for grace and of the unfathomable, unmerited, and often times indescribable favor that we have with God in Christ. These hymn writers have somehow managed to put words and music to these cherished doctrines.

O Love That Wilt Not Let me Go is one such hymn. It describes a love so sure that our weary souls can rest in it knowing that if we did not merit it to begin with, we certainly can’t chase it away by our sin. Consider the first stanza

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.

In our imperfection, we have twisted love to be something which we fall into. It is seen as something quite unexpected that hits us when we find that special someone. It is founded upon and sustained by our attraction to the physical appearance and character of another person. From beginning to end it is random and unplanned.

But this is not the case with God’s love. His love for us is not unexpected (from his perspective) and is not looking for that which is already beautiful. It is entirely different… it is “wholly other” than how we have come to define love. While we seek beauty, God’s only seeks those who are repulsive. While we pursue someone who has strong moral character, God pursues those who are downright evil. While we search for a spouse who is pure, God looked out among the impure and chose the foulest and most defiled to choose for his own.

Nowhere is this as clear than it is in Ezekiel 16. Here we have a picture of God’s love for his people in which God describes them as an infant, rejected by her mother and left to die. In in incredible scene, we have the following account of God’s unmerited love,

And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field.

Ezekiel 16:6-7

As the parable continues, God described how the young infant grew into a beautiful woman and how she eventually played the harlot and defiled herself. The rest of the chapter recounts her filthy deeds and God’s discipline of her but ends on this note,

. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 16:60-63

God’s love will not let us go because first and foremost it is not contingent upon how good we are. It is not rooted in our good behavior. In fact, our behavior is anything but good. . .it is downright filthy. Even our best works are defiled because they proceed from ones who are corrupt. This may sound quite dour, but the beauty of this is since we didn’t earn God’s love by our behavior we certainly can’t loose his love by our behavior.

But there is another reason why God’s love will not let us go. Not only is it not based upon our ability to be good, but it is also an eternal and everlasting love. It is eternal because Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4 that before the foundation of the world, God chose us to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Not literally without fault (we have plenty of guilt) but blameless in his eyes. Paul goes on to say that in love God predestined us to be adopted according to nothing but the good pleasure of his will.

This is also the sort of love spoken of by Jeremiah,

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah 31:3

Don’t let the ‘therefore’ sneak by you. It is what links together the first and second clauses. God’s love will never let you go as the hymn says. He will continue his faithfulness to you. Why? Because the love with which he has loved you is an everlasting love! It isn’t a fleeting love which ebbs and flows as your appearance changes with age; or when after 30 years of marriage you still struggle with the same sin. If God’s love for you is everlasting and eternal then he can’t stop loving you. There was never a point in time when God started to love you so he can never stop. It is eternal. It will never let you go.

What is the effect can of this great love?


We can rest our weary souls in him because we know that absolutely nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:35). His love will not let us go. Not only can we rest, but we are compelled to give him back the life we owe to him for loving us so deeply. And when we give him back our lives out of gratitude, our life becomes richer and fuller as it flows in the depths of the ocean of God’s love.

13 thoughts on “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go – Stanza 1

  1. WOW!! What an awesome thing to get an email right before bed saying you posted again and then this! Blown away. Never heard the song before but blown away by God’s grace to me tonight.

    • ajcerda

      The song really is beautiful Marie. It is even more beautiful the more we ponder that if we are truly in Christ, there is no longer any condemnation for us. His love will never let us go.

  2. Well Marie its 9:30 in the morning here so I woke up to it well not relly I was already awake but I ate brekfast to it and danced to the music! Such a lovely post AJ!

    • ajcerda

      Thanks Rena.

      • Rena


        • ajcerda

          Sorry Serena! I don’t always catch it 🙂

  3. Micah Kilvichus

    This has always been one of my favorites for the melody alone but I have never really understood what Matheson is saying. He’s not so good at plain-speak. He uses poetry and imagery. He is good at that and I’m not so much. But I sing it anyway not knowing what I’m singing because the tune is enchanting! I can’t wait until verse 4. God knows what that means. It’s always the last line of his verses that trip me up except for verse 3. Not getting the whole thing about tracing the rainbow. Well I hope I agree with the words so I can keep singing it otherwise you would have just fouled up my favorite hymn. So far so good though. I like what I’m hearing in verse 1. If all else fails I can just sing the first verse 4 times when we sing it at church. Thanks for the therapy.

    • ajcerda

      Micah I hope I don’t ruin it for you! If you liked the first verse I am sure you will like the remaining ones. It is all Christ and that is a good thing.

  4. Lenette

    Thanks for this AJ. Loved every word of it.

  5. Lenette

    I should have you know that I attended a Presbyterian church this weekend and we sang this song. I was so happy to know one of the songs and it made me weep singing those words trusting it is true with all of my heart and singing it sincerely with a few dozen others who sincerely believed it. I found Presbyterians to be a bit more refined than Catholics. I could cry at Mass and no one would think any different. These folks were surprised at first but truly kind afterwards. My only grievance is I was nit allowed to receive communion but I understand that. I have decided that a love that will let me go is not love at all.

    • ajcerda

      Lenette, I am so excited for you that you are finding Christ and his forgiveness. Keep seeking after him!

  6. Mallorie

    What ever happened to parts 3-4? Been waiting 😉

    • ajcerda

      Mallorie, I’m actually working on that and it should be ready today or tomorrow. I just got busy with the book reviews. Coming very soon!

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