'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XXIII
George Matheson had retired from the pastorate, but not from the ministry. He remained deeply interested in literary ministry, and in his retirement he wrote his two-volume work Studies in the Portait of Christ. It was extremely popular, perhaps his most popular book. It combined the devotional tone of his small devotional volumes with the depth of thought of his more scholarly writings.
Nor was his voice silent in the church for, he continued to preach as a visiting preacher in many churches. He spoke to students in the theological colleges of all the major Presbyterian churches of Scotland. He spoke in England at many churches, including Brunwick Chapel, Leeds, where he gave the annual sermon for the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Even though it was a miserable day with driving rain, people came from all parts to hear the sermon. We hope that they also made a good contribution to the missionary funds! For although he was a decided Church of Scotland man, and had no time at all for disestablishment, Dr. Matheson was in no sense a partisan or secatrian spirit. Indeed, there was no church in which he preached more often in his retirement than Free St. George's church in Edinburgh (pictured). He and Alexander Whyte of Free St. George's were close friends, alike in many ways. Whyte never heard Matheson preach - he himself was in too much demand as a preacher, and he asked Matheson to preach in his absence - but he found that his congregation appreciated the ministry of the blind preacher.
In 1902 he published Representative men of the Bible, which was also greeted with acclaim. It ran to three volumes, two on the Old Testament and one on the New. His pen was as productive as ever. But the end was coming. His last sermon was delivered in Morningside Church, Edinburgh, on 14th Febryary 1904. He was obviously infirm, and the sermon cost him a great deal of physical effort. His last public appearance was in November of that year, when he offered a prayer in the annual Life Boat service. He was writing a book on Representative Women on the Bible, but that was destined to see the light only after his death.
George Matheson's death was sudden and unexpected. August 27th 1906 was a normal day, reading, writing, and an afternoon drive. He went to bed at his usual time, bidding his sister goodnight as he normally did. At 1.30 in the morning she was woken by a moan she recognised as from her bother. Rushing downstairs, she found he could not speak. But he was smiling, he knew the end of his earthly life had come, and he was going to his Father's house. He died there, his face illuminated with joy.
George Matheson's death shocked everyone. Appreciations came in almost from every corner of the globe. He was buried in the family vault in the Glasgow Necropolis on Saturday 1st September The funeral service was held in the cathedral. Through his great hymn O Love that Wilt not Let me go, his name will be remembered for as long as hymns are sung in English. He was a man like us, and it is that fact that has ensured the survival of this great hymn.
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