Our church as been trying to memorize one hymn a month for the past ten months. This month we’re working on Great is Thy Faithfulness. I had the opportunity to introduce the hymn yesterday morning and was moved by its history. Here’s what I shared.
The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.
Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,” was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.
But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.
Lam. 3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.
The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.
Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.
When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:
“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”
The hymn has three verses and a chorus. Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed in his Word, and is adapted from James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation. The seasons,the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.
Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives. He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings to numerous to count!
Whatever challenges, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that he never changes, that his compassions never fail, and that his faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good—it’s GREAT!
God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.
Just faithful ones.
Thanks for posting this! It is my favorite hymn, and was my grandmother’s favorite hymn! I love the fact that it was written by an ordinary Christian in the hands of an extraordinary God!
This is one of my favourite hymn’s and I was not actually aware of the background to it. Thanks for sharing that.
Thanks so much for your encouraging comments about “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I never knew the history behind the song. God’s faithfulness is truly to all generations and one of the many reasons why we should give Him thanks and bless His Name.
Very good. I appreciate your posting this.
Thanks for this post. I love the stories behind the songs. They always seem to provide a little more perspective.
Pardon me for tagging this, but it is a slightly different take on the hymn and its meaning.
Helpful thoughts, Eric. Very much agree with your post. I think that’s what makes the passage from Lamentations so compelling. It comes in the midst of the temple being destroyed, God’s people being punished, and women eating their children (Lam. 4:10). Even THEN we can say, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Amazing.
Still, I don’t think the hymn negates understanding the passage that way. It just focuses on the ways we “normally” experience God’s faithfulness.
Thank you so much for the encouraging history of this even more encouraging hymn!! We love so many hymns, sung and unsung, but this is certainly one of our favourites. I hope it’s allright to refer others to your blog from ours, because we frequently post hymns to minister grace to the hearers and praise to our Lord!!
This was great.. the song was really great.. this is one of my favorite hymns.. my father’s too…
Truly, God is faithful.. He is new every morning. great is thy faithfulness… and thank God for the incredible gift he has given.. because of thet gift I was able to serve Him more and more..
May God bless us all!!
Thanks for this story. I’d heard portions of it before, but there was much extra detail which helps to round it out. Our congregation “stole” your idea when I first heard about it. We’ve also been learning one hymn each month. I’m not sure if people are memorizing them well, but by the end of each month they sing them with great gusto unto the Lord. Each week, to help break up the “monotony” of singing the same song, I introduce the hymn with a portion of a hymn story around this hymn (especially if the story is a lengthy one), a passage of Scripture that helps with the stanzas (this gets them thinking of God’s Word as they’re singing), or seek to have someone’s testimony of how God has been using this hymn to assist in their own private worship as well as their corporate worship. Thanks for the creativity. By the way, at the outset, I gave full credit to you guys for the idea. Like CJ Mahaney, I don’t think I’ve ever had an original idea in my life and am immensely thankful to the Lord for those who do!
I thought this was very appropriate to share in light of the upcoming conference. In the past I’ve felt the lie in my own heart that I cannot be faithful unless I am serving in full-time ministry, especially in a visible capacity. Thankfully, God broke through that and helped me recognize that God calls people to be faithful in different ways. In my case, I’ve learned the privilege of serving our Lord primarily in the scientific field.
My prayer for the WorshipGod conference is that many will be encouraged to press in to God, but also that they won’t feel like second-class citizens of the Kingdom just because their full time calling isn’t (music) ministry.
Looking forward to tomorrow.
One of my Fav’s! To know the faithfulness of God is to know that we can rely on him no matter what! What an amazing truth and promise
Looking forward to Tomorrow!
One more thing that strikes me about this great hymn: It became a favorite at Moody Bible Institute, and MBI has been a testimony to God’s faithfulness. So far as I know, they still hold to their original policy of never borrowing money and never charging tuition for full-time students. That means that the school can only stay open because of God’s daily faithfulness through his people.
Great post Bob. The initiative of memorizing hymns is a great one. I am curious to know which other hymns your congregation is memorizing.
Randy, you can get the entire list here.
Thanks for the article. Our church has just cancelled our “Traditional Service” and one of the things we wanted to do was to pay a regular homage to the hymns that were a part of that service. Our idea is to host a quarterly sing along where we sing the hymns of our fathers and have a basic introduction and discussion around who created them, how they were written, and what they mean. Our hope is that it keeps the hymns alive.
A wonderful idea that I will graciously borrow!
Thanks for a fine note on a great hymn! And what a wonderful idea, to have your congregation memorize a new hymn each month. There are certainly lots to choose from! Not sure how the choices are made, but perhaps it would be possible to select hymns that suit the pastor’s sermon series.
The top three hymns in a recent poll I took on my blog, Wordwise Hymns, are:
It Is Well with My Soul
How Great Thou Art
Included in any list of the greatest hymns in the English language, according to various hymnologists, would be:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Jesus, Lover of My Soul
Rock of Ages
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
Let’s keep singing! And God bless.
Do you have any historical information for another song from Lamentations 3:21: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness O Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.
Stephen, I’m not aware of one but I”m sure if you do a Google search you might come up with something.
Thanks! There is No shifting shadow in Him!
Intact,after reading,l can see the faithfulness of God, He pardons us ,gives us life and continue to provide for us
Bob Kauflin…were you ever (perhaps) on the faculty of Paducah Community College (KY)?
Wayne, nope! When I was in GLAD we played in Paducah, but that was in the late 70s!