Hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Words: Thomas Obadiah Chisholm

Music: Rev. William H. Runyan (1866-1960)
Tune: Great is thy Faithfulness 
By Rev. William H. Runyan (1870-1957)

Great Is Thy Faithfulness is a popular Christian hymn written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866–1960), who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,” was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. Thomas had a difficult early adult life, his health was so fragile that there were periods of time when he was confined to bed, unable to work. Between bouts of illness he would have to push himself in extra hours at various jobs in order to make ends meet.

He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. After coming to Christ at age of 27, Thomas found great comfort in the Scriptures and in the fact that God was faithful to be his strength in the time of illness and weakness, and to provide his needs. Lamentations 3:22-23 was one of his favourite scriptures: “it is of the lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
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.

While away from home on a mission trip, back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas often wrote to one of his good friend, William Runyan, a relatively unknown musician. Several poems were exchanged in these letters. Rev. William H. Runyan (1870-1957), a musician with the Moody Bible Institute and one of the editors of Hope Publishing Company in Chicago, found one of Williams’ poem so moving that he decided to compose a musical score to accompany the lyrics. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22-23 “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 (he decided to compose a musical score to accompany the lyrics) that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded and the hymn Great is Thy faithfulness was published in 1923.

The hymn has three stanzas and a chorus. Stanza one (1) emphasizes God’s unchanging nature (God’s faithfulness revealed in his Word): “. . . there is no shadow of turning with thee; /thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not." Perhaps James 1:17 provides the scriptural basis for this concept: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

In stanza two (2), the natural created order, including the cycle of the seasons, bears witness to the faithfulness of God. The seasons, the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, and quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

The final stanza, stanza three (3) brings the eternal, unchanging God into contact with humanity. We receive from the presence of God "Pardon for sin and a peace that endures." It 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 too numerous to count!

Indeed, William Runyan’s tune was the ideal musical complement to the warmth of the text. The subtle changes in harmony and the solemnity of the melody amplify the text, bringing the climax on the word "faithfulness" perfectly at the end of the refrain. Runyan wrote of the hymn: "This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer. It was written in Baldwin, Kansas, in 1923, and was first published in my private song pamphlets."

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later in 1945, George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham evangelistic 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.”

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.

Full Text

1. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
    There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
    Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
    As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Morning by morning new mercies I see
   All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
    Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

2. Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
    Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
    Join with all nature in manifold witness,
    To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

3. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
    Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
    Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
    Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

No comments: