Meaningful Monday: The History of Great is His Faithfulness
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
This week, let's dig into the history of the song, inspired by life experience coupled with a Biblical promise.
The song goes:
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!
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.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866, Thomas O. Chisholm lived an ordinary life. He began teaching at the age of 16, and was a writer and poet all his life. He was an editor for the local Franklin newspaper for five years. When he was 27, he became a Christian, and began to write verse in an effort to further expand on Scripture. “Having been led, for a part of my life,” he said, “through some difficult paths, I have sought to gather from such experiences material out of which to write hymns of comfort and cheer for those similarly circumstanced.”
When he was 36, even though he had no formal education, he became an ordained minister. However, because of his poor health, he was only a minister for one year. Continuing to write poetry and lyrics for the remainder of his life, he worked in insurance and with various periodicals throughout his life. At the age of 57, he penned "Great is His faithfulness" and included it with several of his other poems that he sent to his friend William M. Runyan, who was at Moody Bible Institute. Runyan put the poem to music, and from there the song gained notice and popularity among the Christian community, especially with Billy Graham.
In 1941, as he recalled writing "Great is His faithfulness," Chisholm stated, "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 inspiration for writing about God's faithfulness revealed itself in the Bible itself. From Lamentations 3:22-23, which says:
"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."
The book of Lamentations focuses on the tragedy and trauma of God's chosen people following the devastation of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, he destroyed not just the fortified city, but all vestiges of the faith of the Israelites - the temple, synagogues, everything. The defeat of Judah was totalitarian - it stripped away the people's social, political, theological, and spiritual pillars. Chapter 3 of Lamentations is Jeremiah's own very real, very personal struggle with the pain he felt over the fact that God allowed his culture, his people, his city to be razed and the hope he clung to knowing that God would never leave him or his people despite the hardships they faced. The overall message of the chapter is one of promise and hope, reminders that God is never far away, and is watching, listening, and still faithful to us, even when we lose faith ourselves.
When Chisholm passed away in 1960, he had written over 1200 poems, hundreds of which had been published in various periodicals, and many which had also been turned to music as hymns for worship.
Cultural Backgrounds: Study Bible; 2017, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI
*Thank you for visiting Great Is His Faithfulness and this Meaningful Monday series. If you have a story you would like to share that displays how the Lord has been active (faithful) in your life, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put "Submission request" in the subject line. Your experience could be featured as part of this blog series to help bring hope to someone else.