PODCAST: Great Is Thy Faithfulness (History Behind the Hymns #22 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #22

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Lamentations 3:22-23 which reads: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Bart Millard. He said: “I think the hymns give us a glimpse of the generations before us, and what was important to them at the time. Even though they are usually singing similar messages that are in today’s music, it is good to be reminded that the message of Christ is just as much relevant today as it was then.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Charles Spurgeon. He said: “The faithfulness of God is the foundation and cornerstone of our hope of final perseverance. The saints shall persevere in holiness, because God perseveres in grace. He perseveres to bless, and therefore believers persevere in being blessed.”

Our hymn for today is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas O. Chisholm. It reads:

“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.

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!

“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!

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

A native of the small Kentucky town of Franklin, Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960) was born in a log cabin. He lacked formal education. Nevertheless, he became a teacher at age sixteen and the associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, the Franklin Advocate, at age twenty-one.

In 1893 Chisholm became a Christian through the ministry of Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Morrison persuaded Chisholm to move to Louisville where he became editor of the Pentecostal Herald. Though he was ordained a Methodist minister in 1903, he served only a single, brief appointment at Scottsville, Kentucky, due to ill health. Chisholm relocated his family to Winona Lake, Indiana, to recover, and then to Vineland, New Jersey, in 1916 where he sold insurance. He retired in 1953 and spent his remaining years in a Methodist retirement community in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

By the time of his retirement, he had written more than 1200 poems, 800 of which were published. They often appeared in religious periodicals such as the Sunday School Times, Moody Monthly, and Alliance Weekly. Many of these were set to music.

Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck provides the background for “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Chisholm had sent a number of his poems to the Rev. William H. Runyan, a musician with the Moody Bible Institute and one of the editors of Hope Publishing Company in Chicago. 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.”

George Beverly Shea, the famous Canadian-born singer of the Billy Graham Crusades, introduced this hymn to those attending the evangelistic meetings in Great Britain in 1954. It immediately became a favorite.

A phrase in Lamentations 3:22-23 provides a basis for the refrain: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Stanza one emphasizes God’s unchanging nature: ” . . . 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 gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

In stanza two, the natural created order, including the cycle of the seasons, bears witness to the faithfulness of God. The final stanza brings the eternal, unchanging God into contact with humanity. We receive from the presence of God “Pardon for sin and a peace that endures.” 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.

This hymn appeared in many evangelical hymnals and song collections, but was not chosen for an official Methodist hymnal until the current United Methodist Hymnal, even though the author was a Methodist. It was a very popular hymn of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church and had been included in their hymnals.

According to Carlton Young, “Great is thy faithfulness” was second only to “In the Garden” as the most requested hymn for inclusion in The United Methodist Hymnal. A survey conducted in 2000 by Dean McIntyre, Director of Music Resources, Discipleship Ministries, revealed that “Great is Thy faithfulness” remains one of the favorite hymns among United Methodists.

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “The Doxology” by Thomas Ken.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.