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My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary. Martin Luther
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, author of Great Is Thy Faithfulness, was born in 1866 and raised in a log cabin near Franklin, Kentucky. Educated in a small country school, Chisholm became its’ teacher by age seventeen! It was in Franklin where Chisholm first developed his love of writing, and by age 21, he had landed his first writing job, serving as associate editor of the local newspaper, The Franklin Favorite.
Mr. Chisholm had a dramatic encounter with Jesus at a revival meeting in 1893 (age 27) and the evangelist who led him to Christ, Dr. Henry Clay Morrison persuaded him to move to Louisville, where Chisholm became the editor of The Pentecostal Herald. By 1903, Chisholm was ordained and took over as pastor of the Methodist Church in Scottsville, Kentucky. Sadly, poor health became a major issue for Chisholm, so after only one year in the ministry, Chisholm resigned, moving his family to a small farm near Winona Lake, Indiana.
Winona Lake, at the time, was a hotspot for Bible conferences and tent revivals, and with it being the home of the famous evangelist, Billy Sunday, it was the place to be for those wanting to be around the powerful move of God that was sweeping the nation at the time. While the records don’t show this detail, it’s very likely that Thomas Chisholm first met William M. Runyan in Winona Lake during this season of his life. Runyan was a traveling evangelist at the time, making his rounds for the Central Methodist Conference.
A partnership was made and over the years, Chisholm (who ended up selling insurance for the remainder of his career) would send Runyan (who ended up working for both The Moody Bible Institute and Hope Publishing Company) his poems and essays, and on occasion, Runyan, an accomplished musician, would set some of Chisholm’s poems to song. At the age of 57, in 1923, Thomas Chisholm sent William Runyan, (then settled down in Kansas), a poem that focused on the faithfulness of God. Chisholm wrote this about his poem:
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.
Runyan loved the piece and set it to music, publishing it in 1923 with Hope Publishing in a compilation of hymns entitled, Songs of Salvation and Service. Years later William Runyan wrote this about Chisholm’s poem:
Mr. Chisholm and I were devoted co-workers, and I wrote harmonies to some 20 or 25 of his poems. This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carryover its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answers prayer.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness soon became a popular hymn used by many of the traveling evangelists associated with Moody Institute, and in 1954, the song went viral when Billy Graham introduced it during one of his international crusades in England. Though written too late (1923) to be included in our original twenty-seven great hymns, here’s a strong belief that this one will be in the top ten the next time a survey like this is taken…
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 will 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!
My prayer: Father God, great, indeed, is Your faithfulness. Through all aspects of life, including good, bad and/or ugly, You are always there to see us through. I thank You, Faithful Father. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Where have I seen God’s strength working in my life today? How do I sense, at this very moment, His bright hope for tomorrow?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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