Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born on his family’s Kentucky farm in a simple log house on July 29, 1866. Though only having the education from his local school, Thomas was asked to teach at that same school when he was sixteen. He continued in this position until he was twenty-two, at which time he began editing the Franklin Favorite, the local paper. In the five years between his time here and becoming editor at the Pentecostal Herald, Chisholm became a Christian and joined the Methodist Church. This was after a revival led by Henry Morrison, who founded Asbury College.
Though Chisholm became a minister at a Methodist church in Scottsville, Kentucky, his ill-health led him to resign after only a year. He became instead an insurance agent in 1909, first in Indiana and then later in New Jersey. After retiring in 1953, Chisholm lived in the Methodist Home for the Aged in New Jersey. He lived out the rest of his life here until February 29, 1690. He was buried in Pennsylvania.
Over the course of his life, Chisholm wrote over 1,200 poems and hymns, many of which were published in various religious works, including the paper he worked for. The best known is “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which he wrote in 1923. He asked composer William Runyan of the Moody Bible Institute to write the tune. Towards the end of his life, Chisholm spoke on his rather uneventful life that was illuminated by the love of Christ:
My income has never been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that he has given me many wonderful displays on his providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.
For such a well-known and well-loved hymn, one that has found a home in the hearts of so many who have heard and found comfort in its words, the life of Thomas Chisholm was rather ordinary.
Yet this is the beauty of Chisholm’s hymn of praise and thanks. Why has this song been a comfort to so many? People often look for comfort in times of uncertainty and give thanks in times of plenty. Chisholm in his hymn notes instead the ever-present faithfulness of God in all circumstances. There was no monumental event that led to the writing of this hymn. Instead, Chisholm looked on his life and saw that in all things, the Lord was with him. The Lord is patient, loving, merciful, faithful. This is why “Great is Thy Faithfulness” has become such a comfort to people. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The entirety of this hymn is of thanks and praise to the Lord. It is also heavily derived from Lamentations 3:19-33. This is explained perfectly in the first verse.* The main point of this passage is that the Lord is faithful in all things. It is because “of His great love we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22). It is in the Lord alone that we have hope, assurance (Lam. 3:24-26). From the Old Testament to the New, we see that our God does not change but is steadfast and trustworthy (1 Sam. 15:29, Jam. 1:17). This is the reason we have faith, or trust, in the Lord. We do not wonder what His will is nor of His love for us—they are everlasting. Thus, as the Lord does not change, neither do His promises and compassion (Deut. 7:9, Lam. 3:31-32). There is no “shadow” because there is no indication and no fear of His being unfaithful (2 Tim. 2:11-13, Heb. 10:23). Truly, as He has been so shall He be (Rev. 1:8).
The refrain* is in many ways a paraphrase of Lamentations 3:23-24. But in this case, the author repeats the phrase extolling God’s faithfulness and puts it before and after the rest (Psa. 117). This, after all, is the purpose of the hymn. Yet how do we see new mercies every morning? We see them in our lives, our blessings, the very breath we breathe. We see it in our baptisms and in the promise that the Lord will always be with us (Psa. 9:10, Matt. 28:20, 1 Cor. 1:9). As the author wrote, we see the Lord’s faithfulness in our daily lives from the moment we wake to the next in that He cares for us despite the fact that we are sinful and wretched (Psa. 8, 55:22, Rom. 5:1-10). We see God’s mercies in both the physical provisions He gives and in the redemption of our souls (Col. 1:13-14, Eph. 1:7-14).
Where the first verse and refrain show the overarching awesomeness of God in all that He has done for us in our daily lives and in His Word, the second verse* highlights this steadfastness in creation. As God promised from the Flood, so He continues to promise now: He will care for His creation (Gen. 8:22, 9:12-17). Moreover, His creation proclaims His majesty and constancy (Psa. 19). Seasons come and go in their appointed times, the starry host continue their circuits, and everything on earth moves in turn with the heavenly clock the Lord gave to us (Gen. 1, Psa. 104:19-33, 136:1-9). Their constancy is a reflection of God’s faithfulness; He holds all these things together (Col. 1:16-18). This verse is not a praise of creation inasmuch as it glorifies the handiwork and awesome power of the Lord. God’s creation is witness along with us to the “faithfulness, mercy, and love” of the Lord (Psa. 36:5, Rom. 1:20).
And what more do we have to praise the Lord for? There is so much to be grateful for. This final verse* is both praise to the Lord and encouragement to us. We have been pardoned and given an everlasting peace that cannot be found in this world (Lam. 3:21-25, Jhn. 14:27, Rom. 5:1-5). Moreover, we have the Lord always with us, to guide, strengthen, and preserve us (2 Thes. 3:3). We have strength today and assurance for tomorrow because the Lord has been faithful and will always be faithful (Phil. 4:4-7). We have nothing to fear! What blessings are all ours? Is it perishing items, or the life to come (Jer. 29:11, 1 Pet. 1:3-5)? By far, ten thousand almost seems too small a number to compare to the rich mercy and kindness of the Lord. Thanks be to Him who is faithful, walking beside us in this world and leading us to the way of everlasting, not leaving us to mire in this world (Psa. 16:8-11, Rom. 5:1-5, Col. 1:13-14). Truly, He is faithful to us. Truly, He deserves our praise.
Blessings to you and yours,
*“Great is Thy Faithfulness” (Find verses here. They are not duplicated above for copyright reasons.)
Ryken, Philip. Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope.