Song Spotlight | Great is Thy Faithfulness
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
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
- Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William M. Runyan
When I was diagnosed with cancer, the words Thomas Chisholm wrote in 1925 brought me much comfort. In the midst of great trial and testing, I needed to be reminded constantly of God’s faithfulness. When my world was turned upside down in an instant, I sought comfort in the fact that God Himself never changes.
Thomas Chisholm wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in 1925, and the song became popularized as it was sung in Billy Graham crusades in the 1950s. Chisholm drew his inspiration for this beloved hymn straight from Scripture. The chorus for this hymn comes from the words of the prophet Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam 3:22-24, ESV).
The prophet Jeremiah was a man who knew great sorrow and affliction. For forty-one years he prophesied to the people of Judah about God’s coming judgment in response to the sin of the people, and yet the people remained unrepentant. Jeremiah mourned and lamented over the great afflictions God brought on His people as punishment. Yet, in the midst of his pain and sorrow, Jeremiah still found hope.
Jeremiah was confident that even though God was punishing the Israelites for their sin, Judah would not be destroyed forever (Lam. 3:31-32). God would keep His covenant with His people.
How could Jeremiah be so confident? He had a deep understanding of the faithfulness of God. God’s faithfulness to His people is first rooted in God’s own faithfulness to Himself. As Chisholm points out in the first verse of the hymn, “There is no shadow of turning with Thee.” In other words, God’s faithfulness implies that He never changes. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). Similarly, James reminds believers that the Father of lights has no “variation or shadow of change” (James 1:17). Because God never changes, Jeremiah was confident that God would be faithful to keep His covenant with His people.
God’s invariance can be seen throughout creation, and Chisholm reflects on this in the second verse of the hymn. The regularity of the changing seasons speak of God’s faithfulness. The death and cold of winter will give way to the new life and warmth found in spring. Similarly, the heavenly bodies in the sky that give us day and night are proof of God faithfully sustaining the world in a loving and orderly fashion.
In the third verse of the hymn, Chisholm reflects on what God’s faithfulness means for our salvation. He rejoices in the faithfulness of God, for it guarantees our pardon and peace with God. As 1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We can be confident that our salvation is secure, for even at the end of time when Christ returns for His bride, He will bear the title of “Faithful and True” (Rev 19:11).
As I researched the history behind this hymn, I expected to learn that this was written after seeing God faithfully provide and sustain through great trials. Yet, this was not the case. There was no tragic story that inspired this hymn. In fact, Chisholm was serving God faithfully as an insurance salesman in New Jersey when this hymn was written. It was during this time that he found himself reflecting on the faithfulness of God through the quiet and mundane moments of life.
Decades after writing “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Chisholm would write 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.
This is the glorious aspect of God’s faithfulness - He is faithful all the time. Yes, God is faithful when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, but He is also faithful when He leads us besides still waters. He is the God who clothes the lilies of the fields, feeds the birds of the air, and faithfully sustains His children. As we reflect on this, our hearts cannot help but join with Chisholm in proclaiming in awe and wonder, “Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” This is our cry in every season of life.
At GBF, we strive to sing songs like “Great is Thy Faithfulness” that highlight truths drawn from Scripture. The centrality of the Word of God in the lives of believers is attested throughout Scripture. We see how Ezra and the priests taught from the Law (Neh 8:8) and how the Word was central to the life of the Psalmist (Ps 119). Jesus rebuked Satan and the Pharisees from Scripture, and the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42).
Songs grounded in Scripture enable us to meditate on Scripture all day long. Paul makes an explicit connection between the Word of God and the songs we sing. He states in Colossians 3:16 that believers are to, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In other words, Scripture should permeate everything we do. Paul elaborates and explains that part of how we let the word of Christ dwell in us is through teaching and admonishing, and through singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
When we gather as a church body to sing songs in corporate worship, we are not only proclaiming and meditating on Biblical truth. More than that, our time of singing helps prepare our hearts for the preaching of the Word. Worship through music turns our attention away from ourselves and magnifies the only One worthy of worship. As we sing songs that are steeped in Scripture, we find our souls delighting in the richest of fare. And yet, these songs serve to whet our appetites to hear the preaching of the Word that is to come, for it’s in the Word alone where we find our spiritual nourishment and sustenance.
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