This inspiration for this hymn began more than 2,600 years ago, when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians. The Old Testament book of Lamentations reflects the great grief and misery of the people of Israel. The book is made up of five poems, each given a single chapter. They begin and end with words of suffering and, well, lament, as evidenced by the title given to the book. Yet, in the middle of all of this there is cause for hope. In the third chapter the author states, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Two and a half centuries after the book of Lamentations was written, Thomas Obediah Chisholm would borrow the theme of that third chapter, God’s never ending faithfulness, and write “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” in 1923.
Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, KY in 1866. He attended a little country school and became the teacher when he was 16. He became a Christian when he was 27 and eventually was ordained as a Methodist preacher. But his poor health forced him to move.
He wound up as an insurance salesman in Vineland, NJ. He was friends with William Runyan, a songwriter, and sent the lyrics to the hymn to Runyan to set to music. Runyan was friends with Will Houghton who was president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The institute had a radio station and Houghton invited the then unknown George Beverly Shea to sing on the station. Houghton suggested that Shea sing “Great Is They Faithfulness,” and it became part of his regular repertoire.
At the time a young preacher was attending school at the nearby Wheaton College and became familiar with Shea and the song through the radio broadcasts. That young preacher was Billy Graham, who invited Shea to join his team when he began his crusade ministry. Shea joined him, taking the song “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with him to the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Thomas Obediah Chisholm retired to Ocean Grove, NJ. He continued to write songs up until his death at age 94 in 1960.
Here’s a version of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with additional chorus by One Sonic Society, featuring Mike Weaver of Big Daddy Weave.
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