01(05): The story behind the hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’

Nicholas Loh Avatar

‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ is one of the most recognisable hymns of all time. Its author and musician are Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960) and William M. Runyan (1870-1957) respectively. It is so popular that it is still sung even in most contemporary and liberal churches which have abandoned the traditional singing on hymns.

This endearing hymn has its roots in the biblical passage of Lamentations 3:22-24, which reads: 22It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

The above text is a quotation from the Authorized Version, better known as the King James Version (KJV). The italicized words were added by the translators of the KJV to aid the reader because the translators wanted the translation to be clear and readable. However, to ensure that readers understood that these words were not in the manuscripts that they worked with, the translators set the additional words in italics.

According to an article on Gaither Music, Chisholm wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as a testament to God’s faithfulness through his ordinary life. Chisholm was born in a humble log cabin and became a Christian when he was 27. He entered the ministry when he was 36; however, poor health forced him to retire after just one year. For the rest of his life, Chisholm spent many years living in New Jersey and worked as a life insurance agent. Despite having a desk-bound job, he wrote nearly 1,200 poems throughout his life, including several published hymns. Chisholm explained towards the end of his life that his income had not been large at any time due to impaired health in his earlier years. His impaired health persisted throughout his life. He insisted that he would not fail to record the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God, for God had given him many wonderful displays of His providing care. Chisholm had immense gratitude for what God had done in his life.

Like the previous blog post, I also made a video as ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ is also one of my favourite hymns. Once again, please enable annotations to view the lyrics. I hope you are blessed by this video!

Yours faithfully,
Nicholas Loh
29 January 2019

1. Story behind ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’. http://gaither.com/news/%E2%80%9Cgreat-thy-faithfulness%E2%80%9D-story-behind-hymn
2. Lyrics from: https://www.sermonaudio.com/hymn_details.asp?PID=greatisthyfaithfulness
3. https://www.lifebpc.com/resources/hymns-of-grace-glory
4. King James Bible Council. https://www.kjbrc.org/the-use-of-italics-in-the-king-james-bible/
5. Cover image. https://www.sixcleversisters.com/free-printable-hymn-art-great-thy-faithfulness/
6. Images of Chisholm in his younger days. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/c/h/i/chisholm_to.htm

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