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Ordinary man with simple faith wrote extraordinary hymn

Thomas Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, in 1866. Though he never had a chance to attend high school or college, he began teaching school at the age of 16 and became the associate editor of his hometown newspaper at age 21.

When he was 27, Chisholm became a Christian and was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1903. According to his biography, he only served one church for a year, due to his health issues. Eventually, he and his family moved to Vineland, New Jersey, where he sold insurance.

By the time he retired in 1953, he had written more than 1,200 poems. Many of them were published in Christian magazines and others were set to music.  In 1923, at age 57, Thomas Chisholm sent some of his poems to William Runyan, an editor at the Hope Publishing Company in Chicago.

One of his poems, titled “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” comes from Lamentations 3:22-23 which reads, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

Runyan was quoted as saying about the poem that “this particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer.” The hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was first published in 1923.

The three stanzas read, “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 wilt be.

“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!”          

The chorus reminds us, “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!”

Though many of his poems were published, Thomas Chisholm seldom received any money for them. When he was 75, he wrote 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.”

Thomas Chisholm considered himself an ordinary man, sometimes describing himself as “just an old shoe.” He died in 1960 at the age of 93. In spite of his disappointments in life, this humble man had a simple faith in God and believed in God’s promise of faithfulness. That’s why Chisholm’s hymn still speaks to us today.

Jan White is an national award-winning religion columnist. She can be reached at jan@janwhitewriter.com.