Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Hymnology: Great Is Thy Faithfulness

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Hymn Story

So often, when we ask Christians to give their testimony, it seems we expect to hear dramatic stories of conversion and miraculous deliverance from tragedy. Sometimes this can make the vast majority of Christians feel as if our testimonies are too “boring” to share, lacking the excitement of those with a great story to tell. Of course, this isn’t the way it should be. The more we understand about God — about his justice, his love, his mercy, and his faithfulness — the more we will see that every sinner saved by grace is a dramatic story of conversion. When we consider where we would be without Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we see that every Christian has been miraculously delivered from the worst tragedy imaginable! We all have a great story to tell… it’s called the gospel!

Many of the greatest hymns we know are written as a result of exceptionally dramatic circumstances (for instance, It Is Well With My Soul). Many others, though, such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness, flow from reflection upon the daily blessings that come from a “normal” life spent with God. This hymn’s author, Thomas Chisholm, lived a relatively unremarkable life, working as a school teacher, a small-town newspaper editor, and an insurance agent before dying in a nursing home at the ripe old age of 94. In fact, we never would have heard of him at all had this poem (one of hundreds he wrote) not been set to music and come to the attention of George Beverly Shea and Billy Graham, achieving mass popularity during their evangelical crusades.

Though he lived without the accolades of men, Chisholm’s was a life well-lived. Late in his life, he wrote:

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.

Chisholm’s life of quiet devotion to the Lord was reward enough for him, just as it should be for each of us. God’s faithfulness indeed provides “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow; blessings, all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

Here is Chris Rice singing one of my favorite arrangements of this hymn:

For a new take on an old classic, check out Erika Lundberg’s new melody using Chisholm’s lyrics:

Lyrics:

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.

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!

Hymn Study

This hymn is saturated with Scripture that speaks of God’s faithfulness. Its primary text is from Lamentations chapter 3, a passage in which the speaker has endured much suffering. When he is at the end of his rope (“my endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD“), only one thing saves him from despair:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Each verse in Chisholm’s lyrics points us to a different aspect of God’s faithfulness. The first verse teaches us that God’s faithfulness is rooted in his immutability; his unchanging nature. James 1:17 tells us that the Father’s light has no variation or shadow due to change. Job 23:13 and Hebrews 6:17-18 also speak of God’s unchangeable character as the source of our hope and encouragement.

In the second stanza, we sing of God’s faithfulness as it is manifested in nature. After the great flood, God promised that “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Every morning that the sun rises is a testimony to the faithfulness of God. He has created the sun, moon, and the stars, and set them on their courses in the heavens. Day and night, the heavens proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19), and remind us that he still sits on the throne of the universe (Psalm 123:1).

The final verse looks forward in hopeful anticipation to the consummation of all things, when God will deliver on every promise. Because he has been faithful in the past, we know he will be faithful in the future. He has promised that all those who believe in him have received a pardon from sin, and will be declared righteous in the day of judgment. Because of this justification by faith, we have an enduring peace with the Father (Romans 5:1). This peace, which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), is ours not just in the eternal future, but now. It is God’s gift through the Holy Spirit, “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!”
~Psalm 117:1-2

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