This week in my series, “Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth” I’ve selected one that I like… and this time not as much because of my childhood memories, but because it grew on me — or grew into me as I sang it.
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!
The words were written by ThomÂas O. ChisÂholm in 1923. AcÂcordÂing to ChisÂholm, there were no speÂcial cirÂcumÂstancÂes which caused its writÂing, just “his exÂperÂiÂence and BiÂble truth.” The same year, the music was written by WilÂliam M. RunÂyan, who wrote of it in 1956, “This parÂtiÂcuÂlar poÂem held such an apÂpeal that I prayed most earÂnestÂly that my tune might carÂry its mesÂsage in a worÂthy way, and the subÂseÂquent hisÂtoÂry of its use inÂdiÂcates that God anÂswered prayer.” An apt conclusion, I think. Having been popularized by George Beverly Shea through the Billy Graham Crusades of the 1950s and beyond, I was familiar with the hymn when I started having to sing it more regularly at my alma mater, where it was the school hymn. As I revived this hymn of my youth and sang it more often, the words began to penetrate more deeply into my soul.
Only in composing this post did I dig around to come up with the author and circumstances of its writing, and they seem to me to be exceptionally fitting. The hymn itself is to me one of nothing more nor less than a simple reflection on history and a conclusion of fact… exactly what occasioned its writing, as it turns out. In this “non-specialness” is its charm, I think. In its affirmations of fact — and faith — the soul is lifted and reminded of God’s past faithfulness… instilling a firm belief in his faithfulness for the future. The hope of which it speaks is grounded not in emotionalism nor in any sort of crisis moment, but in a quiet affirmation of what simply is. What better basis for hope could we have?
This is a weekend of reflection for my wife’s family, who are gathered from two continents to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. The oldest of my wife’s siblings remembers the wedding day, though one of them was not yet a year old when their mother —my father-in-law’s first wife— died suddenly. There is quite a story of God’s faithfulness in the family history through pain and joy, and it was good for the in-laws to be surrounded by all of their children for the celebration… save for the daughter they buried in the Amazon rainforest at just a few months’ of age all those years ago.
It is, of course, in this spirit of remembering God’s faithfulness in the past as a reminder and promise of his faithfulness for the future that I’ve selected this week’s hymn. What memories of this hymn or stories of God’s faithfulness have you to share?