Nov 16, 2023

Thomas Chisholm


Lamentations is not likely your favorite book in the Bible. Little wonder! It’s a series of five laments over the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by Babylonian invaders in 586 BC. In the midst of these laments, likely composed by the prophet Jeremiah, come the remarkable words, “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3.22-23). Perhaps a hymn is now replaying in your head! Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1841-1931) was born and raised in a log cabin in rural Franklin, KY. Although he never attended high school, he somehow managed to become a teacher. He was converted to Christ at a revival in his town and became a Methodist preacher. He lasted only one year due to poor health, so he moved to a farm to recuperate with his family, facing unemployment and mounting health costs. He found work as an insurance agent and wrote poems on the side, 800 of which later became hymns. He sent a batch of poems to a music editor in 1923 who recognized potential in his “Great is Thy Faithfulness” poem. This editor arranged music to accompany it, and the hymn became a favorite at Billy Graham crusades. Stanza 1 focuses on God’s unchanging compassion, “no shadow of turning with thee” and “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.” In stanza 2, all creation joins in praising God’s faithfulness, as in the phrase, “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above.” Stanza 3 celebrates God’s compassion as “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” The refrain serves to reinforce the theme of God’s faithfulness. Chisholm said of the hymn, “Having been led, for part of my life, through some difficult periods, I have sought to gather from such experiences material out of which to write hymns of comfort and cheer for those similarly circumstanced.” The hymn is addressed to God as a prayer:

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,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.