“GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS”

Wayne S. Walker

“His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy
faithfulness” (Lam. 3.22-23)

INTRO.: A song that is taken from this passage and extols the
faithful character of God in showing His compassions is “Great Is Thy
Faithfulness” (#23 in “Hymns for Worship”). The text was written by
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960). He has produced lyrics for many
hymns, the best-known of which is probably “O To Be Like Thee.” The tune
(Faithfulness) was composed by William Marion Runyon, who was born at
Marion, NY, on Jan. 21, 1870, the son of William White and Hannah Orcutt
Runyon. When he was a teenager his father, a Methodist minister, moved
the family to Marion, KS, where the teenage William studied music and
became quite successful as a teacher while still a young man.

In 1891, the younger Runyon himself became a Methodist minister and
for twelve years worked with various churches in Kansas. In 1903 he was
appointed evangelist for the Central Kansas Methodist Conference. Twenty
years later, in 1923, he received a number of poems, including “Great Is
Thy Faithfulness,” from Chisholm, who was then living in Vineland, NY,
and turned several of them into hymns. The music for “Great Is Thy
Faithfulness” was produced when he was at Baldwin, KS, and the song first
appeared in 1923 in one of his private song pamphlets, “Songs of
Salvation and Service,” published in Chicago, IL. Runyon and Chisholm
were devoted friends and collaborated on some 20 to 25 hymns. Both said
that there were no special circumstances surrounding the origin of either
the words or the music.

Because of increasing deafness, Runyon resigned his work in Kansas
later in 1923 and became associated with John Brown University in Sulphur
Springs, AR, where he also served as minister of the Federated Church,
editor of the “Christian Workers’ Magazine,” and a songbook compiler.
Then from 1925 until his retirement in 1948, when he received an honorary
Doctor of Letters from Wheaton College in IL, he lived in Chicago where
he worked with both Moody Bible Institute and the Hope Publishing
Company. Seeming slow to catch on at first, after its appearance in “The
Baptist Hymnal” of 1956, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” quickly became a
popular favorite. Runyon’s death occurred on July 29, 1957, at
Pittsburg, KS.

The first hymnbook published by someone associated with churches of
Christ in which I have seen the hymn is the 1977 “Special Sacred
Selections” edited by Ellis J. Crum. Since then, it has appeared in the
1986 “Great Songs Revised” edited by Forrest M. McCann, the 1990 “Songs
of the Church 21st C. Ed.” and the 1994 “Songs of Faith and Praise” both
edited by Alton H. Howard; and the 1992 “Praise for the Lord” edited by
John P. Wiegand. All songs written before 1923 are now in the public
domain. Some songs written after 1923 go into the public domain after 75
years, but others can remain copyrighted for various reasons. According
to Hope Publishing Co.’s website, this song is still under copyright
protection by Hope until 2019.

This hymn describes several reasons why we can trust in God’s
faithfulness.

I. From stanza 1 we learn that God’s faithfulness is manifest generally
in His unchangeable nature.
A. There is no shadow of turning or fickleness with God: Jas. 1.17
B. His nature, especially His ability and willingness to keep His
promises, does not change: Mal. 3.6
C. Because, as He has been He ever will be, we can trust His
faithfulness: 1 Cor. 10.13

II. From stanza 2 we learn that God’s faithfulness is manifest materially
in all the physical blessings of nature that He has given us
A. He has given us summer and winter, springtime and harvest, to help
provide for our needs on earth: Gen. 8.22
B. He has given us sun, moon, and stars in their courses above to
provide for signs, seasons, days, and years: Gen. 1.14-19
C. These things join with all nature in manifold witness that God is
faithful: Acts 14.15-17

III. From stanza 3 we learn that God’s faithfulness is manifest
spiritually in pardon for sin and all spiritual blessing that are found
in Christ
A. These blessings include pardon for sin, being justified before God,
and peace that endures: Rom. 5.1-2, Phil. 4.6-7
B. They also include God’s own spiritual presence in our lives to cheer
and to guide: Eph. 1.3-7, 3.17-19
C. And they include both strength for today and a bright hope for the
future: Col. 1.3-5, Tit. 1.1-2, 1 Pet. 1.3-5

CONCL.: The chorus reemphasizes and sums up the thought of the
stanzas. Each child of God can undoubtedly look at various times in his
life when things may have been rough yet remember that God was still
there to help and to comfort. Therefore, we can praise the Lord, saying,
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”!

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