Beginning next week, I'm sharing weekly hymn stories exclusively to email subscribers. Stories like the one below won't be available to the general public yet subscribers are than welcome to share emails that are a blessing to them. It's my way of saying thanks to those who subscribe, plus having a dedicated email audience helps motivate me to write more hymn stories. - Kristen
One of America’s most popular hymns flowed from the pen of a very ordinary man who was born in a very ordinary Kentucky cabin in 1866. No heartbreak, death or near-death experiences influenced this hymn, only Thomas Chisholm’s steady trust in the promise of Lamentations 3:22-23, “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.”
Chisholm believed in the truth of God’s faithfulness through periods of sickness and a variety of jobs including teaching, writing for a newspaper and selling insurance. He was even a minister for a year before his poor health forced him to retire.
It was God’s faithfulness that brought many of Chisholm’s poems to the public eye, including the well-loved hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” When Chisholm shared his poems with his friend William Runyan, Runyan's heart was especially moved by to the words to this one and composed the music and published it in a little-known song pamphlet.
There the hymn stayed under the radar for quite a while until God allowed Dr. Will Houghton of the Moody Bible Institute to discover it and to frequently request singing it in chapel. It became a favorite there, but God chose to further expand the reach of this hymn and brought it to the attention of George Beverly Shea, who made it well-known around the world during Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades.
In his hymn, Chisholm illustrates God’s faithfulness by describing the predictable order of the seasons and the sure path of the sun, moon and stars. He also points out that there is no shadow of turning with God. James 1:17 uses this phraseology, too: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
The word turning in this passage comes from the Greek word “trope”, where we also get our English word entropy. Scientists use the word “entropy” to describe any system that turns in on itself due to not relying on an external source of energy. The result is chaos and disorganization.
Although we witness the law of entropy all around us everyday, we will never see this shadow of turning in God. The One Who created the law is above the law. This is good news for the believer, to whom God has promised eternal life with Him! Just like Thomas Chisholm, the author of this hymn, our frail bodies will one day succumb to death, but our souls will not. And just like Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations, we can fully rest in God’s great faithfulness and His mercies that are new every morning.
“Faithful is He who called you, Who also will do it.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:24
1. How have you witnessed the law of entropy around you today?
2. Does the law of entropy apply to your soul in addition to your body? Why or why not?
3. In what specific ways has God shown Himself faithful to you throughout your life?
Seventeenth century Scottish minister Samuel Rutherford was banished to Aberdeen for his nonconformity to the church of England, where he wrote many letters to his church in Anwoth.
These letters were so filled with doctrine, exhortation and encouragement that Charles Spurgeon would later write in his review of them, “when we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.”
British poet Anne Ross Cousin was inspired by Rutherford’s writing, too. After reading them, she wrote her most well-known hymn, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” - which contains many beautiful allusions to Rutherford’s work and concludes all 19 stanzas with Rutherford’s last words, “Immanuel’s Land.”
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I've sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awakes.
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But day-spring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land.
O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted
More deep I'll drink above;
There, to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel's land.
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustered with His love.
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth In Immanuel's land.
O I am my Beloved's,
And my Beloved's mine!
He brings a poor, vile sinner
Into His house of wine;
I stand upon His merit,
I know no other stand,
Not e'en where glory dwelleth In Immanuel's land.
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace:
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory Of Immanuel's land.
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American hymn-writer Fanny Crosby wrote over 9,000 hymns and was known for her deep and constant joy although she was blinded at six months old by the hand of a man only pretending to be a legitimate doctor.
God's grace in Fanny's life can be seen throughout her hymns, but was evident even in her childhood when she wrote, "Oh, what a happy soul I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world contented I will be."
Later in her life, during a visit to a prison where she was speaking and after a few of her hymns had been sung, one prisoner called out desperately, "Good Lord, do not pass me by!"
Fanny was then inspired to write, "Do Not Pass Me By" which Ira Sankey introduced during evangelist Dwight L. Moody's revivals in London.
Download the printable bulletin insert for this hymn story here.