Thomas Obediah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He received his education in a little country schoolhouse, and at age 16 began teaching there. He became a Christian at age 27, and with no college or seminary training was ordained to the Methodist ministry at age 36. He served as a Methodist minister for a year, but ill health made it impossible for him to continue. He moved to Vineland, New Jersey, where he opened an insurance office.
Always interested in poetry, Chisholm wrote hundreds of poems during his lifetime. He was inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23 to write the text for “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Those verses read, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Chisholm experienced that faithfulness. He suffered ill health most of his adult life, and never made much money––but he said, “God has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”
Chisholm sent the words to “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to his friend, William Runyan, and Runyan wrote the music for this hymn. Runyan was a friend of Dr. Will Houghton, the president of Moody Bible Institute, and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” soon became Houghton’s favorite. Dr. Houghton invited George Beverly Shea, an unknown singer at the time, to sing hymns on the Institute’s radio station. Shea, of course, included Dr. Houghton’s favorite hymn in his repertoire.
Billy Graham, then a student at Wheaton College, became familiar with George Beverly Shea (and this hymn) through those radio broadcasts, and invited Shea to become part of his ministry. It was through their work that this hymn became popular internationally.
Even though he suffered ill health for most of his adult life, Chisholm lived to the ripe old age of 94. During his later years, he lived in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a Methodist camp meeting town, where he died in 1960.
–– Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan