Thomas Obadiah Chisholm

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 25-27; Acts 12

There are only so many hours in a day and I am finding I am running out of them. As many of you know, I am making a career change and will begin teaching government and economics when the fall semester begins. I am spending time reading the lessons for those courses. I also have a certification exam to prepare for. With an upcoming “VBS for Grown-ups” event in my church later this month and regular sermons to prepare Sunday mornings between now and the end of the month. Something has to give. I am not going to drop the blog but I am going to do some of the writing I need to do for VBS for Grown-Ups and use it in the blog. The Scripture readings for Journey Through Scripture will still be above as they have been all year.

Born in a Franklin Kentucky log cabin in 1866, Thomas Obadiah Chisholm would become a prolific writer of poems and hymns.  Reminiscent of another born in a rural Kentucky log cabin a little over a half-century before, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Chisolm’s parents, James Washington Chisom and Lucy Jane Mequire Chisholm, like Lincoln’s parents, were dirt poor.

Chisolm was the product of a rural Kentucky schoolhouse. It is interesting that though e himself never advanced beyond elementary school, by the time he was sixteen, he was the school’s teacher.

By the time Chisolm was 21-years-old he was associate editor of the local weekly newspaper, The Franklin Advocate. 

When the founder of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore Kentucky, Henry Clay Morrison, came to Franklin for a Revival in 1893, Chisholm attended in order to report on the revival for the paper. He got more than he had planned when he accepted Jesus into his heart and would follow Christ for the rest of his life.

With his background as associate editor of The Franklin Advocate, Later, Morrison invited Chisholm to move to Louisville, Kentucky. Once there he became the editor of The Pentecostal Herald.

Sometime around 1903, two significant events happened in Chisholm’s life, he became an ordained elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church South and he married Katherine Hambright Vandevere. He was appointed to the ME South Church in Scottsville, Kentucky.

Chisholm’s health was not good and he resigned from the ministry after serving for only one year.  When he left the ministry, the Chisholm’s moved on to Winona Lake in Indiana and then on to Vineland, New Jersey. There Thomas became an insurance salesman. He and Katherine would have two daughters, Ruth Elizabeth Chisholm, born in 1905 and Dorothy Chisholm, born in 1907.

For the rest of Chisholm’s life, he would suffer from health issues. For prolonged periods of time he would be restricted to his bed and unable to work. During these periods Chisolm would write poetry, much of which he would exchange with his good friend William Runyan, a Moody Bible Institute musician.

Chisholm was a very humble and introspective man. He sometimes described himself as, “Just an old shoe.”

One of the poems Chisholm shared with Runyan was what would become the great hymn of the Church, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It is said that Runyan was so moved by the Chisholm’s words that he sat down that very day composing a melody to go with the lyrics.

Lamentations 3:22-23 is the basis of the chorus “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

The first stanza speaks of God’s unchanging nature,

. . . there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not.”

James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” may well have played a role as well.

Chisholm said once, reflecting on the poem, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now.  Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

Runyan wrote of the hymn: “This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer. It was written in Baldwin, Kansas, in 1923, and was first published in my private song pamphlets.”

Were it not for a Moody Bible Institute professor who discovered it years later, the hymn might well have been lost to the ravages of time. This professor loved the song so much and requested it be sung so often at chapel services, that the song became the unofficial theme song of the college.”

Chisholm and Runyan’s song did finally begin to get broadened exposure in 1945. Billy Graham’s well-known music leader, George Beverly Shea started using the hymn as a worship element in Graham’s Crusades. The popularity of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” took off as the public would hear it in connection with Graham and Shea’s work.

Though Chisholm was a lifelong Methodist and the hymn was very popular, it is interesting to note that the hymn, used in many hymnals and other song collections, was not a part of a Methodist hymnal until the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal. It is said that the committee tasked with compiling The United Methodist Hymnal of 1989, that “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was the second most requested hymn for inclusion with only “In the Garden” receiving more requests. It is still one of the favorite hymns among United Methodists.

Being faithful Methodists, when making the decision to retire in 1953, Thomas and Katherine moved to the Methodist Retirement Community in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Just one year later, Katherine passed away. It was the same year the couple celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Thomas O. Chisholm was a prolific writer throughout his adult life. Even retirement did not slow down his writing of poems and hymns. He wrote a combined total of over 1200 poems and hymns, over 800 of these were published, including the still extraordinarily popular “Living for Jesus,” which along with “Great is Thy Faithfulness” are Chisholm’s best-known works.  Many of his writings appeared in periodicals like The Sunday School Times, Moody Monthly, and Alliance Weekly. Chisholm sought to use Scripture as much as possible in his writing. He worked hard to avoid any disrespectful or maudlin themes.

Blogger David Cain wrote in his blog, “Song Scoop”s, “T. O. Chisholm may have looked back as he retired in the 1950s in New Jersey and reflected upon what his entreaty to God 50-60 years previously had meant for himself. His 1,200 poems, if one examined them as one would a diary, would show us how one Christian’s life experiences wove a story that was unique. He must have had lows and highs, yet what we know of Chisholm is his resolute direction toward a goal at the conclusion of 94 years. Writing his poetry may have been therapeutic, allowing him to express and resolve challenges. Try it. Call it a diary or a journal, maybe even an autobiography or music compositions. If you want it to work like Chisholm’s, just make sure it includes Him throughout.”

At the age of 93, Thomas Obediah Chisholm passed away in 1960.

Thomas Chisholm’s music has blessed us many Christians throughout the past century and a half. Both “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Living for Jesus” have touched lives not only during the Billy Graham Crusades but in countless churches around the world during their Sunday services.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness (today for this hymn),

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Today in 1866 – Thomas Chisholm Born


One thought on “Thomas Obadiah Chisholm

  1. charlesmillikan

    Wishing you well with your new adventure ahead. Where will you be teaching? I remember sometime back filling out a referral form for you, will you be near Lufkin?
    Also as added feature to your fine blog today, William Runyan had relatives in Galveston and actually taught an Adult Sunday School Class for some time at what is now Moody Memorial in the 1950s before moving to Kansas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s