by Al Maxey

Issue #524 ------- March 5, 2012
Music is the art of the prophets; the only art that can calm
the agitations of the soul. It is one of the most magnificent
presents God has given us. I have always loved music;
whosoever has skill in this art is of good temperament,
fitted for all things. We should not ordain young men as
preachers unless they have been well exercised in music.

Martin Luther {1483-1546}

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm
Writer of Great Is Thy Faithfulness

It has been reported that at the beginning of one of his sermons, the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) held up a Bible and declared, "This is the Gospel." Then, raising his other hand, in which he held a hymnal, he continued, "And this is how we remember it." Maybe this was best summed up on a purely personal level by William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who observed, "The music in my heart I bore, long after it was heard no more." Music speaks to the heart, and the words that are intimately associated with those melodies, along with the melodies themselves, trigger memories tied to our past and motivate us to certain attitudes and actions in the present. They speak of our hopes for the future, they address our dreams and even give voice to our fears and doubts. This is especially so with respect to matters of faith. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs have long ministered to the people of God: comforting us in times of sorrow or suffering, challenging us in times of weakness or doubt, calling us to lives of greater faithfulness in those times when self too often becomes our polar star.

The great hymn writers, those long remembered, and whose words and melodies endure through the ages, are those who are able to simply, yet profoundly, touch the hearts of those who hear and sing their hymns. Their lyrics and tunes become an integral part of the fabric of the lives of countless believers, making their spiritual journey richer and sweeter. Thank God for those down through the ages He has gifted with the ability to write the words and compose the music for our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We are all the richer for the labor of love of these men and women. Most of these people were not world-renowned; they were not rich and famous; most went about their lives in a simple fashion, sharing with others the gift God had given unto them. Many of us have sung their hymns all our lives, and yet probably don't even know their names. Yet, they were just like us: they lived their lives, they had joys and sorrows, and sought to serve their God to the best of their abilities and opportunities. One such man, whose poems set to music have touched each of our lives, will be our focus in this current issue of Reflections. His picture appears at the beginning of this article, a picture taken not too long before his death. A simple man, yet a saint among men; not distinguished for his riches or status, but for his devotion as a disciple of Christ. Getting to know such men and women can only serve to enrich our own lives.

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky on July 29, 1866. His family was "dirt poor," and he was not able to acquire a very good education. He attended a little country school, but never got past an elementary school education. In spite of that, Thomas was appointed the teacher of that school at the age of only 16. Clearly, he was a sharp young man with much promise, and the people of the community trusted him with this responsibility, which says much about the character of young Thomas Chisholm. At 21 he became the associate editor of his local newspaper: The Franklin Favorite. In 1893, at a meeting conducted by Dr. Henry Clay Morrison (who was the founder of Asbury College and Theological Seminary), Thomas became a Christian. Seeing the potential in this young man, Dr. Morrison invited him to move to Louisville, Kentucky and become the editor of his publication: The Pentecostal Herald. Thomas accepted this offer and moved to Louisville, where he worked for a number of years as Dr. Morrison's editor.

Needless to say, Chisholm's exposure to the work of his employer led him to develop a strong interest in ministry. Thus, in 1903 he was ordained a minister in the Methodist Church, after which he was appointed to a congregation in Scottsville, Kentucky. Thomas was a very frail man, however, and his health was not good. The rigors of serving as a minister quickly became more than he could physically endure, and after only a year he was forced to leave the ministry due to health concerns. He moved his family to a farm in Winona Lake, Indiana, and a few years after that began his career as an insurance salesman. In 1916 he moved his family again, this time to Vineland, New Jersey, where he continued to work for an insurance company. Although his vocation was selling insurance, his avocation was writing. Thomas had a God-given talent for expressing spiritual thoughts in poetic verse, and he devoted his life to sharing this gift with others. "Mr. Chisholm wrote more than 1200 poems, many of which have appeared frequently in such religious periodicals as the Sunday School Times, Moody Monthly, Alliance Weekly, and others. A number of these poems have become prominent hymn texts" [Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, p. 84]. Some of those hymns are: "Bring Christ Your Broken Life" ... "Living For Jesus" ... "O, To Be Like Thee" ... "Only In Thee" ... and many others. Perhaps the hymn for which he is best known is: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

Thomas Chisholm wrote this poem in 1923. He later stated there was "no circumstantial background" for this particular poem, but simply a "morning by morning realization of God's personal faithfulness." Although he did not possess the earth's riches, he felt himself to be richly blessed by God's daily mercies. In a letter dated in 1941, Chisholm provided the following insight into his thinking: "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" [Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, p. 84]. Thomas explained his approach to hymn writing in the following statement, "I have sought to be true to the Word, and to avoid flippant and catchy titles and treatment. I have greatly desired that each hymn or poem might have some definite message to the hearts for whom it was written" [Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, p. 179].

Chisholm sent a number of his poems in 1923, including the one titled "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," to William Marion Runyan (1870-1957), a friend of his who was an editor with the Hope Publishing Company and a music minister associated with the Moody Bible Institute. Runyan (pictured here) composed the music for a number of Chisholm's poems, but he was especially moved by this one. He wrote, "Mr. Chisholm and I were devoted co-workers, and I wrote harmonies to some 20 or 25 of his poems. 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 answers prayer. It was written in Baldwin, Kansas in 1923, and was first published in my private song pamphlets" [Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, p. 85]. The name of that pamphlet was "Songs of Salvation and Service." Runyan was born in Marion, New York and showed great promise as a musician at an early age. When he was only 12 he was the substitute church organist at his congregation. For a dozen years he served as a minister in the Methodist Church for several congregations in Kansas, but his passion was the musical aspects of evangelism, which is what he devoted most of his life to doing. William Runyan passed from this life in 1957 at the age of 87.

The collaboration of these two men produced a hymn that would impact millions throughout the world. It was first introduced to audiences in Europe in 1954, according to George Beverly Shea, when it was used by Billy Graham in his crusade in England. It was also the favorite hymn of the late Dr. Will Houghton, who was the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Since it was used frequently at the school, it also became one of the favorites of the MBI students over the years, becoming its "unofficial school hymn." Both the words and the music have touched hearts for generations, and will undoubtedly do so for generations to come. Thomas Chisholm retired to the Methodist Home for the Aged in Ocean Grove, New Jersey in 1953. He died there on February 29, 1960 and is buried in the cemetery of St. Thomas Whitemarsh Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. He would have been 94 years old that coming summer. We do indeed serve a faithful God, who has blessed us with gifted men such as Thomas Chisholm and William Runyan, who shared their gift with us and in so doing enriched our lives.

Special CD Offers
There are some very special
CD offers
for readers in 2012.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I'm continuing to read your Reflections, and I appreciate your work. I am fighting my way out of legalism, but it is a long, slow, discouraging battle that I sometimes feel like I'm fighting alone in my neck of the woods. I am still a member of a Non-Institutional Church of Christ, so you know that I'm surrounded by legalism!! Because of pressure from my family and friends (and, if I'm honest with myself, because of lack of courage), I continue to stay put in this group for now. However, I recently heard a preacher in our NI group share this correspondence he had: "(name withheld) writes about a congregation that I had considered faithful (I had even recommended this congregation to him), but he says that they now have meals in the building." SIGH!! I want freedom from this nonsense, and I appreciate men like you who call it what it is. I just pray I will have that same courage one day. I hope I haven't wasted much of your time, but just needed to vent to someone who would understand!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I just wanted you to know that you very well may have saved my sanity with your book on divorce -- Down, But Not Out -- and also with the Christian manner in which you conducted yourself during your two debates on this topic with Church of Christ preachers -- The Maxey-Broking Debate and The Maxey-Thomas Debate. I had read some of your writings in the past and was skeptical of you, thinking you were just preaching to those with "itchy ears." But, the way you carried yourself in those debates, and the information you presented there, and in your book, led me to believe that you had actually studied this subject well, and that you were knowledgeable and sincere! I have said all that to say -- Thank You from the bottom of my heart! If I can ever bring myself to go to an organized church again, it will be due to your influence!

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

Dear Brother Al, I hope that you and your family are doing well. I would like to order the two CD set of your 2011 MP3 Audio Sermons, as well as the companion 2011 PowerPoint Sermons CD. My check is enclosed. Keep up the great work!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Your new article ("Consuming Christ") in the March issue of New Wineskins magazine is excellent. I can't count the number of times I have heard John 6:53-56 used in a Communion reading, only to think, "Do these people really have a clue as to what Jesus was actually saying here?!"

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for all the research and work on your latest article in New Wineskins ("Consuming Christ"). I have come to this text in John 6 from a far less scholarly and academic perspective, and yet arrived at the same conclusion, which is very affirming for my heart!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Let me commend you on your last Reflections ("Foreordained to be Slain"). It is well done and sets forth quite clearly what I believe and therefore preach to be the truth of the matter. I sometimes say that the death of Christ for the sins of mankind was a "done deal" in the mind of God from before the foundation of the world, awaiting only "the fullness of time" to actually occur (Gal. 4:4-5). Additional passages referring to this are: 2 Tim. 1:9 (vs. 8-12 for the context), Titus 1:1-3, and, of course, Eph. 3:11 (vs. 8-13 for the context).

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Brother Al, "Foreordained to be Slain" was excellent!! You just took a key doctrine of the faith and explained it quite simply, in very few words. Most Churches of Christ would brand you a "Calvinistic heretic" for talking about God's ability to determine what will be. However, it is this ability to see things as they are before they come to pass, and still allow them to be, that makes Him sovereign. Thank you, Al, for this excellent explanation!

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Excellent article, and one I agree with 100%, and which I have preached for over 40 years.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, I just read "Foreordained to be Slain," and am so glad to see someone address this topic with such clarity and depth. Just because God knows the future doesn't mean He chooses that future for us! Once again, you strike gold.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, my friend, just when I think I have something all figured out, you come along and open up that can of worms again!! The names of the saved being foreordained and written into the Book of Life from the foundation of the world because of the blood of Christ, with Christ Himself being foreordained to be slain, and God having foreknowledge of everything, including who the saved are from before the creation (since the names are already in the Book), brings to mind a discussion I had at work a couple of years ago with a friend who is a believer in predestination. After several weeks of on again/off again discussion, his final answer to the whole discussion we had regarding predestination versus foreknowledge was, "Semantics. It's all semantics. We're saying the same thing, just using different words to get there." It's no wonder we have so many problems with various Scriptures when we try to understand them as translated into modern English! By the way, if you don't mind, would you please give some thought to mentioning our Christians for Biblical Equality Conference in your Reflections? It is being hosted by the Heights Church of Christ in Houston, Texas on April 27-28. The theme will be: "A New Creation. A New Tradition. Reclaiming the Biblical Tradition of Man and Woman: One in Christ." Registration information can be found on that web site. Thanks!

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