Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Part 2
Whenever I sing this hymn I’m reminded from the first verse and chorus, ‘Thy compassions they fail not….morning by morning new mercies I see…Great is thy faithfulness’
that these sentiments come from the saddest book in the Bible, Lamentations. Here is the fuller context (Lam 3:19-23):
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
These words were originally spoken in a time of great suffering, after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586BC. Yet the author is declaring that it is precisely in such times that God’s great faithfulness and mercy is what gives us hope and comfort. God’s faithfulness is not changed by our suffering. And that’s an amazing truth; it gives us strength to trust, endure, and wait upon him.
The other Scriptural thought behind the line:
‘There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.’
Is of course from 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.”
God’s immutability(unchangeability) is a cornerstone doctrine we must all remember. When we are surrounded by swirling, changing, and painful circumstances, it is God’s unchanging nature that tells us he is still faithful, still working out something better and more beautiful in the midst of what seems unexplainable. Because he does not change, he is the consummate good tree, only good can yield from him(Matt7:18). Not only is his faithfulness great, great is fact that it never changes.
It’s in light of his goodness, that I sometimes understand the line: ‘All I have needed thy hand hath provided’ –that even my hardship is something the Lord provides because it is in his sovereign eyes, what I need. He knows precisely when we need to be chastened as well as encouraged; when we need to be refined as well as comforted. And sometimes his correction is a far better comfort, for it is precisely the provision which ‘I have needed’.
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
This line stems from Gen 8:22 as God’s faithful promise to Noah that the “curse” will never again befall mankind. Think of how it foreshadows Christ; the curse would fall upon him instead(Gal 3:13). This is how great God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love would ultimately manifest.
So it leads well into the final verse:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
It is God’s pardon for sin that opens the door to an enduring kind of peace, one which the world does not know(John 14:27). But it doesn’t stop there. He gives us his very presence by way of the Holy Spirit(John14:16) who guides, helps, strengthens and encourages to the point of a deep and unexplainable joy.
And the last two lines always lift my soul. We can confidently say this: No matter how hard the today, there is always, always a brighter tomorrow –meaning he has promised for us a future that is secure and glorious. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2Cor 4:17. For he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” Eph 3:20.
The last line teaches me to do one of the most powerful things I can do as a Christian: count my blessings. And when I do, I come to realize the truth: blessings all mine, and I have ten thousand beside –not only an uncountable quantity of blessings, but words that fail to capture their quality also. My cup indeed overflows(Ps23:5).
May we sing this hymn over and over. And may it illuminate to us God’s unchanging faithfulness.
Sung here in English and Spanish: