Aches and Praise Four Hundred & Twenty Two

October 10, 2019
Dear friends,   

As Canadians prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving on Monday, it is a good time to reflect on how many blessings God has given us. Listening to a sermon by Dr. John MacArthur this week helped me to better appreciate how lavish God’s love is. In His best-known parable, Jesus told about three men and their reactions to finding a man beaten by robbers. The man described as “a certain Samaritan” did not spare time, energy or funds to help the man who was left half dead (Luke 10:30). According to Dr. MacArthur, he gave the innkeeper enough money to lodge the injured man for two months. Not only that, the Samaritan offered to repay the innkeeper for any expenses that he might incur in caring for the man while he was gone. In his book “Parables,” Dr. MacArthur writes: “Jewish people considered the Samaritans ethnically and religiously unclean – and the Samaritans likewise resented and despised their Jewish cousins. Sadly, some Jews accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and a Samaritan (John 8:48). To hear more insights about this parable, please go to:    

One of the many blessings I have is friendship. Along with my wife and family, I have some generous friends who are a tremendous encouragement to me. When I think of people who have helped me in the ministry, two faces come to my mind. They would not want to be identified in this communiqué, but the Lord knows who they are and will impress upon them how much they are appreciated.

An email that I received from Moody Bible Institute last week revealed a partnership that led to the composition of one of the best-known hymns: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Here is part of the story behind this wonderful hymn:

“… the song itself was born in sadness, and came to popularity during a succession of difficult moments. Back in 1923, William Runyan found himself at a personal low point. After studying at Chicago’s Northwestern University and spending 10 years as a Methodist minister, he became a traveling evangelist. But preaching in the pre-microphone era took its toll—after 20 years, his voice was shot … Then he became progressively deaf, for which doctors told him there was no cure. For a while he tried a megaphone device that wrapped around his ears, a crazy gizmo straight from the Sears catalog, but not much helped.

A Methodist governing board evaluated the situation and ruled him “non-effective,” the awkwardly named classification that granted him a modest disability pension … So Runyan turned to his other passion, his talent for editing, a job he could do with his limited hearing. He took a job with a denominational magazine, then started work on a hymnal project, putting out notices that he was interested in purchasing new song lyrics. Meanwhile, in Vineland, New Jersey, Thomas Chisholm caught wind of Runyan’s project and mailed him a stack of a dozen poems.

They had never met—and later, neither could remember any special details about the song’s creation. No inspiring origin story here, which disappointed later researchers who uncovered a pretty boring story: Runyan sifted through a dozen of Chisholm’s poems, picked out his favorite, and wrote a tune. That’s it.

Despite the humdrum beginning, Chisholm’s text drew the two men together in uncanny ways. Though separated by half a continent, both had suffered personal tragedies that felt remarkably similar. Chisholm was a news editor who suffered a breakdown after his mother’s death. He recovered enough to study for the ministry and became pastor of a Methodist church. But his health problems returned and he was forced to leave after only a year. Already in his 50s, having lost two careers because of ill health, he struggled to support his family. He started a business selling life insurance to pastors, and tried submitting poems to various magazines. Sure, he was “inspired,” but he also needed the money.

Runyan’s new career as editor and songwriter attracted the attention of Moody Bible Institute, who hired him in 1925 as editor for their publicity department. One of his jobs was to write the long-running “Moody Alumni” column in Moody Monthly magazine. And his second skill—hymnal editing—resulted in The Voice of Thanksgiving No. 4, which became Moody’s official chapel hymnal in 1928. Runyan included six of his own songs, including his personal favorite, the Faithfulness Song (both writers used this title in their private correspondence).

Which came first—the song, or the tragic moments that ensured its legacy? It’s hard to say, but it’s probably no coincidence that the song rose to prominence during the Great Depression. The stock market crash created great hardships in the student body, and also threw Chicago’s hymnal industry into a tailspin. Often strapped for cash, Runyan approached well-known publishers and offered to sell his favorite song … One publisher bought three other Runyan tunes for $10 each, but didn’t think the Faithfulness Song was worth the price.”

Praise the Lord for leading these men to persevere in ensuring that their generation and future generations would have this inspiring song. Great is His faithfulness!

Scripture for the weekend: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands? And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’” Luke 10:36-37 (NASB)

Thought for the weekend: “This parable is meant to constrain us to confess our sinful weakness (revealed in our lack of compassionate, sacrificial love) and seek grace and mercy by turning with repentant faith to Jesus Christ – the only One who truly and perfectly fulfilled what the law demands of us.” – Dr. John MacArthur from his book “Parables”

By His grace,