April 8, 2020

Remember the old hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness”?

If so, you no doubt love it as much as I do. I am a really crummy singer and always nervous to sing in public, even if it is in a room full of other believers, barking out the same off key notes of praise. But despite my reticence to sing, somehow I’ve memorized that old hymn – maybe because I love it so much, maybe because our old church sang it so regularly. Here are the lyrics, see what you think…

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassion’s, they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou for ever will be
Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

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

Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me
Great is thy faithfulness

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

Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

What you may not know, is the source of this hymn. This hymn, written by Thomas Chisholm and composed in 1923 by William Runyan (of Moody Bible Institute) receives its inspiration from the Lamentations of the Prophet, Jeremiah; chapter 3, verses 22, 23. The song become popular very quickly, by church groups, and then was promoted to international acclaim, when it was used regularly by Billy Graham in his crusades.

Furthermore, I think knowing the context of the original authors inspiration (Jeremiah) is essential to understanding the rich, theological depth, of the Hymn. Since we rarely sing this hymn today, and may read Jeremiah’s prophecies even less; may I give you some context?

For the benefit of the uninitiated, may I disclose that Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet”? He has received that moniker because he makes mention, regularly, of his bouts with fear, depressions and tears. Here is just one example from his writings. This reference is from Lamentations 3:48-51…

My eyes run down with streams of water
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
My eyes pour down unceasingly,
Without stopping,
Until the Lord looks down
And sees from heaven.
My eyes bring pain to my soul
Because of all the daughters of my city.

Why the sadness, the sorrow, the incessant tears? Because, God called Jeremiah to a lifetime service of preaching; that’s why. His message was not an enviable one for he was called to “call out” the nations; especially Judah. He spoke on behalf of the Lord and the message was one of conviction; coming Judgment with an inherent call to repentance. He warned the nations (especially Judah) of God’s coming wrath and begged them to listen and change their course of life.

Unfortunately, Jeremiah spent a lifetime doing so with no results except rejection and persecution. He endured one affliction after another as his country and all others ignored his – God’s warning.

So God followed through on His justice and sent Nebuchadnezzar and his terrifying army to siege, capture, burn and kill, all who were in Judah and Jerusalem. Their destruction was the payment due, for their defiant rejection of the Lord and His call to repent.

Therefore, the Lord sent a repeated triad of three destructive forces. Throughout the book of Jeremiah there are denoted as the following – 1) “Sword”, 2) “Famine”, and 3) “Pestilence”. Note these three examples…

I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.” Jeremiah 14:12

He who dwells in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence; but he who goes out and falls away to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live, and he will have his own life as booty. Jeremiah 21:9

“Thus says the Lord, ‘He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live and have his own life as booty and stay alive.’ Jeremiah 38:2

Is there any wonder why this man of god was a man of mourning and tears?

Before his eyes, he saw prosperous, boisterous Judah; go from riches to rags, prosperity to poverty and from decadence to disease, death and destruction. The only difference between then and now, IMO, is he was forbidden to pray for his people! Yes, it’s true! Consider this second triad of bad news for faithful Jeremiah…

“As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you. Jeremiah 7:16

“Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster. Jeremiah 11:14

So the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Jeremiah 14:11

Fortunately for us, though we live in difficult times ourselves, and times of God’s passive judgment, as The Holy One gives the defiant over to their idols and indifference, (Psalms 106:15; Romans 1:24, 26, 28), we have not been forbidden to pray for our neighbors, or the nations.

So we should ask, “now what?” Jeremiah tells us what. In his darkest days, he gave us a two fisted punch of how to respond. Listen; Lamentations 3:25-39…

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.
26 It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord
27 It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him.
29 Let him put his mouth in the dust, Perhaps there is hope.
30 Let him give his cheek to the smiter; Let him be filled with reproach.
31 For the Lord will not reject forever, 32 For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.
33 For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.
34 To crush under His feet All the prisoners of the land,
35 To deprive a man of justice In the presence of the Most High,
36 To defraud a man in his lawsuit—Of these things the Lord does no approve.
37 Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?
39 Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?
40 Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.

This, then men, is what I recommend if you are looking for something to do. Let us, too, wait for the Lord. While we travail in the current pestilence, let us wait prayerfully. And as God brings to mind our own sin and indifference, let us return to the lord.

Jeremiah never got to see a national revival – but he maintained a personal one; and it saved his life. His nation never “turned from their evil ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Instead he saw his country destroyed by a foreign adversary, her people die from starvation, war and disease. And, afterward, he was forcibly moved to Egypt, by his fellow, unfaithful, citizens; all despite his 40+ years of ministry. Then, as legend has it, he died there, alone, but a faithful servant of Yahweh.

We should do no less. We do not yet know the outcome of what we are going through – Coronavirus, massive Fed stimulus, dysfunction in Washington and forced to stay home, disruption from all quarters.

Where will it all end, when will it end, or if not, then what is to become of us, this side of heaven? These are some of the biggest, contemporary, questions we have ever asked. And today there is no answer except Jeremiah’s – we should return, then we should wait upon The Lord.

And as we do men, we can pray. So I invite you to join me, in humble prayer for our brethren the church and for all those whom God has yet to see come to Him in repentance and faith. Because, no matter what God chooses to do, as Jeremiah said, and the great Hymn announces, great IS God’s faithfulness. We can count on Him to be faithful.

But will we?