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Words: Thomas Obediah Chisholm (b. July 29, 1866; d. Feb. 29, 1960)
Music: Merrill Everett Dunlop (b. May 9, 1905; d. June 15, 2002)
Note: Over his long life, Chisholm worked as a school teacher, a newspaper editor, an insurance salesman, and a pastor. But it is as a hymn writer that he’s remembered today. More than eight hundred of his poems were published, and a number of these were set to music and have found their way into our hymn books. Great Is Thy Faithfulness is one of these.The Wordwise link about Mr. Chisholm is found on the blog for February 28th, 2010. Because that year was not a leap year, I included some items about February 29th–the date of Chisholm’s death–at the bottom of the notes for the 28th. The present hymn was published in 1941.
It happens sometimes in football or hockey. A player is injured, and a replacement is sent in. By his athletic skill and determination, the substitute might even be a major factor in the team winning the game. Sometimes a substitute can even accomplish more than the original did.
That’s the case when it comes to how God dealt with human sin. The issue arose very early. Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). The record of history since is one of a steady litany of sins. The summary verdict is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and eternal separation from God.
But, in love, a gracious God offered a Substitute to take the punishment in the sinner’s place. That is exactly what the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was all about. The innocent dying in place of the guilty. In the book of Leviticus we read instructions for one offering the animal sacrifice, “He shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4). That was a way of the offerer identifying with the sacrifice, and saying, by faith, “This is me; this animal suffers death in my place.”
But there was a serious problem with that and, of course, the Lord was well aware of it. The death of some animal, is not of sufficient value to pay for the sins of a human being. The Bible says, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). When they were offered in faith, God accepted the sacrifices and forgave the sinner. But it could only be a temporary answer, pointing forward to something infinitely greater.
The Old Testament sacrifices provided a foreshadowing of what Christ would accomplish on the cross. He became the ultimate fulfilment of the symbol. He was announced as the perfect Substitute, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), the final, and fully sufficient, sacrificial Lamb. Many verses of Scripture point to how Christ on the cross of Calvary was fulfilling the death-of-the-innocent-substitute principle.
¤ “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
¤ “I declare to you the gospel…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:1, 3).
¤ “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust” (I Pet. 3:18).
¤ “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were [spiritually] healed” (I Pet. 2:24).
That became the theme of this hymn by Thomas Chisholm. One of his lesser known creations, it’s based on Isaiah chapter 53. It didn’t actually begin as a hymn, but as a short chorus. He sent it to gospel musician Merrill Dunlop, asking if he could write a tune for it. But Dunlop saw potential in the song to become a full-fledged hymn, and asked the author to add some other stanzas. He did so, and Mr. Dunlop provided the tune. The hymn exalts Christ as our perfect Substitute, dying to pay our debt of sin.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.
1) In what ways is Christ, our heavenly Substitute, superior to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament?
2) What other hymns effectively speak of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us?