HOW GREAT THOU ART                                                               written in 1885

The Story

            In 1885, Carl Boberg (1859-1940), a 26-year-old preacher, wrote a poem called – in Swedish, “O Store Gud”; translated into English, it’s “Our Great God”. Carl had no intention of his poem becoming a hymn, so – a few years later – he was surprised to hear his poem sung to the tune of an old Swedish melody. It was soon translated into German.

A generation or two later, in the early 1920s, English missionaries Stuart Hine and his wife were ministering in Poland, where they learned the Russian version of Carl’s poem – translated from German – sung to that Swedish melody. Soon after, Stuart created English words for it and arranged the Swedish melody to fit, also adding 2 verses of his own. It was set to a Russian melody, and this is the hymn we now know as “How Great Thou Art”. The version we sing in our churches today – a slow, almost reciting tempo – is totally different from the up-tempo style of the Swedish original.

The first 3 verses were inspired by an experience Stuart Hine had as he ministered in the Carpathian mountains, and heard the mighty thunder echoing all around him. As he pushed on, he was deeply impressed by the beauty of the woods and forest glades, as well as the singing of the birds. The 4th verse came after he returned to England.

The song didn’t become popular in America until the 1950s, made popular by George Beverly Shea & Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades, and was soon the number one hymn on both sides of the Atlantic. It ranks as a favorite hymn in many churches today.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – praise God for His greatness, not just with your words but also your actions!

The original version would be translated like this:

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder

of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of Thine,
and how Thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
sustaining earthly life with love benign,

Refrain:
With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
where golden ships in azure issue forth,
where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
of changing seasons and of time on earth.  (Refrain)

When crushed by guilt of sin before Thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel Thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
my soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.  (Refrain)

And when at last the mists of time have vanished
and I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter, Lord, to dwell in peace with Thee.  (Refrain)

 

The version you probably know would be translated like this:

O Lord my God!  When I in awesome wonder

consider all the works Thy hand hath made.

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

 

Refrain:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:  How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:  How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

 

When through the woods and forest glades I wander

and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur

and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:  (Refrain)

 

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,

sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin:  (Refrain)

 

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

and there proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”  (Refrain)

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