How Great Thou Art

Occasionally songs from my faded youth get recycled into my brain. I have been humming this Church hymn all day. I have never really researched the origin of this song before. Let my learning be your learning.


How Great Thou Art” is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Boberg (1859–1940) in Mönsterås, Sweden, in 1885. It was translated into German and then into Russian. It was translated into English from the Russian by English missionary Stuart K. Hine, who also added two original verses of his own. It was popularized by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades. It was voted the United Kingdom’s favorite hymn by BBC‘s Songs of Praise. “How Great Thou Art” was ranked second (after “Amazing Grace“) on a list of the favorite hymns of all time in a survey by Christianity Today magazine in 2001.

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The Origin of the Song (from Wiki)

Boberg wrote the poem “O Store Gud” (O Great God) in 1885 with nine verses.

The inspiration for the poem came when Boberg was walking home from church near Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to church bells. A sudden storm got Boberg’s attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its appearance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mönsterås Bay. According to J. Irving Erickson:

Carl Boberg and some friends were returning home to Mönsterås from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon service. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared. When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mönsterås like a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush… the church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the song.

According to Boberg’s great-nephew, Bud Boberg, “My dad’s story of its origin was that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in the ‘underground church’ in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted.” The author, Carl Boberg himself gave the following information about the inspiration behind his poem:

It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon there was thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared. When I came home I opened my window toward the sea. There evidently had been a funeral and the bells were playing the tune of “When eternity’s clock calls my saved soul to its Sabbath rest”. That evening, I wrote the song, “O Store Gud”.

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Boberg first published “O Store Gud” in the Mönsterås Tidningen (Mönsterås News) on 13 March 1886 .

The poem became matched to an old Swedish folk tune and sung in public for the first-known occasion in a church in the Swedish province of Värmland in 1888. Eight verses appeared with the music in the 1890 Sions Harpan.

In 1890 Boberg became the editor of Sanningsvittnet (The Witness for the Truth). The words and music were published for the first time in the 16 April 1891 edition of Sanningsvittnet. Instrumentation for both piano and guitar was provided by Adolph Edgren (born 1858; died 1921 in Washington, D.C.), a music teacher and organist, who later migrated to the United States.

Boberg later sold the rights to the Svenska Missionsförbundet (Mission Covenant Church of Sweden). In 1891 all nine verses were published in the 1891 Covenant songbook, Sanningsvittnet. These versions were all in 3/4 time. In 1894 the Svenska Missionsförbundet sångbok published “O Store Gud” in 4/4 time as it has been sung ever since).

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As the song was not written originally in English, a couple of different translation efforts have been made. The two primary competing English translations were from E. Gustav Johnson and Stuart K. Hine. Though Johnson’s translation is closest to the original, the version from Hine is the primary one used today among English speakers.

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:

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:

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!

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If any of my readers are Christian “Fundamentalists,” you might know this song – except possibly the third verse.

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