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How Great Thou Art Hymn Story and Lyrics

History of How Great Thou Art Hymn


Sweden is not well known as a source of most of the hymns in the English speaking world but it is from Sweden that this much-loved hymn, How Great Thou Art came from.

This much-loved hymn is based on a poem sung to a Swedish traditional melody.

Carl Gustav Boberg (1859-1940) is the author of the original poem that ended up as this hymn.

Boberg was a Swedish pastor, editor, and member of the Swedish parliament.

He wrote it while living in Mönsterås in Sweden.

This poem came about after a sudden storm when Boberg was walking home one day.

On that day Carl Boberg and friends were returning home from Kronobäck where they had attended a church service.

Out of nowhere, a thundercloud appeared and soon lightning flashed across the sky.

A severe storm began to blow and rain came in cool fresh showers.

A little later the storm stopped.

When Boberg reached home he opened his window and looked out over the clear bay of Mönsterås.

While doing this he heard a church bell in the distance.

Boberg said there evidently had been a funeral as the bells were playing the tune of ‘When eternity’s clock calls my saved soul to its Sabbath rest.

That evening Carl Boberg wrote the poem, ‘O Store Gud’ (O Great God) based on this experience.

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

He later published it again in 1891 in Witness of the Truth, a weekly newspaper that Boberg edited.

This time both the words and music were published for the first time.

The instrumentation for both piano and guitar was provided by Adolph Edgren, a music teacher and organist.

It had eight verses.

German Translation


This hymn was later translated into German in 1907 by a wealthy German Baptist nobleman, Manfred von Glehn.

He had heard the hymn being sung by a Swedish speaking minority in Estonia.

Russian Translation


In 1912 the song found its way into Russia. The translation was by Ivan S Prokhanov who was known as the Martin Luther of Russia.

He was considered by many to be the most prolific Russian Protestant hymn writer and translator.

English Translation


There were two translations of this hymn into the English language.

The first translation was by E Gustav Johnson, then Professor of North Park College, Illinois, United States.

He translated verses 1,2 and 7-9 which were published in the United States in the Covenant Hymnal. It was titled “O Mighty God” in 1925.

However, the English version that we have come to love is the result of the work of English missionary Stuart K Hine.

He first heard the Russian version of this song while doing missionary work in Ukraine in 1931.

He translated this poem from Russian into English and added two verses of his own.

He is the one who changed the title to “How Great Thou Art”.

He also rewrote some of the verses of the original song besides adding the two new verses.

Hine and his wife used the song in their evangelistic services in Ukraine. They were using their revised Russian version in their services there.

Besides the changes above Hine also added two additional optional verses to this hymn.

He copyrighted these in his book, Not You, but God: A Testimony to God’s Faithfulness.

Below are the two additional verses that are generally not included in modern English hymnals.

O when I see ungrateful man defiling
This bounteous earth, God’s gifts so good and great;
In foolish pride, God’s holy Name reviling
And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.

When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance,
Bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face;
And then in love He brings me sweet assurance:
‘My child! for thee sufficient is my grace’.

It is, however, the first four verses of his translation that are now known to many people who have come to love How Great Thou Art hymn.


How This Hymn Was Popularised?


Just as is true of other hymns it was the Billy Graham Crusades worship leaders, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows that popularised this hymn.

It is said that when Billy Graham Crusades came to London in 1954, George Gray a friend of Shea gave him a pamphlet containing this hymn.

They initially ignored it but later showed interest and arranged it for use at their crusades.

Even though they sang it while in England and in Canada it really did not catch fire.

It is however at the Madison Square Garden crusade that it really became a hit and they sang it a hundred times due to public demand.

The rest is history as it is now one of the most loved hymns in the world.

It is now almost always in the top ten of the most loved Christian Hymns ever in most surveys.

How Great Thou Art Hymn Lyrics


Below are the lyrics of this wonderful and majestic hymn, How Great Thou Art.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have 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!

Refrain

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 see 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 then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Refrain



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