How Great Thou Art
From a poem by Carl Boberg – Swedish Folk Melody – Copyright 1953 S. K. Hine. Assigned to Manna Music, Inc. Renewed 1981
- 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 Pow’r throughout The universe displayed. Chorus: Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
- When thru 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. Chorus
- 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. Chorus.
- 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!” Chorus
In 1885, a 26 year old Swedish minister, named Carl Boberg wrote a poem which had the title (translated) “O Mighty God.” According to Carl’s great-nephew the story of the poem was that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in Sweden in the late 1800’s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted. In 1886 Boberg published the poem and it became matched to an old Swedish folk tune and sung in public for the first time. It had a total of nine verses at that time. Boberg later sold the rights and in 1891 all the verses were published in the Covenant songbook.
In 1907 the song was first translated from Swedish to German by a wealthy Baltic German nobleman. The song became very popular in Germany, and the German version reached Russia where it was translated in 1912 by Ivan Prokhanov who was later named the Martin Luther of Russia.
The first literal English translation of the song was by Gustav Johnson who was a college professor in Illinois. He translated verses 1,2, 7,8 and 9 and it was published in 1925. At this time, there was a British Methodist missionary named Stuart Wesley Keene Hine who was dedicated to Jesus Christ in the Salvation Army by his parents. Hine was greatly influenced by the British Baptist Evangelist, Charles Spurgeon. Hine first heard the Russian version of the song while on a mission trip to the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine near the Polish border. Hine was inspired to create his own English version known as “How Great Thou Art.” He reworded the first verse after being caught in a thunderstorm in a Carpathian village and the second verse as he heard birds sing near the Romanian border. He recreated the third verse after overhearing a Bible class calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. The fourth verse, Hine created after the Second World War. He visited a war camp in Sussex, England where displaced Russians were being held and heard the testimony of one of the refugees and his anticipation of the second coming of Christ. “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then we shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, My God, How Great Thou Art!” So Hine finalized his English translation in 1949, and publoished the final four verse version in his own Russian gospel magazine. British missionariesbegan to spread the song around the world to former British colonies in Africa and India. According to Hine, James Caldwell, a missionary from Central Africa, introduced the hymn to the United States at a convention in Stony Brook, New York on Long Island in 1951.
A man named Dr. J. Edwin Orr of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California discovered the song being sung in a small village in Deotali, India. The tribesmen had arranged their own harmony and a Mennonite missionary transcribed it. Orr was so impressed with it that he introduced it at the the Forest Home Christiasn conference center in the San Bernadino Mountains of southern California. There, Henrietta Mears publishing company, Gospel Light Press, published Hine’s version in 1954. At the conference Hal Spencer and his sister, Loretta, son and daughter of Tim Spencer gave the song to their father, Tim, who was a member of The Sons of the Pioneers who had founded the newly established Manna Music of Burbank, California in 1955. Spencer negotiated with Hine for the purchase of the song.
The first major Americfan recording of “How Great Thou Art” was by Bill Carle in a 1958 Sacred Records album. and it was in the 1950’s that the Manna Music version of the song was popularised as t”the signature song” of the Billy Graham Crusades. As the story goes, when the Billy Bragam team went to London in 1954, they were given a pamphlet containing Hine’s work. At first they ignored it, but then decided to work closely with Hine to prepare the song for use in their crusades. They sang it in the Toronto campaign of 1955, but it did not catch on until they took it to Madison Square Garden in 1957. Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea sang it one hundred times during that campaign because the people would not let them stop.
George Beverly Shea’s recording of the hymn ranks number 204 on the top recordings of the 20th century. Evangelist Billy Graham said: “The reason I like “How Great Thou Art” is because it glorifies God. It turns Christian’s eyes toward God, rather than upon themselves. I use it as often as possible because it is such a God-honoring song.”
There have been over seventeen hundred documented recordings of “How Great Thou Art.” Today it is the number one hymn in most languages and it has even been called the Anthem of the Protestant/Evangelical Church.
Did You Know? …. How Great Thou Art! will remain in copyright until March 2059. This means that it is still protected today and therefore you will need permission to use it. The Stuart Hine Trust CIO has appointed the following as administrators for the song in the USA:
Print – www.hopepublishing.com
Recordings/Synchro/Other rights – Capitol CMG