Hymn Stories: “How Great Thou Art”

Many of our great hymns of the faith have heart-warming histories. Born out of the daily struggle, toil, and victory of saints gone before us, they ring through the ages. Hymns give us light, truth, and hope. Here is the story behind the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

One August day in 1859, a son was born in the tiny village of Mönsterås, Sweden. His name was Carl Gustav Boberg. He grew up in relative anonymity, the son of a carpenter. However, young Carl demonstrated a remarkable talent for public speaking. After a brief stint as a sailor, Carl became a lay minister in the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden. In addition to his ministry, he edited the town’s only newspaper, the Mönsterås News. Serving in an obscure Swedish village, I am sure Carl never dreamed that his writing would touch hearts across the globe.

On another sweltering summer day in 1885, Carl was walking home with some friends from an afternoon church service. Birds sang melodiously from trees and meadows; summer wore its brightest Sunday dress. The air bent heavy, charged with humidity and heat. Suddenly, a heavy thunderstorm burst upon the men. It pounded the earth with thunder, lightning, and strong winds. The men hurried home to shelter. Soon, the storm passed and left the skies clear and bright. 

When Carl reached home, he opened his window toward the sea. A single blackbird in the forest warbled wistfully. Church bells tolled out a solemn hymn. And Carl pondered the moments of God’s glory he had glimpsed that day. Inspired, he wrote the song, “O Store Gud,” translated as “O Mighty God.” His words were later paired with a Swedish folk tune and published in a Christian newspaper and then a hymnbook.

Our current English translation was the work of Stuart Hine, a British Methodist missionary to the Ukraine. He translated two verses and added verses 3 and 4. On a visit to London in 1954, George Beverly Shea discovered this version of “How Great Thou Art.” Shea sang it in a series of Billy Graham Crusades, bringing it to global fame and popularity. Since then, it has become one of the best-known and best-loved hymns of Christian culture. In 1978, it was called “The All-Time Outstanding Gospel Song” by the American performing rights organization ASCAP. 

Although Carl Boberg left this world in 1940, his honest lyrics continue to inspire and touch the hearts of millions around the globe. How great is our God!

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 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 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!”

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Have you experienced the greatness of our God? Learn more about God each week by worshipping with the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church – Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call (902) 736-6465 or email northside1178@gmail.com