How Great Thou Art: A Hymn that was Born in a Storm

The Psalmist exhorts us to “Sing unto God, sing praises to his name; extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him” (Psalm 68:4). When I go to my place of worship each Lord’s Day, I love to join with the congregation in singing the great hymns of the faith, which exalt the Name of my Saviour and extol the mighty God of heaven. One such hymn that has been a favourite of mine since childhood is “How Great Thou Art.”

Some hymns have been written as a result of a particular experience in the life of the author, and that is the case of the one who wrote, “How Great Thou Art.” The story behind this great hymn begins with Mr. Carl Gustaf Boberg (1859-1940), a Swedish pastor, editor, and member of the Swedish parliament. On his way home from church one Sunday, Mr. Boberg noticed a thunderstorm suddenly beginning to form out of nowhere, and with it, a strong wind. Then the storm subsided as mysteriously as it arose. Mr. Boberg looked out over the calm Mönsteras Bay as church bells rang in the distance. Immediately, these words began to form in his heart: “O Lord, my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the works Thy hands hath made.” There was such calmness after the fierce storm, peace flooded his heart.

“O Store Gud” (O Great God) was translated from Swedish to German and to Russian. Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to the Ukraine, found a version of the Russian text and sang it at an evangelistic meeting with his wife. He translated the first three verses into English, which was sung at an evangelistic meeting in England during World War One. He published the first three verses (in both English and Russian) in 1949 in Grace and Peace, a Russian evangelistic paper which Mr. Hine edited.

Of the hymn’s importance he said, “When we reach that heavenly home, we will fully understand the greatness of God, and will bow in humble adoration, saying to Him,” O Lord my God, how great Thou art.” Stuart Hine wrote two additional verses of his own which are not commonly included in hymnbooks.

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.

This great hymn of the faith has touched thousands, and will always be my favourite, because it lifts up the mighty Name of my God, and Father of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Mrs. Doreen Cranston is the wife of Rev. Reggie Cranston, minister of Port Hope FPC in Port Hope, Ontario.

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