Posted by: rcottrill | April 4, 2012

How Great Thou Art

Words: Carl Gustaf Boberg (b. Aug. 16, 1859; d. Jan. 7, 1940)
Music: A Swedish folk melody, adapted by Stuart Wesley Keene Hine (b. July 25, 1899; d. Mar. 14, 1989)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Something of the storied history, the travels, and translated versions of this popular hymn, is told on the Wordwise Hymns link. Stuart Hine (1899-1989) gave us the English version. He lived long enough to see it become the most popular hymn in North America. In CH-1, his original was:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

It was gospel singer George Beverly Shea, instrumental in popularizing the hymn, who changed “works” to “worlds,” and “mighty” to “rolling.” He felt they were more descriptive, and effective. Mr. Hine was not pleased with the changes, but came to accept them in time. They have been adopted by most hymn books.

There are a couple of other stanzas of this great hymn that are virtually unknown and unsung today. In Carl Boberg’s original, they followed CH-3, and are definitely worthy of a look. Perhaps if you sing the hymn in your church, you could include the extra stanzas in the church bulletin and sing them.

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.”

The Bible says, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable [it cannot be fully fathomed or searched out]” (Ps. 145:3). Through all eternity, the saints will be discovering new and wonderful things about our great God. The original inspiration for the hymn was Carl Boberg’s experience of the awesome power of God revealed in nature. This is particularly reflected in CH-1 and 2, and it’s a frequent theme of Scripture (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 19:1-6; 95:6; Col. 1:16).

Then the hymn turns to the theme of the greatness of our Lord and Saviour. First, there is the wonder of His sacrifice on the cross. It was there He took upon Himself the debt of our sins, so that we, through faith in Him, might be cleansed and forgiven (Isa. 53:4-6; Jn. 3:16; I Cor. 15:1-4).

CH-3) 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:

Finally (in the usual printed version of the hymn), in a stanza Stuart Hine added to Carl Boberg’s original, we see the greatness of the future God has planned for His children. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again to take us to be with Him forever (Jn. 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; I Thess. 4:13-18).

The actual inspiration of CH-4 below is touching indeed. Mr. and Mrs. Hine were forced to leave their missionary work on the continent because of the war, and return to England. There they met many refugees who had fled Nazi cruelty. The frequent question they were asked is, “When are we going home?” This was Stuart Hine’s answer:

CH-4) 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!”

Questions:
1) What do we learn about the greatness of God from a study of the wonders of the natural world?

2) What is it about the cross that leads the hymn writer to exclaim, “I scarce can take it in!”?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. […] How Great Thou Art (6 verses) […]

  2. Thank you. When I was spiritually growing up in the Baptist church in the US, it was always “worlds” & “rolling.” Now that I’ve moved to the UK, it’s “works” & “mighty.” I’ve wondered why the difference & which was first & now I know.

    This blog’s been such a blessing to me since I discovered it; here in the UK, most churches have modernized into using mostly newer hymns & praise songs & while I do enjoy worshipping w/some of them, they can’t hold a candle to the old hymns. God bless your efforts.

    • Thanks for your comments. My wife and I currently attend a church that uses mostly traditional hymns. (Maybe that’s because the pastor has asked me to pick them week by week :-).) I have an interesting time when I go to preach anywhere, as I usually suggest hymns that will relate to my message. Ah well, over 650,000 visitors to my blog suggest there are many around the world who still want to sing the old hymns.


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