Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends. Alphonse de Lamartine
The beginnings of today’s powerful hymn, How Great Thou Art, were first recorded in 1885 by a 26-year old Swedish pastor named Carl Gustav Boberg. According to music historian, J. Irving Erickson:
Carl Boberg and some of his friends were returning home to Mönsterås, Sweden from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon church service. Nature was at its peak that radiant afternoon. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon sharp lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared. When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mönsterås like a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush…the church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the song.
The author, Carl Gustav Boberg himself, gave this account about the inspiration behind his three-stanza poem:
It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared. When I came home I opened my window toward the sea. There evidently had been a funeral and the bells were playing the tune of ‘When eternity’s clock calling my saved soul to its Sabbath rest.’ That evening, I wrote the song, O Store Gud.
Boberg’s poem was first published in 1891, in a weekly Swedish newspaper, Witness of the Truth, a publication Boberg helped to edit. Eventually, an old Swedish melody was joined with O Store Gud and the song began to find wings as others translated it, first, into German, and in 1927, into Russian.
Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine, came across the Russian version and decided to sing it, alongside his wife, at an evening evangelistic meeting in the 1930’s. The response was very favorable, so Hine translated Boberg’s text (the first three stanzas) into English, and began singing it at evangelistic meetings throughout England during World War II. After the war, (1949) Hine added a fourth verse (When Christ shall come) and by 1954, when George Beverly Shea began using it at Billy Graham crusades, the hymn suddenly became a global favorite.
Since its’ popularity didn’t explode until midway through the twentieth century, this one didn’t qualify for Robert Coote’s survey of the Best Popular Hymns ever. But like Great Is Thy Faithfulness, give it another 50 years and this one will be right up there in the top ten. Actually, in a national survey done by Today’s Christian magazine in 2001, How Great Thou Art was voted the second most popular hymn, finishing right behind the hymn we’ll close with next time…Amazing Grace!
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.
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.
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.
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!
My prayer: Father God, 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! For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What glorious aspect of my everyday world am I overlooking because I’m running so fast through it? What might it look like for me to stop today, like Carl Boberg, so that I might better consider and reflect on the glories of God that surround me?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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