Someone gave me a two-book series book called Then Sings My Soul, written by Robert J. Morgan. In the book, he gives background information on the authors of various hymns and the circumstances of their emergence into public acceptance. I find it interesting at times to read this information about some of my favorite hymns.
“How Great Thou Art” was first written as a one-verse poem in 1885 by a young Swedish minister named Carl Boberg. He called it “O Store Gud,” which translates “O Mighty God.”
An English missionary, Stuart Hine, heard the poem while in Russia, and he was moved to modify and expand it into a four-verse song, using the original poem as the basis for the fourth verse. He said he was inspired by the Carpathian Mountains.
Hine composed the first verse while caught in a thunderstorm in a Carpathian village. I can imagine his fascination with thoughts of God as he watched the storm and penned the words, “. . . I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”
Later, as he heard birds singing near the Romanian border, he wrote, “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees . . .”
Upon his return to England, he recalled watching many Carpathian mountain dwellers come to Jesus, and this inspired him to write verse three, which is my favorite: “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.” He put the entire gospel in that one verse.
The song came to the attention of a music publisher named Tim Spencer, who got in touch with Mr. Hine and arranged to publish and record it. The copyright is dated in 1953.
We can probably thank George Beverly Shea for the song’s popularity. He heard it in 1954 and introduced it the following year during Billy Graham’s crusade in Toronto. He sang it 99 times during a crusade in New York in 1957.
It’s interesting how God gave the original idea to Boberg, inspired Hine to expand it and make it a full length hymn, and then used the magnificent voice of George Beverly Shea to popularize it. God truly does work in mysterious ways—and in his own timing. It took some 70 years for the song to be widely heard after the original poem was written, but in God’s timing that was mere seconds.
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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