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How Great Thou Art

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Wikipedia article

{{Infobox musical composition

| name = How Great Thou Art

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| caption = A copy of a "How Great Thou Art" music sheet

| translation =

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|key=A Major| composer =

| genre = Hymn

| occasion =

| text = Carl Boberg

| language =Swedish

| written = 1885

| based_on =

| meter = with refrain

| melody =

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"'How Great Thou Art'" is a Christian hymn based on an original Swedish hymn entitled "" written in 1885 by Carl Boberg (18591940). The English version of the hymn and its title are a loose translation by the English missionary Stuart K. Hine from 1949. The hymn was popularised by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades.Kurian, G. T. (2001). 'Nelson's new Christian dictionary: The authoritative resource on the Christian world'. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. It was voted the British public's favourite hymn by BBC's 'Songs of Praise.'. "How Great Thou Art" was ranked second (after "Amazing Grace") on a list of the favourite hymns of all time in a survey by 'Christianity Today' magazine in 2001..


Boberg wrote the poem "O Store Gud" (O Great God) in 1885 with nine verses.


The inspiration for the poem came when Boberg was walking home from church near Kronobck, Sweden, and listening to church bells. A sudden storm got Bobergs attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its appearance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mnsters Bay.. According to J. Irving Erickson:

According to Boberg's great-nephew, Bud Boberg, "My dad's story of its origin was that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in the 'underground church' in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted." The author, Carl Boberg himself gave the following information about the inspiration behind his poem:

Publication and music

Boberg first published "O Store Gud" in the 'Mnsters Tidningen' (Mnsters News) on 13 March 1886 .

The poem became matched to an old Swedish folk tune and sung in public for the first-known occasion in a church in the Swedish province of Vrmland in 1888. Eight verses appeared with the music in the 1890 'Sions Harpan'.

In 1890 Boberg became the editor of 'Sanningsvittnet' (The Witness for the Truth). The words and music were published for the first time in the 16 April 1891 edition of 'Sanningsvittnet'. Instrumentation for both piano and guitar was provided by Adolph Edgren (born 1858; died 1921 in Washington, D.C.), a music teacher and organist, who later migrated to the United States.

Boberg later sold the rights to the Svenska Missionsfrbundet (Mission Covenant Church of Sweden). In 1891 all nine verses were published in the 1891 Covenant songbook, 'Sanningsvittnet'. These versions were all in 3/4 time. In 1894 the 'Svenska Missionsfrbundet sngbok'. published "O Store Gud" in 4/4 time as it has been sung ever since).

In 1914, the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America published four verses of 'O store Gud!' in their hymnal, 'De Ungas Sngbok: utgiven fr Sndagsskolan Ungdomsmtet och hemmet.' The Swedish version that appeared in this edition was:

English translations

E. Gustav Johnson (1925)

The first literal English translation of 'O store Gud' was written by E. Gustav Johnson (18931974), then a professor of North Park College, Illinois. His translation of verses 1, 2, and 7-9 was published in the United States in the 'Covenant Hymnal' as "O Mighty God" in 1925.

The first three Covenant hymnals in English used Johnson's translation, with 'The Covenant Hymnal' (1973) including all nine verses of Bobergs original poem. There was a desire to replace Johnson's version with the more popular version of British missionary Stuart K. Hine's "How Great Thou Art". Wiberg explains:

The version that appeared in the 1973 edition of 'The Covenant Hymnbook' was:

In 1996 Johnson's translation was replaced in 'The Covenant HymnalA Worshipbook' because "E Gustav Johnsons version, while closer to the original, uses a more archaic language." However, according to Glen V. Wiberg:

Stuart K. Hine (1949 version)

British Methodist missionary Stuart Wesley Keene Hine (25 July 1899 14 March 1989)Lindsay Terry, 'Heartwarming Hymn Stories' (Sword of the Lord Publishers):41. was dedicated to Jesus Christ in the Salvation Army by his parents. Hine was led to Christ by Madame Annie Ryall on 22 February 1914, and was baptised shortly thereafter. Hine was influenced greatly by the teachings of British Baptist evangelist Charles Spurgeon.

Hine first heard the Russian translation of the German version of the song while on an evangelistic mission to the Carpathian Mountains, then of the Soviet's Ukrainian SSR, in 1931. Upon hearing it, Hine was inspired to create his English paraphrase known as How Great Thou Art". According to Michael Ireland, "Hine and his wife, Mercy, learned the Russian translation, and started using it in their evangelistic services. Hine also started re-writing some of the verses --- and writing new verses (all in Russian) --- as events inspired him."

Verse 3

One of the verses Hine added was the current third verse:

Michael Ireland explains the origin of this original verse written by Hine:

It was typical of the Hines to ask if there were any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri's wife knew how to read -- evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri's house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri's wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn't barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: "And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in."

The Hines had to leave Ukraine during the Holodomor or Famine Genocide perpetrated on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin during the winter of 193233, and they also left Eastern Europe at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, returning to Britain, where they settled in Somerset.Tel Asiado, "History of How Great Thou Art: 'Then Sings my Soul, My Savior God to Thee' a Top Christian Hymn" (25 September 2007). Hine continued his evangelistic ministry in Britain working among the displaced Polish refugee community.

Verse 4

The fourth verse was another innovation of Stuart Hine, which was added after the Second World War. His concern for the exiled Polish community in Britain, who were anxious to return home, provided part of the inspiration for Hine's final verse. Hine and David Griffiths visited a camp in Sussex, England, in 1948 where displaced Russians were being held, but where only two were professing Christians. The testimony of one of these refugees and his anticipation of the second coming of Christ inspired Hine to write the fourth stanza of his English version of the hymn. According to Ireland:

One man to whom they were ministering told them an amazing story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to 'How Great Thou Art': "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then we shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, My God How Great Thou Art!"

Optional verses by Hine

In Hine's book, 'Not You, but God: A Testimony to God's Faithfulness',Stuart K. Hine, 'Not You, but God: A Testimony to God's Faithfulness' 1st ed. (S.K. Hine, 1973). . Hine presents two additional, optional verses that he copyrighted in 1953 as a translation of the Russian version, that are generally omitted from hymnals published in the United States:

Subsequent history

In 1948 Hine finished composing the final verse. Hine finalised his English translation in 1949,cited from Forrest Mason McCann & Jack Boyd, editors, (1986), 'Great Songs of the Church Revised' (Abilene, Texas: [http://www.acu.edu/campusoffices/acupress ACU Press]), Item 60. . and published the final four verse version in his own Russian gospel magazine 'Grace and Peace' that same year. As 'Grace and Peace' was circulated among refugees in fifteen countries around the world, including North and South America, Hine's version of 'O store Gud' (How Great Thou Art) became popular in each country that it reached. British missionaries began to spread the song around the world to former British colonies in Africa and India in approximately its current English version.

According to Hine, James Caldwell, a missionary from Central Africa, introduced Hine's version to the United States when he sang it at a Bible conference of the Stony Brook Assembly in Stony Brook, New York, on Long Island in the summer of 1951.

Hine published hymns and evangelical literature in various languages, including 'Eastern Melodies & Hymns of other Lands' (1956)S.K. Hine, composer & arranger, 'Eastern Melodies & Hymns of other Lands' (S.K. Hine, 1956)

and 'The Story of "How Great Thou art": How it came to be written ... With complete album of hymns of other lands ... Russian melodies, Eastern melodies, etc' (1958).S.K. Hine, 'The Story of "How Great Thou art": How it came to be written ... With complete album of hymns of other lands ... Russian melodies, Eastern melodies, etc' (S.K. Hine, 1958). Hine died on 14 March 1989; his last place of residence being Seagull Cottage, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex. His memorial service was held at the Gospel Hall in that town on 23 March 1989.

Manna Music version (1955)

A program note from a Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota, concert tells listeners that J. Edwin Orr (15 January 1912 22 April 1987) of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California discovered the song being sung in a small village near Deolali, India by a choir of the Naga tribe from Assam near Burma. The tribesmen had arranged the harmony themselves, and a Mennonite missionary had transcribed it.

Orr was so impressed with the song that he introduced it at the Forest Home Christian Conference Center in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California founded in 1938 by Henrietta Mears (23 October 1890 19 March 1963) in the summer of 1954. Mears' publishing company, Gospel Light Press, published Hine's version of the song in 1954. However, according to Manna Music's website,

Dr. Orrs theme for the week of the conference was Think not what great things you can do for God, but think first of whatever you can do for a great God. And so he introduced the song at the start of the conference and it was sung each day. Attending the Forest Home college-age conference were Hal Spencer and his sister, Loretta, son and daughter of Tim Spencer, who was a songwriter and publisher of Christian music. Hal and Loretta borrowed the song sheet from Dr. Orr and brought it home and gave it to their father."The Story of 'How Great Thou Art'"; http://mannamusicinc.com/writers-songs/how-great-thou-art.html (accessed 2 February 2009).

Their father was Vernon 'Tim' Spencer (13 July 1908 26 April 1974), a converted cowboy, and former member of The Sons of the Pioneers, who had founded the newly established Manna Music of Burbank, California in 1955. Spencer negotiated with Hine for the purchase of the song.

The Manna Music editors changed "works" and "mighty" in Hine's original translation to "worlds" and "rolling" respectively. According to Manna Music, "Presently it is considered, and has been for several years, to be the most popular Gospel song in the world."

The first time "How Great Thou Art" was sung in the United States was at the aforementioned Forest Home conference in 1954, led by Dr. Orr. In honor of this event, Forest Home had the words to the song carved on a polished Redwood plaque. This plaque hangs on the wall of Hormel Hall at Forest Home to this day, enabling people to sing it at any time, to help in learning the song, and to raise hearts to the Lord in impassioned praise.

The first major American recording of "How Great Thou Art" was by Bill Carle in a 1958 Sacred Records album of the same name (LP 9018).Mike Callahan, David Edwards, and Patrice Eyries, "Sacred Records Album Discography"; (last update: 17 April 2003) (accessed 2 February 2009). He reprised the song on his "Who Hath Measured the Waters In the Hollow of His Hand" album (Sacred Records LP 9041) later that year.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades

The Manna Music version of the song was popularised as the signature song of the 1950s Billy Graham Crusades.Copyright information, together with indication that Hine finalized his English translation in 1949, cited from Forrest Mason McCann & Jack Boyd, editors, (1986), 'Great Songs of the Church Revised' (Abilene, Texas: [http://www.acu.edu/campusoffices/acupress ACU Press]), Item 60. . It was popularized by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during Billy Graham crusades. According to Ireland:

As the story goes, when the Billy Graham team went to London in 1954 for the Harringay Crusade, they were given a pamphlet containing Hine's work. "At first they ignored it, but fortunately not for long," said [Bud] Boberg. They worked closely with Hine to prepare the song for use in their campaigns. They sang it in the 1955 Toronto campaign, but it didn't really catch on until they took it to Madison Square Garden in 1957. According to Cliff Barrows (Dr. Graham's longtime associate), they sang it one hundred times during that campaign because the people wouldn't let them stop."

The pamphlet had been given to Shea by his friend Andrew Gray, who worked with the Pickering and Inglis publishing firm,Don Cusic, 'The Sound of Light: A History of Gospel Music' (Popular Press, 1990):166. on Oxford Street in London in 1954. Barrows, who also had been given a copy, had Paul Mickelson (died 21 October 2001) arrange the song for use in the 1955 Toronto Crusade.Neff; (accessed 2 February 2009). George Beverly Shea's recording of the hymn ranks number 204 on the top recordings of the 20th century according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Evangelist Billy Graham said: The reason I like 'How Great Thou Art' is because it glorifies God. It turns Christians eyes toward God, rather than upon themselves. I use it as often as possible because it is such a God-honoring song.

Christiansen translation (1956)

A translation exists by Avis B. Christiansen, retaining the "O Store Gud" melody with an arrangement by Robert J. Hughes. This version, titled "Lord, I Adore Thee", appears in the 1958 hymnal 'Songs for Worship'.

Bayly translation (1957)

The hymn was translated in 1957 for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship by Joseph T. Bayly (5 April 1920 16 July 1986), and set to the music of Josephine Carradine Dixon. According to Bud Boberg, the grandson of the younger brother of the original author of the poem:

"It's a quite literal translation from Boberg, but I suspect that he had the Hine work at hand because he uses the phrase 'how great Thou art.' Also, the music by Josephine Carradine Dixon is similar to Hine's. He added two verses of his own."

Other translations

German translation (1907)

The song was first translated from Swedish to German by a wealthy Baltic German Baptist nobleman, Manfred von Glehn (born 1867 in Jelgimaggi, Estonia; died 1924 in Brazil),[http://ingeb.org/spiritua/howgreat.html How Great Thou art / O store Gud / Wie gro bist du gospel Christian songs]; This gives the original 9 verses of Boberg's Swedish original, 6 verses of von Glehn's German translation, as well as the 4 verses of Stuart K. Hine's English translation. who had heard the hymn in Estonia, where there was a Swedish-speaking minority. It was first published in 'Blankenburger Lieder'. The song became popular in Germany, where "Wie gro bist Du" is the common title (the first line is "Du groer Gott"). Most German hymnals contain only the first 4 verses of von Glehn's translation, so the last 2 are not well known in Germany.

Russian translation (1912)

Eventually, the German version reached Russia where a Russian version entitled "Velikiy Bog" ( - Great God) was produced in 1912 by Ivan S. Prokhanov (18691935),William Kahle, (1978), 'Evangelische Christen in Russland und der Sovetunion: Ivan Stepanovic Prochanov (1869-1935) und der Weg der Evangeliumschristen und Baptisten' (Frankfurt am Main: Oncken), / . the "Martin Luther of Russia", and "the most prolific Protestant hymn writer and translator in all of Russia" at that time in a Russian-language Protestant hymnbook published in St. Petersburg (later Leningrad), 'Kymvali' (Cymbals). An enlarged edition of this hymnbook entitled "Songs of a Christian", including "Velikiy Bog" was released in 1927.

Spanish translation (1958)

The hymn was translated into Spanish by Pastor Arturo W. Hotton, from Argentina, in 1958 by the name of "Cun grande es l". He was an Evangelical leader of the Plymouth Brethren denomination.

By the 1960s it began to be sung by many Evangelical churches in the Spanish-speaking world.

Erik Routley (1982)

Eminent British hymnologist Erik Routley (born 31 October 1917; died 1982) so disliked both the hymn and its melody, he wrote a new text, O Mighty God and re-harmonised the Swedish tune in 1982. This was one of his last works before his death. His translation was included as hymn 466 in 'Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures' (1985).Erik Routley, ed. 'Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures' (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985).

"O Store Gud" became more popular in Sweden after the dissemination of "How Great Thou Art" in English. Swedish gospel singer Per-Erik Hallin has credited Elvis Presley's rendition of "How Great Thou Art" as a major factor in the revival of "O Store Gud" in Sweden.. :sv:O store Gud

In English the first line is "O Lord, my God"; and the hymn may appear with that heading, especially in British hymnals, where first-line citation is the dominant practice.See, 'e.g.', Albert E. Winstanley & Graham A. Fisher, editors, (1995), 'Favourite Hymns of the Church' (Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire: Eye-Opener Publications), , Item 14. English-language hymnals prevailingly indicate the tune title as the Swedish first line, O STORE GUD.

Mori version

In New Zealand, the hymn tune is most widely known through a different hymn called 'Whakaaria Mai'. The Mori verses were composed by Canon Wiremu Te Tau Huata, who served as a chaplain during WWII for the 28th (Mori) Battalion and composed many famous waiata. While set to the music of "How Great Thou Art", and often combined with the English version of this hymn, the Mori lyrics are instead a loose translation of the hymn "Abide with Me". The hymn was popularised by Sir Howard Morrison, who sung it at the Royal Command Performance in 1981 upon the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to New Zealand. When Morrison released it as a single in 1982, Whakaaria Mai spent six months in the New Zealand national charts, including five weeks in the number one position.

Whakaaria Mai has subsequently become a mainstay of New Zealand popular culture. It has been covered by numerous New Zealand artists, including Prince Tui Teka, Eddie Low, Temuera Morrison and the Modern Mori Quartet, Stan Walker, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, TEEKS and Hollie Smith. It was also sung by Lizzie Marvelly at the memorial service of New Zealand rugby legend Jonah Lomu. Following the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch, John Mayer opened his Auckland show by performing Whakaaria Mai / How Great Thou Art alongside a kapa haka group as a tribute to Christchurch. In 2017, Canon Wiremu Te Tau Huata was awarded the Music Composers Award (Historical) at the 10th Annual Waiata Mori Music Awards, in part due to his composition of Whakaaria Mai.

Notable performers

There have been over seventeen hundred documented recordings of "How Great Thou Art". It has been used on major television programs, in major motion pictures, and has been named as the favorite Gospel song of at least three United States presidents.

This hymn was the title track of Elvis Presley's second gospel LP 'How Great Thou Art' (RCA LSP/LPM 3758), which was released in March 1967. The song won Presley a Grammy Award for "Best Sacred Performance" in 1967, and another Grammy in 1974 for "Best Inspirational Performance (Non-Classical)" for his live performance album 'Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis' (RCA CPL 1 0606; Released: June 1974) recorded on 20 March 1974 at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee.[http://www.grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Winners/Results.aspx Grammy Award search engine]

On 4 April 2011, Carrie Underwood performed this song on ACM Presents: Girls Night Out show. She sang together with Vince Gill and received a standing ovation. It was televised on CBS on 22 April 2011, and shortly after the show had ended, her version of "How Great Thou Art" single reached No. 1 spot in iTunes Top Gospel Song and Top 40 in iTunes All-Genre Songs. It debuted at the No. 2 position on 'Billboard' Christian Digital songs chart and No. 35 on the Country Digital Songs chart. As of December 2014, it has sold 599,000 digital copies in the USA. Underwood's version, featuring Gill, is included on her 2014 compilation album, 'Greatest Hits: Decade No. 1.

Other verses

Boberg's entire poem appears (with archaic Swedish spellings). Presented below are two of those verses which appear (more or less loosely) translatedThe translator was Stuart K. Hine. See especially, in that article, the section on "Translation and Migration of the Song." in British hymnbooks, followed in each case by the English.From Albert E. Wynstanley & Graham A. Fisher, editors, (1995), 'Favourite Hymns of the Church' (Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire: Eye-Opener Publications), , Item 14.

Swedish hymnals frequently include the following verse:From Torgny Ersus & Sten-Sture Zettergren, editors, (1987), 'Psalmer och snger' (rebro: Bokfrlaget Libris; Stockholm: Verbum Frlag), / , Item 10.


Further reading

* Collins, Ace. 'Stories Behind the Hymns that Inspire America: Songs that Unite Our Nation'. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003): 8996.

* Elmer, Richard M. "'How Great Thou Art! "The Vicissitudes of a Hymn." 'The Hymn' 9 (January 1958):1820. A discussion of the two translations of the text by E. Gustav Johnson and Hine.

* Richardson, Paul A. "How Great Thou Art." 'Church Musician' 39 (August 1988):91 1. A Hymn of the Month article on the text by Carl Boberg as translated by Hine.

* Underwood, Byron E. "'How Great Thou Art' (More Facts about its Evolution)." 'The Hymn' 24 (October 1973): 105108; 25 (January 1974): 58.

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