How Great Thou Art

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Stories

“All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name” (Psalm 66:4).

Many of the hymns we sing were originally written in other languages, but I suspect few have had the long history of translation which surrounds How Great Thou Art.

Rev Carl Boberg (1859-1940), was a Swedish man of great activity. The son of a carpenter, this one-time sailor was a licensed preacher as well as the editor of a popular weekly newspaper. For twenty years he also served in Sweden’s parliament as a senator, but he is best known as the author of the hymn “O Store Gud" (O Great God) which he wrote as a young man in 1885 or 1886. In 1925 this hymn was translated as “O Mighty God”, but it was not much sung. The version we sing has a much more interesting history.

In 1907 the hymn was translated into German by Manfred von Glehn, who lived in Estonia and a Russian translation by Ivan Prokhanoff followed five years later, probably based on von Glehn’s German text. Prokhanoff was known as the “Martin Luther of modern Russia”, and American audiences were interested in this Evangelical preacher in the midst of Soviet Russia. So it was that his hymns were published in New York, and caught the eye of an English missionary named Stuart K Hine. He and his wife used the hymn in their missions to western Ukraine and, after many years Hine made a translation into English. In 1948, he added the final verse.

In 1949 the completed translation - with added verse - was published in a missionary magazine, and became popular with missionaries who reprinted it on leaflets. In 1954 one of the leaflets was given to the Billy Graham Crusade, and the next year is was sung by them for the first time in Toronto. It became a firm favourite of Graham, and in the New York mission of 1957 it was sung a total of ninety-nine times.

So from Sweden - via Estonia, Russia, Ukraine and America - the hymns has passed through four languages. The praise of God is truly an international affair, as the first verse of the shortest Psalm bears witness: “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” (Psalm 117:1)

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

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!

O Lord GOD, you know

And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:3) - Our darkest moments are often produced by the sense that we are alone, that no-one else quite understands. Our deepest frustrations can be caused by an inability to express ourselves clearly. The sense is there in our hearts, but it just will not come out coherently. It is in those moments that the knowledge that God already knows the contents of our hearts can be a consolation.

And they came…

“And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men”. (Mark 2:3) - In our day and age self-reliance is trumpeted, and self-help abounds. There is a danger in this, since the point of the Christian faith is a reliance upon God. To acknowledge your need of God is not to be weak. It is simply to be honest.

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