by Lindsay Terry
Song: "How Great Thou Art!"
Scripture: Psalm 92: "O Lord, how great are thy works!"
If you were asked, "What is your favorite praise song?" and you answered, "How Great Thou Art," you would be in agreement with millions of people around the world. It is a song that crosses many lines. It is loved by people who favor traditional Christian music, by followers of the genre of contemporary worship music, and by those who love Southern Gospel. It has been recorded by thousands of singers-some in all three categories.
I have learned about it from extensive research and from a personal friend, Victor Nischick, who visited in the home of the English missionary who brought the song to the English speaking world.
The life of this great hymn began in 1886 on an estate in southern Sweden, and was known in several countries before it finally reached the shores of the United States. Carl Boberg, a member of the Swedish parliament and also a successful editor, walked across the beautiful grounds of the coastal estate, and during his walk was caught in a thunderstorm. He was in awe as he watched the sky go from gray to black and then to a beautiful blue again.
He later put his response to this display of nature in the form of a poem that he titled, "O Store Gud." (O Great God)-a song of adoration and praise. It was later set to a Swedish folk tune. In 1907 Manfred von Glehn translated it into German, and five years later a Russian pastor, Ivan Prokhanoff, translated it into the Russian language.
Some years later, English missionary Stuart Hine first heard the song in Russia. Hine, born in 1899, and his young wife went as missionaries in 1931 to the Carpathian area of Russia, then a part of Czechoslovakia. There, they heard a very meaningful hymn that happened to be a Russian translation of Boberg's Swedish song.
One day Hine found himself in a thunderstorm as he strolled through the Carpathian Mountains. While the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled through the mountain range, his mind went to the Russian hymn that he had heard and that had become so dear to him. English verses began to form in his mind, verses that were suggested by portions of the Russian translation. He wrote a second verse some time later as He roamed through the forests of Romania with some of the young people of that region. A third verse was written before returning to England.
Stuart Hine and David Griffiths visited a camp in Sussex, England, in 1948, where displaced Russians were being held. Only two in the whole camp were true Christians and would profess their belief. The testimony of one of them, and his anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, inspired Hine to write the fourth stanza of his English version of the hymn.
Hine wrote a book, Not You, But God, which presents two additional optional verses that he copyrighted in 1953, as a translation of the Russian version. J. Edwin Orr introduced Hine's "How Great Thou Art" in the United States in 1954. Three years later, it began its orbit around the world by way of the Billy Graham New York Crusade, where it reportedly was used more than 100 times, and has touched the lives of millions ever since.
In my possession is a prized copy of How Great Thou Artin the Russian language. All four of the men who helped bring us this song-Boberg, the Swede, Von Glehn, the German, Prokhanoff, the Russian, and Hine, the Englishman-carefully preserved the awesome message of the song.
I personally held a letter in my hand from Hine's daughter, Sonia, dated March 16, 1989, which contained the somber news that Stuart Hine had died peacefully in his sleep two days before. He was ninety-two years of age. Thus, in quiet dignity, ended the life on earth of a man whose long years had been dedicated to serving the Lord.
Reflection: God's majestic creations all testify to His omnipotence and His omniscience. As we look around us, on the things He has made, we, too, stand in awe of the Creator, the Power of all the universes. And just think: this great God has chosen to live in my heart, and yours, and all who have accepted His gift of love, and have made Christ Lord in their lives.
Lindsay Terry has been a song historian for more than 40 years, and has been published
in a number of publications, including Pulpit Helps. He has also written
some 34 books and church training manuals. In addition to his writing,
Lindsay has developed music ministries for some of the leading
churches in America. He and his wife now live
on Anastasia Island, near St. Augustine, FL.