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"How Great Thou Art" is a Christian hymn based on a Swedish poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940) in Sweden in 1885. The melody is a Swedish folk song. It was translated into English by British missionary Stuart K. Hine, who also added two original verses of his own composition. It was popularized by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during Billy Graham crusades. It was voted the United Kingdommarker's favourite hymn by BBC's Songs of Praise. "How Great Thou Art" was ranked second (after "Amazing Grace") on a list of the favorite hymns of all time in a survey by Today's Christian magazine in 2001.

Origin of "How Great Thou Art"

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 Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to church bells. A sudden awe-inspiring storm gripped Boberg’s attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its violent entrance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mönsteråsmarker Bay. According to J. Irving Erickson:Carl Boberg and some friends were returning home to Mönsterås from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon 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.

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:
"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 first published "O Store Gud" in the Mönsterås Tidningen (Mönsterås News) on 1886 March 13.

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 Värmlandmarker 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 Missionsförbundet (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 Missionsförbundet sångbok published "O Store Gud" in 4/4 time as it has been sung ever since (cf. Time signature).

Translation and migration of the song

German translation (1907)

The song was first translated from Swedish to German by a wealthy German Baptist nobleman, Manfred von Glehn (born 1867 in Jelgimaggi, Estonia; died 1924 in Brazil), who had heard the hymn in Estoniamarker, where there was a Swedish speaking minority. It was first published in Blankenburger Lieder. The song became popular in Germanymarker, where "Wie groß bist Du" is the common title (the first line is "Du großer Gott").

Russian translation (1912)

Eventually, the German version traveled to Russiamarker where a Russian version entitled "Velikiy Bog" (Great God) was produced in 1912 by Ivan S. Prochanov (1869-1935),, the "Martin Luther of Russia", and "the most prolific Protestant hymn writer and translator in all of Russia" at that a Russian-language Protestant hymnbook published in St. Petersburg (later Leningradmarker), Kymvali (Cymbals). An enlarged edition of this hymnbook entitled "Songs of a Christian", including "Velikiy Bog" was released in 1927.

English translations

E. Gustav Johnson (1925)

The first literal English translation of O store Gud was by E. Gustav Johnson (1893-1974), then a professor of North Park Collegemarker, Illinoismarker. 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 Boberg’s 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:Given the popularity of Stuart Hine’s translation of How Great Thou Art in the late 60s and early 70s, the Hymnal Commission struggled with whether to go with the more popular version or retain E. Gust’s translation. However, economics settled the issue inasmuch as we were unable to pay the exorbitant price requested by the publishing house that owned the copyright despite the fact that the original belonged to the Covenant. One of the ironies of musicmaking and profiteering!.

The version that appeared in the 1973 edition of The Covenant Hymnbook was:
   O mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thine,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining earthly life with love benign,

With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

   When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth.

   When crushed by guilt of sin before thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
My soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.

   And when at last the mists of time have vanished
And I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
Upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter Lord, to dwell in peace with thee.

In 1996 Johnson's translation was replaced in The Covenant Hymnal—A Worshipbook because "E Gustav Johnson’s version which, while closer to the original, uses a more archaic language." However, according to Glen V. Wiberg:
While there was sympathy on the commission for retaining this older version, a compromise led to preserving it in printed form on the opposite page of How Great Thou Art, hymn 8. The new version with a fresher language and some striking metaphors seems uneven and incomplete.

Stuart K. Hine (1949 version)

British Methodist missionary Stuart Wesley Keene Hine (born 25 July 1899 in Hammersmith Grove, Londonmarker, England; died 14 March 1989) Hine 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 baptized 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 Mountainsmarker in Ukrainemarker, near the Polandmarker border, 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, Edith, 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:
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.

Michael Ireland explains the origin of this original verse written by Hine:
It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of 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 Stalin during the winter of 1932-1933, and they also left Eastern Europe at the outbreak of World War II in 1939, returning to England, where they settled in Somersetmarker. Hine continued his evangelistic ministry in England working among the displaced Polish refugee community.

Verse 4
The fourth verse was another innovation of Stuart Hine, which was added after World War II. His concern for the exiled Polish community in England, 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, 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:
O when I see ungrateful man defiling

This bounteous earth, God's gifts so good and great;

In foolish pride, God's holy Name reviling,

And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.

When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance,

Bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face;

And then in love He brings me sweet assurance:

'My child! for thee sufficient is my grace'.

Subsequent history
In 1948 Hine finished composing the final verse. Hine finalized his English translation in 1949, 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 Indiamarker 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 convention in Stony Brook, New Yorkmarker, on Long Islandmarker in 1951.

Hine published hymns and evangelical literature in various languages, including Eastern Melodies & Hymns of other Lands (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). Hine died on 14 March 1989. His memorial service was held at the Gospel Hall on Martello Road, Walton-on-Nazemarker, Essex, England, on 23 March 1989.

Manna Music version (1955)

A program note from a Gustavus Adolphus Collegemarker, Minnesota, concert tells listeners that Dr. J. Edwin Orr (born 15 January 1912; died April 1987) of Fuller Theological Seminarymarker in Los Angeles, Californiamarker discovered the song being sung in a small village near Deolalimarker, Indiamarker by a choir of the Naga tribe from Assammarker near Burmamarker. The tribsemen 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 Bernadinomarker Mountains of southern Californiamarker founded in 1938 by Henrietta Mears (born 23 October 1890; died 19 March 1963) in the summer of 1954. Mears' publishing company, Gospel Light Press published Hine's version of the song first it in 1954. However, according to Manna Music's website, Dr. Orr’s 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.

Their father was Vernon "Tim' Spencer (born 13 July 1908; died 26 April 1974), a converted cowboy, and former member of The Sons of the Pioneers, who had founded the newly established Manna Music of Burbankmarker, Californiamarker 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. Manna Music decided to make the song available free of charge. 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 major American recording of "How Great Thou Art" was by Bill Carle in a 1958 Sacred Records album of the same name (LP 9018). 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 popularized as the “signature song” of the 1950s Billy Graham Crusades. 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 Harringaymarker 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 the 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 George Gray, who worked with the Pikering and Inglis publishing firm, 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. George Beverly Shea's recording of the beloved hymn ranks number 204 on the top recordings of the 20th century according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

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

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."

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-harmonized 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).

"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.

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. English-language hymnals prevailingly indicate the tune title as the Swedish first line, O STORE GUD.

New Century Hymnal (1995)

In 1995 the United Church of Christ released the New Century Hymnal, which included an updated English language translation of Boberg's "O store Gud" entitled "O Mighty God, When I Survey in Wonder". According to the editors of the New Century Hymnal, "This translation and arrangement were created for The New Century Hymnal to restore the meaning and flavor of Boberg’s original hymn."
 O mighty God, when I survey in wonder
The world that formed when once the word you said,
The strands of life all woven close together,
The whole creation at your table fed,

   Refrain: (vss 1-3)
My soul cries out in songs of praise to you,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

   When your voice speaks in rolls of thunder pealing,
Your lightning power bursts in bright surprise;
When cooling rain, your gentle love revealing,
Reflects your promise, arcing through the skies.

   The Bible tells the story of your blessing
So freely shed upon all human life;
Your constant mercy, every care addressing,
relieving burdened souls from sin and strife.

   And when at last, the clouds of doubt dispersing,
You will reveal what we but dimly see;
With trumpet call, our great rebirth announcing,
we shall rejoin you for eternity.

   Refrain: (verse 4)
Then we will sing your praise forever more,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

Other translations

This hymn has been translated into many languages, including Chinese ("祢真偉大"), Japanese,, Korean (주 하나님 지으신 모든세계), Indonesian ("Ajaib Tuhan" which means "Miraculous God"), Polish ("Gdy na ten świat"), Romanian ("O, Doamne Mare!"), Spanish ("Cuán grande es Él"), Vietnamese ("Lớn Bấy Duy Ngài"), and even two Esperanto versions: "Ho granda Dio, kiam mi rigardas", which was translated by William John Downes in 1966; and "Sinjoro Dio, kiam mi miregas", translated by Leonard Ivor Gentle in 1985.


The Romanian translation ("O, Doame Mare!") was done by Jean I. Sta­neschi and published in Can­ta­ri­le Tri­um­fu­lui in 1927.


A Māori version, "Whakaaria mai", was originally sung at the Royal Command Performance in 1981 upon the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to New Zealandmarker. It was subsequently popularised by Maori entertainer Howard Morrison (born Rotoruamarker in 1935), who released it as a single in 1982, where it spent six months in the New Zealand national charts, and five weeks in the number one position.

Notable performers

Among notable performers of "How Great Thou Art" are George Beverly Shea, Elvis Presley, Charlie Daniels the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Tennessee Ernie Ford (backed by The Jordanaires), Roy Rogers, and Connie Smith (born 14 August, 1941), whose "inspiring four-minute rendition of "How Great Thou Art," ... originally appeared on the otherwise secular album Back in Baby's Arms in 1969".

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, Tennesseemarker.

The Christian Metal Band Becoming the Archetype has recorded a Melodic Death Metal style version of the hymn.

Commonly Used English Lyrics

  • Verse 1:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have 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!

  • Verse 2:
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:
(Repeat Refrain.)

  • Verse 3:
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:
(Repeat Refrain.)

  • Verse 4:
When Christ shall come with shouts 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!
(Repeat Refrain.)

Other Verses

Boberg's entire poem appears (with archaic Swedish spellings) at Presented below are two of those verses which appear (more or less loosely) translated in British hymnbooks, followed in each case by the English.
När tryckt av synd och skuld jag faller neder,

Vid Herrens fot och ber om nåd och frid.

Och han min själ på rätta vägen leder,

Och frälsar mig från all min synd och strid.

When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance,

Bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face;

And then in love He brings me sweet assurance:

'My child! for thee sufficient is my grace'.

När jag hör dårar i sin dårskaps dimma

Förneka Gud och håna hvad han sagt,

Men ser likväl, att de hans hjälp förnimma

Och uppehållas af hans nåd och makt.

O when I see ungrateful man defiling

This bounteous earth, God's gifts so good and great;

In foolish pride, God's holy Name reviling,

And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.

Swedish hymnals frequently include the following verse:

När jag hör åskans röst och stormar brusa

Och blixtens klingor springa fram ur skyn,

När regnets kalla, friska skurar susa

Och löftets båge glänser för min syn----

That verse----with thunder, storms, lightning (which springs out of the sky like sparks from the sharp rasping blade of a saw), cold rain, showers, wind, and the rainbow of promise----is impressive for its use of concrete expressions but presses hard on sentimental references to climatic phenomena, bears significant redundance with other statements in the poem, and rarely if ever finds a translated home in post-modern English hymnody, which is less prone than 19-century Swedish to dwell on the stark freshness of nature. Nonetheless it may be the verse which most concretely describes Boberg's plodding damp walk home from church in 1885.


Further reading

  • Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Hymns that Inspire America: Songs that Unite Our Nation. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003):89-96.
  • Elmer, Richard M. "'How Great Thou Art! "The Vicissitudes of a Hymn." The Hymn 9 (January 1958):18-20. 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):9-1 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): 105-108; 25 (January 1974): 5-8.

Swedish Wikipedia

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