We continue to witness great songs of praise coming out as Christmas music this year. Below is a viral video from vocal band Home Free with their rendition of How Great Thou Art, on this year’s re-release of their Christmas album, Full of Cheer –
The original Swedish text for “How Great Thou Art” was a poem entitled “O Store Gud” written in 1886 by a Swedish preacher, Carl Boberg, editor of the periodical Sanningsvittnet. Boberg’s inspiration for “How Great Thou Art” came from a visit to a beautiful country estate on the southeast coast of Sweden.
He got caught in a midday thunderstorm with awe-inspiring moments of flashing violence, followed by a clear brilliant sun. Soon afterwards he heard the calm, sweet songs of the birds in nearby trees. The experience prompted Boberg to fall to his knees in humble adoration of his mighty God.
A nine-stanza poem beginning with the Swedish words “O Store Gud, nar jag den varld beskader” captured his exultation of how great God is. In 1927, I. S. Prokhanoff came upon the German version and translated it into the Russian language.
Stuart K. Hine was born in 1899 in England. His parents dedicated him to God during a time when opposition was strong against those who proclaimed Christ. As a young boy, Stuart knew he would be devoting his life to full-time ministry. His background in the Salvation Army gave him a zeal for the Lord and for Christian music.
After serving in the Armed Forces, Mr. Hine was called to the ministry and to the mission field. For many years, he served in Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia.
In 1933, Stuart K. Hine and his wife were ministering to the people of Ukraine. There they heard the hymn and learned the Russian translation of “O Store Gud.” The thought of writing original English lyrics to “How Great Thou Art” did not occur immediately to the Hines. That inspiration waited until they found themselves in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains of Russia.
The first three verses were inspired by memorable experiences in those mountains.
In a village to which he had climbed, Mr. Hine stood in the street singing a gospel hymn and reading aloud John, Chapter 3. Among the sympathetic listeners was a local village schoolmaster. A storm was gathering, and when it was evident that no further travel could be made that night, the friendly schoolmaster offered his hospitality. The mighty thunder echoing through the mountains prompted the first verse.
Mr. Hine crossed the mountain frontier into Romania and into Bukovina. Together with some young people, through the woods and forest glades he wandered and heard the birds sing sweetly in the trees. Thus the second verse came into being.
Verse three, “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,” was aspiring to the conversion of many of the Carpathian mountain dwellers. When World War II broke out in 1939, Hine and his wife returned to Britain and settled in Somerset, where they published hymns and evangelical literature in various languages.
The fourth verse came after the war. Reverend Hine stated that part of the inspiration for verse four was the question constantly on the lips of the eastern European refugees who had streamed into Britain. When can we go home? The joy of returning to our heavenly home is portrayed in this verse. Stuart K. Hine died in 1989, leaving a legacy of many hymns, but none more beloved than this one.