In response to requests from many lands for an authoritative account of how this hymn came to be written, the following has been compiled by the writer, Stuart K. Hine, and by the publisher, Manna Music, Inc.
In 1885, a Swedish preacher, by the name of Carl Boberg, at age 26, wrote the words only of a poem entitled, “O Store Gud”. Boberg’s poem was published in 1886. The title, “O Store Gud”, translated into English is “O Great God”. A fairly literal translation from Swedish into English, of the first verse and refrain of “O Store Gud”, is as follows:
O, GREAT GOD!
When I the world consider
Which Thou has made by Thine almighty Word
And how the webb of life Thy wisdom guideth
And all creation feedeth at Thy board.
Then doth my soul burst forth in song of praise
Oh, great God
Oh, great God.
The translation from Swedish to English is obviously different from the words we are familiar with today, as found in Stuart K. Hine’s words of HOW GREAT THOU ART. Carl Boberg wrote this poem with no thought of it becoming a hymn. He did not write any music to the text. After publication, the poem was apparently forgotten, but several years later, Boberg attended a meeting and was surprised to hear his poem being sung to the tune of an old Swedish melody. This original melody was different from the arranged melody made by Stuart K. Hine and copyrighted in 1949 and 1953.
In the early 1920’s, English missionaries, Mr. Stuart K. Hine and his wife, ministered in Poland. It was there they learned the Russian version of Boberg’s poem, “O Store Gud”, coupled with the original Swedish melody. Later, under inspiration, Stuart K. Hine wrote original English words, and made his own arrangement of the Swedish melody, which became popular and is now known as the hymn, HOW GREAT THOU ART.
The first three verses were inspired, line upon line, amidst unforgettable experiences in the Carpathian Mountains. In a village to which he had climbed, Mr. Hine stood in the street singing a Gospel hymn and reading aloud “John, Chapter Three”. 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. Awe-inspiring was the mighty thunder echoing through the mountains, and it was this impression that was to bring about the birth of the first verse.
Pushing on, 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 was inspired through the conversion of many of the Carpathian mountain-dwellers. The fourth Verse did not come about until Mr. Hine’s return to Britain.
During the summer of 1954, Dr. J. Edwin Orr introduced HOW GREAT THOU ART to a college-age conference at a church camp known as Forest Home in California. (Prior to that conference, in April, Dr. Orr had heard Naga Tribespeople from Assam sing HOW GREAT THOU ART and intended to use the hymn in his meetings in the United States.)
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. He contacted Stuart K. Hine and the publishing rights were granted to Manna Music, Inc.
The first major American recording of HOW GREAT THOU ART was by Bill Carle, followed by The Spencer Family, and then by George Beverly Shea, soloist for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The Western singing group, The Sons of the Pioneers, recorded it soon thereafter.
HOW GREAT THOU ART, by Stuart K. Hine, as published by Manna Music, Inc., became the best-loved hymn of the Billy Graham Crusades. They used it over and over again. In New York, in 1957, it was used more than 100 times by George Beverly Shea and the Crusade Choir in 119 meetings. In 1959, it became the theme of Billy Graham’s “Hour of Decision” weekly radio broadcast.
HOW GREAT THOU ART has been named in numerous polls as the number one hymn in Britain and America. It is considered to be the most recorded Gospel song by major Gospel artists, as well as many secular artists. It has received two Grammy Awards.
HOW GREAT THOU ART has been performed in Broadway productions in New York, and on the London stage. In the mid 1970’s, HOW GREAT THOU ARTreceived an award for one million performances on radio and television, and was also named, in 1978 by ASCAP, as “The All-Time Outstanding Gospel Song” in America.
Lawrence Welk has been quoted as saying, “Of all the songs, both religious and secular, HOW GREAT THOU ART was the most requested song for our television program.”
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.
Billy Graham gave Mr. Stuart K. Hine permission to quote his reaction to the hymn: “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.”
STUART K. HINE
Stuart K. Hine was born in 1899 in England. His parents were at that time worshipping with the Salvation Army, and dedicated him to God during a time when opposition was strong against those who proclaimed Christ.
After serving in the Armed Forces, Mr. Hine was called to the mission field. For many years he served in Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was during missionary work in these countries that Mr. Hine composed many of the songs for which he’s well-known today.
Stuart K. Hine died in 1989.