Behind the Song Sunday: How Great Thou Art

Today How Great Thou Art is a staple in the protestant church and often requested for funerals. The song did not gain popularity until after celebrating its fiftieth birthday. Cliff Barrows, the song leader for the Billy Graham crusades brought How Great Thou Art to international fame in the 1940s and 1950s during the London Crusades.

Carl Boberg

Carl Boberg

The text was written by a Swedish pastor named Carl Boberg. During the year of 1886, Boberg was visiting a beautiful country estate when he was caught in a sudden thunderstorm. The violent lightning and thunder gave way to brilliant sunshine and the sweet singing of birds in the trees. Carl Boberg himself gave the following account of that day: “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.'”

When he arrived home Boberg wrote nine stanzas of praised. He originally titled the poem “O Store God.” The words were put to an old Swedish folk song and sung in Swedish congregations.

Rev. S. K. Hine was an English missionary serving the Ukraine. He came across the song and translated the words into English, Russian and German. When war broke out in 1939, Rev. Hine and his family were forced to flee the Ukraine. Rev. Hine would later add the fourth verse to the

Tim Spencer and Karl Farr

Tim Spencer and Karl Farr

hymn we now sing.

A story told by the Gideon’s is that Tim Spencer, who was a member of the Sons of the Pioneers {with Leonard Slye [who would become better known as Roy Rogers] and Bob Nolan} lived an unsavory life of smoking, drinking and other rough behaviors. His wife continued to pray for his salvation. One day in 1949 he checked into a hotel in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Velma left him a note with a verse of scripture. Wanting to look the passage up, he reached for the nearby Gideon bible on the night stand. He continued to read the Bible until he gave his life to Christ that night. Later he founded the Christian publishing company, Manna Music. Several years later his son, Hal, was at a youth rally where they were taught a new hymn. Hal asked the missionary for a copy of the Swedish hymn they’d learned. Hal took it home and showed it to his father, who secured the rights and published the song. That song was “How Great Thou Art” which introduced the song to the English speaking people of the United States. The song soon spread and became very popular.

 

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Behind the Song: How Great Thou Art