HOW GREAT THOU ART

Infinite Greatness

Few things in nature seem as awe-inspiring as thunder and lightning. For the Christian, the flash and echoing din are a reminder of the greatness of our God. That is how it was for Carl Boberg, one day in 1886. Carl Gustaf Boberg (1859-1940) was a Swedish pastor, and later a senator in the Swedish parliament. He went for a walk one summer day and got caught in a sudden thunderstorm. The rolling thunder and torrents of rain, followed by the return of the bright sunshine and the singing of the birds overwhelmed him. He dropped to his knees in worship. Later, out of that experience, Pastor Boberg created a lovely poem about the greatness of God.

Though he did not realize it at the time, that poem would one day become one of the most popular hymns of the latter part of the twentieth century. But before that happened, the song was to pass through many hands, and cross many national boundaries. Several years after he penned the words, Carl Boberg attended a church service and was surprised to hear them sung by the congregation to an old Swedish melody. Shortly after it was introduced in Sweden, the hymn was translated into German. Then, in 1907, the German version was translated into Russian and published in a Russian hymn book in 1922. That is how it came to the attention of English missionary Stuart Hine a year or so later. He and his wife were serving in the Ukraine when they heard the song, and they began using it as a duet in evangelistic services.

When war broke out in Europe, in 1939, the Hines had to return to England. There Mr. Hine translated Boberg's hymn into English, adding a fourth verse of his own about the return of Christ. In 1949, the song was printed (with his English translation) in a gospel magazine produced by the Hines for Russian war refugees then in Britain. So many requests came for a copy of the hymn, from all over the world, that Stuart Hine had it printed in leaflet form. One of those leaflets was given to song leader Cliff Barrows, in 1954, and he introduced the "new" hymn to an appreciative audience at Billy Graham's Toronto Crusade, in 1955. There soloist Bev Shea, assisted by a large volunteer choir, first sang the stirring words of "How Great Thou Art." By 1974, it was voted the number one hymn in America.

God Himself is infinitely great, so that is bound to characterize all He does. Job says He does "great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number" (Job 5:9). One of the most wonderful displays of this is found over our heads on any clear, starry night. "Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power" (Isa. 40:26). As the psalmist says, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised" (Ps. 48:1). And "His greatness is unsearchable" (Ps. 148:3).

The believer has access to this omnipotence by faith. "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength." And "those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isa. 40:29, 31). In times of difficulty and distress, it is encouraging to renew our faith in the greatness of the Lord. Problems that seem overwhelming shrink before our awareness of the One we serve. In the words of our hymn, "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder / Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, / I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed! / Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; / How great Thou art!"