Hymnnotes: How Great Thou Art.

December 1, 2014.

Today I would like to make another installment in the hymnnotes series with a song that has grown a lot on me over the past few years. This is a song that we often sung growing up, and I can vividly remember hearing it on some movie we were watching in the 5th grade and thinking “Hey, I know that song!” It was very cool to me as a child to hear a church song outside of the church setting. But I suppose that was the extent of my thinking about this song (as it is with children) until I got to the student center. It’s funny how singing songs in different settings can make them take on a whole new meaning. Granted, that meaning probably should have been there from the beginning, but the moment a song becomes what this song became to me is a wonderful moment. The version I found on youtube only has the first two verses, but it is such a beautiful arrangement that I couldn’t pass it up sharing here (if you want to hear all 4 verses, there is another video I found here). I encourage you to consider these words and you sing and allow the powerful lyrics to impact your soul.

How Great Thou Art
Words by Carl G. Boberg
English words by Stuart K. Hine

Carl G. Boberg was a Swedish preacher who penned the majority of these words in 1885 that were later coupled with an old Swedish melody. Stuart Hine and his wife were missionaries in Poland when they heard this Swedish poem. Inspired by the beautiful sights and experiences in the Carpathian Mountains, Hine went on to compose the english words (first three verses) of this hymn set to the same Swedish melody. You can see the vivid imagery that Hine uses in the first two verses, stemming from the wondrous scenes in the mountains. On his return to Britain Hine composed the final verse.

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 power throughout the universe displayed:

To give you an idea of what the mountain range that inspired these verses looks like, look at the picture below:


It’s no wonder the author of this song was awestruck. Perhaps I am a bit biased because I love mountains, but the pictures I looked up are simply beautiful. This hymn sees these mighty scenes and recognizes them as the handiwork of the Almighty and sets out to do what any of us should do when we see the work of His hands: praise Him. Praise Him for all that He has done, all that He has made and for giving us the ability to even take in such beauty. Have you ever thought about it that way? What if there was all this beauty around us, but we had no way to comprehend it? We wouldn’t know what we were missing, of course, but if we did, it would be a sad realization. But the Lord of Heaven and Earth both made the universe and all that is therein, and also gave us the ability to experience it. Hallelujah to the King!

This first verse focuses on the awesome power of God that can be seen through storms and huge creations. In January I was given the opportunity to travel to Panama City Beach for a Christian Conference, but what was even more life changing than the conference was the talks I had at 3 A.M. on the beach. If you have not experienced the awe-inspiring power of the ocean at night when there are no people around, then I would highly suggest doing so. There was a question that was asked that weekend, “where do you see God?” That question, at least in part, was answered those nights on the beach. You look out and there is nothing but ocean. You look down the coast and it seems to never end. And then you look back and you see all the things that we have been given the ability to produce, and with all this you praise God, the mighty maker of it all.

His power is indeed displayed in storms and the stars. Someone once asked, “Why? If God was so focused on earth, why did He create a universe so large?” I can’t speak for God, of course, but I think it has something to do with showing us His true power. We see today how large this universe it (actually, all we can measure is the observable universe), and you have to consider: God is bigger than that. What awesome power!

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:

The second verse back away from the display of God’s power a little bit (though it is revisited in the third stanza) and focuses more on the details of His handiwork. It’s one thing to be able to do the grand gestures, but when you can follow it with all the minute details such as birds and trees, brooks and the gentle breeze, then you truly show omnipotence. Going even further, I am in the biomedical sciences were I see the even smaller details of how we work, what we are made up of and the true delicacy of life that is a thing of pure awe. I love studying these things (when I don’t have to take a test over them…) that are just as beautiful as the world around us in their function. Not a detail was left out by the Almighty. Praise God.

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.

The hymn then switches gears a little bit, but not entirely, as it ties in everything we have talked about and the point of it all. We observed the awesome power of God in verse 1, the wonderful details of His work in verse 2, but verse 3 really hits you with the love of God. God made all the mighty wonders, He is larger than the whole universe, yet He still sent His son to die in our place. What? Why? Is it because we showed something good? No. He died for us while we were in our sins. We have done nothing, nothing to deserve all this, yet He redeemed us anyway. The hymn righty says: “I scarce can take it in.”

Even if we lived a perfect life without sin, though we may not be deserving of death, but I’m not sure that would make us deserving of this life regardless. It is too wonderful for us. But it has been given to us, all because He loved us so. Rightly does John say “We love because he first loved us. (ref. I John 4:19)” What a wondrous plan of salvation for we who did not deserve such but were given it anyway. Mercy and grace from our loving Lord. Praise God.

When Christ shall come with shout 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!

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess to God.”
(Romans 14:11)

What a wonderful day this will be, the day when our Lord returns and we continue on to be in His presence forever. We will bow before Him in worship and He will take us home. This last verse of the hymn ties it all together. God made this wonderful place, He sent is Son as a ransom for our souls and one day we will bow in humble adoration before our King, proclaiming His name forever more. What a wonderful day that will be. I really can’t say much more other than what this verse says, so instead of going on and on, just read that last verse several times. Praise God.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!

After four verses like that, after seeing the vivid imagery of the mountains and the awesome power of God in both mighty words and minute details, what else can the soul do but sing? What else but sing praises to the Lord God above, for He is worthy to be praised above all else. My soul rejoices in the Lord and in the mighty works of His hand. I hope yours does too. How can we love Him who we do not see? Well, I say we have seen Him in a way.

There was a show when I was younger that I believe was called “God with us” or something like that, but the premise followed God on earth in human form in today’s setting. I didn’t watch the show, but I did see a snippet of it that has stuck with me to this day. A girl asks God to prove to her that He is God by doing a miracle. He points at a tree and says “there.” “But that’s just a tree…” God replies, “Well, let’s see you make one.” I think the dialog was a bit more polished, but you get the point. Want to see God? Take a step outside and view the wonderful works of God, and see if your soul does not sing. Mine does. Glory to our king!

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)

Suggested Daily Reading: Genesis 1, Psalm 19, Romans 1, I John 4.

Hallelujah to the King.


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