The story behind How Great Thou Art!
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In 1934, whilst travelling through the Carpathian Mountains, preaching and distributing Bibles, Stuart K. Hine was inspired to write the hymn How Great Thou Art!
He later wrote: “The thoughts of the first three verses in English were born, line by line, amid unforgettable experiences in the Carpathian Mountains. The fourth verse was written later, in England.
The seeds that inspired Stuart's hymn were initially sown when he and his wife Mercy sang, as a duet, the Russian hymn Kak Ti Velik (published in Moscow in 1927) by the prolific hymn-translator Ivan Prokhanoff. Stuart was later to learn that Prokanoff had translated his hymn from a German hymn Wie gross bist Du written by Manfred von Glehn in 1907. This hymn had been translated from a nine-verse poem, O Store Gud, written by the Swedish poet and politician Carl Boberg, and first published in 1886. 

In his book The Story of How Great Thou Art! published in 1958, Stuart wrote about the experiences that inspired him to write the words of his hymn. He began his cycle tour near the Slovak town of Poprad, approximately 140 miles west of Mukachevo, where the family lived. 

When he reached the first mountain village on his route, Stuart stood in the street, sang a Gospel hymn, and read aloud John chapter three. Among the sympathetic listeners stood the Russian village schoolmaster, but a storm was gathering and, when it was evident Stuart would not get any further that night, the friendly schoolmaster offered him hospitality.

Awe-inspiring was the mighty thunder echoing through the mountains, and it was this impression which was to bring about the birth of the first verse of the hymn. Pushing on, Stuart crossed the mountain frontier into Romania, and there in the Bukovina, ‘the land of the beech tree’, he found believers. Together with the young people he wandered through woods and forest glades and heard the birds sing sweetly in the trees. Instinctively, the young people burst into song, accompanied on their mandolins and guitars - singing the only song so perfectly fitting the scene: Kak Ti Velik, by I. S. Prokanoff.

Thus, inspired partly by the Russian words, partly by awesome wonder at the sight of all the works Thy hand hath made, the thoughts of the first two verses sprang into life.

O LORD my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made;
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

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.

While distributing Gospels in village after village for some 120 miles, Stuart met with a surprise. He was told “There is a man who already has a Bible - only 20 miles from here.” He was directed to Solotchin and the cottage of one Dimitri Ulianetz, whose wife had a Bible. 

How did the Gospel reach Dimitri? Nineteen years earlier, the Tsarist army had invaded the Carpathians, and Dimitri's village was the limit of its advance. In his haste to retreat, a Russian soldier left behind his Bible, but no one in the village could read, so it lay unread for nineteen years, until the very year in which Stuart came that way.

Dimitri’s wife was the first person in the village to learn to read. Like a child, she had slowly spelled out the words aloud, while the wondering villagers listened with rapt attention to her halting enunciation: For … God … so … lo- … ved … the … world … Slowly she persevered, day by day, spelling out aloud the most wonderful story ever heard, right on to the crucifixion. It was then the tears began to fall, and men and women dropped to their knees, crying to God aloud. About twelve were truly converted as they saw the revelation of God's love at Calvary for the first time. 

This soul-stirring scene inspired Stuart to write the third verse of his hymn, which captures their overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for his saving grace: 

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 fourth verses did not come until after the war. In that year 100,000 displaced persons streamed into Britain, with 165,000 Poles already here. In 1948, Stuart and David Griffiths visited a camp for displaced persons in Sussex, consisting entirely of Russians. One of these men explained to Stuart that in Russia “his wife confessed Christ as her Saviour and was baptised. But I still loved the world, and would not take this step with her, of identification with Christ. Now I know Him, and long to tell her - but all my letters have failed to reach her in Russia. I can't tell her that now I too belong to Christ - she won't know - until the Lord comes, and we shall both be caught up together to meet him in the air.”

"Soon after," says Stuart in his 1982 book, Not You, But God,"I wrote the fourth verse."

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home - what joy shall fill my heart!
Then shall I bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God how great Thou art!

In 1949 Stuart published his hymn How Great Thou Art! in his Russian Gospel magazine Grace and Peace. In subsequent years it gained popularity in the UK and throughout the English-speaking world, but it became internationally renowned from the mid-1950s when Dr Billy Graham used it extensively in his broadcasts and evangelistic missions across the world. 

Elvis Presley loved Gospel music and How Great Thou Art! became the title track of his second Gospel album, which earned him his first Grammy Award in 1967 for ‘Best Sacred Performance’. All three of Elvis’ Grammys were for Gospel music, the third being ‘Best Inspirational Performance’ for his live performance of the hymn How Great Thou Art! in 1975, bringing it to the attention of tens of thousands of people of all faiths and none. Perhaps this is why this hymn continues to be recorded by so many different artists. 

2024 marked the 75th anniversary of a hymn that has profoundly impacted worship across the globe, evidenced by over 1,600 recordings and billions of streams. 2024 also saw the release of a new recording of the hymn featuring a new section written by Matt Redman and Mitch Wong, using the same recording studio and piano that featured on Elvis’ 1967 recording. The proceeds from the new version, How Great Thou Art! (Until That Day), will, for the foreseeable future, contribute to bringing humanitarian aid in Eastern Europe, a part of the world close to Stuart Hine’s heart.

About Stuart K. Hine

Stuart K. Hine (1899-1989) was a missionary, a hymn writer and Bible translator.

Stuart Keene Hine was born in west London on the 25th July 1899, just as a turbulent new century was dawning. He chose to follow Christ at the age of 14 and shortly after, he was baptised.
At the age of eighteen, Stuart was called up for military service in France. These were terrifying days, but Stuart’s faith remained strong. Returning to London, in December 1919, Stuart found employment with Mitsubishi.

On 20th June 1923, at Manor Park Baptist Church, Stuart married Mercy Salmon and within a month of their wedding they set out for Poland to begin a period of service in Eastern Europe which was to last for over sixteen years.

In June 1934 Stuart set off on a three hundred mile mission-by-bicycle to the people of the nearby Carpathian Mountains, little imagining how momentous it would be. It was this journey that gave birth to "How Great Thou Art!"

About The Trust

The Stuart Hine Trust CIO is an organisation dedicated to preserving the legacy of Stuart Hine, the renowned hymn writer. Established to honour his contributions to Christian worship, the trust works to promote and protect the rights and interests associated with his compositions, including the iconic hymn "How Great Thou Art!"

The Trust actively supports the licensing and distribution of Hine's works, ensuring that his music reaches a wider audience. Additionally, it encourages the development of new arrangements and adaptations of his hymns, fostering creativity and innovation within the realm of worship music.

The Trust upholds Hine's missionary calling and artistic vision, enabling his profound impact on global worship to endure for generations to come.
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