I was thrilled to discover recently that the writer of the world renowned hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ lived nearby here in Walton. The story of how it came to be written has the touch of God all over it!
Stuart Hine who died 25 years ago was inspired to write his hymn in the late 1920’s and early ’30’s, when he was traveling through Ukraine with his wife Mercy doing missionary work. He heard a hymn based on a Swedish poem ‘O Store Gud’ being sung in Russian, learned it and started re-writing some of the verses and writing new ones as events inspired him.
The verse “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, / Thy power throughout the universe displayed’’, was inspired by them getting caught in a frightening thunderstorm, in the mountains.
Another verse was inspired when they arrived in a small Ukrainian village and heard a strange sound. Going to investigate they discovered a woman reading from a Bible left behind by a Russian soldier to a house full of visitors. She was reading from about the crucifixion of Christ. The sound the Hines heard was people repenting and calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. This became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.”
Later, the Hines had to leave Ukraine during the terrible famine and genocide inflicted on Ukraine by Stalin during the winter of 1932-1933, and then the outbreak of World War II in 1939 forced them back to London.
After the war, and after questioning God as to why their ministry had come to an end, the Hines were amazed to discover that millions of displaced people from Eastern Europe were streaming into England! Their ministry came to them, instead of them going to their ministry!
One Polish man they met told them a really sad story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian but he was not, but he had since become one and wanted her to know, but he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven. These words again inspired Stuart Hine, and they became the basis for the fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’:
In 1949, Hine published the hymn in a missionary magazine that went out to 15 countries. The rest is history. It went to India then Africa and from there to America and in 1954 George Beverley Shea was introduced to it in London and began singing ‘How great Thou art’ at Billy Graham’s huge meetings. It then went global and is known and sung now in every country in the world. Last year it was voted to be the nation’s favourite hymn, by tens of thousands of people in the Songs of Praise nationwide survey.
Stuart died in March 1989, but his daughter Sonia still lives in the family home in Walton. His funeral was held in what was the Gospel Chapel in Martello Road, now the Parish hall. On the 25th anniversary of Stuarts death Walton churches sang the hymn in Sunday services then later that week concluded a united service by going outdoors and singing over the town this wonderful hymn
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!’