How Great?

Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

A recent poll to find the most popular hymns gave the result that the number one choice is How Great Thou Art or, as the compilers of CH4 insist on calling it to annoy ministers trying to compile the hymn list, O Lord my God.

It has become one of the favourites for funerals and quite rightly, it is a very uplifting message to have as the second hymn. It gained a certain notoriety a few years ago when it was used in a church scene in a TV adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and hordes of people complained to the BBC that it was not written until long after the time the novel was set.

In fact it has had a long and tortuous journey to reach No1 in the Songs of Praise list.

Originally written in Swedish and published in 1886 by its author Carl Boberg at that time it had nine verses. It is said that Boberg was originally inspired when having witnessed a ferocious storm.  He was overcome by the hush as the storm subsided to silence until a solitary thrush started to sing in the silence.

Twenty years later it was translated into German after a Baptist lay preacher had heard it sung by the Swedish church in Estonia. It quickly became very popular in Germany and was heard by Ivan Prokhanov, a Russian religious leader known as the Russian Luther, or because of his prodigious output of hymns the Russian Wesley. Ivan translated it into Russian just before World War 1 broke out. Such was its popularity it survived the Revolution and eventually it was heard by Stuart Hine an English Missionary in the Carpathian Mountains in about 1935. The Russian version struck such a chord with Hine that he translated it into English, he also wrote a couple of new verses in Russian too.

Shortly after the Second World War, the English version with Hine’s new verses was published in Britain and in the USA. In Britain it aroused a bit of interest but it took America by storm, and in the early 1950s Billy Graham included it in his Evangelical Rallies.

The rest, as they say, is history.

There are striking similarities between the hymn and Psalm 8. Both portray the open mouthed wonder when we see God’s majesty at work in the World. Whether that is seen in a mighty storm, a beautiful sunset, the cry of a baby, the loving look between two lovers or in the tear of a mother, the reaction must surely be My God how great you are,or Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The Psalmist though, gives us our place in this creation, a little lower than the angels but above all else. That gives us huge privileges matched only by the responsibility of our station.


Lord God our loving Father, what else can we do but stare open mouthed when confronted with your glory? We see your power displayed and can only wonder Wonder why such a God would care for us, yet you do.  You take us in, you build us up, you come and save us, so let us broadcast to all the World thy majestic name.

In your Mercy hear our prayer,