“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible…be glory forever" (1 Tim. 1:17)

     INTRO.: A song which give praise to God who is our King eternal, immortal, and invisible is "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise." The text was written by Walter Chalmers Smith, who was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on Dec. 5, 1824, and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, at Marischal College of the University of Aberdeen, where he obtained the Master of Arts degree, and at New College, Edinburgh. Entering the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland in 1850, he served at Chadwell Street in Islington, London, from 1850 to 1857, the Roxburgh Free Church of Edinburgh, Edinburgh from 1857 to 1876, and the Free High Church of Edinburgh from 1876 to 1894, where he remained until his retirement.  Also, he was moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1892 and 1893.  As an author, his written works include The Bishop’s Walk of 1860, Olrig Grange of 1872, Borland Hall of 1874, Hilda Among the Broken Gods of 1878, North Country Folk of 1883, Kildrostan of 1884, A Heretic, and Other Poems of 1891, and Poetical Works of 1902.

     Smith produced several hymns, some twelve of which have survived.  This one, undoubtedly his best known, first appeared with six stanzas in his Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life of 1867 (some sources give the date of 1876 for the publication of the book but still list 1867 as the first appearance of the hymn). Several revisions of the poem were made by W. Garrett Horder (1841-1922). Some of these were published in Horder’s 1884 Congregational Hymns and the final edition in his 1905 Worship Song, which included only four stanzas, the final one made up of portions of Smith’s fourth, fifth, and sixth. Later in life, after his retirement, Smith worked with the Orwell Free Church at Milnathort, Kinrossshire, and the Free Tron Church in Glasgow, prior to his death which occurred on Sept. 19, 1908, at Kinbuck, Dunblane, in Perthshire, Scotland.

     The tune (St. Denio, Joanna, or Palestina) is derived from a Welsh folk song "Can Mlynned i ‘nawr’" ("A Hundred Years from Now"). It was first arranged for use as a hymn tune by John Roberts (1822-1877). This version appeared in his Canaidau y Cyssegr (Songs of Worship) of 1839.  The melody was first harmonized to, adapted for, and used with Smith’s words in The English Hymnal of 1905-1906 edited by Gustav Theodore Holst (1874-1934). Although this hymn has been around a long while, it has only recently begun appearing in hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use among churches of Christ.  These include the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise edited by Alton H. Howard.

     This song uses Biblical imagery in an unbridled expression of praise to God the Father.

I. Stanza 1 praises Him as all wise
"Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise."
 A. Jehovah is "God only wise" because He alone has wisdom and knowledge that are infinite: Ps. 139.1-5
 B. As such, He dwells in light inaccessible so that no man can approach and see Him: Exo. 33.20, Jn. 1.18, 1 Tim. 6.16, 1 Jn. 1.5
 C. Therefore, He is the Ancient of Days, who always has existed and always will exist: Dan. 7.13

II. Stanza 2 praises Him as our Ruler
"Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love."
 A. Jehovah is the one who reigns over the whole universe: Ps. 91.3
 B. As our ruler, His justice soars higher than the mountains and clouds: Ps. 89.14
 C. Yet, His fountains are full of goodness and love: Ps. 103.8-18

III. Stanza 3 praises Him as the Lifegiver
"To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small, In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, And wither and perish–but naught changeth Thee."
 A. Jehovah is the one who has given us life and in whom we continue to live: Acts 17.24-28
 B. Yet, though we blossom and flourish with this life, eventually we wither and perish as leaves on the tree: Jas. 1.9-11, 1 Pet. 1.24
 C. However, the one who has life to give never changes: Heb. 1.10-12

IV. Stanza 4 praises Him as the Eternal One
"Today and tomorrow with Thee still are now; Nor trouble, nor sorrow, nor care, Lord, hast Thou;
Nor passion doth fever, nor age can decay, The same God for ever as on yesterday."
 A. As the Eternal One, He does not change from today to tomorrow: Mal. 3.6
 B. Because He is not subject to time, He is not subject to the vicissitudes of physical life: Ps. 121.4
 C. This same eternal quality is characteristic of His Son, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever: Heb. 13.8

V. Stanza 5 praises Him as the Father of glory
"Great Father of glory, pure Father of light, Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of Thy rich (originally, good) graces this grace, Lord, impart: Take veil from our faces, the vile from our heart."
 A. The United Methodist Hymnal of 1989 changes the first line to "Thou reignest in glory, Thou dwellest in light," presumably to make the language "more inclusive," and satisfy the claim that women may feel "left out" when God is identified only in masculine terms like Father.  The problem with this is that the inspired word of God itself constantly uses masculine language to describe the Lord. He is "our Father in heaven": Matt. 6.9
 B. As our Father, He is adored by the angels in heaven: Rev. 5.11-13
 C. Because of His Father’s love, He wants to take the veil from our faces and the vile from our heart: 2 Cor. 4.3-4, Heb. 10.19-22

VI. Stanza 6 praises Him as the Almighty
"All laud we would render; O help us to see ‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, almighty, impart, Through Christ in His story Thy Christ to the heart."
(The original read: "And now let thy glory to our gaze unroll Through Christ in the story, and Christ in the soul.)
 A. Horder changed the word "laud" to "praise," but many modern books restore the original term to exalt the one who is Almighty: Gen. 17.1
 B. This Almighty One has revealed His glory through His Son Jesus Christ: Jn. 1.14, Heb. 1.1-2
 C. And His purpose in this is so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith: Eph. 3.17

     CONCL.: Lutheran Worship of 1982 makes "a few other changes…in the process of updating the text." The Elizabethan pronouns have been changed to "You, Your, and Yours." This is a matter of personal preference, and if people wish to write new hymns with modern pronouns that is fine with me, but I do not see any particular reason why we should go back and rewrite the great hymns of the past. Those with a good Biblical background should have no problem with singing the song the way it was originally written. Also the first line of stanza 6 was altered to, "All laud we would render; Oh, lead us to see The light of your splendor, Your love’s majesty!" probably to make the second line rhyme with "see" without using "Thee." While this hymn has not been used very much among us, it is a great hymn with which to praise Him who is "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise."


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