Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
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.
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.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.
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.
This hymn, written by Scottish pastor Walter C. Smith, is based on Paul’s exaltation to Timothy, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever” (I Timothy 1:17). Stateside, it first appeared in Hymnal, Amore Dei (Boston, 1890). The metric pattern is 18.104.22.168. The hymn is sung to the tune ST. DENIO, a Welsh folk song known as “Can Mlynedd i ‘nwar,” meaning ‘a hundred years from now.’ The tune made its feature appearance in The English Hymnal (Oxford, 1906).
Unfortunately, many hymnals and recordings of Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise blend the fourth and fifth stanzas into one stanza, abandoning Smith’s heartfelt train of thought. Lamentably, The Baptist Hymnal does this. One could make the case that the fourth stanza is more difficult to perform with added syllables in the last two lines; however, that should not hinder even a semi-skilled musician. Theologically, these two stanzas are sound: The fourth stanza tells of angels veiling their sight while believers have the veil removed from their sight; the fifth stanza pleads, “O help us to see,” then affirms God’s glory, through Jesus, imparted to believers. Possibly, these two stanzas might challenge one who is struggling to understand the grace of God and His glory, theological hymnal editors notwithstanding.*
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise – Christisinn. (2011, January 3). Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://youtu.be/AKPwYAa6F-o
Handbook to the Baptist hymnal. (1992). Nashville, TN: Convention Press.
Smith, Walter Chalmers. (1824-1908). Immortal, invisible, God only wise. A hymn sung to the tune ST. DENIO (a Welsh hymn tune). (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/i/iigowise.htm
* These are my personal observations and are not based on any resource.