"The Hymn, Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
By Walter Chalmers Smith (1824 -1908)

This hymn was written by Walter Chalmers Smith, a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland, in the late 19th century. 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. 

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
This hymn is based on 1 Timothy 1:17, which in the King James Version says:

"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
He tries to express the inexpressible ( the nature of God ) and so it uses words like this: "In light inaccessible hid from our eyes" -that are mysterious as well as beautiful. "Light inaccessible" – why would anyone refer to God as "light inaccessible"? The scriptures, particularly the Psalms, speak of God as light:

"God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear" (Psalm 27:1).

"Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord" (Psalm 4:6).

But why "light inaccessible"?
Perhaps because, if the light of God were to shine upon us full force, it would consume us. Perhaps because we could not stand to see the full glory of God until we see him face to face in heaven.
There are other interesting phrases – "silent as light." I think of light as bright or dim or as expressing a particular color, but I had never thought of it as silent –– but, of course, light is silent. This hymn speaks of God as "Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light." How can God be UNRESTING and UNHASTING on the one hand, but silent on the other? That line reminds us that God is always at work in our lives –– always –– but that God's presence in our lives is often so subtle that we can fail to perceive it.
If you would like to do a thoughtful, quiet meditation, sit quietly for a half hour and read the words of this hymn.

BY The Minster Church of St. John the Baptist Halifax, West Yorkshire congregation and choir

TUNE: St Denio

No comments: