Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

Posted on 12th March 2021 under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Story


To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 )

In 1824, Aberdeen (which I am told is the sunniest city in Scotland) witnessed the birth of one Walter Chalmers Smith. As he grew up, he attended first the city’s grammar school and then university before making the long journey south to Edinburgh to study for ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was ordained in 1850, but not in Scotland as you would expect. His first ministry was in the “Scorch Church” in Islington, and so he was ordained in North London. Eight years on, he returned to Scotland as minister of a church in Kinross-shire and after a couple of other moves was installed as minister of the impressive sounding “Edinburgh Free High Church”.

A great figure in the church, he was famed more widely for his poetry. In fact it was said of him that writing poetry was “the retreat of his nature from the burden of his labours”, and as such was a means to strengthening his ministry. Whatever was the case, it was clear that he was a man of great talents and both ended up as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church and was awarded two honorary doctorates.

Unsurprisingly his love of poetry lead him to write hymns, and today’s is a meditation on the glorious nature of God. His starting point is a wise one: we must acknowledge that God is beyond our knowledge. In fact the only things we can know about God are the things he reveals about himself. We can see his handiwork in creation, and read of his words and actions in Scripture. What a great joy it is to know that God cannot be reduced to our level! What a great joy it is to know that we can rely upon one greater than ourselves!

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 like leaves on the tree,
Then wither and perish--but naught changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; O help us to see
'Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

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