Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

by W. Chalmers Smith 1824-1908

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/dkoAfLpBBfU

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.

Within the first two phrases of the opening stanza Smith pulls together two very distant Biblical texts. The first line references 1 Timothy 1:17.

17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The second line has several possible origins. I think the one which fits best is Exodus 34:29-35

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Moses wore the veil to hide the affect of seeing God from the Israelites. It is said that no one can see God and live.

The idea of light permeates the entire hymn in some rather unusual contexts.

A light which is inaccessible, yet contains the very essence of God, the wise, blessed, glorious, almighty, and victorious. This silent light gives life to all and is the source of goodness and justice.

The last verses in the fourth and fifth stanzas form a closing prayer.

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

and

And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Taking the veil from our faces and the vile from our hearts allows the glory of the Almighty, the Christ and his story into our hearts.

W. Chalmers Smith was a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland and a poet.



1 reply
  1. OLUFUNMILAYO YETUNDE ELEGBA
    OLUFUNMILAYO YETUNDE ELEGBA says:

    WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL CHRISTIAN HYMN TELLING ABOUT THE SPLENDOR AND MIGHT OF THE ALMIGHTY. A FAVORITE OF ALL TIME.

    Reply

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