Hymn Story

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

Hymn Lists

by book of Bible

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

It 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 reading the words of this hymn.  (Consider printing the words of the hymn in the bulletin so that they can take them home.  Suggest that they post one copy on the refrigerator door.)

— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan