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.

This well-known hymn is from W C Smith's Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life, 1867. It is based upon 1 Timothy 1:17; 'Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever'. The reference to 'the Ancient of Days' in the third line of verse one comes from Daniel 7:9, while the third line of verse two echoes Psalm 36:6; 'Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.' Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908) was born and educated in Scotland before ordination in 1850 and appointment to a church in London. He later returned to Scotland and was Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1893. The original has five verses, but in all modern hymnals, there are four verses with the fourth being a combination of the first two lines of the original fourth and fifth verses. The original verses four and five are as follows:

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 splendour of light hideth thee,
And so let thy glory, almighty, impart,
Through Christ in his story, thy Christ to the heart.

The scriptural reference to the last line of verse 4, lost in the edited version, is from 2 Corinthians 3:15-16, 'But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.'

Tune - St Denio

St Denio (also known as Joanna) is based upon a Welsh folk-song. Volume 1 of The Journal of the Welsh Folk Song Society suggests several sources, the most likely being a ballad of about 1810, 'Can Mlynedd i'nawr' ('A hundred years from now'). Other sources suggest a ballad about a cuckoo. It was first printed as a hymn tune in John Robert's Caniadau y Cyssegr (1839) where it is called Palestina. It was first introduced into mainstream hymnody by Gustav Holst in The English Hymnal (1906).

Nigel Day
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997