Posted by: rcottrill | November 18, 2011

Immortal Invisible

Words: Walter Chalmers Smith (b. Dec. 5, 1824; d. Sept. 19, 1908)
Music: St. Denio, by John Roberts (b. Dec. 22, 1822; d. May 6, 1877)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn comes from Dr. Smith’s volume, Hymns of Christ and Christian Life. Hymn Historian Robert McCutchan says Smith’s hymns have a “richness of thought and a vigour of expression,” and this one is no exception. It is both strong poetically and doctrinally. As posted in the Cyber Hymnal, the hymn has five stanzas. However, it is common practice to reduce the number to four, using the first two lines of CH-4 and CH-5 to form the final stanza.

The opening line of this fine hymn is based on First Timothy 1:17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” It identifies the One the hymn is intended to praise. Not some mere mortal, or some lesser god, but the eternal, almighty, ever victorious God over all, “who alone” possesses these and a multitude of other qualities.

He is “King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:15-16). God in His essence is invisible and, in Smith’s word, “inaccessible” to us. By His incarnation, God the Son was translated into a form that human beings could see and know. But, even then, when He revealed Himself in His glory on the Damascus Road, Saul (later called Paul) was struck blind at the glorious sight.

He “alone has immortality” in the sense that it has always been, inherently, a part of His nature while, in the believer’s case, immortality (everlasting life) was give to Him, through faith in Christ (Jn. 3:16).

CH-1) 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.

The phrases “unresting, unhasting,” and “nor wanting nor wasting” are wonderfully expressive. The eternal God is always at work (“He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” Ps. 121:4). But God is never in a hurry, in the sense that He is caught off guard and must rush frantically to catch up.

And the Lord neither lacks anything essential to sustain Him, nor does He waste anything. Normally we’d think of the latter phrase as it relates to ecology and the conservation of earth’s resources. But we can say the same of personal experiences the Lord takes us through, and the difficulties He allows to touch our lives. He has a wise and loving purpose in such things, and will work in them for our good (Rom. 8:28). The last two lines of CH-2, taken from Psalm 36:5-6, are poetic images of God’s abounding provision and righteous judgment.

CH-2) 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.

CH-3 reminds us that God is the Source of all life. And while aging, corruption and death are a fact of this mortal existence, God is utterly changeless in His nature and righteous character. “We blossom and flourish,” then “wither and perish,” but nothing like that touches the eternal God. He says, “I am the LORD, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6; cf. Isa. 40:6-8; Heb. 1:10-12).

The joining of lines from Dr. Smith’s last two stanzas brings the hymn to a soaring conclusion:

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

Questions:
1) What is the meaning of the imagery that compares God’s justice to mountains, and His goodness to clouds (CH-2)?

2) What is the thought behind the final line, “‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee”?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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