The Hymn Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

This hymn Hymn Immortal Invisible God Only Wise was written by Walter Chalmers Smith, a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland, in the late 19th century. Chalmers Smith, who was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on Dec. 5, 1824, and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, at Marischal College of the University of Aberdeen, where he obtained the Master of Arts degree, and at New College, Edinburgh.

Entering the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland in 1850, he served at Chadwell Street in Islington, London, from year 1850 to 1857, the Roxburgh Free Church of Edinburgh, Edinburgh from year 1857 to 1876, and the Free High Church of Edinburgh from year 1876 to 1894, where he remained until his retirement.

Smith indeed produced several hymns, some twelve of which have survived. This one is undoubtedly his best known hymn. It first appeared with six stanzas in his Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life of year 1867.  There are many attributes of God within the verses of the hymn and it talks about His glory, His greatness, and His majesty.

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This theme of this hymn is based on 1st book of Timothy Chapter 1 verse 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.”

He tries to express the inexpressible (the nature of God) and so it uses words like “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).

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.


But why “light inaccessible”? This may be because if the light of God were to shine upon us with full force, it would consume us. It may also be 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 colour, but I had never thought of it as silent, and indeed light is silent. This hymn speaks of God as “Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light.”

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.

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 in the day and night. However, 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 and quiet meditation, sit quietly for half hour and read the words of this hymn.

The Hymn Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

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