By He Reads Truth
Walter Chalmers Smith set out with lofty goals when he sat down to write the words to “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” Although it later became his most famous hymn, he was hesitant to complete it, and spent almost forty years revising, reconsidering, and researching before it reached its final form.
During those years of meditating on what it means for God to be both immortal and invisible, Smith ministered at five different churches throughout Europe. As he honed his preaching skills, he also practiced his skills as a poet. His prolific collection of poetry reflects on the depths of human sin and the heights of God’s inexpressible greatness (Bailey 456).
Smith’s love for poetry emboldened him to explore his desire to know the unknowable. He used phrases like “light inaccessible hid from our eyes” in an attempt to describe the indescribable. Job used the same kind of paradoxical phrases to explain the reach of an eternal God, who “fixed the weight of the wind” (Job 28:25).
Through his struggle to express the inexpressible, Smith created a unique hymn. He invited his parishioners to join him in singing about the deep mystery of a God who is both intimate and ineffable.
Smith’s forty-year journey to settle on lyrics for this one hymn is a profound testimony to the mystery of our immortal, invisible God. Even as we spend years of our lives meditating on His character, may we never cease to be awed by the Ancient of Days.
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Walter C. Smith
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.
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 like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.
Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!
Bailey, Albert Edward. The Gospel in Hymns: Backgrounds and Interpretations. New York: Scribner, 1950.
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13 thoughts on "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"
Gaining wisdom in life is a deep virtue, but one that requires patience and effort to acquire. Neither of these are valued or well practiced in our time. Wisdom begins with seeking the Lord and reflecting hard upon life decisions.
Today’s verse was simply impeccable. It was a great reminder that God literally weighed out the clouds, made way for lighting, and measured out the rain. How AWESOME is our God? MOST AWESOME! He even made us into HIS image. Just like our earthly father we resemble; we also resemble our Heavenly Father.
Today CHANGE is in the Air. Today is a new day! His mercies are new and His promises are never changing. What a great day to be alive and live for Him. What a JOY it is to know that Jesus has erased every mistake we have made or will make from the Book. Be more Christ-like today in everything you do. He is coming very soon! Stay away and let’s win people for Christ!
I’m figuring this whole thing out. It’s completely new to me. But 40 years to write and revise. I can only imagine the reason for that wasn’t because He as a writer was dissatisfied with his work, but He feared the Lord enough to work on this hymn in order to express the Glory due to the Lord as so great and indescribable. He only wanted to do justice, as much as He could to the Lord. Describing Him.
I’m learning. About the Glory of God more and more. The light inaccessible. Wow. I don’t know how to describe that. Or wrap my small brain around this. But it’s spectacular.
I take comfort in knowing that God is a mystery; it gives reason for continual study, which leads to continual praise and Thanksgiving, which leads to a deeper love of God and the things he loves. Our relationship with God should be the motivator of how we respond to the things of this world, the good and the bad. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Just as he is infinitely immortal and wise, he is infinitely loving and gracious and fully just. I think the last one is the most difficult to wrap our heads around. He is Just, but He’s Just on His own terms and conditions, not our mortal and exhaustible ones.
God, thank you for being as wise as you are, and as wonderful and personal as you are. As I grow in this understanding and in faith, I pray that You will shine through me in greater measure than I could ever conceive. You are gracious, and you love those who call Your Son the Christ and the Messiah. Amen and Hallelujah!
How can You be? You exist yet are not seen. You are felt but not in any way humanly expressible. You love yet you destroy. You anger yet you show mercy. You forgive but condemn to hell…what am I to make of You? I am a worm. I have very little within my control yet I attempt to dominate it with absolute certainty and passion. Why shouldn’t you do the same and your domain is all things? You are the All in all. What do I know of you? Walter got some things right…who am I to You? Who are You to me? How can I join You more fully today than I did yesterday? God my prayer today is full of questions. More of those than answers or requests…just genuine wonder at who You are and what am I to do now? You are amazing. This I know for sure. You are fantastic this I know to be true. You are holy. This I have read and experienced. You are kind. I bear witness to that…what else me but You?
God wants us to know Him. Relationships don’t just go one way, where one person knows everything about the other. No, it’s a two-way road, where both are supposed to everything about the other. We should want to strive to further our relationship with God. Only then can we know Him fully.
It’s interesting how unfathomable Christ is. His life and existence are so beyond comprehension that after 40 years of ministry and studying, the author of this hymn wasn’t confident in publishing his work.
Forty years is a long time to craft something. I am far to impatient to do anything like that. But perhaps a lesson here is not to rush, but rather take all the time needed to prepare. God was so specific in his creation, we would do well to learn from his example and take our time in our crafts and creations.
God is before and after everything. He is the orchestrator of everything in existence and so knows the fine details of its makeup. He created all for his pleasure because he is good! In his awesomeness lies wisdom. His wisdom is pure and truer than any kind of worldly wisdom. God, please give us your wisdom so that we could walk in righteousness. Also, that we would know your heart in greater lengths.
This really does a good job of telling us who God is and what he is like. It truly is indescribable. As hard as He is to describe, this hymn did a great job on trying to convey it.
God, you are and WILL BE forever worthy of all the glory, honor, and praise. Your name is matchless, no other name is worth the comparison. Too many times, I take you for granted. I love worshipping you…only when things are good. I love mentioning your name and lifting You up…when things are going my way. Help me to become more consistent. Instill a fire in me that can NEVER be put out, no matter what circumstances may come my way. I will never give up on You, no matter how many times I fall. Thank you for your mercy, your grace, and your love. My Hallelujah belongs to you, because you deserve it. AMEN.
To know the mystery of God is beyond the capacity of my mind. To be not only immortal, but completely outside of time; to have created time itself. My mind wants to say “surely God was created. Nothing can exist without being created.” But God is, always has been, and always will be. Despite that grandeur and inexplicable mystery, He is intimate and closer than a brother. I can feel and see Him move. He who is older than anything I can imagine, with infinite wisdom, walks with me. It hurts my mind to contemplate!
“You’re a silent rage, You’re a hurricane,
You are everything I cannot see and can’t explain,
You’re an enigma wrapped in a mystery,
Everywhere I go, I can’t escape Your energy”
– “Energy” by Skillet
Awesome hymn by a believer amazed by the awesomeness of the Almighty Creator. Jesus is Lord
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