Something to listen to while you read. Solo piano sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
– 1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV)
Reading this verse from 1 Timothy, there is little doubt as to where Scottish pastor Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908) found inspiration to pen the text Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. Smith’s six stanzas were published in his Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life (1867) but were whittled down to four stanzas for the English Hymnal (1906) and paired with the tune St. Denio. With only a few slight changes, the 1906 version is the one we still sing today.
St. Denio, also known as Joanna, is a tune with a murky history. Some sources suggest the tune was based on Can mlynedd i nawr (A Hundred Years from Now), a traditional Welsh ballad popular in the 19th century, while others think it came from a Welsh ballad about a cuckoo. In 1839, it made its first appearance as a hymn tune in John Robert’s Caniadau y Cyssegr (Hymns of the Sanctuary) but was published not as St. Denio (named for St. Denis, patron saint of France) or Joanna, but as Palestrina.
Like O Worship the King, this is another sturdy hymn of praise that can become dirge-like in the wrong hands. So when I paired the two hymns together, I gave them an upbeat tempo and lively rhythms. Immortal, Invisible plays the more staid role in this medley, slightly tempering the zany syncopation of O Worship the King, but it still wants to dance. Enjoy!
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.