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 hymn 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 a few small changes, the 1906 version is the one we still sing today.
Its tune, St. Denio – also known as Joanna – has a murky history. Some believe it 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 different Welsh ballad – one 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 it wasn’t published as St. Denio (named for St. Denis, patron saint of France) or even Joanna, but as Palestrina.
Just like O Worship the King, Immortal, Invisible is a hymn that can become dirge-like in the wrong hands. So when I paired the two hymns together for a medley, I gave them upbeat tempos and lively rhythms. Immortal, Invisible plays a more staid role – slightly tempering the zany syncopation of O Worship the King – but it still wants to dance. It makes for a fun medley to use on Palm Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, or really any time of the year to add a spark of spunky praise. Enjoy!
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..