Immortal, Invisible, God only wise

Wed, 20/06/2012 - 13:13 -- James Oakley

Next Sunday (24th June), at our 10.30 service, we will sing the hymn Immortal Invisible. It's well known.

And, it turns out, mis-known.

I simply copied the words from the recent hymn book, Praise!, to insert on our service sheet. The version they include is copyright to Jubilate Hymns, but what struck me was that there were more changes here than just modernised words. The last two verses contained (between them) some of the thoughts of the last verse most of us sing, but were clearly two entirely different verses.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light;
your angels adore you, all veiling their sight;
but of all your rich graces, Lord, this grace impart,
take the veil from our faces, the veil from our heart.

Our praise we would render, O Father, to you
whom only the splendour of light hides from view;
and so let your glory, Almighty, impart,
through Christ in the story, your Christ to the heart.

That's more than just updating the language. Why is this version so different, I asked myself. So I had a look at the hymn's entry on Wikipedia.

According to that entry, at time of writing this, the popularly sung 4th verse is a later edition. It goes like this:

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.

Instead, the original version of the hymn had the first 3 verses that we all know, but instead of this alien 4th verse has two final verses thus:

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

So: Praise! has done more than update the language.

They've restored the hymn to its original version, which has strong echoes of 2 Corinthians 3 that are missing from the more popular version. What this does is preserve an important dimension. Before we hear (in the original verse 5) that it's the splendour of light that hideth God, we hear (original verse 4) of the veil that covers our eyes and the vile that lurks in our hearts. This, of course, also echoes Jesus' language in Mark 7 on the heart being the spring from which our evil behaviour comes.

Putting that first means that we then clearly see that God's light (verse 5) has a moral component. The problem is not just that God is light, but that in him there is no darkness at all - and we are not all light.

Therefore the answer to the impenetrable light of God is the gospel of Christ. In the original note that is where the hymn ends, and it's taken us there through a sober examination of our sin and through the wonder of God's grace.

These are glorious truths, so let's sing them joyfully! (Just be aware: For lines 3 and 4 of the original verse 4, you need to replace the crotchet at the start of each line with a pair of quavers: "But-of all" and "Take-the veil." There's an extra note to fit into each line.)

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