Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise | Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise | Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

Liturgy Lessons: May 7, 2017
Call to Worship: Daniel 2:20-22; Psalm 36:5-9; 1 Timothy 1:17
Opening Hymn: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#38)
Confession of Sin: John 3:16-21; Ps. 90:8
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:5 – 2:2; Psalm 147:5
Songs of Assurance: Jesus, I Come; Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies (Morton)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Tithes and Offerings
Doxology: #733
Sermon: Rev. Casey Bedell, Daniel 2
The Lord’s Supper: Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (#646); Be Unto Your Name
Closing Hymn: Fairest Lord Jesus (#170)

Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts
Text: Bernard of Clairvaux, ca. 1150; tr. by Ray Palmer, 1858
Melody: QUEBEC, Henry Baker, 1854

Bernard of Clairvaux (b. 1091) was born as a nobleman, and was raised in the lap of luxury. At the age of 22, he gave it all up to become a monk. Legend states that his testimony of falling in love with Jesus was so powerful that no less than 30 of his friends, brothers, and relatives followed him into the monastic life. Martin Luther called him “the best monk who ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together.” Bernard was the third of seven children born to the highest noble in Burgundy, France. Having tasted the “best bliss that earth imparts” as a young man, he still knew that he was “unfilled,” and found his soul satiated in Jesus. What Bernard is remembered for today—more than his reforming zeal and crusade preaching—are his mystical writings. He showed a flair for expressive writing and a love of poetry as a child. His literary gifts were used throughout his life to write prayerfully and powerfully about his burning ardor for the Lord.

“How Sweet Thy savor is! Who tastes of Thee, O Jesus Christ, can relish naught but Thee;
Who tastes Thy living sweetness lives by Thee; All else is void, the soul must die for Thee;
So faints my heart, so would I die for Thee.”

His best known work is “On Loving God.” in which he states his purpose at the beginning: “You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is that God himself is the reason he is to be loved.”

This hymn comes from a portion of Bernard of Clairvaux’s poem, Jesu dulcis memoria, roughly translated “Remembering Jesus’ Sweetness.” This long devotional poem is a quarry from which many hymns were extracted and polished. Of these, the hymn “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” is perhaps the most precious gem. Jesu dulcis memoria was translated by several authors. The English translation most commonly used is the one by Roy Palmer. It was a free paraphrase, so it could be said that Mr. Palmer crafted and polished the nugget from the gold ore that Bernard provided; refined, as it were, in the “consuming fire” of the Holy Spirit ablaze in his heart.

“Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” was first published in the Sabbath Hymn Book, 1858, and paired with a tune by Henry Baker, a British civil engineer who built railroads in India. The tune has a railroad grade feel to it. Smooth and steady in its motion, it allows the voice to ride along relatively undisturbed. Even the rises and falls of the phrase feel settling. Overall, it is a content melody, free from any restlessness. And, for me, a beautiful depiction of a soul that, having fed on Jesus, need not hunger any more.

Piano accompaniment with sheet music:
Congregational version (if you don’t want to sing by yourself):

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Text: Walter Chalmers Smith(1867)
Tune: St. Denio, Traditional Welsh melody

Lest you thought all Welsh tunes were austere and set in minor keys (think “O the deep, deep love of Jesus”), along comes this vigorous and slightly pompous melody in the very sunny key of G-major. And the cheerful liveliness is fitting for a hymn whose poetic themes are brightness, immortality, and glory. The Scottish poet and Presbyterian pastor Walter C. Smith based this text on 1 Timothy 1:17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.” Walter C. Smith was educated at the University of Aberdeen and New College, Edinburgh, and served in the Free Church of Scotland from 1850 until his death in 1894. His poetry was published in some six volumes, entitled Poetical Works (1902), and his hymn texts were published in Hymns of Christ and The Christian Life (1886). Smith wrote many hymns, but this is the only one in regular use today. It represents what are often the best attributes of hymns: eloquent expression, poetic depth, and literary craft that counters much of our cultures flippancy and carelessness with words. And yet, even these expertly crafted and thoughtful words fall well short of explaining the ineffable brightness of God’s glory. The hymn, overall, focuses on the invisible composer of the cosmos, whose visible creation testifies to his glory and majesty. The first magnum opus of God’s creation was light. And this image of light dominates stanzas 1, 2, and 4 (see also Ps. 104:2).

This hymn tune, named after the patron saint of France (ST. DENIO), is based on a folk song. “Can mlynedd i nawr” (“A Hundred Years from Now”) is a traditional and popular Welsh ballad from the early 19th century. It was first published as a hymn tune in 1839. Indeed, a good portion of our hymnal is basically folk songs that were passed down aurally for generations in various cultures, often with secular lyrics. At some point, these melodies were overlaid with sacred hymn texts and assumed into the canon of Christian songs for public worship.

One final throwaway thought, just for fun: This hymn contains a plethora of what hymnologist Erik Routley calls “plump polysyllables,” playfully set in groups of three. “Immortal, Invisible, almighty, victorious, unresting, unhasting,” the litany of three-syllable words cascades out in the first two verses. How many 3-syllable words can you come up with that describe God?

Link to sheet music:
Link to text and piano accompaniment: