The hymn In the Secret of His Presence was written by a remarkable woman named Ellen Lakshmi Goreh. Ellen was a high-caste native of India, the daughter of a Christian convert. Her mother died when she was in infancy, and she eventually joined the family of a clergyman named W. T. Storrs, going with them to England, where she was educated. When she was twenty-seven Ellen Goreh returned to India. Around that time she wrote a poem which was included in a book of poems she had published.
The lines of verse were set to music by gospel musician George Coles Stebbins. During the winter of 1883-1884, American preacher Dwight L. Moody held evangelistic meetings in London. There Miss Goreh’s hymn was sung many times in the meetings by Moody’s music director, Ira Sankey, and it became quite popular. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, reported it was the favourite hymn of his missionaries.
A few years later, Mr. Stebbins and his wife visited India where he was involved in evangelistic ministry. They sought out Ellen Goreh, and found her engaged in mission work among the women in Allahabad, having set aside the social privileges of her caste. She impressed Mr. and Mrs. Stebbins as a modest, devoted Christian, held in high regard by the missionaries and all who knew her.
In the secret of His presence how my soul delights to hide!
Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus’ side!
Earthly cares can never vex me, neither trials lay me low;
For when Satan comes to tempt me, to the secret place I go,
To the secret place I go.
When my soul is faint and thirsty, ’neath the shadow of His wing
There is cool and pleasant shelter, and a fresh and crystal spring;
And my Saviour rests beside me, as we hold communion sweet:
If I tried, I could not utter what He says when thus we meet,
What He says when thus we meet.
(2) Today in 1901 – William McDonald Died
Of Scottish descent, American William McDonald became a Methodist Episcopal pastor at age 19. For 15 years he edited the Advocate of Christian Holiness. He also wrote a number of books on religious subjects, several biographies, and edited or co-edited several collections of music. The one hymn for which he is known today is I Am Coming to the Cross.
I am coming to the cross;
I am poor and weak and blind;
I am counting all but dross;
I shall full salvation find.
I am trusting, Lord, in Thee.
Blessèd Lamb of Calvary;
Humbly at Thy cross I bow.
Save me, Jesus, save me now.
(3) Today in 2001 – God Bless America sung
Occasionally a hymn has made it onto the secular hit parade, as Amazing Grace did in 1970. It is less likely that a popular song writer will produce a what might be called a hymn. But that is what Israel Baline did in 1918.
Israel Isadore Baline was born a Russian Jew. His family emigrated to the United States, settling in New York City, when he was 5 years old. It was there he became what some have called the greatest pop song writer in America, known now as Irving Berlin.
Berlin produced a flood of clever hit songs, and in 1918, as part of a musical review, he wrote God Bless America. Then he had second thoughts about it fitting in the musical, and set it aside. It remained unused and unknown for years, until popular singer Kate Smith went looking for a patriotic number to include in a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Armistice Day. She sang it on her radio program in 1938. It became her signature song.
The refrain consists of only 40 words, but it has attained the status of an unofficial national anthem in the States. On September 11th of 2001, after the devastating terrorist attacks, senators and congressmen stood on the Capitol steps and sang it. It was both a declaration of defiant courage, and for many, I’m sure, a sincere expression of faith. And though Irving Berlin would have made no claim to being a Christian, the song expresses a prayer for the blessing of God on America that Christians of that country can certainly sing without compromise.
God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home.
Here is the stirring rendition of God Bless America, by Kate Smith.