Posted by: rcottrill | May 5, 2014

In the Secret of His Presence

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Words: Ellen Lakshmi Goreh (b. Sept. 11, 1853; d. _____, 1937)
Music: George Coles Stebbins (b. Feb. 26, 1846; d. Oct. 6, 1945)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Graphic Ellen GorehNote: This beautiful hymn of testimony was written in 1883. Miss Goreh entitled it, “My Refuge.” The story of its author is told in the Wordwise Hymns link, and on the Cyber Hymnal too. She carried on a correspondence with another hymn writer, Frances Havergal, who was able to be a great encouragement to her. Some of their letters are included in the preface to Ellen Goreh’s book, From India’s Coral Strand: Hymns of the Christian Faith. (The first part of the title is a line from Reginald Heber’s missionary hymn From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.)

T he theme of the hymn is based on Psalm 31:20, a text that is printed above the lines of verse in the author’s book. There David says:

“You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues [“accusing tongues,” NIV]” (Ps. 31:20).

The “secret place” (cether in Hebrew) represents a refuge, a place of shelter and protection. It is “secret” in the sense that the one who is there is concealed, preventing the enemy from discovering him or her. The expression is used several times in the Word of God.

“You are my hiding place [cether]; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah [Think of that!]” (Ps. 32:7).

“He who dwells in the secret place [cether] of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust’” (Ps. 91:1-2).

“You are my hiding place [cether] and my shield; I hope in Your word” (Ps. 119:114).

In some places in the Word of God, the word “presence” is capitalized (NKJV) and treated as a representing God Himself–as when the Lord says to Moses, “My Presence will go with you” (Exod. 33:14). It is a way of the Lord saying, “I will go with you.” In the original printing of her hymn, Miss Goreh has capitalized “His Presence” to indicate a reverence for God.

CH-1) 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.

CH-2) 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.

Notice what a positive and pleasant experience is found in close fellowship with the Lord. Words such as delights, precious, pleasant, and sweet all indicate the blessings experienced. There is protection from the cares and trials of life, and from the devil’s attacks. But there is another side to this intimate communion.

Sometimes, the Lord must rebuke us for those things in our lives that are not pleasing to Him. He does this by His convicting Spirit, through the Word. Because the Lord loves us so much, He must administer discipline as a loving parent does. Though it is painful at the time, it has a wise and good purpose in our maturing.

“Whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?…Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:6-7, 11).

For the Lord to leave sins and carnal attitudes to fester in our hearts would not be loving. “What a false Friend He would be” (CH-3) if that were the case. It is at this point that Helen Goreh includes another stanza not found in the Cyber Hymnal. I’ve added it here, so you can see how it follows through on the theme of the stanza before.

CH-3) Only this I know: I tell Him all my doubts, my griefs and fears;
Oh, how patiently He listens! and my drooping soul He cheers:
Do you think He ne’er reproves me? What a false Friend He would be,
If He never, never told me of the sins which He must see.

Do you think that I could love Him half so well, or as I ought,
If He did not tell me plainly of each sinful deed and thought?
No, He is very faithful, and that makes me trust Him more:
For I know that He does love me, though He wounds me very sore.

The hymn, as used today, ends with CH-4, an appeal to us to find that “secret place” for ourselves. And she borrows from the experience of Moses. When he came down from Mount Sinai, having received the Law of Israel from the Lord, his face shone (Exod. 34:29). This was a physical manifestation, and it terrified the people (vs. 30). However, I think what the author has in mind is that our lives should reflect the likeness of Christ (II Cor. 3:18; cf. Acts 4:13).

CH-4) Would you like to know the sweetness of the secret of the Lord?
Go and hide beneath His shadow: this shall then be your reward;
And whene’er you leave the silence of that happy meeting place,
You must mind and bear the image of the Master in your face.

1) What particular blessing have you enjoyed recently, in your fellowship with the Lord?

2) What aspect of “the image of the Master” have you seen in another Christian recently?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Thank you for this. I posted this hymn today and was curious about the author whom I read about on the other sites. But your further discussion of the message in the hymn is such a blessing.

    I was particularly struck by the similarity, yet difference in my thinking, of the last line ‘You must mind and bear the image of the Master in your face’ as compared to the idea of being a silver vessel in which, as Annie Johnson Flint wrote, ‘Til the Master, looking down on the silver of His fining, shall see reflected there His own image clear and shining.’

    I’m afraid I have been missing the point of the reflection bearing the image of God. It is simply given when time is spent in His Presence. Less about me, more about Him. Wonderful food for thought and action!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And it’s good to hear from someone familiar with Miss Flint’s poetry. I have several books of her poems, and am greatly blessed by the depth of her devotional insights. One of my favourites is “Great Grace.” It is not only a masterpiece of poetry, but it speaks to my heart in all kinds of situations, big and small.

      His great is great enough to meet the great things,
      The crashing waves that overwhelm the soul,
      The roaring winds that leave us stunned and breathless,
      The sudden storms beyond our life’s control.
      His grace is great enough to meet the small things,
      The little pin-prick troubles that annoy,
      The insect worries, buzzing and persistent,
      The squeaking wheels that grate upon our joy.

      Wow! That says it! God bless you, as we stand knee-deep in His grace (Rom. 5:1-2).

      • That sure does, and thank you for sharing it. I’m going to copy that one down. My book of her poetry is in storage currently. Those verses are great too. I like the image of knee-deep 🙂


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