J. Hudson Taylor, the Baptist missionary and founder of the China Inland Mission, wrote a small commentary on the Song of Solomon. He read this book as an allegory of Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, his bride.
In this commentary, Taylor observes that our relationship with God is often driven by our needs. Our seeking after God is done in hopes of what we might receive, rather than for God and the joy that comes through faithfully response. Taylor writes:
Are we not all too apt to seek Him rather because of our need than for His joy and pleasure? This should not be. We do not admire selfish children who only think of what they can get from their parents, and are unmindful of the pleasure that they may give or the service they may render. But are not we in danger of forgetting that pleasing God means giving Him pleasure? Some of us look back to the time when the words ‘To please God’ meant no more than not to sin against Him, not to grieve Him; but would the love of earthly parents be satisfied with the mere absence of disobedience? Or a bridegroom, if his bride only sought him for the supply of her own need?
Union and Communion, 14-15
By all means, do not sin. But go the next step. Serve, and share in the joy of relationship with God.
This week I’ve been reading J. Hudson Taylor’s commentary on The Song of Songs, a little book called Union and Communion. In the early pages of that little book, he quotes the first verse of the hymn “In the Secret of His Presence,” performed above by Sandra McCracken. That verse says:
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.
Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was a missionary, and in 1865 founded the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship) in partnership with William Berger. His parents, James and Amelia Taylor were Methodists, and when their son was born prayed, “Grant that he may work for you in China.”
The hymn Taylor cited was written by Ellen Lakshimi Goreh (1853-1937), daughter of the Rev. Nehemiah Goreh, an Indian convert to Christianity. Miss Goreh was later adopted by an Englishman, Rev. W. T. Storrs. In 1880, Miss Goreh returned to her native India as a Christian missionary. She published a collection of hymns, From India’s Coral Strand: Hymns of Christian Faith, in 1883.
The theme of “In the Secret of His Presence” is experience of Christ. In Colossians 3:1-17 Paul writes, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Paul instructs his hearers to put off the old self and the old ways in the same way one casts off an old garment, and to now clothe oneself in Christ, to let the peace of Christ rule the heart and the Word of Christ dwell in the inmost being, and to do so in order that the body as whole might do all things unto God. “Whatever you do,” Paul writes, “whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The hymn, in all four of its verses, testifies to the richness of this kind of experience. It is an experience all are invited to share. The final verse makes that most clear.
Would you like to know that 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, By the Spirit bear the image Of the Master in your face.
Christ beckons us all. The invitation is given. The commission is clear. If you know him, if you have taken shelter in him, if he now dwells in you as you have hidden your life in him, may you then testify to this reality. May you, “by the Spirit, bear the image, of the Master in your face.”