“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” – History of the Hymns

Elisha A. Hoffman – 1887

Anthony Showalter, the principal at Southern Normal Musical Institute in Dalton, Georgia was a great inspiration for this beloved hymn.  Showalter was an elder at a local Presbyterian church and a well-known fan of gospel music.  During his life, he published over 130 musical books with combined sales of over two million copies.  Throughout his life, he became a household name across the South for his singing schools that he held in local churches.

Showalter always took a personal interest in his students and did his best to keep up with them long after they graduated his music school.  On one particular evening in 1887, he led a singing school inside a local church in Hartselle, Alabama.  As always, Showalter enjoyed teaching the students all the ins and outs of gospel music.  Upon the completion of the class, he gathered up his materials and returned home for the evening.

As he walked in the door, he found two letters that were sent to him from former students.  Each letter carried a similar story… both young men were depressed and heartbroken after recently losing their wives.  Concerned, Showalter went to God’s word in search of some timely Scripture.  He eventually came across Deuteronomy 33:27 which says, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms:…”  As he sat and pondered this verse, he penned these words:

“Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

With these words in mind, he quickly responded to both of the letters.  Then, he decided to write a separate letter to his long-time friend and hymnist, Elisha Hoffman.  He wrote, “Here is the chorus for a good hymn from Deuteronomy 33:27, but I can’t come up with the verses.”  After some time, Elisha wrote down three stanzas and sent them back to Showalter.  He set it all to music, and ever since, these words have cheered us in adversity:

“God, the eternal God, is our support at all times, especially when we are sinking into deep trouble.  There are seasons when we sink quite low… Dear child of God, even when you are at your lowest, underneath are the everlasting arms.” Charles H. Spurgeon

“However low the people of God are at any time brought, everlasting arms are underneath them to keep the spirit from fainting and the faith from failing, even when they are pressed above measure… everlasting arms with which believers have been wonderfully sustained and kept cheerful in the worst of times.  Divine grace is sufficient.” – Matthew Henry

Lyrics

What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

(Chorus) Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;  Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near; Leaning on the everlasting arms.

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