Go Tell It on the Mountain

Day 10: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Deuteronomy 33:27-29, Psalm 71:4-6, Psalm 91:1-16, Psalm 118:6, Proverbs 3:5-12, Galatians 3:5-9

 

Behind the cheerful tune of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” is a heartbreaking story.

There were not only itinerant preachers in the deep South of the mid-1800s, there were also itinerant teachers of church songs. One of the more popular of these traveling teachers was A.J. Showalter. Showalter published over 130 music books, his sales exceeding more than two million copies. He traveled throughout the South to various churches, spending roughly a month with each of them, teaching these revival songs.

On one of these trips, while in the small town of Hartselle, Alabama, A.J. Showalter returned to his room to find two pieces of mail. Each was from a former student, and each contained a tragic story. Both students had lost their wives on the same day and were now widowers.

Eager to offer them solace, Showalter searched the scriptures till he found Deuteronomy 33:27, which read, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” And so he began to write the memorable chorus,

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Showalter sent the devastated men these words of comfort even as he was still struggling to compose the verses. He shared what he’d written with a friend, Elisha Hoffman, who then provided the verses. With those verses in place, Showalter wrote the music of the hymn we know today.

It’s ironic that this hymn, born of great tragedy, is couched in an upbeat tune that makes it so easy to remember. But in times of great sorrow, there can be no better truth to recall than this: we can lean, safe and secure, on the everlasting arms of our Lord.

essay by Matthew B. Redmond


Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
by E. A. Hoffman

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
leaning on the everlasting arms;
what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
leaning on the everlasting arms.

Refrain:
Leaning, leaning,
safe and secure from all alarms;
leaning, leaning,
leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
leaning on the everlasting arms.

Sources listed here.