“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” – June Hymn of the Month
"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" is the result of an epiphany based on the text of Deuteronomy 33:27, "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (KJV). Showalter was a musician who conducted singing schools. He studied music in England, France, and Germany and served as an elder of First Presbyterian Church in Dalton, Georgia. Showalter was inspired by this Scripture after hearing the news that the wives of two of his former pupils had died and were buried the same day. In a letter of sympathy, he created the refrain out of a verse from Deuteronomy and asked Hoffman to write the stanzas. According to hymnologist Carl P. Daw, Jr., it appears that the Baptist Hymnal (1956) appropriately assigned SHOWALTER as the tune name for this song (Daw, 2016, 799-800).
After serving as a soldier for the Union Army, Elisha Hoffman attended Union Bible Seminary in New Berlin, Pennsylvania, and was ordained by the Evangelical Association in 1868. A pastor in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, he also worked with the publishing arm of the Evangelical Association in Cleveland, Ohio, and was the first music editor of Hope Publishing Company (1894-1912), a leading publisher of gospel songs.
The first stanza addresses the joy of God's presence. The hymn writer suggests that even in times of death, peace can be found. The second stanza compares the Christian faith to a pleasant pilgrimage. With the use of the first-person singular pronoun "I" in the third stanza, there is no confusion about who the speaker is.
This hymn can become a personal testimony because of the use of "I" in the third stanza. While the stanzas do not specifically reference Christ, the refrain does when the lower voices sing, "leaning on Jesus."
The original reference from Deuteronomy takes on a Christian character in the refrain and implies an intimate relationship with Jesus — the friend on whom one can lean. Even though the word “Lord” in the stanzas is ambiguous, the hymn is inherently Christological in its message.
The African American tradition of syncopation, handclapping, and heavy use of percussive instruments enlivens this hymn and gives hymn lovers the freedom to embellish and improvise in worship.
Hymn of the Month:
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”
Suggested Artist: Mahalia Jackson
“Let the People Praise”
Suggested Artist: William Johnson and Echoes of Worship
“Be With You”
Suggested Artist: BJ Putnam
Song of Praise and Invitation:
“I Need You to Survive”
Suggested Artist: Hezekiah Walker