Leaning on the Everlasting Arms


(picture of Anthony J. Showalter)


“God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27)

Introduction:  A hymn which relates the quality of assurance in the Christian’s life to God’s everlasting arms is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (#402 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #190 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text of the stanzas was written by Elisha Albright Hoffman (1839-1929).  Hoffman authored many hymns including “Glory to His Name,” “I Must Tell Jesus,” “Is Thy Heart Right with God?”, “Are You Washed in the Blood?”, “Where Will You Spend Eternity?”, and “To Christ Be True,” among others.  The tune (Showalter) for “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” was composed by Anthony Johnson Showalter, who was born in Rockingham County, VA, on May 1, 1858, the son of John A. and Susanna Miller Showalter.  Receiving his early music training from his father, he later attended several singing schools conducted by B. C. Unseld, Horatio R. Palmer, George F. Root, and F. W. Root.  In 1880 he began teaching music and published that year his first book, Harmony and Composition.  In 1884 he moved to Dalton, GA, to establish a branch office of the Ruebush-Kieffer Music Co. of Dayton, VA, but shortly afterward founded his own publishing operation where he produced about sixty books of which it is said that more than two million copies were sold.

One day in 1887 while in a singing school at Hartselle, AL, Showalter received letters from two different friends, both former students in South Carolina, who had recently lost their wives.  In writing messages of comfort and sympathy for their bereavement, the successful author and businessman quoted from the Bible with a reference to “God’s everlasting arms.”  After concluding the letters, he pondered these words, and the thought occurred to him that they would be a fine basis for a hymn.  Immediately he penned the refrain with both lyrics and music, and then completed the melody.  Feeling that he should have some assistance in finishing the task, he contacted Hoffman, a friend and well-known hymn poet, who provided appropriate stanzas.  The song was first published later that year in Showalter’s The Glad Evangel for Revival, Camp, and Evangelistic Meetings, which he compiled with L. M. Evilsizer and S. J. Perry.

For more than twenty years Showalter edited The Music Teacher, a monthly periodical.  Also, he produced the music for many other hymns and gospel songs, including the 1895 “In The Morning Of Joy” with words by Mrs. R. A. Evilsizer.   For his music school in Dalton, he secured the services of the leading teachers in the nation, and he himself conducted singing schools in more than a dozen southern states, where he was widely respected as a hymn writer.  In 1895 he spent a year studying music in England, France, and Germany.  And in 1896 he co-edited Gospel Praise, a songbook published by the Gospel Advocate.  Although it has been suggested that perhaps some in Showalter’s family were possibly members of the church of Christ and that he may have been at least a distant relative of G. H. P. Showalter who was long-time editor of the Firm Foundation, A. J. Showalter himself was a member of the Presbyterian Church in Dalton, GA, where he served as an elder and song director.  His death occurred in Chattanooga, TN, on Sept. 16, 1924.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which is undoubtedly Showalter’s most famous melody, reminds us of the assurance of God’s steadfast care and reveals how we can have this assurance.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that we must first establish fellowship with God

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.

1, We come into fellowship with God when we walk in the light by obeying His word: 1 Jn. 1:7, 2:3

2.Those who thus walk in the light have a joy divine: Phil. 4:4

3. They also have a blessed peace: Col. 3:15

II. Stanza 2 adds that we must continue to walk with God in the pilgrim way

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.

1. We can walk together with God only as we stand in agreement with His will: Amos 3:3

2. Also, we must remember that it is a pilgrim way: 1 Pet. 2:11-12

3. But it is a path which grows brighter because it is lighted by God’s word: Ps. 119:105

III. Stanza 3 concludes that we must develop trust in God

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.

1, When we truly trust in God, we will have nothing to dread or fear: Heb. 13:5-6

2. Again, it is emphasized that one result of this kind of trust is blessed peace: Phil. 4:6-7

3. But to have this peace, we must have the Lord near us by drawing near to Him: Jas. 4:7-8

CONCL.:  The chorus, in simple fashion, repeats the main thought of the song.

Leaning, leaning,

Safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

When the events of life seem difficult or even overwhelming, we can find the assurance from the Lord that we need to help us by “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”


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