Posted by: rcottrill | May 6, 2011

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Words: Anthony Johnson Showalter (b. May 1, 1858; d. Nov. 16, 1924)
             Elisha Albright Hoffman (b. May 7, 1839; d. Nov. 25, 1929)
Music: Anthony Johnson Showalter

Wordwise Hymns (Hoffman)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Mr. Showalter wrote the tune and the refrain. Elisha Hoffman added the stanzas.

Sometimes, during a football game, a player will sustain injury to an ankle or knee, and he will be helped off the field by the training staff, leaning his weight on their shoulders. Or, think of an elderly woman, weakened by illness, and unsteady on her feet, who moves about with the aid of a walker. There are many personal means of support like that. Crutches, a cane, a staff, a walker, and even the supporting arms of others. In times of weakness, when there is a danger of falling, these are welcome indeed. And they have their parallel in the spiritual realm.

Anthony Showalter studied music in England, France and Germany. He taught music, and published over 130 music books. On one particular day the morning post brought the musician correspondence from two recent pupils of his. By coincidence, both letters bore the sad news that the man’s wife had died. Their former instructor wrote a personal response to each man, giving encouragement and comfort. He included Deuteronomy 33:27 in his comments: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Mr. Showalter says, “Before completing the writing of the sentence, the thought came to me that the fact that we may lean on those everlasting arms and find comfort and strength ought to be put into a song. And before finishing the letter, the words and music of the refrain were written.” The initial work on the song was later sent to hymn writer, Elisha Hoffman who added its three stanzas. Out of the kindly comfort sent to two widowed men the hymn, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms was born.

Think about that verse in Deuteronomy for a moment: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The Lord promised the nation of Israel a refuge (security), and the undergirding of His omnipotent arms (support). These blessings, in turn, suggest two kinds of need: that they would face dangerous enemies, and that they were, in themselves, too weak to triumph and prosper.

I believe that is the sense in which we are to understand the Lord addressing Israel (“Jacob”) as a “worm” (Isa. 41:14). It suggests that which is often looked down upon as being impotent, and of no account. It’s not difficult to apply all of this to the individual believer, as David does (Ps. 40:17; 70:5). We too are threatened by those who oppose the people of God–whether demons or men. And we our strength is inadequate to enable us to defend ourselves and live in victory. We need the support and security that only God can provide. So, does Almighty God who created all things have power enough to help us? Of course (Ps. 121:2; 124:8).

What we lean upon is the key to our support and security. A weak cane or crutch will let us down. And in spiritual things, one of our biggest problems is our tendency to sinful independence–to count on ourselves for help, instead of the Lord. That’s why Proverbs exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). When we trust in Him and His abundant sufficiency, there is a sense of peace and spiritual joy that fills our hearts.

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) Why are we, as Christians, so prone to think of praying last of all, instead of first of all?

2) When we lean on the Lord, does that mean the end of personal responsibility for us? In other words, how do faith and action work together?

Wordwise Hymns (Hoffman)
The Cyber Hymnal


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