Hymnspiration: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, et al., by Elisha Albright Hoffman

ElishaHoffmanElisha Albright Hoffman was born on May 7, 1839 in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania to parents Francis and Rebecca (Wagner) Hoffman.  Ethnically, his parents were Pennsylvania Germans and his father was an evangelical minister.  Francis served as a minister for over sixty years and was affiliated with the Evangelical Association, an organization comprised primarily of American Christians of German descent and otherwise known as the “Albright Brethren”.  In 1800 the association was founded by Reverend Jacob Albright who had been influenced by John Wesley and the Methodists.  Perhaps that is how Elisha came by his middle name.

Elisha attended public school in Philadelphia, studying science.  After graduating from Central High School, he undertook a classical studies education at Union Seminary of the Evangelical Association in New Berlin, Pennsylvania.  Following graduation he worked with the Association’s publishing house in Cleveland, Ohio.  For a very brief time, Elisha also served in the Pennsylvania 47th Infantry Regiment during the Civil War – enlisted on July 9, 1863 and mustered out on August 14, 1863.

ElishaHoffmanMarriageOn October 30, 1865 he married Susan M. Orwig in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  Their first child, Ira Orwig Hoffman, was born on July 21, 1866.  Two more sons, Harry and William, were born, respectively in approximately 1869 and 1874.  Susan died in 1876, leaving Elisha with three young sons.  Elisha married Emma Sayres and by 1880 he had another son, Howard.  Although he had been ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1868, he was still employed at the publishing house in 1880.

Elisha Hoffman was never formally trained in music, but he apparently had a natural affinity for it.  During his career he edited and published over fifty hymnals and wrote over two thousands hymns, composing either the words or in many instances both words and music.  According to Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers by Jacob Henry Hall, Elisha’s first impressions of music came from the hymns that were sung in his home, their custom being to have a time of family worship both morning and evening.  He composed his first hymn at the age of eighteen.  Author Jacob Hall further elaborated on Elisha’s natural musical skills:

In the larger number of his musical compositions, Mr. Hoffman is the author of both the words and music.  When a melody is born in his soul, appropriate words seem to be immediately associated with the melody; or, when a conception in his mind crystallizes into a hymn, usually there is present the suggestion of a melody that will give adequate and fitting expression to the mental conception.  There are exceptions, but this is the rule which governs him in his musical writings.

At the time of the book’s publication (1914), Elisha had been the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Benton Harbor, Michigan for some time.  Elisha Hoffman passed away at the age of ninety on November 5, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois.

ElishaHoffmanGraveHere are just a few hymns, still familiar today, written by Elisha Hoffman, followed by two short stories:

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
I Must Tell Jesus
Are You Washed in the Blood?
Glory To His Name

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

This hymn was a collaboration between Elisha Hoffman and Anthony J. Showalter.  Showalter had been leading a singing school in Hartselle, Alabama and after one meeting, he returned to his boarding house and found two letters from young men, both of whom had recently lost their wives.

AnthonyShowalterHe found Deuteronomy 33:27 and sent it in reply: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  From those words of encouragement he composed the chorus to the hymn that would become known as “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”.  He wrote to Elisha who then composed the verses and Showalter wrote the music with assistance from his nephew Samuel Duncan.

I Must Tell Jesus

According to the Berean Bible Heritage Church website, this is Elisha Hoffman’s account about the origin of this hymn:

During a pastorate in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, there was a woman to whom God permitted many visitations of sorrow and affliction.  Coming to her home one day, I found her much discouraged. She unburdened her heart, concluding with the question, “Brother Hoffman, what shall I do?  What shall I do?”  I quoted from the word, then added, “You cannot do better than to take all of your sorrows to Jesus.  You must tell Jesus.”  For a moment she seemed lost in meditation.  Then her eyes lighted as she exclaimed, “Yes, I must tell Jesus.”  As I left her home I had a vision of that joy-illuminated face . . . . and I heard all along my pathway the echo, “I must tell Jesus . . . I must tell Jesus.”

Upon returning to his office, he quickly wrote the words and later also composed the music.  The scriptural basis for this hymn was Matthew 11:28 (“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”) and Psalm 55:22 (“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee; He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”)

This hymn was first published in 1894 in Pentecostal Hymns.

To see a partial list of hymns composed by Elisha Hoffman, click here.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.



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