Born MAY 7, 1839
Elisha Hoffman, author of more than 2,000 hymns, wrote songs for the church in an era when most churches preferred something different from today. Yet God continues to honor the results of Elisha’s faithful service.
EDUCATION AND ENDURANCE
Elisha was born in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. Following a public education in Philadelphia, he attended Union Seminary in New Berlin. In 1868, he received ordination into the Presbyterian Church.
Like the prophet whose name he bears, Elisha was not a quitter. He pastored in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, remaining 11 years in Cabery, Illinois followed by 33 years in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
LASTING CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTIANITY
Elisha also worked for the Evangelical Association’s publishing house (Cleveland, Ohio) for 11 years. He edited 50 songbooks and wrote his 2,000-plus hymns. More than half a dozen of his songs remain popular today. Like their author, the songs have an enduring quality that encourages us and inspires us in our service to God.
The following information covers three of his lasting hymns, each written in a different decade of the 1800’s. I’ll describe each song, tell why it matters and examine its longevity.
“ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD?” 1878
In both evangelistic crusades and local pulpits of that day, sermons focused more directly on Jesus shedding His blood for our sins. The hymn’s opening line asks, “Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” It goes on to remind us what should be our response to Jesus’ blood covering our sins. The second stanza asks, “Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?” The third stanza ponders, “When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?”
The song’s central image connects Jesus’ death for sins to the Old Testament sacrificial lamb. John the Baptist intro-duced Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostle Peter said our salva-tion was purchased “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” ( I Peter 1:19). The song matters because it reminds us that Jesus died for our sins and that we must respond to His vicarious death.
In some religious venues, the cross is sanitized and hymns about Jesus’ blood are ignored. Elisha’s song survives today in hymn-singing churches that keep Jesus’ sacrificial death their central doctrine. It’s kept alive outside the church walls via Christian singers like Carman. Hollywood also helps. It included the song “Are You Washed in the Blood?” as recently as 2006 in the film Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With.
“LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS” 1887
One day Mr. Hoffman received a letter from a friend in Alabama. In the letter his friend, a music teacher named A. J. Showalter, mentioned two of the his former students, recent widowers. He told Elisha he’d tried consoling them with the words of Deuteron-omy 33:27: “The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Mr. Showalter wanted the scriptural truth turned into a hymn. He had a chorus in mind, but wanted Elisha to pen some verses. It didn’t take him long.
The song grew out of a need for internal peace amid severe circumstances. The hymn dwells on that need. It declares, “what a peace is mine” and “I have blessed peace with my Lord so near.” As with “Are You Washed in the Blood?” Elisha included a question in the song. He asks, as one trusting God, “What have I to dread. what have I to fear?” He captured the essence of a need in the lives of Christians everywhere in every century and decade: to seek refuge in God’s strength.
The hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” has thrived within Christianity for 125 years. In the past century it’s been recorded by groups as diverse as The Sons of the Pioneers, The Jordinaires, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and David Crowder Band. Individual Christian singers who’ve recorded it include Twila Paris, David Baroni, Guy Penrod and Bart Millard (of MercyMe).
It too has longevity within the broader culture. According to IMDB, Hollywood has used “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” in various 20th Century films. Most recently, the tune dominated the musical score of the 2010 remake of the movie True Grit. The song is sung at the end of the film.
“I MUST TELL JESUS” 1894
One day, Pastor Elisha Hoffman visited a parishioner who felt desperate from physical and emotional afflictions. She asked him, “What shall I do? What shall I do?” His answer concluded with the words, “you must tell Jesus.” “Yes,” she said, “I must tell Jesus. I must tell Jesus.” Elisha went home dwelling on those words and wrote a new song.
What “I Must Tell Jesus” does so well is admits our own inability to solve our problems and acknowledges our need for God’s intervention. As a statement of faith it decides to surrender “trials,” “burdens,” “distress,” “troubles,” “sorrows” and temptations to Jesus. The song matters because it states with assurance that if we ask Jesus will bear our load and help us.
In the last two decades, along with southern gospel versions, Elisha’s hymn of trusting Jesus has been recorded by Kim Boyce, Crystal Lewis and the group Virtue.
Elisha passed away in 1929 at age 90. The way God has kept his songs in the public ear and continued using them to draw people closer to Him is a great testimony to Elisha’s person-al surrender to God.
LET ME KNOW: How has Elisha’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Peterson, William J. and Ardyth Peterson. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.
Osbeck, Kennth. 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1985.
Moyer, Elgin S., and E. E. Cairns. The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, rev. ed. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Bible Institute, 1982.
Various Internet sources (Some information about individual songs was gathered from referencing Google and Amazon.com).
Image of Jesus: ***-http://www.lostseed.com/extras/free-graphics/jesus-pictures.php” title=”Jesus Pics” target=”blank”><img src=”http://www.lostseed.com/extras/free-graphics/images/jesus-pictures/passion-of-the-christ.jpg” /></a>
Image: … — … – Thinking Woman by Jiri Hodan
Search by title for renditions of the three songs on today’s post.
Also available on YouTube are these other Elisha Hoffman songs- “Glory to His Name (Down at the Cross),” “What A Wonderful Savior,” and “Is Your All on the Altar?”
+ Similar L4G stories: click hymn writer on the category cloud to the right to also read the stories of Fanny Crosby and Ira Stanphill.