Friday, 14 November 2014

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

I really like the Sainsbury supermarket chain’s new Christmas TV advert. The beautifully made 3 minute piece looks back at the World War1 ‘Christmas truce’ of 1914. This remarkable series of events occurred at various sections along the Western Front.  

Spontaneously, fighting ceased and allied and German soldiers clambered out of their trenches and begun to fraternise in ‘no man’s land’.  These cessations of hostilities were local, temporary and very much frowned upon by the military ‘top brass’.

The advert cleverly evokes the culture of the day with a popular contemporary tune playing in the background. Like so many of the cynical and bitter songs sung by the ‘Tommies’, the music  came from the popular songs of the day, many of which were hymns.

These were however not the hymns of High Church Anglicanism. Rather they were the compositions of great evangelists such as John and Charles Wesley, and Moody and Sankey of a later era. These were the hymns of the poor and the working classes, sung at open air evangelistic gatherings and back street mission halls, the length and breadth of Britain in 1914.

The ‘back catalogue’ of these poetic, reverent, theologically robust  and musically rich songs is huge, yet today by and large lies dormant and forgotten in Scotland’s evangelical churches, a relic of a bygone age.

21st century believers worship with a mixture of banal repetitive contemporary songs which emanate from the new class of ‘elite’ worship leaders and ‘contemporary Christian artistes’.  It is a sad indictment that in the race to become more ‘contemporary and relevant’, the core worship experience at many gatherings is at best, musically average and at worst theologically bankrupt.

The song used in the Sainsbury advert, and which also features heavily in the 2010 remake of the western movie ‘True Grit’ is, ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’. The song was first published in 1887 and was written by Anthony J. Showalter and Elisha Hoffman. Showalter was a teacher and the song was written in response to the deaths of the wives of two of his former pupils.

 The song is based on a verse from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy: ‘The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’.


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.



Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.


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.


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.


‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’ is a wonderful, soul-stirring song encapsulating great and timeless truths. It speaks plainly of that eternal security, guaranteed to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal saviour.

Surely a song worth singing by true and genuine believers, often!
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