May 7 : Presbyterian Hymn Writer Elisha Hoffman

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Who Wrote This Hymn?

We often sing favorite gospel hymns without the slightest idea or even care as to who was the author of it.  Also, have you ever wondered just what circumstances produced the words of such hymns?

Consider the following hymns:  “Are you Washed in the Blood?,”  “I must tell Jesus,”  “Is your All on the Altar?,”  “What a Wonderful Savior,”  “Down at the Cross where my Savior died,”  “Leaning on the Everlasting arms,”  “Speed the Light,”  “Christ has for sin Atonement made,”  “Glory to his name,”  “Have Thine own way, Lord,”  and “Give Him the glory.”

Indeed, if we listed all the hymns which the Presbyterian minister Elisha A. Hoffman wrote, we would list another 1,988 hymns.  And this from a man who had no formal music education!

Elisha Hoffman was born on May 7, 1839 in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. His parents were Pennsylvania Germans, with his father a minister.   Elisha was educated in the Philadelphia school system.  During this time, he was converted.  He went to Union Seminary in New Berlin, Pennsylvania, completing a classical  education at that school.  As this was the middle of the Civil War, he enlisted after the battle of Gettysburg, but for some unexplained reason, only served for one month.  He married in 1866 Susan Orwig who died ten years later, leaving him with three young boys.  Ordained in the Presbyterian ministry in 1873, he went on to serve as pastor in three Presbyterian churches, with the longest being the First Presbyterian Church in Benton Harbour, Michigan.  He married a second time, which union produced a baby boy, in addition to his family.  She would be wedded to him until  he died at age 90 on November 25, 1929.

Often various pastoral situations prompted him to write hymns.  To two widowers who had lost their respective wives, and who were absolutely dismayed over it, he joined another Presbyterian elder, A. J. Showalter, of Dalton, Georgia,  in writing the words and music of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

When a woman was burdened down with troubles, and no words of comfort accomplished any relief for her, Rev. Hoffman said “You must tell Jesus . . . You must tell Jesus.”  She replied, “I must tell Jesus.  Yes, that is the answer.”  Elisha Hoffman went home and penned the words of the well-known hymn, “I Must Tell Jesus all my troubles and cares.”

The visible church is enriched by the spiritual gifts of music of this man, Elisha Hoffman, and thankful for the theology and experience which he gave to us over the years.

Words to Live By:  Whether in the congregation of the church you attend, or around the piano in some home or Bible study, why not have a hymn sing of the songs listed above in the historical devotional?  It will bless your heart and mind, and help you rejoice in the Lord who called this man to add to the worship of the church down through the ages.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 79 – 81

Through the Standards: Proof texts of sanctification

John 17:17

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (ESV)

Romans 6:12, 13

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (ESV)

Galatians 5:16 – 17, 24, 25

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will  not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh ae against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you wont to do.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (ESV)

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  1. Bill Thrasher’s avatar

    Thank you for sharing the brief history behind the songs of Elisha Hoffman. Amazingly, how Christian hymns reflect the life-changing story behind so many touched by our LORD Jesus! They are a gospel unto themselves.

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