The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. - Deuteronomy 33:27
This hymn was written, based on the verse above, in 1887. Rev. Anthony Showalter used the verse at the end of letters he wrote to console two men who had both lost their wives. Afterwards, meditating on the verse, he wrote the chorus to the song (possibly with a melody), but couldn't come up with any verses. He sent the lyrics of the chorus to Elisha Hoffman, writer of "Down at the Cross," "I Must Tell Jesus" and over 2,000 other hymn texts. Hoffman wrote the verses to the song and sent it back.
Showalter, professor of music at Bridgewater College in Virginia, put the poem with several others and passed them out to his students who were assigned the task of writing music for them. Samuel E. Duncan, Showalter's nephew, received "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," completed the assignment in one evening, (perhaps basing it on a melody Showalter had used for the chorus), and turned it in. The hymn was then published by Elisha Hoffman in Glad Evangel for Revival, Camp and Evangelistic Meeting Hymnal with Showalter listed as the composer. From that day to this, Showalter's name appears in the over 1000 different hymnals where the hymn has been published. The actual teenaged composer was not acknowledged then or now, but a bronze plaque commemorating him as its composer him can be found in his home church, Oakhill Brethren, in Oakhill, West Virginia.