Elisha A. Hoffman: Pastor and Gospel Hymn Writer
by Jacob Henry Hall; edited and enlarged by Stephen Ross
The subject of this sketch, Elisha A. Hoffman, was born in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania [United States], on the seventh day of May in the year of our Lord 1839. His parents, Francis A. and Rebecca A. Hoffman, were Pennsylvania Germans. His father was a minister of the Gospel in the Evangelical Association, and rendered over sixty years of service in preaching the Word.
Elisha was educated in the public schools of Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love, and graduated in the scientific course from the Central High School. Afterwards he took up the classics and completed a classical course in Union Seminary of the Evangelical Association. For eleven years he was connected with the Association’s publishing house in Cleveland, Ohio.
His musical education was limited. He is not a graduate of any School of Music, but he is a natural musician. All the musical knowledge he has was gained by personal application. Mr. Hoffman’s first impressions of music came from hearing the voice of sacred song in the home. His parents both had sweet voices and sang well. It was their custom, in the hour of family worship, both morning and evening, to sing one or two hymns. At an early age, the children became familiar with these hymns and learned to love them and to feel their hallowing and refining power. Their lives were marvellously influenced by this little service of song in the home. A taste for sacred music was created and developed, and song became as natural a function of the soul as breathing was a function of the body.
Under the power of such an environment, Mr. Hoffman came to consciousness of a princely possession with which God had endowed him — the ability to express his intuitions and conceptions in meter and song. His inner being thrilled with inspirations, longing for expression, and he used the power with which God had clothed him in the production of the many songs which bear his name. His first composition was given to the world when he was eighteen years of age. Since then heart, brain and pen have been very prolific in the birth of songs.
Over two thousand of his compositions are in print. He has assisted in the compilation and editing of fifty different song books, some of which have received marked favour and have been issued in large editions. All have accomplished a measure of good and have proved a blessing to the world. Many separate compositions have been translated into the languages of different countries and from these many countries have come letters expressing gratitude to the author for their helpfulness and inspiration.
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.
Among his most popular and useful songs are: “What a Wonderful Saviour!,” “Enough for Me,” “Are You Washed in the Blood?,” “No Other Friend Like Jesus,” “I Must Tell Jesus,” “Is Your All on the Altar?,” and many others.
Like his dad before him, Mr. Hoffman has been an evangelistic minister of the Gospel for many years, and at present is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he has served for over thirteen years. While his ministry in the churches which he has served has been fruitful, his songs in the good which they have done have constituted a still larger ministry. Through his songs he preaches to many thousands who never hear his voice.
While not working in his study or writing gospel songs and hymns, he could be found ministering with the poor in their homes. The story has been told that while visiting one day, he came to a home which had been experienced much sorrow and affliction. He found the mother of the home in the depths of despair. He tried to quote Bible verses that he thought would help to console her, but to no avail. Then he suggested that she could do nothing better than to take all of her sorrow to the Lord Jesus. “You must tell Jesus,” he told her. Upon mediating upon these words, a light broke across her face and she cried, “Yes, I must tell Jesus.” Mr. Hoffman left immediately with those words still ringing in his ears — “I must tell Jesus.” He went directly home and wrote:
I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
He is a kind, compassionate friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.
Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior;
One Who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
He all my cares and sorrows will share.
O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the victory to win.
Elisha Hoffman was 90 years old when he died November 25, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois.