Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

The Music of True Grit: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”

In yesterday’s post, I gave the back ground to the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which permeates the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ film, True Grit. It is not actually sung until the end of the movie, when a version of the hymn sung by Iris DeMent offers a haunting, touching conclusion to the film. This version (at least as I was able to purchase it from iTunes) does not actually contain the third verse of the hymn, though it did appear on DeMent’s original recording (Lifeline, her 2004 collection of hymns).

Here are the original lyrics of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” including all three verses:

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.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, 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 God

Inspired by Deuteronomy 33:27, which includes the promise of God’s “everlasting arms” being under Israel, this hymn offers the reassurance of God’s presence and support. But, notice that God is not carrying us through life as if we were infants. Rather, we are leaning on God’s arms for support, even as we “walk in this pilgrim way.”



I am reminded of how young children learn to stand and then to walk. They literally lean on the their parents, perhaps theirs arms or legs or hands. From this posture of leaning they get the support they need, until they are able to support themselves in their own strength. (Photo: I am leaning on my father in order to stand.)

Of course, once you learn to walk, you don’t need to lean on someone any more, at least for a long time. I remember when my grandfather was well into his eighties. He was very unsteady on his feet. So if we were to go anywhere, he would put his hand on my shoulder and lean on me.


The writers of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” picture the Christian life as a matter of leaning upon God at all times. Some would say this is evidence of weakness; I would say it is evidence of the fact that we were made to depend upon God, even as we also walk in our own strength. Ironically, as we lean upon God, we find greater strength to live more freely and fully.

  • Daniel B. Valentine

    What a wonderful article on a great old hymm “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. Even though written long ago and I am a babyboomers child and into “contemporary” Christian music, the old hymms still resound with a familiar comfort from days gone by. How I long for those days when morals and the reality of a loving God were commonplace and not the exception. The remake of the movie “True Grit” 2010 written and directed by the Coen brothers,is a cinematic adventure into the day to day struggle against lawlessness faced by early 19 century American settlers. I believe they captured the essence of the Portis novel in a way that honored the writer and as well as the characters involved. Who couldn’t notice the subtle underlying emotion of fatherly protection portrayed through the gruff and gritty U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Reuben Cogburn towards the young but determined Mattie Ross. Its striking too me that when the issue of revenge and what is right and noble in the bringing of the man who killed her father to justice, we see displayed a indifference to what the law would deem righteous and what Mattie considers justice. In so doing she exposes herself to the harsh realities of our decisions and the ugly truth of sin to avenge sin. It takes a sinner to catch a sinner as to play fair would give the wicked the upperhand since there aren’t any rules to their reasonings. This is Cogburn, a man haunted by a family that abandoned him for his affair with hard drinking and brash call it as it is persona. We see throughout the shadow of a man, who even with all his uncomely ways,is in the end the one to be depended on to get the job done.
    I felt that the directors did an excellent job portraying the moral differences and attitudes that existed at that time between the learned and the unlearned. Those that could read and do “sums” and those that could not. That knowledge is power and peace is best, that love is shown in many ways and in the end “justice” will prevail whether in this life or the next. And that when the story is told and the final page has been read that all that remains is security and safety from the storms of life in the everlasting arms of a Heavenly Father. Smile

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment michael murphy

    I was awestruck by the simple beauty of the song, ‘leaning’- the music of it is certainly inspiring- There is another piece ,’the gospel train’- in the first movie about dilinger, with Warren Oates, the sung is played repeatedly on guitar throughout the movie- again the secret of its beauty is in the simple melody- I researched that song and was surprized to find out how many artists have recorded it Joan Baez,Paul Simon and many others. Today’s artists would do well in exploring the origins of their music and discover how it evolved to what we now hear- and hopefully reverse the trend-sorry for that editorial comment

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kelly Walker Bond

    I enjoyed reading your last two articles regarding the “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” hymn. In September of 2010, I lost my husband of 19 years and one of our sons- our 10 year old son Cooper. Our family of 5 was driving home after a Labor Day weekend visit with my husband’s parents. A 21 year old who was driving too fast for the rainy weather conditions and who was passing other drivers in his lane (we were both traveling on a two lane rural highway), started hydroplaning, lost control of his vehicle, and came into our lane hitting us almost head-on. Within a matter of seconds, my husband was killed upon impact and our son Cooper was severely injured (he was sitting directly behind my husband Peter in the car that day). Cooper died about 4 hours later in a hospital. Our other son Ben and our daughter Abby and I have continued to lean on His Everlasting Arms. We were a family of Believers before the accident, and continue to find God’s presence all around us each and every day. We have found that God has never left us (just as He promised). He has provided for us through His own comforting Spirit, and through the love of others reaching out to us continuously. What we believed (before the accident) to be true of God’s nature, we have seen proved time and time, again, since the accident. Before the accident, I felt (to the deepest point of my core) that I could never live without one of my precious children, hoping beyond hope to keep each of them happy and safe their whole life long. Now I understand that God is who I could never live without. The verse in Matthew when Jesus talks about how we must love God above all others (though I have always understood, logically, what God was talking about) has always bothered me (heart-wise). It was hard for me, as a mother, to imagine loving anyone more than I loved my own dear children. And even though I knew that I should love God more, I struggled with this concept so much! But now, after losing Peter and Cooper, I realize that they are safe in God’s love now and that so are we (Ben, Abby, and I). Somehow, through the Holy Spirit’s comfort, God has made His Big Picture a little bit clearer to me now. And I am grateful for His Grace in doing so.
    So I guess that is my long way of saying that I felt God speaking to my heart, once again, but this time through your articles. Thank you for your service to Him.

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