Heroes of the Holy Life – Annie Johnston Flint (1866-1932)
I lived from hand to mouth; the mouth was mine and the hand was God’s; and His hand was never empty.
Annie Johnston Flint was a remarkable lady who rose above personal tragedy, pain and infirmity to touch the world by her resolute faith in God and her poetry of praise and worship.
She lost her mother at a tender age. She then lived in a boarding house where she and her sister were neither wanted nor loved. Two years later, her father, who had been suffering from an incurable illness, died. Her life took a turn for the better when she was adopted by a kind and loving Christian family. Not long after, she encountered Christ at a revival meeting and came to have a deep and abiding faith in Jesus as her saviour.
Around that time, she also discovered that she had a gift for writing and expressing herself in verse and sought to develop it for the glory of God.
Soon after finishing high school and getting a job as a primary school teacher, she began to develop early onset arthritis. She sought help and treatment from several doctors but her condition grew steadily worse until it became difficult for her to walk. Her increasing disability soon reduced her to a helpless invalid. She lived in increasing pain and discomfort for the rest of her life, and, without a job, was barely able to make ends meet. As she herself said, she lived from hand to mouth: the mouth was hers and the hand was God’s and His hand was never empty.
With a pen pressed between stiff and swollen fingers, she went on to write some of the most amazing poetry about faith and trust in God.
When a friend who was facing serious difficulties wrote to her in despair questioning why God would allow such hard things to come into her life, Annie, despite her own struggles, wrote back with her now famous poem – What God Hath Promised:
WHAT GOD HATH PROMISED
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep.
She was absolutely convinced that whether well or infirm, rich or poor, she could allow God to use her to glorify His name, that His grace was sufficient for her, that His strength was made perfect in her weakness; that most gladly, therefore, would she glory in her infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon her (2 Corinthians 12:9). She knew God enough to know that He had a purpose for her life – to sing His praises and tell of His love and faithfulness no matter her own condition. That was the ministry God had given her and she lived it out until the day she died.
There is something unique, amazing and beautiful about the kind of faith that people like Annie Johnston Flint had. Once they came into a revelation of who Christ was, nothing could shake their dedication and commitment to Him.
Annie Johnston Flint experienced pain for more than forty years, most of which she was also very much of an invalid. Her joints became so rigid that she couldn’t turn her head and could scarcely move. She could only indulge her passion for writing with the greatest of difficulties and with much pain. There were days when she could only write a few lines at a time. And yet, she never wavered in her faith, never stopped believing that “all the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ.” She wrote:
Is God?’ ‘Does God?’
Man’s ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
In ceaseless iteration storm the sky.
‘I am’; I will’; ‘I do’—sure Word of God,
Yea and Amen, Christ answers each cry;
To all our anguished questionings and doubts
Eternal affirmation and reply.
Annie Johnston Flint stands out as an example to today’s generation of believers where faith is understood only in terms of answered prayer, of immediate needs met; where God is only God if He immediately answers our prayers or gives us what we want. It is faith in the promises of God rather than in God Himself. And thus, accusing fingers are pointed at God, and in bitterness and disappointment, hearts turn and walk away when prayers bring no immediate relief.
I’m sure Annie Johnston Flint cried out to God for relief from her affliction, but more than that, she cried out to God that her faith might endure despite her affliction and her unanswered prayers. Hers was the faith that if God is God, He is worthy of all our praise and worship and service whatever our condition.
Read again, some of the words that came from the gnarled hands but passionate heart of Annie Johnston Flint:
HE GIVETH MORE GRACE
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure;
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
THE WORLD’S BIBLE
Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way;
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s gospel, we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message, given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him and hasten His return?
In my book, Annie Johnston Flint was a hero of the holy life, part of that great cloud of witnesses who fought the good fight and finished the race, and now serves as an example to us all.