He Giveth More Grace: The Life of Annie Johnson Flint

An Early Christmas present!

Annie Johnson was born in Vineland, New Jersey USA on Christmas Eve 1866. Her parents, Eldon and Jean rejoiced in the gift of their early Christmas present daughter! Nearly three years later, all the joy of that Christmas disappeared in a flood of sorrow, as Annie’s Mum died at the age of 23, soon after giving birth to Annie’s sister. Her Father was not well and for two years the bereaved family of three lived with a widow friend of Eldon’s. She had children of her own and it became evident that Annie and her sister were not really welcome in the home, they were simply an added burden.

By a remarkable providence, a local school teacher, who the children came to know simply as “Auntie Susie”, saw the distressing situation and recommended a childless Christian couple in the town, Mr and Mrs Flint, as a possible solution. It would, of course, require Eldon to be willing to allow them to be adopted as their own. He was willing to do this on two counts, firstly his serious illness, which resulted in his own death not long afterwards and secondly the fact that they were Baptists! Annie’s Father had long hoped that the children would be brought up in a Baptist tradition!

The couple offered a loving and warm-hearted Christian home to the two girls and after the adoption, their surname was added to Annie’s. Through their childhood years the girls were taught the Christian gospel and the teaching of the Bible framed every aspect of life.

Saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

At the age of eight, two great changes took place in the young life of Annie. The Flints moved from their rural home in the countryside, into the small town nearby. Despite this, Annie always retained her love for the natural world around her and it coloured the rest of her life. In God’s providence, the move coincided with a number of evangelistic meetings taking place in the town. She was taken along by her adopted parents, and there, at the age of eight, she was brought to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In later life she testified of the reality of that experience and although she was so young, she was convinced that God had truly saved her that day.

Before she became a teenager, Annie began to develop a keen interest in reading and writing – particularly poetry. This was fuelled by Mr Flint’s extensive library. She and her friend from school formed a two-member literary society! Every Saturday afternoon they met together to read material by their favourite poets; and then to attempt to write poems themselves.

Her life was fairly frugal but it was in a loving home where she was encouraged to learn the virtues of good housekeeping, making her own clothes and general economy. Her character was naturally cheerful and optimistic which is remarkable, in view of the sadness and loss that she had known as a younger child.

Her powers of observation were particularly keen. One contemporary speaks of her comment much later in life that Annie had noticed that the robin outside her window had changed its song. “We are going to have rain today. My robin has just changed his note. He never sings in that tone unless the rain is coming” Sure enough, the rain came!

Sanctification – through life’s experiences

The Lord was working in her heart, sanctifying her through her life’s experiences. She did have troubles with a flaring temper at times but over the years learned the lessons of grace in overcoming this sinful tendency. She speaks of her impatience and her tendency to persist at something without waiting patiently for the outcome in the appointed time. The Lord would need to teach her much in this area of her character. Deeper trials were to come which would test both persistence and patience to the extreme.

An indication of those trials manifested itself quite soon into her working life. She began her first position as a school teacher in her home town, teaching at the school where she had once been a pupil. There, symptoms of arthritis began to appear. These grew steadily worse, causing her to have to give up her post, as she was almost unable to walk.

Then tragedy struck again when both of her adopted parents died within a few months of each other. Annie was left overwhelmed with sadness and loss. Her own health continued to deteriorate rapidly and it was not long before the Doctors sadly had to tell her that she would soon become a helpless invalid, crippled by the advancing arthritis running through her body. In her sadness, her illness and her desperate financial predicament, Annie was cast upon God.

A contemporary writer says, “Annie was in a condition where she was compelled to be dependent upon the care of others… In after-years she always stated that her poems were born of the need of others and not from her own need; but one knows full well that she never could have written as she did for the comfort and help of thousands of others if she had not had the background of facing those very crises in her own life”.

Those poems, notes and letters were wonderfully the means of her sustaining by the Lord. The very best of her God-given gifts of writing, poetry and prose were drawn out of her in her deep trial. She could not properly hold or use a pen, but her dogged determination forced her to somehow push her pen into her swollen and bent fingers and despite her wrists being in great pain she wrote of her deepest spiritual experiences. At first it was for her own solace but she began to make hand lettered cards, gift books, and cards with verses beautifully written on them.

A world-wide fellowship

Remarkably, two national Christian publishers began to publish and distribute her work in their magazines and periodicals. They became hugely popular; many letters of appreciation came in to the publishers from those who had been blessed by her work. A little book of her poems entitled, “By the Way – Travelogues of Cheer” was published. Through these ventures, two things happened, firstly her financial troubles were eased through their income, but secondly, she became connected with a world-wide fellowship of believers who were helped by her writings.

That wider fellowship brought her into contact with some who believed that Christians should not suffer illness and restrictions in this life. They impressed on her their convictions that the Lord would grant healing to her – if only her faith was strong enough! Annie did not immediately dismiss such things but searched the Scriptures thoroughly for herself to see what they said.

Having done so, she declared such an understanding of the Lord’s dealings with His children in this life to be in error. Again, we quote a contemporary writer, “…she reached the conclusion that, while God can and does heal in this way in some cases, in others He does not; that He has seen fit to leave some of the most triumphant saints deeply afflicted. She saw too that many of those who pressed their theory were themselves afflicted with infirmity, and while telling others that they ought to claim healing, bore in their own lives the failure of their theory!”

Strength made perfect in weakness

Annie became thoroughly convinced that God intended to glorify Himself through her – in her weak, earthen vessel. Like the Apostle Paul there came to her, with real assurance, the promise which said, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” She reached the place where she could also say with Paul, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me”. (2 Cor 12:9)

No one can tell what suffering she endured as the disease became worse with the passing of the years, but through it all her faith in the goodness and mercy of God never wavered. There were many times, no doubt, when her soul would be burdened with the mystery of it all and the “why?” of what she was called to endure. For more than forty years there was scarcely a day when she did not suffer pain and she became increasingly helpless. Her joints had become rigid, although she was still just able to turn her head. In great pain she could write a few lines on paper. The one picture of her that remains shows her at a relatively young age but confined to a rather primitive looking wheelchair.

On September 8th 1932, her last words before she died were to her doctor in front of a visiting couple who knew her well. He asked if there was anything she wished to say before he gave her a painkilling injection. “I have nothing to say, it’s all right” she said. In a few minutes, she had gone to be with the Saviour who she loved and served so well. In a life that seemed to have so much “all wrong”, she was given remarkable grace and strength to proclaim, in fact it was, “all right”.

He giveth more grace

Among her collection of poems that remain, “He giveth more grace” stands out as a wonderful statement of her Biblical theology of pain, trial and suffering and of the boundless store of grace that is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul urges Timothy, his son in the faith, to “be strong” (2 Timothy 2v1), it is in this grace alone that he will be able to endure the hardships that he will face. It is no different for us as Christians today, Annie’s lovely hymn has a timeless message!

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase;
To added afflictions 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.

Fear not that your need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father, both you and your load will upbear.

His love has no limits, 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.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: The Story Behind the Hymn

Isabella Lilias Trotter (1853–1928)

This devotional hymn was written in 1918 by Helen Lemmel, an accomplished hymnwriter and soloist, the daughter of a Methodist Minister. She was moved to write the words and music after reading a small booklet by Lilias Trotter entitled “Focussed” and hearing of her life story. She titled the hymn “The Heavenly Vision” but it is best known by the first line of the refrain, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”.

Both the hymn and the booklet that inspired it have been a challenge to the focus and devotion of Christians over almost a century. The life of Lilias Trotter is of great interest. Her own devotion to her Saviour, faith and labour of love speak volumes in our day of easy going Christianity.

In her biography of Lilias Trotter, Patricia St John describes the home life into which Lilias was born in 1853 as, “… the happy disciplined life of the Victorian upper classes; godly, serious, kind to the poor… sheltered… a stable home surrounded by beauty and culture.” Lilias wanted for nothing. She had a good education, travelled widely, she had a bright and inquisitive mind and loved the beauty of plants, flowers and nature. Her father was a wealthy banker and they lived in high society in the very best part of London.

Sadly, when Lilias was only 12 years old, her Father died and she was devastated at this great loss. However it was through this time of sadness that she was cast upon God for comfort and consolation and came to know Jesus Christ as her Saviour and friend. One biographer says that, “Through the very hardest thing in her life God brought her soul into blossom.” The change in her life through her conversion to Christ saw her develop a great gift of love and sympathy that was boundless in its expression.

As she grew into a young woman, that love for others was channelled into work in London with the YWCA among many unfortunate women who found themselves alone, penniless and exploited.

At the age of 23 she travelled with her mother to Venice and by God’s providence came into contact with John Ruskin, the famous writer and art critic. Ruskin was tremendously impressed with her ability to draw and paint and she spent time in his company at his home in the English Lake District. He was convinced that, “if she would give her life to painting she could become the greatest painter of the nineteenth century and do things that would be immortal.”

After the death of her mother in 1878 and considerable wrestling of heart, Lilias became convinced that God was calling her to serve Him. Interest in foreign missions was high following the Moody and Sankey missions and the remarkable commitment of seven Cambridge graduates to pioneer missionary work in China. It was at a missionary meeting that she felt the clear call of God to go to bring the Gospel to the Arab tribes of Algeria.

Despite a heart condition diagnosed prior to her departure, on the 5th March 1888 she left for North Africa and spent the remaining 40 years of her life working among the Arab Muslims of Algeria. Her work was truly remarkable. As a European white woman working mainly with other female colleagues in a pioneer mission among strongly traditional Muslims, the chances of her achieving any success were considered impossible. One biographer remarks that two words characterize Lilias’s work “inexhaustible and indiscourageable”.

Eventually using up all of her own wealth, she founded and maintained the Algiers Mission Band. Her ability in drawing and painting became an integral part in the communication of the gospel, illustrating tracts and booklets specifically designed to reach the Arab culture. Her incredible ability to learn languages, breakdown cultural barriers, organise, write and travel long distances across difficult terrain put her into the same category as other “unique” female missionary names such as Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward etc.

An extract from her booklet “Focussed”, which inspired this hymn, is quoted below and in reading it we might ask ourselves just how focussed on Jesus Christ we are today. How great is our need to turn our eyes fully upon Him.

“… if the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon our hearts, there is an ocean of grace and love and power lying all around us, an ocean to which all earthly light is but a drop, and it is ready to transfigure us…Gathered up, focussed lives, intent on one aim – Christ – these are the lives on which God can concentrate blessedness. It is “all for all” by a law as unvarying as any law that governs the material universe.

We see the principle shadowed in the trend of science; the telephone and the wireless in the realm of sound, the use of radium and the ultra violet rays in the realm of light. All these work by gathering into focus currents and waves that, dispersed, cannot serve us. In every branch of learning and workmanship the tendency of these days is to specialize – to take up one point and follow it to the uttermost.

And Satan knows well the power of concentration; if a soul is likely to get under the sway of the inspiration, “this one thing I do,” he will turn all his energies to bring in side-interests that will shatter the gathering intensity.

And they lie all around, these interests. Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focussed, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Does this test not give the clue? Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way. Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed, good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.

What does this focussing mean? Study the matter and you will see that it means two things – gathering in all that can be gathered, and letting the rest drop…

Are we ready for a cleavage to be wrought through the whole range of our lives… All aims, all ambitions, all desires, all pursuits – shall we dare to drop them if they cannot be gathered sharply and clearly into the focus of “this one thing I do”?

Will it not make life narrow, this focussing? In a sense, it will – just as the mountain path grows narrower, for it matters more and more, the higher we go, where we set our feet – but there is always, as it narrows, a wider and wider outlook, and purer, clearer air. Narrow as Christ’s life was narrow, this is our aim; narrow as regards self-seeking, broad as the love of God to all around. Is there anything to fear in that?

And in the narrowing and focussing, the channel will be prepared for God’s power – like the stream hemmed between the rock-beds, that wells up in a spring – like the burning glass that gathers the rays into an intensity that will kindle fire. It is worthwhile to let God see what He can do with these lives of ours, when “to live is Christ.”

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine “attrait” by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you. For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win”.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more has dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

(Refrain)

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

(Refrain)

Words & music by Helen Howarth Lemmel based on the writing of Isabella Lilias Trotter (1853–1928) – pioneer Christian missionary to the Arab Muslims of Algeria & founder of what is now known as Arab World Ministries

The Story Behind the Hymn: Amazing Grace

The life of John Newton is definitely one worth reading about!

His background is one of the sea and a number of his hymns reflect back to those days of childhood and early manhood when he sailed the perilous oceans in the great sailing ships of the 18th Century. His father was a naval captain and young John saw little of him. His mother was the greatest influence on his life, teaching him Bible stories, singing hymns and praying for his salvation while he sat on her knee.

Newton’s world fell apart when his mother died just before his seventh birthday and he descended into a life of total wretchedness and sin. Having been ‘press ganged’ into the navy he rebelled against all authority. He would curse and swear, was violent and his behaviour was so bad that he was abandoned in West Africa, living as a slave at the mercy of a despicable slave trader and his African wife.

Remarkably he was rescued and was making his way home, when on the night of 10th March 1748 a terrible storm almost totally wrecked the ship. Newton was strapped to the wheel of the ship endeavouring to steer a course through the storm. He cried out to God in fear and desperation for salvation. All the prayers, hymns and Bible verses he had learned those years before on his mother’s knee came flooding back to his mind. This was the beginning of Newton coming to full assurance of his salvation in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.

Years later in grateful service to God he served as a Curate to a Church in Olney in Buckinghamshire (and later as Rector to a Church in London). It was while at Olney that many of Newton’s most well known hymns were written and the famous book of, “Olney Hymns” composed by Newton and his good friend William Cowper. One of those hymns was, “Amazing Grace”.

Newton’s biographer, Jonathan Aitken, takes up the story of this lovely hymn in his book, “John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace”:

“John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’ is the most sung, most recorded and most loved hymn in the world. No other song, spiritual or secular, comes close to it in terms of numbers of recordings, (over 3,000 in the United States alone), frequency of performances (it is publicly sung at least 10 million times a year), international popularity across six continents or cultural longevity (238 years and going strong)…..Yet among the billions of people who have enjoyed singing or listening to it, remarkably few have any knowledge of its origins, purposes,
consequences or history.

“Amazing Grace” was conceived by Newton in late December 1772 as part of the preparations he was making for a New Year’s Day sermon to his parishioners on January 1, 1773. The notion of writing a hymn in order to prepare for a sermon would have been alien to most eighteenth-century clergymen, but Newton was an ingenious innovator in this field of spiritual communication. In the previous two years he had been experimenting with the highly unusual activity (for a Church of England incumbent) of writing “People’s Hymns.” This activity stemmed from Newton’s realization that the principal religious books of the established church, the King James Bible and 1662 Book of Common Prayer, were full of words and phrases that uneducated people found difficult to understand.

As his Olney congregation consisted largely of lace-makers, agricultural labourers, malting’s workers, blacksmiths, carpenters and other artisans or tradesmen, Newton thought he could help them to understand the Scriptures if he amplified his sermons by writing simply worded hymns that illustrated the biblical passages on which he was preaching.

At the beginning of his curacy in Olney, Newton used the hymns of other writers such as Isaac Watts or John and Charles Wesley for this purpose. The first recipients of this biblical teaching through hymns had been the children of the parish……When Newton realized how effective the singing and learning by heart of hymns could be as a spiritual teaching aid for children, he expanded the practice to the adult members of his congregation….Although the hymn singing there proved popular, it was only occasionally extended into Olney church itself, rather than prayer meetings during the week, because the eighteenth-century Church of England frowned upon anything other than metrical Psalms (the Psalms set to song meters) being sung within consecrated buildings.

There was a particular reason why Newton might have chosen January 1, 1773 as a date on which to expound on God’s grace. He was in the habit of regarding every New Year’s Day as a milestone for spiritual stock taking. Newton’s diary notes for his sermon in Olney Church on this New Year’s Day show that he developed the theme of his December 31 diary entry. For he began by emphasizing the importance of being grateful to God for his past mercies. Then he asked the same rhetorical question that David had asked some three thousand years earlier: “Who am I, Lord?”

Newton’s answer took on autobiographical overtones clearly echoed in his just written hymn. For he declared that unconverted sinners were blinded by the ‘god of this world’ (Satan) until “God’s mercy came to us not only undeserved but undesired…… our hearts endeavoured to shut him out till He overcame us by the power of grace.”

Newton’s own words sum up his amazement at God’s grace in the salvation of sinners, particularly to him!

“When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there – the first wonder will be to see many people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there!” 

John Newton’s own epitaph on a plaque in Olney Churchyard:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk

Once an infidel and libertine A servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy. He ministered, near sixteen years as curate of this Parish, and twenty-eight years as Rector of St Mary Woolnoth.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

John Newton 1725 – 1807