This great saint knew all about suffering, yet she magnified her Lord exceedingly:
Hers may not be a household name, even to most believers, but she was a notable and remarkable Christian indeed. Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) is remembered for two main things: her decades of hardship and suffering, and her wonderful and moving Christian poetry.
For over four decades she suffered from crippling and painful arthritis. It kept her pretty much confined to her bedroom that entire time. Yet out of all that terrible pain and suffering she gave us some of the most memorable and inspiring Christian verse.
She could have so easily just been an embittered and hate-filled person, cursing God for her situation. And even before arthritis struck, she endured plenty of hardships. When she was three her baby sister came along, but her mum died soon thereafter at age 23. Her dad was ill as well, so he handed over the two girls to another woman, but it was far from a good situation.
But around two years later a Baptist couple adopted the pair, and that was a much better arrangement. Early on Anne loved reading and loved verse. When she was eight her new family left rural New Jersey for city life. There Methodist revival meetings were in progress, and at them she gave her life to Christ.
After high school she taught for a few years, but it was then that the crippling and life-altering arthritis set in – never to leave. Also at this time her adopted parents both died, leaving the sisters alone again. She soon became an invalid, pretty much confined to her home.
So for over forty years she endured grievous physical pain while also drawing close to the Lord and turning out moving verse. At first her gnarled and bent fingers were still capable of writing the poems, but later, as the pain became too great, she had to have others write them down for her.
Soon her poetry was being published in magazines and in book form, and they were even reprinted overseas. Sales of her writings were the main source of her income. As a result of her spreading fame she had numerous folks corresponding with her, which also kept her busy.
As mentioned, the painful arthritis would remain with her until she died. As we read in the forward to her biography (see details below):
One day a visitor stepped from Miss Flint’s sitting room into the sleeping room to secure a certain reprint of a poem for Miss Flint, who was seated in her wheeled chair. A glance at the bed in that room was revealing. Nine soft pillows were carefully arranged on the bed for use in protecting the exquisitely sensitive, pain-smitten body from the normal contact of the bed-clothing, so distressing it was for her to recline in the hope of rest at night.
Like the Apostle Paul and countless other Christians throughout history, it was the cross that she most cherished, rejoiced in, and clung to. We know of only one prose work that she ever wrote, and it was a brief allegory of her life entitled “The Life In Allegory – ‘That I Might Be Like Him’”. One small portion of this 5 ½ page piece says this:
Then the Voice said, “This only is the way by which thou canst approach nearest unto me and be most like me. This is thy cross. Lie down upon it without shrinking and without fear. Thou shalt not be alone: I too have been there. I sounded all the depths of pain, and at the last I was forsaken by the Father; but that last, worst suffering thou shalt not know, for I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
So I lay down upon the cross, and I rest upon it even unto this day. And the Angel of Suffering watches upon my left hand, and upon my right is one who comes always with him… the Angel of His Presence. And of late there has been another, the Angel of Peace. And the three abide always with me.
A final word about healing. As in our day, some Christians back then told her that healing was in the atonement so she should just claim her healing by faith. She decided to undertake a careful and prayerful study of the matter in Scripture and in other Christian writings. She came to believe that God certainly could heal her if he chose to, as he sometimes had done, but God can also be glorified through the suffering of his saints. Says her biographer:
Miss Flint became thoroughly convinced that God intended to glorify Himself through her, in her weak, earthen vessel, and while like Paul she had three times, and more, prayed that this might be taken from her, there came to her with real assurance the voice which said, “My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness.” She reached the place where she too could say with Paul, “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” …
It was not in the setting forth of Christian doctrine in poetic form that Annie Johnson Flint’s greatest ministry lay – it was in the application of Christian truths to the experiences of life. It was to the weary pilgrim on life’s journey that she sang her sweetest song. She knew the One who was the Man of Sorrows. She had drunk her own cup of bitterness and could sympathize. And to the weary traveller along earth’s way she sought to sing her songs of help and hope.
Let me present just one of her poems, “The Court of the King”:
With staff that had failed in my need
Where the road had been stony and steep;
With lamp that was smoking and dim;
Though the darkness was growing more deep;
Weary, too weary to pray
And too heavy-hearted to sing,
Faint with the toils of the way
I came to the court of the King.
There where the fountains fall cool,
Their waters unfailing and pure;
There where the ministering palms
Stand like His promises sure,
Oh! there was peace in its shade,
Oh! there was rest in its calm;
And its sweet silences lay
On my bruised spirit like balm.
Long did I kneel in His court,
And walk in his garden, so fair;
All I had lost or had lacked
I found in His treasuries there;
Oil to replenish my lamp,
His kindness a crown for my head,
For the staff that had wounded my hand
The rod of His mercy instead.
A garment of praises I found
For the sullen, dark garb I had worn,
And sandals of peace for the feet
That the rocks and the briers had torn;
Joy for my mourning He gave,
Making my Spirit to sing,
And, girded with gladness and strength,
I passed from the court of the King.
Imagine having chronic and devastating pain day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, yet still being a shining witness to God’s grace and goodness! Would that we all were able to showcase the love and mercy of God, even in the midst of life’s deepest tragedies and sorrows.
For further reading
There are various online resources about her. Many refer to a brief 2019 book that I have called The Making of the Beautiful by Roland Bingham (Hayden Press). The back cover says this: “This book is the only known biography of Annie Johnson Flint, written by Roland V. Bingham (1872-1942) who was the founder of the Sudan Interior Mission and knew Annie personally.”