Hymns of Hope: He Giveth More Grace
Her life, at best, would have been drab and grey but for the hand of God. For forty years, she was a “shut in” within the compass of four dreary walls. The occasional excursion in her wheelchair to the outer world would have only added perhaps one color to her colorless life. If you had the privilege of meeting her, you would never have forgotten her hands. Any who saw them would have marveled at the beautiful writing which such gnarled hands were capable of producing. She was unable even to hold a pen- a crayon or stick of chalk would have to be wedged between those painfully distorted fingers so that she could write on a surface suspended over her bed. As a young woman, she was forced to give up her dream of becoming a concert pianist due to crippling arthritis. By the end of her life she was only four feet tall due to this disease that had taken over her life. Yet, as her story proves, some of the most inspiring hymns were composed by those whose lives were continually marked by tragedy.
Annie Johnston Flint, was born on Christmas Eve, in the year 1866, in the little town of Vineland, New Jersey. Eldon and Jean Johnson, Annie’s father and mother, welcomed their little bundle as the greatest Christmas gift of all. By the age of six, Annie had lost both of her parents. The only remembrance of her mother dates back to the time just before her mother’s death in 1869, following the birth of Annie’s baby sister. She must have looked with wonder from that baby face into her mother’s face that day, for it was the only imprint of her mother’s likeness that lived on in her memory. Annie’s father, suffering from a disease that would result in his death, took the children to board with the widow of an old army comrade who had been killed in the Civil War. It was a less than happy arrangement. The widower had two children of her own with very little means. During the two years the Johnson girls lived with them, the cares of that family were great and it was evident that Annie and her sister were both unwelcome and unwanted.
It was at this time when the outlook seemed so dark for these young girls, that a neighbor compassionately interposed. She loomed in the girl’s memory as “Aunt Susie” though she was of no blood relation. “Aunt Susie” was a school teacher who boarded in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Flint. She became so strongly attached to the Johnson girls that she was continually speaking of them to the Flints. The Flints, both devout Christians, were so moved on behalf of these children that they decided to adopt them. The two girls were taken right to their hearts, and loved as though they were their own flesh and blood. In their new home, the girls received daily training both in Christian and domestic spheres. When Annie was eight years old the family left their farm and the countryside, moving into Vineland, New Jersey, the same town Annie had been born in. When they reached their new home, revival meetings were in progress, and Annie was able to attend. It was during one of these meetings that the Spirit of God operated upon her young heart and brought her to saving faith in Christ.
After completing school she was offered a job, though it was a great temptation to begin earning money Annie felt she was needed more at home to care for her sick mother. As she faithfully nursed her mother, Annie began teaching at the primary school which she had attended as a girl. Early into her second year of teaching arthritis began to make its grim appearance, its crippling effect growing worse by the day. She tried seeking help from various doctors, but her health steadily grew worse until it became difficult for her to walk at all. After her third year of teaching, she was obliged to give up her work, and there followed three years of increasing helplessness.
The death of both of her parents took place during this time, and only a few months apart from each other. There was little money in the bank and Annie’s younger sister was also facing significant health struggles. It was at this time that the girl’s dear “Aunt Susie” came to the rescue again. Being convinced that Annie could find help for her condition in New York, she made a way for Annie to go, leaving the rent of the house as her income while she was away. You can imagine the hopelessness of Annie’s position when she received the doctor’s verdict that she would forever be a helpless invalid. Her own parents had been taken from her in early childhood, her adoptive parents had now been taken from her too, her only sister was too frail to care for her and now she would be bedridden and completely dependent on the care of others. It was through these hopeless circumstances that her beautiful hymns and poems were born.
Though severely disabled, Annie did not allow her disabilities prevent her from using her abilities, she was an extremely gifted writer. With her crayon pushed through bent fingers and held by swollen joints she wrote first without any thought that it might be an avenue of ministry, or that it would bring her an income to help care for her needs. To her, these verses provided a solace in the long hours of suffering. One of her poems, “He Giveth More Grace”, which was later turned into a hymn, reveals the source of Annie’s strength:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labors 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 thy need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father both thee and thy 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.
If anyone could have been excused for writing dark and depressing lyrics it would have been a woman in Annie Johnson Flint’s situation. People with far lesser trials have easily succumbed to despair and despondency, but as the apostle John saw in the book of Revelation, Annie saw “the Lamb who had been slain”. It was this revelation that gave her hope and courage to press on. Rather than focusing on her pain and sorrow, she focused on Jesus, the Giver of the grace she so desperately needed in her trials. The lyrics she was inspired to write throughout her life were not of her loss and pain but of the hope she found in the midst of them. Her faith was not an “easy believe-ism” or “feel good faith”- it was a desperate clinging. As a shipwrecked sailor would cling to a piece of wood, Annie clung to the only hope humanity has: Christ. She clung to the cross- the source of her hope. She clung to the reality of an empty tomb and because of this, found strength to live in this world destroyed by pain and suffering. The message of the Christian faith is not the way for us to be strong, it is the realization that we have no strength in and of ourselves, but that Christ has all the strength we could ever need. He is the One who “sendeth more strength as the labors increase…” and because of this, we are never without hope.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” -Peter 1:6-8