"THE WORLD’S BIBLE"
"Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ…written not with ink, but with the Spirit…" (2 Cor. 3.3)
INTRO.: A hymn which pictures Christians as being epistles of the Lord that are read by others is "The World’s Bible" (#460 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #512 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Annie Johnson Flint, who was born on Dec. 24, 1866, at Vineland, NJ, and had a rather difficult life. Her mother, who was from Scotland, died when she was three, soon after the birth of her sister. Her father, Eldon Johnson, who was from Vermont, sent the two girls to live with a widow of a Civil War friend, but the woman had few resources and two children of her own. As a result, the Johnson girls were unwelcome and neglected. A neighbor saw the situation and introduced Annie’s father to a Mr. and Mrs. Flint, who had no children and wanted to adopt the two girls, so they returned to Vineland. About a year later, Eldon died. At the age of eight, Annie was converted at a revival conducted by the Methodist Church in Vineland. When she was nine, she discovered that she could put words together in rhyme and rhythm, and by age twelve she was setting poems to music. The Flints moved to a town near Camden, NJ, where Annie had two years in public schools, followed by one year in the normal school at Trenton, NJ, and three years of teaching. As a teenager she wanted to become a concert pianist and composer, but when she was in her early twenties the Flints both died, leaving her without means to continue her education.
Furthermore, shortly before her adoptive parents’ deaths, Annie started having trouble with arthritis and became unable to play the piano, so she was left with one mode of expression, writing poetry, as a replacement for her musical ambitions. In addition, Annie’s sister was not well and could not help take care of her, and at the age of 23, Annie was unable to continue working as a teacher. In less than five years she could not even walk. Left without financial support and personal care, she would push a pen through her bent fingers or use her knuckles to strike typewriter keys, though often in great pain, to produce poems for use on greeting cards, on wall hangings, and in magazines. One of her best-known poems is called "What God Hath Promised," from 1919, and includes the lines (which have also been used as a hymn):
"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.
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 step, Never a river turbid and deep.
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."
Her poem, "The World’s Bible" also dates from 1919. In spite of her immense suffering, Annie’s poems are bubbling over with the joy of life and praise for the love of God with no self-pity or despondency.
Unfortunately, payment for the use of these poems never covered her increasing medical bills. However, by 1926, her popularity as a poet had grown so that as a result of an article in The Sunday School Times, some 3,000 people sent letters of encouragement with cash in just seven weeks, and later The Evangelical Christian collected $1,000 from its readers for her. Some seven collections of her poems were published in books issued by Evangelical Publishers, including By the Way: Travelogues of Cheer. Sometime after her death on Sept. 8, 1932, at Clifton Springs, NY, where she had gone to live in a Sanitarium, the arrangement for "The World’s Bible" was made and the tune was composed both by John E. Hamilton (1895-1972). The song was first published in 1934 by Stamps-Baxter Music in their book Leading Light. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song may be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
This song reminds us of the need to live so as to be good epistles.
I. The first stanza emphasizes what we can do for Christ
"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."
A. Recognizing the figurative nature of these words, we realize that Christ wants us to use our hands to do His work, so that we might be zealous of good works for Him: Tit. 2.11-14
B. Also, we understand that Christ wants us to use our feet to go preach the gospel to others that we might lead men in His way: Mk. 16.15, Rom. 10.15
C. And we see that He wants us to use our tongues to tell men how He died by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the father: Phil. 2.11
II. The second stanza emphasizes what we should be for Christ
"We are the only Bibles 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?"
A. While we understand that the Lord has given the Bible to all mankind, we also know that the lives of Christians are the only "Bible" or introduction to God’s word that many careless people in this world will read, so we must be sure to let our lights shine: Matt. 5.16
B. Because we are the sinner’s gospel and the scoffer’s creed, we need to recognize the importance of being examples to others: 1 Tim. 4.12
C. Given the fact that many in the world would not take the time to open the scriptures, for them we may well be the Lord’s last message, so we should live so that whatever we do in word or deed is in the name of the Lord: Col. 3.17
III. The third stanza emphasizes what we must avoid for Christ
"What if our hands are busy With other things than His?
What if our feet are walking Where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking Of things His life would spurn,
How can we hope to help Him And welcome His return?"
A. Yes, we do have various responsibilities in our jobs, homes, and communities, but we should never become so "busy here and there" with these that we fail to use our opportunities to help others learn the way of the Lord: I Ki. 20.35-40
B. This means that we should ponder the path of our feet so that they do not walk where sin’s allurement is: Prov. 4.26-27
C. And it means that we should allow no filthy language to proceed out of our mouths so that our tongues will never be heard speaking of things His life would spurn: Eph. 4.29
CONCL.: To do what Christ wants us to do as His people living upon the earth, we must seek positively to be what He wants us to be and, of course, negatively to avoid anything that would hinder our influence for good. In this way we can live up to our responsibility to be "The World’s Bible."