His Arm Alone Sustained Me: The Faith of Susanna Anthony
Susanna Anthony (different from Susan B. Anthony) is a name few people have heard of but one that deserves to be known.
Her struggle with her flesh, surrender to the sovereignty of God, and deep love for her Savior all make her story worth telling. While it is not an abnormal story of the Christian life, the very fact that she chronicled her journey of speaking the truth to herself in her darkest moments makes this work extremely beneficial to believers.
Susanna was born in Rhode Island in 1726 and was the youngest of seven daughters. She never married and lived with her parents till their deaths. She was extremely involved in her church and dearly loved her brothers and sisters in the faith.
Her biographer says, “[She] was a remarkable example of devotion, benevolence, and Christian friendship; of self-denial, sobriety, modesty, humility… and of a careful circumspection and consciousness in all her concerns and conduct.”
Her character went before her and was evident to others. There’s no doubt she had the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15) to those who knew her.
Her writings have personally impacted me on a deep level. They have given me a more profound appreciation for the sovereignty of God and demonstrated what it looks like to seek God amid hardship and inward struggle.
Drawing on the imagery of Psalm 23, she writes what is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful quotes in her journal:
“And though God has hence sometimes corrected my backslidings and hid his face for a small moment; yet his lovingkindness has he not taken from me, nor suffered his faithfulness to fail; but has graciously led me along by still waters and in green pastures he has caused me to feed. His rod and his staff have comforted me. In and by every affliction, he has taught me his tender care over me. In every cross and disappointment, he has, sooner or later, made me to adore his wisdom, and see his kind designs of love and mercy. And though he has sometimes called me into the field of battle, yet has he harnessed me for battle, and fought for me. Innumerable evils have compacted me around. Satan, the world, and my own wicked, deceitful heart, all combined to devour me quick; yet his arm alone sustained me. Even when every refuge failed, and my faith was ready to stagger, my extremity has been his opportunity. He has never left me.”
Susanna struggled with her flesh as we all do. At one point, she struggled with thoughts of suicide. She writes how God worked through a book she happened to read which spoke of suicide as an attempt to escape emotional hardship.
Susanna was not always healthy and often struggled with sickness and illness – often being bedridden for weeks at a time. She writes, “While I am weak, feeble, and faint all the day, yet I can rest and rejoice in God, more than when at ease and in health without him.”
She let every opportunity to expound on her weakness (both physical and spiritual) pull her toward Christ, who did not lack strength. She encompassed the command from Paul, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).
Susanna’s heart belonged to her Lord. She strove to align her wishes with his will as best she could. No doubt she had desires to be married and have a family. She probably wished for better health and for less inward spiritual struggle. She submitted this all to her Sovereign Lord.
“I have laid all my wishes, hopes, desires, and expectations, on the perfections of his nature, the unchangeableness of his being, and the truth of his word; and here will I confide forever.” Her inward struggle with her own sinfulness and her deep desire to please her Savior all culminated in praise to God.
One final quote from her journals demonstrates her sheer love for God and his sovereignty over her life.
“For when the glory of God is my highest end and desire; and I firmly believe that God, who has the ordering of all my affairs, has this in view, namely, his own glory, well may I rejoice. For I have nothing to fear. He has infinite wisdom to direct and almighty power to affect what he pleases, and therefore can never fail of his purposes. All his dispensations towards me, I would always realize, as the result of infinite wisdom and eternal counsel; and therefore most perfect. And though my proud rebellious heart dare rise up in opposition, and call into question his ways, yet though grace, I never leave struggling, until the conquest is gained and my soul submits to the scepter of Jesus.”
There are many other quotes in her journals that are worth discussing. However, this one has impacted me the most. God’s sovereignty and his love for his own glory give the Christian reason to rejoice and every reason not to fear. All of God’s dealings with his saints are toward the purpose of Christlikeness. Our human tendency is to question his ways, yet God gives us the grace to joyfully submit to his will. All to the glory of God.
While Susanna struggled with a deep sense of her own sinfulness, she constantly let herself fall back on the grace, mercy, and lovingkindness of God towards her in her sinfulness. This is often our tendency as we wrestle with our flesh.
A quote from The Valley of Vision puts it well, “My sin is to look on my faults and be discouraged, or to look on my good and be puffed up.” It takes grace from God to view our faults and our good as both gifts from God to keep us humble as we seek Him.
May our prayer and desire to be made more into the image of Christ be in our hearts as we wrestle with sin and submit our lives to our sovereign God who loves us deeply and delights to care for our souls.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas, TX, holds a BA in Religion, and is a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is passionate about Scripture and how God’s Word impacts individuals’ hearts and lives.