“Just as I am” will doubtlessly be sung to the end of time, and as often as Christians sing it they will praise God and bless the memory of the woman who wrote it—Charlotte Elliott.
This hymn will have a greater value, too, when we know something of the pain and effort that it cost the writer to produce it. Miss Elliott was one of those afflicted souls who scarcely know what surcease from suffering is. Though she lived to be eighty-two years old, she was never well, and often endured seasons of great physical distress. She could well understand the sacrifice made by one who
Strikes the strings
With fingers that ache and bleed.
Of her own afflictions she once wrote: “He knows, and He alone, what it is, day after day, hour after hour, to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness, languor and exhaustion, to resolve not to yield to slothfulness, depression and instability, such as the body causes me to long to indulge, but to rise every morning determined to take for my motto: ‘If a man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’”
But God seemed to have had a purpose in placing a heavy cross upon her. Her very afflictions made her think of other sufferers like herself and made her the better fitted for the work that He had prepared for her—the ministry of comfort and consolation. How beautifully she resigned herself to the will of God may be seen in her words: “God sees, 276God guides, God guards me. His grace surrounds me, and His voice continually bids me to be happy and holy in His service, just where I am.”
“Just as I am” was written in 1836, and appeared for the first time in the second edition of “The Invalid’s Hymn Book,” which was published that year and to which Miss Elliott had contributed 115 pieces.
The great American evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, once said that this hymn had probably touched more hearts and brought more souls to Christ than any other ever written. Miss Elliott’s own brother, who was a minister in the Church of England, himself wrote:
“In the course of a long ministry, I hope to have been permitted to see some fruit of my labors; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s.”
It is said that after the death of Miss Elliott, more than a thousand letters were found among her papers, in which the writers expressed their gratitude to her for the help the hymn had brought them.
The secret power of this marvelous hymn must be found in its true evangelical spirit. It sets forth in very simple but gripping words the all-important truth that we are not saved through any merit or worthiness in ourselves, but by the sovereign grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It also pictures the utter helplessness and wretchedness of the human soul, and its inability to rise above its own sins; but very lovingly it invites the soul to come to Him “whose blood can cleanse each spot.”
The hymn was born out of the author’s personal spiritual experiences. Though a daughter of the Church, brought up in a pious home, it seems that Miss Elliott had never found true peace with God. Like so many other seeking souls in 277all ages, she felt that men must do something themselves to win salvation, instead of coming to Christ as helpless sinners and finding complete redemption in Him.
When Dr. Caesar Malan, the noted Swiss preacher of Geneva, came to visit the Elliott home in Brighton, England, in 1822, he soon discovered the cause of her spiritual perplexity, and became a real evangelical guide and counsellor. “You have nothing of merit to bring to God,” he told her. “You must come just as you are, a sinner, to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
Throughout the remainder of her life, Miss Elliott celebrated every year the day on which her friend had led her to Christ, for she considered it to be her spiritual birthday. Although it was fourteen years later that she wrote her immortal hymn, it is apparent that she never forgot the words of Dr. Malan, for they form the very core and essence of it. The inspiration for the hymn came one day when the frail invalid had been left alone at the home of her brother. She was lying on a couch and pondering on the words spoken by Dr. Malan many years before, when suddenly the whole glorious truth of salvation as the free gift of God flashed upon her soul. Then came the heavenly gift. Rising from her couch, she wrote:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Miss Elliott was the author of some 150 hymns. Perhaps her finest, aside from her great masterpiece, is “My God, my Father, while I stray.” By common consent, Miss Elliott is given first place among English women hymn-writers.
From the book ‘Story of Our Hymns‘