Timeless hymn still speaks to hearts today

Published 11:11 am Saturday, May 14, 2016

As a young person, Charlotte Elliott enjoyed life as a portrait artist and writer. Then, at age 30, a serious illness left her an invalid for the rest of her life.

One day a minister named Dr. Caesar Malan was visiting in her home. He saw her physical illness, as well as her emotional despondency over the circumstances of her life and her bitterness with God.

The minister was sympathetic to her plight, but insisted that her physical condition shouldn’t keep her from what she needed to hear. Dr. Malan challenged Charlotte to turn her life over to God by saying, “Come just as you are,” even with her bitterness and anger.

Though at first she resented his remarks, she heard God speaking to her through him and committed her life to Jesus Christ. Every year on the anniversary of her life-changing decision, Dr. Malan wrote Charlotte a letter encouraging her to be strong in her faith.

Even as a Christian, she experienced doubts and struggle. She longed for the ability to serve the Lord effectively and wanted her life to be used for His work, but her health prevented it. At times, Charlotte compared her limitations to her brother’s successful preaching and evangelistic ministry.

Then, in 1836, on the 14th anniversary of her faith conversion, she was alone. That evening she began writing her spiritual biography – poetically, in verse form. Charlotte Elliot, then age 47, poured out her feelings to God on paper while praying.

For generations since that time, countless people have identified with her words, which became the lyrics to one of the greatest evangelistic hymns of all time. The first verse says, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And that thou biddst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

Her words were set to music with a tune written by William Bradbury. It was published the same year she wrote it. Funds from its royalties helped build a school for the children of poor clergymen. During her 82-year lifetime, Charlotte Elliott wrote approximately 150 hymns.

Looking back on the impact of her words many years later, Charlotte’s brother, the Rev. Henry Elliot, said, “In the course of a long ministry, I hope I 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 – ‘Just As I Am.’”

Charlotte once said, “My Heavenly Father knows, and He alone, what it is, day after day…to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness…He enables me…to rise every morning determined on taking this for my motto, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.’ “ (Luke 9:23)

The words to “Just As I Am” remind me of a quote by author Max Lucado, “God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com.