JUST AS I AM
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me: and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:35, 37
Without question, this hymn has touched more hearts and influenced more people for Christ than any other song ever written. The text was born within the soul of an invalid woman who wrote these words out of intense feelings of uselessness and despair.
Charlotte Elliott was born in Clapham, England, on March 18, 1789. As a young person she lived a carefree life, gaining popularity as a portrait artist and writer of humorous verse. By the time she was thirty, however, her health began to fail rapidly, and soon she became a bedridden invalid for the remaining years of her life. With her failing health came great feelings of despondency. In 1822 a noted Swiss evangelist, Dr. Caesar Malan, visited the Elliott home in Brighton, England. His visit proved to be a turning point in Charlotte's life. In counseling Miss Elliott about her spiritual and emotional problems. Dr. Malan impressed upon her this truth, "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 Swiss friend had led her to a personal relationship with Christ, for she considered it to be her spiritual birthday. Although she did not write her text for this hymn until 1836, fourteen years after her conversion experience, it is apparent that she never forgot the words of her friend, for they form the very essence of this hymn.
Though Charlotte Elliott lived to be eighty-two years of age, she never regained normal health, and she often endured seasons of great physical suffering. 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.' " Another time she wrote, "God sees, God 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."
Miss Elliott wrote me text for "Just As I Am" in 1836. It was published that same year in the second edition of The Invalid's Hymn Book, a collection which contained 115 of her original works. She wrote this hymn with the desire that it might aid financially in building a school for the children of poor clergymen that her own pastor brother was trying to build in Brighton, England. Miss Elliott felt so helpless in her desire to aid the parishioners in this worthy project. Interestingly enough, this one hymn from the pen of the clergyman's invalid sister brought in more funds than all of his bazaars and projects combined. The brother himself has left these words, "In the course of a long ministry. I hope to have been permitted to see some fruit of my labors; but I feel more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's."
In all, Charlotte Elliott wrote approximately 150 hymns. She is generally regarded as one of the finest of all English women hymnwriters. It is said that after her death more than a thousand letters were found among her papers from individuals around the world, expressing testimonials for what this one hymn had meant in their lives.
The tune, "Woodworth," composed by the well-known American gospel musician, William B. Bradbury, was first used for the hymn. "The God of Love Will Soon Indulge." Years later another American gospel songwriter, Thomas Hastings, wedded Bradbury's tune with Miss Elliott's text.
Other hymns by William B. Bradbury include "He Leadeth Me" (No. 28). "Jesus Loves Me" (No. 47), "Depth of Mercy" (101 More Hymn Stories, No. 20), "Even Me" (ibid., No. 23), "Sweet Hour of Prayer" (ibid., No. 82), and "The Solid Rock" (ibid., No. 87).
Only eternity will reveal the vast number of individuals whose lives have been dramatically changed through the use of this one hymn from the pen of an invalid woman. It is a hymn that can and should be used more frequently than merely an invitational number at the close of a service. Its message is one that we as believers need to be reminded of frequently-that our eternal standing and peace with God depend solely on Christ's merits and not our own.
Taken from 101 Hymn Stories © Copyright 1982 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.