Just as you are (lessons from Charlotte Elliott)

 The hymn ‘Just as I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world. Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today. Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.

Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789. She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse. All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression. her health began to fail rapidly, and soon she became bedfast, and was for the rest of her life. She never regained good health, and frequently was in a lot of physical pain. With her failing health, she became very despondent.

In 1822, when she was 33 years old, Dr. Caesar Malan, a preacher from Switzerland, visited the Elliott's home in Brighton, England. Instead of sympathizing, he asked her an unexpected question: did she have peace with God? Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.

But after he left, his question haunted her. Did she have peace with God?  She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things. So, she invited Dr Malan to return. She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first.

Dr Malan said the unexpected: “Come just as you are.”

 In 1834, Elliott moved to Brighton and lived with her brother, the Rev. Henry Venn Elliott. One day when everyone in her family had gone to a church bazaar to raise funds for a charity school, Elliott was left alone, confined by her sickness. Though depressed with feelings of uselessness and loneliness, she recalled the message “Come to Christ just as you are,” which she had received from Dr. Cesar Malan during the darkest period of her soul. She then overcame her distress to write the hymn “Just as I am”.

Have you ever felt laid aside from usefulness to God? Have your circumstances in life ever seemed an immense drawback, preventing you from actively serving in the usual ways? Perhaps you are ill, housebound – or frail and elderly. Perhaps you suffer sleeplessness, or chronic pain. You’re unable to visit people, and perform practical kindly, womanly services in their homes. You can’t share the gospel, teach – or maybe even read much. In short, you wonder how in the world you could ever be a useful Christian at all. This story is about just such a Christian woman; a woman who felt deeply the frustrations of sickness, and who often longed for really useful service. But God, who has His ways of using our very weaknesses for His own glory, used this woman’s circumstances in a very special and lasting way.

Charlotte could not have dreamed that many years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes; to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’

People aren’t “good enough” or “not good enough” to come to Jesus. It is through God’s initiative, pardon, promises and free love mentioned throughout the hymn that everyone can come to Jesus. Just like Elliott, people will face “conflict,” “doubt” and “fighting and fears within [and] without,” but one can find rest in Jesus. 

Thought for the month

To quote the words of Charlotte Elliot:

She wrote "God alone knows what it is, day after day, hour after hour, to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness and exhaustion, to resolve not to yield to slothfulness, depression and instability." She also wrote "God sees, God guides, and God guards me. His voice bids me to be happy and holy in His service just where I am."

Click on this link to sing the song: https://youtu.be/CxA0TFe3-Uo