"JUST AS I AM"
It is a popular selection of sacred music that has been called the "world's
greatest soul-winning hymn." Some say that it has influenced more people than any
other song of worship. Very likely it has affected more persons than the greatest sermons
of all time. Evangelist Billy Graham chose it as his "Invitation" theme, played
at the end of each service when audience members are urged to come forward and make a
"commitment to Christ." Graham said this about "Just As I Am":
"That well-known Gospel hymn has been used by God in crusades all over the world to
draw people to Himself, not only in English but also in other languages as well." He
also chose it as the title of his 1997 autobiography.
From the mind of a bed-ridden young woman, the inspiring words of "Just As I Am" demonstrate a basic cornerstone of Christian faith: If people come to Christ with all "excess baggage": (faults, hostility, anxieties, etc.), He will pardon and cleanse them.
That young woman, Charlotte Elliott, was born on March 18, 1789 in Clapham, England. For her first 30 years on earth, she was happy and cheerful, enjoying life to the fullest. She even acquired a descriptive nickname: "Carefree Charlotte." She had dual careers as a popular portrait artist and as a writer of humorous verse.
However, in 1819 Charlotte's health suddenly failed. Her body was attacked by a serious ailment which forced her to spend most of every day in bed. She once described her illness this way: " ... (frequent) bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness, languor (sluggishness), and exhaustion ... day after day ... hour after hour ..." and periods of " ... great physical suffering ..."
Struck down by this malady, Charlotte became depressed and despondent. She was listless, feeling futile because she was unable to leave her home. She also rebelled against God, expressing strong feelings of defiance and resistance.
One night in 1822 Charlotte's father invited a friend to their Brighton home for dinner. He was Dr. Caesar Malan, a Swiss minister, evangelist, and musician. Mr. Elliott hoped that Dr. Malan could help his daughter break through her wall of despair to regain her confidence and faith.
At the dinner table Charlotte became very emotional, making unpleasant comments. Dr. Malan spoke plainly to her, saying she was "tired of herself ... holding on to hate and anger ..." and becoming " ... sour, bitter, and resentful ..." Immediately Charlotte responded positively. She unburdened herself, releasing all the feelings she had been keeping inside and asking how she could know "peace and joy."
Dr. Malan replied: "Come as you are to the Lamb of God ... who takes away sins of the world ... bring (your) fears, hate, temper, and pride and He will give great love in their place ..." He told her that she would be " ... welcomed and relieved ..."
Instantly Charlotte was a changed person, placing complete trust in "Christ's redemptive sacrifice ..." and expressing the "peace and joy" she desired. For the rest of her life, Charlotte Elliott celebrated that day every year as her "spiritual birthday" when she had gone from " ... despair to faith ..."
For 14 years Dr. Malan's words lay dormant in Charlotte's mind, like seeds waiting to sprout and blossom. Then in 1836 her brother needed help. He was a pastor and was trying to build a school in Brighton for the children of poor clergymen. Since she couldn't take part in bazaars or other fund-raising projects, she decided to write the words for a special hymn that might generate income that she could donate to the school. Dr. Malan's advice came back to her as she wrote, and so "Just As I Am" came to life--her "spiritual autobiography."
As it turned out, the hymn brought in more money than all other church projects combined. It was published that same year as part of the "Invalid's Hymn Book" which contained 115 of Charlotte's original works. The melody was composed by a well-known American gospel musician, William B. Bradbury.
During her lifetime Charlotte wrote a total of 150 hymns. Today she is considered to be one of England's finest hymnwriters.
Charlotte Elliott never recovered her health. She continued to be confined at home and was forced to bear much discomfort for the remainder of her life. With the help of Dr. Malan, she was able to maintain a fulfilling life. She died in 1871 at the age of 82.