Article

History of Hymns: “Just as I Am” comes from writer’s struggle with confining illness

by Irene Ting-Ting Lai

“Just as I Am, Without One Plea”
Charlotte Elliott
UM Hymnal, No. 357

Charlotte Elliott

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.


Charlotte Elliott, a Victorian hymn writer, was born in the south London district of Clapham in 1789 and died in Brighton, England, in 1871. Her grandfather was a famous evangelical preacher. Her family, who belonged to the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, taught her Christian piety. 

Elliott was a famous humorous poet during her youth. At the age of 32, she suffered from a serious illness that left her disabled for the rest of her life. Then her lifelong spiritual mentor César Malan, a Swiss minister and hymnologist, counseled her to replace her rage and inner conflict with peace, and simple faith in God; from that day on, she turned her literary talents to writing hymns. 

Although sometimes depressed by her condition, she always felt renewed by the assurance of salvation, and she responded to her Savior in hymns with her “strong imagination and a well cultured and intellectual mind” (John D. Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892).
 
By the invitation of Harriet Kiernan and the suggestion of the Rev. Hugh White, Elliott became the editor of Christian Remembrance Pocket-Book (1834-1859) and published The Invalid’s Hymnbook in 1834. She wrote about 150 hymns. Her most famous, “Just as I Am,” is widely used in English and North American hymnals today. 

Elliott’s hymns, which are simple, devotional and full of consolation for those in sickness and sorrow, are contained in six volumes: Psalms and Hymns for Public, Private, and Social Worship (1835-1848); The Christian Remembrance Pocket-Book; The Invalid’s Hymn Book; Hours of Sorrow Cheered and Comforted; or, Thoughts in Verse (1836); Morning and Evening Hymns for a Week (1839); and Thoughts in Verse on Sacred Subjects (1869). 

“Just as I Am, Without One Plea” was written in 1834 and first published in leaflet form in 1835. It was then published in the 1841 edition of The Invalid’s Hymn Book. It appeared again with the title “Him that Cometh to Me I Will in No Wise Cast Out” (John 6:37) in the 1849 edition of Hours of Sorrow Cheered and Comforted. In this edition, the seventh stanza was added. 

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 César Malan during the darkest period of her soul. She then overcame her distress to write this hymn. 

The repetition of the short line, “O Lamb of God, I come,” is a commitment to Jesus-centered life. Hymnologist J.R. Watson notes that there is a beautiful structure in this hymn, “from the nakedness of ‘Just as I am’ to the climax of ‘O Lamb of God, I come!’” 

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. 

Because of its simple but powerful message, this hymn has been widely used in church meetings like those led by evangelists D.L. Moody, Billy Graham and John Stott. The hymn is suitable for altar calls and also during Holy Communion.

Ms. Ting-Ting Lai, a Methodist from Maylasia, is a student of Dr. Michael Hawn and a candidate for the master of sacred music degree at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns