February 7, 2012

Hymn History: Just As I Am

The year was 1822. Charlotte Elliott was mad at herself, her family, and God. At thirty-three, when she should have been enjoying radiant health, she had become an invalid because of the strain of a musical and artistic education. “If God loved me,” she complained, “he would not have treated me this way.”

This rebellious spirit not only poisoned her heart but put a strain on the life of the entire family. It was to try and mellow the soul of his talented daughter that her father, Charles Elliot, invited Dr. Cesar Malan, noted Swiss minister and musician, to be a guest in their home in England. Dr. Malan, who was called “the greatest name in the history of French hymnology,” was seated at the dinner table with members of the Elliott family when Charlotte broke out in one of her typical emotional outbursts. She condemned God for His cruelty to her, and criticized her brother, sister and father for their lack of sympathy. Her father, embarrassed at her lack of respect for their distinguished guest, excused himself and left the room with his other children.

Dr. Malan watched Charlotte from across the table. After a few tense moments of silence, he said, “You are tired of yourself, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?” she asked angrily.

“You are holding to your hate and anger because you have nothing else in the world to cling to,” he replied. “consequently, you have become sour, bitter and resentful.”

“What is your cure?” she asked.

He said, “You need the faith you are trying to despise.”

Charlotte soon unburdened herself to the understanding heart, releasing the pent-up feelings she had been struggling to conceal for many years. Dr. Malan explained how God, as we know Him in Jesus, could help her find peace for her soul as well as her mind and body. Suddenly she saw herself as God knew her and was ashamed.

“Dr. Malan,” she said, “I want to apologize for my disrespectful behavior during dinner and I want to ask your forgiveness. Also I want your advice. If I wanted to become a Christian and to share the peace and joy you possess, what would I do? How would I go about it?”

“You would give yourself to God just as you are now,” he explained, “with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, jealousies and quick temper, pride and shame, and He would take them from you in proportion to faith, and put His great love in their place.”

“Just as you are now,” she repeated, and then added, “I would come to God just as I am. Is that right?”

“Exactly,” he replied, “Praying this prayer, ‘O God, I come to you just as I am, to be made over by you and to be used by you for your glory and your Kingdom.’”

Fourteen years later, on the anniversary of that conversation, Charlotte, soon to be lovingly called “The Sunbeam of Brighton,” received her annual letter from Dr. Malan. Reminiscing over the events of that meeting, and the wonderful change that had come over her life, she recalled his words, “Come just as you are,” and her reply, “Just as I am, I come.” Now forty-seven, Charlotte penned her spiritual autobiography in a seven-stanza poem which began:
Just as I am, without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.

Her brother later remarked, “In all my preaching I have not done so much good as my sister has been permitted to accomplish by her one hymn ‘Just as I Am.’”

She passed away in her eighty-second year, in 1871, “in the full hope and triumph of the Gospel she had sung so long.”

Adapted from Living Stories of Famous Hymns, Ernest K. Emurian


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