The Swiss evangelist and hymn writer Cesar Malan always liked to speak a word for Jesus. One day, while visiting England, he spoke to a young women at his table, saying that he hoped she was a Christian. Charlotte Elliott bristled. She would rather not discuss that question, she said. Malan apologized if he had given offense.
For Charlotte, however, Mahan's witness was a turning point. She could not get his suggestion out of her head. Three weeks later, she met Malan again and told him that ever since he had spoken to her, she had been trying to find Jesus her Savior. How could she come to Him, she wondered. "You have nothing of merit to bring to God. You must come just as you are," replied the minister. Rejoicing, Charlotte did.
From the age of 33 until her death, Charlotte suffered crippling fatigue. "My Heavenly Father knows, and He alone, what it is, day after day, and hour after hour, to fight against bodily feelings of almost overpowering weakness and languor and exhaustion, to resolve, as He enables me to do, not to yield to the slothfulness, the depression, the irritability, such as a body causes me to long to indulge, but to rise every morning determined on taking this for my motto, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.' "
Despite her ailment, she made herself useful. For example, she edited the Religious Remembrancer magazine.
In 1835, about twelve years after her conversion, her brother was raising funds for a school for the daughters of clergymen--St. Mary's Hall. Unable to help with the project, Charlotte felt useless. Perhaps God had even rejected her!
She fell into deep doubt. As she pondered her situation, she remembered the words of Cesar Malan and decided to write a song for others who were in her situation. The words she wrote became one of the greatest soul-winning songs in the history of hymns.
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou biddest me come to Thee
O, Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Many stories are told of people whose lives were transformed by her verses. Dora Wordsworth, daughter of William Wordsworth, asked to have the lines read to her again and again on her death bed. Sir Henry Norman, an official in British-controlled India, was saved through the hymn at a meeting led by Lord Radstock. Billy Graham used it as the invitation in his crusades.
What is more, in her own lifetime Charlotte learned that copies of the poem were being sold and the money donated for St. Mary's Hall, the very project she had thought she could not help!
In spite of her illness, Charlotte lived to be 82. She died on this day, September 22, 1871. After her death, more than a thousand letters were found among her papers, written by people telling her how her hymn had touched their lives.
- Boreham, F. W. A Late Lark Singing. London: Epworth Press, 1945.
- Brown, Theron and Butterworth, Hezekiah. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: George H. Doran, 1905.
- "Charlotte Elliott." http://www.cyberhymnal.org
- "Elliott, Charlotte." The Dictionary of National Biography, founded in 1882 by George Smith; edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Graham, Billy. "Just as I Am without One Plea." Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories. Chicago, Il: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1967; p.33ff.
- "Just as I Am." http://www.tanbible.com/tol_sng/justasiam.htm
- Ryden, Ernest Edwin. The story of Christian hymnody. Rock Island, Illinois: Augustana Press, 1959.
- Routley, Erik. Hymns and the Faith. Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury, 1956.
- Sutherland, Allan. Famous Hymns of the World, Their Origin and Their Romance. New York, Frederick A. Stokes company, 1906; source of the portrait.
- Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
Last updated July, 2007