Poet and hymn writer Charlotte Elliott was born March 18, 1789 in England to parents Charles and Eling (Venn) Elliott. Her father was a silk merchant and her mother was part of a family of well-known ministers. Whether she was sickly when she was born or she later developed an illness, Charlotte spent a great deal of her life as an invalid. For the first thirty-two years of her life she lived in Clapham and later in Brighton.
The story of her conversion was related years later by Christopher Knapp. A minister, Dr. Cesar Melan, was visiting her parents’ home and he broached the subject of her personal relationship with God. She bristled at the question and informed him that was a subject she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Melan told her he would pray for her. A few days later she apologized for her remarks and confessed that his question had troubled her – she was ready to accept Christ. She was miserable and didn’t know how to come to Jesus. Dr. Melan asked her, “Why not come just as you are?”
Her life as an invalid was both emotionally and spiritually trying, despairing at times she often felt useless. Her brother, Reverend Henry Venn Elliott, had planned a school in Brighton for daughters of clergyman. His whole family, with the exception of Charlotte, was helping him with fund-raising for the school. The story of how Just As I Am was penned, as related years later by Reverend Handley C.G. Moule:
Ill health still beset her. Besides its general trying influence on the spirit, it often caused her the peculiar pain of a seeming uselessness in her life, while the circle round her was full of unresting serviceableness for God. Such a time of trial marked the year 1834, when she was 45 years old and was living in Westfield Lodge, Brighton …
Her brother, the Rev. H.V. Elliott, had not long before conceived the plan of St. Mary’s Hall at Brighton, a school designed to give at nominal cost, a high education to the daughters of clergymen; a noble work which is to this day carried on with admirable ability and large success. In aid to St. Mary’s Hall there was to be held a bazaar… Westfield Lodge was all astir; every member of the large circle was occupied morning and night in preparation with the one exception of the ailing sister Charlotte — as full of eager interest as any of them, but physically fit for nothing.
Moule further related how Charlotte was distressed over feelings of her uselessness, even questioning the reality of her spiritual life. Perhaps it was just emotions. The next day she continued to be overwhelmed, but gathered up “in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation”. She then took pen and paper and set in writing the “formula of her faith”, perhaps remembering Dr. Melan’s words – God accepted her “Just as I am”.
Her hymn was first published in The Invalid’s Hymn Book. The purpose of this hymnal from its preface:
[T]here is one class of sufferers, whose case calls for peculiar tenderness of sympathy, and discrimination of judgment, in providing a suitable selection of hymns, adapted to their peculiar character and circumstances. Whoever has known, by painful experience, or witnessed, in the course of affectionate attendance on beloved relatives, the results of long-continued sickness to the Invalid, will be best able to appreciate the value of a selection, specially designed to meet the peculiar requirements of their case. The bodily languor, which is the almost inevitable consequence of protracted illness, often indisposes the Invalid for enjoying a class of hymns, (to be found in all general collections,) which require a greater energy and vivacity of spirit, than sickness, in most cases will allow. . . . Hence arises the necessity of selecting such as are more congenial to a wounded spirit – such as embody the pathetic lamentations of resigned grief – or suggest the cheering motives for Christian consolation.
Charlotte’s hymn was placed in a section entitled “Hymns Suited in the Time of Sickness to the Humble Penitent, and to the Rejoicing Believer”. Her hymn appeared with the subtitle of “‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.’ John vi. 37″
The music for her lyrics was written and published in 1849 by William Batchelder Bradbury, who also wrote the tune for Jesus Loves Me.
The other daughter I wish to name is my [Great] Aunt Charlotte Elliott. Her well known hymns Just as I am and My God my Father while I stray – and many others have been a gift to the world. I am afraid to say into how many languages Just as I am has been translated. Her brother Henry Venn, who often visited her on her sick bed, for she was a great invalid all her life, used to say “You have done more by that one Hymn of yours, than I by all my years of preaching”; this was a modest speech from a popular preacher, and yet it may have been true – and proves how God is pleased to use the weak things of the world. So let not the weakest of you, my Children, be faint-hearted. You are not as gifted a family as the one I am describing, and whose blood runs in your veins – but “To every man his gift of God”, and “To every man his work” – and to use that “gift” and to take up that “work” is surely the way to turn two talents into four – and the five into ten.
Although sickly and incapacitated much of her life, Charlotte lived to the age of eighty-two, passing away on September 22, 1871. Just as I Am would become her best-known hymn (she wrote over 150), translated into many languages around the world. The song is best remembered today as the standard hymn sung during altar calls at Billy Graham crusades.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.