Friday, June 12, 2009

Just As I Am – Charlotte Elliott

I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay (Job 33:6) Charlotte Elliott was angry. ‘Carefree Charlotte’ was 30 years old, and loved her life in Clapham and Brighton, England in the 18th and 19th centuries as a gifted artist and writer. So why did she get sick and become invalid for the remainder of her life? We’d understand, if that’s what went through her mind, wouldn’t we? Her body made her miserable, so lashing out at a Swiss minister, Caesar Milan, was understandable when he told her she needed God’s peace. As she mulled over the minister’s visit, she later relented, and asked him how she could fix her life and come to God. Milan answered ‘Just come as you are.” She did. And, Milan’s words stuck with her for another 14 years, until 1835 when she finally composed the words of this simple, but memorable song, “Just As I Am”. This song’s history is a microcosm for each of us who sing it. Its words, first spoken by a minister to an angry, distant unbeliever, somehow stuck with her until she wrote seven verses many years later. That music still sticks with us 175 years later. Some of us, like Charlotte, will get sick and maybe even invalid at 30 years of age. Or, we’ll make mistakes, hurting people around us. We’ll be distant from God occasionally, and probably angry when some well-meaning observer tells us the truth. Yet, the song tells us that those things ultimately don’t matter. Consider the word that Charlotte chose to use over and over again. Just. Such a short word, isn’t it? I’m just human, and I’ll never be good enough for a holy God. I cannot escape Him, nor the capricious nature of my own heart. That’s the bottom line of this song, and of this life I live. I’m just me, and that’s all I can offer Him. But, God is just Himself, too. And, He’s a just -- a fair and justice-seeking – God. He cannot help being who He is, too. Is that why people still respond to “Just As I Am” in stadium crusades today, 175 years later? It’s a simple proposition… just me to a just God. You got a better deal somewhere else? Stories of Charlotte Elliot can be found at the following website: A version of Charlotte Elliott’s song story is in “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.

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