16. Just As I Am, Without One Plea.

16JustAsIAm

Listen to this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxA0TFe3-Uo

If I cannot fly, let me sing. Stephen Sondheim

As we blog our way through these 30 Great Hymns of the Faith, one might become convinced that ours is a study in music written by and for a gentleman’s club. But thank goodness, today’s hymn, Just As I Am, Without One Plea, breaks that theory and we now ponder on this enduring masterpiece written by one Charlotte Elliott, woman extraordinaire.

For many baby-boomers like myself, this popular hymn conjures up deep memories of the evangelistic crusades held worldwide by one of the greatest evangelists of the twentieth century, Billy Graham. If you’ve ever read my story of how I came to faith in Jesus, you know that I gave my heart to Christ on numerous occasions as my parents and I sat in front of our black and white television set, eyes glued on this one amazing man, Dr. Billy Graham as he preached the gospel with clarity and strength. Back in the day, the three major American television networks (ABC, NBC & CBS) would often air his evening crusades from start to finish, and at each one, Graham would always conclude his stirring talks with the words “I’m going to ask you now to get up out of your seats…and come.”

Just at that moment, the massive choir in these large stadiums would stand and Graham’s musical director, Cliff Barrows, would lead the voices in singing, Just As I Am, Without One Plea. As the story goes, Dr. Graham gave his heart to Christ one night back in 1934 in Charlotte, North Carolina (how ironic!). Evangelist Mordecai Ham asked for Charlotte Elliott’s famed altar song that evening, and Billy Graham’s life was changed forever and so was the history of Christianity throughout North America and beyond!

Now, let me tell you the rest of the story that lies beneath the writing of this great hymn.

Charlotte Elliott was born in England in 1789. A God-fearing woman, Charlotte was gifted as a portrait artist and a writer of humorous verse. At age 32, she suffered a serious illness that left her physically weakened and unable to walk for much of the remainder of her life. As it is so many times in life, this physical limitation also brought on a heavy veil of depression that left Charlotte struggling with feelings of aloneness and isolation from God.

Dr. Cesar Milan, a traveling evangelist and friend of the Elliott family, came visiting one evening for dinner and the conversation turned to God. Out of her pain and hopelessness, Charlotte expressed a great displeasure in the discussion and left the dinner table, leaving Dr. Milan to wonder what he had said that was so distasteful. Later that week, Charlotte came to the good doctor, apologizing for her behavior, and that led to a wonderful, kind conversation where Dr. Milan suggested to Charlotte that she simply bring her troubled heart and deep frustrations to Jesus, and “come, just as you are to Him.”

Some years later, at the age of 45, Charlotte lay awake one night, distressed to tears once again over her continuing battle with her physical limitations and her depression. It was in the midst of that battle, the words of Dr. Milan, spoken 13 years earlier, once again surfaced to help her through this season of pain. As a family friend wrote later in his journal, here’s what happened next:

The next day…the troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered in the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, His power, His promise. And taking pen and paper from the table she deliberately set down in writing, for her own comfort, ‘the formulas of her faith.’ So in verse she restated to herself the Gospel of pardon, peace, and heaven. There, then, always, not only at some past moment, but ‘even now,’ she was accepted in the Beloved, ‘Just as I am.’

Here, for the sake of all of us, who from time to time, struggle with the many battles found in this life, is the Charlotte’s ‘formulas of faith’ written that day in 1834…

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

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive;
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love,
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above:
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

In the end, hymn writing provided a way for Charlotte Elliott to cope with her pain and depression. Before she died in 1871, she wrote nearly 150 hymns, most of which were published in her Invalid’s Hymn Book (several editions, 1834-1854), Hymns for a Week (1839), and Thoughts in Verse on Sacred Subjects (1869). Most of these hymns reflect her chronic pain and illness but also reveal how faith in Jesus gave her perseverance and hope. None better is Just As I Am, Without One Plea.

My prayer: Father God, thank You for the hope and peace that comes to us when we come to You just as we are. Thank You for the reminder that You don’t expect me to hide my pain nor deny my frustrations, but simply come. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: What burdens and frustrations am I carrying today that I’m trying to hide from God? How can I take the advice of Dr. Milan, and rather than denying the pain and sorrow, I simply come to Jesus in the midst of my current situation, inviting Him into all of it; the good, the bad, and the ugly?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?

Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others! Click here to go on to the next blog in our series.

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