Charlotte Elliott the Devotional Invalid

This is the day that … Charlotte Elliott died in 1871.

Born in Clapham, England (18 March, 1789), she achieved some fame as the writer of frivolous verse and a portrait artist. But by the age of 30 she was a bed-ridden invalid.

The visit of Swiss evangelist Cesar Malan led her to a knowledge of sins forgiven. And from that turning point in her life came the hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea” – although it was not written until 14 years after her conversion experience.

This account of her conversion explains her focus on the now famous words. One evening, as they sat conversing, the servant of God (Malan) turned the subject to our personal relation with God, and asked Charlotte if she knew herself to be really a Christian. She was in poor health and often harassed with severe pain, which tended to make her irritable. A severe illness had left her a permanent invalid.

She resented the question thus pointedly put, and petulantly answered that religion was a matter she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Malan replied in his usual kind manner, that he would not pursue a subject that displeased her, but would pray that she might give her heart to Christ, and employ in His service the talents with which He had gifted her.

It seems that the Holy Spirit used her abrupt and almost rude conduct towards God’s servant to show her what depths of pride and alienation from God were in her heart. After several days of spiritual misery, she apologised for her unbecoming conduct, and confessed that his question had troubled her greatly. “I am miserable” she said, “I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don’t know how”. “Why not come just as you are?“, answered Malan. “You have only to come to Him just as you are”. Little did Malan think that his simple reply would be repeated in song by the whole Christian world!

Charlotte kept much of her writings for private use, expressing to the Lord her deep devotion to Him and not intending the texts to be used by others. At times people took her notes and spread them on her behalf, much to her displeasure.

In time, however, she became accustomed to others benefiting from her personal lines and in 1836 she became the editor of Yearly Remembrancer, in which she inserted some of her works, without identifying herself as the author.

One lady printed copies of “Just As I Am” as a leaflet and sent them out to towns and cities in England. A doctor took a copy and offered it to his aging patient saying it had been helpful to him and thought it might bless her. It did indeed, since it was Charlotte herself who was his patient.

Charlotte Elliott died at the age of 82 and is still regarded as “one of the finest of all English women hymn writers”. She wrote about 150 hymns. Her verse is characterised by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm.

The testimony of Miss Elliott’s brother, (the Rev. H.V. Elliott, editor of Psalms and Hymns, 1835) to the great results arising from just one of his sister’s hymns (Just As I Am) is very touching. He says, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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