Charlotte Elliott was born in Clapham, England on March 18, 1789. But despite her grandfather, father and brother being ministers of an evangelical persuasion, Miss Elliott showed little interest in spiritual things during the early years of her life.
“She had lived a carefree life, gained popularity as a portrait artist, and a writer of humorous verse,” says one biographer.
But then, in 1822, when she had become a rebellious 33 year-old invalid, a well-known Swiss evangelist, Dr Caesar Malan, was invited to visit the Elliott home. And when she “gave vent to one of her typical emotional outbursts, condemning God and His cruelty to her, and criticising her brother … sister … and father, for lack of sympathy” the family was highly embarrassed (Living Stories of Favourite Hymns, page 72). But Dr Malan confronted her with her need of Christ.
The story is told that when he asked if she was a Christian, Charlotte was at first aghast. However, the sword of the Spirit had done its work, and she later apologised to Dr Malan for her resentful response. “I want to be saved,” she said, “I want to come to Jesus: but I don’t know how.” “Why not come just as you are?” replied the famous Swiss preacher. And she did!
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About 12 years later she penned a hymn based on Dr Malan’s unforgettable reply, which had left an indelible impression:
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.
Her clergyman brother had apparently been involved in organising a bazaar to raise money for a church project. Miss Elliott, too ill to be of any practical help, wrote this hymn as her contribution, and as A.E. Bailey comments: “The sale of this hymn aided the cause more than any bazaar.” It was published in 1834, when her collected poems were issued under the title The Invalid’s Hymn Book, which included 112 from her pen, and became one of the most widely used evangelistic hymns the world has ever known.
Her brother later wrote: “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labours, but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s.”
As a person suffering from serious and permanent disability Charlotte was highly aware of the challenges such conditions bring. She wrote of it as follows: “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.”
Charlotte Elliott died on 22 September, 1871, at the age of 82.
A fuller description of Charlotte Elliott’s life is given in another post, dated September 22, 2008. The link to that post is: http://chrisfieldblog.com/ministry/church-history/charlotte-elliott-invalid
Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com