Charlotte Elliott Hymnwriter

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

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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

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.