Charlotte Eliot was born in England in 1789. Her parents were wealthy, and for 20-some years she lived a care-free, fun-filled life. Then, she was struck with a crippling disease, and by her early 30’s she was a bedridden invalid. She became depressed, bitter, and angry at God. She would often be rude and mean to anyone who got close to her. Even though her father, grandfather, uncles, cousins, and brothers were all ministers, and she herself had been a faithful Christian, her illness embittered he so much that she lost her faith. “If God loved me,” she said, “he would not have treated me like this.”
Eliot’s emotional outbursts came often and were directed at family and guests. After one great outburst, the whole family left the room in embarrassment. Only the guest remained, and he challenged her. He said, “You are tired of yourself, aren’t you? You are holding on to your despair and anger because you think you have nothing else to cling to.” For once, she calmed down and simply said, “What can I do?” And the guest replied, “You must come, just as you are, to Jesus. Come with your fears and your anger, your temper and your pride, and he will replace all that with love and peace.” As a pastor’s daughter she knew all about Jesus already, but something about the way he said, ‘come just as you are’ spoke to her in a new way.
She began to change that very day. As time went on, she found and claimed John 6:37 as a special verse for herself. There Jesus says, “He that comes to me I will by no means cast out.” Her faith grew and she began to accept her afflictions. She lived an invalid for another 50 years, dying at the age of 82.
In 1834, 14 years after that life-changing conversation, Charlotte Eliot wrote about that experience. She was living with her brother’s family in Brighton, England. He was a pastor and had been raising money to start a school for underprivileged children. One day his church was hosting a fundraiser. Everyone was gone from the house, busy getting ready for the event. Charlotte stayed at home, where she always had to stay; and on this day, the old feelings of uselessness started coming back to her. She then thought back to that conversation of several years before. She began to write a poem, and by the end of the day, she had completed it. She wrote: “Just as I am, without one plea; But that thy blood was shed for me; and that thou bidst me come to thee, Oh lamb of God, I come.”
She wrote five more verses. Verse three is especially descriptive of her condition: “Just as I am, though tossed about, by many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, Oh Lamb of God, I come.” And then in the last verse, “Just as I am, thy love unknown, has broken every barrier down.” She certainly had many barriers to break through to her angry and bitter soul.
The words were soon put to music, the hymn caught on, and publishers were glad to pay her to print it. She gave all money she received from the hymn to her brother’s school. Charlotte Eliot wrote 150 other hymns, but only this one is still widely used. As her loved ones sifted through her papers after her death, they found over a thousand letters from people expressing their gratitude for the way this hymn had touched their lives.
Concerning her afflictions, Charlotte Eliot once wrote, “God knows, and He alone, what it is day after day, hour after hour, to fight against a constant feeling of almost overpowering weakness and exhaustion; and to have to resolve every hour to not yield to sloth, depression, and moodiness. My body tells me to give up, but every morning I rise and determine to take for my motto what Jesus said, ‘If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” She came to believe that God had a purpose in her great sufferings, and that was to prepare her for the ministry of comfort and consolation, as the Bible says, bringing to others such comfort as we ourselves have received. This great hymn can speak to everyone, because the only thing any of us can do is come to the Lord, and let him receive us and change us. If we had to make ourselves worthy to come to the Lord, we would all be lost. So, says Charlotte Eliot, we can indeed come, just as we are, without any other plea except that we have been invited by the Lord himself.
Many people think of Billy Graham when they hear this hymn because for over 50 years “Just As I Am” was sung during the altar call after his sermons. Why? Because it was this hymn that was being sung at a revival meeting in in 1932 when a 14 year old Billy Graham went forward to give his life to the Lord.
John 6:37b — (Jesus said), “…Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Mark 8:34 — Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
I Corinthians 1:3-4 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst 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.