Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come
So reads the first of seven verses of Just as I am, penned by Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871), a devout and cultured woman, who wrote six volumes of hymns full of consolation for those ‘in sickness and sorrow’. At the head of Just as I am when it was first published were the words of Jesus, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6.37 AV).
What I wonder comes to your mind, when you hear those words Just as I am? For many Christians the hymn is first and foremost associated with the ‘invitation’ Billy Graham used to give at his evangelistic ‘crusades’ when he invited ‘seekers’ to come forward and ‘receive Christ’. Indeed, Billy Graham entitled autobiography is entitled Just as I am [HarperCollins, 1997].
For me Just as I am brings particular memories of Frank Amos Goodwin, a gifted Welsh evangelist, who was pastor of Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood, in South London. As a teenager I was a member of his church. He was a wonderful preacher, who combined a strange mixture of formality and informality: on the one hand, he always wore ‘tails’ on a Sunday, for he argued ‘If I went to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen I would have to wear tails; so why should I not wear tails when I come into the presence of the King of kings’; and yet he was amazingly relaxed and cheerful, as he bounded up the steps into the pulpit. Under his ministry the church experienced a remarkable moving of God’s Spirit. Every month, it seemed, there was a baptismal service: the congregation had only to sing Just as I am twice over and by the end of that baptismal service sufficient people had come forward in response to Frank Goodwin’s ‘altar call’ to warrant another baptismal service the coming month!
As a result for me Just as I am has always been associated with conversion. Indeed, consulting Hymns That Live (Hodder & Stoughton, 1980) by Frank Colqhoun, a former Vice-Dean of Norwich Cathedral, I discovered that the opening line of the hymn is very much linked with Charlotte Elliott’s own conversion. According to Colqhoun, in 1822, when her father was vicar of Clapham, A Swiss evangelist, Dr César Malan, came to stay in their home.
He closely observed the young woman [Charlotte] who despite her strong Christian background, appeared to him to be restless and unhappy. Had she found God’s peace? Was she really a Christian? He decided he must ask her, and did so. She resented his question, and more or less told him to mind his own business…. [However] the question stuck in Charlotte’s mind. She could not evade the issue; and some days later she sought out Dr Malan, apologised for her rudeness, and admitted, ‘I do want to come to Christ, but I don’t know how to come’. ‘Come to him just as you are’ was his answer. The simple words were enough. She came just as she was, and found peace in her heart.
But it wasn’t until 1834 that she penned the hymn, Just as I am. By that stage Charlotte had moved to Brighton and was living with her brother, the Rev Henry Venn Elliott. One day. when everyone in her family had gone to a church bazaar to raise funds for a charity school, Charlotte was left alone, confined by illness. Depressed with feelings of uselessness and loneliness, she recalled Dr Malan’s words, “Come to him just as you are” and wrote the hymn, then and there. This was for Charlotte not a ‘conversion’ hymn, but rather a hymn of ‘consecration’ or ‘rededication’. As a result in some hymn books this hymn is to be found in the Holy Communion section. Indeed, it was immediately following the receiving of Bread and Wine last Sunday morning that I sang Just as I am. As I sang, I noted, initially with surprise, how fitting a communion hymn it was, with its constant refrain ‘O Lamb of God, I come’.
Furthermore, within a setting where worshippers are invited to come forward to receive communion, the very act of coming forward provides a great opportunity to respond again to the love of Christ. As I stood there receiving Bread and Wine, I repeated in my heart the words of the Apostle Paul, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.20) and in so doing gave myself back to him. I went on to renew my baptismal vows, and rededicated myself to serving Christ in the week that lay head ahead. Yes, on reflection, Just as I am is not just a great hymn of conversion, but also a great hymn of ‘consecration – as hymn that is equally fitting both at a baptismal service as at a communion service. Jesus continues to welcome me ‘just as I am’.
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