Dear Friends in Christ,
This week we will hear about the life of Charlotte Elliott and her famous hymn "Just as I am, without one plea (ELW #592). Charlotte had poor health her entire life and as a result was very weak and invalid. But she had a great imagination, was highly intelligent and a lover of poetry and song. In her lifetime she wrote over 150 hymns. Scholars have noted that "her verse is characterised by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm. For those in sickness and sorrow, she has sung as few others have done."
In my research I found a lot of interesting stories about how this famous hymn came to be. The most consistent of the stories is as follows:
John Brownlie described the hymn story in his book "Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church Hymnary". Charlotte's brother, the Kev. H. V. Elliott planned to hold an event designed to give, at a nominal cost, a high education to the daughters of clergymen supported by St Marys Church:
The night before the bazaar she was kept wakeful by distressing thoughts of her apparent uselessness ; and these thoughts passed by a transition easy to imagine into a spiritual conflict, till she questioned the reality of her whole spiritual life, and wondered whether it were anything better after all than an illusion of the emotions, an illusion ready to be sorrowfully dispelled. The next day, the busy day of the bazaar, she lay upon her sofa in that most pleasant boudoir set apart for her in Westfield Lodge, ever a dear resort to her friends." The troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered in the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the great certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation : her Lord, His power, His promise. And taking pen and paper from the table she deliberately set down in writing, for her own comfort, "the formulae of her faith." Hers was a heart which always tended to express its depths in verse. So in verse she restated to herself the Gospel of pardon, peace, and heaven. "Probably without difficulty or long pause" she wrote the hymn, getting comfort by thus definitely "recollecting" the eternity of the Rock beneath her feet. There, then, always, not only for some past moment, but " even now " she was accepted in the Beloved "Just as I am."
I think this story is so full of hope. Charlotte was in a dark place and by simply remembering that God loves her she put pen to paper, wrote from the heart, and ended up creating not only one of the most recognizable hymns but also a piece that has inspired and comforted people for generations. It really is the perfect anthem for this season of simple contemplation. God sent his only Son to save us from our sins because in God's eyes we are enough, just as we are, and we are capable of accomplishing tremendous things.