Friday, October 7, 2011

Just As I Am

Among the most wondrous and precious truths of the Christian faith is that, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) This is almost beyond human understanding: the divine and perfectly innocent suffering humiliation, abandonment, and death to save mortal, selfish sinners--and all the while knowing that they had, or would, turn their backs on Him, over and over again. But as He explained in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7), Christ came not for the "ninety and nine just persons," (in other words, those who think they are just) but for the repentant sinner. He didn't wait until we had made ourselves worthy of His sacrifice (which would be impossible in any event); he simply gave all on the Cross, for the sake of saving that one "sheep which was lost." That is why those who seek Him need bring nothing but a "broken heart; and . . . a contrite spirit." (Psalm 34:18) To the reach of His mercy and saving grace it matters not what the repentant sinner has done or failed to do, or the depths to which he or she fallen. "[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37)

That is the compelling message of Just As I Am, called by some "the world’s greatest soul-winning hymn." It was written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliott (1789 – 1871), an English poet and hymn writer, and was set to music by American composer and chorister William Batchelder Bradbury (1816 – 1868). Miss Elliott, who was a suffering invalid for much of her adult life, has been described as "one of the sweetest though saddest of Christian singers." (Nutter, Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church, 1915).

Charlotte Elliott and William B. Bradbury

There are many accounts relating how the hymn came to be written. Essentially, as a young woman Miss Elliott met the eminent minister César Malan. She told him, "I am miserable . . . I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don't know how." Milan answered, "Why not come just as you are? . . . You have only to come to Him as you are." One day years later, converted to Christ but still frail and in pain, Miss Elliott became severely distressed with her inability to help her minister brother raise funds for a new school, and even began to question her faith. Confronting her doubts and despair--and remembering what Rev. Malan had once counseled her--she resolved to set down in writing "the formulae of her faith," and proceeded to write the hymn we know today as Just As I Am. The following year she published it anonymously in a magazine she edited and, unbeknownst to her, it gradually found its way into scrapbooks, magazines, and other publications. Years after that the now aging Miss Elliott's doctor put into her hand a leaflet containing the words of the hymn, saying that it had helped him and that he felt sure she would like it. The surprise and pleasure was mutual when she recognised her own hymn and he discovered that she was the author (click here for an inspiring video from The Worship Network that tells the story of this great hymn along with stunning photography and music).

Just As I Am eventually became one of the most famous and beloved hymns in Christendom. It was the signature altar call song in the Billy Graham crusades of the last century, and Graham used the hymn's title as that of his 1997 book, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham.

Just As I Am is one of the most moving hymns I know. It reminds me not only of how freely the Lord receives us, notwithstanding our weaknesses and sins, but how we must approach Him daily: on our knees and in deepest remorse for our failings, yet in full faith that He will gather us to Him if we confess and sincerely repent of our sins. Whenever I hear this hymn my eyes moisten and I rejoice that my Great, Merciful God is willing--even eager--to receive me "just as I am."

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.

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, I come!

The moving power of this hymn can only be fully experienced when heard with William Bradbury's music. Here is an appealing traditional rendition by an unidentified choir (unfortunately, this is not a moving video):

Below is a sensitive solo rendition of the hymn by Christian songwriter and musician Brian Doerksen.

Let us approach our Lord with a contrite heart and in fullness of faith in His love, every day, just as we are!

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