"Just as I Am"
Charlotte Elliott (1836)
“I have to do more! I haven’t accomplished enough!” said the young woman. It was 1822, and she’d grown up among ministers and preachers all her life, though she hadn’t officially joined any church. But the Swiss preacher, himself a writer of hymns — as she would later become— would have none of it. “You must cut the cable now,” he said. The wind was before her — “the Spirit of God, and eternity.” She’d go back to that lesson again and again in her life, and maybe it’s a lesson that hard-pushing Americans should take heed of, too, if there are any of that breed left among us! Charlotte Elliott grew up in a time and a place when work was to take the place of holiness. “Blessed is he who has found his work,” said that mighty Scotsman, Thomas Carlyle. “Let him ask no other blessedness.”
Well, we do ask for another and a far greater blessing, and I think that Carlyle himself did, at his best. Miss Elliott did cut that cable, but still she often felt that she hadn’t done enough, and so one night in 1836, just before a big bazaar to raise money for a good Christian cause, she was paralyzed with doubt. If we have only ourselves to depend on, we might as well limp around with a hollow reed for a cane. But the lesson came back to her: the work is God’s, and we resign ourselves up to Him. So she wrote the poem, “Just As I Am,” not meaning that we could simply shrug and say that we were going to be whatever we felt like being, and God would make it all right. It’s a poem about trusting in the promise of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: a poem not about indifference or pride, but love.
And that’s the crux of it all. Someone I have known all my life had a father who loved him in that way that some fathers have, and mothers too — letting him know how proud he was of the boy’s accomplishments, but somehow letting him know too that he had some standards to live up to. It was too great a load to bear. It didn’t end up as a disaster, no, but it was a disappointment. Imagine the Lord saying to us, “Well, you weren’t worth much, but come on in anyway.” Is that the greeting we long for? We know we aren’t worth much, apart from God. We want to hear instead, what the father says to his son in the gift of love that is better than any rosy opinion we can have of ourselves, “Well done!” And it will be well done, if we let God work in us and through us, and then we can say that we are more than conquerors.
So then — here is our Hymn of the Week, sung by the Kings’ College Choir to a melody specially composed for it, the sweet, gentle, yet quietly powerful Saffron Walden.
Word & Song by Anthony Esolen is a reader-supported online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. To receive new posts and support this work, become a free or paid subscriber.
Failed to render LaTeX expression — no expression found
" Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh sí (praise the young and they will flourish). This is an old Irish, or Gaelic, piece of wisdom." Remains relevant.
What a beautiful hymn whose text suggests the Confiteor in the Latin Mass just before reception of Holy Communion. When I was stationed in a very remote base in Japan where certain Protestants had no ministers for communion and who asked to attend Mass AND receive, we applied to the Ordinary for permission to exercise Canon 844 paragraph 3 & 4 which was granted. The Chaplain was required to assess the belief in the Eucharist to be the same as Catholics, which it was. Given all of that, and to make them comfortable in coming to communion we used this hymn from time to time at the Catholic 'altar call'. In that remote time and place in providing what Cannon Law calls a 'genuine spiritual advantage' for those not yet in full communion...an exception was carefully managed for the good of others. Thank you for this beauty!