Today, our Senior Pastor at our church, Alistair Begg, preached a fantastic Easter message. In the message, he discussed the three responses people have to the Easter claim that “Jesus is risen; he is risen indeed!” People hear the message of a resurrected Lord and Savior and they either scoff, “Can you believe such a thing?” Or they legitimately wonder “Can I believe such a thing?” Or, they actually do believe such a thing that God the Son would die, be buried in a tomb, but be raised from the dead as a resurrected Lord and King! Alistair did not leave his sermon with just a factual diagnosis of these three categories of people, but he discussed the way in which God the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of individual hearers of the Gospel and then actually enables believers to believe in Christ the Savior and King! He pastorally laid out the wonderful truth of salvation belonging to the Lord who sovereignly and lovingly calls repentant sinners to believe, compels them to believe, grants them faith, justifies them, strengthens their faith, and holds them fast! Alistair showed that it is God who calls us and produces in us the ability to go from ,”Can you believe such a thing?;” to “Can I believe such a thing?”; to actually believing in such a thing as Easter claims is true. Then, the service ended with Alistair giving a call for the people present to take a leap and actually pray a prayer confessing faith in the resurrected Lord and King, Jesus. The service ended with a rendition of “Just as I am,” just as so many evangelical sermons have ended with a rendition of the famous hymn over the course of the past 2 centuries.
This all led me to ask the questions, “Where did this hymn come from? How did this hymn become the one everyone uses at evangelical services and why?” I mean, even non-believers are fascinated by this hymn with the example being of 2 different Brand New albums containing a song with a radio broadcaster introducing the hymn and saying, “And now we sing that wonderful and grand ole message. I don’t know about you but I never get tired of it. Number 99 “Just as I am.” Think about it, if even an alt-rock band highlights the most used hymn in American history then it must mean its influence is far-wide-and continuing today.
So where did “Just as I am” come from and what is the song’s history? A few years back, Tim Challies wrote a helpful blog about “Just as I am,” and you can find it at challies.com with the title “Hymn Stories: Just as I am.” He highlights that “Just as I am is one of the few hymns for which we know not only the author’s story but also the exact circumstances in which it was write.” The hymn was written by a woman named Charlotte Elliot from Brighton, England. Mrs. Elliott was an invalid, so her cicrucmstances led her to a unique life of suffering and endurance. Challies then quotes Elliott’s nephew, Rev. Handley C.G. Moule,” who told of the circumstances surrounding the writing of “Just as I am.” The nephew recounts a particularly difficult situation for Charlotte Elliott in 1834 when her brother, the head of an all-girls school of higher education, held a bazaar with “every member of the large circle was occupied morning and night in the preparations, with the one exception of the ailing sister Charlotte– as full of eager interest as any of them, but physically fit for nothing.” On the night before the bazaar, Charlotte could not sleep because she was so troubled by her uselessness. Her feeling of uselessness caused her to question her faith, but the next day, the day of the bazaar she was again overcome with her awful thoughts from the night before. Her nephew recounts, “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 formula of her faith.'”
A few years after the writing of “Just as I am,” Charlotte Elliott submitted the hymn to be published in “The Invalid’s Hymn Book,” and this is from where the hymn gained popularity. How then did the hymn become such a central element of Billy Graham’s life and ministry, and the ministry of so many other evangelicals and evangelists thereafter? The answer to this is actually more straightforward than not, Billy Graham wanted to use this hymn at the end of each of his evangelical crusades, because he was so moved by its lyrics that he believed it was the best call upon individuals to come forth and make a decision for Christ. Graham said the hymn, “had the strongest possible biblical basis for the call of Christ.” Think about this paradox, a little known invalid woman suffering from depression and feeling useless penned the words to a song that became the hymn used at the altar call at the end of every single “crusade” of the most well-known evangelist in the history of the United States of America, Billy Graham. What a wonderful picture of how God works; He uses what is weak in the world for the sake of His glory; He uses the humble to shame the proud. What a story for Easter especially, the day when the so called (by some) no good carpenter from Galilee proved He was and is the risen and living Prophet, Priest, and King– the second person of the Holy Trinity; the Lord who rode into town on a donkey at the beginning of the week, was rejected by His own people, but then rose victoriously from the grave defeating sin and death.
Perhaps you read Thinkchristiandaily and you yourself are yet to believe in Jesus. I leave you with some of Charlotte Elliott’s words…
“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!”
If you find that you yourself can admit your sin and turn to Jesus trusting He is your Savior forever then you might say these words yourself.