‘Just as I am, without one plea
but that your blood was shed for me,
and that you would my Saviour be,
O Lamb of God, I come.’
(Written in 1836 by Charlotte Elliott 1789–1871 Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement 335, Together in Song 584 or find it online at hymnal.net or YouTube)
In the early 1800s, Charlotte Elliott led a privileged life among the London social set. Her father was an academic, her brothers were Church of England priests, and her grandfather had been prominent during the Christian revival that swept across England in the 1700s. In the early 1820s, Elliott suffered from an illness which left her with a permanent physical disability. She turned to Christ and devoted her life to writing poetry, editing Christian journals and composing about 150 hymns.
Just as I am is one of her best-known hymns, using the tune composed by A H Brown in 1877. In the mid–1900s Billy Graham used it extensively in his global crusades. It was so popular that in 1973 the LCA included it in the new Lutheran Hymnal. Perhaps we sing it less often today than we used to, but when we do, we still sing it loudly and clearly. It is a true Christian classic which speaks to the heart.
It’s one of a small selection from our hymnal that features strong personal piety of a ‘revivalist’ nature. During the Reformation, the reformers introduced hymn singing into worship as a form of teaching the faith. The LCA’s hymnal committee, therefore, generally chose doctrinal or scriptural hymns, often translated from German. Just as I am, while faithful to Scripture and church doctrine, also contains a deep sense of personal piety. The word ‘I’, for instance, is constantly repeated, as in the words that end every verse, ‘O Lamb of God, I come’. Lutherans correctly emphasise that God comes to us, rather than the other way around. God became flesh and lived among us, so it is God who finds us, not we who find God. Even so, we know that in our daily lives, through myriad choices, we will do things that either lead us toward faith or away from it – such as deciding to love our neighbour even though we might not like them or getting up and going to church on Sunday even when we just don’t feel like it.
Each verse of Just as I am reveals God’s mercy to us despite our failure to love him. Like all the best Christian songs, it is a prayer: not boasting or arrogant or proud, but humble, grace-filled and Christ-centred. Each line throbs with the genuine heartache and longing of a broken life. It does not wallow in misery, but finds hope in simple surrender, leading to Christ. ‘Now to be yours, and yours alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.’
Such unpretentious, humble surrender is a hallmark of Christian spirituality. Our lives are fragile. Our only security is in the life to come, in Jesus Christ. In her hymn, however, Elliott did not use the title ‘Christ’ or the name ‘Jesus’. Instead, she chose the ‘Lamb of God’, a descriptive phrase that emphasises Christ’s humility, servanthood and willing sacrifice for our sins. By choosing this name, Elliott leads us away from indulgent self-pity or any sense of personal spiritual superiority, which are both forms of pride. Instead, she simply teaches us to sing, ‘O Lamb of God, I come’. What better way is there to spend our days on earth and prepare for the world to come, especially as we journey through this Lenten season?