Miss Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871
These notes are taken from Dr. Julian's Hymnology and from Knapp's "Who wrote our Hymns".
Miss Elliott was the daughter of Charles Elliott of Clapham and Brighton and grand-daughter of the Rev. H. Venn of Huddersfield. She was born March 18th. 1789. The first 32 years of her life were spent mostly at Clapham. In 1823 she removed to Brighton and died there Sept. 22nd. 1871. To her aquaintance with Dr. C. Malan of Geneva is attributed much of the deep spiritual-mindedness which is so pronounced in her hymns. Though weak and feeble in body, she possessed a strong imagination and a well cultured and intellectual mind. Her love of poetry and music was great and is reflected in her verse. Her hymns number about 150, a large proportion of which is in common use. The finest and most widely known of these are: "Just as I am" and "My God, my Father while I stray". 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.
The history of the writing of "Just as I am, without one plea".— In the Record, Oct. 15th. 1897, Bishop H.C.G. Moule of Durham, the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, gave a most interesting account of Miss Elliott, and the origin of this hymn. Dr. Moule, who is related to the family, derived his information from family sources. In an abbreviated form, this is the beautiful story — "Ill health still beset her. Besides its general trying influence on the spirit, it often caused her the peculiar pain of a seeming uselessness in her life, while the circle round her was full of unresting serviceableness for God. Such a time of trial marked the year 1834, when she was 45 years old and was living in Westfield Lodge, Brighton ... Her brother, the Rev. H.V. Elliott, had not long before conceived the plan of St. Mary's Hall at Brighton, a school designed to give at nominal cost, a high education to the daughters of clergymen; a noble work which is to this day carried on with admirable ability and large success. In aid to St.Mary's Hall there was to be held a bazaar... Westfield Lodge was all astir; every member of the large circle was occupied morning and night in preparation with the one exception of the ailing sister Charlotte — as full of eager interest as any of them, but physically fit for nothing. 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 until she questioned the reality of her whole spiritual life, and wondered whether it was 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 .... the troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered by the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the grand 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 ... so in verse she restated to herself the Gospel of pardon, peace and heaven.... there, then, always, not at some past moment, but "even now" she was accepted in the Beloved, "Just as I am". As the day wore on, her sister-in-law, Mrs. H.V. Elliott, came in to see her and bring news of the work. She read the hymn and asked (she well might) for a copy. So it first stole out from that quiet room into the world, where for sixty years it has been sowing and reaping, until a multitude which only God can number has been blessed through the message".
The hymn "Just as I am without one plea" was first published in the "Invalid's Hymn Book, 1836" in 6 stanzas, headed with the text, "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out". The hymn has been transferred to almost every hymnal published i
n English-speaking countries during the past fifty years. It has been translated into every European language, and into the languages of many distant lands. The testimony of Miss Elliott's brother, (the Rev. H.V. Elliott, editor of Psalms and Hymns, 1835) to the great results arising from this one hymn is very touching. He says, "In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's". It ranks with the finest hymns in the English language. Its success has given rise to many imitations.
Under the date of Jan. 26th. 1872, the Rev. J. Babbington, brother-in-law to Miss Elliott, wrote to the late D. Sedgwick concerning Miss Elliott's hymn "O Jesus, make Thyself to me", "the lines you refer to (O Jesus make Thyself to me) are Miss Charlotte Elliott's. They were for many years the private expression of her own daily prayers, and were so much a part of her own hidden life with her Saviour that they were rarely communicated by her to any one, and only to her most intimate friends. One of those had them printed on a card by Taylor (Edinburgh 1860) and at first she was rather disconcerted, till she was led to feel that this was her loved Saviour's way of leading others to the participation in her own sacred inner life. The lines were:
O Jesus, make Thyself to me,
A living bright reality:
More present to faith's vision keen,
Than any outward object seen:
e dear, more intimately rich,
Than e'en the sweetest earthly tie".
An indication of her serious bent of mind and her object in writing is expressed in an introduction to one of her books of poems: 'Not for the gay and thoughtless do I weave these plaintive strains".
Christopher Knapp's Account:
Miss Elliott's father was a godly man at whose house the servants of Christ were often entertained. It was through a visit of one of these, Dr Cesar Malan, of Geneva, that Charlotte was converted and later wrote her celebrated hymn, "Just as I am". The story is as follows:
One evening, as they sat conversing, the servant of God turned the subject to our personal relation with God, and asked Charlotte if she knew herself to be really a Christian. She was in poor health and often harassed with severe pain, which tended to ma
ke her irritable. A severe illness had left her a permanent invalid. She resented the question thus pointedly put, and petulantly answered that religion was a matter she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Malan replied in his usual kind manner, that he would not pursue a subject that displeased her, but would pray that she might give her heart to Christ, and employ in His service the talents with which He had gifted her. It seems that the Holy Spirit used her abrupt and almost rude conduct towards God's servant to show her what depths of pride and alienation from God were in her heart. After several days of spiritual misery, she apologised for her unbecoming conduct, and confessed that his question had troubled her greatly. "I am miserable" she said, "I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don't know how". "Why not come just as you are?", answered Malan. "You have only to come to Him just as you are". Little did Malan think that his simple reply would be repeated in song by the whole Christian world! Further conversation followed, and this good man was enabled to make perfectly clear to the once proud but now penitent young lady God's simple way of salvation through Christ; that on the ground of His shed blood for us, all who from their heart believe are accepted of God. Miss Charlotte came as a sin
ner to Christ, and remembering this event wrote the hymn that has made her name famous everywhere. Miss Elliott was possessed of rare literary gifts and when in the year 1836 she assumed the editorship of the "Yearly Remembrancer", she inserted in the first number, this now long-famous hymn — without her name. A commentator says of this hymn, "With its sweet counsel to troubled minds it found its way into magazines and other publications, and in devout persons' scrap books; then into religious circles and chapel assemblies; and finally into the hymnals of the church universal". Some time after its publication, a lady, struck by its beauty and spiritual value, had it printed in leaflet form for circulation in cities and towns of the kingdom. Miss Elliott, in feeble health, was then in Torquay in Devonshire, under the care of an eminent physician. One day the doctor, who was an earnest Christian man, put one of these leaflets into his patient's hands, saying that it had been helpful to him and 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. We know not which to admire most, the beauty of the composition, or the lovely modesty of its author, who for so many years forbore to divulge its origin.
ther died in 1833, and ten years later her mother and two sisters. Then the home at Brighton was given up, and Charlotte Elliott went to live with her only surviving sister on the Continent. Later they lived for fourteen years at Torquay. After this they went again to Brighton to live, where our author remained until her home-call, Sept 22nd, 1871, at the advanced age of eighty-two.
Knapp tells the story of Miss Elliott's conversion. Dr. Moule tells the story of the writing of the hymn, which no doubt was based upon the experience of her conversion which she drew upon in her spiritual conflict.
Miss Elliott's hymns in 'Spiritual Songs' are: 282, "'Christian, seek not yet repose", (a new hymn to the Little Flock Hymn Book) and 465 "O Holy Saviour, Friend unseen". Number 282 has rapidly become a favourite hymn in prayer and ministry meetings. Verses 3 & 4 were written by Mrs Hazel Dixon of Stockport.
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