Just As I Am

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When I was in college, I snuck into a Billy Graham crusade in San Antonio, TX. I’m not proud of breaking the law to hear a preacher give a sermon, but it happened, so consider this my public confession.

I had received an early copy of his autobiography weeks before, and as a young Christian who was considering a life in ministry, I was captivated not necessarily by him or his celebrity, but by his humility and simplicity of message. How were so many people around the world responding to his messages decade after decade? He didn’t seem exciting enough or funny enough or entertaining enough, and yet he was already being considered one of the great communicators in history. I had to go hear him for myself. 

When we arrived at the football stadium where the rally was being held, officials had already begun turning people away from the entrances and encouraging all of us to listen to the sermon on loudspeakers that were set up in a nearby park. In an act of college-aged foolishness, my friends and I found a back door that was propped open, leading us to a service entrance elevator that, in turn, quickly delivered us to the club level. There were no seats open, so we stood and waited for the rally to begin. 

Nearly 250,000 people attended the rally over a five day span that week in early April 1997, and I read recently that over 22,000 people came forward and gave their life to Christ that week inside that football stadium. The song that was played at the end of each night as people all across the stadium stood and began to walk forward to speak with someone about Jesus was the same song that played at the end of every Billy Graham rally for decades: “Just As I Am”. Billy loved the song so much that he named his autobiography “Just As I Am”.

I had heard the song many times before that night in San Antonio. I grew up in a Baptist church as the son of a music minister (that’s what they called worship leaders when I was a kid), so trust me, we sang that hymn at the end of nearly every church gathering…we sang it a lot! But I never knew the origin story of the song, and in hindsight, I had assumed it was written by Cliff Barrows, the long-time song leader for Billy Graham crusades. I was wrong. Here is the story, the meaning, and the resurgence of one of the great classic hymns of the Christian faith, “Just As I Am”:

Charlotte Elliot was an 18th century poet and Victorian hymn writer, and the granddaughter of a famous English preacher. She was always a writer from as far back as she can remember. In her youth, she became a well-known humorous poet and was critically acclaimed for her writing and poetry. At the age of 32, Charlotte became gravely ill and was presumed near death. She recovered, but that illness left her paralyzed and she would never walk again. She had developed a friendship with the famous Swiss hymnologist César Malan, who shared the gospel with Charlotte and encouraged her to yield her life to Christ and to use her literary talents for the glory of God. From that moment of conversion to the end of her life, Charlotte Elliot committed herself to writing hymns for the Church to sing. 

One evening in 1834, after moving to Brighton to live with her brother who would help care for her, she was left alone for many hours, helpless and lonely. Feelings of uselessness were overwhelming in her heart and mind. She was confined by her sickness, and in those quiet moments of isolation, God brought the words of César Malan to mind that he had shared with her years before: “Charlotte, come to Christ just as you are.” Those words brought great comfort and joy, knowing that Christ was not waiting for her to prove her worth and value — He was all the worth and value she would ever need, and the invitation was to simply come. 

She immediately began to write:

Just as I am, without one plea

But that thy blood was shed for me

And that thou bid’s 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 please 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 within, and fears without

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!

I hope you hear these words — penned by a paralyzed woman in the 19th century, sitting all alone in a dark house in the middle of Victorian England, reminded of the simplicity and overwhelming beauty of the gospel of Jesus. God is still using her words as a reminder to me and you today. 

We are never good enough on our own to come to Jesus. There is no checklist of righting our wrongs that must take place before we give our lives to him. The invitation is the same for us as it was for Charlotte, as it was for the thousands in the football arena that night in 1997, and as it is today as you read this wherever and whoever you are. Jesus’s invitation from Matthew 11 is exactly this:

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” 

Will you come? Do you believe that his promise is true? 

I pray that today, together we respond, “I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!”