We are living in uncertain times. This is a truth that can be applied to any “time,” of course, because no human knows the future. Jesus implores us not to worry about what tomorrow may bring because we have absolutely no control over tomorrow. Each day, he said (recorded for us in Matthew 6) has enough trouble of its own. These days are certainly bringing most of us enough trouble of its own.
In times like these I find solace in the Scriptures to be sure, but also in reading biographies of those who lived through difficult times and yet somehow found hope and purpose in life. Many of those who have lived through severe trials and prevailed, interestingly enough, were also poets, which is another bonus for me. Charlotte Elliot was one of these type of people.
When Charlotte was a young woman living in Clapham, England, a travelling evangelist by the name of Henri Malan was assigned to sit at her table during a gathering in her city. During the conversation Mr. Malan asked Charlotte if she knew Christ. The question offended her, and elicited an apology from Malan for the inadvertent offense.
Weeks later, however, Charlotte found that she could not shake the question. By God’s grace she encountered Malan again and told him that she could not get his question out of her head, and she wondered if he might explain to her how one would come to know Jesus. “You have nothing of merit to bring to God,” he told her, “You must come as you are.” Charlotte had spent most of her life trying to perform noble deeds for God, yet doing so had only left her cold toward him. Now suddenly with Malan’s words she found hope, and her life was changed.
Not many years later, Charlotte was struck with a disabling disease. She would spend the next 50 years of her life as an invalid. She found relief from her pain in writing poetry, the most famous of which was transposed into a hymn still known by many 200 years later. Here is the title verse: Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou biddest me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. The English poet William Wordsworth loved her work. He read this very poem to his daughter repeatedly while she was on her deathbed.
Elliot died in 1871, but not before she had demonstrated in word and deed what it means to be transformed by Jesus Christ. She understood suffering, and she understood that one’s physical condition does not determine how one might be used by God. She took what God had given her (even when he had given others so much more) and used it for his glory, refusing to allow self-pity and pain to keep her from utilizing her gifts. She wrote beautiful poetry, and although most of it is forgotten in our day, it still resonates with this pastor who must empathize with many who suffer daily in life. It also teaches me to be grateful for what I have been given and careful to never take God’s gifts for granted. “Just As I Am” is her most famous poem, but this is my favorite:
O Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living bright reality
More precious to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen,
More dear, more intimately nigh,
Than even the sweetest earthly tie.
And Thou, blest vision of my soul,
Hast made my broken nature whole,
Hast purified my base desires,
And kindled passion’s holiest fires!
My nature Thou hast lifted up
And filled me with a glorious hope.
Nearer and nearer still to me
Thou living, loving Savior be,
Brighter the vision of Thy face,
More glorious still Thy words of grace,
Till life shall be transformed to love,
A heaven below, a heaven above.
Grace and peace,