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Just as I am: to be the best that I can be

5 May 2013

Mary Anne HearnTwo Hymns, Two Ways?
In older hymn books – all hymn books are old, but some are older than others – there are two hymns with the first line, Just as I am…
I sang both when I was young. One of them was popularised by Billy Graham in the 1950s and that probably explains why it has survived into Hymns for Today’s Church.

The first was by Miss Charlotte Elliot. In 1836, she was visiting friends in London and met a famous minister Cesar Malan. As supper, he said he hoped she was a Christian. She took offence and replied that she would rather not discuss that question. Dr Malan said that he was sorry if he had offended her, that he always liked to speak a word for his Master, and he hoped that the young lady would some day become a worker for Christ. When they met again, three weeks later, Charlotte told him that ever since he had spoken to her she had been trying to find her Saviour and that she now wished him to tell her how to come to Christ. “Just come to him as you are, ” he said, and she went away rejoicing. Shortly afterward, she wrote this hymn.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst 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 cleanse 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 and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

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, 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.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

(http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/u/justasam.htm)

To be the best…

The second ‘Just as I am’ hymn was deemed unworthy of a place in Hymns for Today’s Church. I wonder why?

Just as I am, thine own to be,
Friend of the young, who lovest me,
to consecrate myself to thee,
O Jesus Christ, I come.

In the glad morning of my day,
my life to give, my vows to pay,
with no reserve and no delay,
with all my heart I come.

I would live ever in the light,
I would work ever for the right;
I would serve thee with all my might;
therefore, to thee I come.

Just as I am, young, strong, and free,
to be the best that I can be
for truth, and righteousness, and thee,
Lord of my life, I come.

With many dreams of fame and gold,
success and joy to make me bold,
but dearer still my faith to hold,
for my whole life, I come.

And for thy sake to win renown,
and then to take the victor’s crown,
and at thy feet to cast it down,
O Master, Lord, I come.

Malan said he hoped Charlotte Elliott would one day become a worker for Christ. She did not manage to get that note very strongly into her hymn. But Marianne Farningham did, partly because she was a long-term hardworker for Christ. For many years, she wrote for The Christian World and edited The Sunday School Times – big circulation papers in her day. One Sunday at her Baptist Church in Northampton, there was no one to lead the girls’ Bible class. She volunteered to help until someone could be found to take it on in the longer term – and so, as often happens, she got landed, and did it for the rest of her life, becoming very important to many girls. She not merely taught but befriended actively. She was really a worker for Christ.
And working with young people clearly informs her hymn: even though she grew old, they helped to keep her young. She did not simply see Jesus for what he meant for her personally, but knew him as the ‘Friend of the young’. So she could give the young words: this hymn is a prayer of dedication for someone ‘in the glad morning of my day’. It is full of youthful vision, ambition and active energy: ‘to be the best that I can be’. In simple memorable phrases, it spells out wisdom for living: that is one reason why I am grateful I got some these words unforgettably into my head when I was very young and they challenge and guide me still. ‘I would live ever in the light, I would work ever for the right…’ Line after line lights up one part of living and then another, giving clues about value and spurs to perseverance. This hymn is a celebration of life as a gift and a calling to be lived actively and intelligently and faithfully. As much as Charlotte Elliott’s hymn, it is about life with and for Jesus Christ, but in significantly different ways.

We no longer sing this hymn. And there is little or nothing in our repertoire to fill the gap left by it, nothing to do soul-saving, life-forming work like it. Do we know how to put practical wisdom into Christian song? Can we spell out the vision of a ‘whole life’ so that young – and old – can get on living a lifetime for the Master? Do we see Jesus as Master? In our culture, when apprenticeship is scarce, we don’t see the Christian life as working for the Master.

Maybe it is good for our humanity that we have got free of all this Victorian earnestness and work-ethic and our Christianity has become an option for our leisure time. Or maybe not.

For more on Marianne Farningham, see, for example, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/farningham/bio.html
For something on Charlotte Elliott see http://www.christianity.com/ChurchHistory/11630559/

Haddon Willmer

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