Posted by: Sherry Goodwin | June 24, 2013

Sisters in Hymnwriting

This is the first part of an article by Frances Ridley Havergal on Charlotte Elliott and published in a magazine.



Miss Elliott’s hymns are all heart-work; and whether written in the first, second, or third person we feel that she has lived every line; and this is why they touch other lives so magnetically. That which springs straight out of a living and beating heart is “poetry,” and lives; that which does not is just “rhyming,” and dies.


     It may take many a year of living to produce a hymn which comes to the surface in one flash of thought, and is written in ten minutes. Even the writer does not know when the true making of that hymn began: perhaps far back in childhood, or among the “mists of the valley” which have been left behind years ago. Neither do our hymn-writers know how even to-day they are living out hymns unthought of, which will not be ready for the readiest pen till ten or twenty years have fed the hidden and growing germ. But some sudden touch of earth’s tears or heaven’s sunlight will set them free, and the growth of half a lifetime will blossom in an hour. And that is not the end, for there may be fruit unto life eternal to follow.


     Such hymns are generally the simplest: every line is plain and clear; but it is the clearness of depth, very different from the mystical muddiness of verse shallows, that have only been thought out, not lived out.


     Such are Miss Elliott’s hymns. Any one might have been written in half an hour, but more than half a century of patient suffering went to the making of them. “From early years she was more or less of an invalid,” writes her sister, in the touching memorial prefixed to her poems [“Selections from the Poems of Charlotte Elliott. With a memoir by her sister.”] It is rarely that a life so full of weakness and pain is prolonged for eighty-two years, before the silver cord is loosed.


     But surely it was worth any suffering only to have written that one hymn, “Just as I am.” Could any greater crown be set upon any life than to have been made God’s messenger of peace to unknown thousands? We say thousands; but how could we count? All over the world that hymn has gone forth, and still goes — a bright, strong, heavensent hand, to lead sinful, sorrowful souls to the Lamb of God: some for the first time, others again and afresh. And the tale is not full yet; for it cannot die, as generations do. That refrain, “O Lamb of God, I come!” will ascend from many hearts in many lands and languages “till He come,” and sorrow and sighing flee away. “It is one of those hymns which can never be sung or printed too often.”


          “JUST AS I AM.”


Just as I am — without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee —
O Lamb of God, I come.


Just as Iam — 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.


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.


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.


Just as I am — Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe —
O Lamb of God, I come.


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


     It was not her doing. She only quietly placed it in “The Invalid’s Hymn-book” probably with no thought of its passing beyond the lonely and shadowy rooms which that was to reach. But she had laid it somewhere else first. She took it as her own jewel of faith, tear-shining and true, out of her own heart, and laid it at the Saviour’s feet. He took it up and sent it forth, as no human sending could have done, in the glorious strength of His blessing. One has said, what doubtless many have felt: — “I would rather have written that one hymn than all the sermons I ever preached.”


     Second only to this, which itself is perhaps second to none, is her touching hymn, “My God, my Father, while I stray.”


        “THY WILL BE DONE.”


My God, My Father, while I stray,
Far from my home, on life’s rough way,
Oh teach me from my heart to say,
Thy will be done.


Though dark my path and sad my lot,
Let me be still and murmur not;
Or breathe the prayer Divinely taught,
Thy will be done.


If Thou shouldst call me to resign
What most I prize, it ne’er was mine;
I only yield Thee what was Thine:
Thy will be done.


Let but my fainting heart be blest
With Thy sweet Spirit for its guest,
My God, to Thee I leave the rest —
Thy will be done.


Renew my will from day to day,
Blend it with Thine, and take away
All that now makes it hard to say,
Thy will be done.


Then, when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer oft mixed with tears before,
I’ll sing upon a happier shore,
Thy will be done.


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