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Strength Amidst Suffering: Lessons from the Life of Charlotte Elliott

Grace Pike April 11, 2019

“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.”


            Charles Haddon Spurgeon treasured this “precious hymn” written by Charlotte Elliott. Well-known for its use in the Billy Graham Crusades, “Just As I Am” is one of many hymns composed by Elliott. With ten hymns included in Spurgeon’s “Our Own Hymn Book,”  hers is one of the most represented female voices in the compilation. In addition to savoring and sharing her hymns, Spurgeon once used the story of Elliott’s conversion in one of his sermons at the Metropolitan Tabernacle as an illustration of God’s providence. But who was this woman “who gave herself up to Jesus” and garnered the respect of the Prince of Preachers?


            Charlotte Elliott was born on March 18th, 1789, in Clapham, London. From her youth Elliott was well-educated, allowing her the opportunity to cherish creative endeavors and cultivate her own practice of the arts. As she grew into young adulthood she became a fairly well-known socialite recognized for her gifting as a portrait artist. Though she lived a vibrant and exciting life, Elliott felt its emptiness when she began to suffer from crippling fatigue at age 33. Only through God’s use of a visit from Rev. Dr. Cesar Malan of Geneva would Charlotte Elliott truly be granted fullness of life.


            Though she came from a godly family, Elliott did not put her faith in Christ until 1822— one year after becoming an invalid. For the rest of her days she prayed for God to remove her illness, and even when her struggle remained she did not embrace bitterness. This earthly trial caused her to seek the Lord and trust firmly in His purposes in her life. In one journal entry, she wrote: “if sickness and sorrow are the instruments which He is pleased to select for refining my dross, that I may come out as gold that is seven times purified, shall I not meekly lie passive in His hands, and have no will but His?”


            Oh, what a heart posture to have! The “Prince of Preachers” himself said, “If I am asked what my inmost heart prays for, I should reply, The heart of my prayer is — ‘The will of the Lord be done.’ Is not this the essence, quintessence, and extract of the prayer by which our Savior taught us how to pray?” He later emphasized, “Is not this the finale of his own prayers, the entreaty of his passion… ’Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt?’”


            Spurgeon recognized this cry as Christ’s “deepest and yet his highest pleading.” This same plea was present in Charlotte Elliott. In 1834 at age 37, the earnest prayers of her heart poured over into her pen to create the stanzas of the hymn “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt”— hymn 699 in Spurgeon’s “Our Own Hymn Book”:


1          My God and Father !  while I stray

            Far from my home, in life’s rough way,

            Oh ! teach me from my heart to say,

                        “Thy will be done !”

2          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 !”

3          If 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 !”

4          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 !”

5          Then when on earth I breathe no more

            The prayer oft mix’d with tears before,

            I’ll sing upon a happier shore,

                        “Thy will be done !”


            This was Charlotte Elliott’s prayer throughout her life; even when she could not leave her bed and the task of lifting a pen or composing a letter seemed impossibly difficult.


            When she did have the strength to write, Elliot’s words demonstrated thoughtfulness and empathy the depths of which are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of one who has suffered much. Though she faced her own pains, she extended thoughtfulness and compassion to those suffering around her. She wrote poems, hymns, and letters to comfort those who suffered great agonies and loss; often writing and editing anonymously. Through the creativity gifted to her by God, she reminded them of the loving sovereignty and unchanging goodness of God with each pen stroke.


            On September 22, 1871, Charlotte Elliott reached that happier shore “where not a wave of trouble ever rolls across a sea of everlasting rest.” In winter of that same year Spurgeon sought solace from his own infirmities in Menton, France. Much like Elliott, he was well acquainted with pain and sorrow. But by God’s grace, both tirelessly heralded the Gospel to the broken world around them—even as they battled brokenness themselves. Both these saints were jars of clay, and longed to “put off their tent” and “enter their appointed rest.” Indeed, it was their hope of final consummation with Christ that empowered both to cry, “Thy will be done!”

Grace Pike is pursuing her Masters of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. She is an intern at Liberty Baptist Church and serves as a Spurgeon Scholar at The Spurgeon Library. It is her joy to continually be growing in the grace and knowledge of her Savior Jesus Christ, and her prayer to bring people from all nations into the everlasting, joyous satisfaction of knowing and worshipping Him.