Just As I Am, without One Plea

Charlotte Elliott, 1836
Addressed to God the Son
Just as I am, without one pleaLuke 7:4–6
but that thy blood was shed for me,Matt. 26:28
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,Matt. 11:28; John 7:37
   O Lamb of God, I come.Is. 53:7; John 1:29
Just as I am, and waiting not2 Cor. 6:2; Acts 8:36
to rid my soul of one dark blot,Jer. 13:23
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,1 John 1:7
   O Lamb of God, I come.Mark 1:40
Just as I am, though tossed aboutMatt. 9:36
with many a conflict, many a doubt,Mark 9:24
fightings and fears within, without,Acts 14:22; 2 Cor. 7:5
   O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am—poor, wretched, blind—Rev. 3:17
sight, riches, healing of the mind,Is. 35:5; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 4:23
yea, all I need, in thee to find,Phil. 4:19
   O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,Luke 15:2; John 6:37
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;Luke 9:11; 5:20; Lev. 16:30; Matt. 11:30
because thy promise I believe,Heb. 11:6
   O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thy love unknownEph. 3:19
has broken ev’ry barrier down;Matt. 27:51
now, to be thine, yea, thine alone,Rom. 14:8
   O Lamb of God, I come.

If God uses singing congregants to extend the free offer of the gospel in “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched,” they, in turn, can respond by singing “Just As I Am, without One Plea.” Since the gospel applies as much to sanctification as to justification, this hymn should not be reserved for evangelistic meetings. The poem’s structure is simple and effective. Every stanza is framed by the same words. After the honest adverbial phrase, “Just as I am,” syllables 5–24 logically and rhythmically explain exactly what we mean by that “as,” until, having reached the end of line 3, we pause to invoke the Lamb of God and at last declare: “I come.” (Our ears help to connect the framing phrases, because the first and last vowel sounds of the stanza—the short u of “just” and “come”—aurally correspond, as do the short a sounds of “as,” “am,” and “Lamb.”) The phrase which opens each stanza does not find its subject and predicate until the last two syllables! (Except in stanzas 5–6, where the grammar is a little different.) And yet, somehow, the syntax doesn’t seem convoluted at all. Everybody understands it. In fact, that is the point: to make sure everybody understands those two words before singing them—understands why, when, and how one comes to the Lamb. An outline shows how unobtrusively systematic the hymn is.

Stanza 1: the grounds for my coming.
Stanza 2: the timing of my coming.
Stanza 3: my coming as an act of obedience. Doubt does not stop the convert from heeding the call. (Only in this stanza do the otherwise smooth, iambic rhythms of the poem stumble, to suggest spiritual conflict, at the elided “many a” and the awkward “fightings and fears within, without.”)
Stanza 4: my coming as an act of wisdom.
Stanza 5: my coming as an act of faith.
Stanza 6: my coming as an act of hope. After the onomatopoeic “broken ev’ry barrier down,” we get the very theme of Scripture. “They will be his people.”

Most hymns about conversion don’t age well, because (to put it bluntly) it’s more rewarding to sing about God than about ourselves. Charlotte Elliott avoided this predicament by focusing—and the focus is sharp—not on the convert but on his coming, on the immediate relationship between convert and Savior. No hypotheticals, no past tense, no vague or extrabiblical autobiography. Only a persistent explanation of what God’s grace means to the expectant Christian right now.

The tune WOODWORTH supports both the explanation and the expectancy. Gradually, its gestures develop and its pitches climb through those first three lines of explanation, to release in a descending scale at the declaration, “O Lamb of God, I come.” Only two of the tunes discussed on this website end on a scale-degree other than the first: this one and HERMON (other famous examples include PASSION CHORALE, ST. DROSTANE, and HALLELUJAH! WHAT A SAVIOR!). In the case of WOODWORTH, the dangling third scale-degree (mi, or F-sharp in the key of D) looks to the next stanza and, beyond, to life with God.