Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871) was a clergyman's daughter and the granddaughter of the Reverend Henry Venn, who supported William Wilberforce's work in pursuing the abolition of slavery. In her early 30s, she was living in her father's London vicarage when there came to stay an evangelist, Dr. Cesar Malan of Geneva in Switzerland. Observing her restless and unhappy state, he asked about her faith: Had she come to Jesus? After some hesitation she admitted, "I do want to come to him, but I don't know how to come."
"Come to him just as you are," he replied. She did so and found peace of heart.
She carried on corresponding with Dr. Malan, but the hymn was not written until 12 years later in 1835. By now she had suffered a grave illness and was invalid, living with her brother Rev. H V Elliott at Brighton. Her brother and other members of her family were invited to a bazaar to raise money to build a college in Brighton for the daughters of poor clergymen, but because of her poor health she could not go. Instead, bedridden in a mood of doubt and despondency, she recalled Dr. Malan's words and quite spontaneously the words of the hymn came into her mind. Soon afterwards, she discovered to her amazement that copies of this hymn were being sold by the thousands. The proceeds were given to the very charity Charlotte thought she could not help.