Elisabeth Rundle Charles: 1828 - 1896
"Come and Rejoice with Me!"
It was also this atmosphere of a loving home stimulating family environment that instilled in Elisabeth both a loving heart and a brilliant mind. During her lifetime, she wrote fifty books, including historical novels, collections of poems, and studies of hymn history. In addition to "Come and Rejoice with Me," Elisabeth authored such hymns as "Age after Age Shall Call Her Blessed," "Around a Table, Not a Tomb," "Jesus, What Once Thou Wast," and "Never Further Than Thy Cross."
Mary the Magdalene
Her home lay by that inland sea
Which sacred memories so embalm:
That Magdala and Galilee
Ring like the music of a psalm.
Deep in the lake the far hills glow,
Clear shine each peak and golden spire,
And Hermon lifts his brow of snow
Unsullied to that sky of fire.
From point to point gleamed cities white,
Full of the joyous stir of life,
And o'er the waves boats bounded light;
All was with eager movement rife.
Fresh streams across Gennesaret danced,
Laughing with corn and countless fruits,
And met the quiet waves which glanced
Bathing the oleander roots.
Yet many a calm recess for prayer
Those hills enshrined which circling stood,
Wild steeps which to men's homes brought near
The sanctity of solitude.
But vainly, round her and beneath
Earth poured her wealth, as evermore
Flows Jordan to the Sea of Death,
And leaves it bitter as before.
"Out of whom He cast seven devils."
No phantoms thus her soul assailed,
It was no vision of the night,
No dim unreal mist, that veiled
The glad reality of light;
No discord of sweet strings unstrung
A skilful touch might tune again,
No jar of nerves too tightly wrung,
No shadows of an o'er wrought brain;
But din of mocking voices rude,
Spirits whose touches left a stain,
Owning no shrine of solitude
Their blasphemies might not profane:
Real as the earth she, hopeless, trod,
Real as the heaven they had lost,
Real as the soul they kept from God,
From torture still to torture tossed.
Thus sleep to her could bring no calm,
No stillness dwelt for her in night;
And human love could yield no balm,
And home no deep and pure delight;
Till light upon that chaos broke,-
Not from unconscious azure skies,-
The morning that her spirit woke
Beamed from the depths of human eyes.
No thunder, with God's vengeance dread,
Scattered that company of hell;
It was a Voice from which they fled,
A Voice they knew before they fell.
Once more she was alone and free,
And silence all her soul possessed;
As the "great calm" the storm-tossed sea
When the same voice commanded rest.
Such solitude a heaven might make,
Such silence had for bliss sufficed;
What was it, then, from hell to wake,
And wake beneath the smile of Christ!
Is Thy cruse of comfort wasting? Rise and share it with another,
And through all the years of famine it shall serve thee and thy brother.
Love divine will fill thy storehouse, or thy handful still renew;
Scanty fare for one will often make a royal feast for two.
For the heart grows rich in giving; all its wealth is living grain;
Seeds which mildew in the garner, scattered, fill with gold the plain.
Is thy burden hard and heavy? Do thy steps drag wearily?
Help to bear thy brother's burden; God will bear both it and thee.
Numb and weary on the mountains, wouldst thou sleep amidst the snow?
Chafe that frozen form beside thee, and together both shall glow.
Art thou stricken in life's battle? Many wounded round thee moan;
Lavish on their wounds thy balsams, and that balm shall heal thine own,.
Is the heart a well left empty? None but God its void can fill;
Nothing but a ceaseless fountain can its ceaseless longings still.
Is the heart a living power? Self-entwined, its strength sinks low;
It can only live in loving, and by serving love will grow.
An Annotated Bibliography
Against the Stream: The Story of an Heroic Age in England. London: W. Isbister, 1874. This historical novel is set in the days of Granville Sharp, Clarkson, and Wilberforce in their struggle against slavery in England. The story is told through the eyes and thoughts of Bride Danescombe, a young girl whom Elisabeth explains had a childhood very similar to her own (Our Seven Homes, p. ?).
The Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family. New York, 1863. The history of Martin Luther and his times starting with his youth and continuing with his impact in the Reformation seen through his relationship to this fictitional family of friends.
The Diary of Kitty Trevelyan: A Story of the Times of Whitefield and the Wesleys.
The Draytons and the Davenants: A Story of the Civil Wars.
The Early Dawn: Sketches of Christian Life in England in the Olden Time. London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1894. The story of Christianity in England from the earliest days up to the Reformation through the story of three generations of one family.
Joan the Maid Deliverer of France and England.
Martyrs & Saints of the First Twelve Centuries.
Poems:-The Women of the Gospels, The Three Wakings, Songs and Hymns, Memorial Verses. London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1868. On pages 195-6 is her poem "Eureka" from which her hymn "Come and Rejoice with Me" is derived.
On Both Sides of the Sea: A Story of the Commonwealth and the Restoration.
Our Seven Homes. (An autobiography.) London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1896.
The Ravens and the Angels: with Other Stories and Parables.
Sketches of Christian Life in England in the Olden Time.
Sketches of the Women of Christendom. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1889.
Songs Old and New. Collected Edition. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1894. (Contains "Eureka" on pages 276-7)
Three Martyrs of the Nineteenth Century: Studies from the Lives of Livingstone, Gordon, and Patteson. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1886.
Three Wakings and Other Poems. 1859. (Contains "Come and Rejoice with Me")
Victory of the Vanquished: a Tale of the First Century.
The Voice of Christian Life in Song: Hymns and Hymn-Writers of Many Lands and Ages. 1858. A book on hymnology containing hymns from many countries.
Wanderings over Bible Lands and Seas. (With Photographic Views.) London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1871.
Watchwords for the Warfare of Life. (From the Writings of Luther.)
Winifred Bertram and the World She Lived in.
The Industrial Revolution
Within one generation, society in England was transformed from rural and agrarian to urban and industrial. Many technological advances paved the way for the factory system, and villagers soon abandoned their homes to find work in the cities.
Widespread Poverty and Misery
While the Industrial Revolution allowed for more efficient production, faster travel, and better means of communication, it also created widespread poverty and misery. In fact, according to the laws of the day, factory workers were considered to have less intrinsic value than what they built and maintained and were treated as mere expendable cogs in factory machinery.
Pay was so low that parents sent their children, with their useful small hands, to engage in long hours of labor for family survival. Workers and their families fought for survival in dangerous, overcrowded, and unsanitary tenements.
Sunshine Replaced by Smoke
Fresh air and sunshine had been replaced by the stench of relentless, pluming gray smoke from kerosene lamps and coal-fired furnaces that allowed factory owners to keep their mills open around the clock.
Amid this suffering, Elisabeth Rundle Charles gave her whole life to pour out the Lord's love in word and deed to those surrounding her, both rich and poor.
A Serene and Delightful Childhood
Elisabeth Rundle Charles was born in Tavistock, Devonshire on January 2, 1828 to Joana and John Rundle. Although she grew up in Tavistock, England, the Rundle family also spent summer months in the nearby village of Morwellham, where many of the family businesses were located. Her childhood was serene and delightful.
Her father, John Rundle, was a highly respected man of integrity, intelligence, and unselfishness. He was a banker, a member of Parliament, a community employer, and a respected leader whose benevolence blessed many through times of great need and unrest. And he was Elisabeth's closest friend.
Her mother, Joana, provided a well-ordered and peaceful home with a "quiet pervading presence, a sweet brooding, a sunny warmth." Indeed, this precious atmosphere of childhood nurturing and safekeeping was a reference point across Elisabeth's whole life.
Moreover, Elisabeth's spiritual environment had been full of God's love. There were prayers at her mother's bedside and the singing of old hymns of Cowper, the Wesleys, and Watts, "dimly understood, but flowing with a sense of music through the heart."
She speaks of a "sense that God was there and ready to bless and help me and mine." Yet, in the midst of this idyllic life of love and learning, the mercy of God came to Elisabeth so that she might learn of her fundamental and acute need of Him.
In her teenage years, Elisabeth aspired to the "high and beautiful ideal of Christian life and character." She longed for "the stamp of the faith" to be "visible everywhere and at all times," not banished "to a corner of the week or of the world."
Yet, through observation of the "divided and distracted family [of God's children], scarcely one of which seemed on speaking terms with the others," Elisabeth became increasingly disillusioned with the spiritual condition of the church in general.
Deepening Sense of Hopelessness
Furthermore, upon looking within herself, she acknowledged in despair that instead of seeing the ideal in her own heart, she saw a completely "unsatisfactory self." With this illumination "came the pain of the terrible rendings and ruin of this ideal, without; the weariness of the failure to reach the ideal, within." This deepening sense of hopelessness within herself and others drove her to find a remedy.
Though "weeks of distress and conflict followed" in Elisabeth's search for reality, the One Who knew her case faithfully continued the work of revelation within her. When she was eighteen, He sent César Malan, a Swiss acquaintance, to speak to her "simply of the immeasurable and unmerited love of God."
One lovely, sunny afternoon, as they were walking down an avenue lined with beech trees, Malan shared timeless truths with Elisabeth:
"He spoke...of the burden of sin borne away by the Redeemer, the Lamb of God; of the gift of undying life; of the deep meaning of the expression ‘child of God'; of faith in the Saviour."
Malan's simple words penetrated the deepest part of her being: "If you believe in Jesus, I say to you, as He said to the penitent who washed His feet with her tears, ‘Go in peace; thy sins are forgiventhee.'"
Prayer on Her Knees
Later in her room, Elisabeth responded to the work of the Holy Spirit within her:
"For the first time I seemed to forget and lose myself altogether, my struggles, my sufferings, my good or evil works, and could only fall on my knees in an agony of tears...and say, "My God! guide me." I felt I was speaking to God, and that He heard me....
...I began to see that the work of our Redemption is not ours but God's, that Christ has borne away our sins, has redeemed us with His precious blood, has reconciled us to God. The Spirit bore witness with my spirit that I was His child. I loved Him because He had first loved me! For hours I was conscious of nothing but the absorbing joy. ‘My Father! I am Thy child.'
...[I] could seek, instead of flying from, His presence. All things were restored to harmony because [they were] restored to their true Centre."
In Union with Him
Before, Elisabeth had been "toiling to build a tower," but her efforts had become her "prisons." From her conversion onward, she had no wish but that her life "might be spent in the service of Him Who had earned [her] deliverance at such a priceless cost. Joyful would be every toil and sacrifice as the free service of love." She exclaimed, "From a weary labourer, worn with slavish and ineffectual toil, I had become as a little child receiving from God."
After such a dynamic and life-changing conversion, she realized that "to follow Him Whose presence is our life and joy naturally leads us where He went and goes still, among the sorrowful and sick and perplexed."
In fact, she "lived more amongst the poor than before that joy came." Her life became one characterized as not merely serving her Lord, as if to a distant Master, but as being and working in union with Him-a spontaneous, outward response to faithfully serve her indwelling Lord Jesus.
"I Have Found Him!"
It was after this new birth from spiritual poverty and weariness of religious service without God to untold wealth in Christ that Elisabeth wrote the poem "Come and Rejoice with Me," which she entitled "Eureka," meaning "I have found Him!" How wonderful and glorious was her discovery of Christ, not through religious work, but through simple faith and obedience to Him.
But communicating this crucial difference in her relationship with God to others was not easy. It was a difficulty, Elisabeth says, "of making people who saw the new radiance with which everything shone for me understand what it was. ‘You knew all this before,' they would say. And, of course, I didknow it before; and did not." Knowing Jesus brought a longing "that others, also, should cross this invisible line between knowing about God, knowing about truth," to "knowing Him."
A Life of Service
At the age of twenty-three, Elisabeth married Andrew Paton Charles, a man "whose place, so quietly filled, no one else could take." Their new home in Hampstead was happily situated near some old parish almshouses where Elisabeth "had the poor, sick, and aged close" to her as she was used to before.
With no children of their own to fill their lives, they instead focused on working "among the poor around the factory" where Andrew was part owner. Elisabeth also continued her writing, publishing some nineteen books during her married life.
Not long into their marriage, Andrew began having serious health problems from which he never fully recovered. After only seventeen years of companionship and service together, Andrew died, leaving Elisabeth a widow at the age of forty. Thus, she entered the darkest days of her life, which she called "that great sorrow."
No longer unscathed by human suffering, Elisabeth does not ask for our pity in the midst of her greatest trial. For in that very year, she boldly republished her "Eureka," which she significantly retitled "Joy in Christ." As Andrew had always embodied "the will of God, not submission merely, but entire acquiescence," Elisabeth earnestly desired to follow his example.
Suffering Changed to Song
Her friends began to draw her back into life by requesting translations of Martin Luther's writings and reacquainting her with the love of music. She gradually "awoke to the joys of thought, imagination and writing. The suffering grew into song and parable and story." Elisabeth soon became distinguished as one of England's best-known authors.
Although she was left without an inheritance from either her father or her husband, she was able to care for her beloved mother and many others with income from her book royalties, which she felt were "like manna from heaven." And like hidden manna, her life, her experience of Christ, her writings, and her hymn "Come and Rejoice!" will continue to feed God's seekers for generations.
Elisabeth Rundle Charles entered her eternal rest on March 28, 1896 at Hampstead, Heath, near London. A dear friend who was with her near the end, spoke of how Elisabeth was "resting ‘In Christ'...'Into thy hands I commend my spirit,' she repeated-‘ not words dear for the end of life only, but for every day and every need, always and ever.'" Among her last words: "Father, Thy hands! At last."
During her lifetime, she wrote fifty books, including historical novels, collections of poems, and studies of hymn history. In addition to "Come and Rejoice with Me," Elisabeth authored such hymns as "Age after Age Shall Call Her Blessed," "Around a Table, Not a Tomb," "Jesus, What Once Thou Wast," and "Never Further Than Thy Cross."
How different was Elisabeth's inner condition before discovering Christ as her all-sufficient and all-supplying One! Childhood's pleasantness, even her parents, could not save her; good religious works, however well-intended, had left her the more miserable and disillusioned.
Thus, Elisabeth had invited the One into her heart Who could make her life meaningful. Moreover, she continually came back to the One Who had brought her "from afar" to find in Him her "home." He had become her river of water of life, still flowing, supplying her every need.
The Eternal Source
The Lord Jesus had become Elisabeth's "treasury of love, a boundless store," from Whom she freely and ever more deeply drew deposits throughout her life. It is this secret of Christ's sufficiency she shares with all of us who heed her invitation: "Come and rejoice with me!"
"If, at any time, this life of ours grows feeble, or low, or lonely, I know no other remedy than to return to its Eternal Source, to God Himself."