We just got back in to town from spending a few restful days in the Smokey Mountains. We took the opportunity to go up to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, places we haven’t been to in many years. The views from there were amazing and the autumn leaf colors on the drive up were awesome. It was a wonderful reminder that our Creator God is an artist far above any other. His majesty and glory can be seen in His creation if one just takes the time to look.
One of the hymns that has been on my mind for a couple of weeks is one of the well-known and most often used invitational hymns in churches throughout the world. However it is also a song of surrender by us as believers to be more like Jesus. If you take a close look at all the verses it will be apparent that the author was inspired to seek not only a life of surrender but one filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s love and power. This should also be the desire of our hearts. I hope you enjoy the following article about the history of this great hymn.
History of Hymns: “I Surrender All”
“I Surrender All”
J. W. Van DeVenter
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 354
All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.
I surrender all,
all to thee my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
Songs of personal commitment to Christ often stem from a particular experience in the life of the author. This is a good example. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck cites an account left by Van DeVenter:
The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, and in the home of George Sebring (founder of Sebring Campmeeting Bible Conference . . .). For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became and evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, he caused me to sing.
This testimony makes more sense when knowing more about the author’s life. Judson Van de Venter (1855-1939) was raised on a farm near Dundee, Michigan. After graduating from Hillsdale College, he taught art in public schools in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Van Deventer was active as a layman in his Methodist Episcopal Church, including participation in revivals held at the church.
Based on his fervent faith and service to the church, friends encouraged him to leave his field of teaching and become an evangelist. It took five years for him to finally “surrender all” and follow the advice of his friends. His ministry took him to various places in the United States, England, and Scotland.
Perhaps the most important influence that Van de Venter had was on the young evangelist Billy Graham. The Rev. Graham cites this hymn as an influence in his early ministry. His account appears in Crusade Hymn Stories, edited by Graham’s chief musician, Cliff Barrows:
One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist who wrote “I Surrender All” — the Rev. J. W. Van de Venter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity Bible College) in the late 1930’s. We students love this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his winter home at Tampa, Florida, for an evening of fellowship and singing.
More than sixty of Van de Venter’s hymns appeared in various twentieth-century hymnals, but “I Surrender All” (1896) is his most famous.
One of the characteristics of many gospel songs is the repetition of a key word or phrase throughout the hymn. Each of the five stanzas begins with the line, “All to Jesus I surrender.” The refrain includes the phrase, “I surrender all” three times in the melody and an additional two times in the men’s part. This means that the one who sings all five stanzas would sing the word “surrender” thirty times. The other key word – “all” – would be sung forty-three times!
The stanzas all revolve around the key word. Stanza one stresses complete surrender: “all to him I freely give.” In stanza two, the singer forsakes “worldly pleasures.” Stanza three prays to “feel the Holy Spirit.” Stanza four asks for Jesus’ empowerment, to be filled with “thy love and power.” In the final stanza, the singer “feel[s] the sacred flame,” an image of the Holy Spirit. The result of feeling Christ’s “full salvation,” is to sing “glory to his name.”
Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.
I believe when we truly surrender all, only then can it be possible to find ourselves in God’s will. And I’m the one who needs this more than anyone. God help me to surrender!