Hymn History: “I Surrender All”

2 min

I surrender all;
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

These simple words of wholehearted commitment to Christ have been sung by believers around the world. Who wrote these compelling lines and why?

Judson Van DeVenter was born in Michigan in 1855. From an early age, he had a deep appreciation for art and music. When he was seventeen, he became a Christian. He later attended Hillsdale College.

After college, art was very important in Mr. Van DeVenter’s life. He eventually became supervisor of art in various public high schools in Pennsylvania. During this same time, Mr. Van DeVenter was very active in his church, often singing in the choir and
participating in evangelistic rallies. Observing his enthusiasm and ability in evangelism and counseling, his friends urged him to pursue full-time ministry. However, Mr. Van DeVenter enjoyed art and was unwilling to set it aside to be more involved in Christian ministry. For five years, he struggled inwardly between his two desires: to become a recognized artist and to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Finally, the struggle climaxed. Mr. Van DeVenter described the moment:

At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became an 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 songs I had never sung before.

Mr. Van DeVenter’s total surrender to God reflected meekness. Meekness is “yielding my personal rights and expectations to God.” Mr. Van DeVenter surrendered his right to choose his own career. Instead, he yielded to God’s leading. Some years later, recalling his struggle and the joy when he finally yielded to God, Mr. Van DeVenter wrote a hymn. The hymn that he wrote we now know as “I Surrender All.” 

Faith and trust were required for Mr. Van DeVenter to let go of his own desires and submit to the Lord. We, too, will find joy and fulfillment when we choose to lay aside our desires and yield to Christ’s will for our lives. We have no need to fear giving God our all. He loves us deeply and knows what is truly best for us. On whatever path He takes us, we can be sure that the result will be a happier and more fruitful life than the one we would have planned for ourselves. May we sing with wholehearted confidence:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

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