I Surrender All
Origins. This gospel hymn by Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855–1939) was first published in Gospel Songs of Grace and Glory (NY: Sebring Publishing, 1896 | Fig. 1). William Reynolds, in his commentary for Hymns of Our Faith (1964), supplied an uncredited fragment of a first-person account by Judson, in which he said the song was:
… in memory of the time when, after a long struggle, I had surrendered and dedicated my life to active Christian service. The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, and in the home of George Sebring, who later founded the city of Sebring, Florida. The Sebring camp meeting at Sebring, Ohio, was also founded by him. (p. 12).
Another first-person account in circulation, also of unknown origin, says:
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 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.
The music was written by Winfield S. Weeden (1847–1908). Weeden “had a fine solo voice and was a talented leader” (Reynolds, 1964, p. 435), and he traveled with Van DeVenter in some of his evangelistic campaigns. The original version was intended for a duet to sing the verses and a choir or congregation to sing the refrain. Most modern hymnals use a four-part harmonization of the entire hymn for congregational singing.
One glowing report of the partnership between Weeden and Van DeVenter was printed in The Epworth Herald, 21 June 1902, p. 5:
One of the sweetest, one of the most successful gospel singers in the evangelistic field today is Prof. W.S. Weeden, who has been associated a great deal of late with Rev. Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman in his evangelistic labors. No one has ever heard Professor Weeden sing “My mother’s prayer,” and tell the story of it, without being profoundly moved. The music for the song is his own composition, and the words were written, at his suggestion, by his friend and co-laborer, Rev. J.W. Van DeVenter, and embody the sweet singer’s personal experience.
Analysis. The original text includes five stanzas, the last of which is frequently omitted. Generally, the hymn has a message of submission, and it is typically used as a song of response or invitation. It can also be used as a song of dedication or commitment. The fifth stanza hints at Pentecostal influence (“sacred flame … full salvation”), even though Van DeVenter was a longtime member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He might have had Pentecostal and/or charismatic leanings once he became a traveling evangelist. It might be worth noting this hymn was adopted into Pentecostal Hymns No. 2 in 1898.
Evangelist Billy Graham (1918–2018), in Crusade Hymn Stories (1967), pp. 117-118, credited Van DeVenter as a significant influence in his own spiritual formation, and he offered his own insight into the hymn:
One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist who wrote “I surrender all”—the Rev. Mr. J.W. Van DeVenter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity Bible College) in the late 1930s. We students loved this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his winter home at Tampa, Florida, for an evening of fellowship and singing. …
We begin to surrender to God when we first accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. … It is a mistake to think that we can receive Christ’s offer of forgiveness and then go out to live our lives as we please. From that moment of commitment, God has a claim on us and we must expect Him to tell us how we should live. … We should never fear to give God complete control over our lives. He loves us more than we love ourselves, and He will only plan what is best for us. It isn’t always true, as it was with Reverend Van DeVenter, that God takes us down a different path from that which we would naturally follow. But if He does, we may be sure that it will be a happier and more fruitful life than the one we would have planned for ourselves.
Recordings. “I surrender all” was recorded as early as 1909 by the Edison Mixed Quartette for an Edison cylinder, preserved by the University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive:
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
25 March 2019
Kenneth W. Osbeck, “I surrender all,” 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1985), p. 51; this story is also given in Crusade Hymn Stories (1967).
William J. Reynolds, “All to Jesus I surrender,” Hymns of Our Faith: A Handbook for the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1964), pp. 12-13, 427, 435.
Billy Graham, “I surrender all,” Crusade Hymn Stories (Chicago: Hope, 1967), pp. 117-118.
Ann Divine, “I surrender all,” The Worshiping Church: Worship Leaders’ Edition (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1991), no. 579.
“All to Jesus I surrender,” Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson, “All to Jesus, I surrender,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
“I surrender all,” UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive: