Article: THE STORY BEHIND THE HYMN: ‘I Surrender All’ | Ribi Kenneth

Judson W. van De Venter, a talented artist and hymn writer, composed the Christian hymn “I Surrender All” in 1896 during a campaign in East Palestine, OH, United States. This hymn was a testament to a transformative moment in his life when he surrendered to the Lord and dedicated himself to active service.

Born in 1855 in Michigan, Van De Venter’s early life was marked by a deep love for art and music. He was proficient in 13 musical instruments, excelled as a singer and composer, and actively contributed to the music ministry of his Methodist Episcopal church. However, he faced a significant dilemma as he struggled to balance his successful teaching career with his desire to be part of an evangelistic team.

His internal conflict endured for almost five years until he underwent a profound spiritual awakening during a series of revival meetings in the late 19th century. Overwhelmed by a deep conviction to serve God in Christian ministry, he made the challenging decision to leave his flourishing career as an artist and commit himself wholeheartedly to God. It was during this transformative period that the hymn ‘I Surrender All’ was inspired.

The hymn beautifully encapsulates the act of yielding one’s entire life, will, and possessions to God:
“All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.”

The chorus reinforces this message with a powerful call to surrender:
“I surrender all, I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour,
I surrender all.”

The simplicity of its lyrics, with the word “surrender” recurring throughout, serves as a poignant reminder that surrender is not a one-time event but a continuous, daily choice. It encourages Christians to examine their hearts, acknowledge their natural inclination to cling to their own plans and desires, and intentionally release them to God’s divine will.

Furthermore, the hymn conveys the idea that grappling with personal struggles and doubts while seeking God’s will is a natural part of the human journey. This notion draws parallels with the biblical account of Jacob wrestling with God, fervently expressing his longing for a divine blessing. In this narrative, God reassured Jacob that true blessings stem from wholehearted reliance on Him. When God dislocated Jacob’s hip with a single touch, Jacob found himself entirely powerless, surrendering and leaning solely on God throughout the rest of his life’s journey.

‘I Surrender All’ was set to music by Weeden and was first published in 1896 in a hymnbook titled “Gospel Songs of Grace and Glory.” This hymn has been sung by Christians worldwide for generations, impacting figures as diverse as Rev. Billy Graham and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Judson W. Van De Venter’s decision to give up his artistic profession in favour of serving God is a striking testament to the transformative nature of faith. It is a timeless expression of Christian devotion, as well as a permanent reminder of the great impact of a surrendered life.



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