Posted by: rcottrill | November 16, 2012

I Surrender All

Words: Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter (b. Dec. 5, 1855; d. July 17, 1939)
Music: Winfield Scott Weeden (b. Mar. 29, 1847; d. July 31, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Sometimes this 1896 hymn is titled All to Jesus I Surrender. This is appropriate for a couple of reasons. It is the opening line of each stanza. But also, since the theme of the song is giving “all” we are and have into the hands of Christ, beginning with that, and not “I” seems fitting. Van DeVenter and Weeden were friends, and they also combined their talents in creating a gospel song entitled Sunlight, and published a book of gospel songs together.

General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) was an outstanding soldier in the American army, and I suspect the composer of the tune may have been named after him. Scott’s tune, in the refrain, does something interesting. The phrase “I surrender all” is expressed in a descending musical phrase, suiting the idea of bowing in submission. But “All to Thee, my blessed Saviour” utilizes ascending notes, picturing something being offered up. Nicely done.

Judson Van DeVenter could be described as a reluctant servant of Christ. His dream was to become a famous artist, and he studied drawing and painting for some years to pursue his goal. For a time he also worked as the supervisor of art in the public schools of Sharon, Pennsylvania. But the Lord was calling him to set his earlier ambition aside and enter full-time Christian ministry. He says:

“The Spirit of God was strongly urging me to give up teaching and to enter the evangelistic field, but I would not yield. I still had the burning desire to be an artist. This battle raged for five years. At last the time came when I could hold out no longer and I surrendered my all….I wrote ‘I Surrender All’ in memory of the time when, after a long struggle, I surrendered and dedicated my life to active Christian service for the Lord.

CH-1) 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, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Saviour,
I surrender all.

The Word of God deals with this subject by calling upon us to offer up to God our bodies, as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1). If our bodies are fully under His authority, then all of our living selves, all that we do and say, is too. In this text, Paul “beseeches” us (pleads with us) “by the mercies of God.” In other words, in consideration of all that God has done for us, through Christ, we ought to willingly surrender all to Him.

“He [Christ] died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (II Cor. 5:15). “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). “You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

My one quibble with the lyrics of this song is its reference to “feeling” the work of God within (CH-3 and 5). The Spirit of God indwells the believer, and accomplishes a spiritual work within us. This is not something physically “felt.” We may rejoice as we see the effects manifested in our daily lives, but we do not detect the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in a tangible way.

Hymn books have dealt with this idea as it appears in Van DeVenter’s song in two ways: either to change the wording, or omit those stanzas (CH-3, “Let me feel the Holy Spirit,” and CH-5, “Now I feel the sacred flame”) that express it. Hymns for the Living Church (Hope Publishing Company, 1974) changes CH-3 to this more biblical prayer:

All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me, Saviour, wholly Thine;
May Thy Holy Spirit fill me,
May I know Thy pow’r divine.

This is an effective hymn of dedication, but be careful! The Lord is listening. “Worldly pleasures all forsaken” (CH-2). Really? Is that true? And can you sing sincerely that you are yielding all, you time, talents, and treasures to Him? If not, to sing such a hymn is sheer hypocrisy.

Questions:
1) How do you believe hymns of commitment should be handled in congregational singing? Is it wrong to call upon all to join in, knowing that it may be putting pressure on some to lie? (If you tell people not to sing along if they can’t do so sincerely, that may not work either.)

2) What do you believe are the best hymns of dedication and commitment that we have?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. Hi, Robert.

    1. It is tradition in our Baptist church to have everybody sing the invitation/commitment hymn. I don’t particularly like that idea, but it is what the congregation wants, and people do come forward to make decisions for Christ. I think that the hymn should be sung quietly by the music leader or choir while everyone else bows their head and prays for decisions to be made.

    2. “I Surrender All” and “Just As I Am” (the original version) are, in my opinion, the two best invitation/commitment hymns ever written.

    I learned something valuable in this post. I never realized (or considered) that the descending notes emphasized bowing in submission while the ascending notes emphasized offering something up. Very cleverly done, and kudos for making that point!

    Robert

    • Blessings on you! I needed your words of encouragement today. Heavy day yesterday. (Nothing bad, just extra work that left me so totally exhausted I slept most of the evening in my chair, as well as overnight.)

      On the subject of what we might call forced hypocrisy (H-m-m!) in hymn singing, it’s something that’s often troubled me–for a couple of reasons.

      First, I wonder how many folks sing hymns simply as a matter of form, or because they like the music, without particularly considering the meaning of what they’re singing. The music of a hymn is intended as a setting for the effective delivery of its message. But does experiencing the music take too prominent a place? And what is the message of the words? Is it something I truly want to say to God or, (in the case of gospel songs) to another person?

      Once a month or so, I try to ask for some requests. And one way the service leader can help members of the congregation to zero in on the text is to ask such questions as: Why is this hymn a favourite of yours? What is there about God in this hymn for which we can praise Him? Which is your favourite verse of the hymn? (And why?) Etc.

      Second, there’s the concern that we’re asking people to sing words they don’t mean. But I do think it’s helpful to see the corporate expression of faith and purpose as an entity unto itself. We’re not only singing as individuals, but as a body. Compare an election. Not everyone will have voted for the eventual winner, but the election overall expresses the national will. In a similar way, the singing of a hymn can be seen as an expression of what that local church stands for.

      This doesn’t remove the responsibility of the individual to sing with sincerity of course, but the ministry of the body as a whole is a factor. The same thing happens when the offering is received. Not everyone who puts money on the offering plate is doing so for the right reasons, but the funds provided support the work of the church as a whole and express the desire of the congregation that it continue to do so.

      There would seem to be a parallel to the hymn-singing of Israel. “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 106:48). That phrase, “all the people” is used many, many times in the Old Testament. Does it represent every single person? I doubt it. Rather, it identifies a corporate expression of the nation as a whole, or at least of those present on a particular occasion. When the Law was given through Moses, “all the people” said they would obey it (Exod. 19:8; 24:3), but not long after “all the people” were involved in making a golden idol (Exod. 32:3)!

      Well! Not sure this all makes sense. :-) It’s not 6:00 a.m. yet, so I need to get, in Poirot’s phrase, “the little grey cells” in gear. Maybe food for thought, anyway. God bless.


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