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)
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.
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?