Behind the Hymn: I Surrender All
Surrendering it all to God is not easy. As I’m sharing my Rebel to Redeemed story, I am sharing my struggle to surrender it all to God over the course of my life.
Many of us have struggled with this same decision. The author of this beautiful hymn, Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter, definitely struggled. However, from his struggles came a beautiful hymn that shares the sentiment of so many.
Van DeVenter was born on December 5, 1855 in Dundee, Michigan to a farmer, John Wesley and his wife, Eliza Ann Wheeler Van DeVenter. Judson had an older brother, Virgil. He had at least two younger siblings, Nelson and Fanny.
At the age of 17, he accepted Jesus into his heart. However, he continued to struggle with surrendering it all.
After graduating from Hillsdale College, he married Malissa Miller, in 1880. Van DeVenter lived with his in-laws and worked as a painter, before teaching art in the public schools of Sharon, PA. The couple had a daughter, Cleo Iva, a year after they married. They also had two sons, Paul Dorel and Judson.
Over the years Van DeVenter mastered thirteen different musical instruments, along with singing and composing music. He became very involved in the music ministry at the Methodist Episcopal Church he attended.
Van DeVenter began to struggle with the call upon his life. He was torn between continuing his teaching career or leaving and entering evangelistic ministry. His friends greatly encouraged him to enter evangelism, because of his fervent faith.
Van DeVenter describes the day he surrendered. “The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, and in the home of
George Sebring (founder of Sebring Campmeeting Bible Conference . . .). 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 song born in his heart was, I Surrender All. Of the more than sixty hymns he wrote, this hymns is his best known.
Life wasn’t always easy for the Van DeVenter’s. Their daughter, Cleo Iva, died in 1902 at the age of twenty.
Van DeVenter teemed with Winfield S. Weeden and they had a partnership that lasted for years. Weeden, who was born in 1847 Ohio, taught in the singing schools before he joined the call of evangelism. He was a noted vocalist and song leader. Weeden put the music to I Surrender All. He loved the hymn so much that the words were put on his tombstone after his 1908 death.
I Surrender All was first published in a compilation of hymns by Weeden in 1896, Gospel Songs of Grace and Glory. The book was published by Sebring Publishing Company.
In 1924, Malissa Miller Van DeVenter died at the age of 65 in Florida. The following year, Van DeVenter married 47-year-old woman named Carolyn. She was a music teacher and pianist.
He retired to Tampa, Florida and was a regular professor of hymnology at Florida Bible Institute in the 1920s. After his retirement, he was a regular visitor to the Bible Institute. He remained active with speaking and ministry engagements even after he retired.
Billy Graham credits Van DeVenter with influencing his life and ministry. Rev. Graham wrote the following account, which was published in Crusade Hymn Stories: “One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist who wrote “I Surrender All” — the Rev. J. W. Van de Venter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity Bible College) in the late 1930’s. We students love this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his winter home at Tampa, Florida, for an evening of fellowship and singing.”
Van DeVenter died in Florida on July 17, 1939 at the age of 83. He was buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Dundee, Michigan.
What have you struggled to surrender to God?