Story Behind the Song – ‘I Surrender All’

I recently read the story behind the well-known song ‘I Surrender All’ in a book titled ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Robert J Morgan. It’s moving/inspiring/helpful and I’d like to share it with you and also the story of an individual whose life was changed by the deep truths in this song.

The lyrics of this song were written by Judson Van DeVenter around 1890 (later put to music by Winfield S. Weeden, published in 1896). Van DenVenter was an accomplished musician and worked as an art teacher and supervisor of art in local public schools where he lived. Records reveal that he was an active member in his church and involved in evangelistic meetings. We can suppose it was because of his fervent faith and involvement in the church that his friends encouraged him to leave his field of teaching and art to become an evangelist. An account left by Van DenVenter during this period reads:

“The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio… 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.”

And so, the song ‘I Surrender All’ was born.  I’m certain this song has encouraged and challenged many followers of Christ over the years. One such person I read about recently was William (Bill) Borden. Bill, heir to the Borden fortune, spent a year traveling the world after he graduated from high school (as many do). After this time abroad, he came to discover and be changed by the best news! The account of his conversion is as follows:

On July 2, 1905, he attended meetings in London on the subject of assurance of salvation, and Bill was deeply moved. After the sermon, a soloist sang ‘I Surrender All’. With depth of feeling, Bill stood with several others and sang the chorus: “I surrender all; I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.” He was seventeen years old, but the die was cast. He returned home, gave away vast amounts of his fortune, and prepared for missionary service among the Muslims of China. Though he died of spinal meningitis in Egypt en route to China at age twenty-five, his story has influenced generations of young people of over one hundred years. His life slogan was: “No Reserve. No Retreat. No Regrets.”

Let me invite you to spend time reflecting on the rich, and, if I’m honest, challenging and bold lyrics of this song. Why don’t you pray these words as you read them?

Love and grace,

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Saviour,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at his feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Saviour, wholly thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to thee,
Fill me with thy love and power,
Let thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!