Gaither Homecoming: Stories Behind Popular Hymns, Day 9

Today’s reading is drawn from Luke 14:33 and Matthew 11:28-30.

I Surrender All

God wants us to surrender our lives to Him, not for His sake, but for ours. He wants us to trade our burden, which is heavy and laborious, for His, which is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-30). But so often, instead of surrendering our burden, we wrestle to maintain control, and we end up only missing out on the blessing, and the privilege, of God’s work. Judson Van DeVenter learned the difficult struggle and ultimate satisfaction of surrendering his life to Christ. His dream was to become a famous artist, and everything he did was to that pursuit. He studied with artists in Europe and began teaching in Pennsylvania to support his dream. It was there that he got involved with revivals held at church, singing and directing music. That’s when he discovered his gift and love for leading others to Christ. Plenty of other people noticed too, and they encouraged him to trade his teaching job for full-time ministry. (Funny how easy it is to discern God’s will for someone else, isn’t it?) But it wasn’t so easy for Judson. He wrestled over the decision for five years before finally deciding to submit to what he knew to be God’s call on his life.

Van DeVenter began traveling extensively throughout the United States, England, and Scotland, singing and leading music for various evangelists. It was during this time of music ministry that he wrote “I Surrender All,” recalling his struggle to surrender every aspect of his life to Christ and knowing the satisfaction of finally doing it. Eventually, he combined his talent for teaching and his expertise in music ministry as an instructor of hymnology at Florida Bible Institute. Even after he retired, he continued to pour his life into the students there, even inviting them to his home for fellowship and singing hymns, including the song he wrote after his decision to pursue full-time ministry, “I Surrender All.” One of the students who attested to the impact of this discipleship was Billy Graham, who said of Van DeVenter, “One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist who wrote ‘I Surrender All,’ the Rev. J. W. Van DeVenter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity Bible College) in the late 1930s. We students loved this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman.”

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