Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All to Jesus I Surrender

Praise for the Lord #29

Words: Judson W. Van De Venter, 1896
Music: Winfield S. Weeden, 1896

Van De Venter was educated at Hillsdale College and pursued a career as an art teacher until entering ministry a few years later. He spent his later years as a hymnology teacher at the predecessor of Trinity Bible College in St. Petersburg, Florida.(Cyberhymnal) Van De Venter and Weeden also wrote the gospel song "Sunlight, sunlight, in my soul today"(PFTL#604) in 1897, and probably several others--one fine example of turn-of-the-century sentimental ballad is their song My mother's prayer. "I surrender all", however, is by far their greatest work. (Incidentally, these two are a good example of the fact that 19th-century gospel was just as much a Northern as a Southern phenomenon--both were from Northern states.)

Stanza 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 blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

The completeness of the surrender God requires is nothing new. Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the time-honored Shema, says: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." The Lord did not ask to be first among Israel's gods; He was to be their only God.(Exodus 20:5) And though He demanded only a tenth of their goods as an offering, it is clear from Exodus forward that all they had, and even their own persons, were His in reality--He had redeemed them.(Exodus 6:6)

Mere belief in God is not surrender--James 2:19 tells us that "even the demons believe, and tremble," but this in no way forgives their rebellion. A partial surrender and obedience is also not enough, as the rich young ruler learned in Luke chapter 18. He had much to commend him in his walk with God, but Jesus, knowing his heart and his circumstances, challenged him to surrender the one thing that stood between them--his love of money. Unwilling to give over this area of his life to the Lord's control, he was unwilling to follow.

The hymn text emphasizes, "All to Him I freely give." The demons (if we understand their history correctly as fallen angels) met a day when they could no longer deny the lordship and authority of God, but it was far too late. The rich young ruler was willing to surrender, but only on his own terms. Likewise, a day is coming to this world when "every knee shall bow" to Christ.(Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11) But only those who freely surrender to Him now can hope for salvation.

Finally, this stanza emphasizes that surrender to Christ is a daily act. Certainly we are not even on the right road until we have surrendered to Him in baptism:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ... We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ... So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.(Romans 6:4,6,11-13)

But every day after, we must surrender our lives anew. As Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Stanza 2:
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

There are things to be given up in order to follow our Lord. Abraham left his home and "went out, not knowing where he was going."(Hebrews 11:8) Moses "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin."(Hebrews 11:24-25) The faithful prophets of Judah and Israel often gave up the positions of power and wealth they might have had at court, because they said with Micaiah, "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak."(1 Kings 22:14)

Nothing changed by the time Jesus began His ministry. He warned a scribe who wished to follow Him that, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."(Matthew 8:20) This would be true of many of the early disciples, as Paul said:

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.(1 Corinthians 4:11-13)

Paul himself had given up a great deal in worldly success, and in the potential for even greater things. If he had not become a Christian, there is no telling how high a man of his intellect and drive might have gone in Jerusalem. But he said, "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

The following stanza is omitted in hymnals among the Churches of Christ, at least as far as I have found:

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

This obviously treads on the delicate ground of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life--how exactly do we "feel" the Holy Spirit? The answers to that question have launched many a discussion! I argue in my paper "A place in the soul" that hymnal editors among the Churches of Christ historically have chosen to omit songs (or sometimes just stanzas) that bring these matters up, rather than be labeled as taking a particular position on the indwelling of the Spirit.

The fourth line is just as problematic, in context: if we are waiting to "feel the Holy Spirit" to "truly know that Thou art mine", it begins to sound as though the writer is looking for a second experience of grace in the Wesleyan/Holiness sense. This, of course, is going a good bit further, and I can see why our editors have left this stanza out.

The final stanza of the original text has also been left off by many hymnals:

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

This pretty much confirms the implications of the other omitted verse, and it is consistent to omit this one as well. Fortunately, our editors did not jettison the song altogether--a judicious bit of omission turned this text into a more general plea to make a complete, daily surrender to Christ.

Stanza 3:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

Jesus does not as us to empty ourselves of worldliness, though, without anything to take its place. As in the natural world, so in the spiritual, a vacuum must be filled if there is material at hand. The unusual parable of Luke 11:24-26, in which a cast-out demon returns to the empty house with seven worse demons, well illustrates the fact that we cannot simply strive to not be sinful. We need to be filled with the power that Jesus offers, and let our lives be animated by that new ownership.

The beginning and ending of the book of Romans shows the incredible contrast between the depraved state of a sinful humanity without God, and the saved state of the believers:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.(Romans 1:29)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.(Romans 15:13-14)

The surrender of our lives to Jesus brings us the greatest victory we can ever know.

About the music: Winfield S. Weeden (1847-1908) also wrote the music for "Sunlight"(PFTL#604) to words of Van De Venter, and "Somebody did a golden deed"(PFTL#591) to a text by John R. Clements. "I surrender all" has aged the most gracefully of these, probably owing to the ease and simplicity of its melody. The original version had just the soprano and tenor parts singing as a duet in the stanza, with the alto and bass parts joining for the refrain. In Praise for the Lord, however, the editors chose to supply full four-part harmony to such passages in almost all of the songs, for reasons unknown to me. This hymn is very effective sung rather slowly and softly, which seems to invite individual contemplation; it also works well sung vigorously at a faster "processional" tempo, which gives it a very different character of "rallying the troops". It can be absolutely dreadful, however, sung at a moderately slow and tempo, and will tend to drag badly. It is well worth the songleader's time to experiment with different tempos and styles.


Cyberhymnal. Judson Wheeler Van De Venter. http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/v/a/n/vandeventer_jw.htm.

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