Judson Wheeler van DeVenter (1855–1939) was a hymn writer, evangelist, teacher and musician.
Van DeVenter was born Dec. 5, 1855, to Christian parents — John Wesley and Eliza Ann Van DeVenter — on a farm near Dundee, Michigan.
When he was 17, he became a Christian.
Educated in village schools, he graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan. He was an art teacher and supervisor of art in the public schools of Sharon, Pennsylvania, for 15 years. During that time, he was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church doing evangelistic work.
In 1880, he married Malissa Miller. They had two sons and a daughter.
He struggled for five years between continuing his career in art or going into full-time evangelistic work. He finally surrendered to full-time ministry.
While at the home of evangelist George Sebring, he wrote the words of “I Surrender All,” based upon his surrendering to God’s plan for his life. Sebring put the words to music in 1896. The same year it was published in “Gospel Songs of Grace and Glory.”
The words to “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” — have resonated for generations of Baptists.
Van DeVenter went on to write more than 60 hymns and songs. Also a musician, he played 13 different instruments.
Van DeVenter evangelized throughout the United States and Great Britain, and numerous people were converted.
In the 1920s, he served as a professor of hymnology for four years at Florida Bible Institute near Tampa. After teaching, he continued to live in Tampa.
Ties with Billy Graham
Evangelist Billy Graham later attended Florida Bible Institute and met Van DeVenter. “We students loved this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his home for an evening of fellowship and singing,” Graham related in “Crusade Hymn Stories,” written by Cliff Barrows, who frequently sang at Graham’s crusades.
Graham was with the hymn writer when he died on July 17, 1939. “He went to be with Christ with a smile on his face, looking forward to seeing Jesus,” Graham said, recounting that Van DeVenter sang “I Surrender All” on his deathbed.
Van DeVenter was buried in Dundee’s Maple Grove Cemetery in Michigan.