“Lead On, O King Eternal”

"Who is the King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle" (Psa. 24.8).

     INTRO." A song which asks the King of Glory to be our leader in the battles of life is "Lead On, O King Eternal" (#494 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Ernest Warburton Shurtleff, who was born at Boston, MA, on Apr. 4, 1862. His education was received at the Boston Latin School, Harvard University, New Church Theological Seminary, and Andover Theological Seminary. During the years of his studies, he did a lot of writing and had four published works by the time he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary at the age of 26. They were Poems in 1883, New Year’s Peace in 1885, and Song of Hope and Shadow of the Angel both in 1886. This hymn was produced in 1887 by the minister-to-be and already-published poet as a graduation song to be sung at the commencement of his class at their request and was first published later that same year in his own Hymns of the Faith.

     The tune (Lancashire) for which it was written had been composed some 52 years earlier by a well-known British musician, Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879). It was produced for a music festival at Blackburn, England, on Oct. 4, 1835, to observe the 300th anniversary of the Reformation in England and was used with Reginald Heber’s hymn "From Greenland’s Icy Mountains." Printed in a leaflet for that occasion, its first inclusion in a hymnbook was Smart’s Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship, published in 1866 at London, England. Apparently, its first use with Shurtleff’s hymn in a hymnbook was in The Methodist Hymnal of 1905.

     After graduation, Shurtleff received a Doctor of Divinity Degree from Ripon College in Wisconsin and became a Congregationalist minister, serving churches in Buena Ventura, CA, Old Plymouth and Palmer, MA, and from 1898 to 1905, the First Congregational Church in Minneapolis, MN.  Then in 1905, he organized the American Church at Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and the following year became director of student activities in the Academy Vitti, serving the American students in Paris, France.  During World War I, he and his wife, the former Helen S. Cramer of Cameron, TX, did relief work. During an influenze epidemic, he died at Paris on Aug. 24, 1917.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1977 edition of the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship.

     This hymn identifies several aspects of the warfare in which Christians must engage.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that we must be ready to go into battle
"Lead on, O King Eternal, The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our hope;
Through days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong,
And now, O King Eternal, We lift our battle song."
 A. As soldiers of Christ, we must be prepared to endure whatever hardships come our way: 2 Tim. 2.3
 B. The primary means by which we make this preparation is by our reading, studying, and learning God’s word: 1 Tim. 4.6, 13-15; 2 Tim. 1.13, 2.15, 3.14-17
 C. However, it is not enough just to prepare ourselves for the fight through our study of God’s word; we must ultimately go out and fight the battle: 1 Tim. 1.18, 6.12

II. Stanza 2 tells us that we must be willing to follow our King anywhere
"Lead on, O King Eternal, To lands of deepest night;
We follow where Thou leadest As heralds of the light.
May we to souls immortal Thy Word of life convey
And open heaven’s portal Through Christ, the truth, the way."
 A. As in His reaction to persecution and suffering, so in His mission to seek and save the lost, Jesus left an example that we should follow Him: Lk. 19.10, 1 Pet. 2.21
 B. Like Paul, following Jesus will sometimes lead us to places of darkest night where souls need the light of truth to escape the snare of the devil: Jn. 8.12, Acts 25.16-18
 C. Therefore, it should be our aim and determination to proclaim the message of salvation to a lost and dying world because Jesus is the only way: Mk. 16.15-16, Jn. 14.6

III. Stanza 3 tells us that we must understand the nature of the King’s warfare (we might talk about the heavenly kingdom, which Christ has already established, as coming to those who hear, believe, and obey through the gospel that we preach)
"Lead on, O King Eternal, TIll sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper The sweet Amen of peace;
For not with swords loud clashing, Nor roll of stirring drums:
With deeds of love and mercy, The heavenly kingdom comes."
 A. Jesus did not come to establish a literal, earthly kingdom where there would be physical fighting to gain power: Jn. 18.36
 B. Therefore, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal–there are no swords loud clashing or roll of stirring drums: 2 Cor. 10.3-5
 C. The reason is that our fight is not with enemy armies but with spiritual forces of Satan and sin, which we can overcome only by lives of holiness and deeds of mercy, as we use the spiritual armor and weaponry that God provides: Eph. 6.10-17

IV. Stanza 4 tells us that we must look to our King to provide the reward for which we fight
"Lead on, O King Eternal, We follow, not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning Where’er Thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifted o’er us: We journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest: Lead on, O God of might."
 A. Because of the almighty power and promises of our King, we do not fight with a constant attitude of fearing failure: 2 Tim. 1.7, 1 Jn. 4.18
 B.Of course, we do have to make sure that we are truly following Christ in the fight in order to have the promise of His presence and blessings: 1 Cor. 9.24-27
 C. But just as the old soldier Paul looked forward to the crown of life after fighting his fight, so all who faithfully serve Christ in this
spiritual warfare will gain the crown: 2 Tim. 4.6-8, Rev. 2.10.

     CONCL.: While the metaphors and imagery of this hymn were intended for a seminary graduation, the thoughts can well be applied to the life of every Christian. As one writer said, these things should not be confined only to preachers because they represent the battle plan for all of God’s people. Thus, every child of God, as he faces the battles of life against evil and seeks to gain the crown of life, should make his petition to the Lord, saying, "Lead On, O King Eternal."


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