“Lead On, O King Eternal” (ELW 805)
1 Lead on, O King eternal! The day of march has come;
henceforth in fields of conquest your tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation your grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.
2 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,
but deeds of love and mercy the heav’nly kingdom comes.
3 Lead on, O King eternal: we follow, not with fears,
for gladness breaks like morning where’re your face appears.
Your cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light;
the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might!
As you first read the words of this hymn, you might think of it as a battle hymn for those marching off to war, but it is anything but. Written by Ernest Shurtleff for his own graduation from seminary in the late 1800s, the hymn describes the challenges of faith in this world. Note the lines of the second verse: “Holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace; for not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, but deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”
It is in that kingdom, that realm, that we are called to follow—a realm of love and mercy, and not one of “swords loud clashing.”
Although not knowing the hymn’s history at the time, I too chose it, not for seminary commencement but to close my ordination service some forty years ago this month.
Dear Lord Jesus, may we follow you not in fear, but always confident that your cross is lifted over us. It is in your light that we follow. Lead us on, oh God of might. Amen.