Lead on, O King eternal, The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong;
And now, O King eternal, We lift our battle song.
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.
Lead on, O King eternal, We follow, not with fears,
For gladness breaks like morning Where’er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted over us, We journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest; Lead on, O God of might.
Words by Ernest W. Shurtleff, 1888
Music by Henry T. Smart, 1836
For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57
So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
1 Timothy 4:7 – 8
Remember when you were a kid, all the games you used to play. Duck, Duck Goose, Red Rover and of course, Follow the Leader. My son used to play a version of follow the leader that he loved when he was little. I would say, “Hey, do the dance.” He would jump up and proceed to walk me through the steps. He would call out the move and do it, then wait for me to repeat it. Every time it was done, it varied slightly but had the same basic moves. It was loads of fun and he would be so excited to lead. And why not? Everyone likes to be the leader. The catch is that not everyone can be the leader. Someone has to follow.
It really doesn’t change that much when we grow up. Yes, many of us will have the opportunities to be a leader, but all of us are followers at some point in time. Now we really should not look down upon following, because that is how we learn and grown in our skills and roles in life. So it is to with our walk with Christ. Christ is the leader that we have been given the opportunity to follow and learn from so that we can grow to be more like Him. This is the theme found in Ernest W. Shurtleff’s “Lead On, Oh King Eternal.”
The hymn begins by presenting us with what appears to be a theme of war. “The day of march”, fields of conquest” and “our battle song.” Is this really a song of war? Well to begin with the concept of a battle is not foreign to the Christian faith but we do need to see it in context. Ephesians 6:1 says, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” As followers of Christ we are in a battle, a spiritual battle. As Paul states in this passage, there are indeed evil spiritual forces that come against us. But we are not alone, Christ himself faced these battles as described most clearly in Matthew 4. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Christ is our example in the battle that we face each day against temptation, again the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” By following His lead, we can find the strength and guidance to stand strong in the face of these battles.
No the message of this hymn is not war, but that we can stand strong in the face of attacks that come our way when we follow the lead of our King. So the hymn continues by not focusing on the battle, but the victory that we can have in Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57) So we read, “Lead on, O King eternal, Till sin’s fierce war shall cease, And holiness shall whisper The sweet amen of peace.” While we may be in a battle, we can look forward to the day when peace shall reign. We can look forward to the day when the struggles are gone and we can rest in God’s presence. It is a victory we can not achieve through our own strength in battle. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
No the victory does not come through our strength, but through God’s Spirit which he bestows on all those who believe. So we do not set out looking for a fight, but to live by Christ example, to follow his lead “with deeds of love and mercy.” For Christ Jesus has saved us through His love (John 3:16) and mercy (Titus 3:5).
Yes, God leads us through the struggles and battles of this life. He leads on to a day when we will can rest in the peace of His presence. And we can know that if we follow Him, “there is in store . . . the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award . . . on that day.” (1 Timothy 4:8) So as we look toward that day, we continue to call out, “Lead on, O God of might.”
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Brian Olson is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ having worked with both youth and adults.