When Ernest Shurtleff’s seminary class was preparing for their graduation, they turned to Ernest, who had written two volumes of poetry, and asked him to write a hymn for their graduation ceremony. He wrote “Lead on, O King Eternal” for that occasion.
This hymn is really a prayer — a prayer for God’s guidance. It speaks of marching and “fields of conquest” and “battle song” — not because it celebrates war, but because it acknowledges the daily struggle in which good people must engage against evil. It looks forward to the celebration of victory — not with clashing swords and stirring drums, but with “deeds of love and mercy” — acknowledging that Christ calls us to conquer the world by demonstrating love and showing mercy rather than by using force.
This hymn acknowledges the difficulties of the Christian life — standing armed only with holiness against “sin’s fierce war. It acknowledges the reality of the cross, but celebrates the reality of the crown — the reward of those who are faithful — and closes, “Lead on, O God of might!”
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan