Keeping the Hymns Close By

Lead On, O King Eternal​

Author – Ernest W. Shurtleff, 1862 – 1917
Composer – Henry Smart, 1813 – 1879

I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day. And not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing. II Timothy 4:7,8

This hymn was written by a young graduating seminarian, Ernest W. Shurtlefff, in 1887. Shurtleff was born in Boston, Massachuesetts, on April 4, 1862. His classmates at Andover Theological Seminary, recognizing the poetic ability of their colleague, asked him to write a hymn which they might all sing together for their commencement service. Shurtleff responded with this text. At the time of this graduation he had already published two volumes of verse and throughout his later ministry wrote a number of additional hymns. This is his one hymn text, however, which has endured the passing of time.

Following his graduation from seminary, Shurtleff pastored churches in California, Massachusetts and Minnesota. In 1905 he and his family went to Europe, where he organized the American Church in Frankfurt, Germany. When World War I broke out, he carried on a ministry in Paris with students and did relief work among the poor and needy. He died in Paris in 1917, during the war. It was said that his entire life was truly the epitome of the hymn text he had written many years earlier at the age of 26 for his own graduation service.

Although the metaphors and imagery used in this hymn text were intended for the graduation, we can apply these truths to our personal lives and ministries today:

Verse One- “days of preparation” – the time needed to prepare for the graduation hour from Seminary. “fields of conquest” – the specific responsibilities: pastorates to be assumed by these prospective ministers. “Thy tents…” speaks of the fact that the Christian minister is not called to a permanent abode but must be willing to move and live wherever God places Him.

Verse Two – Here is a summary of the whole purpose of the Christian ministry – warfare against sin, but always accomplished “with deeds of love and mercy.”
Verse Three – This is the motivation for Christian service-the sense of God’s abiding presence throughout this life and the promised reward that awaits the faithful servant when his earthly task is complete.

The music for this text was borrowed by Shurtleff from a tune written fifty-two years earlier by an English organist and composer, Henry Smart. Smart originally composed this tune for the text “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” to be used at a music festival in England in 1835, observing the 300th anniversary of the Reformation in England. Henry Smart became well-known throughout England as a composer, conductor and compiler of sacred music, even though he spent the last fifteen years of his life in total blindness. Despite this affliction, he continued his work as an organist at a church in London until his death at age sixty-three in 1879. Another of his favorite tunes is used for the Christmas carol, “Angels From the Realms of Glory”.

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Ernest Shurtleff

Ernest Shurtleff