Lead On, O King Eternal – Carolyn Wood’s Devotional – July 3, 2021


Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.  I Timothy 1:17

Tis graduation season and many of us either have a relation or acquaintance who have or will be soon venturing off into the world afresh.  For all of us it is important to stay close to God at all times, but it is especially so for the new graduates.  God asks that we stay on the high road with him.  Many voices clamor for our attention, trying to divert us to another path.  But God has called us to walk ever so closely with him, soaking in his presence, living in his peace.  This is his unique design for us, planned before the world began.

God has called each of his children to a different path, distinctly designed for that one  Do not let anyone convince you that his path is the only right way.  And we must be careful not to extol our path as superior to another’s way.  What God requires of you is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him – wherever he leads.  Micah 6:8

If you have attended graduation services recently or if you will do so in the near future, most likely you will hear the great hymn, Lead On, O, King Eternal either played or sung.  I hope that this story regarding it’s origin and link to graduations blesses you today.

This regal prayer has been sung at graduations around the world every year since 1887, when Ernest W. Shurltleff wrote it for his own graduation.  A native of Boston and a graduate at Harvard, Ernest, twenty-six, was a student at Andover Theological Seminary when he envisioned his fellow seminarians marching for their diplomas singing a great prayer for God’s guidance on the rest of life.  Selecting a tune called LANCASHIRE, Ernest wrote words as regal as the music, and thus a great tradition was born.

Ernest went on to be ordained a Congregational minister and to hold pastorates in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California  In 1905, he organized a church in Frankfort, Germany.  He and his wife also worked tirelessly with European students.  When World War I broke out, Ernest labored to exhaustion in relief ministries, feeding the poor and displaced.  He died in Paris in 1917, during the war.  His life was the embodiment of his hymn; yet nothing he did was as enduring to history as that hymn, written at age twenty-six.

Likewise, nothing that composer Henry Smart did was more enduring than this tune, LANCASHIRE, penned at age twenty-two.  Henry had grown up surrounded by music, for his father was a piano and organ builder.  As a young man, Henry enrolled in the university to study law; but, unable to get music out of his heart, he switched professions and became a self-taught organist and composer.  He wrote LANCASHIRE for a music festival at Blackburn, England, on October 4, 1835, to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of the English Reformation.  Unfortunately, Henry worked so hard at his music that he damaged his eyesight beyond repair.

For nearly fifty years Henry Smart served as organist at various churches in England.  He also edited the hymnbook of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and he was often consulted for new organ installations throughout Great Britain.  He became one of nineteenth-century England’s favorite musicians.

In his final years, Henry was totally blind, yet he continued composing by dictating his pieces to his daughter, and he continued playing the organ by memory until his death at age sixty-three in 1879.  Henry Smart wrote over two hundred fifty secular works and several religious compositions, including the beautiful REGENT SQUARE, the melody of “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

Hastings College


Mass Band at Dordt College Band Festival


Grace, Peace and Joy to you as you listen!