Lead On, O King Eternal

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For not with swords loud clashing,
nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy
the heavenly kingdom comes.

—Er­nest W. Shurt­leff, Lead On, O King Eternal

I was taken aback by these lines as I sang them in church a few weeks ago.

Before I had finished the verse posted above, I found myself getting defensive. I felt the need to defend the use of swords/weapons in certain situations. Here I was, singing hymns about the eternal peace of heaven, and I was preparing my defense of the just war theory. What in the world?

While I believe in clashing swords for just causes, I don’t think my heart was in the right place. There might be times when war is justified or when we need to stand up to protect that which is worthy of protection, but as sojourners and strangers in this fallen world, we can’t ever let these exceptions become the norm. We cannot let our hearts and minds think of means of force as the ideal. Instead, we must long for the place where battle of all forms is obselete—that is, heaven.

As the song states so beautifully, the Kingdom of God will be realized fully through deeds of love and mercy—specifically Christ’s love and mercy on the cross. Our fearless leader, Christ Jesus will have accomplished all that is required for us to dwell in eternal peace. The just exceptions which require the use of force will never transpire again, for sin and death will be no more:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

So—this side of heaven—we fight and defend what is right and just, but we mustn’t begin to normalize it. We belong to and look forward to a kingdom where neither “swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums” will be required. Instead, we must long for the day when our sin no longer has a grip on us and deeds of love and mercy will be our natural bent.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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