March Hymn: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
This grand piece of hymnody, penned by none other than the great reformer Martin Luther, has rightly found its way into the favor of many Protestant traditions. The music of my Mennonite upbringing featured this hymn and I’m sure many of your childhood and adult worship experiences did as well. The commanding presence of this hymn, both lyrically and melodically, has truly stood the test of time in our sacred music traditions.
There was some doubt originally about the authorship of the tune to which the above words were set, which has now been widely resolved and agreed upon among scholars. Martin Luther wrote the text and melody concurrently between the years of 1527-1529. This would place the composition sometime right before or during the plague, which ravaged Europe in the sixteenth century. It is no surprise then that we should encounter such strong perseverance language from a man of rich theology in the face of a great storm of life. Luther himself was described as a confident and bold man who was willingly defiant in the midst of opposition. We see his resilience and commitment to the steadfastness of the Lord in this text.
Thirty-six hymns have been attributed to Luther, of which “A Mighty Fortress” may be the most popular. We sing this song still today because of the long-lasting reminder it is of God’s supremacy and victory over the devil, and His power to uphold us in the midst of the many battles we come up against in this broken world. As we sing this song in 2014, we are reminded of those brothers and sisters in Christ who have run the race before us and stood firm on the same promises we proclaim even now. We can draw strength and courage from the knowledge that God’s kingdom truly is forever!
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe,
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.