I love when music and lyrics combine to give a particular feeling to a song. Do you know what I mean? When the music swells and the lyrics are victorious? Or when your heart beats in time to a drum beat? Sometimes the music and lyrics just match up incredibly well, and I think “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is one of those songs. I feel like I can’t help but sing this song with gusto!
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not His equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, uur 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 is His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And tho’ 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, for lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs — no thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours thro’ 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.
Historians’ best guess have Martin Luther writing this classic hymn in the fall of 1527. FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY YEARS AGO. The words are just as powerful today as I imagine they were when he first wrote them. Singing this hymn feels like a victory march. And for good reason! It’s based on Psalm 46.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.”
Though you can see pieces of the hymn throughout this psalm, it’s the very last verse that uses the word “fortress.” According to Webster’s dictionary, fortress is defined as, “a fortified place : stronghold; especially : a large and permanent fortification.“ Often, fortress has a military connotation to it—a military stronghold designed to hold up against anyone or anything that might come against it.”
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of God Himself? God is our stronghold. The “permanent fortification” of our souls. Our “refuges and strength, a very present help in trouble.” “He must win the battle.”
This year marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and the more I have read and learned about the Reformation, the more grateful I am to see God’s sovereignty throughout all of history. Luther boldly and defiantly proclaimed that Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) spoke of a salvation that came through faith alone (Sola Fida), by grace alone (Sola Gratia), from Christ alone (Solus Christus), for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
These beliefs flew in the face of the papacy and eventually led to Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic church, and yet as he writes in the hymn, “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.” Our God is indeed a mighty fortress.
Just last night I got word that my beloved Aunt Marie went to be with Jesus after a short battle with advanced-stage pancreatic cancer. And as I write this post, I can’t help but think that it’s entirely fitting to be thinking about this hymn as I mourn her passing from life to life eternal. Though her earthly life is over, I rejoice in being reminded that the enemy has not won.
“And tho’ 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, for lo! his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”
The enemy’s doom is sure, and my beloved aunt’s eternity is too, because she is found in Christ. God has been her refuge and strength for many years, a mighty fortress. And no less so as she stepped into eternity with Him. A mighty fortress indeed.