God the Mighty Fortress. Luther’s Reformation Song
Two days ago was St. Patrick’s Day, an annual holiday commerating the British Apostle & Patron Saint of Ireland, reminding us, with colors of green and three leaf patterns, of the missionary and bishop who returned to the land of his Irish pirate captors, (who had enslaved him for 6 years as a shepherd; who converted to Christ and Roman Catholicism, and who escaped almost starving to death; then after returning to Britain, entered the priesthood,) determined and succeeded to make them his captives to Christ. He became a vital vessel and instrument in the spread of the Gospel and Christianity. His Breastplate Prayer and Motto: I Arise Today Strong in Christ for every Battle has become a popular Christian Song.
This great Saint and Servant of Christ returned me to my last Song of Reflections His Cross Our Cross, in which I told P.S. that I was thinking of another Poet who experienced lifelong insanity. That Poet was the Danish Nikolai F.S. Grundtvig (1783—1872)of Church Copenhagen, who struggled to overcome madness and death by turning to the word and prayer, to poetry and literature, and to Martin Luther and to the Protestant Reformation. It was Luther’s great song, the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, that gave him great comfort and inspiration as it has done for millions of others over the centuries.
From my earliest days in Christ Luther’s Hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God was heard sung or recited in almost all denominations. I heard cults sing it, and joyfully and lively sung by the Charismatic Catholics and the Local Churches of the Living Stream Recovery. It is published by as many groups as a standard Church Hymn, even in recent Roman Catholic Hymn Books. Some songs take years and decades and centuries to become popular and spread internationally; but this song became popular and international within days and months of leaving Luther’s pen. It took on a life of its own, and the spread of Protestantism may almost be fully and accurately traced by following the path of this Reformation Hymn. Some songs come with interesting stories, like heritage and relatives, this song has become a Witness and Testimony of its own; it is the Story, His-Story. It has been rendered and translated hundreds of times in hundreds of nations. From its German roots to Europe to the world, it has conquered and inspired and formed the hearts of countless Christians to this very hour. So here it is:
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein’ Feste Burg ist unser Gott) from German by Martin Luther (1529) English translation by Frederick H. Hedge (1852).
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
Does 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.
You 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 has 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 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!