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This hymn written by Martin Luther in the 16th century has been called “the greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period of German history” and the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It is one of my personal favorites. I sang it probably once a month all through my elementary school days in chapel, which is where I first learned about Luther.
A few helpful links that you could probably find on your own:
(I’ll add more as they come to me)
The Music (score)
A few notes about the music… the content I’ll dissect below.
A Mighty Fortress is most commonly set to the tune of Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott which J.S. Bach altered from Martin Luther’s original melody. The 2 melodies/arrangements are nearly indistinguishable if you don’t know what your looking for, but the syncopation that we sing now varies greatly from Luther’s original score… we sing a much more isometric form. Bach wrote the arrangement primarily for organ and choral presentation, which leads to a troublesome dilemma… it’s nearly impossible to play well with modern instrumentation (guitar, drums, and the like). It was meant for voice and keyboard. This has lead to the song being nearly erased from “modern” church congregations, which is a shame because the song has some of the best content I’ve ever heard.
Incidentally, someone needs to record a good, plain (not so operatic) choral arrangement with very slight instrumentation; similar to what Bob Kauflin did on his Together for the Gospel record… but better… I have problems with that recording… sorry Bob. 🙂
The strength of this song is where it should be… in its words. The words of this song and their saturation with the gospel is why it has endured for nearly 500 years.
The words were originally written in German, so we usually sing a 19th century translation by Frederic Henry Hedge a Unitarian Pastor (HILARIOUS!). There are other translations, but none have endured as this one… probably because it’s so good…
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
- Our God defends us against the snares of the devil.
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.
- Luther was rightly concerned with the fact that Satan is far more powerful than man.
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:
- If we face sin and Satan on our own power, the result is only death. We don’t HAVE within us what is needed to fight…
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.
- OH BUT THERE IS ONE. One who came to fight FOR us. He is our champion and HE MUST win.
- Incidentally, this verse is basically a gospel presentation.
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, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.
- And even though the threat of sin, Satan and death are real and dangerous, the Christian has no cause to fear.
- Notice the reason we can endure the pains of suffering and sin in this life is not because relief necessarily comes IN THIS LIFE, but because we KNOW the outcome. Death has been defeated and that gives the Christian a hope that creates endurance.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
- meant to be read “that word above all earthly powers abides, no thanks to earthly powers who gave no help; they were against the word, but the word prevailed.”
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
- Christ is on OUR SIDE, and through him we have the Holy Spirit and his gifts, which are more than ample weapons in the battle against sin and Satan.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
- this line…I can’t ever get through it. I heard John Piper make reference to Psalm 116:8 “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”. His comment was “the answer is, he can kill you…” Luther wrote this line because the threat of death was very real to those who were preaching the gospel in his day. People were dying. Yet, he was persuaded that NOTHING could separate him from the love of Christ… and that was WORTH dying for. He was making sense of verses like “some of you will be put to death… but not a hair on your head shall perish“. I want to have faith like this. I sing songs like this in the hopes that the truth in them helps to build faith like this in me.