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A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Psalm 46:1
EIN' FESTE BURG  |  Hymn History  |  Bible Passage
Author: Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Trans. By Frederick H. Hedge, 1805-1890
Musician: Martin Luther, 1483-1546, alt.

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 pow'r 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 tho' this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro' 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.



HYMN HISTORY:

The most accurate direct translation of these words is:

'A sure stronghold our God is he,
a trusty shield and weapon.
Our help he'll be and set us free
from every ill can happen
that old malicious foe, means us deadly woe
armed with might from Hell
and deepest craft as well
on earth is not his fellow.'

I'm sure you recognise this as the original of "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". Martin Luther who wrote the words once said, 'the Devil hates music because he cannot stand gaiety,' and 'Satan can smirk but he cannot laugh; he can sneer but he cannot sing.'

Because he believed in the power of song the great reformer spent a lot of time compiling a hymn book for use in congregational singing.

One writer has said that 'Luther translated the Bible into German so God could speak directly to the people; and provided the hymn so that the people could answer God in their songs.'

Luther is credited with thirty-seven hymns, by far the most popular being, "A Mighty Fortress".

It was written in 1529 at time when Luther and his followers were going through a particularly rough patch of opposition; with the Emperor, Charles V, seemingly determined to suppress the new movement.

During those days of struggle Luther turned often to Psalm forty six and was greatly encouraged by the words of verse one, 'God's our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.'

Soon a song was inspired, and Luther began in fine style with the bold declaration - 'Ein feste burg ist unswer Gott' - 'A sure stronghold our God is He.' It was Frederick Hedge, in his translation of 1852 who changed this to the more familiar "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God".

Luther's original composition became immediately popular with the common people of reformation Germany, being sung continually in the streets and chanted by the martyrs as they awaited their grim fate. What a moving sound that must have made!

At this point mention must be made of the music, that rich, melodious yea, majestic tune which lifts the words and carries them along with all the pomp and grace of a national anthem.

Considerable dispute surrounds the origin of the music, with some attributing it to Luther himself. Others give the honour to the great J.S. Bach; and it's true that Bach did use the tune as the basis of one of his many chorales.

However, Bach was not born until 1685, over a hundred and fifty years after Luther's great hymn first appeared. It seems clear then, that Martin Luther rightly deserves the credit, if not for the original composition, at least for adapting it, possibly from an old German folk tune.

Much more important than the music however, is the message- and what a message this great hymn has for the people of God!

It turns their eyes and thoughts away from the afflictions of this world, and the opposition of Satanic hosts, and fixes them upon the person of the Lord Jesus - the Lord Sabaoth as Luther so rightly refers to Him in one of the verses ...

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 is His Name,
From age to age the same;
And he must win the battle.


BIBLE PASSAGE:

1 ¶ God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.



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