Text by: Joachim Magdeburg 1525-1587?
Bishopgarth 1897: https://youtu.be/j0Cl_q7GJ6E
Was mein Gott will: https://youtu.be/eTd7Un3-YEo
- Who trusts in God, a strong abode
In heav’n and earth possesses;
Who looks in love
To Christ above,
No fear his heart oppresses.
In Thee alone, dear Lord, we own
Sweet hope and consolation;
Our shield from foes,
Our balm for woes,
Our great and sure salvation.
2. Though Satan’s wrath
Beset our path,
And worldly scorn assail us;
While Thou art near we will not fear,
Thy strength shall never fail us.
Thy rod and staff, shall keep us safe,
And guide our steps forever;
Nor shades of death, nor hell beneath,
Our souls from Thee shall sever.
3. In all the strife
Of mortal life,
Our feet shall stand securely;
Temptation’s hour shall lose its power,
For Thou shalt guard us surely.
O God, renew,
With heavenly dew,
Our body, soul, and spirit,
Until we stand at Thy right hand,
Through Jesus’ saving merit.
It is said we should study history so we don’t repeat our ancestor’s mistakes. This is a silly idea, we will never have the opportunity to repeat our ancestor’s mistakes for they were their own, and we will get to make our own mistakes. Rather we study history so we can better understand today. How can you possibly understand what has happened in Korea peninsula today unless you understand the history behind the conflict which is now generations old. Who are the Kim’s and why does China support their regimes? Or why does Iran hate the US so much?
Which brings us to Joachim Magdeburg from the 16th century. When we, as residences in the early 21st century look back on the Reformation, we imagine a rather clean break between Rome, and Luther and company. We recognize October 31, 1517 as the beginning of the Reformation because Martin Luther made a social post on a university chapel door. However, a more detail reading of history quickly reveals how long and bitter were the early years of the Reformation. And while geography played a role in establishing some of the lines between the various parties, (politics played just about as much role in the Reformation as did theology), those who found themselves in the border regions often faced great personal peril.
While Magdeburg matriculated at Wittenberg he eventually found a position in Altmark, an area still very much under the influence of Rome. While Luther did establish some congregations which were separate and independent of Rome, most congregations were still “Roman” in tradition if not loyalty. The change from being of the “one true church, the church of Rome” to something else took literally decades to be anything other than minor and inconsequential. So Magdeburg, being trained in the epicenter of the early days of the Reformation and a dedicated Lutheran, is banished from the Electorate of Brandenburg (as the area was known).
He next got a position at St. Peter’s church in Hamburg, but once again, because of his unwillingness to submit to the Roman church’s proscriptions in various matters was removed. He then went to a church in Thuringia (the area the Bach family was soon to spring from). Again, he ran afoul of the leadership because of his reformist beliefs and was told to leave the area. In those days, if your beliefs were unacceptable to the political/spiritual powers you could be forced to relocate or you could face imprisonment or worse.
It wasn’t until Maximillian II once again allowed protestant preachers to work in Austria was Magdeburg able to find work, this time as a chaplain in the military, (during this time it is thought he wrote this hymn) where, yet again, he was caught up the machinations of the Roman clergy. And then for the rest of his known life we find him working for a couple of years at a time at various posts before eventually being forced to leave because of his Lutheran beliefs. All of this occurred 40 – 60 years after Martin Luther wrote his 95 Thesis and not all that far from the geographic area of Luther’s greatest influence.
Which brings us to our hymn. Magdeburg wrote only the first stanza, the author/s of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas is unknown. Even within this small example of Magdeburg’s writing, coming after already experiencing a number of trails for his faith, one can see the bed rock from which his faith rests. In language reminiscent of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress,” he describes God as a “strong abode.” He then lists what he gains from his Lord: Sweet hope and consolation; Our shield from foes, Our balm for woes, Our great and sure salvation.
In the second stanza the unknown author conintues Magdeburg’s tone from the first stanza. Even though Satan and the world will assail us from all directions, we have no fear. The strength of the Lord never fails us, the rod and staff keep us safe and guide us. Our souls will never see the shades of death or hell for neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, or height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And finally, in all of the strife of our mortal life, we can stand secure from temptation. We are guarded by God; our entire being is renewed by God with heavenly dew, until we stand at the Thy right had through the work of the Cross.