Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott
Music and text by Martin Luther based upon Psalm 46
YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/cnvnfq5ut7s
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru 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.
No other hymn has the same connection to the German and Lutheran Reformation as this hymn. (And is now ironically begun to be used in the Roman Catholic Church) Luther wrote it very early in his reformation efforts. He possibly wrote it as a dedication for his friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527. It is also recorded that it was sung by Luther and his companions as they entered The Diet of Worm on April 16, 1521 where he was called to defend his 95 Thesis. Though in all likelihood it was written around 1527… almost 500 years ago.
One of Luther’s goals for the reformation was to reintroduce congregational singing to the service and to that end he wrote many hymns (poetic texts) and tunes to accompany those hymns.
Luther used his hymns to teach important theological truths and declare those truths in no uncertain terms. This direct truthfulness is one of the many reasons his hymns still resonate centuries after they were written.
He starts with declaring in terms very understandable to his audience of the confidence they can have in their protector. Life and security was very tenuous in his day. Neighboring towns or provinces would wage war over the slightest of provocation or ambition, and often did. The security of the community rested in the protective fortresses. We can find refuge from the ancient foe, the devil, (and in Luther’s mind probably Pope Leo X), whose craft and power is greater than all others. None of this is from our own strength, but rather from a man of God’s own choosing, his Son. Ultimately the truth will win the day and our enemies will be vanquished. The Spirit of God will provide all we need. Though this mortal body may be killed, God’s truth will not fail, for His Kingdom is forever! Amen and Amen.
Luther was facing significant pressure from the Roman Church to recant his teaching. His life, and the lives of his friends and family were most certainly in danger. It was a common practice to kill political and spiritual opponents during this time in Europe. The reformers, if captured by the authorities of the Roman church could certainly have been executed for their crimes of heresy. This explains the strong language in many of Luther’s hymns, they quite accurately reflect his life and times and one does not face certain death over trivial matters.
“It was … the Marseillaise of the Reformation. It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest. It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Weimar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547. It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death. It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany.” Louis Benson Studies of Familiar Hymns 1903
And it continues to speak to us today and will continue speak until he comes again.