A Mighty Fortress is Our God
w/m Martin Luther (1529). Translated by Frederick Hedge (1853) Chorus Bill Itzel (2017)
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
The Lord of hosts His name, from age to age the same
And He will win the battle
Out of darkness, light has come
We will follow ‘til the dawn
The word alone will be our guide
’Til all is known at Jesus’ side
When face to face we see Him
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
Last week, we looked at how Martin Luther and the Reformation changed theology (The 5 Solas), but he also made a great impact on congregational singing. Before the Reformation, the singing was done by the clergy up front and the people just listened (Sadly, much of modern worship 500 years later has come full-circle and is very performance based). Not only had the Roman Church banned congregational singing, but the mass was in Latin and the common people did not understand what was being sung. In fact, John Huss was burned at the stake for three heresies, one of which was encouraging congregational singing. To reform singing in the church, Luther wrote hymns for his people to sing… and we’ve been singing them ever since.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. A Bulwark is a wall or fortification. This hymn is one that focuses on the attacks of the devil, and Luther could see clearly what the perversion of the gospel could yield, as he grew up surrounded by the darkness that was about to be pierced by the light of the Reformation. God is our fortress in the darkness. The devil will try to constantly attack our hearts, our families, our churches, but he is nothing compared to the barricade of God’s power and protection. Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. We can certainly see this clearly today as the trials of this life hit us in wave after wave and often seem to prevail. 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. Our ancient foe is the devil. He has been the enemy of mankind since the garden and is always “prowling about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). While he is nothing compared to our God, for he is a created being who has no power except what God allows him, he is still a formidable foe to us, who preys on our flesh and weakness.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Because of the power the devil has been given, and because of the weakness of our flesh, we often fail when we try to live in our own strength. Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. 1 Peter 1 says that “He (Jesus) was foreknown (Chosen to have a special love relationship with) before the foundation of the world.” and in Isaiah 42:1 it speaks of the Messiah, when it says “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Luke 9:35 says “A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Jesus was chosen by the Father, before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) to be the lamb slain in our place. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He. The Lord of hosts His name, from age to age the same, and He will win the battle. As the passage above in Isaiah prophecies, “he WILL bring forth justice to the nations."
I have added a chorus on this special occasion to tie in the principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). Out of darkness, light has come, we will follow ‘til the dawn. Post Tenebras Lux is the Latin for “Out of Darkness, Light” and is the theme of the Reformation. The word alone will be our guide. Before the Reformation, the Catholic church held (and still does) that the Bible, the Word, is just one source for truth, on par with papal authority, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the magisterium. Today, there are those who claim to receive a “word from God”, and no one is allowed to question its validity because it is “from God." Today, we need to understand the concept that scripture alone is the final authority for faith and practice and that we have the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” and that we are not to add or take away from the words of the book. Scripture alone is authoritative, complete, and sufficient. ’Til all is known at Jesus’ side when face to face we see Him. One day, we will not need scripture to guide us for when “we see Him, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).
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. It brings great peace to know that God is going to triumph. It gives even more peace to know that He will triumph simply because He wills it. That’s power and sovereignty. 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. Our fear of the devil and of the tribulations of this life often comes when we lose sight of God’s sovereignty. There is not a random molecule in this universe that God is not in control of. Nothing happens that God does not either cause or allow and that is why He is our Mighty Fortress!
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship around the country. Bill and his family attend Belcroft Bible Church in Bowie, MD. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.