En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

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A Mighty Fortress is Our God” Hymns As Poetry!

Posted by Scott on October 31, 2007


“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”: Hymns As Poetry



by Martin Luther
Compiled by Tom Stewart


Part 1: The Poetry of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

1A 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.
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 tho this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thru 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 pow’rs —
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.



Part 2: The Background of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Both the words and music of the hymn are by the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546). Of the many translations of Luther’s hymn from the German language, the translation by Frederick H. Hedge (1805-1890) is used above. Martin Luther, the former Augustinian monk, led the Reformation away from the Church of Rome based upon the battle cry, “The just shall live by Faith” (Romans 1:17), in opposition to the human only, ex cathedra decrees of the Papacy. Luther’s confidence in the Power of Faith that comes from the Scriptures, i.e., “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), was followed closely by his belief that the singing of hymns was most significant in motivating the Believer. He said, “With all my heart I would extol the precious gift of God in the noble art of music… Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her all the emotions are swayed.” It is said that Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was sung by many an oppressed Christian as they were forced into exile or brought to their martyrdom. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His Saints” (Psalm 116:15). Luther played the lute and paid his school fees through the money he earned singing in the streets of Eisenach. He later said, “The one who sings, prays double.”“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Ein’ fest Burg ist unser Gott) quickly became the Battle Hymn of the Reformation. Turning away from a music form dominated by the clergy of the Catholic Church, Luther placed the emphasis upon congregational singing. Hymn books were soon published from the newly introduced printing presses

(1450) of Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468). Luther’s first hymnal was introduced in 1524 with a total of eight hymns– half by Luther. Early congregational singing of the Reformation was in unison without accompaniment, but organ music was later added as an accompaniment to the chorale. Christian hymns, like the Scriptures, in the language of the people instead of Rome’s liturgical language of Latin, were published in tract form and distributed far and wide as a powerful tool of evangelizing the lost. “The LORD gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it” (Psalm 68:11). By 1529, the growing popularity of congregational singing necessitated Luther to update his hymn book in the form of Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder auff neue gehessert, which included the first hymnal publication of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He wrote at least 35 hymns. After Martin Luther’s famous appearance at the Diet of Worms (1521), i.e., “Here I stand, I can do no other,” he followed with a stay at Wartburg Castle under the protection of Frederick III of Saxony, where he completed the translation of the Greek New Testament manuscripts into German, giving birth to the New High German written language, as well. [See our article, “Babylon the Great (Part 2): The Reformation and the Church of RomeNew Window for an account of Martin Luther’s pivotal role in the Protestant Reformation.] Since Luther’s New Testament was published in 1522, it is most interesting that his hymnal appeared only two years later, and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” saw its first hymnal publication only five years after that. “What hath God wrought!” (Numbers 23:23).When the cause of the Reformation seemed lost, it is said that Luther would turn to his close friend and colleague, Philipp Melancthon (1497-1560)— author of the Augsburg Confession– and say, “Let’s sing the Forty-sixth Psalm.” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is a paraphrase based upon Psalm 46. 1 God is our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help in Trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. 4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the City of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. 6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the Earth melted. 7 The LORD of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations He hath made in the Earth. 9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the Earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire. 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the Earth. 11 The LORD of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-11).Part 3: The Scripture of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

FIRST STANZA

A mighty fortress is our God,

“God is our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help in Trouble” (Psalm 46:1).“The LORD is My Rock, and My Fortress, and My Deliverer; My God, My Strength, in Whom I will trust; My Buckler, and the Horn of My Salvation, and My High Tower” (Psalm 18:2).

A bulwark never failing;

“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks (Isaiah 26:1).

Our helper He amid the flood

“So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His Glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).

Of mortal ills prevailing.

“He will keep the feet of His Saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail (1Samuel 2:9).

For still our ancient foe

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1Peter 5:8).

Doth seek to work us woe

9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? 10 Hast not Thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee to Thy face” (Job 1:9-11).“And I heard a loud voice saying in Heaven, Now is come Salvation, and Strength, and the Kingdom of our God, and the Power of His Christ: for the accuser of our Brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:10).

His craft and pow’r are great,

5 And the Devil, taking Him up into an high mountain, shewed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the Devil said unto Him, All this power will I give Thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7 If Thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be Thine” (Luke 4:5-7).“Put on the Whole Armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

And armed with cruel hate,

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

On earth is not his equal.

“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the Glorious Gospel of Christ, Who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2Corinthians 4:4). “Ye are of God, Little Children, and have overcome them: because greater is He [Christ] that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world (1John 4:4).SECOND STANZA

Did we in our own strength confide

“By strength shall no man prevail” (1Samuel 2:9).

Our striving would be losing,

1 Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of Me; and that cover with a covering, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin: 2 That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at My Mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion (Isaiah 30:1-3).

Were not the right Man on our side,

11 For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One: for which cause He [Christ] is not ashamed to call them Brethren, 12 Saying, I will declare Thy [the Father’s] Name unto My Brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto Thee” (Hebrews 2:11-12).

The Man of God’s own choosing.

“Behold My Servant [Christ], Whom I have chosen; My Beloved, in Whom My Soul is well pleased: I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall shew judgment to the Gentiles” (Matthew 12:18).

Dost ask who that may be?

Who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5).

Christ Jesus, it is He —

“And the LORD said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

Lord Sabaoth His name,

“And as Esaias said before, Except the LORD of Sabaoth [LORD of the armies] had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha” (Romans 9:29).

From age to age the same

“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

And He must win the battle.

13 And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His Name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which were in Heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of His Mouth goeth a Sharp Sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He hath on His Vesture and on His Thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:13-16).
THIRD STANZA

And tho this world, with devils filled,

2 And he opened the Bottomless Pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the Earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the Earth have power. 4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the Earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Revelation 9:2-4).

Should threaten to undo us,

“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8).

We will not fear, for God hath willed

Fear not, Abram: I am Thy Shield, and Thy Exceeding Great Reward” (Genesis 15:1).

His truth to triumph thru us.

“He shall send from Heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. Selah. God shall send forth His Mercy and His Truth (Psalm 57:3).4 Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the Truth. Selah. 5 That Thy beloved may be delivered; save with Thy Right Hand, and hear me” (Psalm 60:4-5).

The prince of darkness grim —

“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the Power of the Air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).

We tremble not for him;

3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; 4 For the LORD your God is He that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4).

His rage we can endure,

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their Righteousness is of Me, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 54:17).

For lo! his doom is sure —

“And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

One little word shall fell him.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).FOURTH STANZA

That word above all earthly pow’rs —

13 And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His Name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which were in Heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of His Mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He hath on His Vesture and on His Thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:13-16).

No thanks to them abideth;

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1John 2:15).

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

Thru Him who with us sideth.

“The LORD is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you” (2Chronicles 15:2).

Let goods and kindred go,

26 If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple. 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27, 33).

This mortal life also;

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD: for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

The body they may kill:

7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the Beast that ascendeth out of the Bottomless Pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. 11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of Life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them” (Revelation 11:7, 11).

God’s truth abideth still —

“For the Truth‘s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever (2John 2).

His kingdom is forever.

“Thine, O LORD is the Greatness, and the Power, and the Glory, and the Victory, and the Majesty: for all that is in the Heaven and in the Earth is Thine; Thine is the Kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as Head above all” (1Chronicles 29:11).“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13).

“Now unto the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, the Only Wise God, be Honour and Glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1Timothy 1:17). 15 Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the Blessed and Only Potentate, the KING of Kings, and LORD of Lords; 16 Who only hath Immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to Whom be Honour and Power Everlasting. Amen.” (1Timothy 6:15-16).Amen, and Amen.

-Scott Bailey 2007

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One Response to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” Hymns As Poetry!”

  1. […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptPart 2: The Background of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”Both the words and music of the hymn are by the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546). Of the many translations of Luther’s hymn from the German language, the translation … […]

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