Today we’re looking at the well-known hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, which is #110 in the UMH. Martin Luther wrote this chorale tune and text in 1529. It is one of the best-loved hymns of the Lutheran tradition, and became popular throughout many of the Protestant denominations, including our own.
The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 49:
The text of this hymn tells a story over the stanzas. We sing of God’s strength, our own weakness and saving by Jesus, the devil’s attempts to conquer us, and praise for the Spirit and the temporary nature of this world compared to the eternal life with Him. It’s a remarkable and complete exclamation of our Christian faith.
Stanza one above is a declaration of the Lord’s strength against our “ancient foe”, the devil. It doesn’t matter if we have a “flood” of concerns, problems, worries; without question, God can take care of it.
In stanza two, we sing of our own human weaknesses. If we relied on our own strength, we would be doomed. There is no way we can make it through the trials and concerns of life without Jesus, and we are so blessed that He has taken on the battle for us, so we don’t have to fight it ourselves.
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.” Stanza three is about perseverance, steadfastness, and trust in God. The devil will try what he will, but “his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure…” and all we have to do is trust that God will take him down for us.
We end with a stanza about the blessings of the Spirit, and we sing of God’s eternal kingdom. “Let goods and kindred go,” and our temporary mortal lives; our bodies may die, but God’s truth and eternal kingdom cannot be killed.
I hope that when we next sing this hymn in church, you will read the familiar text anew, and use the stanzas as your personal declaration of faith and renewing of your covenant to serve and worship the Lord throughout your life.
Musician’s postscript: This recognizable tune has been used by many other musicians throughout the years as well. Among the instances of its use, Bach set the tune twice in his Choralgesänge (Choral Hymns), BWV 302 and BWV 303 (for four voices). Bach also wrote a version for organ, Chorale Prelude BWV 720. Dieterich Buxtehude wrote an organ chorale setting (BuxWV 184), as did Johann Pachelbel. Felix Mendelssohn used it as the theme for the fourth and final movement of his Symphony No. 5, Op. 107 (1830), which he named Reformation in honor of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther.