“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Martin Luther found a lot to like in the 46th Psalm. As a result he paraphrased its promises and set them to music in the great hymn we know as ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’.
It is not hard to see why Luther held this Psalm in such high regard. The focus is clearly on the mighty, saving acts of God. And this focus became central in that renewal of the Church we call the Reformation. It is still the focus of all who treasure the Gospel above all things.
The great insight of the Lutheran Reformation was nothing novel. Martin simply brought the Gospel message to the forefront and it did the rest. And as the freedom of the Gospel went to work it created what it continues to create wherever it is heard; alarm, anger, shock, challenge, joy, freedom, assurance and, in Luther’s famous words, “forgiveness of sins, life and salvation”.
The precise occasion of the writing of ‘A Mighty Fortress’ is not known. What is known is that it came out of Martin’s long struggle to know God’s peace, a struggle that was brought to rest when the Gospel directed him away from reliance on the commandments of men to trust in the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. The confidence and freedom that resulted from this encounter was the singular note that rang throughout the rest of his life. It continues to ring, and joyfully so, in all who find their assurance and hope in the promises of the Gospel.
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
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 power 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;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
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.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through 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.