Seems every group and movement today wants to embrace and attach to themselves a special song they consider to be their national anthem, which is an identifying song that distinguishes the group or movement from others. Well, I would like to nominate a hymn for the Christian “national anthem.” But let me give a little background information before revealing the hymn I nominate!
One of my heroes of the Christian faith is Martin Luther (1483-1546). Born in 1483, in Eisleben, Saxony, located in modern-day Germany, Luther was studying to be a lawyer, when in the summer of 1505 he was caught in a horrific thunderstorm and was struck by lightning. Lying on the rain-soaked ground, he feared for his life and vowed if God would spare him, he would become a monk. Only two weeks after his brush with death he entered St. Augustine’s Monastery and in 1507 was ordained to the priesthood. He devoted himself to fasting, laborious hours in prayer, taking pilgrimages, and frequent confession of his sins. Instead of finding peace, he found himself experiencing deep spiritual despair.
His despair drove him to the Word of God and he soon begin to question many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1515, while studying the Book of Romans, his eyes were opened to the truth that the only righteousness which will gain one acceptance before a holy God is not found in one’s good works, but by faith and trust in the grace of Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of His death on the cross. Luther taught, as well, that the Bible was the only source of divine revelation and truth. His rejection of the church’s teachings and practices landed him in hot water with the “higher ups” of the church. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Luther was called upon to recant his writings and teachings at the Diet of Worms in April 1521. He said he would not recant unless scripture proved him wrong and he emphatically stated, “My soul is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God.” As a result, he was excommunicated by the pope and condemned as an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor. From Luther’s protest of the Roman Church, Protestantism and the Protestant Reformation was born and flourished.
Luther’s convictions and firm stand resulted in him personally experiencing struggles, trials, heartache and dark times in his life. From 1517 to 1527, Luther’s focus on the abuses of the Roman Church brought threats to his life from multiple sources. His reputation was always under attack, his family never felt safe, and his Reformation teachings were constantly being discredited. In August 1527 a friend who espoused Luther’s teachings was martyred. In the fall of 1527, the Black Plague broke out in Wittenberg, and instead of leaving, Luther stayed to minister to the dying. In December 1527, Luther’s daughter, Elizabeth, was born sick. Luther and his wife prayed for her survival but in May 1528, she died. It was about this time Luther wrote to a colleague, “We are all in good health except for Luther himself, who is physically well, but outwardly the whole world and inwardly the devil and all his angels are making him suffer.” He later wrote that he was undergoing trials in his life that were the worst he had ever experienced.
Luther was going through a very dark period in his life, where his constant companions were persecution, pain, sorrow, uncertainty and death. Luther was mentally and spiritually exhausted, under the load of suffering, yet he took comfort from reading the Psalms. Scholars tell us it was during this dark period of his life, between the years of 1527-1529, that the German Reformer penned his most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Luther based his hymn on Psalm 46, which undoubtedly reflects the reality that God’s people can confidently rest in His protection in the midst of uncertain and chaotic times. Written during a dark period of his life, Luther intended the hymn to be one of comfort. Luther’s hymn is one of comfort and hope in the midst of trial, temptation, and fires of testing.
The four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress of is Our God” read (Read them slowly and let them sink in. Click here to hear it sung by Steve Green):
1. 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.
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 pow’rs, 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.
This is a great hymn of comfort in the midst of pandemics, trial, suffering, sorrow and chaos. This hymn reminds us how Martin Luther, and all Christians, in the midst of the uncertainties and struggles of life, have a Mighty Fortress in the Lord. The hymn eventually became the anthem for German protestants. The hymn was sung throughout Germany, often against the objection of the priests. It was sung in the streets when Reformers were being tried. It was sung by poor Protestants emigrants on their way into exile. It was sung by martyrs as they were dying. The hymn is sewn into the very fabric of the history of Protestantism.
The hymn is a celebration and affirmation of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God. The hymn affirms the truth that our Lord has power over all earthly and spiritual forces. The hymn confirms the sure hope we have in God through Jesus Christ. The hymn asserts that long after kingdoms of earth have vanished, the Kingdom of God is forever.
What a hymn it is! In the uncertain days in which we live, what a hymn of assurance and affirmation of our trust in our Sovereign Lord. And since every group and movement is securing a song to be their national anthem, I nominate “A Might Fortress is Our God.” For our God is indeed Mighty and our Fortress!!