Christians have always faced strong opposition. In the 1500s, many were discovering the truth of the Bible for the first time as the Reformation swept through Europe. With the Catholic Church at the height of its powers, those who translated the Bible so that ordinary people could read it or who preached a message of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, not based on our own works, were persecuted. They were removed from churches, sent to prison and often executed.
It’s in this context that the great German Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Based on Psalm 46, it takes the opposition we face very seriously. At the end of the first verse we’re left singing about how clever and powerful Satan is! Ever sung that before?!
But it doesn’t end there. Although left to ourselves we would be ruined, God has not left us to ourselves. He has chosen a champion for us – Jesus Christ. With Him on our side, we cannot lose. It’s only this kind of confidence in God which enables us to sing (and mean it), “Let goods and loved ones go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth is living still!” How fantastic!
Being an ancient hymn, the words don’t immediately make sense to modern ears. (You can read them here.) So we have updated the lyrics to clarify the glorious truths we might otherwise miss. Have a listen to this version below to pick up the tune. You could try reading our new version of the words below to spot the differences!
A mighty fortress is our God,
and He shall never fail us.
He is our help against the flood
of troubles which assail us.
Satan, our ancient foe,
he wants to bring us woe.
His skill and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate
on earth he has no equal.
If on our own strength we relied,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who this 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.
And though this world with devils filled
may threaten to undo us
we will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure.
We know his doom is sure.
One little word shall kill him.
That word above all earthly powers
stands strong and always conquers.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
to help us battle onwards.
Let goods and loved ones go,
this mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth is living still!
His kingdom is forever.
Words and music by Martin Luther (1529)
English translation by Frederick H. Hedges (1853)
Updated by Nathan Burley (2015)
When we sing this on Sunday, it will be more upbeat and in a more singable lower key. Click here to listen to a version very similar to how we will do it at Emmanuel, although they only do 2 verses.
Finally, I challenge you not to be moved by the version below. It’s very 80s but Steve Green belts out a powerful rendition of the hymn to a standing ovation.
I hope you can see why this is one of my all-time favourite hymns and why it has been sung for centuries around the world. I pray it will become a firm favourite at Emmanuel too and give us courage when that flood of troubles looms. “He will win the battle!”