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The story behind Luther's Hymn

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

Luther is well-known as the the first Reformer of the Protestant Reformation. He is not well-known for a "hobby" of his: music. As a matter of fact, when Luther was a young man, really a boy, he was sent from his parent’s home to a school in another city. His parent’s (at that time) were not wealthy people, and so Luther had to work to help pay for room-and-board. He earned extra money by singing for tips in a street choir made up of boys. That’s right, Luther was a member of a boy band.

Fast forward to his adult years. Luther is married with children and deep into the events of the Reformation, which he kicked off years before. But Luther lived in the Middle Ages when plagues appeared from time-to-time. In the year 1527, a plague came to Luther’s hometown, Wittenberg. Luther could have fled; he certainly had the income for a long trip elsewhere. Yet, he and his wife, Katie, decided to stay in Wittenberg and care for those who had developed the plague. By doing so, Luther and his wife knew they were imperiling their own lives. As a matter of fact, their house became quarantined because of the sick people there. Luther responded by writing a song which reflected his feeling of total dependence on God’s grace to keep him alive. That song is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Not only did Luther write the words, but the music as well. The remainder of this article quotes those lines (as translated from the German). (To be fair, Luther wrote other songs but this is by far his best known.)

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.

©2007 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved