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 will
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.
This “battle hymn of the Reformation” was written by Martin Luther, most probably just preceding the Diet of Speyer (or Spires) on April 20, 1529. It was on that occasion that the German princes opposed the papacy’s refusal to tolerate the new doctrine of Luther. They protested, that is, spoke on behalf of, their religious rights and so earned for posterity the name of Protestant. The name originally had the positive meaning of manifesting firm faith in God and truth.
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben, 20 miles west of Halle, Germany, on November 10, 1483. After training for the legal profession, in 1505 he began another course—he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, and was ordained priest in 1507. He was appointed professor at the University of Wittenberg in 1508. A visit to Rome disturbed him as he observed the corruption in the church, and on his return he spoke out against the practice of granting indulgences. The matter came to a head when Tetzel came to Wittenberg to sell indulgences, prompting Luther to prepare his 95 theses for public debate, denouncing certain corrupt practices in the church. Luther’s treatise on The Babylonian Captivity of the Church produced a papal bull, which Luther publicly burned in 1520. For this he was excommunicated.
In 1521 he was summoned before the Diet of Worms but held fast to his convictions, accepting only evidence from the Scriptures. He translated the Bible into German, completing the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament in 1534. He strengthened the Reformation movement by publishing the first hymnbook in the language of his people. It had eight hymns in the first edition of 1524, and 40 in the second edition the next year. In all, he wrote 37 original hymns and published nine hymnals, drawing from various sources, adapting and revising. In this way he furnished a foundation for the success of the Protestant Reformation. Luther died on February 18, 1546, while on a visit to his native Eisleben.
More than 50 translations of Luther’s hymn have been made into English, this one by Frederick Henry Hedge. Hedge was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1805, was educated at Harvard and in Germany, and became a pastor of the Unitarian Church. He was appointed professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard in 1857, and in 1872 professor of German literature there. He made two other translations from German and wrote four original hymns. He died in 1890 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The tune, aptly called EIN’ FESTE BURG (A Fortified Castle), was composed by Martin Luther. It is the national hymn of Germany and was sung at Luther’s funeral. On his tombstone at Eisleben is carved the first line of the hymn: “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“Our God is a strong fortress”).
Adapted from Wayne Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988).
= Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal
CH = Church Hymnal