Today is Reformation Day, the day in which Martin Luther took a massive stand against the Roman Catholic Church and the teachings of the Pope.  It was this day in 1517 when Luther, overwhelmed with the selling of indulgences, went down to the castle door in Wittenberg and nailed his 95 theses there in righteous indignation.  That stand against the Pope and his teaching would spark what we know as the Reformation.

If you are familiar with the history of the Reformation you likely know about Luther’s famous stand in 1517 and his appearance before the Diet of Worms where he made his famous speech while being unwilling to recant of his preaching and writing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  While much attention is given to Luther’s famous stand each year, not much is said about his singing.  Not only did Luther translate the Bible, preach the gospel, and spark the historic Reformation, but he likewise wrote many hymns – the most famous of which is “A Mighty Fortress.”

The words of this famous hymn were penned down in the time period following Luther’s defiant and bold stand against the Roman Catholic Church and the heresy of the Pope.  It was originally written by Luther in German as “Ein feste burg ist unswer Gott” – “A sure stronghold our God is He.”  Several attempts have been made in translating the hymn into English over the years.  The two most popular are Thomas Carlyle’s “A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still” and Frederic Henry Hedge’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  It is the version by Hedge that appears in most English hymnals.  While there is much debate on the exact date (sometime between 1527 and 1529) and the actual composition of the music (many believe it was a tune taken from the tavern), the words and theme are taken from the Psalm that Luther often turned to – Psalm 46.

Martin Luther loved singing to the Lord.  It was through song that he was able to connect his emotions and the theology of the cross together in worship.  Luther once said, “The Devil hates music because he cannot stand gaiety.”  He would later say, “Satan can smirk but he cannot laugh; he can sneer but he cannot sing.”  Luther hated the Devil and viewed the work of the Roman Catholic Church as the direct influence of Satan’s handiwork.

As we sing Luther’s hymn, we must immerse ourselves back in his culture and beneath the curse of the Catholic Church.  Luther was pressured by many enemies, but none were greater than the Devil as he writes in this hymn, “On earth is not his equal.”  In fact, it’s often debated on the historical accuracy of the story, but some claim that Luther was once awakened from a sleep under torment from the Devil, and he took his inkwell and threw it across the room at Satan!  What remains truth is the fact that Luther threw much ink toward Satan through his books and hymns.  How fitting is it that on a day celebrated by many as Halloween with all of the Satanic baggage and celebration of death that Luther would be remembered for his stand and song against the Devil.

As we continue singing Luther’s hymn, we see the rays of hope shining in his heart through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through Satan, there was darkness and grim.  Through Jesus Christ came the light of hope and salvation.  Luther concludes his second to last stanza in the hymn by writing:

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.

The point Luther was making was that the Word of Christ would crush this powerful enemy that plagues us in this world.  Not only on Reformation Sunday, but many other weeks throughout the year, we sing this hymn as a reminder of the power of Satan in contrast with the sovereign power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is why Luther refused to recant.  He had nothing to fear!  As he concludes in his final stanza – “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”  Martin Luther was willing to risk it all for Christ because he knew that God’s kingdom was forever.

As the pressure continued to mount throughout church history, this song became a great encouragement to the church of Jesus Christ.  Martyrs would chant and sing this hymn as they were being burned at the stake and led to their death.  It remains a great encouragement to the church as we sing about the power and sovereignty of our God.  Under immense pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and the evil powers of this world, Luther refused to recant.  Not only could you say “Here I stand” describes this man’s attitude of defiance and perseverance, but you could also say, “Here I sing” does a good job of describing him as well.

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.

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 tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro’ 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 pow’rs,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thro’ 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.

Sola Fide,

Pastor Josh Buice