Previously published in Pulpit Helps, August 2009.
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
A young man once entered the Catholic priesthood and tried to serve well, but he could never find peace of heart and soul. He was not at ease in his inner life. He discovered through his studies that salvation did not depend upon what one knows about God, or sacraments, or anything else, but upon a right personal relationship with God. God's forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Christ became all important to that young man-Martin Luther.
One day, he thought, "If only I could make the pilgrimage to Rome, these fears would vanish." He did make that pilgrimage, and while crawling up Pilate's Staircase on his knees, he remembered the verse of Scripture, "The just shall live by faith." He sprang to his feet and the seed of what would become the Protestant Reformation was planted in his heart.
Luther knew the importance of preaching, and so he preached long and hard, becoming a forceful leader of one of the world's greatest revivals. Later, to the amazement of everyone, Martin Luther started writing hymns and gospel songs. The people sang them with such fervor that the Catholic ecclesiastics said that the songs of Martin Luther were "destroying" more souls than all his writings and sermons.
The hymnbook became very important to Luther-it was the means whereby he took hymns out of foreign tongues, and away from the choirs, and gave them to the people. He required that the hymns be evangelical, but he gave the poets some liberties. The results were hymns that brought peace and joy. They began to be used in the schools and homes, as well as in the churches. These Christian worship songs became a spring of spirituality in the hearts and lives of the people.
His most famous hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," was written during Luther's struggle with the Roman Church, and it exalts God to His rightfully high and lofty position in the minds and hearts of singers. In the song Luther confers the title "Lord Sabaoth" to Christ, a name that the Israelites gave to Yahweh, Commander of the heavenly hosts, and every verse is filled with imagery of spiritual battles. Luther's words show the grim reality of Satan and his forces, but contrast that with the fact that "One little Word shall fell him. That Word above all earthly powers"-the name of Jesus.
On the base of Luther's tomb is inscribed, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (in German), the first line and title of his famous hymn. It is said to be "the greatest hymn of the greatest man in the greatest period in German history," and is nicknamed "The Battle Hymn of the Reformation". Historians declare to us that it has been sung by persecuted people on their way to exile, and by martyrs at their death; Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus ordered it sung by his armies, and it has been used at countless celebrations. It is rugged and strong, much like Luther himself.
"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," is a paraphrase of the forty-sixth Psalm.
Frederick H. Hedge translated it from the German in 1853. Christians have been singing it for over four hundred years and it remains a soul-stirring worship hymn.
To have faith in God is a Christian's greatest asset, since faith enables one to do his best for God at all times. It is really an evidence of true love for Christ.
© Lindsay Terry. Used by permission.
Lindsay Terry has been a song historian for more than 40 years, and has written widely on the background of great hymns and worship songs including the books I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (2008) and The Sacrifice of Praise (2002).