A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (1)

Every Friday in 2015 we consider a verse from our “Hymn of the Month.”

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

"Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” So wrote the famous Reformer Martin Luther. This month’s hymn is A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, which is the most famous of the hymns the reformer authored (most famously translated by Frederick H. Hedge in 1853). In his vision for the revival of the gospel one of the key tools Luther saw was the use of music. And with A Mighty Fortress we celebrate the gospel that Luther discovered anew – the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We open with the words “A mighty fortress is our God; A bulwark never failing.” In the midst of turmoil and trouble is our God. He is the only ever-faithful constant. And for the Christian, we can say to the Lord, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble” (Psalm 32:7).

Likewise, we sing of God, “Our helper He amid the flood; Of mortal ills prevailing.” There is a beautiful word picture being drawn here of the Christian drowning in sin and in Satan’s work. David cries out “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold” (Psalm 69:1-2). But God is our helper. He prevails even over the deep floods of sin and Satan. Though we may feel overwhelmed with guilt or sorrow, we have a helper.

Having a helper is such good news “For still our ancient foe; Doth seek to work us woe.” How many hymns can you think of that directly reference Satan like this? This is a reflection of Luther’s theology and experience, and if the Christian has a biblical worldview they too would see it this way. There is an enemy of God’s, and therefore an enemy of those who bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). He has been our enemy since the beginning (Genesis 3:1), and he has always worked against our best interests.

Satan’s goal is to steal glory from God. Even though his end is guaranteed as hopeless because of God’s superiority, we still must recognize that “His craft and pow’r are great; And armed with cruel hate; On earth is not his equal.” In other words, no human can stand against the devil’s schemes in their own power (Ephesians 6:11). We are in need of God’s grace and power to stand. And it is of that grace and power that we turn our attention next week in verse 2.