Sunday, April 19, 2020

Hopeful Hymns in Uncertain Times (part 3)

During these uncertain times, it is important to hear from God's word and from godly counsel. One of the resources that provides us with good Christian teaching is good Christian music. Hymns, both new and old, are a treasure for the church as we seek to sing spiritual songs that remind us of great truths. My hope is that these little devotionals will encourage Christians in days of trial. 

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
Martin Luther

What can be said about Luther that hasn't been covered in Here I Stand or in Metaxas' work? I will certainly add nothing novel here. Though, I should mention his favorite quote of mine since it is on a much related note. "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world," he wrote in a foreword to a contemporary's published song collection

Luther wrote this hymn in the late 1520s, inspired by Psalm 46. Not only did he write the words, but he also wrote the music. A major factor, of course, surrounding the writing of this song (and his life in general) is his juxtaposition with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Undoubtedly, Luther desired for this work to serve as an anthem for the glories God in his battle against the Roman system. And so it has.

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
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and pow'r are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

"Ok Google, What's a bulwark?"
"A defensive wall."
Just saved you 15 seconds.

The title of this song and its first line express the heart of this song, which is that God's almighty strength and power are displayed in our lives as we are united to Him by faith in Christ. He is our Helper in this life through the struggles we face with both a fallen creation and the devil himself. Luther once said, "Even the devil is God's devil," meaning that God is absolutely sovereign over what the enemy may do and God will always be proven as Most Excellent. 1 Peter 5 complements this stanza well.

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.
You 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. 

Here Luther hones in on the centrality of Jesus Christ in the believer's ultimate victory. Our strength is not the source of our confidence; rather, our confidence is in God incarnate, the Lord Jesus. He never changes, "and He must win the battle!" Though Luther did not think very highly of Hebrews, this stanza just screams Hebrews chapters 4 and 13.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has 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.

First John 4:1-6 had to be Luther's inspiration here. This verse is my favorite in the song and it should stir the believer to take on the world. God has determined that His truth, through the creatures He redeems, will achieve a great victory over sin and death. Let us not fear Satan and his demons: their doom is sure. Let us instead fear God, to whom we continually entrust ourselves through Christ.

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! 

Jesus on our side, we have great confidence by the Holy Spirit and the church our Lord is building. We count all things as rubbish in comparison to God's indescribable gift in Christ. As the psalmist said, "What can man do to me?" God's kingdom, of which all disciples of Jesus are a part, is forever. Both now and in the age to come we behold the glory of this great God who alone is worthy of our praise!

Here are a couple of versions of this song. The first is more traditional; the second is a big more punchy.

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