By Dennis Abernathy
Martin Luther was a great reformer and is credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation. He was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, Germany. He died February 18, 1546. Luther studied law at the University of Erfurt. In 1505 he became an Augustinian monk and was ordained a priest in 1507. The following year he became a member of the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, teaching philosophy and theology.
Martin Luther decried many of the abuses of the Roman church and finally came to oppose the supremacy of the Pope of Rome. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his now famous ninety-five theses or articles against papal abuses and corruption to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church for all to see. After several years of stormy disputes with the Pope and other church leaders, an edict was forthcoming from the Pope, which Luther promptly burned. Finally Martin Luther was excommunicated from the fellowship of the Roman Catholic Church in 1520 and all his writings were ordered burned.
Martin Luther’s influence increased and the Reformation spread throughout the continent. His greatest literary achievement was his translation of the Bible into the German language.
One of the important benefits of the Reformation Movement was the rediscovery of congregational singing. Martin Luther made singing once more the joy of the entire congregation rather than the sole duty of the choir. He even allowed the women to sing with the men in public, a privilege that had been withheld from them for many years.
One of the most powerful hymns of the Reformation Movement was “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It is based on Psalms 46. When Luther wrote this great hymn he was in a rather depressed state and took courage in the words of this Psalm and penned the words of the now famous hymn. The four stanzas are reminders that God is the fortress of the soul; Christ the champion of the soul; and Satan, the enemy of the soul. But the ultimate victory will be God’s whose “kingdom is forever.”
James Moffatt describes this as being the “greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period of German history.” The first line of this very beautiful and inspiring hymn is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of Luther in Wittenberg.
No other man of that century exerted so widespread an influence as Martin Luther, who gave the German people in their own tongue the Bible and the hymn book. He truly served his own age in a great way, but he also left our age a fine legacy in writing and composing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
1. From the first verse and the Bible we learn that God is a mighty fortress for the people of God.
“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.”
Psalms 18:1-3 says: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my Rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Jeremiah said: “O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in times of distress” (Jer. 16:19). Again, the Psalmist says in chapter 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble.” Verses 7 and 11 of that same Psalm says: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
1. God is a bulwark never failing. A bulwark is a solid wall-like structure used for defense; a strong support or rampart. God’s protection will never fail us. He will not leave us nor will he forsake us (Heb. 13:5; Deut. 31:6-8; Josh. 1:5). We ought to be content with that knowledge. We can know that regardless of what the faithful Christian may not have, he still has God! Remember Job? He lost all he had, except God!
Yes, my friend, God is our Rock, Fortress, Deliverer, Shield, Stronghold, and Salvation. He is our strength and refuge, our ever-present help in trouble. As one so appropriately put it: “When you have nothing left but God, then for the first time you become aware that God is enough.
Allow me to illustrate:
A mother and her little four-year-old daughter were preparing to retire for the night. The child was afraid of the dark, and the mother, on this occasion alone with the child, felt fearful too. When the light was out the child caught a glimpse of the moon outside of the window. “Mother,” she asked, “Is the moon God’s light?” “Yes,” said the mother. The next question was, “Will God put out his light and go to sleep?” The mother replied, “No, my child, God never goes to sleep.” Then out of the simplicity of a child’s faith, she said that which gave reassurance to the fearful mother. “Well, as long as God is awake, there is no sense in both of us staying awake.”
2. Our ancient foe still seeks to work us woe. Of course, our Ancient “Foe” is Satan. He began his deadly work of woe toward mankind back in the Garden of Eden as he sought to deceive Eve with his lies. So, our greatest foe is not cancer, Communism, war, AIDS, or even death. It is Satan! In fact, the very word “Satan” means “an adversary.” Peter said:
Be sober, be vigilant, your adversary (enemy) the Devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8).
3. Satan’s powers are very great and he is very crafty. In the Garden of Eden he belittled God and advised the parents of the human race to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-5). He insinuated that Job only served God because of God’s blessings (Job 1:8-11; 2:34). It is Satan that tempted the Son of God (Lk. 4:1-13). He prompted Judas to betray the Christ (Jn. 13:2). He still blinds the minds of the unbelieving from the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He is a schemer and used trickery and sets snares (Eph. 6:10-12; 2 Tim. 2:26). He sows bad seed (tares, Matt. 13:25,39). He seeks to take advantage of us and to outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). On and on we could go, but surely this is enough to convince you that:
4. Satan is armed with cruel hate. He literally hates us! He is doing all within his power to damn our very souls to hell. Hence, we must be assured as the song says and the Bible teaches:
5. That on earth is not his equal. Alone, we cannot cope with our Ancient Foe. By ourself, we are not equal to the task. We are not strong enough. But thank God that we can say that we are not alone. We have God. We have the great Redeemer! John wrote:
Greater is He (God) that is in you, than He (Satan) that is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4)
We may not be Satan’s equal but with our God to aid us we are more than his equal and can put him to flight.
II. The second verse teaches us that if it were not for the “right one,” the “man of God’s own choosing at our side” we would lose the struggle for the salvation of our souls.
“Did we in our strength confide, Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right One 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.”
1. Man’s strength alone has never been sufficient (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12). Paul said that without Christ’s death man was without strength and powerless (Rom. 5:6). Jesus said that “apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Again, the apostle Paul said that on his own, man is wretched, and he then goes on to show what God did (Rom. 7:24; 8:13).
My friend, you have never had an enemy greater than Satan. It was he that plunged the human race into sin and death. Every tear ever shed, every pain ever experienced, every heartache that man has ever had can ultimately be traced back to Satan, our Ancient Foe.
The man of God’s own choosing is Jesus Christ, also. called the Lord of Sabaoth, or “Lord of Hosts.” God chose Christ to suffer as our sin-offering. This choice was made before the foundation of the world (Isa. 53:10).
2. The Lord is the same through the ages (Heb. 13:8). This means that our never changing Christ can do for us today what he did for lost souls in Bible times. He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He can save us completely (Heb. 7:25). Please don’t forget this one thing brethren, if Christ, the Captain of our salvation – our Commander-in-Chief, must win the battle over Satan, then we too will be victorious!
III. From verse three we learn that Christians do not fear an evil filled world that threatens to undo us.
“And though this world with evil filled, should threaten to undo us:
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”
We do live in perilous and evil times. But Christians know that Satan is the source of evil (Jn. 8:44).
1. It is important that we understand our enemy, “lest Satan should take advantage of us” (2 Cor. 2:11). We should know that Satan’s head was bruised through and by the death and resurrection of Christ (Gen. 3:15). We should know that Christ has triumphed over our spiritual enemies (Col. 2:15). Hence, in Christ’s death and resurrection he is said to “have driven the prince of this world out” (Jn. 12:31), and “to have entered into the strong man’s house and tied him up” (Matt. 12:29).
Because of what Christ accomplished in our behalf we can resist the devil and he will fall (Jas. 4:7). But, we must first submit to God. We must not give place to the devil (or give him a foothold) in our lives (Eph. 4:27). We must “take our stand against his schemes” (Eph. 6:11). Peter said:
Be self-controlled and alert. You enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
Faith is a must. When our faith wanes we are prime prey for the devil. That is why Paul said “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). That is why the Psalmist said, “Thy word have I laid up in my heart that I might not sin against God” (Psa. 119:11). The word of God, is the source of faith (Rom. 10:17).
2. We should not fear because God has willed that truth triumph through us. God has placed his truth, his word, his treasure, in earthen vessels Oars of clay, 2 Cor. 4:7). The poet, William Cullen Bryant stated it this way:
“Truth crushed to earth, shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers;
But error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshipers.”
Truth will win over error. Darkness will be dispersed and driven away by the light of God’s word.
3. In order for God’s truth to triumph through us, we may have to make great sacrifices. We may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. The song says: “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also.” A generation ago, one wrote: “He is not fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
We ought to be willing to make any sacrifice needed for the triumph of truth because of what Jesus taught in Matthew 12:29:
And everyone that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.
The good news is that no matter what Satan and his cohorts may do to us (this body they may kill), God’s truth abideth still and his kingdom is forever.
“Truth never dies, the ages come and go,
The mountains wear away; the stars retire,
Destruction lays the mighty cities low,
And empires, states, and dynasties expire;
But caught and handed onward by the wise;
Truth never dies!”
Peter wrote: “The word of the Lord endureth forever” (1 Pet. 1:25).
4. The kingdom of God also abides and endures. Daniel said that Christ’s kingdom would never be destroyed (2:44). The Hebrew writer said we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28). Even the gates of hell could not prevail or prevent the church’s establishment (Matt. 16:18). So, all the forces of evil in this world cannot outdo or undo God, his word, and his church!
What a wonderful truth this great song teaches. Are you taking advantage of God’s ability to protect you from the Ancient Foe who is armed with cruel hate? The man of God’s own choosing, Jesus Christ, the Lord of Hosts, can save you from eternal ruin, if you will obey the gospel (Mk. 16:15-16).
The Christian need not fear overmuch the evil that seeks to undo him. God and his cause cannot be defeated. Obey God and live for him and when the dust has settled in this great struggle between good and evil, you will be victorious and go home to glory.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, pp. 562-564
September 17, 1992