Today at mgpc we noted that it was Reformation Sunday, which falls each year on the last Sunday of October closest in date to October 31. It marks the date during 1517 when Martin Luther was reported to have nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg. All Protestants share this as an important event which marked the widespread revival which came to be known as the Reformation. (But you probably knew this.)
You also probably know that Martin Luther would write the words and compose the melody of the hymn based on Psalm 46 entitled ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’. (Ein feste berg ist unser Gott in the German.) The song is the national anthem of protestantism.
I don’t suppose I can assume that everyone has been singing along to this at church today. There seems to be a quiet embarrassment about the Reformation these days, as if it simply freshened things up a bit, and wasn’t a fundamental recovery of the central doctrine of the Gospel.
Luther’s german lyric has been translated into English many times.
I grew up with the translation of Thomas Carlyle which was included in the Church Hymnary, Revised.
A safe stronghold our God is still,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He’ll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.
With force of arms we nothing can,
Full soon were we down-ridden;
But for us fights the proper Man,
Whom God Himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, who is this same?
Christ Jesus is His Name,
The Lord Sabaoth’s Son;
He, and no other one,
Shall conquer in the battle.
And were this world all devils o’er,
And watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit;
For why? — his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.
God’s Word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life,
Goods, honor, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The City of God remaineth!
Our newer Rejoice! hymnbook changed to a version based on the more widely used translation of Frederick Hedge.
I’m including a traditional version of Hedge’s translation though, primarily because it also uses the phrase ‘Lord Saboath’ (Lord of hosts), which Rejoice!s modernisation dispensed with.
A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter 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 is 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 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.
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.
The youtube is from Steve Green. Neither he nor the hymn really need me to commend them, but someone’s got to be hearing this for the first time, I guess.