Hymn History: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

2 min

The October wind whipped about, chilling passersby in Wittenberg, Germany. Seemingly unaware of the bitter cold, a short man stood before the massive doors of the town’s church. Steadily, he nailed a long paper to the wooden doors where other public announcements were displayed. His bold public proclamation would gain attention throughout the world
for years to come!

A priest and university professor, Martin Luther boldly posted his ninety-­five theses—statements for public debate—on the Wittenberg Church doors. This historic event occurred on October 31, 1517. As an extremely pious monk, Dr. Luther had spent many hours in prayer and solitude. He had even starved and beaten himself physically, desperately trying to appease God’s just wrath for his sin. However, his efforts yielded him no peace. Then, God began to reveal His truth to Dr. Luther. Gradually, the despondent monk began to grasp what the Bible meant by “the just shall live by faith.” Upon realizing that salvation is not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ alone, Dr. Luther trusted Christ’s full payment for his sin and began sharing this important truth with others.

One point of Dr. Luther’s theses publicly proclaimed salvation could not be obtained through buying indulgences, which opposed the teaching of the Catholic church. Dr. Luther’s revolutionary post sparked the Protestant Reformation. Four years later, government authorities and Roman Catholic church leaders demanded that he recant. Despite the threat of death, he resolutely responded: “I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand, so help me God, Amen.” The Roman Catholic church excommunicated Dr. Luther. His friends hid him, fearing he would be killed. While in hiding, Martin Luther translated parts of the Bible into German so that people could read God’s Word for themselves. 

Twelve years after his Wittenberg door post, Dr. Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He composed the hymn the night before a court battle regarding his teaching of God’s truth.

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 . . . And He must win the battle.

Martin Luther understood that a virtuous, holy life is based on knowing Christ and upholding His pure doctrine. Virtue is “the moral excellence and purity of spirit that radiates from my life as I obey God’s Word.” Dr. Luther submitted to God’s Word as his final authority. His unwavering courage and powerful words provided truth for others. May we also walk in truth and obedience so that Christ’s virtue in us will shine to a world that needs to know Him!

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