This hymn has been called one of the greatest hymns ever written, and is often referred to as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It is based on Psalm 46 which begins,
God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear,
though the earth be removed,
and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,
though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
“In 1720 a remarkable revival began in Moravia, in a town where David Nitschmann lived. The Jesuits opposed it, and the meetings were prohibited. Those who still assembled were seized and imprisoned in stables and cellars and foul outhouses. At Nitschmann's house a hundred and fifty persons were once gathered when the police broke in and seized all the books within reach. Nothing dismayed, the congregation struck up the stanza of Luther's hymn,
'And were the world with devils filled,
All waiting to devour us,
We fear not what the foe has willed,
He shall not overpower us!'
Twenty heads of families, including David Nitschmann, were apprehended for this and sent to jail, Nitschmann being treated with special severity. He finally escaped; fled to the Moravians at Herrnhut; became a bishop, and afterward joined the Wesleys in 1735 in their expedition to Savannah, Georgia.”
– It was sung by Luther and his companions as they entered Worms in 1521;
– It was a tribute to Luther's friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed in 1527;
– It was sung by the German Lutheran princes as they entered Augsburg in 1530 when the Augsburg
Confession was presented; and,
– It began as a martial song to inspire soldiers against the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
Whatever the reason, the hymn has become a favorite of many, including myself, for the rich theological truths concerning the absolute sovereignty of God which are contained within it.
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.
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, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though 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 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.