Posted by: rcottrill | February 4, 2011

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Words: Martin Luther (b. Nov. 10, 1483; d. Feb. 18, 1546)
Music: Ein’ Feste Burg, likely written by Martin Luther

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Frederic Henry Hedge (1805-1890) gave us the most common English translation of Luther’s great hymn–though dozens have been made over the years. The tune name, Ein’ Feste Burg, (meaning a strong, secure, immovable castle or fortress) is simply the German original of the opening words of the hymn.

L uther’s song drew its inspiration from Psalm 46, which begins, “God is our refuge [safe shelter] and strength.” But it can hardly be called a paraphrase of the entire psalm. The main thing the two have in common is their description of God’s protection of His own. In addition, many other passages of Scripture allude to the Lord’s strong defense of those who belong to Him. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer” (II Sam. 22:2).

The question then comes: What is it we need protection from? In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was most concerned with assaults by the heathen nations around them. And individuals (such as David) had human enemies that opposed, and friends that betrayed them. But in spiritual terms today, Christians are in danger from the godless world, the flesh (their own sin nature), and the devil. It is the last of these that is Luther’s particular focus. He is “our ancient foe” (CH-1), and “the Prince of Darkness grim” (CH-3).

What Luther says about Satan is biblically accurate, and important to know. In CH-1: “His craft and power are great.” In fact, in terms of his strength, “on earth is not his equal.” He is “armed with cruel hate,” and “doth seek to work us woe.” The Bible calls him “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He is the ruler and administrator of demon powers all around the earth (possibly the meaning of “the air”), and dominates those who are by nature prone to rebel against God (“sons of disobedience”).

At the very beginning of human history, Satan, in the guise of a serpent, raised doubts about the Word of God (Gen. 3:1), and even denied it outright (Gen. 3:4). He hasn’t changed! The Lord Jesus calls the devil both a liar and a murderer (Jn. 8:44). We are told of his “devices” (his evil plans, II Cor. 2:11), his “wiles” (his cunning tricks, Eph. 6:11), and “snares” (or traps, II Tim. 2:26). He and his demons are too smart for us, and too strong for us. Furthermore, they are invisible, so we can’t see them coming.

How in the world can we be safe from an enemy like that? That is what Martin Luther explains to us. “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing” (CH-2). But God Himself is our strong and never failing fortress, and the One who helps us (CH-1). Furthermore, Christians have “the right Man” on our side–the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “Lord Sabaoth” (CH-2), meaning the Lord of Hosts, Captain of the armies of heaven (cf. Jas. 5:4). His nature and character are unchanging, and because of who He is, and because of His sovereign omnipotence, “He must win the battle.”

Christ demonstrated His power over Satan and his host over and over. He successfully defended Himself personally against the devil’s temptations by using the Word of God–as we should too (Matt. 4:1-11; cf. Eph. 6:11, 17). Then, during His three years of public ministry, Christ repeatedly delivered individuals from demonic oppression (e.g. Matt. 12:22; Mk. 1:23-26). And, at the cross, our Saviour conquered Satan and made it possible for us to be delivered from his kingdom of darkness (Col. 2:14-15; Heb. 2:14-15; cf. Acts 26:17-18; Col. 1:12-14).

“The Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6). And “He who is in you [the Holy Spirit who indwells each believer] is greater than he who is in the world [Satan]” (I Jn. 4:4). We need have no fear of the devil–even if we had a whole world full of devils (CH-3). Our victory is founded on the unfailing Word of God that pronounces His doom (cf. Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10). The connection, in Luther’s hymn, between the last line of CH-3 and CH-4 is perhaps somewhat clearer in Thomas Carlyle’s version of the latter stanza.

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.

1) When dealing with the devil and demons, many are guilty of one of two extremes. Either they treat them simply as a fantasy and a joke, or else they blame them for everything that goes wrong, and find demons everywhere. (For an article discussing one extreme view about demons, see Demons and Music.) Briefly, how would you describe the Bible’s position on this subject?

2) What would have been the right way for Adam and Eve to respond to the devil’s temptation, instead of what they did (Gen. 3:1-6)?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. These were good thoughts. I have always liked that hymn. I especially like the verse you quoted these words from:

    “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing”.

    It makes me think of the last part of the Lord’s Prayer…”For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever.”

    Thank you for sharing and explaining both the hym and the concept of God’s protection for His own.


    • Good to hear from you. Have a great Lord’s Day!


%d bloggers like this: