A Mighty Fortress Is Our God | Audio

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About the Hymn: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. – Psalm 46:1

We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin. – James Montgomery Boice on Psalm 46:1-11

Come, Philipp, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm. – Martin Luther to friend and co-worker Philipp Melanchthon during some of the darkest and most dangerous periods of the Reformation

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying “Repent,” intended that the whole life of believers should be repentance. – Martin Luther, Thesis 1

I would allow no man to preach or teach God’s people without a proper knowledge of the use and power of sacred song. – Martin Luther

On October 31, 1517, pastor and theologian Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht von Hohenzollern, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the claim that freedom from God’s punishment of sin could be purchased with money (indulgences). He enclosed in his letter a copy of his Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, which came to be known as The 95 Theses. Luther attacked the medieval notion of sacramental penitence right from the beginning with his first thesis:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying “Repent,” intended that the whole life of believers should be repentance. – Martin Luther, Thesis 1

This kind of “repentance” could be limited to isolated outward acts, leaving the rest of our lives safe from the absolute upheaval of true repentance. Luther contended that real repentance opens us up to endless personal transformation, leaving nothing about us untouched.

One of the greatest songs associated with the Reformation and Martin Luther is Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (A sure stronghold our God is He). Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott was written by Martin Luther somewhere between 1527 and 1529, approximately a decade after he presented his theses to the Archbishop. It was only later, in 1852, when Frederick Hedge translated the text to the more familiar A Mighty Fortress Is Our 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 does seek to work us woe
His craft and power are great; and armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal

Often called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is a paraphrase of Psalm 46:1-11, a psalm that greatly encouraged Luther during a time when Luther and his followers were going through a particularly rough patch of opposition with the Emperor, Charles V, seemingly determined to suppress the new “Reformation” movement. He interpreted the psalm to be not merely expressing God’s protection and strength for God’s people of Jerusalem, but for God’s people of all times. And he understood the battle described in the psalm to be more than an earthly battle but a spiritual battle. So Luther saw in Psalm 46 a great encouragement for him and the Reformers that God would be a strong refuge and strength for them in their current time of trouble: a battle against not merely fleshly armies but in the realm of spiritual warfare as they defended the Gospel itself.

The word “bulwark” in the first line is an old word for a structure of protection and support, the “refuge and strength” described in the Psalm. Luther modulates the text into a New Testament setting and describes the true battle we’re fighting. The powers of evil and the devil are at work against us, but the name of Christ is power enough to defeat them authoritatively and finally. Luther’s original composition became immediately popular with the common people of Germany, being sung continually in the streets and chanted by the martyrs as they awaited their grim fate.

Considerable dispute surrounds the origin of the music, with some attributing it to Luther himself. Others give the honor to the great J.S. Bach; and it’s true that Bach did use the tune as the basis of one of his many chorales; however, Bach was not born until 1685, over a hundred and fifty years after Luther’s great song first appeared. It seems clear then, that Martin Luther rightly deserves the credit, if not for the original composition, at least for adapting it, possibly from an old German folk tune.

Martin Luther wrote many songs to teach people biblical doctrine in a way that was memorable and comprehensible, but much more important than the music, however, is the message; and what a message this great song has for the people of God. It turns their eyes and thoughts away from the afflictions of this world, and the opposition of Satanic hosts, and fixes them upon the person of the Lord Jesus, the Lord Sabaoth as Luther so rightly refers to Him in one of the verses.

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
You 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 pow’rs, 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

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, in Eisleben, Germany, and is buried at Schlosskirche, Wittenberg, Germany. The first line of this national hymn of Protestant Germany is fittingly inscribed on the tomb of the great reformer at Wittenberg, and may still be read with appreciation by travelers to that historic spot.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God has been translated into practically every known language and is regarded as one of the noblest and classic examples of Christian hymnody. It is said there are no less than sixty translations of this text in English alone. In England, a version by Thomas Carlyle is in general use, while in the United States we generally use a translation by Frederick Hedge which first appeared in a book entitled Gems of German Verse by W. H. Furness, published in 1853.

When Luther posted The 95 Theses, he undermined self-reinforcing Christianity (which is not Christianity), and he launched a new era of self-challenging Christianity, which is the power of the gospel. The world needs this kind of gospel disturbance. Richmond needs it. I need it.

About this Recording

Executive Producer: Shelby T. Murphy

Engineered and Mixed by: Jeff Carver and David Jackson

Vocals: Heather Jastrzemski and Laura Agaba

Acoustic Guitar: Zachary Banister

Electric Guitar: Stephen Wozny

Bass: Shelby T. Murphy

Drums: Jon Tobin

Produced by: Justin Bailey, Jonathan Fuller, and David Jackson

Recorded and Mixed at:

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3 Comments

  1. Wow I love this remix of a already awesome song. It grows on me more each week. It was a joy to hear you guys play this week !!!!!!

  2. Thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Another Free Hymn « Luggaged - [...] Hill has released their seventh free hymn MP3. This time it’s “A Mighty Fortress.” We’re going to have a ...
  2. Reformation Day Deals and Discounts « Fundamentally Reformed - [...] Music download of Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God from Redemption Hill [...]
  3. A Bulwark Never Failing | Verse 1 | Redemption Hill Music - [...] Posted on Oct 30, 2011 in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God | 0 comments ...
  4. Sunday Rhythm | November 6, 2011 | Redemption Hill - Connecting Christ to Life - [...] A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Frederick Hedge and Martin Luther. This is our last Partnering to Remember: ...
  5. The Right Man | Verse 2 | Redemption Hill Music - [...] Posted on Nov 6, 2011 in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God | 0 comments ...
  6. Sunday Rhythm | November 13, 2011 | Redemption Hill - Connecting Christ to Life - [...] A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Frederick Hedge and Martin Luther. This is our last Partnering to Remember: ...
  7. His Truth Will Triumph | Verse 3 | Redemption Hill Music - [...] Posted on Nov 14, 2011 in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God | 0 comments ...
  8. Sunday Rhythm | November 20, 2011 | Redemption Hill - Connecting Christ to Life - [...] A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Frederick Hedge and Martin Luther. This is our last Partnering to Remember: ...
  9. Let Goods and Kindred Go | Verse 4 | Redemption Hill Music - [...] Posted on Nov 20, 2011 in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God | 0 comments ...

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