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Hymn 263 “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe”

Thousands would die that day in Lűtzen, Saxony. Everyone on both sides knew it. November 6, 1632.  The Thirty Years’ War between the Roman Catholic Imperial forces and the Protestants had been raging for fourteen years. Camped in the fields of Lűtzen, the Protestant army of Sweden was awakened and assembled. They would attack the formidable Roman Catholic Imperial forces of Duke Albrecht von Wallenstein. Wallenstein was prepared for them with well-sited and well-defended positions.

The weather was foreboding. There was such a heavy fog that the word Lűtzendimma (“Lűtzen fog”) remains today a part of the Swedish language. The Protestants’ military leader, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, ordered that his court preacher Jakob Fabricius and all the army’s chaplains hold prayer services. During those services, they all sang “Verzage nicht, du Häuflein klein,” our “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe.” It was the king’s battle hymn. Before personally leading the troops into battle, Adolphus commanded that “Ein feste Burg” (“A Mighty Fortress”) be played on the kettledrums and trumpets. The soldiers loudly sang along as they marched to battle, with King Adolphus himself leading the first line of cavalry on the right wing.

The Swedish attack was largely successful—at first. But when the Imperial forces launched a counterattack on the center of the Swedish line, the Protestant army was forced into a chaotic retreat. Jakob Fabricius began to sing a psalm, which roused the Swedish officers to regroup the troops and rally against the Catholic forces. In the end, with daylight fading, the Protestant forces captured the main Imperial artillery battery, and Wallenstein ordered his army to retreat to Leipzig. It was an important victory for the Protestants, but it was also a costly one. Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle with the enemy.

We have our own “religious” battles today. It should not surprise us. In this world, we are and will remain in the Church Militant. Our battles are less dramatic, but certainly longer lasting, than the one-day Battle of Lűtzen. Culturally, American Christians today face an unprecedented secular onslaught against biblical doctrine, biblical morality, public expressions of Christian faith, and fundamental societal institutions such as marriage and the family. Americans kill well over one million unborn babies per year—legally! We face the increasing threat of terrorism from militant Islam as well as corruption within our own government. Church attendance and the cultural influence of Christianity have both dramatically decreased in our country. With what attitude, then, shall we engage the enemy in these innumerable battles?

Hymn 263, Gustavus Adolphus’s battle hymn, answers our question. Our foes may seem frightening, the battles we face may tend to discourage us or even cause us to despair; but we are reminded that our fight will eventually end, and it ends with our victory. We therefore fight with optimism and courage: “O little flock, fear not the Foe/ Who madly seeks your overthrow;/ Dread not his rage and pow’r./ What tho’ your courage sometimes faints,/ His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints/ Lasts but a little hour” (Verse 1).

Verse 2 adds the thought that it is not our own cause, but the Lord’s, for which we fight. We therefore know that we are “on the right side” even when we seem to be a small minority, and we know also that the outcome is in His almighty hands; we can therefore be optimistic. “Be of good cheer; your cause belongs/ To Him who can avenge your wrongs;/ Leave it to Him, our Lord.”

Our ultimate victory is guaranteed: “As true as God’s own Word is true,/ Not earth nor hell with all their crew/ Against us shall prevail” (Verse 3). My friend Don Bishop put it more succinctly. At the end of Revelation in his Bible, he wrote in the final outcome: “We win.”

Be of good cheer, fight the good fight, know that the victory is ultimately ours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the end, we win.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.