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TLH Hymn 262 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

Audio for the hymn:


Defiance—a bad thing, or good? The parents of a defiant teenager might give a very different answer from that given by those who defy illegitimate tyrants. In truth, the moral character of defiance depends on what is being defied. Defiance can be sinful rebellion against legitimate authority, or it can be godly steadfast courage in a struggle against powerful enemies.

Many American Christians are inattentive to the fact that we do have strong spiritual enemies that we are called to fight. We sometimes forget that—in this world—God calls us to be the Church Militant. It is too easy for us to simply ignore the spiritual foes that surround us and act as if there were no ongoing war. But the fact is that we have enemies, and it is our duty to fight them—not to respond to their evil with acquiescence. We are called to battle, and neglecting that call is cowardly. This hymn emboldens our wavering hearts with the knowledge that our battles are God’s battles and that our ultimate victory is assured.

Dr. Martin Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” sings out defiant opposition to the evils that confront Christians in this life. It is “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” Singing it, we defy the tyranny of Satan and his agents, and assert the mighty power of God, Who has already overcome the devil and won the victory for all Christians.

God gives us tools for both defense and offense: both shield and weapon. Without the tools that God provides, we would be helpless against the might of the devil. “A mighty Fortress is our God, / A trusty Shield and Weapon; / He helps us free from ev’ry need / That hath us now o’ertaken. / The old evil Foe / Now means deadly woe; / Deep guile and great might / Are his dread arms in fight; / On earth is not his equal.”

We do not fight alone. The almighty God, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all things on earth and in heaven, is our Commander in the fight. “With might of ours can naught be done, / Soon were our loss effected; / But for us fights the Valiant One, / Whom God Himself elected. / Ask ye, Who is this? / Jesus Christ it is, / Of Sabaoth Lord, / And there’s none other God; / He holds the field forever.”

We can face the enemy and his vast forces with confident defiance. “Tho’ devils all the world should fill, / All eager to devour us, / We tremble not, we fear no ill, / They shall not overpow’r us. / This world’s prince may still / Scowl fierce as he will, / He can harm us none, / He’s judged; the deed is done; / One little word can fell him.”

The devil and his agents cannot overcome God’s Word. They will win occasional battles, we might even lose all the earthly things we hold dear, but even then, our loss is inconsequential in light of our ultimate victory. “And take they our life, / Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Let these all be gone, / They yet have nothing won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth.” No matter what happens to us in this life, in the end we will leave the Church Militant, and become an ever-joyous part of the Church Triumphant, solely by God’s grace to us in Christ.

Take heart, Christians. Fight the good fight: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8)

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