More than 500 years ago Martin Luther started a reformation when he posted his 95 thesis to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Germany. To this day, Luther is called the Great Reformer of the Protestant Reformation. Luther is also well remembered for the more than 30 hymns he composed and published, many of which we still sing.
Of the songs Luther composed, three are categorized as reformation hymns: O Lord Look Down from Heaven Behold, Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word, and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the most well-known of Luther’s hymns. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is deemed to be the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.”
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A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Martin Luther wrote this hymn by reflection on Psalm 46. The psalm is one of trust and thanksgiving when facing impending danger (the historical background is the invasion of Israel by Sennacherib during the reign of Hezekiah 2 Kings 18:13-19:37).
The psalm begins by proclaiming knowledge and trust in God:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Isa 46:1)
It speaks of courage in the face of natural disasters (Psa 46:2-3) and God’s presence with His people and His care for them (Psa 46:5,7).
It speaks of the heathens raging and God’s mighty power to defend His people (Isa 46:6, 8-9) as well as their need to stop striving and let God fight for them:
Psa 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The psalmist then ends with the same thought with which he began — God’s presence and the comfort that is found in Him:
Psa 46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
Luther’s Reformation Hymns
A Contemporary Rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”¹ — 1529
“The Battle Hymn of the Reformation”
A Traditional Rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”¹ — 1529
“The Battle Hymn of the Reformation”
O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold² — 1524
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word³ — 1543
Another Popular Song by Martin Luther, 1523
¹ Hymn 262, The Lutheran Hymnal, Text: Psalm 46, Author: Martin Luther, 1529, Titled: “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,” Tune: “Ein’ feste Burg,” 1st Published in: Klug’s Gesangbuch, Town: Wittenberg, 1529
² Hymn 260, The Lutheran Hymnal, Text: Ps. 12, Author: Martin Luther, 1523, Titled: “Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein” Tune: “Ach Gott vom Himmel” 1st Published in: Enchiridion, Town: Erfurt, 1524
³ Hymn 261, The Lutheran Hymnal, Text: John 8:31, Author: Martin Luther, 1541, Titled: “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort,” Tune: “Erhalt uns, Herr,” 1st Published in: Geistliche Lieder, Town: Wittenberg, 1543
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