If Martin Luther's great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," is any indication, he often turned to Psalm 46 for comfort. When you read his story, you can appreciate why.
In 1520, after more than three years of conflict with the Church in Rome, the Pope warned Luther in a public letter that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant his teaching that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Luther responded by burning the letter publicly and publishing a pamphlet titled, Why the Pope and His Recent Book are Burned and the Assertions Concerning All Articles. In 1521, Pope Leo X issued a letter announcing Luther's excommunication, which prompted the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to issue orders of arrest. Charles declared, "We want him apprehended and punished as an infamous heretic, as he deserves," and placed a generous price on his head. Naturally, this made Luther a prime target for any sovereign wanting favors from the Pope and the powerful King Charles V. Consequently, nearly every king and petty ruler in the world made Luther's capture a priority.
On his way home from the official announcement by Charles V, Luther was stopped by a masked horseman and taken to a castle in central Germany. Fortunately, he had not fallen into the hands of enemies, but was taken into the protection of Frederick III, the only man powerful enough to oppose Charles V. Luther spent the next year in the Castle of Wartburg, a walled fortress perched on a 1,200-foot precipice. From here, Luther translated the Greek New Testament into German and laid the foundation for the Protestant Reformation.
It may be from here that Luther found solace in Psalm 46. Sitting in a mighty castle, protected by a rugged terrain and a high position with only a drawbridge for access, guarded by one of the most powerful men in the world, Luther found comfort only in his God. With virtually the whole world against him, he had the truth of the gospel on his side, and that gave him confidence. He rested in the assurance of Psalm 46 and penned the words to an anthem praising the power of God. In 1853, Frederick H. Hedge translated Luther's German lyrics into the English lines we know so well.
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 doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
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:
Dost 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 powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru 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.
From Living the Psalms by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
In Embraced by the Spirit, we step away from the heat of theological battle that analyzes and criticizes and move quietly and closely to the One who has been sent alongside to help.