“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” Here is the classic English translation of the first two lines of Martin Luther's famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.“ Indeed, it is famous among Christians who unashamedly identify themselves with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which until today continually inspires them to appreciate their roots in the ancient paths (Jeremiah 6:16) of biblical Christianity over against that which is only built on man-made traditions.
"My Mighty Fortress"
“That hymn is more than a piece of music; it is an event in European history,” says a church historian. But at a more personal level, it also reflects some of the major points of the life of this German Protestant reformer. In fact, the phrase “mighty fortress“ was on Luther's lips when he lifted up his voice to God in prayer early in the morning right before he faced the officials of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms in January 1521. “My God, stand by me, against all the world’s wisdom and reason,“ he prayed in fear and trembling. “Stand by me, O God, in the name of Your dear Son Jesus Christ, who shall be my defense and shelter, yes, my Mighty Fortress, through the might and strength of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.”
"The Dark Night of Soul"
Prior to his writing of this hymn, Luther was struggling through what he called ”the dark night of the soul,” referring to his experience of serious periods of depression and physical ailments that baffled him in the middle of 1527, almost a decade after the publication of his 95 theses. These intensified all the more in August that year when a plague hit Wittenberg. The only professor left in the town, though probably unknown to many of his students who preferred to stay with him, he was at this point in time a lonely man, stricken by grief, overshadowed by great despondency.
He said to his close friend Philip Melanchthon. ”I spent more than a week in death and in hell,” he recalled, as if still in agony and excruciating pain. He even confessed to have actually believed he was ”completely abandoned by Christ.” Not only so, ”I labored under the vascilliations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God.” Who in the world would think that the father of Protestant Reformation went through such a state of spiritual rebellion? His Roman Catholic opponents, maybe, but certainly not his fellow Protestant believers. This struggle, according to him, he had to endure in a matter of weeks.
But Luther was not really alone. Prayers and intercessions were then being offered before God on his behalf by his friends. “Finally through the prayers of the saints [i.e., those sinners justified and sanctified by faith in Christ alone, and not the saints in the Roman Catholic sense of the term],“ he later testified, “God began to have mercy on me and pulled my soul from the inferno below.” This was the occasion that inspired him...