A Bulwark Never Failing…

“A Mighty Fortress is our God; a bulwark, never failing..”
These words are known and sung (in various translations and languages) around the world. But Martin Luther wrote this song over four hundred years ago. What relevance can these words have in an age of nuclear bombs and globalized economies and climate change? What do they mean to us today?

I don’t live in a nation of many castles. There are two stone “mansions” in the small town where I live. They seem tiny compared to mansions in other parts of the U.S. and the world. And we have a small armory; home to a National Guard outpost. But a mansion (or even an armory) is not the same as a castle or a fortress. Mansions are built to be impressive; armories are built to be immediately prepared for disasters or attacks; castles are built to be impregnable and permanent. Our God is not just a fortress; one outpost among many mighty gods– He is The Mighty One–uniquely sovereign, eternally victorious, and perfectly protecting all within His power.

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And this protection doesn’t depend on my might or fighting ability, or my weapons or strategies. It depends on my being inside the fortress, safe and sound. The war rages all around, but it cannot defeat me, so long as I am in the fortress.

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There are mighty castles, forts, towers, citadels, and walls around the world– all built by people and victims of the ravages of war, time, weather, fire, bad management, etc. Over the years, types of fortresses have given way to new weapons designed to bring them down. Wooden forts are susceptible to fire; stone castles can be brought down by catapults, battering rams, and bombs. Underground bunkers can even be ruined by earthquakes or nuclear assault. And yet, we are still amazed at the power and legacy they represent. Many have stood for hundreds or even thousands of years. But God is eternal; His might and protection will never fail. No weapon forged or imagined can triumph over His power and sovereignty.

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Prayer brings us into the safe and powerful presence of God Almighty. There is nothing of our worries, our guilt, our doubts, or the accusations of the enemy that can shake the foundations of God’s fortress. And the cornerstone is none other than Jesus Christ– unshakable, victorious, and eternally one with the Father and the Spirit.

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That doesn’t mean that we won’t ever find ourselves in battle, trusting in God’s armor against the arrows of the enemy. But the war is already won– His Kingdom is forever! And ever!

A Mighty Fortress

  1. 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 pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
    On earth is not his equal.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
    The Spirit and the gifts are ours through 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.

I love old hymns– I love music in general, but there is something powerful and “grounding” about old hymns and ancient praises that stick with us through thick and thin.

Martin Luther, author of “A Mighty Fortress”gray concrete statue of man holding book beside brown building

This ancient (nearly 500 years old!) hymn has been attacked often.  I saw an article recently that said it should be kicked out of hymnals and never sung.  The author’s reasons:  It had “old” words and it was gloomy and aggressive in its tone.   True, it has words like “abideth”, “grim”, “kindred”, “battle”, and “doom”.  (Although the song has been “rewritten”– not only translated into English, but “modernized” to take out the “old-fashined words”–it’s not like you have to put up with the archaic words you don’t like or understand.) And it isn’t an upbeat anthem about dancing and lifting our hands in celebration.  It’s not about daisies and unicorns and good vibes.  It was written in a time when worship wasn’t about luxurious auditoriums and customized T-shirts with your church’s logo.  Worship wasn’t cool–it was deadly serious.

brown violin
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Good hymns are not just there to help us celebrate the good times; they are there to remind us to keep going during the struggles and bad times that are sure to come in life.  It doesn’t help that many times the hymn gets shortened..if you only read or sing the first and last verses, it can be confusing.

In its entirety, however, the hymn reminds us of a very real spiritual battle being waged for our souls, and the victory that is already ours through Jesus (“that little word!”).  Jesus is not just a “crutch” for weak sinners.  He is a mighty fortress for battle-scarred and wounded warriors.  He is a refuge in the middle of a field of war between good and evil, and the garrison for the army of Goodness.  He is the battlefield hospital, providing healing; he is the supply station, offering armor and weapons of war.

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The outcome of war is already decided– the victory is sure–but the battles are still raging.  Yesterday, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I– the “war to end all wars.”  History has left us with few illusions about lasting peace in this world.  That doesn’t mean that we should not work to pursue peace in our time.  But it does mean that our real peace comes from seeking shelter within the “never failing” bulwark that is Christ Jesus, and drawing power from Him to go back out and fight the battle before us.

Every Wall Has Two Sides

A mighty fortress is our God;
A bulwark never failing…

 

bulwark:

noun
    1. a wall of earth or other material built for defense; rampart.
    2. any protection against external danger, injury, or annoyance:The new dam was a bulwark against future floods.
    3. any person or thing giving strong support or encouragement in time of need, danger, or doubt:Religion was his bulwark.
  1. Usually bulwarks. Nauticala solid wall enclosing the perimeter of a weather or main deck for the protection of persons or objects on deck.

see Dicionary.com for further synonyms, etc.

Walls, fences, borders, barriers– there are many reasons to build them, and many ways to view them, but they have only two sides, and we can be only on one side or the other.  I enjoy visiting castles and forts, monasteries, and mansions.  Nearly all have impressive walls.  From the outside, they look imposing, intimidating, and often unfriendly (especially those with armed guards and cannons!).  But inside, the walls provide protection, insulation from any outside threats, and often peace.

black cannon in front of the brick wall building
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Most walls provide protection– from nature, from floods or winds, from predators, and from enemies.  But there are a few walls that are built, not to keep danger out, but to keep people trapped within.  Such walls are used to isolate, punish, and imprison.

God is described in the Psalms (and elsewhere) as a fortress, a rock, a safe place, a hiding place, and a sure defense.  But those attributes and qualities are for those who chose to come inside the fortress; to ask for protection and defense.

Sometimes, we approach God as an adversary, rather than a defender and protector.  We find ourselves on the outside, facing dangers unprotected and alone.  The very walls that can shield us and give us peace rise up as barriers,   We feel locked out and vulnerable.  The only difference between peace and peril is where we are in relation to the wall.  We are no stronger, our enemy is no weaker on one side or the other– only the wall makes the difference.  And the level of peace and confidence is related, not to our own ability, but to the stability and strength of the wall between us and disaster.  The higher and stronger the wall, the safer we feel.

Other times, we approach God as a jail-keeper.  We have lived inside the walls, and resent His protection.  We have forgotten, or we deny, that there is danger outside the walls.  Or we assume the walls are too close or too restrictive to offer us peace.  But God hasn’t built a wall to keep us near Him or to control us– He IS the wall, the fortress, the bulwark.  To approach Him is to be protected.  To resent His protection is to resent His very presence.

selective focis photo of blue betta fish
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Earthly walls will eventually crumble and return to dust.  Even walls that have stood the test of centuries, like the Great Wall in China, or the Tower of London, or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem– they are not perfect, nor will they last forever.  But our Bulwark, our Sure Defense, will never fail.  Not only will He never fail to stand, nor fail to protect us, He will never fail to let us in when we seek His salvation.

man wearing gray and red armour standing on the streets
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