Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation, is the author of both the words and music of this famous hymn, probably written in 1521. Two of the most popular English translations are by the Rev. Dr. F. H. Hedge and Thomas Carlyle.
While Luther was still living his enemies in the Roman Catholic Church declared that the whole German people were singing themselves into Luther's doctrines, and that his hymns” destroyed more souls than all his writings and sermons."
During the prolonged contest of the Reformation period ”A Mighty Fortress” was of incalculable benefit and comfort to the Protestant people, and it became the national hymn of Germany. Gustavus Adolphus, the Viero of the Thirty Years' War, used it as his battle hymn, when he led his troops to meet Wallenstein.
The first line of this hymn is inscribed on Luther's monument in Wittenburg. Luther himself found great comfort in his hymn. When dangers thickened around him he would turn to his companion, Melanchthon, and say: ”Come, Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm"— and they would sing it in this characteristic version.
In 1720 a remarkable revival began in a town in Moravia. Jesuits opposed it, and the meetings were prohibited. Those who still assembled were seized and imprisoned in stables and cellars. At David Nitschmann's house, where a hundred and fifty persons gathered, the police broke in and seized the books. Not dismayed, the congregation struck up the stanza of Luther's hymn,
"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.”
Twenty heads of families were for this sent to jail, including Nitschmann, who was treated with special severity. He finally escaped, fled to the Moravians at Herrnhut, became a bishop, and afterwards joined the Wesleys in 1735 in their expedition to Savannah, Georgia.