Jim's Blog: Observations and Perspectives

Martin Luther, All Hallows Eve, and “Trick or Treat?”

LutherExperts in church history make the point that Reformation Day is held alongside All Hallows Eve—more commonly known in our times as Halloween—originally commemorated because October 31st, 1517 was the date on which Martin Luther wrote in protest against the sale of indulgences as a means of supposedly securing the release of souls from purgatory.

Johann Tetzel, the purveyor of these indulgences, was a creative salesman, encouraging his would-be clients to part with their hard-earned cash with a jingle that went something like this:

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
Another soul from purgatory springs!

Luther was in process of discovering the wonder of God’s matchless grace in the person of Christ—the Savior who alone achieved the salvation of sinners. No help needed from anyone! Well wrote a different hymn writer:

Upon a life I did not live
Upon a death I did not die;
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity!

In due course, Luther would come to a full-orbed realization and appreciation of the sufficiency of the merits of Christ to achieve a complete salvation. But even here, he knew enough that Tetzel and his trafficking in human souls had to be stopped.

Luther, a Musical Poet

Luther Mighty Fortress score

Click to enlarge

As well as being a theologian, pastor and family man, Luther had poetic talents.

His hymn, Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott—A Mighty Fortress (based on Psalm 46)—has been referred to as “The battle cry of the Reformation.” The melody is highly singable, not least owing to its isorhythmic (all equal rhythms) shape. There are many renderings of it. Interestingly, Luther himself originated both the words and the music—note the attestation to Luther on the graphic seen here. The music itself appears to have gone through various developments; the rendering of the score used today is attributed to Johan Sebastian Bach. (*Note 1)

Listen below to the mp3 file [source citation here], or click/tap here to view the score as rendered in modern hymnals.



Speaking of Bach, it’s interesting just how appealing his work is across cultures. In a separate post, I share with you an impressive rendering of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor played by foot on a large piano keyboard. Enjoy!

But back to Luther: Luther reveled the reality of God’s free grace shown to unworthy sinners. His journey from superstition and unbelief was a long and painful one. Along the way, he wrestled, sweated and struggled until he found a resting place in the Person of Jesus, and His work for sinners. We do well to follow in his steps!

Things to Think About

  • Is Luther’s Mighty Fortress your God? Read and reflect on Psalm 46.
  • What does it mean to you that sinners are justified by faith alone?
  • If God is the justifier of ungodly people (see Romans 4:5), does that not increase your love and appreciation for Jesus, the Savior, who Himself accomplished a perfect salvation?
  • Treasure this verse from Romans 8:31: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”


Enjoy the Words…

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.

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 tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro’ 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 pow’rs,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thro’ 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.



1: Text: Martin Luther, 1529; tr. Fredrick H. Hedge, 1852; based on Psalm 46; Tune: Martin Luther, 1529, alt.; harm. Johan S. Bach, 1685-1750, as cited at http://www.hymnary.org/media/fetch/96175

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