Martin Luther was familiar with conflict. An Augustinian monk, his understanding of the Christian faith was radically reshaped by his reading about faith and grace in the book of Romans — setting the stage for his opposition when the Pope authorized the sale of indulgences to fund the building of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Luther’s ninety-five theses and his arrest and trial at Worms followed.
We think that this hymn was written at Coberg, Germany and was inspired by the Diet of Spires (1529), which sought to suppress the Lutheran movement. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, supported that effort, but was opposed by a number of German princes who supported Luther. This hymn became Luther’s battle-cry in that conflict. Its theme comes from Psalm 46, which says:
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult”
Luther wrote thirty-seven hymns altogether, and his followers wrote tens of thousands. This hymn is by far the most familiar. It is found in twelve of the thirteen hymnals that we include in the SermonWriter hymn listings, including two of the Catholic hymnals.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan