WELS Hymnal Project

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Insights, analysis, techniques, opinions, and experiences from the team behind the WELS Hymnal Project.

“One little word can fell him.”

Do you know what word Martin Luther had in mind? If so, you might be a better Lutheran than I am. I have to admit that even with all the times I’ve sung the hymn, I never bothered to find out the answer to that question.

Maybe I sort of assumed it was something like “Jesus” or “grace.” Maybe I assumed Luther didn’t necessarily have one specific word in mind but rather was making the point that the Word of God in general — even in the smallest of quantities — holds total power over Satan.

But then a recent sermon on verses from Revelation led me to investigate the question further. The verses in front of me were Revelation 14:6,7. They describe an angel, a messenger sent from God, who delivers the gospel to every nation on earth until Jesus’ return. From the earliest days of the Reformation, many have identified Luther as at least part of the fulfillment of this comforting promise. These verses served as the sermon text at Luther’s funeral and have been used on anniversaries of the Reformation for centuries.

The beauty of the picture of that angel is highlighted by the surrounding context. John had just seen a vivid vision of the Church’s greatest enemies: a ferocious red dragon and his two allies, the beasts. That dragon represents Satan, whose goal it is to lead “the whole world astray” (12:9).

As Satan carries out that work, lies flow out of his mouth like water. His liquid lies seep into every nook and cranny of our world. They seep into our homes, our churches, and our hearts. They come in many different shapes and sizes. But one common thread ties them all together. More than anything else, the devil wants us to believe one grand lie, the same lie that he used to get Adam and Eve to bite: God doesn’t love you.

But then amid all of those lies, this angel goes out to do his work. He implores people to worship God and give him glory rather than paying homage to the dragon by listening to his lies. Why? The angels tells us. “The hour of his judgment has come” (14:7). Against all of the devil’s lies that God doesn’t love you stands one accomplished fact. One finished event demonstrates beyond doubt that the devil’s greatest lie is just that, that God most certainly loves us: Jesus’ death on the cross.

“He’s judged. The deed is done.”

So when the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the sins you’ve committed… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the suffering you’re enduring… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the struggle he’s asking you to take up against the deeply-rooted desires of your heart... Rather than listening to those lies, remember Jesus’ cross as indisputable, irreversible evidence to the contrary.

Then answer the devil with that one little word that, as Jesus has clearly demonstrated, describes him so perfectly: “Liar.” 1


  1. Luther himself identified this as the word he had in mind. When speaking about one of the books written against him, Luther said, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him’” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 41, pp. 185–186). ↩︎

 

Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." We hope you enjoy hearing a recording of this hymn and seeing some of the comments that we received. We also thank the members of Koiné for giving us permission to use their recording.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Christian Worship #200/201).

Silhouetted on a frightening sky, unmanned ropes whip wildly from each of the lost ship’s masts. Helplessly they wrap and unwrap themselves; they tangle and untangle through the night without help. The sails have long been shredded. The timbre of her timbers hammer horror through the hull. Massive crests mount up and climb each side, dwarfing the very ship that once boasted of her might at the harbor. With unsteady surprise, the wind and waves play catch with her, threatening at any moment to cast her aside like an unwanted old toy.

It’s the perfect scene to teach fear - to describe the pounding drum of our worries, the anxious sweat from unfamiliar circumstances, the movable moments of our lives that perplex us when we beg life to just stay the same, the painful memory of our sins.

But it’s an even better scene to teach faith. “When ev’ry earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”

Inside the ship’s belly, the crew communes with unshakable confidence. There are no hopeless huddles here, only relaxed songs and joyous laughter as they rehearse their immovable state: “On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Each scream of the storm is met with the peaceful silence in their souls. Every violent quake is answered with unstirred calm because of the Lord. Let the storm rage and flood. Let the gale be high and stormy. Neither sinful conditions nor weather conditions determine confidence in this boat, Christ does.

Dear Christian friends, keep singing this audacious anthem of faith that shines on the darkness, stills the storm of our sins, and ties up every troubled thought. Each verse of this hymn is carried by a tune that rises and falls, yet growing ever higher like surging waves that prepare to overwhelm us. But God has given us repose. In the midst of hopeless destruction, he fills faith’s eyes with his Son. Our answer is Jesus: his blood and righteousness, that is, his active and passive obedience to God the Father for us. The answer is sworn by God and made secure by faith, as the hymn-writer sweeps us to safety in the sentences of Hebrews 6-9 and shouts with us: “his oath, his covenant and blood...” Your answer is anchored in heaven. The refrain returns us to the security of the solid Rock, no matter the storm that surrounds us.

Let us then fix our eyes on Jesus and be the merry crew that worships in the nave!1


  1. The nave is the main area of a sanctuary where the congregation sits and worships. It comes from the Latin navis, meaning ship. ↩︎

 

Thank you to all those who took the time to share their thoughts on, "Abide with Me." We hope you enjoy hearing a recording of this hymn and seeing some of the comments that we received.

Next week we'll feature another hymn from the list of Fifty Favorite Hymns: "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less" (Christian Worship #382).

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

When has God helped you? When has he carried you because you couldn’t do it yourself? Through what trial in your life has God brought you? “Abide with Me” is a favorite hymn because of its comforting message that God is with us. This comforting message has perhaps been used at the funeral of a loved one. The text very clearly and reassuringly reminds us that our Lord is with us at all times, even until and beyond earthly death. Each of the verses serves as a petition. Each describes times when we ask God to abide with us:

  1. When we need help; the way is dark...Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
  2. When joy is gone...Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
  3. When we seek comfort and forgiveness...Come not in terrors, as the King of kings.
  4. When we were young and foolish...Thou on my head in early youth didst smile.
  5. When we were tempted....I need thy presence every passing hour.

Yes, at all these times and many more, dear God, abide with us.

Yet, when verse six arrives, there is reason to sing just a bit more boldly. Read the third line: “Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?” Do you punch those words of the verse a bit more forcefully when you sing with the congregation? Do you think of the triumphant words of 1 Corinthians 15? Do you think about Jesus’ victory on the cross? Sing the text more loudly. Sing the melody more confidently. Be bold; sing the tenor line harmony that rises and hits its high point just when the text rebukes the sting of death and the grave. Sing because Jesus has triumphed and we have too.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me.

The final line of the final stanza of the hymn summarizes the previous six and points toward heaven. “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!” When you sing these final words, how do you sing them? Do you sing the commas, allowing the text to take center stage? Do you emphasize each of those brief phrases? Do you put space between the notes, reminding yourself and others that your God has never left you in life and he will not leave you in death? “In life. In death. O Lord. Abide with me!” That is our petition, and that is his promise.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

Jonathan Niemi
Communications Committee