battle hymn of the ages

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing…..”

She sang as she ran. Faster and faster, her legs carried her away from all that she had seen. From all that she had heard. The shouts, the smoke that hung heavy, the destruction. To the one safe place her brother had pointed out to her as the arrows began to fly past with a whizzing whir. “Run to the fortress. The big tower, do you see it? Run to it, fast as you ever can. The walls are so thick, they cannot be brought down. It is so tall, it cannot be scaled. Run! Go!”

She swallowed a sob. The urgency in his voice startled her. Her brother was normally gentle and kind….but there was such a tone in his deep voice that it made her cry. He should not have spoken to her that way! In that manner! Who did he think she was? But then….then she had hesitated. Yelled at him. And watched him turn towards her, a gleam in his eye telling her he was more stubborn than she was at this moment.

And then it had happened.

“….For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal…”

She shut her eyes tight against the image that filled her mind as she sang those words. The ancient foe. That band of marauders that was a constant bother, a far off threat, was no longer a far away worry. They were here. Now. She had seen the power behind that arrow. The one that had struck her brother, as he turned around to admonish her to listen. To behave. To be a good girl and do as he said. She had seen him stumble and fall, that hateful arrow protruding out of his leg. She had killed him, by her thoughtless actions.

“……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……”

She didn’t understand. Why did her brother send her away? He was a knight of the king. Had fought many battles, been victorious in many. Would she not be safer with him, than running through the forest alone, to a tower that she could no longer see for the trees hiding it from her view? She stumbled; opened her eyes, wondered where she was. She was lost, she was sure of it. Some brother she had, sending her off by herself. She was only twelve, for crying out loud! Wait ’till she told her parents of this…..but she couldn’t. She stumbled as tears flooded her eyes, streamed down her cheeks. She fell onto the forest floor, shaking with fear and trepidation and worry.
She was terrified.
All alone.
And her family was gone.

“…..You ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He; Lord sabbaoth His name, He’s age to age the same. And He must win the battle…..”

She sang out loud now, only to hear her own voice filling the silence. It kept her from feeling so very alone, helped to fill the void in her heart. Reminded her that this Lord Whom sh sang of was also her Lord; that Christ Jesus was hers. She prayed for deliverance, for His help, for guidance of some sort…..anything.

She was startled by a hand on her shoulder. A large, rough, bony hand, squeezing gently.
“My child, whatever is the matter?”

She looked into his face, studying his kind eyes, his hair that spoke of wisdom and great age, his stooped shoulders bowed low from the care of the world. And she sobbed out her story to him. He stooped and put her on her feet. Pointed out the tower she had been running towards, assured her she was safe. That after the battle, he would go and look for her brother. He took her hand, enveloping her small hand in his mighty one, and they went towards the fortress, with him humming softly under his breath.

“…..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….”

They reached the tower walls in safety. She took a shuddering breath as he handed her off to one of the many women who had sought refuge there. She was hugged. Comforted. Fed a good supper. Tucked into bed.
But sleep would not come.
When the good woman who had assumed responsibility for her checked on her in the wee hours of the morning, she asked what was wrong. Was there something ailing her little charge?
The “little charge” spoke in hushed whispers. Explained that she had killed her brother.
That her brother had sent her away by herself. Confided her fear — how much she missed her father, and mother and sisters, and how they had all been killed by the marauders that had descended into her little village. How her brother had spirited her away, and cared for her, and now had left her, all alone in the world. She shared the void in her heart, the ache in her soul, hoping against hope that her kind friend would understand.

“….The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, but lo! his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him….”

The good lady gathered her close, hugged her to her chest, and gave comfort the best she could.
“Me darlin'” she spoke in her soft Scottish brogue, the words lilting off her tongue, “Wha’ would ye have had him ta do? In orderin’ ye to run off by yerself…well, it most likely nigh tore his heart right outta his chest. Me dear, he knew the dangers ye would face would be greater with him than alone, in the forest. He kenned that someone would help ye to the tower, to safety. Given a choice, me love, he would have brought ye himself. He would have protected ye from all that ye have seen and heard; from all this heart ache and confusion. He kenned it would be a hard trial for ye to go through, wanderin’ around that forest by yerself till ye be found. And he also kenned that the very Lord would be yer guide, showin’ yer wee feet the right way to go. If he comes to find ye in the mornin’, ye can tell him how sorry ye are for the way ye dinna listen to what he said, when ye yerself have admitted him of bein’ in the right all along. And, as fer yer loneliness, me sweet, remember that there is a friend who sticketh closer to ye than even yer brother does. That He will uphold ye in the hand of His righteousness, and ye shall do just fine in this world.”

She started humming a lullaby: “….That Word above all earthly powers no thanks to them abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth….”

The next morning she woke in a better frame of mind than the night before. She watched the door all day. She listened for his step all night. Longed to hear his voice fill up the silence around her. Break through the tension that was filling the room. For days and days she listened and watched. She longed, she prayed, she wondered where he was. Her heart beat in a rhythm that would not stop: you killed him. You killed him. You killed him. 

The sweet woman who was watching over her noticed her pining away with fear and worry and spoke to her about it. “Me dearie,” she began, “Dinna let yer thoughts get the better o’ ye. Likely he is chasin’ away the bandits, followin’ their trail, so they won’t niver come back and bother yer sweet little head again.  Remember, me love, that ye have a risen Saviour who is yer strong tower, and He promises that He won’t niver allow anythin’ or anyone to come between ye and Him. David, the great Psalmist in the Bible, says to ye: “I will say o’ the Lord, He is me refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” Why dinna ye write down a list of how yer God is like this here tower we are sitting in right now?”
And with a smile she left her alone.

A couple hours later, the girl approached her kind guardian with a list.
Her God was strong.
He was protecting.
He would never allow anything to harm her.
He was a strong rock in the midst of trials.
He would protect her from the darts of her enemies.

“Well, me dear, that is quite a list. Now that ye have it fixed firmly in yer mind that yer God is good, go about doin’ yer duty by givin’ Him the glory, even in the hard times. Mayhap the good Lord is only tryin’ ta teach ye a lesson that ye could learn in no other way. Yer doin’ no good to anyone sittin’ around here frettin’ and twiddlin’ yer thumbs…why don’t ye sing that song ye were always hummin’? It was one of me favourites, it was.”

“….Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever!”

She paused, concentrated, listened hard.
There! She heard it again! A low, deep voice had joined with hers, vaguely familiar in tone, yet filled with pathos of all that had been experienced by the owner.
“Aiden!” And she ran straight to the arms that had opened to receive her, the stick that had aided his balance falling away, a broad grin filling his face.
Never mind the bandages, the weariness that sagged his shoulders down, or the smell of his week-old body that sorely needed a bath.
He was there. With her.
And that was enough.
She lifted a prayer of thanks to her Master for the help  He had sent in the form of a sweet friend, an old man, and a strong tower for her refuge, that had shielded her when the danger was the most intense.
She thanked Him for the lesson she had learned about abiding in Him, under His wings, in His shadow.

“His kingdom is forever!”


This post is part of a currently ongoing hymn study, highlighting the Hymns of the Reformation period in preparation for an upcoming history conference at our church.

If you are interested in joining this study with us, here’s what you need to do…..it’s simple, really. I promise! Merely send an email to hymnhistorystudies@gmail.com and let me know that you want to participate. Let me know if you want me to send the emails to catch you up to date on the hymn we are currently going through, and I will gladly send them in your direction!

 

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