On Baptizing Young Children

Should we baptize young children? It is a good question! But we first have to admit that the Bible does not directly address this question. We Baptists believe Scripture is clear that only professing believers should be baptized, but the age at which they are baptized is not so clear. This is a complex issue, and there are plenty of competing pastoral concerns and theological concepts to consider. Wisdom is required to think the issue through, along with patience and grace to love one another through differences of opinions. Ultimately, what you believe about this issue is not a matter of faithfulness, but of conscience and wisdom.

I will state my position up-front: I am in favour of baptizing professing children. Because of the Bible’s silence on this matter, we must all admit that creating a rule about baptismal age would be creating an extra-biblical rule. Such a rule would not necessarily be unwise, but we can admit it would not be based on biblical teaching.

Unbiblical, Unloving Delays

The regular biblical pattern for baptism is to baptize on a credible profession of faith, without a probationary period. This goes for all believers, not just adults. There are no unbaptized believers known of in Scripture, because the early church was following Jesus’ command to baptize everyone who professes faith in Christ. There was no probationary period, no “testing the fruit” period, no already-sanctified maturity required for baptism. The modern church has often artificially separated salvation from baptism, perhaps with good motives, but, I believe, with unfortunate results. Baptism was always meant to be the first act of obedience for new believers. The initiatory rite. The “confessing with one’s mouth” proof of saving faith. To put it another way: baptism is meant to be an initiation into discipleship, not a culmination of discipleship. Therefore, if we withhold baptism from new believers and/or professing children, we create a category of Christians that does not exist in Scripture. Someone could theoretically go for years confessing faith in Christ, and be prohibited from obeying Christ. This should not be so—for children or adults. Maturity is not required for baptism; faith is.

If we enact probationary periods before baptism not only goes against the biblical pattern, but also can lead to significant (unintended) negative consequences. It implies that we need more than faith to be saved, which is contrary to the gospel we want our children to profess. John Starke comments, “We have reacted against an “easy-believism” Christianity with a “prove yourself” mentality… Telling an 8-year-old who wants to be baptized that she needs to wait until she is 10 (or whatever age you assign) implies that she is either not a Christian or not a good enough one. In other words, a probationary period implies that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian: I need to be at least 10 years old; I need to be able to vote in a church meeting; I need to act in a certain way or articulate things properly so that my parents or pastor will finally treat me as a Christian. If we have no reason to doubt their belief in the gospel, we have no biblical precedence to keep them from being baptized.” The desire to wait until one’s faith is “testable” or “tested” is understandable, yet unbiblical.

On a very basic level, I agree with Vern Poythress, who argues that delaying baptism goes against the love and grace of Christ. How so? He says: “Delay in baptism is inconsistent with Christian love, which does not wait for mature proof before embracing brothers in love. It is inconsistent with Christ, who receives us when we come to him, not when we have proved ourselves mature.”

The Purpose of Baptism

This leads to a key question regarding baptism: What does baptism do? Is baptism an individual’s public profession of faith, or a church’s profession of someone’s salvation? In some senses, it may be considered both. But I believe it is more properly understood as the former. I certainly believe that, as much as possible, a baptism should take place in the context of a church community. This helps demonstrate the communal aspect of the faith someone is baptized into. It edifies the local church body. And it essentially acts like a “welcome to the family” celebration. In this informal sense, a church can have an affirming role while baptizing someone. A “we see your profession, and we celebrate the Lord’s salvation with you!”

However, that is not the key purpose of baptism. Baptism is an individual’s response to being saved. It is their public profession of faith in Christ. It is not the church’s confirmation of their faith in Christ. (In fact, the Bible contains clear situations, such as with the Ethiopian eunuch, which do not fit the ideal situation of having a church body—or even other witnesses!—present) We, as a church, should confirm that there is a credible profession of faith, but we cannot actually (ever) confirm actual faith within someone else’s heart. Certainly, we should hesitate to baptize those who give evidence to the contrary. But believers are never charged in Scripture to “police” baptism to ensure that someone is certainly or totally saved first. As Julian Freeman says: “Think about it; how much credible evidence could the people in Acts have given who heard one gospel message and were saved? Yet, they were baptized. Then discipled.”If someone’s profession of faith later proved to be ingenuine, then church discipline could come into play. In essence, withholding baptism is a proactive response to potentially false conversions, instead of the more biblical view of reactionary responses to false conversions in church discipline. Therefore, being afraid of being wrong about whether or not someone is converted before baptism is an unbiblical, inappropriate fear.

Baptism is also meant to be the first step of obedience for believers. If our children are believers, we run the risk of forcing them to walk in disobedience to Christ if we do not allow them to be baptized. This is a very serious matter. Consider: If disobedience to Christ is sin, then we would be causing our children to sin. And that’s where millstones may come into play: …whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.(Matthew 18:6) Additionally, if we refuse to baptize a genuine believer, we too are then also disobeying Christ’s direct command in the Great Commission.

Beyond this, we run the risk of suppressing or “suffocating” baby Christians. We cut them off from a very important means of grace that God intends for all believers. (“Means of grace” is a theological term for ways that God gives grace to us in order to grow our faith, such as Scripture, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism) Freeman explains: “The enjoyment of means of grace in the life of a Christian are like breathing and the grace itself is the believer’s oxygen. Without means of grace there will be no intake of oxygen… Is baptism a means of grace or not? Because if it is, we’re essentially telling the youngest of baby Christians (new converts of whatever age) to continue living without breathing, without taking in grace through God’s appointed means.” Some will say we must be cautious to not act prematurely. Certainly. But I also believe many grossly minimize the danger of discouraging children or new believers.

Children are Disciples Too

Ultimately, I believe the question boils down to this: Can children fully be disciples of Jesus Christ? I do not know of anyone who would deny this as fact. However, our treatment of them would call this into question. If they can be disciples, should all disciples be baptized disciples or not? I believe so. Baptism actually plays a key role in discipleship as a whole. All followers of Christ should be baptized, and then taught to obey (Matthew 28:18-20). Delaying baptism would be hypocritical at best. If you believe that someone is in the family of God, but by your actions, deny them the rights of family, you are practically saying they are not believers.

Withholding baptism seems to communicate the point that full Christianity is only for adults. It says that the kingdom of God is a kingdom where children are not welcome. God forbid! Funny: Jesus says the kingdom belongs to children and such as them. (Matthew 19:14) And entrance into the kingdom of God requires child-like faith (Matthew 18:1-6), not adult-like faith. Why should the waters of baptism have different requirements? Justin Taylor comments, “At the end of the day, we have to remember that Jesus told his adult disciples to repent, becoming like children. Then many of us turn around and tell our children that their faith is not worthy of baptism until they have repented like an adult.” We should perhaps better echo Charles Spurgeon here: “Let us be willing to receive [children] to Baptism and to the Lord’s Table, and when they are received, instead of thinking of them as though they were less valuable than other members, let us count them to be the very pride of the flock!”

There is a key difference between saving faith and mature, intellectual apprehension. As Poythress pointedly explains: “We must recognize that Christian faith is primarily personal trust in Christ rather than intellectual mastery or technical skill in verbal articulation of the truth… As adults, we believe many facts and many truths about God and about his promises to us in the Bible. But faith is genuine long before intellectual apprehension reaches its completion… It is easy to put improper emphasis on intellectual and verbal apprehension of the truth. When we look at children, we naturally hope that their intellectual apprehension of God’s truth will grow, and that their faith will come to maturity. We encourage such growth. Our hopes and our encouragement are quite proper. But if we equate intellectual maturity with the essence of faith, we change salvation from a free gift into the property of those with proper intellectual credentials. And then we contradict the gospel, which tells of God’s mercy to the undeserving, mercy that utterly ignores all supposed human credentials and vaunted abilities.”

Responding to Objections

Some will say that a child may not actually have their own faith, but only have their “family’s or parent’s faith,” and thus, we should wait to baptize until they make their faith their own. It’s not that children lack maturity, but that they lack full individuality or autonomy in faith. After all, children tend to say what their parents want them to say and believe what their parents tell them to believe. Therefore, professions of faith seem suspect. However, thinking that someone must have a personal faith that is fully independent of family or other believers is misguided, unbiblical, and quite individualistic. Even adult faith is (or should be) rooted in community. None of us stand alone. Of course it is a good thing when children “make the faith their own.” But to make this a line for baptism seems inappropriate. Poythress adds that, in biblical times, “Making a life-changing “decision” apart from relationship to social communities would have seemed weird… Thus, we must be suspicious and critical of this modern individualism. In fact, young children are doing exactly what God says they should be doing when they show respect for Christian parents by trusting them and imitating their faith. Precisely in such ways faith grows and matures. The children’s lack of “independence” at this point is positively desirable and praiseworthy.”

Others will say that a baptism should be able to be remembered, so a child can look back on the event and have it carry some meaning and significance. I am sympathetic to this, and am undecided on the merit of the argument. However, knowing a concrete date that a child will or will not remember an event is difficult, if not impossible. Some research says the age is around 7. I have personally sometimes wondered if I would appreciate my own baptism more if it had happened when I was older. However, personal experience or feelings should definitely not be the deciding argument. I am not convinced that my feelings would have been legitimate or biblical reasons to delay baptism. After all, if we should wait until baptism “means more,” one could argue that we should delay baptism as long as possible! Would baptism not mean more and be a richer experience the later and more mature you are in your Christian faith? Yet that nearly defeats the initiatory purpose of baptism altogether. Full appreciation of baptism always comes later, for everyone who is baptized. Poythress comments: “The person who is baptized appreciates baptism not primarily by having a maximally rich subjective personal experience at the time of baptism, but by continually remembering that he has been baptized and is bound by divine obligations to the body of believers and to Christ himself.”

Still others will elevate the previously mentioned concern of giving false assurance to someone who may not be saved. There can be grave dangers of increasing nominal Christianity. Yes, childlike faith can often be shaken later on, and our children may fall away from the faith. And I agree we should be cautious in assuming the permanence of desires, dreams, and decisions of children. However, I will reiterate that baptism is not about assuring someone of their faith. Besides, this would be a concern for professions from anyone of any age, not just children. There are plenty of people who are baptized, of any age, that go on to apostasize or abandon their previously-professed faith. As Poythress says, “The problems of backsliding and apostasy are fundamentally the same for adults and for children. The practical realities of backsliding and apostasy do not destroy our obligations to treat adult converts as Christians. We treat them as Christians unless and until they prove themselves otherwise by apostasy. And we encourage, exhort, and strengthen them in every way in order to endeavor to guard them against apostasy (Hebrews 10:24-25). Likewise with children.” Even the apostles got it wrong sometimes. Consider the believers mentioned in the New Testament that apostasized, who must have been baptized. There are dangers of false professions, yes. But delaying baptism is not the solution. This concern can and should be thoroughly addressed by preaching and teaching the full gospel (along with its costly demands) at any and every opportunity. It is not addressed by delaying a biblical command, and, ironically, one of the important first demands that the gospel places on converts (Acts 2:38).

Yet another objection is that, regardless of the true purpose of baptism, children may have the tendency to view baptism as proof of salvation. This, arguably, does a disservice to children; and it is better to wait until the reality of their salvation can be more easily discerned. I agree that this is a valid concern. But the question is what the solution to the concern should be. Should it be withholding baptism until we discern fruit, or should it be better training of the purpose and point of baptism? Baptism might do the child a disservice. But withholding baptism can also do a disservice. Which is the greater disservice? And as for people seeing baptism as proof of salvation—this is a rampant issue with believers of all ages, not just children. So should we therefore withhold baptism from adults for the same issue? No, we should train them better.

Some point to the wrong tendency of some parents who push their young children to get baptized, instead of allowing it to be the child’s decision. This parental behaviour should absolutely be discouraged. And we should strive to ensure that it is the child’s choice to be baptized, not because their parents have pressured them. There is a balance to strike here, to be sure. But withholding baptism is not the balance.

I have heard the argument that knowledge and maturity are essential for a profession of faith to be credible. One must display a basic knowledge of the gospel and the meaning of baptism. I completely agree that someone should have this basic knowledge and understanding. But I would further say I believe children can possess this basic knowledge. All Baptists agree that this should be a conscious, informed choice. I argue that children can make such a decision. As for maturity, that has already been addressed.

One prominent objection arises when baptism is seen as the entrance to church membership. And children do not seem ready for meaningful church membership and the rights and responsibilities that correspond with it (voting in meetings, serving in offices, undergoing church discipline, etc.). For churches that immediately induct newly baptized believers into membership, this is indeed a legitimate consideration. For those that separate baptism from official membership (as our church does), this concern is moot. More could be said here, but it is really a discussion on church membership more than a discussion on baptism.

I will close by addressing one argument I find humourous: Jesus waited to be baptized until he was 30. Why shouldn’t we then wait to be baptized until we are mature? But Jesus’ baptism fulfilled a profoundly different purpose than believer’s baptism does. Jesus was not repenting of his sins. Jesus was not being united with himself in his death and resurrection by baptism (Romans 6:4). Jesus was not committing himself to a life of discipleship. Jesus’ life never required baptism for the same reasons we are baptized. Whatever the reasons for Jesus’ baptism (such as a public display of the Father’s approval and Spirit’s power, and/or an entry into ministry), they do not relate to us. So neither should the timing of his baptism relate to us. We are baptized for entirely different reasons. Additionally, this logic could be taken further to say: No one should be baptized under 30 years old. Are we prepared to say that? Of course not. Or even further: No one should be baptized outside of a river! Meeting the exact criteria for Jesus’ baptism leads us into absurdity.

A Plea for Charity

There are plenty of other solid arguments that could be made on each side of this issue. It is very easy to see why there is disagreement here. And much wisdom must be exercised in applying this in a local church. Ultimately, we must choose to be faithful to our best interpretations of God’s holy Word. And when there is quite a bit of silence, we must choose charity over disunity. I am happy to stand together with brothers and sisters that conclude differently than I do on this issue. I simply believe the most charitable course of action of all is to follow Christ’s commands myself and encourage all professing believers in Christ, young or old, to do the same. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

For further reading:

Indifferentism and Rigorism by Vern Poythress

On Mandatory Age Thresholds by Brent Barber

Should we Baptize Small Children? Yes by John Starke

Daddy, Am I A Christian? by Mark Jones

The Fear of Baptizing Children by Justin Taylor

Suffocating Christian Children by Julian Freeman (this link was broken last time I checked)

When Should a Child Be Baptized? by Brent Prentice


Why to Preach Deuteronomy

On Sunday, we as a church at Calvary are going to begin a brand-new series of messages in the biblical book of Deuteronomy. *record player screeches to a halt, and the room goes quiet* Deuteronomy?!? Really?!? When I first announced this plan to our congregation a couple months ago, you could hear both chuckles and groans throughout the room. I don’t know if I’ve ever surprised people more by a simple sermon series (Not even with 25 weeks in Job!). We’re going to spend the vast majority of time as a church in this ancient Old Testament book for the next 10 months. So before I get going, I thought it would be good to explain just WHY we’re doing this.

1. It’s all part of a balanced diet

When I first became a pastor, I received the charge to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and to do as the apostle Paul did in Acts 20:27 and “not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The whole counsel of the Word of God includes the whole Word of God. Just as we need to eat a physical diet from a balance of different food groups, Christians need a spiritual diet from all kinds of biblical genres and locations—including the parts that tend to be under-consumed by us.

Right before giving that charge to Timothy to “preach the Word,” Paul gave us one of our most familiar teachings about God’s Word: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that all Scripture has some benefit for us New Covenant believers: even 2 Chronicles, Numbers, Zechariah, Song of Solomon, and, yes, Deuteronomy. All Scripture. A gift from God to us. To teach us. To reprove us. To correct us. And to train us in righteousness. We can’t shrink away from this, or else we miss out on the fullest riches of what God has for us.

2. It’s a hugely significant part of Scripture

For its strategic place at the conclusion of the Torah, its summary preaching of God’s moral law, and its pervasive use throughout Scripture, Deuteronomy is extremely important. There is perhaps no book that is more heavily relied on throughout the rest of the Old Testament, especially in the prophets. Deuteronomy contains the law that was commanded to be read every year by the people of Israel (see Deuteronomy 31:9-13). And along with Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah, it is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament as well! 21 out of 27 New Testament books reference it. In his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy all three times he responded to the devil. There are many well-known concepts, sayings, and verses that you may have no idea originated in Deuteronomy.

If this was something that God wanted his people to consistently dwell on, it would behoove us to do the same. Just think of how many times the psalmist talks about loving God’s law in Psalm 119! The scholar Daniel Block summarizes this thought: “For many Christians the Old Testament in general and Deuteronomy in particular is a dead book. Consequently, the favourite book of Jesus is ignored, the source of much Johannine and Pauline theology is discarded, and the life-giving power of the Word of God is cut off. Unless we rediscover this book, we will not treasure the Old Testament as a whole.”

3. It will help us know God better

Despite what some people may think or believe, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. (That’s a topic for another day!) But this means that the Old Testament has much to teach us about the character and person of God. God speaks in Deuteronomy. God moves his people. God shows his emotions (anthropomorphically speaking, of course… Big word? Look it up). God exhibits his power. God expresses his love. In other words, God reveals himself to us in Deuteronomy. For us who want to know God more, why would we ever want to ignore this?

4. It will teach us about how to please God

The majority of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses giving a retelling of God’s law for the Israelites. Why would we want to study the law though? Well, ultimately, the law teaches us what God desires from his saved people. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic law. Yes, our context is different now. So no, not every law will apply to us in the same way. But the principles that underlie each command can be applied to God’s people for all time. So Deuteronomy will teach us how to please God—perhaps not precisely, but principally.

And we must learn to please God. After all, the greatest, most supreme commandment ever given is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” By the way, that’s from Deuteronomy.

5. It will remind us of what God has done, and help us trust him in the future

This was one of the main goals Moses set out to achieve through his speeches in Deuteronomy. The people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land. But they had been there before, and had failed… Leading to 40 years of God’s disciplinary action in the wilderness. Now that generation was gone, and a new one was rising up. They needed to be told of how God had rescued them in the past. They needed to hear of how his voice thundered at Sinai. They needed to listen to the stories of God’s victories on their behalf. And they needed to know just how badly their fathers and mothers had failed. They needed to know these things so they would trust God in the adventures that laid just around the corner.

And so do we. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and we need to trust God with our future—and in the future. So we want to recall what God has done, in order to praise him, love him, and trust him more. (Plus, we might just happen to learn a bit from others’ failures! 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that the things that happened to the people of Israel “happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” So the accounts we’ll read were meant for our benefit, believe it or not.)

6. It will point us to Jesus

We know that one of the main purposes of the law given in Scripture was to expose our need of a Saviour. We cannot keep the law perfectly, no matter how hard we try. As Galatians 3:24 says, “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” This doesn’t make the law meaningless. Quite the contrary! It makes it even more important, as it means it points us to the salvation that Christ accomplished on our behalf!

In Deuteronomy, we will read of the law Jesus fulfilled, but never abolished (Matthew 5:17-20). There are good reasons why he hasn’t abolished it. And, again and again, I believe we will see Deuteronomy reveal who we are, who God is, and take us by the shoulders and point us ahead to how this God saves us in Christ.


So that’s the plan. We’re going to set out on this journey carefully, and we may have to do a lot of digging and contextualizing at times. We’ll have to explain and summarize a lot. We’ll be forced to deal with some fairly controversial topics (holy war, anyone?).  But at the end of the day, I’m praying that we’ll be able to clearly see how this portion of God’s Word fits into God’s grand story of redemption, and how it speaks into our lives even now.

What We’re Singing: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

“[Address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19)

So, as a church, we’re supposed to sing the truth of God’s Word. And we’re supposed to sing from our hearts. My question for today is: How can we do this if we don’t understand what we’re singing? There are certain songs that we sing that, though they may be rich in theology and meaning, use deep, dated, or even antiquated language. Sometimes, a song needs to be retired. Other times, we don’t want to stop singing a song, but we need to make sure it is still being understood. If we don’t, we waste our words and waste our time, if not worse.

This is the case for an old song many churches have been singing more frequently in recent months, as Protestants celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is likely the only song in any of our repertoires written by Martin Luther, if not by any reformer. Luther wrote the song based on Psalm 46, while focusing on how Jesus fulfills this psalm. To hear the story behind A Mighty Fortress, I’d direct you to this excellent post by Tim Challies. Today, I want to tackle explaining the actual lyrics of the song, and what they mean. So when you next sing this in church, you can sing at full gusto, with your whole heart, and actually know what you’re singing.

(Pastors/theologians/linguists/whoever: If you want to suggest corrections or other interpretations, please do so!)

At our church, we choose to use a version of the lyrics that is slightly modernized by Brian Doerksen. I will go through the original lyrics below (at least, as they are translated to English), and then include Doerksen’s version below that.


A mighty fortress is our God,

A bulwark never failing;

Remember that Psalm 46 was written in days when fortresses were the usual military defense strategy. And A Mighty Fortress was written in the days of castles. These were the metaphors used to describe God as our defense. He is mighty to guard, protect, and keep his people safe. (Sidenote: this is interesting, as later in the song it’s freely admitted that we may die… What is true safety, according to God?) As for a “bulwark,” that refers to a defensive wall or fortification that is part of the fortress. So a bulwark that never fails is a wall of a fortress that can never be breached or broken into.

Our Helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing:

This says there is a flood of “mortal ills” that befall us as God’s people. This is more than just sicknesses; these mortal ills could be any hard times or circumstances humans face on earth. God is our Helper in the midst of all these challenges we face. And the “prevailing” at the end of the line I believe refers to God prevailing against them. Though it could also be referring to these things seeming to prevail against us.

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

Our “ancient foe” is Satan, the devil–the ancient serpent who has sought to destroy mankind from the garden of Eden. And he is trying hard to “work us woe.” He is working to bring woe–danger, distress, or worse–upon us.

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Satan’s craft–his diabolical skill and cleverness–and his power are both significant, in comparison to our power. There is no equal to him on earth. No human could stand against him. To top it off, he hates believers. His main aim on earth is to steal, kill, and destroy God’s work and God’s people. Let’s just say this verse ends on a very negative note.


Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

If we tried to stand against the devil on our own strength–to rely on (confide in) ourselves, we would lose terribly. All “our striving”–any efforts we make against him–would be futile.

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

We would be losing UNLESS God has a Man on our side. If God appointed a Man (“of his own choosing”) to fight on our behalf against Satan, sin, and death, all of a sudden things aren’t as hopeless.

Dost ask who that may be?

You might be wondering: Who might that be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

It’s Jesus! God has chosen Jesus to be a Man–the perfect Man, the second Adam–who is on our side. Praise the Lord. And then it gets even better as we consider who Jesus is:

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

“Lord Sabaoth” simply means “Lord of Hosts.” “Hosts” is not talking about hospitality, by the way. That’s talking about armies. Armies of angels. Jesus is the Lord of the armies of angelic warriors of heaven.

From age to age the same,

Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same Man who died and conquered death through his resurrection is the same today, and will be the same forever.

And He must win the battle.

Not just “He must” win, as if it’s our only hope if he wins. (Though that is absolutely true) This implies a certainty that Jesus will win the battle. He must win, because there’s no other possible outcome in this war. It’s a foregone conclusion. Again, praise the Lord.


And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

Read this line as: Even though this world is still filled with devils (demons) that seek to “undo” (or destroy) us…

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

We refuse to fear, because God has already decided that his truth will win the war. And the amazing part is that his truth will triumph through his people! We get to play a part in his victory.

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

The Prince of Darkness is another title for Satan. And he is grim, or worrisome or harsh. But we are not afraid of him–we don’t tremble for him. And why not? Let’s see:

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure,

We can endure Satan’s short-term rage against us, because his eventual doom (and destiny in the lake of fire) is certain.

One little word shall fell him.

And this is how our ancient, strong, hateful, enemy will meet his end: he will fall by just one little word. It’s debatable what single word this is referring to. I always assumed this was talking about Satan’s final end as described in Revelation 20:7-10. In this passage, Satan leads a final rebellion against God after the Millennium, but this massive rebellion is snuffed out in a moment by fire falling from heaven and wiping them out. The devil is then cast into hell. Presumably God gave “the word” to end him. But there are other possibilities. The single word could refer to the name of Jesus, as evil trembles at his name. Others suppose it refers to the Word of God as a whole (Scripture). Brian Doerksen updates the lyrics to refer to this. And I think the way the fourth verse begins lends credence to this view. Alternatively to all of the above, Bryce Young offers an interesting hypothesis here. Whatever word Luther referred to, the point remains the same: Satan is a woefully powerful enemy that will be crushed by a single word from our far more powerful God.


That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The word of God which shall fell Satan is “above all earthly powers.” This is talking now about human powers that stand opposed to God, his Word, and his people. “No thanks to them,” the word is still alive and active. Plenty of people have sought to halt God’s powerful Word. But despite their opposition, the word of God is still supreme and powerful.

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth:

Because Jesus sided with us in the war, believers have now been blessed abundantly with the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts that he gives us. In other words, God has imbued some of his power in his people.

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

Here is a call for us to have an eternal perspective on life. We need to “let go” of the worldly ties that we have to either wealth/possessions (goods) or people close to us (kindred). Don’t even worry about this present, mortal life! This life is not all there is! We get so caught up in the immediate, temporal world, and we forget the eternal battle that is raging for our souls.

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

You may even lose your life, and that’s ultimately OK. This is a direct reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The powers that be may kill your body. But God’s truth goes on. God’s Word will never fail. And God’s Word promises eternal life to those that believe in Christ.

His Kingdom is forever.

No explanation needed. God’s reign will go on forever. Remember this. Let this truth frame your life. And praise God for his eternal kingdom.


For reference, here are Doerksen’s updated lyrics, which might not be perfect, but I think they are helpful to beginning to build the bridge from the 16th century to the 21st century. I’ll bold the words or lines he has modified:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A stronghold never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
Conspires to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with bitter hate,
On earth is not his equal.

If we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Unless God’s man is on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
The Lord of Hosts, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure;
God’s Word shall overthrow him.

That Word above all earthly powers,
Is evermore abiding;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours,
Through Jesus with us siding.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth is with us still;
His kingdom is forever.


Soli Deo Gloria!