Our hymn of the day for this coming Sunday will be Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word, with both text and tune by our dear Martin Luther himself.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing Your praise eternally.
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.
This hymn has a very interesting history. In 1541, the Turks were threatening to overtake Vienna. The German speaking rulers called for special prayers to be made and Martin Luther responded by writing this hymn. It was truly a frightening time for the Lutherans, as they were threatened by both the Turks and by the Pope. The original stanza 1 was more specific about these threats and read like this:
Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son.
The words have been changed to be relevant to us today. It now serves as a prayer that our Triune God would guard and keep us in all times of trouble and uncertainty. It is picked for this Sunday because in the Gospel lesson Jesus promises that division and trouble will come.
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53
Notice that the three stanzas of this hymn correspond to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The first stanza addresses our Lord (the Father) and asks Him to curb those who would wrest the kingdom from the Son. What does it mean to wrest the kingdom from the son? In the small catechism we read this:
How Does God’s Kingdom Come?
God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
Wresting the kingdom away means leading us away from belief in Jesus and the life of faith.
While the kingdom of God comes without our prayer, we pray that it may come among us also.
There is certainly no doubt that the kingdom cannot be taken away from the Son, who sits at the right hand of the Father. This leads us into the second stanza, which is directed to the second person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son. In this stanza we pray that our Lord of Lords would guard and keep us, His holy church, so that we may sing his praises for all eternity.
The third stanza is directed to the Third Person, the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, we often hear Jesus use the word ‘Comforter’ to refer to the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit comforts us by calling us, gathering us, enlightening us, and keeping us in the one true faith. While the church is certainly divided, we pray that He would give us true unity and peace.
Luther wrote this prayer at a time of political and religious unrest. Yet we can look back and see that God listened to the prayers of His people and preserved them. The Lutheran church survived this time of crisis and still exists to this day. This serves to remind us that we can sing this prayer joyfully, remembering the promise of Romans 8:
38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.