No incident in modern history is more dramatic than the sudden appearance in Germany of the Protestant Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus, and his little army during the critical days of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). It was this victorious crusade that saved Germany, and probably all of northern Europe, for Protestantism.
When Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany in 1630 with his small but well-trained army, it seemed that the Protestant cause in Europe was lost. All the Protestant princes of Germany had been defeated by General Johann Tserclaes (Count of Tilly) and General Albrecht von Wallenstein, commanders of the Imperial Catholic armies, and the Catholic victors were preparing to crush every vestige of Protestantism and Lutheranism in Germany.
The Protestant Margrave of Brandenburg and the Duke of Saxony, however, continued to resist the Catholic cause and furnished a few troops to Gustavus, and in a swift meteoric campaign, the Swedish king routed the army of the Catholic League and marched the breadth of Germany. In the spring of 1632 Gustavus moved into the heart of Bavaria and captured Munich.
The Imperial Catholic forces who had sneered at the “Snow King,” as they called him, and who had predicted that he would “melt” as he moved southward, were now filled with dismay at Gustavus’ success. The “Snow King” proved to be the “Lion of the North.”
Wallenstein rallied the Catholic forces for a last stand at Lutzen, a town southwest of present-day Leipzig in Germany. This all-important battle proved decisive in the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. On the morning of November 6, 1632, the two armies faced each other in battle array. King Adolphus requested his chaplain, Dr. Jacob Fabricius, to lead his troops in worship. The king himself raised the strains of a stirring hymn which would be forever associated with him, “Be Not Dismayed, Thou Little Flock” (see below). Then Adolphus knelt and led his army in fervent prayer. His prayer ended, the King rose to his feet to prepare to engage his Catholic adversaries.
But a heavy fog prevented the Protestant forces from moving forward to the attack, and, while they were waiting for the fog to lift, Gustavus ordered the musicians to play the battle hymn of the Protestant Reformation, Luther’s hymn, “A mighty Fortress is our God.” The whole army joined the musicians with a shout. Then the king mounted his charger, and, drawing his sword, rode back and forth in front of the lines, speaking words of encouragement to his men.
As the sun began to break through the fog and the battle field began to clear, Gustavus himself again offered a prayer, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me today to do battle for the glory of Thy holy name,” and then shouted, “Now forward to the attack in the name of our God!” The army answered, “God with us!” and rushed forward, the king galloping in the lead.
The battle raged fiercely. For a time the outcome seemed ominous for the Protestants, and at 11 o’clock Gustavus was struck by a bullet and mortally wounded. As he fell from his horse, the word spread quickly throughout the Swedish lines, “The king is wounded!”
But rather than striking terror in the hearts of his companions, that moment proved to be a turning point in the battle for the good of the Protestants. Instead of losing heart and fleeing, the Swedish troops charged the foe with a fierceness born out of sorrow and despair, and before the day was ended, another glorious victory for the Protestant cause had been won. The Protestant cause was saved, but the noble Gustavus had made the supreme sacrifice.
Through the centuries since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517, Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” has inspire courage and renewed loyalty in the hearts of those who have found themselves on the battlefields of life for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the company of an ever increasing throng of humanity, we bear our witness today that indeed Jesus Christ remains a Might Fortress, and to Him we loudly proclaim, “Lead on, O, King Eternal!”
Be Not Dismayed, Thou Little Flock
There are three theories concerning the origin and authorship of the hymn that Gustavus Adolphus sung with his troops before engaging in the Battle of Lutzen. The first theory suggests that it was written by King Gustavus Adolphus himself. The second theory suggest that the larger ideas of the hymn were conceived by Adolphus, but the text was written by his chaplain, Dr. Fabricius, and the third theory suggests that it was written by Johann Michael Altenburg, a Lutheran pastor and teacher who ministered in and around Erfurt, Germany. It is believed by many that Altenburg composed this hymn following the victory of Leipzig, September 17, 1631.