They Yet Have Nothing Won

Last year our congregation sent out and asked all the congregations in the Wyoming District of the LC-MS for any old copies of The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) they had lying around unused. I was killing too many trees by inserting hymns that were better in TLH than in Lutheran Service Book (LSB).

Our brothers and sisters graciously obliged, and we’ve been richly blessed by having this resource in our pews. I joke that we’re going to add The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary next. We’ll have a real library in our pews!

One of the hymns that was hard to sing from LSB is the hymn of the day for the First Sunday in Lent, A Mighty Fortress. This is a great and wonderful hymn that is underappreciated for all its popularity. I won’t get into the beauty of the entire hymn, but would like to focus on the one line that was changed from TLH to LSB.

Stanza 4, TLH

And take they our life,
Goods fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone
They yet have nothing won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.

Stanza 4, LSB

And take they our life,
Goods fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone
The victory has been won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.

The difference is in the second to last line, where Lutheran (Book of) Worship changed “They yet have nothing won” to “The victory has been won.” LSB followed suit. Why was this change made?

I haven’t researched it properly, but have heard a few people who defended the change. Their argument was that if you lose your child and wife, you have lost something. One person said that Luther was being sexist, since it doesn’t take into account the value of women. Another argued that this is insensitive to those who have lost their children or wives.

The TLH is closer to the German (Sie haben’s kein Gewinn – they’ve won nothing). Why was this change made? I can’t say for sure, but I can say for sure that they missed the point Luther was making. In the historic epistle for Invocavit, the first Sunday in Lent, we have this description of St. Paul and his fellow pastors, which applies to all Christians, “As having nothing and possessing all things.” The same conviction is given us by the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor. 3:21-23, “Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

In other words, in Christ we have everything. When Job lost his seven sons and three daughters, God later gave him double of all that he had, but did not give him fourteen sons and six daughters. He gave him seven sons and three daughters. This is because Job still had his children. He believed in the resurrection of the body, as he himself confessed in Job 19:23-27.

When the devil and the world take goods, fame, child, and wife, they have taken nothing away from us, because all that we have is in Christ, and all of our treasure is in him. Our treasure is not on earth, but in heaven, where Christ is ruling at God’s right hand, preparing a place for us where any good we have lost here on earth will be restored to us in far greater glory than the heart of man can imagine here on earth, especially our believing children and wife, who will be changed to be like Christ himself.

I encourage you in the future to sing the hymn the way Luther wrote it. There is great comfort in it for those who suffer the loss of God’s blessings here on earth. And I encourage you respectfully to ask our synod in the future to sing it the old way, and so given us more confidence as we “teach and admonish one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Colossians 3:16.

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