The exact date of composition for BWV 54 ("Stand firm against sin") has not been established, but most authorities believe it was composed around 1714, shortly after Bach was promoted to the post of concertmaster at the Weimar court. Bach, who had joined the Weimar court as organist in 1708, had no duties in Weimar that formally involved the composition of sacred cantatas until 1714; only BWV 21 has been firmly assigned an earlier date. The libretto of BWV 54 is drawn from a collection by Georg Christian Lehms first published in 1711, and intended for the two Kapellmeisters at Darmstadt, Gottfried Grünewald and Christoph Graupner. From the libretto we learn that the cantata was intended for the third Sunday in Lent. It is one of only a dozen among Bach's 200 or so extant cantatas to call for a single voice (three of which, BWV 199, BWV 35, and BWV 170 are also settings of texts by Lehms), in this instance an alto.
The formal scheme is simple: two arias separated by a recitative; there is no concluding chorale. It therefore shows the influence -- especially in its clear division of da capo aria and recitative -- of the secular Italian cantata and opera seria. The theme, a warning to resist the wiles of Satan, is clearly inspired by the Gospel for the day (Luke 11:14-28) which relates the story of the casting out of devils by Jesus. The expansive and harmonically rich opening aria exhorts the Christian not to let "venom seize you" in the shape of the wiles of Satan. After a recitative warning that those "wed with" sin will not enter God's kingdom, comes a second aria in which Bach's colorful symbolism is fully in evidence. Formally it is a three-part fugue between voice, unison violins and violas, the sinuous chromatic subject of which paints an ever-present of picture of sin in its many statements. The text again makes reference to the presence of the devil in sinners.