Love Under Fire


Chapter 9—Light Kindled in Switzerland

A few weeks after Luther was born in a miner's cabin in Saxony, Ulric Zwingli was born in a herdsman's cottage among the Alps. Brought up among scenes of nature's grandeur, even in childhood his mind was impressed with the majesty of God. At the side of his grandmother he listened to the few precious Bible stories she had learned among the legends and traditions of the church. LF 75.1

At the age of thirteen Zwingli went to Bern, which at the time possessed the best school in Switzerland. Here, however, a danger arose. The friars made determined efforts to lure him into a monastery. Through God's intervention, his father received information about the friars’ plans. He recognized that his son's future usefulness was at stake, and he instructed him to return home. LF 75.2

Zwingli obeyed the command, but he could not be content very long to remain in his native valley, and he soon resumed his studies, traveling, after a time, to Basel. Here Zwingli first heard the gospel of God's free grace. Wittembach, a teacher of ancient languages, had been led to the Holy Scriptures while studying Greek and Hebrew, and so rays of divine light fell on the minds of the students under his instruction. He taught that the death of Christ is the sinner's only ransom. To Zwingli these words were like the first ray of light that precedes the dawn. LF 75.3

Zwingli was soon called away from Basel to begin his lifework. His first assignment was in a parish in the Alps. Ordained as a priest, he “devoted himself with his whole heart to the search for divine truth.”1 LF 75.4

The more he searched the Scriptures, the more clearly he saw the contrast between truth and the false teachings of Rome. He submitted himself to the Bible as the Word of God, the only sufficient, infallible rule. He saw that the Bible must be its own interpreter. He pursued every aid to obtaining a correct understanding of its meaning, and he asked for the help of the Holy Spirit. “I began to ask God for His light,” he wrote later, “and the Scriptures began to be much easier for me.”2 LF 75.5

The doctrine Zwingli preached had not come from Luther. It was the doctrine of Christ. “If Luther preaches Christ,” Zwingli said, “he does what I am doing.... I have not written one single word to Luther, nor Luther to me. And why? ... To demonstrate how much the Spirit of God is in unison with itself, since both of us, without any collusion, teach the doctrine of Christ with such uniformity.”3 LF 75.6

In 1516, Zwingli was invited to preach in the convent at Einsiedeln. Here he would exert an influence as a Reformer that would extend far beyond his native Alps. LF 76.1

Among the chief attractions of Einsiedeln was an image of the Virgin Mary. People said it had the power to work miracles. Above the convent's gateway was the inscription, “Here a complete remission of sins may be obtained.”4 Crowds came to the shrine of the Virgin from all parts of Switzerland and even from France and Germany. Zwingli took the opportunity to proclaim liberty through the gospel to these slaves of superstition. LF 76.2

He said, “Do not imagine that God is in this temple more than in any other part of creation.... Can useless works, long pilgrimages, offerings, images, or appeals to the Virgin or the saints obtain for you the grace of God? ... How can a glossy cowl, a smooth-shorn head, a long and flowing robe, or gold-embroidered slippers be any help at all in forgiving sins?” “Christ,” he said, “who was once offered on the cross, is the sacrifice and victim that paid the debt for the sins of believers to all eternity.”5 LF 76.3

To many it was a bitter disappointment to be told that their difficult journey had been in vain. They could not comprehend pardon that was freely offered through Christ. They were satisfied with the way that Rome had directed them. It was easier to trust their salvation to the priests and pope than to seek purity of heart. LF 76.4

But other people gladly received the good news of redemption through Christ, and in faith they accepted the Savior's blood as their atonement. They went home and told others about the precious light they had received. In this way the truth traveled from town to town, and the number of pilgrims to the Virgin's shrine greatly decreased. The offerings were reduced, and so was Zwingli's salary, which came from them. But this only made him rejoice as he saw that the power of superstition was being broken. The truth was gaining hold of people's hearts. LF 76.5