From Here to Forever


Chapter 9—Light Kindled in Switzerland

A few weeks after the birth of Luther in a miner's cabin in Saxony, Ulric Zwingli was born in a herdsman's cottage among the Alps. Reared amid scenes of natural grandeur, his mind was early impressed with the majesty of God. At the side of his grandmother he listened to the few precious Bible stories she had gleaned from the legends and traditions of the church. HF 109.1

At the age of thirteen he went to Bern, which then possessed the most distinguished school in Switzerland. Here, however, a danger arose. Determined efforts were put forth by the friars to lure him into a monastery. Providentially his father received information of the designs of the friars. He saw that his son's future usefulness was at stake and directed him to return home. HF 109.2

The command was obeyed, but the youth could not be long content in his native valley, and he soon resumed his studies, repairing, after a time, to Basel. It was here that Zwingli first heard the gospel of God's free grace. Wittembach, while studying Greek and Hebrew, had been led to the Holy Scriptures, and thus rays of divine light were shed into the minds of the students under his instruction. He declared that the death of Christ is the sinner's only ransom. To Zwingli these words were as the first ray of light that precedes the dawn. HF 109.3

Zwingli was soon called from Basel to enter upon his lifework. His first labor was in an alpine parish. Ordained as a priest, he “devoted himself with his whole soul to the search after divine truth.”1 HF 109.4

The more he searched the Scriptures, the clearer appeared the contrast between truth and the heresies of Rome. He submitted himself to the Bible as the Word of God, the only sufficient, infallible rule. He saw that it must be its own interpreter. He sought every help to obtain a correct understanding of its meaning, and he invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit. “I began to ask God for His light,” he afterward wrote, “and the Scriptures began to be much easier to me.”2 HF 110.1

The doctrine preached by Zwingli was not received from Luther. It was the doctrine of Christ. “If Luther preaches Christ,” said the Swiss Reformer, “he does what I am doing. ... Never has one single word been written by me to Luther, nor by Luther to me. And Why? ... That it might be shown 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 HF 110.2

In 1516 Zwingli was invited to preach in the convent at Einsiedeln. Here he was to exert an influence as a Reformer that would be felt far beyond his native Alps. HF 110.3

Among the chief attractions of Einsiedeln was an image of the Virgin, said to have the power of working miracles. Above the gateway of the convent was the inscription, “Here a plenary remission of sins may be obtained.”4 Multitudes came to the shrine of the Virgin from all parts of Switzerland, and even from France and Germany. Zwingli seized the opportunity to proclaim liberty through the gospel to these bondslaves of superstition. HF 110.4

“Do not imagine,” he said, “that God is in this temple more than in any other part of creation. ... Can unprofitable works, long pilgrimages, offerings, images, the invocation of the Virgin or of the saints secure for you the grace of God? ... What efficacy has a glossy cowl, a smooth-shorn head, a long and flowing robe, or gold-embroidered slippers?” “Christ,” he said, “who was once offered upon the cross, is the sacrifice and victim, that had made satisfaction for the sins of believers to all eternity.”5 HF 110.5

To many it was a bitter disappointment to be told that their toilsome journey had been in vain. Pardon freely offered through Christ they could not comprehend. They were satisfied with the way Rome had marked out for them. It was easier to trust their salvation to the priests and pope than to seek purity of heart. HF 111.1

But another class received with gladness the tidings of redemption through Christ, and in faith accepted the Saviour's blood as their propitiation. These returned home to reveal to others the precious light they had received. The truth was thus carried from town to town, and the number of pilgrims to the Virgin's shrine greatly lessened. There was a falling off in the offerings, and consequently in the salary of Zwingli, which was drawn from them. But this caused him only joy as he saw that the power of superstition was being broken. The truth was gaining hold upon the hearts of the people. HF 111.2