When the Plague Hit Zürich
Shortly after Reformer Ulrich Zwingli became pastor in Zürich, the city was hit by the plague. Zwingli showed his courage by giving no thought to his own safety, but staying in Zürich and ministering selflessly to the highly contagious victims. He himself was soon struck down with the plague and nearly died. While in the grip of this debilitating illness, Zwingli wrote “The Song of the Plague” in which he shows a vibrant faith in the all sufficiency of God’s grace in Christ Jesus:
The Song of the Plague
“Help me, O Lord, my strength and rock; lo at the door I hear death’s knock.
Uplift Thine arm once pierced for me; that conquered death and set me free.
Yet if Thy voice in life’s midday, recalls my soul, then I obey.
In faith and hope earth I resign, secure of Heaven, for I am Thine.
My pains increase; haste to console; for fear and woe seize body and soul.
Death is at hand, my senses fail, my tongue is dumb; Now, Christ, prevail.
Lo! satan strains to snatch his prey; I feel his grasp; must I give way?
He harms me not, I feel no loss, for here I lie beneath Thy Cross.
My God! My Lord! Here by Thy hand, upon the earth once more I stand.
Let sin no more rule over me; my mouth shall sing alone to Thee.”
Revival Sweeps Zürich
Zwingli recovered from this ordeal, his faith deepened and matured, his mind resolute. He called the people to return to the Bible as the sole standard of Faith and practice, to recognise Christ as the only true Head of the Church. Zwingli attacked unbelief, superstition and hypocrisy. Eagerly he strove after repentance, applying Christ’s Lordship to all areas of life, in Christian love and faith. He emphasized the need to care for and protect widows and orphans, to maintain law and uphold justice.
Zwingli was concerned that our personal Christian faith and love also result in justice established by the laws of the community. At the heart of the Swiss Reformation was a dynamic sense of Christian community. The Church is a genuine community, one in body and spirit, having the grace of Christ in common and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of Christ and the Spirit of God. This unity must extend beyond matters of the spirit to social concern for the entire community, taught Zwingli.
As Zwingli systematically preached through every Book in the New Testament, he laid the foundations for the Reformation in Switzerland. Zwingli urged the people to productive labour: “You are a tool in the Hands of God. He demands your service… how fortunate you are that He lets you take part in His work.”
Physical Sickness is a Picture of Sickness of the Soul
Zwingli compared the moral sickness and spiritual death of sin to the plague, which had killed one out of every three people in Zürich. He compared their physical recovery to health to the need for spiritual Reformation of church and society.
The Word of God is Invincible
Zwingli compared the Word of God to the mighty Rhine River that flowed out of the Alps: “For God’s sake, do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God. For truly, it will persist as surely as the Rhine follows its course. One can possibly dam it up for a while, but it is impossible to stop it.”
A Solemn Duty
Zwingli took his pastoral duties most seriously, writing that they “inspired in me more fear than joy, because I knew and I remain convinced, that I would give an account of the blood of the sheep which would perish as a consequence of my carelessness.”
An Enduring Legacy
Zwingli’s successes and sacrifices were effectively built upon by his successor Heinrich Bullinger, who from 1531 to 1575 served as pastor in Grossmünster. Until the founding of the Geneva Academy by John Calvin in 1559, the Carolinum in Zürich was the only Theological College in Europe where students could study Reformed Theology. The Academy in Geneva and universities of Heidelberg and Holland, built upon the good foundations laid in Zürich. The English Prayer Book, The 39 Articles and the Puritan emphasis on Head and Heart, Doctrine and Devotion, as well as the Reformed Episcopacy, adopted by the Church of England, were all built upon the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger - which English exiles learned during their time in Zürich. Bullinger, Farel, Viret, Calvin and Beza all consolidated and continued the Reformation begun by Ulrich Zwingli.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”Philippians 1:21
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
This article has been adapted from a chapter in The Greatest Century of Reformation book, which is available from
Christian Liberty Books,
P.O. Box 358,
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