Friday, January 1, 2016

Huldrych Zwingli: His Sacred Word Shall Prevail

Huldrych Zwingli was an integral, but often overlooked, leader of the Protestant Reformation. His obscurity is due partly to his untimely death and largely to the fact that he is eclipsed by the towering figure that is Martin Luther. I recently wrote a paper on Zwingli and one of the things that impressed me most was his unwavering confidence in God's Word to accomplish God's purposes. He was convinced that the only way genuine and lasting reform would take place in the church and culture was through expository preaching. 

Since today (January 1) marks Zwingli's birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to compile a few excerpts from his sermons and writings which highlight his commitment to Scripture. I hope they will encourage you to remain committed to God's Word for the remainder of the year.

Zwingli asserted that he learned the gospel, not from Luther, but from studying the Scriptures:
"I began to preach the gospel of Christ in the year 1516 before anyone in my locality had so much as heard the name of Luther; for I never left the pulpit without taking the words of the gospel as used in mass service of the day and expounding them by means of Scriptures."[1]
 Zwingli knew that reform would occur when the power of God's Word was unleashed through preaching:
"Do not, for God’s sake, suppress his Word! For truly, truly, it will take its course as surely as does the Rhine. It may well be checked for a while, but never stopped."[2]
In a sermon introduction, Zwingli defended a Christian's liberty to eat meat during the Lenten fast because nowhere in Scripture was such a fast mandated:
" seems to me to be necessary to explain the thing from the Scriptures, so that everyone depending on the Divine Scriptures may maintain himself against the enemies of Scriptures. Wherefore, read and understand; open the eyes and the use of the heart, and hear and see what the Spirit of God says to us."[3]
In a letter, Zwingli explained how he came to his rejection of certain church traditions:
"…I began to try every doctrine by this touchstone (i.e. the word of God), and if I saw that the stone reflected the same colour or rather that the doctrine could bear the brilliancy of the stone, I accepted it; if not, I rejected it."[4]
If there is something in Scripture which is difficult to grasp or reconcile, the problem lies not with Scripture, but with us: 
"The Word of God is infallible perfect truth…where, however, we do not understand the sense and the connection, there the fault lies not in the Word of God, but in the darkness and bluntness of our understanding."[5]
One of Zwingli's greatest sermons is entitled "Of the Clarity and Certainty of God's Word". At the end, he encourages his listeners to treasure God's Word:
"We should hold the Word of God in the highest possible esteem—meaning by the Word of God only that which comes from the Spirit of God—and we should give to it a trust which we cannot give to any other word. For the Word of God is certain and can never fail. It is clear and will never leave us in darkness. It teaches its own truth. It arises and irradiates the soul of man with full salvation and grace. It gives the soul sure comfort in God. It humbles it, so that it loses and indeed condemns itself and lays hold of God."[6]
[1] Samuel MacAuley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 108.
[2] Gottfried Locher, Zwingli's Thought: New Perspectives. (Leiden: Brill, 1981), 11.
[3] Ulrich Zwingli, Early Writings, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Durham, N.C.: Labyrinth Press, 1987), 72-73.
[4] Zwingli, 204.
[5] Raget Christoffel, Zwingli: The Rise of the Reformation in Switzerland. a Life of the Reformer, with Some Notices of His Time and Contemporaries, trans. John Cochran (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858), 239.
[6] G.W. Bromiley, Zwingli and Bullinger: Selected Translations and Notes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 93.

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