The place that God chose as Zwingli’s “wilderness” was at Einsidlen. It was a famous pilgrimage site and many of the faithful flocked there to receive special blessings. It was said that the monastery’s image of the Virgin Mary had power to perform miracles and a sign above the gate leading to the monastery promised that sins could be forgiven within.
Zwingli’s Country Church
Although the people of Zwingli’s church were sad to see him leave, Zwingli strongly believed that God was leading him to Einsidlen. There he would have a smaller parish with fewer duties. He would have more time for study and prayer and he would have the opportunity to preach to the crowds who came to visit Einsidlen.
At Einsidlen Zwingli was surrounded by practical men who loved learning. They often met to read together and discuss the writings of the “church fathers,” the classics of antiquity, and of course the holy Bible. Often Zwingli could be found walking the rugged hills around the monastery with a friend as they discussed the meaning of various Scripture verses. As they applied the Bible’s principles to their lives they grew in understanding and faith.
Hiding the Word in His Heart
Because written Scripture was so rare in those days, Zwingli made time to hand-copy passages of the Bible. This was a great blessing to him and helped to fix God’s Word in his mind. It is said that he memorized the entire New Testament along with many passages of the Old Testament. These words, “hid in his heart,” had the desired effect as Zwingli grew more and more like Jesus. He no longer was drawn to worldly amusements, but rather grew to value a pure and holy life.
Truth vs. Superstition
Part of Zwingli’s education included a growing awareness of the superstitions of the Roman Church. Faithful pilgrims who came to Einsidlen hoping to get closer to God listened with amazement as Zwingli preached. He told them that they didn’t need to go on long pilgrimages, light candles to the saints, or pray to the Virgin Mary to get closer to God. He assured them that wearing a priest’s robe, having a shaved head, or praying long prayers to saints did not make God love them more. God already loved them and had given His Son Jesus to die for their sins. “Jesus alone can save; and He is everywhere,” Zwingli told his congregation.
Often whole groups of people put down their candles and went back to their homes without finishing their pilgrimage. They told their family and friends about the new teaching that God is everywhere and He loves them. Many people found peace and joy in the Christ of the Bible. This of course meant that the monastery got a lot less money than before, but Zwingli didn’t mind. It brought him joy that people were set free from superstition and fear.
Flattery and Promotion
But now a new temptation attacked Zwingli. Some leaders of the Roman Church were worried as they heard their famous priest speak out against many of their traditions. Some leading men in other churches were also upset by the abuses they saw in the Church and were ready to split away from Rome. Rome’s leaders knew that they must keep influential Zwingli within the church. They hoped their gifts of money and honours would keep Zwingli quiet, but he kept right on speaking out about the abuses he saw in the church.
You may remember Martin Luther’s problem with Tetzel’s indulgence sales. Well, Zwingli had a very similar visit from a Franciscan monk named Samson. He came with his papal indulgences telling the people that for a sum of money he had the power to forgive all their sins and that heaven and earth had to listen to him. These lies caused Zwingli to preach powerful sermons teaching that Jesus is the One who invites them to come to Him (for free) and He will take away their heavy burden of sin. Zwingli boldly preached the Bible and taught the people that if they must choose between God’s Word or man’s word that the only safe course to follow was to choose to obey God.