As the Reformation marched bravely through Germany and Switzerland, its enemies became more concerned and angry. Never a day went by that there was not talk about how to stop Luther, Zwingli, and others preaching truth from the Scriptures.
A Mysterious Letter
One day Zwingli received an anonymous letter warning him that enemies had vowed to poison him. They urged him not to eat or drink anything except what his cook prepared for him in his home. Although various plots to harm him came to Zwingli’s attention, he did not change his preaching or lose his faith in God’s protection. “I fear them like a mighty rock fears the roaring ocean waves,” he proclaimed.[i]
The Bishop Demands Reforms to Stop
The Bishop of Constance decided to take a stronger action against the heresies invading his domain. He wrote out a declaration stating that condemned doctrines were not to be preached or taught in Switzerland. When the letter was read in Zurich all eyes turned toward Zwingli. Everyone knew that Zwingli was the one the bishop was really trying to silence, so they were surprised when he asked permission to answer the letter himself. In his carefully worded reply, Zwingli assured the bishop that he only preached – in simple language – about the Jesus of the Bible. He then boldly advised the bishop that he should quietly let the truth be heard because opposing the Reformation only gave more attention to it. This reply angered the bishop. He sent his representatives to the highest council of the land, the Diet, to demand their help in bringing the rebel priests back to obedience to the church.
Because they were afraid to contend with Zwingli, the Diet chose to make an example of another Reformation preacher, Urban Weiss, by placing him in jail. His parishioners protested loudly and paid the bail to set him free. The Great Council of Zurich was concerned about the tensions in the city. In hopes of promoting peace, they passed a bill stating that no one was to preach against the monks, but Zwingli continued to speak out about the wrongs being done in the Church.
The Bible vs. the Traditions of Men
Finally, a meeting was called for all the pastors in Zurich and for the preachers from the various convents. The mayor asked them to stop preaching anything that would cause conflict. Zwingli immediately protested that he was under a solemn vow to God to preach from Scripture the truths that would save the souls of men. He assured the council that he would continue to defy all false doctrine and that he expected them to condemn him if he taught anything not supported by Scripture.
The monks replied that they wanted to preach from Thomas Aquinas and other church fathers, but the council voted that nothing should be preached but the Gospel as found in the Bible. Truth was again allowed to flourish in Zurich. Unfortunately, this action only angered the papists more.
Nuns Hear the Word of God
Although he knew that every word he preached was examined by the papacy, Zwingli continued to push further into Rome’s strongholds. There was a nunnery in Zurich where Biblical truth had not been preached. Zwingli received permission from the Great Council to go there and present the Gospel. Behind those thick, high stone walls he found women hungry for the bread of heaven. Many of the nuns were from wealthy families and Zwingli’s preaching opened to them a new life of peace and joy in Jesus Christ.
Not only were spiritual battles raging in Europe, but right around this time there was a terrible battle in which many Swiss men were killed. In those days, Switzerland often supplied young men to fight in foreign armies as mercenaries, or hired soldiers. Zwingli spoke out against this waste of life and advocated refusing to join any other country in battle. While many agreed with Zwingli, those that did not had an additional reason to hate him.
The life of God’s servant was still in danger, but he moved forward convicted of the importance of the spiritual battles he was waging for the Lord.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 455.