Plague Hymn by Ulrich Zwingli (Part 1)

This is the second installment in our series Learning from the Lyrics series. The theme passage for this series is taken from Ephesians 5:15-19 in which music is described as not only being directed to the Lord but also as addressing one another. When we sing songs of great truth, we teach one another spiritual truth.

The hymn for this post was written by the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. In 1519 the plague struck the city of Zurich. At the time Zwingli was out of town, but soon returned to minister to his people in their misery. Nearly 30% of the city population would experience death at the hands of this deadly disease.

Zwingli himself contracted the disease from his constant contact with the sick and dying. He became very sick and was at the point of death. But God raised him back to health.

Zwingli’s hymn includes twelve stanzas. He wrote the hymn at three different junctures of the disease. As you read the words, you will learn of a man who describes the pain and death caused by the disease. Yet throughout Zwingli demonstrates a Christian view of death and a confidence in the Lord. This confidence remained whether God would take his life or restore his health.

These first four stanzas were written when the disease first struck his beloved city.

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 they 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.

Note the confidence in the Lord that Zwingli expresses as death nears to his people and even to himself. He recognizes that death has arrived at midday, not during the evening shadows of a normal life expectancy. We learn from this hymn to have confidence in the Lord whether we live or we die.

We will examine the other stanzas in later posts.

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