“Now, Christ, prevail”

[Hans Asper (1499–1571), Portrait of Ulrich Zwingli after his death (1549)—Wikimedia]

Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) was on a mineral-​springs vacation in August 1519 when the Black Death broke out in Zurich. Though weak already from exhausting work, he hurried back to his city to minister to victims. Before long he himself caught the disease and seemed likely to perish. Zwingli recovered slowly, though he suffered ongoing effects to his memory and in his limbs throughout that year. Zwingli’s famous “plague hymn” recounts his sense of trust and then his joy at regaining health. Stanzas 1–4 were written as the disease first struck, stanzas 5–8 as his health deteriorated. Upon his recovery he finished the final four quatrains.

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 fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath thy cross.

My God! My Lord!
Healed by the hand
Upon the earth
Once more I stand.

Let sin no more
Rule over me;
My mouth shall sing
Alone to thee.

Though now delayed,
My hour will come.
Involved, perchance.
In deeper gloom.

But, let it come;
With joy I’ll rise,
And bear my yoke
Straight to the skies.
By Zwingli

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #135 in 2020]

From Christian History #4 (1984); translated by Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, vol. 8 (1891)
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