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William Fulke on the second woe

September 6, 2013

The following is a commentary on the second woe of Revelation 9:13-21 by William Fulke (1538-1589).

William Fulke. Praelections vpon the sacred and holy Reuelation of S. Iohn, written in latine by William Fulke Doctor of Diuinitie, and translated into English by George Gyffard, Imprinted at London: By Thomas Purfoote, at the signe of the Lucrece, Anno. 1573. pp. 48-61. (Spelling modified.)

vers. 13. And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God &c.

How much more grievous dangers were at hand, so much more greater attention, it was convenient should be moved, that the faithful being admonished, might arm and prepare themselves against most bitter temptations, when the sixth angel therefore sounded the trumpet which did foretell the most bitter and sharp persecution of all which should come before the end and consummation of the world. John heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. We spake before of the golden altar which signifies Christ,which is offered up to God for a sweet smelling sacrifice, the force and effect of which sacrifice, because it remains for ever, an altar is always placed in the presence of God. And the voice is uttered from the four horns of the altar, that is from the highest part of the altar, that it might be known to be the voice of Christ which governs the altar.

vers. 14. saying to the sixth Angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates &c.

That voice soundeth to the sixth Angel which had sounded the trumpet, that like as he had been a messenger to declare a great plague, so he should be a minister of the furtherance of the same. Loose, sayeth he, the four Angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. The four Angels signify the whole power of the devil, which he uttereth in Antichrist and his tyranny, which should be spread into the four quarters of the world, which nevertheless has hitherto been restrained, that it should not burst forth into extreme cruely, but now the bridle is loosed to the same for a certain time. A place no doubt, full of exceeding great consolation, by which we are taught, that Christ which is our patron and defender, holds the devils bound both hand and foot, that they can not hurt the Church or move persecution but upon his sufferance. But it seemeth obscure and dark, that he says that these wicked Angels are bound at the flood Euphrates, of which there are sundry interpretations. But I, whilst I weigh all things, think that the place is assigned somewhat darkly, which shall be afterward described more plainly, out of which this pestilence is powered in to the whole world. For Euphrates being taken without figure, is a river flowing round about Babylon, by which is meant Rome by a metaphor in this book as shall be shewed more plainly afterwards. This sense therefore, I gather, that there was at Rome, which is the seat of Antichrist a great desire of wasting and destroying the Church with fire and sword, neither were subtleties wanting, by which they might attempt their cursed work: and moreover that there were prepared all instruments of war. But that this mad rage was restrained and bridled from heaven, by Christ, that it should not shew forth itself to the world, before the time appointed by God.

vers. 15. And the four Angels were loosed, which were prepared at an hour, at a day, and at a month, and at a year, &c.

Christ commanded when they are loosed, whatsoever therefore the Angels that were loosed to do, so far forth as they execute the just judgment of God, is to be ascribed to Christ. The are said to be prepared, at an hour, at a day, &c. whereby is expressed not only the promptness of their mind, by which they are inclined to hurt, but much rather the certain time and even the very moments thereof determined of God, in which they may rage after this manner. And he notes a very short space to be granted unto them, that he calleth it an hour, a day, a month and a year at the most.

To slay a third part of men &c. Before, at the sounding the trumpet of the fifth Angel, the locusts with their king Abaddon, by privy practices and subtle deceits, slew a great part of men with the vermin of their poisoned doctrine, by torments that endured long: but now with open violence and cruelty, to the wasting and destroying of mankind, these wicked and malignant spirits are sent forth with fire and sword to slay the third part of men. But how far they were from negligence in exercising this power committed unto them and what slaughters they have made, all Europe oppressed with the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome, has felt too much in these latter times, and as yet is compelled to feel. And we know this tragedy was taken in hand & begun by the aid and help of these wicked Angels, and as yet is continued by the same, although we now hope that the matter draweth near to an end.

vers. 16. And the number of the army of the horsemen of war were twenty thousand times ten thousand. For I heard the number of them &c.

Now he teaches with what means & instruments these destroying Angels are furnished, and also with what preparation to battle, that they may make such a slaughter of men in the world. Merely that the whole army is all of horsemen, whereby the strength and force of the preparation is signified to be the greater: That is to say, by so much as an host of horsemen is more terrible, and more violent in war, than an host of footmen. Lastly cometh the number of their army, which is almost infinite, twenty thousand times ten thousand which number S. John plainly expressed that he heard because it seemed incredible, that such an army could be gathered out of the whole world, but by this huge army are signified, not the host of one age, but of many. And this is the multitude of the Church of Rome, which is so often boasted of, which multitude is manifest to be mustered into battle against Christ & his church. But this great army shall easily be driven back and discomfited by him, which loosed out of the prison and sent forth these Angels, which are the leaders of it, which he can call back again into prison, when it pleases him, and that we trust he will do now shortly after Antichrist has been so long revealed.

vers. 17. Thus I saw the horses in a vision and them that sat on them, having fiery habergions, and of hyacinth and of brimstone &c.

Saint John proceeds in describing the furniture of the horsemen such as they were shewed to him in the vision. And the whole description of them is full of horror and fear. For lest they might be thought to be natural horses, or the horsemen after the common sort, he declares, that there was a far other form and shape both of the horses and also of them that sat upon them shewed unto him in a vision. For the horsemen had fiery habbergions, and of hyacinth and brimstone, by which is meant that their breasts were so armed & fortified, against all violent force of weapons, that they need no to fear anything at all, yea whether soever they turned themselves, they might shew forth before them nothing else, but fire smoke and brimstone, for so I interpret the hyacinth or yellow colour, for that which followeth in the next verse. For as the horsemen which ride on barded horses, are wont to wear colours or signs in their breasts or their shield which might make them terrible to their enemies, so these soldiers of Antichrist shewing forth in their breast fiery, smoky, and brimstone like colours they plainly make manifest to all men, what they threaten to the world in every deed fire & flame, that is, extreme destruction.

and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions & out of their mouths went forth fire and smoke and brimstone. &c

The form of the horses was monstrous & horrible, as which besides the swiftness of the horses, had also the heads & strength of lions, and the which is above the fierceness of lions, which tear only with their teeth and claws, out of their mouth, saith S. John went fire and smoke & brimstone, and under these figures is described, the monstrous and barbarous tyranny of Antichrist, which with open violence defends the cursed seat of his pride, and cruelly wars against all those, which shall move a finger against his presumptuous arrogance.

vers. 18. Of these three was the third part of men killed, that is of the fire of the smoke and of the brimstone, which came out of their mouths &c.

He signifies that they shall be destroyed with most certain & present death, which by any means oppose themselves to his tyranny. For the fire speedily devoureth, the smoke strangleth, & choketh, & brimstone doth miserably torment those that it burneth neither can it be quenched if it shall once burn. Such shall be the rage & cruelty of antichrist, and he is not wont to wound with the sword but utterly to consume with fire, to blind the eyes with smoke, to take away the spirit, & to burn cruelly with fiery flaming brimstone, & with these three evils he slew the third part of men, by his warriors, horsemen of brimstone, and lions like horses, that is by the princes which are subject unto him & the furious common people which like horses carry upon them the bondage and slavery of Antichrist and at the will and pleasure of their Lords, do fill all things with smoke, brimstone, and fiery flames.

vers. 19. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt &c.

Although certain copies have not these words (and in their tails) yet they seem to me by other examples in which they are found, that they should be added, or at the least understood: for the sense is this, that this army doth hurt their adversaries with manifest violence, and as it were with open war, and yet not inexpert or wanting fraud and deceit, which was not perceived in the locusts, which seduced only by subtlty & craft. But these out of their bloody & cruel mouths breathe out, smoke, fire, and brimstone. But yet they want not their engines and snares, because they have tails also like serpents, which tails also have heads, which after the manner of serpents, privily bite those which are uncircumspect, yet they hurt more with their heads than with their tails with violence them with deceit, because many do know their subtleties, but they cannot bear their cruelty, therefore either they are like wretches slain, or else revolt as cowards.

vers. 20. And the remnant of the men which were not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor go &c.

He teacheth that the world being corrected with these plagues yet would not be brought to a better mind, for those that remained unkilled by these calamities, were stricken with no repentance for their heinous offences that the might depart from their wicked works. They fained some sorrow peradventure so long as evil opposed them on every side, but it was mere hypocrisy which they boasted. For so soon as the affliction ceased, they returned to their kind, and gave themselves wholly to their accustomed impieties. They honoured devils, they worshipped idols, made all kinds of matter and substance, and although they were blind, deaf and could not move themselves, yet they sought & hoped for health of them. And it is worthy to be noted, that the Apostle rehearses all kind of matter or substance whereof idols were made: both that he might shew the vanity of men that they would seek divine nature in every creature, rather than in God, and also that he might declare that no kind of fools are to be esteemed.

vers. 21. Also they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts &c.

They can not keep the commandments of the second table, which dishonour God after such a sort. Paul saith to the Rom. Chapter 1, therefore he reprehended not only their idolatry, but also their murders, sorceries, thefts, and other such like abominable wickedness. And we see by this prophecy that men took never the more heed for the plagues wherewith God afflicted the world chiefly for the tyranny of Antichrist, which although many of the Papists themselves detest and abhor, yet they forsake not his idolatrous religion, neither depart from their wicked ways.

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