William Fulke (1538-1589)
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, 1573.
[Spelling has been modified to improve readability]
This third vision contains the 9 chapters following, in which the madness of the devil and Antichrist against the church is described, in other figures than before, yet the same church by the defence of Christ doth stand and endure safe against all the invasions of the enemies. And the malignant church which seduces the greatest part of the world into error is painted out in her lively colours, then follow the punishments, which go before her fall, at length follow here extreme envy, which shall never be restored or repaired again, after this follows the condemnation of the devil and Antichrist, and the eternal felicity of the Church after the resurrection, all these things are described more clearly, and more at large than in the former vision, and the self same thing is expounded by sundry visions, that the truth thereof might be more certain and that it might be printed more deeply in our minds, which the prophets also do use often times. And in this 12 chapter the church is brought in, suffering persecutions of the Prince of Darkness, which is the head of all her enemies: and her state and condition is described of what sort it should be from the first preaching of the Gospel even to the end of the world.
Ver. 1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven. &c.
Great and miraculous things were to be shewed by a great and wonderful figure, for it is above the capacity of our wit, how the Church, which is described under the figure of a woman weak, unapt to war, and unarmed, could any while stand in safety, against so sturdy and armed enemies. But she appears in heaven that her birth and country might be signified, for here in earth she is but a pilgrim and stranger.
A woman clothed with the sun. &c.
The spouse of Christ is shewed under the form and shape of a woman, which of her self is weak and without force and strength, but yet sufficiently furnished against all enemies, with the virtue and strength of her spouse Christ. She is seen clothed with the sun, all whose glorious apparel is Christ the sun of righteousness, which spreads the beams of his light upon the whole church.
And the moon under her feet. &c.
She treads under her feet all temporal and transitory things, which although they seem to shew forth their brightness as the light of the moon, yet they are in no place of estimation with the church, in which the glorious light of the sun being always present, doth darken all the beams of those things.
And upon her head a crown of twelve stars. &c.
She hath her head crowned with twelve most bright shining stars even as it were with a beautiful crown, not made of gold or earthly precious stones, but of stars, that is of heavenly matter, which is the doctrine of the twelve Apostles which they being lighted of the only son the fountain of God's wisdom, have preached, and after committed the same to writing. But if any object, that not all the writings of the Apostles, which wrote Gospels, the answer is in a readiness, because that doctrine, which was delivered by a few writers, was nevertheless the doctrine of all the twelve Apostles, verily even the same which being received from Christ they preached in the whole world.
We shewed before, that in the number twelve is signified, the unity of the Church gathered out of a miserable dispersion, to which end Christ chose twelve Apostles, according to the number of so many tribes of Israel, and afterward he sent the same to the Gentiles which he would have to be gathered into one body of Israel.
Ver. 2. And she was with child and cried travailing in birth and pained, ready to be delivered. &c.
Although she was barren of her self, yet fruitful by her spouse, and now even nigh her travail, she is pained with great pensiveness and carefulness that she might bring forth that which she hath conceived by the seed of God's word. And this is a true and timely description of the true Church.
Ver. 3. And there appeared another wonder in heaven. &c.
After the Church described by a notable and clear figure, follows a full description of a foul and cruel monster which is enemy of the same. And so like as the figure of the woman before painted out, was a wonderful figure, so likewise the form and shape of her enemy seemed to John a thing worth great admiration, which was shewed by and by after the most pleasant vision of the woman. And it is so much more marvellous that so horrible a monster appears no where else but in heaven. But we see in this figure, how far of it is from the condition of the Church, to want an enemy, whose assaults and invasions she is compelled to suffer, even in heaven. And we may chiefly here acknowledge the malice of the devil, which persecuts the church even unto the heavens, not counting it not enough to vex the same with grievous torments in earth, unless he may strive that he could pluck down her eternal salvation, which is in heaven. Let us not therefore make any covenant of truce with this enemy, for he seeks by all means nothing else but our utter destruction.
Behold a great red Dragon. &c.
He uses an adverb of the thing for to steer up greater attention. For the thing is worthy to be diligently noted and considered, this terrible Dragon is that old serpent which seduced the first woman to the destruction of the whole world, now labours diligently, not only by subtlety as in time past, but also by force and cruelty to bring into destruction this woman restored to her old and also a far better state and condition by Christ. And seeing all kind of serpents are both terrible and hateful to us, the great dragon cannot but raise up great terror of himself, and also no less hatred to all those which have a care to eschew his poisons and venom bitings. And moreover unto these, that shewing in his fiery colour he threatens nothing else to all those which he shall enticingly draw into his net, but mad fury and rage of destroying, and the studious care and desire of shedding blood.
Having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven crowns. &c.
He is not simple in subtlety or a poisonous spirit of one mouth, but a deformed monster with seven heads. He testifies by the number of the same heads that he invents and devises all kinds of crafts and subtleties, like as being armed with seven horns he boasts that he wears crowns upon every one of his heads, it shews his innumerable victories by which he hath subdued to his obedience all the whole world.
Ver. 4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth &c.
It may also be here gathered what strength he had in his horns, and his heads, seeing that by casting his tail only, that is the lust of earthly things that he drew the third part of the stars to the earth that is many of the teachers which for a time seemed to shine as stars in heaven, which being addict to the study of earthly pleasures, have utterly lost all their heavenly brightness, by which wicked act he takes greater courage, and hope that he can more safely overthrow also the whole church. Moreover it is here shewed how great the unmeasurable hugeness of that monstrous body is, whose marvellous long tail would suffice to cast down the third part of the stars. Such and so great is the enemy of the Church.
And the dragon stood before the woman, which was ready to be delivered to devour her children, when she had brought it forth. &c.
It is shadowed under this figure with how great madness the devil would rage against the church. The dragon waits upon the woman, which is in travail that he might devour the infant so soon as it should be born. How diligently Satan laboured even in the first beginning of the church to destroy her tender babe, and first strive that there might no posterity of the same remain in the world, we know by histories. What left he undone by his ministers the Jews, the priests, and the pharisees, that the doctrine of Christ might not be spread abroad in the world, but might be utterly exterminated with the Apostles themselves. With what violent rage did he stir up Nero and other bloody Emperors that they might utterly subvert the whole church, by murdering infinite numbers of her children, the faithful confessors and martyrs of Christ. The devil therefore would have destroyed the infant of the church, even in the very birth thereof, if the success had been agreeable to his will and careful travail.
Ver. 5. And he brought forth a male child. &c.
The dragon's hope deceives him, for although he had assayed every way that he might destroy the fruit and offspring of the Church even in the very birth, yet the Church brought forth a male child strong and lively, which in spite of Satan should receive the inheritance of rule, and dominion appointed and ordered for him of God the father.
Which should rule all nations with a rod of iron &c.
This prophecy is of Christ in the 2nd Psalm. Therefore Christ is formed in the hearts of the faithful by the ministry of the Gospel as Paul witnesses to the Gal. 4. And Christ doth compel all nations to his obedience although they obstinately resist, breaking them with a rod of iron. And the members of Christ which are faithful through him are made partakers of the same kingdom. The devil lies craftily in wait for these that he might devour them, so soon as they be brought forth into the light of the Gospel. But he doth not obtain his desire, for howsoever he shall conspire with the whole army of hell to bring them to destruction, yet the Lord will not give them for a prey unto his teeth. It follows therefore.
And her son was taken up to God and to his throne. &c.
Under the protection and defence of God, he is in safety, so that he whom the dragon desired to be drowned in the bottomless pit of hell, is taken up to God, and to the throne of his majesty, and drawn out of the jaws of the devil. For Christ whom the devil wished so much to be destroyed, sits at the right hand of the divine glory, to which dignity also of heavenly glory, by his benefit are exalted, as many as are made Children of God and of the church by faith. In vain therefore Satan seeks their destruction, whom God hath drawn up to him self, and hath so received them to the throne of his glory. How greedily the devil assayed to blot out the name of Christianity in the first spreading abroad of the same, we have before touched, but what profited he in the end by bestowing so great labour? For how much more his ministers raged in their madness with the sword and fire, and all kind of torments against the child of the Church, that they might destroy him yet being but an infant and not able to make battle, so much the more godliness increased exceedingly, and the Church daily received such increasings, as were not to be ashamed of. And Christ whose glory the devil so greatly envied, sitting in the throne of God's majesty defends the godly from heaven, takes vengeance on his enemies, and bestows all kind of good gifts upon his Church. We need not fear therefore, lest that the whole Church should ever be subject to the tyranny of the Dragon.
Ver. 6. And the woman fled into the wilderness where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a 1000, 200 & threescore days.
After that he had declared how that the son of the woman was taken up into a place of safety, now he teaches how provision is made also for that woman her self. God could at his will bind and restrain the devil that he should not hurt the Church at all. But this is the most wise dispensation of his holy will, that when she hath been proved, and tried by sundry afflictions in the world, he will at length, take her to himself into heaven: yet in the mean time he doth not fail her even in the most desperate matters, but sends aid from heaven in due season. Therefore he opens a way for the woman to fly, that she might for a time eschew the violence of the Dragon. Christ him self also permitted this manner of avoiding danger to his Apostles, Matt. 10. But when and who ought to fly when persecution approach it is not so easy to express in words as there the holy Ghost shall inwardly instruct every one when time shall be. But that we should not think, that the woman should perish in the desert, where there is the scarcity of all things, S. John doth express, that there was also in the desert a seat prepared for her of God, where she might safely for a time appointed by God, breathe and refresh herself from the persecution of the Dragon. And lest we might suppose that she would in the meantime want any thing, he shews that she shall be nourished and fed there for a thousand, two hundred and sixty days, that is, by the space of two and forty months, which make three years and a half, which that time, when as it is the half of a prophetical week, is said to be granted to Satan and and Antichrist, that they cannot any longer oppress or afflict the Church. Moreover this place doth plainly shew, that the church shall not always be visible to the world, which thing the papists do urge most of all, for it should be always in the sight of all men, how may she be saved to fly into that wilderness; Yea it is certain by this place, that the church of Rome is not signified by this woman, which was never banished and driven into the wilderness, from the eyes of men. And lastly we are here also taught how we must answer to our adversaries which ask us where our church was before these two or three hundred years. Clearly if we know that the true worship of God, was to be found in no region of Europe or Asia, it is enough that it was in the desert, that is in places not commonly known, that it lay hid by the decree of God, even unto the time by him appointed for that number of the elect, which is the church that shall never fail but God doth preserve and keep to himself seven thousand men, which have neither bowed the knee to Baal nor kissed his image with the mouth, and that, when as Elias believed that he remained alone in the people of Israel. How much more is it like that there remained many elect of God, throughout the large regions of Asia, and Europe, and also some parts of Africa, in which the name of Christ is spoken of, which although they were unknown to Antichrist and his adherents, yet they offered and yielded to God his due honour. The papists therefore to their own hurt do boast of their visible Church, and rashly do condemn ours, because it was some time invisible to the Romanists. For in this it is more like to the true church, that it sometime lay hidden: and their synagogue always visible, doth sufficiently bewray itself not to be this woman, which fled into the desert.
Ver. 7-8. And there was a battle in heaven, Michael and his Angels fought the Dragon, and the Dragon and his Angels fought, but they prevailed not, neither was their place any more found in heaven. &c.
The first attempt or enterprise of Satan was most dangerous, namely that he might steal away, and devour the infant of the Church, so soon as it were born, and that he might deprive the church for ever of her eternal happiness. But Christ the defender of his spouse sets himself against the wicked enterprises and practises of the devil, and so the fierce battle arose in heaven, whilst Satan studies utterly to destroy the Church, and Christ to save, and defend the same for ever. Therefore I expound this battle, which was fought in heaven, of the study and enterprise of the devil, whereby he chiefly labours with all diligence to assault the eternal salvation of the church which is founded in Christ, and his madness and impudence is noted, that he dare fight with God him self. (Michael and his Angels) Michael the great prince of the army of God doth signify Christ, which is the general captain of our host, which thing is also taught in the 9, 10 & 12 chap. of Daniel. That he joins to himself the Angels, it doth not argue that there is weakness or want of strength in him, but he doth it to increase our confidence and trust. For the Dragon musters his army on every side of the Angels of wickedness, and puts forth all his strength to oppress the Church. But what was the envy of the battle? They prevailed not nor was their place found any more in heaven. The terrible Dragon guarded with the infinite thousands of his soldiers can do nothing against Christ, which defends the health of his Church. Satan therefore being overcome with all his whole army, is compelled to leave off the battle, and not that only, but also being deprived of all hope of renewing the war, he with all his soldiers is cast down unto the earth. Now therefore is the salvation of the elect certain, when as the devil himself having assayed and proved all his strength to break and overthrow the same, being put to shameful flight, is overthrown by the virtue and power of the most mighty Michael.
Ver. 9. And the great Dragon that olde serpent called the devil and Satan was cast out which deceives all the world, and he was cast into the earth and his angels were cast out with him. &c.
After that he had said that he was driven out of heaven that his place could there no longer be found, neither could he frustrate, or make void the everlasting salvation of the Church, he shews wither he was thrust out into banishment with his whole army, that is to say into the earth, that he might exercise his mad rage only upon the reprobate, and that he might afflict the Church with temporal evils only, and yet that he might not obtain that he would: that is, that through the terror and fear of torments, he might drive her out of the earth. Moreover we must observe with what sundry names and titles the holy Ghost sets him out, that all his malice and subtle deceits might be perceived, first he is called, that great Dragon, which is described before in the third verse of this Chapter. Secondly, that old serpent which seduced our first parents to disobedience, now so much more subtle, as he is more ancient by long life and experience. Thirdly he is called in Greek even as it were by his proper name, Diablos, which in English is devil, that is a false accuser, which with false crimes, and secret accusations never ceased to accuse the godly before the Lord God, that if he could by any means, he might bring them into God's hatred. Fourthly he is called in Hebrew Satan, that is an adversary, the sworn enemy of Christ and all godly men, at whose hands we ought to look for nothing, but enmity, whom it behoves us chiefly both to hate and take heed of. Fifthly he is called the deceiver of the whole world, of whom how great the deceits are, and with what diligent care of us to be eschewed, we may know sufficiently even by this place, that he hath seduced the whole world, that is the greatest part of the world, into errors, and false worshipping of God, whereby we understand that that is not the very catholic Church indeed, which boasts in the greatest multitude of men, neither therefore to be called catholic or universal, because all give their consent into the same, seeing the devil here deceives the whole world: but that which all those godly do acknowledge for their mother, although the reprobate in respect of number, by infinite parts do exceed them.
Ver. 10. And I heard a loud voice saying &c.
After so glorious a victory over Satan and his army, the heavenly spirits do sing a triumphant song to God and his Christ. By which we are taught that the glory of God is always to be celebrated of us in the Church for so unspeakable a benefit. That he says a loud voice, he shews both the multitude and also the fervent zeal of the singers, for we ought all earnestly to burst forth to the singing and celebrating of God's praises.
In heaven, now is salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ. &c.
There is uttered in this song, what fruit and commodity there is of so notable a victory. For in saying that there is salvation in heaven, they understand that the everlasting health of that church both now remain unshaken after that the devil which assayed to oppose the same with war, is vanquished and cast down prostrate into the earth. The virtue and power of God hath shewed forth itself, to beat down the violence of Satan. And now the kingdom of God over the saints, which the proud Dragon desired, remains inviolate, when the Dragon is thrust out. And especially the dignity of Christ doth excel over all the power of the adversary, by whose government the battle is fought, and likewise by his invincible virtue and power all the whole army with their captain are overthrown.
Because the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. &c.
He which wearied continually the cares of God with daily false accusations laid to the charge of the godly, that he might spoil them of eternal bliss, and as if they were guilty of eternal death might make them bond slaves to the torments of hell. But God will now no longer abide to hear any accusations against his saints, which are washed with the blood of his son. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's chosen: it is God which justifies, who is he that shall condemn? Rom. 8.
Ver. 11. And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of his testimony: and they loved not their lives unto the death. &c.
Wonderful is the clemency of Christ that he takes his saints into the praise of this victory, but yet in such sort as redounds to his own glory. The heavenly spirits therefore rejoice with the faithful for their victory, but yet obtained not by their own blood, but by the blood of Christ, although they themselves also poured forth their lives in battle. And this Angelical song doth clearly teach with what armour and weapons the faithful may overcome the devil, that is with the shield of faith, which is in the blood of the lamb, which offered up himself a sacrifice for their sins and with the sword of God's word and the confession of the name of Christ, which they were never ashamed of before men, although for witnessing the same they should suffer most bitter death. After the same manner ought all the godly to be prepared to whom the glory of God and his Gospel is precious, that they may not love their lives unto death, as oft as necessity of confessing his name doth require the same. And although the danger of death be absent, yet the same affection ought always to be with us, that we may not love our lives even to the death, in comparison of holding the incomparable treasure of the truth of God's gospel.
Ver 12. Therefore rejoice ye heavens and ye that dwell in them. &c.
A benefit is bestowed upon those in vain, whereof they that are partakers, have no fruition in the same. And often times it comes to pass through our perverse crookedness, that being adorned with great benefits of God, we feel no fruit of the same. Therefore they exhorted the heaven, and all the heavenly spirits that they would be touched with the most joyful sense and feeling of so great a good, and for the same would rejoice with joy unspeakable, that to Christ, glory, and to the church, eternal salvation, is obtained by this so glorious a victory.
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea, for the Devil is come down unto you, which hath great wrath knowing that he hath but a short time. &c.
They do not so much curse the wicked, as that they express their most grievous dangers, to the seducing of whom, the devil descended into the earth full of fury and wrath (Of the earth and the sea) according to the literal sense is understood the inhabitants of many lands, and islands, but figuratively he understands all the reprobate, which are so much addicted to earthly and frail pleasures, that they never look up into heaven, to make whom blind and that worthily, the devil descended, not more moved by his own fury, then sent down by the judgment of God. Whose madness, they shew, should be so much the more fierce and cruel, because he knew for certain that a very short time was granted him to stir up his tragedies in. We will therefore pretermit nothing in the mean time, whereby he may draw a large and fat prize into his nets. What doth he therefore.
Ver. 13. And when the Dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which had brought forth the man child. &c.
When he saw that he was driven out of heaven, that he could not by charging and and false accusing hinder the eternal salvation of the church, perceiving the same to be set warring in earth, he raises up horrible persecutions against her by his ministers the tyrants, and when as he could not devour the child which the woman brought forth, for which he had long time laid subtly in wait, he persecutes the woman which brought forth, with beastly cruelty. Being overcome of the head, he sets upon the godly. We may note here the devilish cruelty of some men, which if they can not bring the greatest hurts upon the godly, as death itself, that they do not leave off to hurt by such means as they be able, they violently spoil them of their goods, they blame them with reproaches and slanders, and hate also even their friends, for their sakes.
Ver. 14. But to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle.
Before he said that the woman being delivered of her child fled into that wilderness: now he shews by what means she could eschew or flee the marvellous swiftness of the dragon in pursuing. Two wings, saith he were given unto her, with which she became swifter than the devil, and he adds moreover of a great Eagle that we should understand, that the woman might safely trust unto them. By the wings we may acknowledge that the sundry and unaccustomable ways and means of flying which the Lord opens to the Church as oft as he has decreed to deliver the same by flight from the hands of tyrants.
That she might fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is nourished for a time, times, and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. &c.
We have spoken before in the 6. verse, of the flight into the desert, and of the wonderful providence of God, which even in the scarcity and want of all things provides not only lodging but also meat for nourishment. And the space which is here darkly called, a time, times, and half a time, I interpret to be that same, which he said a thousand two hundred and sixty days, that ism three years and an half, so that one time may agree to a year, two times, to two years, and half a time, to half a year, for in Daniel to whom he alludes, times are read in the dual number, that they might signify two times. And these appellations of time, seem to be applied to the sense and affection of that church which was banished. For she thinks the time of her calamity long, and afterwards follow two times, which increase the weariness, but at length the half time, when as the matters seem almost desperate, doth manifestly shew that according to the promise of our saviour, the days of affliction are shortened.
Ver. 15. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water after the woman as it had been a river, because she should have been caught of the flood. &c.
The devil being vanquished an hundred times yet repairs the battle again, and though violence have small success, yet he abstains not from crafts and subtleties. He follows the woman therefore flying into the wilderness, whom he cannot catch and tear with his teeth, with reproaches, lies, and slanders framed by heretics, and hypocrites, whereby if he could he covets to bring her into an evil sort. And we see what a great flood of lies and reproaches he hath cast after her by the Arians, Pelagians, Papists, and other such like hypocrites, by which he studied, and also now studies to draw her in to the hatred of princes, mighty men, and moreover of all those which gave any credit unto them. But Satan shall never have success or prevail by his subtleties, for it follows.
Ver. 16. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up that river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth. &c.
He which delivered his Church from the greatest violence and cruelty of the enemies will not suffer her to be taken with subtle sleights of Satan, but the earth shall rather open her mouth as it did in time past to swallow up the whole faction of Chore, Dathan, and Abyrame, then that at the will and pleasure of the Devil a hair should fall from her head. And we see that all the devils of heretics against the Catholic church by which the dragon hoped that the woman should be destroyed, have vanished away, as though they were drunk up of the earth, and yet the Church her self, now at length drawn out of secret places, stands immovable, and shall stand forever even unto the end of the world. We may here note that the heaven the earth and all things which are in them do help the godly as oft as the Lord will deliver them out of the hands of the enemies. And also that we be not of the enemies of the Church, heretics and hypocrites, (which are the instruments of the devil) by which they endeavour, even like a most swift flood, to draw her and her members into hatred and envy. For all their lies shall shortly be swallowed up by the earth, and their devilish enterprises shall be brought to nought.
Ver. 17. Then the dragon was wrath with the woman: and went and made war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The devil having set upon her so often with so great violence, and being so often so shamefully repelled, it is no miracle though he be driven into wrath and fury, yet notwithstanding he leaves not off from his purpose, which he took in hand. But although he can not oppress the whole church with the sundry sleights which he hath invented, yet he persecutes every one of her members with a marvellous study and care of destroying. He makes war therefore with the remnant of her seed, wheresoever they be dispersed through the whole earth, and he never leaves off, to assault them partly by force, and partly by deceits, whom we ought to resist strong in the faith, putting on the whole armour of God which the Apostle describes in the 6 chapter to the Eph. And in that he calls the sons of the church the seed of the woman, he alludes to that, which the Lord pronounced of the seed of the woman, which should break the serpent's head, that we should not fear the invasion of him, whose head being broken by Christ, is delivered also unto us, which are the seed of the woman, to be trodden upon. Furthermore he briefly expresses, whom he numbers among the lawful sons of the Church, that is they which keep the commandments of God, and also do openly confess the faith of Christ, which they embrace.
Ver. 18. And I stood on the sea sand &c.
This verse pertains to the vision of the chapter following, John therefore thought in a vision that he stood upon the shore, that he might behold the beast ascending out of the sea.