Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. The fifth Angel….and I saw a star, &c. This again may be to represent the confusion of all things in antichrist’s time, or it may signify the fall and apostacy of great and learned men from the Christian faith. Bossuet applies it to the fall of Theodotus, of Byzantium, towards the end of the second age; but certainly no great stress can be laid on such arbitrary applications, which it is no hard matter to invent, as may be seen by the different fancies we may meet with about the locusts, &c. (Witham) — Here is a description of the rise and progress of the reformation. This trumpet begins with announcing to us the fall of a star from heaven; a very just emblem of the apostacy of Luther, who in quality of a priest and religious man is styled a star, but renouncing his faith and vows, may truly be said to have fallen from heaven upon the earth. (Pastorini, hic.[here]) — To him (i.e. to the Angel, not to the fallen star) was given the key of the bottomless pit, which properly signifies hell. (Witham)
Ver. 2. And the smoke, &c. Luther and his followers propagated and defended their new doctrines with such heat and violence, as to occasion every where seditions and insurrections, which they seemed to glory in. Luther openly boasted of it. “You complain,” said he, “that by our gospel the world is become more tumultuous; I answer, God be thanked for it; these things I would have so to be, and wo to me if such things were not.” — The sun was darkened, &c. The light of faith, which is the word of God, may well be represented by the sun, according to that of the Psalm cxviii. 105., “Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.” And as the air is the spring of man’s respiration and life, it may be a just type of morality, which gives spiritual life and worth to all human actions. By the sun, therefore, and air being darkened, we are to understand faith and morality obscured and perverted by the novel doctrines of the reformers. (Pastorini, hic.[here])
Ver. 3. There came out locusts; devils, in antichrist’s time, when the chief devil, Abaddon, the destroyer, shall be as it were let loose. Others by locusts, understand the Goths and those barbarous people that made an irruption into the Roman empire, in the time of Decius, about the year 250[A.D. 250]. Others again, by locusts, understand heretics, and especially those heretics that spring from the Jews, and with them denied the divinity of our Saviour Christ, as Theodotus, Praxeas, Noetus, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, Arius, &c. These were the great enemies of Christian religion, and instruments of the devil: they tormented and infected the souls of men, stinging them like scorpions with the poison of their heresies. They had power for five months, by which is signified for a short term, but had no power to hurt those who were sealed with the seal of God in their foreheads. God protected, at least from sin, his faithful servants. It is to no purpose to give the reader divers fancies and inventions about their shape, their heads, tails, hair, teeth, &c. nor is it worth my while to confute such writers as Mr. Willet, who, Brightman-like, makes Abaddon the pope, and the locusts to be friars mendicant. With this fifth trumpet ended the first of the three woes, as we are told in ver. 12. (Witham) — The locusts are commonly understood of heretics. They are not able to hurt the green tree; that is, such as have a lively faith, working by charity; but only the reprobate. The latter are represented as prepared to battle, as being ever ready to contend; they wear counterfeit gold on their heads, for all is but pretence and fiction; in shape they are as men, in smoothness of speech as women; in fury and rage against all that opposes them, as lions; their breasts and hearts are as hard as iron; they are full of noise and shuffling; the sting of their pestiferous doctrine is worse than that of a scorpion; but their reign is generally but for a short time. (Challoner) — Heretics are compared to locusts, says St. Jerome, because they are a species of insects extremely hurtful to mankind, as they occasion famine, eat up the harvest, and even strip the trees and the vines. With very great propriety then may the locusts here mentioned be understood of the first reformers, not only on account of their rapacity, but also for their number. Luther was their leader, by allowing every one to be his own interpreter of Scripture, the effects of which we have described by Dudithius, a learned Protestant divine, in his epistle to Beza. “What sort of people are our Protestants, straggling to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, sometimes to this side, and sometimes to that? You may, perhaps, know what their sentiments in matters of religion are to-day; but you can never certainly tell what they will be to-morrow. In what article of religion do these churches agree, which have cast off the bishop of Rome? Examine all of them from top to bottom, and you will scarce find one thing affirmed by one, which is not immediately condemned by another for wicked doctrine.” The same confusion of opinions is thus described by an English Protestant, the learned Dr. Walton: “Aristarchus heretofore could scarcely find seven wise men in Greece, but with us scarce are to be found so many idiots; for all are doctors, all are divinely learned; there is not so much as the meanest fanatic, or jack-pudding, who does not give you his own dreams for the word of God.” (Pastorini, hic.[here])
Ver. 4. Nor any green thing. The Greek and Latin texts express it every green thing; meaning, that though the locusts, or the sects of Protestants, are allowed by the Almighty to seduce some of all sorts from the Church, yet that the generality of the faithful will be preserved unhurt. (Pastorini)
Ver. 7. And the shapes of the locusts. We now come to the description of these locusts, which expresses the spirit of sedition and rebellion that animated the reformers and their proselytes. Luther proclaimed himself the leader in this as well as in other articles of the new discipline: see his works, particularly Contra statem Ecclesiæ et falsò nominatum ordinem Episcoporum, lib. contra Sylvest. Prieras, De Sæculari potestate et Contra Rusticos, &c. Erasmus thus describes the effects of the inflammatory doctrine of these ministers of evangelical liberty: “I saw them (the people) come forth from their sermons with fierce looks and threatening countenances,” like men “that just come from hearing bloody invectives and seditious speeches.” Accordingly, we found “these evangelical people always ready to rise up in arms, and equally as good at fighting as at disputing.” The learned Protestant historian, Dr. Heylin, in his Cosmography, (B. i.) says of the Calvinists: “Rather than their discipline should not be admitted, and the episcopal government destroyed in all the Churches of Christ, they were resolved to depose kings, ruin kingdoms, and to subvert the fundamental constitutions of all civil states.” — And on their heads, &c. These crowns shew clearly their general spirit of independence; and their faces being as the faces of men, indicate the presumption with which they announced themselves as teachers of orthodox and holy doctrine. (Pastorini, hic.[here])
Ver. 8. And they had hair as the hair of women. This latter allusion, unhappily for the sectaries, betrays too plainly their sensual disposition towards that sex, their shameful doctrine on that score, and the scandalous example of their practice. Luther, in despite of a vow he had solemnly made to God of observing continence, married; and married a nun, equally bound as himself to that sacred religious promise! But, as St. Jerome says, “it is rare to find a heretic that loves chastity.” Luther’s example had indeed been anticipated by Carlostadius, a priest and ringleader of the Sacramentarians, who had married a little before; and it was followed by most of the heads of the reformation. Zuinglius, a priest and chief of that sect which bore his name, took a wife. Bucer, a religious man of the order of St. Dominic, became a Lutheran, left his cloister, and married a nun. Œcolampadius, a Brigittin monk, became a Zuinglian, and also married. Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, had also his wife. Peter Martyr, a canon regular, embraced the doctrine of Calvin; but followed the example of Luther, and married a nun. Ochin, general of the Capuchins, became a Lutheran, and also married. Beza, the most celebrated minister in the Calvinistic party, being asked in his old age, by an intimate acquaintance of his, (Deshayes, governor of Montargis) what was the leading reason which connected him so closely with the Calvinists? Beza called in his mistress, a beautiful young girl who lived with him, and said: “That is the principle reason which convinces me of the excellence of my religion.” (Marsollier’s Life of St. Francis de Sales, book iii.) — Thus the principal leaders in the reformation went forth preaching the new gospel, with two marks upon them—apostacy from the faith, and open violation of the most sacred vows. The passion of lust, it is also well known, hurried Henry VIII of England, into a separation from the Catholic Church, and ranked him amongst the reformers. (Pastorini, hic.[here]) — Teeth of lions. What is more known than the truth of this representation? Did not the reformers, wherever they got footing, pillage the churches, seize the church possessions, destroy the monasteries, and appropriate to themselves the revenues? Such was the case in Germany, in Holland, in France, in Switzerland, in Scotland, and in England; what a scene of rapine! Let it suffice to say, that in the reign of Henry VIII were suppressed not less than 645 monasteries, 90 colleges, 110 hospitals, and 2374 chantries and free chapels; (Baker’s Chron.) the lands, &c. of all which were confiscated to the king. Is not this to devour with lions’ teeth? The whole explication here given of the allegory of the locusts, we presume, appears so consonant with the history of the reformation, that the propriety will not be denied. The application is even so obvious, that the learned Protestant divine, Dr. Walton, used it for describing the multitudes of new sectaries that swarmed out of the English Church. Thus he speaks in the preface of his Polyglot: “The bottomless pit seems to have been set open, from whence a smoke has risen, which has darkened the heavens and the stars; and locusts are come out with stings, a numerous race of sectaries and heretics, who have renewed all the ancient heresies, and invented many monstrous opinions of their own. These have filled our cities, villages, camps, houses, nay our pulpits too, and lead the poor deluded people with them to the pit of perdition.” (Pastorini, Apocalypse ix.)
Ver. 10. And their power was to hurt men five months. The duration of their power is here limited, but we dare not venture to explain what is meant by the dark expression, five months; time to come must clear up the difficulty. (Haydock)
Ver. 13. At the sounding of the sixth trumpet, are said to be loosed the four angels bound in the river Euphrates. By these four angels, and the two hundred millions of horsemen, many understand the devils and their instruments, men incited by them in antichrist’s time, to make war and persecute the Church of Christ, who shall destroy a third part, that is, a great part of men then in the world. Divers others apply this to the Persians, the successors of the Parthians, who about the middle of the third age[century], in the time of Valerian, a great persecutor of the Christians, passed the Euphrates, which used to be the bounds of the Roman empire to the east, defeated, took, and kept Valerian prisoner, which by its consequences gave a great stroke to the Roman empire. See the bishop of Meaux[Bossuet], Pere Alleman, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 15. And the four angels were loosed. This seems to indicate the moment in which Satan himself is loosed from the abyss or hell, where, as we shall see in Apocalypse xx. 2. he was chained up for a thousand years. This is the time of antichrist, whose coming, as St. Paul says, is according to the working of Satan. (2 Thessalonians ii. 9.) The antichristian period is described by the ancient Fathers as the most dreadful of all; and the Apocalypse plainly shews it to be so, as we shall see. But we have this comfort, that his time will be short. He must be loosed a little time. (Apocalypse xx. 3.)
Ver. 16. Twenty thousand times ten thousand, or two hundred millions. Such an immense multitude cannot be accounted for, but by supposing a great part of it to consist of the infernal beings in human form, as it is doubtful whether there be that number of men capable of bearing arms upon the whole globe of the earth.
Ver. 17. And thus I saw the horses in the vision. The horsemen appeared to St. John with breastplates of fire, and of hyacinth, and of brimstone. By this expression is indicated the firing of carabines, or such firearms as cavalry use, which are applied to the breast when shot off. St. John took the fire that issued out of the muskets to come from the horsemen’s breast, on which the muskets rested, and so thought the horsemen had breastplates of fire. The prophet here even describes to us the composition of gunpowder, with its three ingredients, viz. brimstone or sulphur, fire or charcoal, and hyacinth or saltpetre; because saltpetre, when set on fire, emits a flame of a fine purple colour, similar to the colour of the hyacinth stone. Here then we see revealed to St. John both the composition and use of gunpowder, to which he and all mankind at that time were strangers. Then it is said: And the heads of the horses, &c. Here is pointed out the artillery of the army, or cannon. He saw in this vision the whole army drawn up at a distance, and the artillery placed upon a line with the cavalry. He seemed to confound the cannon with the horses, and the cannons’ mouths with the mouths of the horses, as the height of both from the ground is nearly the same. He describes the appearances as he saw in the vision, not the reality. When therefore he says, the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions, it is the same as if he said, the mouths of the cannon were as to the noise they made, like the mouths of roaring lions. Hence it appears that St. John, in this vision, both saw the fire of the cannon, and heard the explosion.
Ver. 19. For the power of the horses. The power of the imagined horses or real cannon, lying in their mouths and in their tails, signifies that the mischievous power of the cannon is directed to the object by their mouths, but takes its birth in the tail or breech of the cannon, where the charge is lodged: whence the cannon’s breech is here compared to the serpent’s head, which contains its venom. (Pastorini, hic.[here])
Ver. 20. The rest of men, who were not slain by these plagues, which before are metaphorically called fire, smoke, and brimstone, did not for all that do penance, nor repent of their idolatrous worship of devils, and of idols of gold, silver, &c. nor for their sorceries of magic, nor for their fornication, nor for their thefts. This again may be either understood of what shall happen hereafter, a little before the end of the world (see Cornelius a Lapide); or perhaps of the Roman heathen idolaters, who still persisted in their iniquitous practices. Dr. Hammond expounds it of the Gnostic heretics. But to apply it to popish Christians, is a groundless invention of the late pretended reformers, neither supported by any authority or reason; (though Dr. W. is pleased to join with them) whereas all Catholics (and as he calls them, papists) have constantly declared in their controversies, in all their catechisms, that they adore none but God alone. Of this more hereafter. (Witham)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Locusts come forth from the bottomless pit: the vision of the army of horsemen.
1 And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
2 And he opened the bottomless pit: and the smoke of the pit ascended as the smoke of a great furnace: and the sun was darkened, and the air, with the smoke of the pit:
3 And from the smoke of the pit there came out locusts upon the earth, and power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power:
4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree: but only the men who have not the sign of God on their foreheads:
5 And it was given to them that they should not kill them; but that they should torment them five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man.
6 *And in those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it: and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them.
7 *And the shapes of the locusts were like to horses prepared for battle; and on their heads as it were crowns like gold: and their faces were as the faces of men.
8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions:
9 And they had breastplates, as breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was as the noise of chariots of many horses running to battle:
10 And they had tails like scorpions, and stings were in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months: and they had over them
11 A king, the Angel of the bottomless pit: whose name, in Hebrew, is Abaddon; and in Greek, Appollyon; in Latin, Exterminans.
12 One wo is past, and behold there come yet two woes more hereafter.
13 And the sixth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar, which is before the eyes of God,
14 Saying to the sixth Angel, who had the trumpet: Loose the four Angels, who are bound in the great river Euphrates.
15 And the four Angels were loosed, who were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, to kill the third part of men.
16 And the number of the army of horsemen was twenty thousand times ten thousand. And I heard the number of them.
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision: and they who sat on them, had breastplates of fire, and hyacinth, and brimstone, and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions: and from their mouths proceeded fire, and smoke, and brimstone.
18 And by these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths, and in their tails. For, their tails are like to serpents, having heads; and with them they hurt.
20 And the rest of the men, who were not slain by these plagues, neither did penance for the works of their hands, that they should not adore devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
21 Neither did they penance for their murders, nor from their sorceries, nor from their fornication, nor from their thefts.
6: Isaias ii. 19.; Osee x. 8.; Luke xxiii. 30.
7: Wisdom xvi. 9.