Friday, June 10, 2011

Wordsworth on Islam and Revelation (Part 1)

The following is extracted from Christopher Wordsworth's Miscellanies, Vol 3 (1879):



"THE decline of the Mohammedan Power (which was the subject of the foregoing paper), will, it is probable, be coincident in time with a great extension of Christianity, and will be conducive to it.

Recent events in Eastern Europe and Asia, the acquisition of the island of Cyprus by England, opening the East to Christian Missions, the military successes of her forces in North-Western India, against a Mohammedan power all these seem to point in the same direction. It is remarkable that the passing away of Mohammedanism is connected in the prophecies of  the Apocalypse (in the same chapter, the ninth), with the spread of the Gospel, which is there represented as following it.  The former of these subjects occupies the first twelve verses; the latter is described in the remainder of that chapter.Both these topics are now deservedly arresting public attention, and it may be profitable to examine those prophecies consecutively in reference to them.  Having considered the former prophecy in the foregoing pages, I will now proceed to the examination of the latter.   Rev. ix. 13 15,  
"And the sixth Angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth Angel which had the Trumpet, Loose the Four Angels which are bound (have been bound) in the great river Euphrates. And the Four  Angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour (the hour) and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. " 
In this Book, the Book of Revelation, Seven Angels have been introduced in succession, each sounding a Trumpet. These Seven Trumpets announce successive divine judgments; and they end with the seventh or Last Trumpet, which will awaken the dead from their graves, and will summon the world to the Judgment-Seat of Christ.  The last three of these seven trumpets are called in this book Woe-Trumpets, because they proclaim three judicial Woes, with which God will visit those who do not believe and obey the Gospel.In the former part of this ninth chapter, the fifth Angel sounds the fifth Trumpet; which is the first of these three Woe Trumpets.

The Woe announced by that Trumpet (as has been shown in the previous paper) was Mohammedanism.   After describing the ravages perpetrated by it, the prophecy foretells that in God's time it will pass away.  Then the sixth Angel is introduced sounding the sixth Trumpet.  This is the subject before us.  
"The sixth Angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth Angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four Angels which have been bound in (or at) the great river Euphrates."  
The voice proceeds from the four horns of the golden altar, the altar of incense (the type of prayer), which is before God. Therefore this is a divine voice, and is an answer to prayer  .This has been observed by ancient Expositors. 1 And this preamble is tantamount to a declaration that what is here alone in obedience to this Voice from the holy altar is done by the command of God and cannot be an evil act.The Divine Voice says to the sixth Angel, "Loose the four Angels which have been bound at the great river Euphrates."

What are these Angels? The word Angel means messenger, and Evangelium or Gospel means a good message, a message of God; and wherever the word Angel is introduced in Scripture, absolutely, as here, without any epithet, it signifies a good Angel, an Angel of God.   The voice from the golden altar is a divine voice, it speaks to an Angel who is a divine messenger of God, and commands him to loose the four Angels who are also messengers of God. Therefore the act here done is an act of God, working by His own agents. This was the opinion of ancient authors, mentioned by one of the most learned Greek Expositors, Andreas,   who wrote in the sixth or seventh century.

Observe also these holy Angels or Messengers who are loosed are four. In the Apocalypse the number four symbolizes Universality of space, and is applied to the four Gospels (Evangelia), which are called the four living creatures in the fourth chapter,  and represent the living power of Evangelical preaching to the four quarters of the Globe.

In the seventh chapter we see in like manner four Angels ( vii. 1,2), and these are clearly Angels of God. The prophecy therefore before us foretells that the decline of the Mohammedan power will be followed by the loosing of four heavenly Messengers ; in other words that it will be a signal for a diffusion of the Gospel throughout the world.  This is also revealed in another passage of the Book of Revelation which speaks of the signs of the latter days, and illustrates the present prophecy.   Says St. John (Rev. xiv. 6), 
"I saw an Angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the Everlasting Gospel (Evangelium) to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, kindred,tongue, and people, saying, Fear God, for the hour of His judgment is come ;"
- an expression, be it observed, which explains the words in the present prophecy, viz. "that the four angels have been prepared for the hour " (such is the true translation), "and for the day" that is for the Day of Judgment.  As our Lord says "The word which I have spoken unto you, that shall judge you at the last day" (John xii. 48). 

In the prophecy before us the Four Angels are described as having been bound at the great river Euphrates.  What does this mean?  Many modern Expositors, deviating from the ancient interpretation, and marring the analogy of language in this wonderful book (which is composed with perfect accuracy and exquisite precision) imagine that the word Euphrates is here used literally) and signifies the Eastern river bearing that name.  And yet which is strange the same Expositors rightly say that the word Babylon (whose river the Euphrates was), which is used six times in this book, is never used in a literal sense.  If the word Euphrates is to be understood in this book literally, and signifies the Eastern river, then the word Babylon, which was on the river Euphrates, is also to be understood literally, and means the Eastern, Assyrian, city.

But this is impossible ; and these Expositors own it to be out of the question. And they truly say that the word Babylon in the Apocalypse is to be understood spiritually, and means the City and Church of Rome; as we have already seen to be the case.  But if the word Babylon is to be understood spiritually (as is certain), then the word Euphrates, which was the river of Babylon, is no less surely to be understood spiritually also.  And further, on principles of analogy, the word Euphrates here represents something which bears the same relation to the spiritual Babylon (i. e. to the Church of Rome) as the literal river Euphrates bore to the literal Babylon.  The literal Euphrates was the cause of the strength and the channel of the commerce and wealth of the literal Babylon.

No ancient Expositors (such as Andreas, Arethas, (Ecumenius among the Greeks, or such as Tychonius, Bede, Haymo, Ainbrosius Ansbertus among the Latins) interpret Euphrates literally. They suppose it to mean the power of the spiritual Babylon.  And what, let us ask, has been the cause of power andwealth to the spiritual Babylon?  It is its Papal Supremacy.  That Supremacy has been flowing onward in a strong, deep, and wide flood for many centuries, and has been the means of the wealth and aggrandisement of the Spiritual Babylon.

But what (it may be asked) is the meaning of the FourAngels having been bound at this river of the Papal Euphrates, and being now loosed ?  The answer is easy. For many centuries the Gospel has been bound as a captive at Home.  As Israel of old was bound as a captive at the literal Euphrates, the waters of Babylon, and hung up its harp on the willows there,   so the Christian Church, with the Scriptures in her hands, has been bound as a captive on the banks of the Papal Babylon.  Do you ask a proof of this ?  Take one or two out of many.  Although Rome calls herself the Holy City, the Centre of Unity, "the Mother and Mistress of all Churches," and although it is the special duty of a Church to diffuse God's Word, yet not a single copy of the original Hebrew of the Old Testament has ever been printed in the city of Rome ; and not a single copy of the Greek original of the New Testament was printed in the city of Rome for four centuries and more after the invention of Printing.

Both Testaments were kept bound in prison at the Euphrates of the Papal Babylon.  It is doubtful whether a single copy of any Translation of the Holy Scriptures into any modern language has ever issued from the Papal Press in the City of Rome.  By the fourth rule of the Roman "Index Expurgatorius,"  the liberty to read the Bible is flatly denied to all except under very strict conditions which almost amount to a prohibition.  And the Papal Bull Unigenitus (A.D. 1713) condemned the proposition "that the Holy Scriptures were written for all, and ought to be read by all."  The word Euphrates has the same spiritual meaning in another passage of the Apocalypse. Rev. xvi. 12. Thus the four Angels have been bound as prisoners at the great river, the Papal Euphrates.  Thus also Papal Rome has dealt worse with God's Word than Pagan Rome did. Though Pagan Rome bound the Apostles, it placed no restrictions on the circulation of their Epistles or Gospels, so that St. Paul writing from Rome itself was able to say "the Word of God has not been bound" (2 Tim. ii. 9).  By the good Providence of God a greater freedom is now about to be given to the circulation of the Scriptures, by the passing away of the Mohammedan Power in the East.  For, let us remember that wherever the Moslem rule is dominant no Church of Christ is permitted to be built.   And by a remarkable coincidence a similar emancipation has by God's mercy been effected for His Word in the West, especially at Rome.  Since the taking of Rome by the forces of Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, on Sept. 20, 1870, and the weakening of the temporal power of Rome, Bibles in the vernacular tongue may now be freely circulated in that country.  Truly we may say that the four Angels, which for many centuries had been bound as captives at the river Euphrates, have now been loosed.  Here, however, it may be said, Be it so, but is not the free circulation of God's Word an inestimable blessing?  How is this reconcilable, with the name given to the sixth trumpet in the chapter before, which is called a Trumpet of Woe?
The answer to this question is ; Every gift of God, which is a blessing to those who thankfully receive it, is also a woe to those who reject it.  And the greater the blessing is to the one, the greater the woe is to the other.  Observe that these last Trumpets are introduced with the solemn preamble, '' Woe, Woe, Woe to the inhabiters of the earth!" (Rev. viii. 13.) Remark those words, "the inhabiters of the earth," (this is the phrase in the Apocalypse for worldly men ; those who are "of the earth, earthy" those who have not their "conversation in heaven," Phil. iii. 20) ;

  " by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the threeAngels, which are yet to sound."   Observe also that in this Book the Seventh Trumpet, which announces the Resurrection of the Dead and the future Judgment, is called a Woe,  the third Woe.   And yet what greater blessing can be imagined to the righteous than the Resurrection of their bodies from their graves ?  It will be the consummation of their bliss, and bring them to everlasting life - and glory in heaven.  But it will be a terrible Woe to the Wicked. It speaks of " Come, ye blessed " to the one, but it speaks also of " Depart from Me, ye cursed" to the other.   And therefore the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet, the Trumpet of Resurrection and Judgment, is called the third or last Woe. Indeed the characteristic attribute of all the Trumpets of the Apocalypse is that they warn a careless and godless world of the punitive character of God's visitations.'
 ( - C. Wordsworth, Miscellanies, Vol. 3 p. 100 fwd)


  1. Its interesting isn't it? How can one angel loose four who are bound? Hmmm. Well, if two people stand on either side of the Euphrates, then, they, with their reflections, might present a vision of four (4) angels. Four angels, I hasten to add, who are "bound by their reflections." I'm not certain, if one can get a vision of four with just one person, unless the one person represented two. Then the one person coupled with the reflection could "stand" for "four," but I'm not inclined to this latter view. Hmmm. What do you think Scrivener?

  2. perhaps this might explain the strangeness of the description in Ezekiel of the 'four angels':

    The desert is known to create the 'mirage',
    where the smooth reflective sand at the right angle
    looks like water, and reflects whatever is above and behind it.