The Book of Revelation in England

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondsman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come: and who shall be able to stand?

Revelation 6:15-17

At right and above: John Foxe. The Ecclesiasticall History, contayning the Actes & Monuments of thinges passed in every kinges time, in this Realme, especially in the Churches of England Principally to be noted with a full discourse of such persecutions, horrible troubles, the suffering of Martirs, the severe punishment of persecutors, the great Providence of God in preserving many, and other thinges incident touching as well the sayd Church of England, as also Scotland, and all Forrein Nations from the primitive time, till the raigne of king Henry the Eyght. Newly recognized and inlarged by the Author J. Foxe. London: John Daye, 1576. Gift of J.C. Wyllie.

Joseph Mede. The Key of the Revelation.

Joseph Mede. The Key of the Revelation searched and demonstrated out of the naturall and proper charecters of the visions with a coment thereupon, according to the rule of the same key. London: Printed by R.B. for Phil. Stephens, 1643. On loan from the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

The political events that shook England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries promoted an apocalyptic temper so ingrained it may as well have been hereditary. Following on the heels of John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, English divines produced several commentaries on the Book of Revelation. Some, like Joseph Mede's Key of the Revelation, were the cutting edge of seventeenth-century biblical scholarship, and a tide of other works followed in its wake. In his second edition, Mede even claimed that Satan's armies would be gathered on American soil. Mede's work was only the tip of the iceberg: English apocalyptic literature ranged from political exhortations like John Flavel's England's Duty under the Present Gospel Liberty to the perennially popular prognostications of Nostradamus.

Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John

Isaac Newton. Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John in two parts. London: Printed by J. Darby and T. Browne and sold by J. Roberts, 1733. Gift of William B. and Edward Shippen.

In fact, apocalyptic literature was so pervasive in England that even Sir Isaac Newton wrote a commentary on John's visions, prompting Voltaire to remark that the great scientist had finally proven himself as gullible as anyone else. The apocalyptic ideas of Foxe and Mede were largely imported to the New World by John Cotton. As one of the first generation of settlers in New England, Cotton's sermons on the Book of Revelation proclaimed that New Englanders had been called by God Himself to inaugurate a new kingdom on earth. European immigrants also brought their apocalyptic ideas and images with them to the New World, as is shown by this German work published in 1820.

At right: John Flavel. England's Duty, under the present gospel liberty: from Revel. III. ver 20. wherein is opened the admirable condescension and patience of Christ, in waiting upon trifling and obstinate sinners. The wretched state of the unconverted. The nature of evangelical faith, with the difficulties, tryals, and means thereof. The riches of free-grace in the offers of Christ, pardon, and peace to the worst of sinners. The invaluable priviledges of union and communion, granted to all that receive Him, and the great duty of opening to Him the present knocks and calls of the gospel; with the danger of neglecting these loud (and it may be) last knocks and calls of Christ, discovered. London: Printed for Matthew Wotton at the Three Daggers near the Inner-Temple Gate in Fleetstreet, 1689. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

At right: John Cotton. The Powring Out of the Seven Vials. Or, An exposition, of the 16. chapter of the Revelation, with an application of it to our times. Wherein is revealed God's powring out of the full vials of his fierce wrath. 1. Upon the lowest and bases sort of catholicks. 2. Their worship and religion. 3. Their priests and ministers. 4. The House of Austria, and Popes supremacy. 5. Episcopall government. 6. Their Euphrates, or the stream of their supportments. 7. Their grosse ignorance, and blind superstitions. Very fit and necessary for the present age. Preached in sundry sermons at Boston in New-England: by the learned and reverend John Cotton BB. of Divinity, and teacher to the church there. London: Printed for R.S. and are to be sold at Henry Overton's shop in Popeshead alley, 1642. From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

At right: Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling. Die sieben lezten Posaunen, oder, Wehen wann sie anfangen und aufhaeoren und von den 70 Danielischen wochen und 42 prophetischen monaten: von der zahl 666 das mahlzeichen des thiers. Reading, Pa.: Gedruckt faeur Charles M'Williams, 1820.

At right: Nostradamus. The True Prophecies. Or, Prognostications of Michael Nostradamus, physician to Henry II. Francis II. and Charles IX., kings of France, and one of the best astronomers that ever were. A work full of curiosity and learning. Translated and commented by Theophilus de Garencieres. London: Printed by T. Radcliffe and N. Thompson and are to be sold by J. Martin, 1672