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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 122. ON FALSE PROPHECIES


By these experiments and mischievous ends of such prophecies, and also by the nature of them, it is soon to be seen from what fountain or author they proceed, that is, no doubt, from Satan, the ancient enemy of mankind, and prince of this world; against whose deceitful delusions, Christian men must be well instructed, neither to marvel greatly at them though they seem strange, nor yet to believe them though they happen true. For Satan being the prince of this world, in such worldly things can foresee what will follow, and can say truth for a mischievous end, and yet for all that is but a Satan. So the dream of Astiages, seeing a vine to grow out of his daughter, which should cover all Asia, and fearing thereby that by his nephew he should lose his kingdom, proved true in the sequel thereof; and yet, notwithstanding, of Satan it came, and caused cruel murder to follow, first of the shepherd's child, then of the son of Harpagus, whom he set before his own father to eat. Likewise Cyrus was prophetically admonished by his dream, to take him for his guide whom he first met the next morrow. In that also his dream fell true, and yet was not of God. In the same number are to be put all the blind oracles of the idolatrous Gentiles, which although they proceed of a lying spirit, yet sometimes they hit the truth to a mischievous purpose. The like judgment also is to be given of Merlin's prophecies. The sorceress mentioned 1 Sam. xxviii., raising up Samuel, told Saul the truth, yet was it not of God. In the 16th chapter of the Acts, there was a damsel having the spirit of Pytho, who said truth of Paul and Silas, calling them the messengers of the high God, and yet it was a wrong spirit. The unclean spirits in giving testimony of Christ said the truth, yet, because their testimony came not of God, Christ did not allow it.

Paulus Diaconus recordeth of Valentinian the emperor, that he also had a blind prophecy, not much unlike to this of King Edward, which was, that one should succeed him in the empire whose name should begin with Θ, ο and δ.[Greek: Th, o and d]. Whereupon one Theodorus, trusting upon the prophecy, began rebelliously to hope for the crown, and for his labour felt the pains of a traitor. Notwithstanding, the effect of the prophecy followed; for after Valentinian succeeded Theodosius. Wherefore Christian princes and noblemen, and all Christ's faithful people, must beware and learn:

First, That no man be inquisitive or curious in searching to know what things be to come, or what shall happen, besides those things only which are promised and expressed in the word.

Secondly, To understand what difference there is, and how to discern the voice of God from the voice of Satan.

Thirdly, How to resist and avoid the danger of false and devilish prophecies.

Many there be, which, being not contented with things present, curiously occupy their wits to search what is to come, and not giving thanks to God for their life which they have, will also know what shall bechance them, how and when their end shall come, how long princes shall reign, and who after shall succeed them, and for the same get unto them soothsayers, astrologers, sorcerers, conjurors, or familiars. And these are not so much inquisitive to search or ask, but the devil is as ready to answer them, who either falsely doubleth with them to delude them, or else telleth them truth, to work them perpetual care and sorrow. Thus was Pope Silvester the sorcerer circumvented by the devil, who told him that he should be at Jerusalem before he died, and so it fell out; for as he was saying his mass at a chapel in Rome, called Jerusalem, there he fell sick, and within three days after died. To King Henry the Fourth also it seemeth it was prophesied, that he should not die before he went to Jerusalem, who, being brought to the abbot's chamber of Westminster, and hearing the name of the chamber to be called Jerusalem, knew his time to be come, and died.

By such deceitful prophecies it cannot be lamented enough to see what inconvenience, both publicly and privately, groweth to the life of men, either causing them falsely to trust where they should not, or else wickedly to perpetrate that they would not; as may appear both by this king, and also divers more. So was Pompey, Crassus, and Cesar, (as writeth Cicero,) deceived by the false Chaldees, in declaring to them that they should not die but in their beds, and with worship, and in their old age. Of such a false trust, rising upon false prophecies, St. Ambrose, in his book of Exameron, writeth, speaking of rain, which being in those parts greatly desired, was promised and prophesied of one certainly to fall upon such a day, which was at the changing of the new moon; "but," saith St. Ambrose, "there fell no such rain at all, till at the prayers of the church the same was obtained; giving us to understand, that rain cometh not by the word of man, nor by the beginnings of the moon, but by the providence and mercy of our Creator."

Johannes Picus, earl of Mirandula, in his excellent books written against these vain star-tellers and astrologers, writeth of one Ordelaphus, a prince, to whom it was prognosticated, by a famous cunning man in that science, called Hieronymus Manfredus, that he should enjoy long continuance of health, and prosperous life; who, notwithstanding, the selfsame year, and in the first year of his marriage, deceased: and after divers other examples, added moreover upon the same, he inferreth also mention, and the name of a certain rich matron in Rome, named Constantia, who, in like manner, departed the same year, in which she received great promises by these soothsayers and astrologers, of a long and happy life, saying to her husband these words, "Behold," saith she, "how true be the prognostications of these soothtellers!" If it were not for noting of them which now are gone, and whose names I would in no case to be blemished with any spot, I could recite the names of certain, especially one, which, taking his journey in a certain place, after diligent calculation and forecasting of the success and good speed of his journey, was, notwithstanding, in the same journey apprehended and brought where he would not, and after that, never enjoying good day, in short time he departed. In Basil, this I myself heard, of one which knew and was conversant with the party, who, having a curious delight in these speculations of chances and events to come, by his calculation noted a certain day which he mistrusted should be fatal unto him, by something which at that day should befall upon him. Whereupon he determined with himself all that day to keep him sure and safe within his chamber, where he, reaching up his hand to take down a book, the book falling down upon his head, gave him his death's wound, and shortly after he died upon the same. Of these, and such-like examples, the world is full, and yet the curiousness of men's heads will not refrain, still to pluck the apple of this unlucky and forbidden tree.

Beside all this, what murder and parricide cometh by the fear of these prophecies, in great bloods and noble houses, I refer it unto them which read and well advise the stories, as well of our kings here in England, as in other kingdoms more, both Christened and Turkish, whereof another place shall serve as well, Christ willing, more largely to treat, and particularly to discourse. To this pertaineth also the great inconvenience and hinderance that groweth by the fear of such prophecies in the vocation of men, forasmuch as many there be which, fearing some one danger, some another, leave their vocations undone, and follow inordinate ways: as if one, having a blind prophecy, that his destruction should be on the day, would wake and do all his business by night and candle light; and so forth in other several cases of men and women, as every one in his own conscience knoweth his own case best.

The second thing to be considered in these prophecies, is rightly to discern and understand, as near as we can, the difference between the prophecies proceeding from God, and the false prophecies counterfeited by Satan. For Satan sometimes playeth God's ape, and transformeth himself into an angel of light, bearing such a resemblance and colour of truth and religion, that a wise man is scarcely able to discern the one from the other, and the most part is beguiled. Concerning prophecies therefore, to know which be of God, which be not, three things are to be observed:

1. First, whether they go simply and plainly, or whether they be doubtful and ambiguous; whereof the one seemeth to taste of God's Spirit, such as be the prophecies of the Scripture; the other to come otherwise, having a double or doubtful interpretation. Although the time of God's prophecies, as also of miracles, is commonly and ordinarily expired; yet if the Lord in these days now extraordinarily do show and prophesy, by the simpleness and plainness thereof it may partly be discerned.

2. Secondly, this is to be expended, whether they be private, tending to this family or that family, or public. For as the Scriptures, so commonly the prophecies of God, have no private interpretation, but general; forasmuch as the care of God's Holy Spirit is not restrained partially to one person more than to another, but generally and indifferently respecteth the whole church of his elect in Christ Jesus his Son. Wherefore such prophecies as privately are touching the arms of houses or names of men, rising or falling of private and particular families, are worthily to be suspected.

3. The third note and special argument to descry the true prophecies of God from the false prophecies of Satan and his false prophets, is this, to consider the matter and the end thereof, that is, whether they be worldly, or whether they be spiritual, or whether they tend to any glory or state of this present world, or whether they tend to the spiritual instruction, admonition, or comfort of the public church.

Now remaineth, thirdly, after we know what prophecies be of God, and what not, that we be instructed next, how to eschew the fear and peril of all devilish prophecies which make against us. Wherein two special remedies are to be marked of every Christian man, whereby he may be safe and sure against all danger of the enemy. The first is, That we set the name of Christ Jesus the Son of God against them, through a true faith in him, knowing this, that the Son of God hath appeared to dissolve the works of the devil. And again, This is the victory (saith the Scripture) that overcometh the world, even our faith. Whatsoever then Satan worketh or can work against us, be it never so forcible, faith in Christ will vanquish it. Such a majesty is in our faith, believing in the name of the Son of God.

The other remedy is faithful prayer, which obtaineth in the name of Christ all things with the Lord. So that wicked fiend, which had killed before seven husbands of Tobias' wife, could not hurt him entering his matrimony with earnest prayer; so no more shall any sinister prophecy prevail, where prayer out of a faithful heart doth strive against it. Neither am I ignorant, that against such temporal evils and punishments to this life inflicted, a great remedy lieth also in this, when Satan findeth nothing wherein greatly to accuse our conscience. But because such a conscience is hard to be found, the next refuge is to fly to repentance, with amendment of life. For many times where sin doth reign in our mortal bodies, there also the operation of Satan is strong against us, to afflict our outward bodies here; but as touching our eternal salvation, neither work nor merit hath any place, but only our faith in Christ. And thus much briefly touching the two special remedies, whereby the operation of all devilish prophecies may be avoided and defeated.

Now many there be, which leaving these remedies aforesaid, and the safe protection which the Lord hath set up in Christ, take other ways of their own, seeking by their own policy how to withstand and escape such prophecies, either in eschewing the place and time subtlely, or else cruelly, by killing the party whom they fear; whereof cometh injury, murder, and parricide, with other mischiefs in commonwealths unspeakable. To whom commonly it cometh so to pass, that whereby they think most to save themselves, by the same means they fall most into the snare, being subverted and confounded in their own policy, for that they trusting to their own device, and not unto the Lord, which only can dissolve the operation of Satan, the Lord so turneth their device into a trap, thereby to take them, whereby they think most surely to escape. Examples whereof we see not only in Astyages, king of the Medes aforesaid, and Cyrus; but in infinite other-like events, which the trade of the world doth daily offer to our eyes. So Queen Margaret thought her then cocksure, when Duke Humphrey was made away; when nothing else was her confusion so much as the loss and lack of that man.

So if King Richard the Second had not exercised such cruelty upon his uncle, Thomas, duke of Gloucester, he had not received such wrong by King Henry the Fourth as he did. Likewise this King Edward the Fourth, if he had suffered his brother George, duke of Clarence, to have lived, his house had not so gone to wreck, by Richard his other brother, as it did. What befell upon the student of astrology in the university of Basil, ye heard before; who, if he had not mewed himself in his chamber for fear of his divination, had escaped the stroke that fell. Now in avoiding such prophetical events which he should not have searched, he fell into that which he did fear. These few examples, for instruction sake, I thought by occasion to infer, not as though these were alone; but by these few to admonish the reader of infinite other, which daily come in practice of life, to the great danger and decay, as well in private houses, as in commonweals.

Wherefore, briefly to repeat what before simply hath been said touching this matter, seeing that Satan through such subtle prophecies hath, and yet doth daily practise so manifold mischiefs in the world, setting brother against brother, nephew against the uncle, house against house, and realm against realm, gendering hatred where love was, and subverting privily the simplicity of our Christian faith; therefore the first and best thing is, for godly men not to busy their brains about such fantasies, neither in delighting in them, nor in hearkening to them, nor in searching for them, either by soothsayer, or by conjuration, or by familiar, or by astrologer, knowing and considering this, that whosoever shall be desirous or ready to search for them, the devil is as ready to answer his curiosity therein. For as once, in the old time of Gentility, he gave his oracles by idols and priests of that time; so the same devil, although he worketh not now by idols, yet he craftily can give now answer by astrologers and conjurers in these our days, and in so doing, both to say truth, and yet to deceive men when he hath said. Wherefore, leaving off such curiosity, let every Christian man walk simply in his present vocation, referring hid things, not in the word expressed, unto him which saith in his word, It is not for you to know the times, and seasons of times, which the Father hath kept in his own power, &c.

Secondly, in this matter of prophecies, requisite it is (as is said) for every Christian man to learn, how to discern and distinguish the true prophecies which proceed of God, and the false prophecies which come of Satan. The difference whereof, as it is not hard to be discerned, so necessary it is that every good man do rightfully understand the same, to the intent that he, knowing and flying the danger of the one, may be the more certain and constant in adhering to the other.

Thirdly, because it is not sufficient that the deceitful prophecies of the devil be known, but also that they be resisted, I have also declared, by what means the operation of Satan's works and prophecies are to be overcome, that is, not with strength and policy of ,man, for that there is nothing in man able to countervail the power of that enemy. Under heaven there is nothing else that can prevail against his works, but only the name of the Lord Jesus the Son of God, not outwardly pronounced only with our lips, or signed in our foreheads with the outward cross, but inwardly apprehended and dwelling in our hearts by a silent faith, firmly and earnestly trusting upon the promises of God, given and sealed unto us in his name. For so it hath pleased his fatherly wisdom to set him up, to be both our righteousness before himself, and also to be our fortitude against the enemy, accepting our faith in his Son in no less price, than he accepteth the works and worthiness of the same his Son in whom we do believe.

Such is the strength and effect of faith both in heaven, in earth, and also in hell; in heaven to justify, in earth to preserve, in hell to conquer. And therefore when any such prophecy or any other thing is to us objected, which seemeth to tend against us, let us first consider whether it savour of Satan, or not. If it do, then let us seek our succour, not in ourselves where it doth not dwell, neither let us kill, nor slay, nor change our vocation therefore, following inordinate ways; but let us run to our castle of refuge, which is to the power of the Lord Jesus, remembering the true promise of the Psalm, Whoso putted his trust in the succour of the Lord, shall have the God of heaven to his protector. And then shall it afterward follow in the same Psalm, And he shall deliver him from the snare of the hunter, and from all evil words and prophecies, be they never so sharp or bitter against him, &c. And thus much by the occasion of King Edward, of prophecies.

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