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Christ s Descent Into Hell

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"Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption." — Acts ii. 27. One of the articles of the Christian faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed, which every baptized person acknowledges, is that " Christ descended into hell." The rubric declares that any churches may omit that article in reciting the creed, or substitute the equivalent expression, "He went into the place of departed spirits." The church thus explains the phrase, which she authorizes her members to omit, if they will, in the daily service. The reasons for this permission may be these : — that the use of a word which has lately had a meaning very different from that which it has in the creed, might cause confusion, and serve to perpetuate error, and that while the fact asserted is really inseparable from that of Christ's death, the belief of it adds nothing to the efficacy of that faith which holds to his crucifixion, death and resurrection, for man's redemption. evertheless, it is a matter of so much importance that one of the articles of religion which every minister is bound to subscribe, declares, "that as Christ died for us and was buried, so is it to be believed that he went down into hell." This truth he is bound to teach, or at least to receive, and he can teach nothing contrary to it — because it is a truth clearly revealed in Holy Scripture. Let us, therefore, as we may with especial fitness, at this season, consider the true meaning of the assertion, "He descended into hell," the proofs from Scripture which support it, and the nse of the fact as a part of Christian doctrine.

404 SERMO XLVIII. 1. If we look at the phrase as it occurs in the creed, we shall see that it declares a certain fact taking place during the inter-

val between the burial of Christ and his resurrection. "!Be was crucified, dead and buried;" this is the clause which goes before. Then follows directly the assertion, "He descended into hell." This action of our Lord is said to have been done by him, after he was dead and buried, and before he rose again. ow in his body, as dead, Christ could do nothing, any more than any other dead person. The very notion of death implies an utter want of power to feel or move. This action of Christ, therefore, must have been performed by that part of man which cannot die, which continues active after the death of the body, that is, of the soul separated from the body. The dead body could no more go into hell, than the living soul could be laid in the grave. It seems to be very clear then, that the soul of Christ, after his body had been dead and buried, descended into hell. ow what was the place here called hell ? Was it the place of torment assigned to the wicked after death ? o. The word has no such meaning here, and it is a pity that it should have been used by the translators of the Bible and the compilers of the Prayer Book. For the usual idea of hell, whenever the word is used by common people is, that dismal frightful place where the fallen angels are kept "in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." But while the word " hell " is used to express that place of torment, it did not originally have that meaning: neither it, nor the word translated by it, mean anything more than the invisible place of departed souls between death and the general resurrection. The word itself is Saxon, and meant of old a place dark and close, about which no. thing could be certainly known ; and it was a true rendering of the Hebrew " Sheol " and the Greek " Hades," which words meant the place of departed spirits without regard to their religious condition, where they remained between death and the resurrection. The writers of the ew Testament divide this region into two parts, for the separate dwelling of the rigliteous and the wicked. But the word which we call hell, in the Creed, as in our text, meant the place of abode for souls after death, irrespective of their relation to God, as the subjects of his judgment. The dogma is important, as showing that our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the condition of humanity in every stage of ex-

SERMO XLVIII. 405 istence. The plan of redemption which it pleased God to ordain, required that Christ should take our nature upon him, and as he must be conceived, and born, and put to death, so must his soul, as the souls of his ransomed believers, be after death in the intermediate state, in the place of the departed. This was the full satisfying of that condition of humanity which gave to His mediation that efficacy in which believers trust. All souls after death are in a place of temporary abode, awaiting the day of resurrection. Christ was appointed to die for man's salvation — death involved the necessity of a separation of the soul from the body. At that separation the soul went into a certain place, there to remain till the resurrection. To prove that Christ did in all things become man, we show that his soul underwent this separation; and this we assert in our creed, and this is all which we assert, in the words "He descended into hell." We thereby declare our belief in the fulness of the sacrifice offered by Him who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. Christ was appointed to take our nature in everything except sin: he was, therefore, begotten of God, and conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of a virgin. There was in him no transmitted taint of human sinfulness. So by divine appointment he was not to undergo corruption, but was to show his power in rising from the dead in the same body in which he suffered. This can be shown by our text, which is one of the proofs of the doctrine that Christ descended into hell. 2. In proving this doctrine, we may use the prophecies of the Old Testament, plainly pointing to the Saviour, the express declarations of our Lord, and the testimony of the apostles, whom he ordained as witnesses of the truth of his religion. Our text is a prophecy uttered by David, and quoted by St. Peter, in his first sermon, as verified by the resurrection of Christ from the dead: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption."

Having quoted these words, St. Peter says that David did not speak them of himself, but being a prophet, he spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. ow from this prophecy, vouched for by an apostle, we infer that Christ did descend into hell; for if his soul was not left in hell at his resurrection, it must have been there before that event. It was not there before his death,

406 SERMO XLVIII. nor after his resurrection, as we well know. Hence it must have been there in the interval between his death and his resurrection. Thus the prophecy was fulfilled throughout; for the body did not undergo corruption, although it was in the grave where corruption dwells; and the soul, although it went to hell, while the body lay in the grave, was not left there, but was reunited to the body at the appointed time for the resurrection. Another proof of this doctrine may be drawn from our Saviour's promise to the penitent thief, who was crucified with him. This malefactor, being convinced that Jesus was a righteous man, and had a kingdom in store for him, begged to be remembered in mercy and love. Jesus, ever ready to bless those who will trust in him,' said promptly, for his ^couragement, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." ow in these words we have our Lord's promise to be in paradise that day, in company with this fellow sufferer. Where was this paradise? It was not heaven, for our Lord did not ascend thither till forty days after his resurrection. We might conclude from the connexion of the words with the prayer of the penitent, that they gave promise of happiness or comfort, and, therefore, that they pointed to that region of rest where the souls of the pardoned and redeemed abide in the joyful hope of a blissful resurrection. And this we know to be the case; for the word paradise, or the Greek form paradeisos, means that part of hades or hell in which the good

spirits dwell. The word was borrowed from the Persian language, and corresponds with the Hebrew Eden. The expression " Abraham's bosom," means the same as paradise. In this place was the soul of the poor Lazarus ; yet he and the rich man, who was tormented, were both in hell, in the same sense in which Christ descended into it. They were both in the place where the souls of the departed remain till the resurrection — Lazarus being in that part of it to which Christ and the penitent thief went, while the rich voluptuary was in the part called Tartarus, the abode of the wretched, who are doomed to final punishment. St. Peter alludes to this division of hades or hell, when he says, in his second epistle, (ii. 4,) of the evil angels, "God cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved to judgment." The word here translated " hell," is Tartarus, the place of the wicked.

SERMO XLVIII. 407 Into the part of hades or hell which is called paradise, Christ must have entered on the day of his death, or he made a false promise to the penitent suppliant. And as he who then showed himself to be the Son of God, and the divine Saviour, could neither deceive nor be deceived, we find in this promise sufficient evidence that he did that day descend into hell. There are other texts which we could adduce as proofs of this doctrine, but we trust that it is not necessary to say more on this head. It will be more profitable to dwell on the important use which we may make of it practically as disciples of Christ. And may the Holy Spirit help us in the effort. The intermediate state of souls, as the church views it, is a fixed one, and not to be confounded with the .purgatory of the Church of Rome. In whatever condition, as regards divine judgment, a person dies, in that same condition the soul of the individual remains till the day of judgment. It is that of happiness or misery, consequent upon the life on earth; and therefore,

to a certain extent, retributive; but there is no place there for repentance, and no means, therefore, by which the departed soul can change its condition; and as -the soul itself cannot do it, neither can any intercession, either on earth or in the place of departed spirits, effect any change for the benefit of any of them. This is the doctrine of our branch of the church, and it is sound scriptural doctrine. The condition of departed souls is fixed, we say, at death; but not by divine judgment, for that cannot take place till after the resurrection: the Holy Scripture assures us, that we shall all be judged in the body, for the deeds done in the body. There is a spiritual, as well as a natural body. But it will not appear until the final resurrection; and hence, as the eternal retribution must be in the body, it cannot be in the place of departed spirits before the resurrection, for then there is no body. evertheless, the state of the soul, which continues active in the interval between death and the resurrection, will be happy or miserable, a(^ording to its condition on earth, in the natural body, as redeemed or not by the blood of Christ. At the very moment when the breath is leaving the body, and the soul is either reaching after the consummation of Christian hope, or shrinking from the apprehended wrath of God, its destiny for weal or wo is determined. Separated from the flesh, in which it had its sinfulness, its temptations,

408 SERMO XLVIII. its conquests or defeats, it lives on in conscious identity, cheered by the joyful hope of eternal blessedness in the resurrection body, or scourged by the memory of despised offers of grace, and the horrid visions of coming wrath. The soul being immortal, we might conclude that it would be active always, even in the abode of the departed, if we had no testimony of Scripture on the subject. But our Lord has opened to our gaze the hell to which he descended, in the thrilling picture of the rich man and Lazarus: joy and torment are there presented side by side, and yet the souls are in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. o judgment has yet

been pronounced, but as, according to the maxim, that "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap," the wicked find a harvest of sorrow, and the righteous one of joy, even on earth : so, in the world of spirits, they continue to rejoice or suffer, each living in his own element as it were eternally. Oh ! what but the pen of inspiration can set forth, in anything like an appreciable form, the glory or the shame of that intermediate state! It is a foretaste of all the bliss or the misery which will be the award of final judgment. Let no one delude himself with the notion that he will pass at death to a long and indefinite state of slumber, unconscious of the past, free from apprehension of the future. Let no wicked person suppose that if he refuses life everlasting through Christ, he will be doomed to destruction of body and soul, to utter annihilation, that the death pangs once met and wrestled with, all will be over forever. Well would it be for the hardened sinner if it were so; and gladly would we, if we could, give the wicked the comforting assurance, that they would find eternal rest at death. For none but a vindictive spirit can desire the endless torment of the worst of God's creatures. Punishment in this world is remedial; the threatening of it in another world, is also remedial. The punishment itself, while it is retributive as the award of a righteous Jud§|e, is also the necessary product of a free but wicked agency in each individual sinner. The justice of God, and the dignity of man, frail as he is, demand that it should be so. Let every sinner improve his time of trial here on earth, for there can be no change of destiny after death: the account for eternity must be settled now. How much strength this doctrine adds to the appeals of the gospel, to those who cannot see

SERMO XLVIII. 409 enougli in the comfort of faith in this life, to induce them to accept the salvation which it offers; for the reward of faith, and the purchase of unbelief seem near at hand, and accordingly have a greater power over the mind than they could have, if

indefinitely removed. Our hopes and fears are weakened by the remoteness of the objects. We commend this doctrine to you, my hearers, urging you to consider that as soon as your pulse has ceased to beat, and you are no longer numbered with the Ijving, you will enter a state of bliss or wo, which will have no end, but will be increased, after the day of judgment, to a degree that you cannot now conceive: yes, this is the conclusion from the proper use of the doctrine of the body; — so shall the soul of every believer in Him survive the body's death. As the soul of Christ descended into hell, so shall the soul of every believer in him descend into it. There, like his, it will remain active, but it will not be left there forever. The time will come when He who could not be holden of death long enough to see corruption, will say to those who have seen it, "Go forth from this prison,'' and they who are Christ's at his coming will share the glory of his resurrection in the heaven which he has opened to all believers. If, then, you believe in Christ, and with an humble trust in him for pardon and acceptance, live in the hope of eternal life, you will have at your last hour the cheering tokens of Christ's presence, the promise of a place in paradise, and after the resurrection, in the heaven where his glory dwelleth. But if you live in unbelief, and die unforgiven, you will immediately be plunged into misery which will be without end, and without change, except that fearful one which will come when Christ shall pronounce your doom. Be sure that you are Christ's faithful disciples here on earth, partake of his death in its atoning efficacy, that you may partake of his resurrection of endless bliss in his heavenly kingdom.

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books

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