Page images
PDF
EPUB

why they were so iniquisitive to know whether he were really dead, or no, was because he seemed to die in his full strength; for there is something remarkable in that expression, when the evangelist says, Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost, ver. 37. whereby it appeared, that his spirits were not so much exhausted, but that he might, according to the course of nature, have lived longer; but he seemed by an act of his own will, to surrender his soul to God. This was so remarkable an occurrence, that it was not merely by accident that it is mentioned by the evangelist; and, indeed, it was the means of the centurion's conviction that he was the Son of God, ver. 39.

(2.) Providence ordered that he should be buried by persons of reputation and honour, that so the world might know, that how much soever the rude multitude despised him, persons of figure and character in the world paid a due respect to him, John xix. 39, 40.

(3.) It was farther ordained, that he should be buried in a new tomb, wherein never man was laid; that so ́his resurrec tion might be more fully demonstrated, that none might pretend that another was raised instead of him, since no other was buried in this grave.

The fine linen, in which his body was wrapped, and the sweet spices, or perfumed ointment, with which it was embalmed, was not only agreeable to the method of sepulture, used by the Jews, but it was a public testimony of that respect which his friends bore to him, to whom his memory was precious: so that Nicodemus, who, before this, was afraid to come publickly to him, or who, as it is said, at the first, came to Jesus by night, brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes, with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury, chap. xix. 30, 40.

2. As Christ died, and was buried, so he continued under the power of death till the third day; this the apostle calls, Death's having dominion over him, Rom. vi. 9. and it must be reckoned a part of his humiliation, as well as the act of dying; for,

1st, Though his soul enjoyed the bliss and happiness of heaven, immediately after his death, as he tells the penitent thief, that that day he should be with him in paradise, Luke xxiii. 43. yet, inasmuch as it was, when separate, in a state of imperfection, and had a natural desire, and hope of re-union with the body, this argues that there were some degrees of perfect blessedness, that it was not then possessed of.

2dly, So long as he continued under the power of death, he was not fully discharged by the justice of God; neither was the work of satisfaction complete, till he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and to have fully conquered death and

hell, by his resurrection from the death; this was therefore a part of his humiliation.

*

3dly, His body, while remaining a prisoner in the grave, could not actively bring that glory to God, which it did before, or would do after its resurrection; and it was, at that time, incapable of the heavenly blessedness, and, in particular, of its being so glorious a body, as now it is.

All these things attending the state of separate souls, or the unseen state, into which Christ is said to go, immediately after his death, some call, as it is observed in this answer, his descent into hell, which is what we are next to consider: but, since this is largely and judiciously handled by several writers,* I shall insist on it with brevity. And,

[1.] Consider it as founded on scripture, as the judicious Calvin does, without regard had to its being inserted in any creed of human composure: thus it is said, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption, Acts ii. 27. where it seems, as the author but now mentioned observes, to be put before his death; and therefore he supposes, that the apostle hereby intends the sufferings which our Saviour endured in his soul, which were not, in all respects, unlike the punishment due to sin in hell: and herein he is followed by several modern writers; and the principal reason, which they assign for it, is, because, as our Surety, he endured all the essential parts of that punishment, which our sins had deserved; and therefore they suppose, that he endured an afflictive sensation of the wrath of God, which bore some resem blance to that which is endured in hell.

. But, though I would not extenuate Christ's sufferings, especially in that part thereof, that was most formidable to him, which was the cup that he desired, if it were possible, that it might pass from him; nor can we suppose that any thing less than a view which he had of the wrath of God, due to our sins, would fill him with that horror and amazement, which he expressed: yet we ought carefully to distinguish between this part of his sufferings, and the punishment of sin in hell, inasmuch as he was exempted from the sting of conscience, and a constant sense of the everlasting displeasure of God, together with despair of any better condition, or the least relaxation, as a judicious writer observes. And besides, it is expressly said, in this scripture, Thou wilt not leave my soul; which shews, that though he might be destitute of the comfortable sense of God's presence, which occasioned him to cry out, My God, my God,

Vid. Wits. in Symbol. Exercitat. 18. and Pearson on the Creed. Article 5. and Parker de descensu Christi ad inferas. † Vid. Institut. Lib. II. cap. 16. § 10.

Vid. Pearson on the Creed, Artic. 5.

[ocr errors]

why hast thou forsaken me? yet he was not destitute of the supporting presence of God, nor separate from his love, which always redounded to his Person; though the effects of God's wrath, which he bore, might fill him with the greatest uneasiness, from the afflictive view, which he had thereof in his soul. However, though the sense of this text must be thus qualified, if we suppose that it denotes Christ's sufferings in his soul before his death; yet it does not sufficiently appear that the apostle speaks of his sufferings antecedent to it; because it is brought in as an argument, to prove that he should be raised from the dead, and accordingly his flesh is said to rest in hope; therefore we shall proceed,

[2.] To consider Christ's descent into hell, as contained in one of the articles of the creed, that is commonly attributed to the apostles, which is particularly referred to, in the answer under our present consideration, wherein it is put after his death. Here something might have been premised concerning that Creed in general, and the reason of inserting this article in it but this having been insisted on with great judgment by others, all that I shall add, is, that notwithstanding what we meet with in some fabulous and spurious writings, this Creed was not compiled by the apostles, how consonant soever it be to the doctrines laid down by them: for we have no account given of it by any ancient writers before the fourth century, therefore it is of later date, than either the Nicene or Athanasian Creed; the former of which was composed about the year of our Lord 325, the latter not long after it. In the Nicene Creed, there is no mention made of Christ's descent into hell, though the Athanasian Creed inserts it; but there is no mention therein of his being buried. The words are these: He descended into hell, and the third day he arose from the dead; from whence some conclude, that nothing else is intended but his being buried, or continuing in the state of the dead, till his resurrection. (a) Some think, indeed, that there was a marginal note in some copies of this Creed, to explain what is meant Vid. History of the apostles Creed.

(a) The Creed called the Apostles' is not offered by the first writers in whom it is found, upon its own authority. They attempt to prove it from the scriptures, and we can receive it in no other way. The article "He descended into hell" did not originally stand in the Eastern, nor in the Roman creed; it was first found in the creed of Aquileia, which had nothing of Christ's burial; and no doubt as ads is often put for the grave, this article meant in it his burial. When inserted from thence into the two other creeds, which mentioned his burial al ready, it was understood of his human soul. Yet it stands incoherently, for his body was crucified, dead, buried, arose, and was seen to ascend: but this article, in the midst of those verbs, predicates something of another subject, his soul. Yet if taken in the sense of "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell," (Psa. xvi. Acts ii) it is true. But I and gas are each taken for the invisible world or sepa

by his descending into hell, namely, that he was buried; which the compilers of the apostles Creed afterwards thought to be a part of the Creed itself, and therefore they add, that he died, was buried, and descended into hell. But passing by this critical remark, concerning the reason of the insertion hereof in this article, we shall proceed to consider how this is explained, by various writers, who treat on this subject. And,

(1.) The Papists and Lutherans assert that our Saviour descended locally into hell after his death; not to suffer any of the torments that are endured there, but to shew himself as a conqueror over those who are detained in it, and triumph over them. As for the Papists, they suppose, that he went also into a place, which they describe as a prison, where the souls of the old Testament-saints were detained, as being incapable of entering into heaven, inasmuch as they had not a sufficient discovery of Christ and the gospel made to them, while they were here on earth; and therefore they were detained in this, which we may call a fictitious place, which they represent as being between heaven and hell; not, indeed, according to them, a place of torment, but they suppose it was such, in which they were destitute of the heavenly blessedness; and they add, that immediately after Christ appeared among them, and manifested himself to them, they believed; in which sense they understand that scripture, where it is said, that the gospel was preached to them that are dead, 1 Pet. iv. 6. and, upon this, he carried them with him into heaven. This opinion of Christ's descending locally into hell, is very absurd, and contrary to scripture; particularly,

1st, To what he says to the penitent thief upon the cross, To-day thou shalt be with me in paradise, Luke xxiii. 43. by which, doubtless he means heaven, which is called paradise in other scriptures, 2 Cor. xii. 2. compared with 4. and Rev. ii. 7. *This they call Limbus Patrum,

rate state, of the good, as well as evil, both in the old and new Testament, and this was thought by Jews and Gentiles to be under the surface. Thus Abraham and Lazarus were supposed there, and Samuel to have been called up from thence. Christ asserting his divinity, must allege he came from heaven, for that was the place of God. He also returned thither, and is to come from thence; yet he has gone to prepare a place, and his disciples expected by his promise to be with him, and so all other Christians. His descent therefore means that his soul, when separated from his body, was immediately with the separate spirits, who are happy, and so said to be in paradise. But whether above, or below the surface, is unimportant. None but the Divine Spirit is ubiquitary, but the transitions of others may be as quick as thought. They have means of communication with each other, and can receive what answers to our sense of light, without bodily senses, and no doubt vastly more satisfactorily, than we do in our most vivid dreams. The Divine Nature of Christ was, and is, omnipresent; for he declared he was in heaven whilst on earth, and it is not probable that his human soul was separated from this after his death any more than during his life.

The method which the Papists take to evade the force of this argument, is, by pretending that our Saviour speaks of his being with him in heaven, as he is there in his divine nature; or, since that appears to be so great a strain on the sense of the text, that very few will much regard it; they have another evasion, which is as little to the purpose, by pretending, that there ought to be a stop put after the words to day; and so the meaning is, that now at this time, I say unto thee, that thou shalt be with me in paradise, or heaven, when I ascend into it, after I have descended into hell, and that other place which I must go to, before I come to heaven: but this sense of the text is so evasive, that none, who read the scripture impartially, can suppose that it is just; and therefore nothing farther need be said to it.

2dly, It appears that Christ immediately went into heaven, as to his soul, when he died upon the cross, from his last words, Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit; which having said, he gave up the ghost, Luke xxiii. 46. This giving up himself to God, implies a desire that God would receive his spirit; even as Stephen said, with his dying breath, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, Acts vii. 59. Christ, in effect, desires that God would receive his spirit; and can we suppose this prayer to be unanswered, or that he was not immediately received into heaven?

We might farther have shown how little ground they have to conclude that Christ went to preach the gospel to those, who, by reason of the darkness of the Old Testament-dispensation, were detained in prison, as being unfit for the heavenly state: but the falseness of this supposition has been considered elsewhere, and therefore pass it over at present. And as for that scripture, which they bring in defence hereof, that Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison, 1 Pet. iii. 19. it is plain from the context, that the apostle means nothing else thereby, but his sending Noah to preach to the old world, who were disobedient, and, for this, were sent into the prison of hell, after the long-suffering of God had waited on them while the ark was building. How easy a matter is it for those, who regard but the analogy of faith, or the context of those scriptures, which they bring in defence of their wild absurdities, to pretend to prove any thing from scripture! (a)

* See Vol. I. page 54, 55, and page 209, ante.

(a) 1 Peter iii. 18. describes the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ, as encouragement for the suffering saints. There are no prepositions before, and mupal (flesh and spirit :) our translators have taken the former as the da tive of the part affected, the latter as the dative of the cause; and have expressed the former by in, the latter by by. Some preposition, or prepositions must be inserted in the translation. It is said, to preserve the antithesis, the same should

« PreviousContinue »