Archive for April, 2023
Did Christ Descend into Hell? In his 1549 sermon before King Edward sixth, Hugh Latimer says He did.
Posted by simon peter sutherland in "Calvinism", The Bible, Theology on April 18, 2023
Hugh Latimer (1487-1555) was one of the truly great reformers. He was a Cambridge scholar and Bishop of Worcester and during the English reformation he was Church of England chaplain to King Edward sixth. He became one of the Oxford martyrs and during the reign of Mary Tudor, he was burned at the stake in Oxford in 1555.
Previously, in Latimer’s sermon before King Edward sixth, the reformer preached concerning a doctrine known as the Harrowing of Hell or the Descent of Christ into Hell. In Christian theology there is a belief that the soul of Christ went down into hell (or hades) during the three days between His death and resurrection.
I agree with this teaching. However, today many reformed and Calvinistic theologians and ministers have differences of opinions concerning the Harrowing of Hell. For some, the idea is unscriptural and even heresy. While others interpreted the belief to mean that Christ went only to the place of the dead, he did not go to hell. This is the view that many American reformers present to the younger generation who are new to reformed theology. The Scriptures however do not give us a great amount of detail, so it is not an open and shut case. Matthew 12: 40, Acts 2: 24, 31. Ephesians 4: 9, Colossians 1: 18, 1 Peter 3: 18, 4: 6, are all believed by some to affirm the Harrowing of Hell while others disagree. I however do believe that Christ did in fact go down to hell and I am not ashamed of that. The earliest creeds can be understood to communicate something quite different to the number of modern revisions.
For example the Apostles Creed, believed by some to be as early as 2nd century, affirms Christ’s descent into hell. Early English versions read that way. However the present Church of England version reads “he descended to the dead.” which is quite a significant variation. The place of the dead or hades can imply a place of waiting or a place where certain souls descended after death. Whereas hell implies the place of torment where the souls of unrepentant sinners will go.
The 39 Articles of Religion, 1562, (Article 111) affirms Christ’s descent into hell. However, for many people, the idea of this contradicts the finished work of Christ on the cross (John 19: 30). However I don’t agree with that claim.
There are however differences of opinion throughout Christianity concerning this matter and I am not going to cover all of them in this article. However what I do present is a view defended by Hugh Latimer before King Edward sixth in 1549. In this sermon Latimer affirms his agreement with the Harrowing of Hell in the face of the disagreements of his day.
In his own words Latimer says thus:
“There be some great clerks that take my part, and I perceive not what evil can come of it, in saying, that our Saviour Christ did not only in soul descend into hell, but also that he suffered in hell such pains as the damned spirits did suffer there. Surely, I believe verily, for my part, that he suffered the pains of hell proportionably, as it corresponds and answers to the whole sin of the world. He would not suffer only bodily in the garden and upon the cross, but also in his soul when it was from the body; which was a pain due for our sin.”
Latimer also stated the following,
“I see no inconvenience to say, that Christ suffered in soul in hell. I singularly commend the exceeding great charity of Christ, that for our sakes would suffer in hell in his soul. It sets out the unspeakable hatred that God hath to sin. I perceive not that it doth derogate anything from the dignity of Christ’s death; as in the garden, when he suffered, it derogates nothing from that he suffered on the cross.”
(Sermons by Hugh Latimer. The Seventh Sermon of M. Latimer preached before King Edward, April Nineteenth, (1549) P. 234-235. The Parker Society, Cambridge. M. DCCC.XLIV)
A person can disagree with the interpretations of the Scriptures I have presented here, but let it be not said that the Harrowing of Hell is not true reformed doctrine. It is difficult to find a truer reformer than Hugh Latimer. He was a brilliant 1st generation beacon light of the reformation.
Whatever your belief, I do believe that hell exists and is a very real place where unrepentant souls will go for eternity (Revelation 20: 10). I do not believe in universalism or annihilationism. I do however believe it makes sense Biblically to say that Christ went to hell in the place of those who would follow Him and believe.
I wonder, does that include you?
Easter reflections on Simon Peter and the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
Posted by simon peter sutherland in Christianity on April 6, 2023
One of my favourite modern Biblical documentaries is David Suchet’s “In the Footsteps of St. Peter”. In this film the actor traces the steps of St Peter from his early days in Israel, to his possible connections to Cappadocia and the final events of his life in Rome. Although I don’t connect St. Peter with the Vatican, I believe he was in Rome. It’s a fascinating place!
Fascinating for me, since St Peter is one of the leading figures of the New Testament and a person I can connect with. I was named after the apostle by my parents. Simon Peter is my given name. When I was growing up my father had a book called “The Big Fisherman” and it meant a lot to me. As a family we often watched “Peter and Paul” (1981) starring Anthony Hopkins, as Paul and Robert Foxworth, as Peter. I still enjoy that series and when we were in Rhodes, we visited a number of filming locations where key scenes were shot. One of these was in Rhodes Town, near St Paul’s Gate. Lindos also features as a filming location, which adds more realism to the film since Paul visited there (Acts 21: 1)
Like David Suchet’s documentary, “Peter and Paul” portrays Peter as a very strong person, and does not white wash his humans faults. In the gospels Peter is up and down, he makes mistakes and even denies knowing Jesus (John 18: 15-18) Yet in Acts 2: 14-39 Peter’s sermon is courageously outstanding. A proof of the indwelling presence of Holy Spirit.
Peter’s life can be understood to show that Christian’s are not perfect, if they were they would not need to be Christian’s. Yet his life also shows a progression from a sinful man to an apostle absolutely dedicated to Christ.
No surprise then that Simon Peter, (Shimon or Simeon) is an important figure in my Christian life. Like Peter I too have been a preacher and also a fisherman. One of my favourite pastimes are my days of sea fishing along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. For me there would be no greater pleasure than going out on the boat, catching fish from the shore and cooking them on the beach. Mackerel never tastes so good as when it cannot be fresher.
Back in the day I was just a simple musician desperately trying to get a recording contract, but each time something to do with church would deter or call me. Sometimes independent churches pressurise church goers to minister or evangelise even when it may not be their calling. I too at times wanted to be a minister but that has not yet come to pass. For me, going about in the Biblical lands, making free documentaries without all the fuss and clutter, works well. Maybe I’ve found my place in that.
But out of all the things in life, the uncertainties, the changes, the progressions, the ups and downs, one thing remains absolutely certain and that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 2 Peter 1: 16 Peter wrote; “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
In John 20: 6 Peter witnesses the empty tomb and sees the “linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief” that had been around the head of Christ. These were not scattered about, but folded together in a place by themselves. The eyewitnesses saw these happenings and believed. But it was not all a bundle of roses. The gospels communicate the real reactions of people. When the resurrection had happened and the body of Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, the apostles went fishing.
In John’s gospel Peter and the apostles are out on the boat and they weren’t catching anything. Then Jesus came along and told them where to fish and they caught “one hundred and fifty-three” (John 21: 11) In John Rylands Library, (my place of escape), there is a section above a stairway where the architectural dimensions are said to be built around St John’s reference. In sacred geometry 153 is apparently a sacred number communicating something of the dimensions of heaven.
In these days when Christianity is so difficult and it would seem like the whole world hates us and will not let us simply live in peace and practice our faith, there are times when I too (like Peter), withdraw and say “I’m going fishing” (John 21: 3) Then Jesus shows up and says ‘Simon, do you love Me, “Feed My sheep”.
For this reason I focus upon the truth of Christianity rather than the distortions of it. Feeding the sheep is better than arguing with wolves. I believe the proclamation of the Bible will overcome error. However, there has been many times when I have felt like walking away from Christianity and just keeping my faith to myself and simply go on living, doing my own thing. ‘Christianity’ has become so corrupt in many ways, I think. Too many churches are just exploitive money grabbing establishments of narcissism, power and people pleasing. If I focus upon them, it does no good. But then when I withdraw and keep focused upon who I am in Christ, and hold on to my Bible, I carry on and speak the truth. Christ raises me up and as one era draws to a closure, a new era opens up.
Perhaps some of you have felt this way? We are all only human after all.
Right now I do not know what the future holds for Christianity in Britain? I believe the truth will conquer in the end. Being in the Church of England I may well be seeing the final days of orthodoxy in that establishment? Glorious buildings, excellent liturgy, and when sung, Christ magnifying hymns edify the soul. Conservative evangelical Churches are growing. As for the rest, it’s not so good. Too many progressive liberal revisionists spend half their time arguing their way out of the liturgy.
Nevertheless, I wonder how you might let Christ serve you this Easter or Passover? Will you simply eat chocolate or attend a service? Or will you believe and go on believing. Will you let Christ serve you with a better breakfast than you have ever known before? Make life different this season, don’t let another year go by without doing something about it. If Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead, and I believe He did, the event cannot be anything else but earth shatteringly important and if He truly cares for you enough to die in your place, you cannot ignore Him.
No one need think that becoming a Christian means you must be perfect. Peter was not perfect, neither is any Christian. If we were we would not need a Saviour. Likewise believers need not feel over pressurised by other Christians as though imperfections make us false. We need the resurrected Saviour, without Him, humanity has no hope, and all our efforts and plans are nothing.