Archive for category “Calvinism”

Did Christ Descend into Hell? In his 1549 sermon before King Edward sixth, Hugh Latimer says He did.

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?


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Does the 1549 Book of Common Prayer teach ‘Limited Atonement’?

The original 1549 Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer is a wonderful and historically significant Christian book. In Rylands Library I have had the honour of reviewing and researching ancient original copies of this work, in the original prints and wording.

The original Book of Common Prayer supports the claim to universal redemption as a consistent Christian truth. The text of reads as follows;


First, I Leanne to believe in God the father, who hathe made me and the worlde.

Secondly, in God the sonne, who hath redeemed me and all mankind.

Thirdly, I God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the electe people of God” (The Book of Common Prayer. 1549. A Cathechisme.)

The proposed questions which I set forth are these;

Q. does this article consider the possibility that the world does not mean ‘the entire world’? That is the entire human race?

A. No it does not. The text clearly states in clear basic terms for simple Christians in England during the 16th century, not to view the world as meaning only the elect or the people from within the world, but all the world. If God made all the world and this means ‘all’, then it follows that when the passage speaks of redeeming “all mankind”, that it means ‘all’ and not only some.

Q. Does this imply universalism? Or does this imply universal offering of redemption?

A. I think the word “redemption” states that the passage refers to universal redemption, that is in the sense of Christ regaining possession of mankind, in the context of a payment. It does not imply universalism. I think there is not even a hint of limited atonement within this article.

Q. But does not the text say “sanctifieth me, and all the elect”? Yes, it does. That those whom have the Holy Spirit are elect and are sanctified by Him and when the Holy Spirit is given, His work is effectual for those who believe. But that belief must be present, active and continuous. A person need not be understood as ‘elect’ because he or she has been determined by God to be elect in order to believe, but that he or she is elect because they believe.

Once again we see further proofs in favor of my claim that the Calvinistic doctrine of ‘Limited Atonement’ need not be understood as pure reformed teaching.

We must consider that if Christ has died for all, He must have made a way for all to receive Him, as communicated throughout the New Testament. But Calvinism cruelly offers salvation to people when in reality it knows all too well that unless a person is determined to believe, he or she cannot receive the grace of God unless that soul has been predestined and elected to salvation by the deterministic power of ‘God’. It offers a man bread only to give him a stone.

It is a very cruel doctrine that is somewhat deceptively diluted by many modern Calvinist preachers and presented as reformed. Yet the 39 Articles of Religion (1562) do not teach it. On the contrary, Article XXX1 (31) states the following;

The Offering of Christ once made it that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.

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A 20th century revival of 17th century Tulip Mania

Tulip © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

Tulip © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

The Tulip as a flower first came to England in 1578. The very same year the complete Geneva Bible was first printed in England.

In those days there was such a thing as “Tulip Mania”. This began in 1594 in the Netherlands when the first Tulips were planted. It was a harmless move when it started but the craze for Tulips later became a status symbol and one tulip bulb could be worth as much as a house build beside one of the top canals in Amsterdam.

It was in this very same country, the Netherlands, where the Synod of Dordt was held in 1618. This synod was the first to declare the doctrinal position now known as ‘the five points of Calvinism‘.

In later centuries this doctrinal position earned the title “Tulip”. As far as I know, it is a term that is not found in writings prior to the 20th century?

Tulip stands for the following;

  1. T – Total Depravity
  2. U – Unconditional Election
  3. L – Limited Atonement
  4. I – Irresistible Grace
  5. P – Preservation or Perseverance of the Saints


Dr Charles Matthew McMahon in his book “A puritans mind” says the following; “The essential doctrines concerning salvation, which the puritans and all good Christians cling to, are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.IP

These words are problematic, especially when a reading Christian could be told in writing that he or she may not be a good Christian after all, and perhaps even an unbelieving one, lacking in faith, as he suggests in his book, quote; “There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief” Dr C Matthew McMahon. A Puritans Mind.

The above words are cruel and intellectually dishonest. They appear to read like some form of guilt based emotional blackmail. It seems that for so many 5 point Calvinists or new Calvinists, that T.U.L.I.P is the actual gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell?

This same idea, though more genuine, is made somewhat clear by 19th century English particular Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said the following; “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else

Spurgeon also said the following; “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” (C. H. Spurgeon. The early years. Autobiography 1. The early years. Page 168. Banner of Truth Trust)

Spurgeon stated that his beliefs were his “own private opinion“. I respect that. But he did not here stoop so low as to send his readers on an emotional guilt trip and accuse them of having a lack of faith and belief for differing with his beliefs.

I personally deny that ‘Tulip’ is in any way foundational to the Christian faith. It is a simple observation of mine that T.U.L.I.P cannot be a foundation to preaching Christ alone or the plain truth of the Gospel, or Christian doctrine, since T.U.L.I.P makes no direct references to the Virgin birth of Jesus, the Life and miracles of Jesus or the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Neither is there reference to His return or His judging of the quick and the dead. In many ways, T.U.L.I.P has a man centred focus.

No Christian is guilty of unbelief for denying, questioning or refuting Tulip, and should never be emotionally bullied or abused into thinking so! In my own opinion, I think Calvinism is unnecessarily lowered when it is reduced by individuals to making claims like those I have mentioned above. I don’t want to put all Calvinists in the same category but wouldn’t it be better if people learned how to reason and openly debate more. I want to encourage ‘all believers’ to feel absolutely free to measure all teachings and doctrines with careful analysis of the entire Bible and not be afraid of the implications of the text. To learn to live alongside other believers who differ. But never fall foul of emotional mind games of those who desire you to follow their favourite interpretations of the same Bible.

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