Posts Tagged did Christ go to hell

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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