Week 18 of 50 in the Institutes: Rightly Appraising Christ’s Descent Into Hell

This week’s assignments in the Institutes have no blog entries on the Reformation 21 website, just an entry indicating that they are not available and will be posted later for 2.16.12 through 3.2.6.

It would seem that the closest they ever came was a series of articles in January of this year on the statement in the Apostles’ Creed that Christ “descended into hell.”  Rick Phillips began it all by sharing how his current church had already abandoned the phrase when he became pastor there (see link below for his article: “Vos on the Descent of Christ into Hell”).  Upon investigation, he decided that abandoning the phrase was the best thing to do, for lack of clear biblical testimony.  Four hours after Phillips’ post,  Mark Jones gave a response titled, “Keeping ‘Christ’s Descent into Hell’”.  Eric Hutchinson posited another article five days later, “Should We Assent to the Descent”, and Rick Phillips did a follow up on January 9th, “Still Dissenting to the Descent”.  If you read those four articles, you may learn more than you wanted to know about the phrase.

For my part, I agree with the Reformed view expressed in the confessions (HC Q&A 44; WLC Q&A 50), and as articulated by Calvin in 2.16.10 of the Institutes, that “he suffered the death that God in his wrath had inflicted upon the wicked” (McNeill Battles ed.).

Everything to this point in this post, though, merely functions as an introduction to my main concern here (especially since 2.16.10 is from last week’s assignment).  In 2.16.12 Calvin brings us to holy ground which lies beyond the wrangling over the nuances of meaning of “He descended into hell” to ponder the magnitude of the Savior’s suffering on our behalf as evidenced by his agony beginning in Gethsemane.  This is where I need to sit and gaze for long periods of time, so that sin will become infinitely heinous in my sight, and Christ all the more precious.  As Calvin put it:

“From this it appears that these quibblers with whom I am contending boldly chatter about things they know nothing of. For they have never earnestly considered what it is or means that we have been redeemed from God’s judgment.  Yet this is our wisdom: duly to feel how much our salvation cost the Son of God.”  (McNeill-Battles)

“Hence it appears that these triflers, with whom I am disputing, presume to talk of what they know not, never having seriously considered what is meant and implied by ransoming us from the justice of God. It is of consequence to understand aright how much our salvation cost the Son of God.”  (Beveridge)

Mark Jones has written another article to assist with this contemplation as well: Hell’s Horrors vs Heaven’s Happiness.

Links to Reformation 21 Articles on Christ’s Descent Into Hell, in sequence:

1.  Rick Phillips – Vos on the Descent of Christ Into Hell  (Jan. 2, 2015 8:57 am)

2.  Mark Jones – Keeping “Christ’s Descent Into Hell”   (Jan 2, 2015  12:58 pm)

3.  Eric Hutchinson – Should We Assent to the Descent?  (Jan 7, 2015  9:25 am)

4.  Rick Phillips – Still Dissenting to the Descent (Jan 9, 2015 2:15 pm)


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