Monday, September 20, 2010

Life Achievement (v4)

A saint near death writes in his will, commenting on his efforts to glorify God:

But alas! The desire which I have had, and the zeal, if so it must be called, has been so cold and so sluggish that I feel myself a debtor in everything and everywhere, and that, were it not for his infinite goodness, all the affection I have had would be but as smoke, nay, that even the favors which he has accorded me would be render me so much more guilty; so that my only recourse is this, that being the Father of mercies he will show himself the Father of so miserable a sinner.

One may marvel at the professed humility of such a saint, John Calvin, but unwittingly continue to regard these comments by Calvin as a wonderful sounding example of pious language on the part of a great Christian man.  But, this falsifies what the man is teaching in his final witness!  Because his example of real humility is not taken seriously, our own desires for greatness are not exposed as sin, and our own path to greatness is not revealed.

In fact, if Calvin's own self-image near death were ours now, then we would be more like him.  At the end of our lives, we should hope, like Calvin, to have finally achieved the true vision of our own humility and weakness -- and therefore to have finally rested in total reliance on the Grace of God.

What a goal!  A self-vision like this is a judgment on the idols of personal glory.  It is a real hope, that having learned obedience through suffering in the cause of Christ, we may in the end recline on our death beds, in the arms of Christ, and be carried by his grace to glory -- the glory reserved for those who rest on his finished work, and not their own.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Christ's "Descent into Hell" in the Creed

The phrase "He descended into hell" in the Creed has a long history, and so does the interpretation of it.

History of the Creed

The so-called "Apostle's Creed" is an evolutionary product of the need for a Baptismal confession of faith.  This began in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and slowly progressed toward the west.  Each region or church might have some variation of this, but it was used to certify the authenticity of the public confession that a person made who was to be baptised.

History of the Phrase "He descended into Hell"

According to reputable sources, the phrase "He descended into hell" appears in the Creed about the year 400.  As this baptismal creed became standardized in form in the west, the phrase in question became a fixed part of it about 750.

What the Phrase Means

First, note that the word "hell" does not refer to a place of torment.  It refers to the "abode of the dead," or "sheol" in Hebrew.  When Jesus Christ is said to have "descended into hell," he did not descend to endure punishment.

The Reformed tradition mostly interprets the "descent" as a reference to Christ's suffering the pains of our punishment on the cross, or refers to the descent as a summary of the "died and was buried," indicating the fullness of the state of death that was his.

Note that Acts 2:22-32 refers to Christ being raised from the realm of the dead.  This implies that when he died, he entered the realm of the dead -- sheol.

A list of standard Scripture references is: Job 38:17, Psalm 68:18-22; Matthew 12:38-41; Acts 2:22-32; Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:7-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, and 1 Peter 4:6.  From:

Though we've mentioned some data to substantiate the credal statement from the Scripture, the discussion of this subject often proceeds to speculate on Christ's supposed deliverance of the Old Testament deceased believers from the good side of sheol.  Regardless of the outcome of any discussion on this aspect of the subject, it is not referred to in the creed.

Useful links for a fuller discussion (even the Pope's is good):