Session 841, May 12, 1647. Wednesday morning
On this date, 368 years ago, the decision was made by the famous Westminster Assembly in London to approve Questions 49 and 50 of the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Resolved upon the Q.: Q : How did Christ humble himself in his death? A: Christ humbled himselfe in his death in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors, having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of Darknesse, felt and borne the weight of Gods wrath, he played down his life an offering for sins, injuring the painful and shameful and cursed death of the crosse.
Resolved upon the Q.: Q : Wherein consisted Christs humiliation after death? A: Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried and continewing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day, which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, “he descended into Hell“.’
I have highlighted words which were analyzed jointly and in part contested by at least one Westminster divine. I learned this only a few months ago. At that time, I was posting my lengthy critique of the Governmental view of the Atonement originated by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). I had been reading relevant sections of the rousing book, The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature (www.OpenAirOutreach.com, 2010), by the dauntless young evangelist and publisher, Jesse Morrell. Since I was rendering him the (okay, uninvited) service of preparing to critique his online version of The Vicarious Atonement of Christ (2012), I decided to read whatever else he had written on the Atonement that might be relevant. On page 461 I came across this stunning passage:
Dr. Lightfoot, one of the Westminster divines, even said, ‘Was Christ so much as punished by God? Much less, then, was He overwhelmed by the wrath of God, damned by God? Was a lamb punished that was sacrificed? He was afflicted, but not punished; for punishment argued a crime or fault preceding. Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments? Certainly not for his own sins; no, nor for ours neither. He suffered for our sins, bare our sins; but his sufferings were not punishments for our sins.’
I could hardly believe what I was reading. So Paul Peter Waldenström was not the only other theologian to have denied that God’s wrath was expressed against Christ? And a Westminster divine at that! That made me curious to know if Dr. Lightfoot had elaborated on the matter. And how! So in the remainder of today’s posting I will let Dr. Lightfoot speak for himself. In tomorrow’s blog I will post the relevant parts of two more of his sermons that touch on the same matter. Ponder prayerfully.
REV. JOHN LIGHTFOOT, D. D.
MASTER OF CATHARINE HALL,
EDITED BY THE
REV. JOHN ROGERS PITMAN, A. M.
Alternate Morning Preacher at Belgrave and Berkeley Chapels ; and alternate Evening
Preacher at the Foundling and Magdalen Hospitals.
IN 13 VOLUMES
John Lightfoot (1602-1675), prominent Puritan divine, was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was regarded as the best orator among the undergraduates. He was much loved and esteemed as a faithful preacher and shepherd during several pastoral appointments. He became an eminent scholar of Hebrew and rabbinic literature. He was one of the original members of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1652), which drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms (1647). His “Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines from January 1, 1643 to December 31, 1644” (Vol. 13) is the most important single source for that period. He exercised considerable influence on the outcome of the discussions. He was appointed Master of Catharine Hall in 1643, renamed St. Catharine’s College (1650), which he held until his death. He earned the doctorate in 1652. He was chosen Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1654. His varied publications include sermons, addresses, disputations, expositions, commentaries, a harmony of the four Gospels, a Polyglot version of the Bible, and Talmudic studies relating to Scripture. His following opinion was rejected, at least for the Catechisms (LC #49, SC #27). But who was more true to Scripture?
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MDCCCXXII, MDCCCXXIII, MDCCCXXIV.
A N E X P O S I T I O N
OF THREE ARTICLES OF
T H E A P O S T L E S’ C R E E D
1. He descended into Hell.
(excerpts, pp. 3, 10, 17-24)
THE ground of this article of the Creed is in Acts ii. 27 ; “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” The reason of its insertion we shall see afterward. An article obscure, and that hath bred many disputes; and the rendering of it so in English, some offences. For it seemeth harsh, that Christ’s soul descended into hell, which, in our English language, speaketh most plainly and usually, ‘ The place of the damned ;’ a place very improper to look for the soul of Christ in, when departed out of his body. He and his betrayer Judas, to meet in the same place ! He that had by death purchased heaven for others,—himself, after death, to descend into hell ! Not an article in our Christian faith hath more need of explication to bring it to common reason, or analogy of faith.
The course I shall take in explication of it, shall, first, be to clear it from that meaning that is improper and offensive, and that carries not probability with it ; and then to unfold the proper and genuine meaning of it.
I. The general interpretation of it in the church of Rome is,….
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II. A second opinion and interpretation is, that he descended locally to triumph over the devils and the damned. An interpretation that seems to carry more sense and innocence ; and yet is far from the meaning of the article. To take it into examination ;….
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III. A third interpretation, then, is this,—that it means the torments he suffered in soul upon his cross. Some word it, that ‘ he suffered the extreme wrath of God :’ some, ‘ the very torments of hell :’ some, ‘ that he was, for the time, in the state of the damned.’ I reluct to speak these things : but this gloss some make upon this article : and while they go about to magnify the love of Christ in suffering such things for men, they so much abase and vilify his person, in making it liable to such a condition.
The sense of the article we must refuse, unless we should speak and think of Christ that, which doth not befit him. The soul of the dearly-beloved of God, to lie under the heaviest wrath of God ! The Lord of heaven and earth to be under the torments of hell ! And the Captain of our salvation to be under the condition of the damned ! Let it not be told in Gath ; publish it not in the streets of Ascalon ! Let not the Jews hear it, nor the Turks understand such a thing ; lest they blaspheme our Lord of life more than they do.
The colour which is put upon this opinion by them, that hold it, is because Christ upon the cross bare the sins of men ; and, therefore, that he was to bear the wrath, torments, and damnation, that man had deserved. And for this they produce those places ; “ The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all [Isa. liii. 6] :” “ Who his ownself bare our sins in his own body on the tree [1 Pet. ii. 24].” And they would have Christ to mean no less, when he cried out, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?”
For the stating of this matter, I lay down these two things :—
I. That it was impossible, Christ should suffer the wrath of God, the torments of hell,—and be in the case of the damned for any cause of his own.
II. That he did not, could not, suffer these, though he bare the sins of all his people. I shall speak to both these, under these five observations :—
I. In all the passages of Christ at his suffering, you cannot find that he looks upon God as an angry God. Begin at his prayer at his last supper [John, xvii]. Can you find there even the least hint, that he doubted of God’s favour to him ? It is the rule of the apostle [1 Tim. ii. 8], That “ we lift up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Can we think, that Christ ever prayed with doubting ? Especially, look into that prayer, and there is not the least tincture of it [John, xvii. 1] ; “ Father, glorify thy Son.” Did his heart then any whit suspect, that God was angry at him ? “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life [ver. 2].” Are these the words of one that suspected he could come under the heaviest wrath of God ?—“I have glorified thee on earth ; I have finished the work, which thou gavest me to do [ver. 4].” Are these the words of one, that thought he could ever be repayed for so doing, with wrath and vengeance, and the torments of hell ?—“ And now, O Father, glorify me with thine ownself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was [John, xvii. 5] :” “ And now, Father, I come unto thee [ver. 13] :” “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee [ver. 21] :” “ Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory [ver. 24].” Had Christ, when he spake these things, any suspicion or thought, that he could possibly come under the heavy wrath of God ?
It is said, John xviii. 1, he went beyond Cedron. There he is in his agony : then he prays, “ Let this cup pass from me.” Why ? What did he see in the cup ? Bitterness enough,—but not one drop of the dregs of God’s wrath. Guess his case by the case of sinful men. A Stephen, a Cranmer, a Ridley, a martyr, is brought to the stake : he hath a cup put into his hands, and that very bitter ; but doth he see any of God’s wrath in it ? Martyrs could not have gone so joyfully to death, had they seen God angry in that bitter dispensation. Christ could not have gone so readily to his sufferings, had he thought he had gone to encounter God’s indignation.
Look at his words on the cross, “ Hodie mecum in paradiso :” “ To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Were these the words of one under the torments of hell ? “ Pater, in manus tuas:” “ Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Did he apprehend God angry, as at the damned, when he spake these words ? Nay, those words, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” speak not, that he felt the wrath of God, but a bitter providence ; that God had left him to such wrackings and tortures, and to such wicked hands. So that look at Christ’s passages at and near his passion, and you find not one word or action, that doth bewray, that Christ felt himself any whit at all under God’s fury.
Nay, look through the Scripture : whatsoever is spoken of Christ, it sets him far from being to be thought liable to the wrath of God. Was Christ a child of wrath, as well as others ? Scripture tells you No. “ Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth : I have put my Spirit upon him [Isa. xlii. 1].” How far is that from such language as this, ‘ Behold Christ under my wrath, behold him under the torments of hell.’ And so that passage, “ Lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased [Matt. iii. 17] :” and, at his transfiguration, “ in whom I am well pleased.” And does he ever come to be angry at him, as at the damned, and to lay his fury on him, as on the tormented in hell? It troubles me to think any Christian should hold such an opinion concerning our Saviour; and, indeed, where there is little need to imagine such a thing. Could not Christ have wrought redemption without enduring such heavy wrath, then it were not so improper to conceive so :—but,
II. Christ, in the work of redemption, had not to deal with the wrath of God, but the justice of God : not with his wrath, to bear it,—but with his justice….There is a great deal of difference may be made betwixt wrath and justice….Consider, what was the debt men owed to God ? What owest thou to my Master ?…Damnation was the penalty upon forfeiture of bonds, but the debt was obedience ; that which man owed to God, before he became sinful ; which he owes to God, as he is God ; and which the law challengeth, and which the gospel does also. Does man owe damnation to God, as he is God, as he is Creator, as he is lawgiver ? Or as man is man? No ; God rather owes, and will pay, damnation to man for being sinful.
Therefore, that which Christ was properly to pay for his people, was that…which they could not pay,—viz. obedience. And that the Scripture harps upon : “ As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners ; so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous [Rom. v. 19].” “ He became obedient unto death [Phil. ii. 8].” Now, what was Christ obedient to ? To say, ‘ To the wrath of God,’ were hardly sense : but, ‘ To the will of God ;’ which would prove and try him, and could do it thoroughly, without wrath.
It was the justice of God,… : and if he could not have…that, then there would have been some reason he should have suffered his wrath. The justice of God challenged obedience of men, or no coming to heaven ; …disobedience, or they must to hell. “ Here is enough (saith Christ) to serve for both ends :—they have disobeyed ; here is obedience more than all their disobediences do or can come to : they cannot obey as they should : here is that that makes it out,—viz. obedience infinite.”
III. The truth was, that Christ had to deal with the wrath of the devil, but not at all with the wrath of God. Consider but these passages, and see what was the stress, that Christ had to deal withal in his passion. First, that, Gen. iii. 15 : “ ‘ He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel :’—Satan, the seed of the woman shall destroy thee.” This is explained, Heb. ii. 14 : “ Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same ; that through death he might destroy him, that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”—And 1 John iii. 8 ; “ For this purpose the Son of God was manifest, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” And then observe that, John xiv. 30 ; “ The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” And Luke xxii. 53 ; “ ‘ When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me : but this is your hour, and the power of darkness;’ while I preached, there was a restraint upon you ; because my hour was not come : but now you and hell are let loose, to have your full swing against me.” There was a combat proposed in the sufferings of Christ, before God and angels. Betwixt whom,—Christ and the wrath of God ? No, but betwixt Christ and Satan, and all his power.—What doth God in this quarrel ? Doth God fight against Christ too, as well as the devil ? Was his wrath against him, as well as the devil’s wrath ? What, against his own champion, his own Son ? No ; he only tries him by affliction, not overwhelms him with his wrath. He only lets him alone to himself, to be the shock of Satan. He little assists Satan by his wrath laid on his own champion.
See the great mystery of this great dispensation in brief. God had created the first Adam, and endued him with abilities to have stood. Thus endued, he leaves him to stand of himself, and permits Satan to tempt him ; and he overcomes him, and all mankind are overthrown. God raised up a second Adam, endued with power to foil Satan, do he his worst : and not only with power to withstand Satan, if he will, but a will that could not but withstand Satan. He sets him forth to encounter, and leaves him to himself ; lets Satan loose to do his worst. Satan vexeth him with all the vexation hell could inflict upon him. Did not God love his Son, look with dear bowels upon him all this while ? It is a very harsh opinion to think, that Christ undertaking the combat for the honour of God against his arch-enemy,—that obeying the will of God even to the death,—that retaining his holiness unmoveable in the midst of all his tortures, paying God an infinite obedience ;—it is harsh, I say, to think, that God should requite him with wrath, and look upon him as a wretched, damned person. No, it was the wrath of the devil, that Christ had to combat with, not the wrath of God at all.
IV. Though Christ is said to bear sins, yet for all that God did not look upon him any whit the more wrathfully, or in displeasure,—but rather the more favourably, because he would bear the sins of his people. For God looked on Christ not as a sinner, but as a sacrifice ; and the Lord was not angry at him, but loved him, because he would become a sacrifice. “ Therefore, doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life [John, x. 17].” “ Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great ; and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath poured out his soul unto death [Isa. liii. 12].” Do those words speak the anger of God ? No, his well-pleasedness, his rewarding him for that he would be numbered with transgressors, being none, but a lamb without spot and blemish.
Some say, That Christ was the greatest sinner, murderer, &c. because he bare the sins of those that were so ; which words border upon blasphemy, and speak, besides, a great deal of imprudence and inconsideration. See Lev. xvi. 21, 22 : “ And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities.” Is it not senseless now to say, That the goat was the greatest sinner in Israel ? Was he any whit the more sinful, because the sins of the people were put upon him ? And so of other sacrifices, on whose heads hands were laid, and sins put : was the wrath of God upon the sacrifice ? No ; the pleasure of God was upon it for atonement.
In such sense are those places to be taken : “ The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all [Isa. liii. 6] ;”—“ Who his ownself bare our sins, in his own body, on the tree [1 Pet. ii. 24] :” —“ He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin [2 Cor. v. 21].” He bare our sins, not as a sinner, but as a sacrifice. And that John [John, i. 29] makes plain : “ Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world !” As a lamb at the temple bare the sins of the people,—so Christ bare our sins. How ? Was the lamb guilty or sinful ? No ; as an atonement and sacrifice. And so God looked on Christ as a sacrifice well pleasing to him, not as sinful at all.
Need we any more illustration ? Observe that, Exod. xxviii. 36. 38 ; “ And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it like the engravings of a signet, ‘ Holiness to the Lord.’ And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts : and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”—‘ Holiness to the Lord,’ because he bare iniquity ? It should rather have been ‘ unholiness,’ if Aaron had been any whit the more sinful for bearing the people’s iniquities. But, he is said to bear their iniquities, because he, by his office, undertook to atone for them. How did God look upon Aaron in his priesthood ? With anger, because he bare the iniquity of the people ? Nay, with favour and delight, as so excellent an instrument of atonement. Such another passage is that, Lev. x. 17, &c; “ Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord ?”
Let me ask those, that hold this opinion, two or three questions.
Was Christ so much as punished by God ? Much less, then, was he overwhelmed by the wrath of God, damned by God. Was a lamb punished, that was sacrificed ? He was afflicted, but not punished : for punishment argues a crime or fault preceding ; “ Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins [Lam. iii. 39] ?” Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments ? Certainly, not for his own sins : no, nor for ours neither. He suffered for our sins, bare our sins ; but his sufferings were not punishments for our sins. For, observe two things : First, Christ merited by suffering. Is it good sense to say, ‘he merited by being punished ?’ Strange sense ! to say, ‘ he merited salvation for his by being punished for their sins ;’ but most divine ! to say, ‘ by suffering for the redeeming of them.’ He suffered as a sacrifice to atone, not as a sinner to be punished. Secondly, Did Christ die upon any debt to the law ? Much less, upon any debt, that he owed to God’s wrath. Did the law lay any thing to Christ’s charge ? Did the law condemn him ? And then can we dream of the wrath of God charging him, and damning him ? It is true, that it is said [Gal. iii. 13], “ Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us ; as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” But doth this mean, accursed of God ? Was the good thief accursed of God, when he hung upon the cross ? The meaning is, that he appeared so to the view of men.
So that, as it is impossible, that Christ should lie under the wrath of God for any fault of his own, so it is not imaginable, that he did for ours.
V. It is impossible, that Christ should suffer the torments of hell, or be in the case of the damned. A priest could not fall under the plague of leprosy : and yet, is the High-priest under a damned condition ? Certainly, if his body could not see corruption, his soul could not feel damnation. If his body were not under that, which the bodies of the best saints fall under,—certainly his soul could not be under that, which damned souls fall under.
I might clear this by considering especially three things, which are the chief torments of hell :—1. Separation from God, without any glimpse of his favour. 2. Horror and hell in the conscience, because of guilt. 3. Utter despair. Now need I to show, that it was not possible, that any of these should seize upon Christ ?