“The Life Everlasting: A People Glorified, A Promise to Keep”

posted by R. Fowler White

Having considered the place God prepares for the life everlasting of His people, we turn finally to consider the life everlasting as the church’s hope of glorification and as the promise that God will keep.

In our day, it comes as a shock to many that the God of the Bible has no plan to save everyone without exception. In fact, as the Divine Judge who is completely just, He is under no obligation to save any sinner. Yet, because the God of the Bible is a merciful Savior as well as a just Judge, He has made known to us that His plan is to save any and all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ as He is offered in the gospel. Indeed, He has purposed to save a remnant from all nations (Rev 5:9), a multitude of sinners that no human can number (7:9).

The Apostle John describes in a remarkable way that multitude who will go into the place of the life everlasting we described in our previous post. They are the thirsty to whom Christ gives the water of life: To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment (Rev 21:6). They are those who, formerly unclean, have washed their robes: Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates (Rev 22:14). They are those who conquer: The one who conquers—the one who perseveres in faith despite suffering or death—will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son (Rev 21:7). These are the heirs of God (Rom 8:17), the Bride, the Wife of Christ the Lamb (Rev 21:9). They stand in stark contrast to the people who will suffer the second death. John describes them as the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev 21:8). They are those outside, the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev 22:15). This dramatic and sobering disparity provokes us to ask, would we be among the people who will enter the place of the life everlasting? Then, examine yourself. Are you thirsty? Come and be satisfied by Christ who gives living water. Are you defiled? Come and be cleansed by the blood of Christ. Are you suffering or even dying? Come and receive from Christ that life which is without tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4).

Friends, the life everlasting that the historic church confesses is not just polite talk, is it? It is a promise that God will keep. His words, documented in Scripture, are true and trustworthy. Ponder the realities that His words hold out to all who embrace them: life will overcome death, good will conquer evil, light will dispel darkness, blessing will defeat curse! Since the beginning of history, because of God’s promise, sinners who have trusted Him have looked for these realities in that city where He dwells with His people, in that city of the world to come that is, at long last, secure and pure, beautiful and bountiful, and at rest. In other words, God has documented in Scripture that promise in which He offers us a hope like no other, a promise that is no mere soothing but empty word.

How can the Bible make such audacious claims? Because the Bible, as the documentation of God’s revealed will, makes known to us that the evils of sin and death are not eternal. Yes, they had a beginning, but because God is just, they will meet their end in the lake of fire. God is also merciful, in that He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, to be the only way to life for sinful and dying people who repent and believe in Him. How is it that only Christ can save? Because in His life He was entirely faithful where sinners are entirely unfaithful, and in His death He bore the punishment sinners justly deserve. In His resurrection, God the Father furnished proof that He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through this same Jesus Christ, His only Son (Acts 17:31). Presently, then, while seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, Christ commands sinners everywhere to repent and trust in Him as their only hope of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting (Acts 4:12; 16:31; 17:30).

Following Scripture and using the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the historic confession of the church has been I believe in … the life everlasting. In keeping with God’s revealed plan to save an innumerable company of sinners, faithful congregations of His church make known to us that He will give a final demonstration of the glory of His mercy and His justice on the Day of Judgment. On that last day, those who have looked away from themselves to receive and rest in Christ Jesus alone for their salvation will be raised to honor, their bodies conformed with Christ’s own glorious body (Phil 3:21), and ushered into everlasting life in the comforting presence of the Lord Himself (Rev 7:15-17; 21:3-4). Meanwhile, those who have not seen fit to acknowledge God (Rom 1:28) and have refused to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ will be raised to dishonor and cast into the lake of fire to endure everlasting torment in the wrathful presence of the Lord (John 5:29; Rev 21:8; 2 Pet 3:7, 13). So, again, we examine ourselves: would we live with God, forever enjoying Him, fully and finally freed from sin and death, in the splendor of a New Jerusalem on a new earth under new heavens? Then, adapting the words of Heb 10:23, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

“The Life Everlasting: A Place Prepared”

posted by R. Fowler White

What appeal, if any, does everlasting life hold for you? For us who confess I believe in … the life everlasting, those words are a reminder that this present fallen world is not all there is. Oh, yes, we already experience in our hearts and affections the beginning of eternal joy. Yet we know that the best is yet to come, and with an understated accommodation of language, we call it the life everlasting. For our better understanding of exactly what we confess in this twelfth article of the Apostles’ Creed, we divide our final installment on the Creed into two parts: the first under the heading “A Place Prepared,” and the second under the heading “A People Glorified, A Promise to Keep.” With our topic thus divided up, let’s consider the place prepared according to Article 12 of the Creed, I believe in … the life everlasting.

When we confess belief in the life everlasting, we speak of life in what Isaiah describes as new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17), in what Christ describes as His Father’s house with many dwelling places prepared by Him for His people (John 14:2-3), in what Peter, echoing Isaiah, describes as new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). It’s life in what Scripture comprehensively describes as the world to come (cf. Heb 2:5), conceived as John presents it in Revelation 21–22. Carried away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, John was shown New Jerusalem in a garden setting from which the river of life-giving water flows down the mountain to all the new earth (21:10; 22:1-2). This is more than Paradise Regained: it is Paradise Glorified. It is Immanuel’s Land where God and man will live together in beauty and in bounty.

Still further, the life everlasting is life in the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18), life in a creation set free from bondage to decay (8:21). This is life in what OT prophets foresaw as creation so transformed that former deserts become thick with blossoms (Isa 35), that the earth becomes full of grain and fruit, milk and honey, oil and wine (Isa 4:2; 27:2-6; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). It’s life where springs of water become a river so fountainous that it fills the seas (Zech 14:8), so satisfying that the city of God is glad (Ps 46:4), so refreshing that the salty become sweet (Ezek 47:8-9), so purifying that it washes away iniquity (Zech 13:1), so healing that it sustains the health of the nations (Ezek 47:12; Rev 21:1-2).

The life everlasting is life where God and man live together in security. It’s a life that exceeds what Moses foresaw on the day of Israel’s exodus: God’s people brought into the land, planted on the mountain of His possession, with the place for His dwelling prepared and the sanctuary established (Exod 15:13, 17). It’s the life that the Prophets foresaw, where the nations have hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2:4; Mic 5:10-11; Ps 46:10), and where their animals and plants, though diverse, are in harmony and balance (Isa 60:6-7, 13-14). It’s life in New Jerusalem, the city of peace whose gates will never be shut because all threats, natural and supernatural, will be no more.

The life everlasting is also life where God and man live together in purity. As the Apostle sees it, it’s life in Paradise forever fortified against all that is unclean, all that might defile, all that is evil. In other words, all who live there—both God and man—are holy and nothing profane, and thus the temple is no more. It’s a portrait that reminds us of what Moses taught us about the original Paradise, but better. We remember Eden, a garden-sanctuary surrounded by regions with precious stones and metals, a meeting place for God and man, lush with trees (the trees of knowledge and life in their midst) and brimming with the world’s life-giving waters that welled up and flowing from the garden to the four corners of the first earth (Gen 2:8-14). John gives us a word picture of the final Paradise. Life there will also be in a mountain-top city, having for its light the glory of God, a radiance like that of a very costly jewel. It’s life in a city that is four-square like the holy of holies (Rev 21:3), surrounded by gates and a wall made of every kind of precious stones and metals. Clearly, Christ, who brings His own out from this world, will yet bring them into a new world with Paradise Glorified, a new world with a mountain-top city in which God dwells with His people, at long last, secure, pure, beautiful, bountiful, and at rest.

The life everlasting that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed is, in part, life in a unique other-worldly place, a new, transfigured world to come, in which God and man are to live together forever. With such a panoramic vision before us, we cannot help but ponder the question: does the life everlasting hold for us the appeal that it should have?

We take up the second part of the Creed’s twelfth article in our final post of this series here.

“The Resurrection of the Body”

posted by R. Fowler White

Death raises questions to which most of us anxiously want answers. What exactly is death, and where did it come from? Will it ever end? Though the thought leaders in our day suppress the answers God has given to these questions, it remains the case that if we want answers from God about death, we have to take Scripture seriously. There we read that death has not always been part of human existence. It had a beginning. At creation God fashioned the first man Adam from the dust. By sin Adam failed to keep God’s commandments, and for judgment God returned Adam—and his posterity—to the dust. From then until now, the human race has been groaning for death’s defeat, aching for the body’s deliverance from death. Meanwhile, Article 11 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe in … the resurrection of the body—faithfully points us to Scripture where we find answers about the future of the body and of death itself.

From Scripture we learn, first, that death comes to believers and unbelievers alike and that, at death, our bodies and souls are separated. Specifically, the immortal souls of believers and unbelievers go, respectively, to heaven or hell, but our mortal bodies return to dust where they are kept until the day of resurrection and judgment (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15;  Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6-7). From Scripture we also learn that the souls and bodies of believers and unbelievers will be reunited at the last day. When Christ returns, the bodies of the dead will be reunited with their souls and raised up by the power of Christ (Job 19:26; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:15-17; John 5:28-29; Rom 8:11). Believers’ bodies will be raised to honor, like Christ’s glorious body, and ushered into the new world to enjoy everlasting glory (1 Cor 15:21-23, 42-44; Phil 3:21). Unbeliever’s bodies will be raised to dishonor and cast into the lake of fire to suffer everlasting agony (John 5:27-29; Matt 25:33). Reading that souls and bodies will be reunited on the last day, we must be careful how we hear the confession I believe in … the resurrection of the body: do we hear encouragement or warning (Dan 12:2)?

In light of what’s been said above, someone might ask: just how certain can we be of the body’s resurrection? The Apostle tells us: because Christ’s body was raised, we can be certain that our bodies will be raised. Remember what Paul wrote: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20). In biblical terms, to be the firstfruits is to be the first sample from a full crop. That sample was seen as a sign of God’s pledge and of the people’s confidence that the rest of the harvest would follow. As the firstfruits, then, Christ is the first one to have been raised from the dead never to die again. As one commentator puts is, He is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. Because Christ’s body was raised, then, we can be sure that our bodies will be raised.

There’s a second reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: God’s blessed future for the human race requires it. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor 15:21-22: by a man came death; by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. … in Adam all die, … in Christ shall all be made alive. In the beginning, God announced the future of man: He blessed man to rule and fill the earth. But because the first man Adam failed to rule the beast that opposed God, God cursed Adam with death, and, ever since, the dead and dying children of Adam have been filling the earth. God’s future for the human race would not be frustrated, however. God promised a second man to succeed where the first man failed (Gen 3:15). As the Creed itself reminds us, God the eternal Son became that second man. In His life and death, God blessed Him to overcome sin, raising Him to resurrection life and making Him the one source of resurrection life for soul and body to all who obey His good news. You see, what Adam did does not have to affect our future. Anyone privileged to hear about Jesus should realize that He is the eternal Son who became the second man to gain victory over sin and death in order to give that same victory to all who entrust themselves to Him. United to Adam, our souls succumb to spiritual death, our bodies to physical death. United to Christ, our souls rise to new spiritual life, and our bodies to immortality. The resurrection of our bodies, then, is essential to God’s blessed future for the human race, a future belonging to all united to Christ by faith alone.

There’s a third reason to be certain of the body’s resurrection: unless our dead bodies are raised, we can’t enter the world to come. Ponder Paul’s point in 1 Cor 15:48-49. We have been like the first man Adam, with a body made for life in this present creation. Resurrection has to happen, then, so that we become like the second man Christ, with a body made for life in the new creation to come. Bodies made for this world won’t fit in the world to come (1 Cor 15:50, 53). That world will be God’s final and glorious kingdom. Neither the living nor the dead, in their present condition, can ever enter that kingdom. Our bodies must be changed to be adapted for immortal life in God’s everlasting kingdom.

What, then, is our confession about the future of the body and of death? In the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, we have God’s pledge that, as believers, our groans and aches over our mortality will end. Scripture tells us that our bodies will be delivered from death, never to die again, for death itself will die. Thus, following Scripture, we confess with the Creed: I believe in … the resurrection of the body.

We’ll meditate on Article 12 of the Creed in two installments, the first of which is here.

“I believe in … the forgiveness of sins”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we come to Article 10 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe … in the forgiveness of sins, we’re still in what we take to be the third section of the Creed, where the focus is on the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. It might strike us as odd that the forgiveness of sins is placed in this section. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumes that we will make our requests for pardon to our Heavenly Father (Matt 6:12). Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul tells us that it was Christ the Son who purchased forgiveness for us in His cross work (Eph 1:7). Nonetheless, we also remember that the Spirit’s ministry is to prove the world of sinners wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). In God’s application of salvation to sinners, we can say that the Spirit makes the first move necessary for us to receive forgiveness. So, what is it that we confess when we declare, I believe in … the forgiveness of sins?

To unpack this article we’ll start with this question: do we share God’s view of sin? In Scripture, of course, God talks about sin and condemns it as failure to conform to His nature and moral law in our actions, attitudes, affections, and nature. In briefer terms, sin is failure to be or do as God requires. Sin is also described as a debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of debts. We should know why our sins are debts. It’s because we owe God obedience; that is, we have a debt of obedience to Him, particularly when we disobey. Our disobedience, in truth, expresses hatred of and indifference to God and His requirements, quite the opposite of what we owe Him. Recognizing the reality of personal sin, then, is affirming that we aren’t what God requires us to be, and we don’t do what He requires us to do. In fact, we can’t be or do good as He requires (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 3:23; 5:18-19). Yet, as recently as 2020, almost two-thirds of people surveyed believe that most people are good by nature. Friends, if this survey is accurate, deception about human nature is rampant. The Apostle John is clear: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10). The Apostle Paul is blunt: none is righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10, 12). The point? Only by affirming God’s view of sin can we also rightly affirm the forgiveness of sins as we confess it in the Creed’s tenth article.

When, therefore, the God of the Bible is said to forgive sins, what does that statement mean? It means that God releases us from paying the debt we owe for our sins. It means that He does not count our sins against us (Rom 4:7-8), in that He declares our debt for breaking His law satisfied. On what basis does God forgive us? It is based on the fact that Christ has paid the debt we owe and could never repay. In saying our debt is paid, we’re not to think that forgiven sinners are like convicts who have paid their debt to society and are released from prison, but without the full rights of citizenship. No, forgiven sinners receive back the full rights of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. God restores to friendship those who were once His enemies. He washes defiled sinners clean from all the unrighteousness of their sins. He does these things because He has seen to it that His justice is satisfied. Thus, He shows His kindness to wrongdoers who deserve only His wrath, and He renews the relationship that the offender’s sin had ruined. Yes, the God of the Bible is a forgiving God, and in Article 10 of the Creed, we bear witness to this astounding truth.

Remarkably, to bear witness to God’s forgiveness of sins is, at the same time, to bear witness to God’s justification of the ungodly. The God who forgives sinners is the God who justifies the ungodly. Thus, in the Creed’s tenth article, we do indeed confess justification by grace alone through faith alone. How so? As follows, in what has been called ‘the great exchange.’ Having transferred our sins to the Lamb of God (Isa 53:6) so that, as our substitute, the Lamb paid the penalty for our sins, God declared, “Penalty paid in full,” forgiving the debt we owed. Moreover, completing ‘the great exchange,’ God credited Christ’s righteousness to our account and accepted us as righteous (not merely as innocent) in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). It’s the same for us as it was for Abraham and David (Rom 4:3-6). God counted sinful Abraham to be righteous, though Abraham himself was not. He counted unfaithful David to be faithful, though David himself was not. God counted Abraham and David as having met His demands, though neither had done so. In effect, God the Son says of those like Abraham and David to God the Father, “She has done Us wrong, and she cannot make it right. He owes Us a debt, and he cannot repay it. Charge their wrongdoing to Me and their debt to My account, and then reckon My righteousness to their account.” Little wonder that the testimony of Abraham and David can be heard in words like these: I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; cf. Ps 32:1-2).

Evidently, in our day, too many don’t share God’s view of sin. Instead, they insist that they’re good by nature and can earn God’s acceptance, having no need to seek from Him the forgiveness of sins. The truth is, however, that we sinners have a debt to God that we cannot pay. As such, our only hope is in God Himself, who graciously credits the full payment of debt to all who receive and rest on Christ alone. Wrapped in the robe of righteousness that He provides, we exult in our God, confessing as one, I believe … in the forgiveness of sins.

We consider the Creed’s eleventh article on the resurrection of the body here.

“The holy catholic church [and] the communion of saints”

posted by R. Fowler White

In our series of blogposts on the Apostles’ Creed, we now turn to Article 9: I believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints. Here in the Creed’s third section, we’re focused on the person and work of God the Spirit. Especially regarding His work, we affirm in Article 9 that He brings believers into fellowship with God the Father and God the Son (cf. 1 John 1:4), a fellowship realized in the church and in the communion of saints. Like Article 8, the wording of Article 9 was perfected and expanded in the Nicene Creed. So, once again, our thoughts below will reflect the additions of the Nicene Creed.

The article before us has us confessing our belief in the church created by the Holy Spirit as the holy, catholic, and (with the Nicene Creed) apostolic fellowship of the triune God. First, as a holy assembly, we confess that the church has been set apart from the world for God’s use. Though we once were slaves to sin, we have become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:17-18), God’s sons and daughters committed to His yoke of discipleship. Second, as a catholic assembly, we confess that the church is universal, reaching as far as God’s saving will, Christ’s saving work, and the church’s mission—in other words, extending across time, place, class, and race. Third, as an apostolic assembly, we confess that the church was founded on and is devoted to the Apostles’ doctrine. The church recognizes that, in keeping with Christ’s promise, the Spirit of truth gave through the Apostles all the revelation necessary for building His church. The Apostles’ official testimony cannot be repeated, revised, repealed, or replaced. It was enough, and it was final. Through the Spirit, then, the church is one (as the Nicene Creed puts it) in her common confession from heart and mouth: Jesus is Lord (1 Cor 12:3; cf. Rom 10:9-10). By the Spirit there is one holy commonwealth, one household of faith, one temple (Eph 2:12-22), one covenant people, one olive tree (Rom 11:17-24), one body (1 Cor 12:12-13). Across all times, places, classes, and races, converted offenders have been united—made one—insofar as they are each and all washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:10-11). Therefore, together we confess belief that the church is that company which is joined together by God the Spirit, into one holy, catholic, and apostolic fellowship.

In Article 9, belief in the church goes hand-in-hand with belief in the communion of saints. All three Persons of the Godhead have been involved in creating the church. By the Father’s involvement, the church is the assembly of His children and people. By the Son’s involvement, the church is the company of His disciples, the citizenry of His kingdom, the membership of His body. By the Spirit’s involvement, the church is the fellowship and temple of the living God. The Spirit is the One who creates that fellowship, that community of which believers are a part with the Godhead and with one another. The Spirit is the One who makes believers new creatures in Christ; who gives beauty to Christ’s church through the ministries of the Word, sacraments, and discipleship; and who brings bounty to Christ’s church as He bears His fruit among us, binds us together in love, guides us with wisdom, and stirs us with zeal. All this He does for the good of God’s people, each and all. Thus, we can say that the communion of saints is particularly the Spirit’s work.

There is still more to say about the communion of saints. Through our stewardship of the Spirit’s gifts for ministry, He nurtures in us the graces of faith, hope, and love. He gives us increasing assurance of faith as He bears witness through the Word that we belong to the Lord and that we are sealed for the full harvest of our final redemption. He nurtures hope in us despite the sufferings of this present time, interceding for us Himself according to God’s will with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26-27), but also by putting us together with others to rejoice and to weep together (1 Cor 12:25-26). The Spirit also teaches us that love is indispensable, selfless, and everlasting—indispensable in that we amount to nothing spiritually when love is absent; selfless in that through love we promote the good of others such that we are fitted and held together as the temple of God and the body of Christ; and everlasting in that He teaches us that love is ours not only in this age but in the age to come. The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 26, par. 2), following Scripture, sums it up well: “It is the duty of professing saints to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God and in performing such other spiritual services as help them to edify one another. It is their duty also to come to the aid of one another in material things according to their various abilities and necessities. As God affords opportunity, this communion is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In Article 9 of the Apostles’ Creed, faithful to Scripture, we confess: I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. To be sure, the congregations of Christ’s church are not all that they should be in this age. We take confidence, however, from the truth that to each congregation of His church, Christ has given His Spirit and the means of saving grace both to gather His saints and to grow them. Moreover, we take confidence that Christ, by His Spirit and according to His promise, makes these provisions effective. Knowing these things, we must continue to confess, with much gladness, courage, and hope, that we believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints.

We take up the Creed’s Article 10 on the forgiveness of sins here.

“I believe … in the Holy Spirit”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to Article 8 and confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit. As we do, we’re actually starting the third section of the Creed. The first section (Article 1) focused on the person and creating work of God the Father. The second section (Articles 2-7) focused on the person and saving work of God the Son. Now we come to the third section to focus on the person and work of God the Spirit.

Some describe the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten” Person of the Trinity. This is not, however, historically accurate. In fact, over the centuries, students and teachers of Scripture have made the Spirit the focus of much helpful attention. Still, with nearly 60% of Americans agreeing that “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being,” we should concede that the Spirit is the lesser known of the Three Persons. We also do well to recognize that The Nicene Creed (AD 325, 381, 589) perfected and expanded the wording of Article 8 by affirming, “And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son: Who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” We’re not surprised, then, when catechisms and confessions from the Reformation era explained Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed in light of the Nicene Creed. Our comments below will do the same.

Confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we bear witness that He is, together with God the Father and God the Son, true and eternal God. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is the Third Person of the Godhead. He was active in the work of creation, forming and filling the visible creation. He has been active in the work of salvation, making all things new, particularly God’s people, in and through Christ. In His ministry, He gives the definitive, conclusive testimony (witness) to the Father who sent the Son and to the Son sent by the Father. As the Spirit relates specifically to the Son, Scripture describes Him as constantly present in and with the incarnate Son, from womb (conception) through tomb (death) to throne (ascension). As such, the Spirit is designated as Paraklete, that is, as Divine Defense Counsel, Advocate, Chief Witness, Eyewitness, Character Witness to Christ, the Son of the Father. We must, accordingly, take care to receive the Spirit’s witness. To do otherwise is to blaspheme Him.

The Spirit’s ministry as Divine Witness has had two aspects: revelation and conviction. As minister of revelation, He is the One who has provided all Christ-glorifying revelation through the Prophets and Apostles, guiding them into all aspects of the truth as revealed in Jesus, disclosing to them the fullness of His person and work in His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Because of this ministry of the Spirit, the church should be confident that the Scriptures are Spirit-taught words (1 Cor 2:13). He who is minister of revelation is also minister of conviction (John 16:8-10): He convicts the world of sin, on account of their unbelief and unrepentance; of righteousness, on account of the Son’s ascension to the Father’s throne; and of judgment, on account of the Son’s judgment of Satan.

The work of the Spirit goes beyond revelation and conviction too. In Scripture, we learn that, at creation God, by the Spirit and the word, overcame darkness and deep and made all the world into a veritable palace of the Majestic Creator on high. Then, through Moses, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame Egypt, made Israel a holy nation, and took up residence in the tabernacle as His holy dwelling place. Later, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame the Canaanites under Joshua and David, and had the first temple built under Solomon as His earthly holy house. In the present age, since His first coming, Christ, by the Spirit and the word, has been overcoming Satan’s kingdom and making His people into God’s earthly dwelling place in the Spirit. At His return Christ, by the Spirit and the word, will overcome death, and His people will thereafter reside forever with God in His eternal dwelling place. Clearly, from the beginning, the Spirit has bound Himself to the word, and, by that bond, God has brought and will bring beauty and bounty, security and purity to all the world.

There is one more point for us to bear in mind here about the Spirit in whom we believe. Because true faith is discerning faith, we who confess faith in the Spirit will test both speakers and listeners who claim to be of God (1 John 4:1-6). Not all speakers (4:1-3) or listeners (4:4-6) should affirm that they are of God. No, according to the Apostles, speakers and listeners who truly are of God are created by the Spirit of truth (1 Cor 2:6–3:4). For wherever the Spirit of truth has been at work, speakers and listeners make a common confession that is in keeping with the Apostles’ teaching now documented in Scripture. Preeminently, they confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Eternal Son incarnate, fully God and fully man, one person with two natures, human and divine. If, then, we would discern speakers and listeners who are of God, we will look for the work of the Spirit of truth evident in their common confession of the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel now documented in Scripture.

In Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed, following Scripture, we confess, I believe … in the Holy Spirit. We do so bearing in mind that the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error are both present in this world. How will we know the one from the other? We will know the Holy Spirit of truth because His work is to give sinners new ears to hear the Apostles’ gospel of Christ and new mouths to confess the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel. What, then, will our confession be in these days of widespread confusion about the Holy Spirit? Let’s be sure not to answer in an offhanded, cavalier way.

Our attention turns to Article 9 of the Creed here.

“He Will Come to Judge”

posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing this series of posts on the Apostles’ Creed, we focus now on Article 7: from there—from the right hand of God the Father Almighty—He will come to judge the living and the dead. Just as we did with Article 6, it’s important to go back in history to get the most out of Article 7.

Remember the question that has haunted dying sinners since the fall: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? In the liturgy of Leviticus, God provided Moses His answer to the question: only a man undefiled by sin and death is welcomed on His mountain. Thus God made known that the way to enter His presence undefiled was through the sacrifice and the priesthood that He required. Following God’s direction, Moses set up the sacrifices and the priesthood for the first old covenant worship service, and then he and Aaron were ceremonially cleansed to enter the Holy Place to meet with God and to intercede for the people. The drama of that first old covenant worship service was not over, however, when Moses and Aaron went into the Holy Place. No, the culmination of that service was when Moses and Aaron came out of the Holy Place to bless the people as the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

It is at that point that we engage with the seventh article of the Creed: Jesus our High Priest and King will emerge again from Heaven’s Holy of Holies, descending from His seat at His Father’s right hand. In other words, we confess what the Apostles heard when Christ ascended: This same Jesus, who has been taken … into heaven, will come back in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (Acts 1:10). In the Creed, following Scripture, we confess His purpose in returning: He will come back to judge. As we know, depending on the context, the verb to judge can be negative, or positive, or both. Both is the Creed’s point. Christ’s purpose when He returns is to hand down His rulings, whether negative or positive. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 52, makes this point well when it declares, He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, and He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory. Here we can pick up again the events that unfolded back in Leviticus. After Moses and Aaron came out of the place of meeting, they pronounced God’s blessing on the people, and all the people saw the fiery glory of the Lord, and they let out shouts of joy and fell on their faces, overcome with awe. That was the positive result of Moses and Aaron’s return from the Holy of Holies. Yet that’s not all that happened. There was also the negative result in that first old covenant worship service: Aaron’s two oldest sons Nadab and Abihu decided that any priest could enter the Most Holy Place at any time and in any manner. In response, the fiery glory of the Lord came out and consumed them. When Moses and Aaron reemerged from the tabernacle, then, Israel saw God’s glory alright—not just in His stupefying splendor, but in His terrifying anger. Likewise, when Christ returns from His seat in the heavenly Holy of Holies to judge, all will see His glory. His return will bring comfort to everyone who trusts in Christ, who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all curse from them. To all others, who would enter God’s presence on their own at any time and in any manner, there will only be agony and anguish.

But there is more in Article 7: dead or alive, each and all will be judged by Christ. Notice that it is the living and the dead whom He will judge. To this effect the Apostle John recounts the words of Jesus in John 5:26-29: all people who have ever lived on earth will personally appear before Christ the Judge. By His power the bodies of all who have believed His gospel will be raised to honor and brought into conformity with His own glorious body. Likewise, the bodies of all who have disbelieved His gospel will be raised to dishonor, and their souls united with their bodies in which they formerly lived. All people will appear before His judgment seat to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive judgment according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. Those who disbelieve Christ’s gospel and remain in their sins will be thrown into the lake of fire to suffer eternal punishment, both in body and soul, along with the devil and his angels, having been expelled from God’s gracious presence and from the marvelous fellowship with Christ and His angels. Those who repent of their sins and believe Christ’s gospel will enjoy full and final deliverance, hearing their vindication made known to all as Christ confesses their names before God His Father and His elect angels and wipes away all their tears and, for a gracious reward, brings them into possession of a glory beyond all that they can imagine.

Skeptics mock our confession. They focus on the present, ignore the past, and deny the future. They ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” but their question is no innocent request for information. Rather their question is a mockery of the truth that God intervenes in this world. In all their vanity, skeptics deliberately and conveniently ignore His past interventions. Scripture documents how God intervened to create the first world and to destroy it with a flood, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, to destroy Egypt with plagues, to destroy Canaan with the sword, and to destroy Jerusalem—not once, but twice—by invading armies. Because of God’s supernatural interventions, the inhabitants of all of these places either perished or were deported.

So don’t be shaken when skeptics mock your confession about Christ’s return. Contrary to what they say, God will intervene to destroy the present world with fire (2 Pet 3:4-10). And that last Day will not only be a Day of Destruction, but also a Day of Judgment. From His seat in the Holy of Holies in heaven, Christ will return to judge, and all will see His glory. Until that Day, we must bear witness of His return to judge. For all who would enter God’s presence on their own, there will only be unending agony and anguish. But for all who trust in Christ who submitted Himself to God’s judgment in their place and removed all the curse from them, there will be everlasting comfort and consolation. Even so, we pray, Come, Lord Jesus.

We reflect on Article 8 of the Creed here.

“He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated”

posted by R. Fowler White

Taking up again this series of posts on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, we focus this time on Article 6: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

To appreciate the riches of this article, we should go back in history, back to the beginning of creation to remember that, when God created man male and female, He gave them a home in a holy garden paradise at the top of His holy mountain. There, God would have lived together with our parents in beauty and bounty, in security and purity. After they sinned, however, God drove them from His mountain paradise and stationed angels to keep them from returning to His summit in their state of sin and death. From then on, the issue that has haunted dying sinners was, who will ascend the hill of the Lord? Especially when Israel arrived at Mt Sinai, the issue was, where is the sinless, never-dying man qualified to return to God’s holy presence on His holy mountain top? Even when Israel entered the land and arrived at earthly Mt Zion, the issue was still, where is that man qualified to ascend God’s holy mountain to live together with Him? All of OT history and prophecy was about the search for and the promises of that qualified Man to come. So, we should ask ourselves, have we found that Man yet? Are we even searching for Him? The good news of the NT is that that promised Man has arrived, that that glorified Man has returned to the summit of God’s holy mountain. In fact, following Scripture, that good news is the focus of the Creed in Article 6.

The article begins with the confession that Christ ascended into heaven. The previous articles of the Creed confess that the Eternal Son came from heaven to earth. In the sixth article, we confess even more: that the incarnate Eternal Son returned from humiliation on earth to exaltation in heaven. To grasp what the ascension is about, we should remember the picture of ascension in the order of tabernacle worship. Specifically, we should look back at the tabernacle and at the horizontal movement of the high priest from its outer court into its innermost court. His movement was a divinely designed picture of the qualified Man, the sinless and never-dying Man, ascending God’s holy mountain to return to His holy presence at the summit of His holy mountain. Thus, to watch Jesus ascend to heaven as the disciples did was to watch the incarnate Eternal Son ascend to the heavenly Holy of Holies to take up residence on heavenly Mt Zion in heavenly Jerusalem.

In fact, more than a simple return to heaven, His ascension tells us two other important facts. First, it tells us that Christ was being installed as the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. It’s vital to notice that Jesus fulfills His priestly office from heaven. Indeed, He does so because He is not of the earthly priesthood, which can only serve the earthly copy and shadow of the original heavenly sanctuary (Exod 25:40; cf. Heb 9:23-24). Christ serves only in the heavenly original, where the earthly priest could not. This is to our great advantage as sinners. As priest, Christ offered Himself once for all as a spotless sacrifice to God to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for us, intervening for our interest from His throne.

Second, Christ’s ascension tells us that He was being installed as King in heaven. The Father installed His resurrected Son as King of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come. As King, He calls His chosen people out of the world, bringing them under His power while restraining and overcoming their enemies and then, at the last day, carrying out just retribution against all who neither know God nor obey His gospel. In short, Christ powerfully orders everything for His own glory and the well-being of His people. Thus, when we confess that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, we declare that the Father has installed Christ as both the Priest and the King of His appointment.

We also confess in Article 6 of the Creed that Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. By this witness we tell the world that we know where the (still) incarnate Christ now is. He is in the heavenly Holy of Holies, on the heavenly holy mountain top where the heavenly capital of the universe is. We might be inclined to ask, why does it matter where Jesus is now seated? Because His location at the Father’s right hand tells us and others that He occupies the seat of highest favor with God the Father, the place of supreme power and cosmic kingship, as the one and only Mediator between God and man. In the heavenly sanctuary upon heavenly Mt Zion, He is not only accessible to all who take refuge in Him; He is also powerful to lavish upon all who believe, anywhere in the world, all the benefits that He purchased for them.

In confessing that Jesus Christ has taken His place at the Father’s right hand, we note emphatically that He is seated. What does it matter not only where He is seated, but also that He is seated? Because His seated posture tells us that He has offered the last sacrifice. The many Levitical priests were continually offering the same ineffectual sacrifices, and they were always standing (Heb 10:11): there was no chair in the earthly tabernacle. Christ, however, has taken His seat, having offered the single, permanently powerful sacrifice. No longer standing, He is seated … He has taken His seat. He is thus a priest at rest because His work of sacrifice is finished. By the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all, sins are forgiven. Oh, to be sure, His work of intercession continues. Our great high priest is now in office, in session, to intercede for all who believe, pleading the merits of His sacrifice of obedience on earth to be applied to them, answering all the accusations against them, making sure they have peace of conscience despite their daily failings, welcoming them without hesitation to the throne of grace, and accepting who they are in Him and what they do for Him.

When we bear witness that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand, we make known that there is hope for dying sinners who would live forever with God. That hope is in Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, the sinless, immortal, and glorified Man, who has returned to the summit of God’s holy mountain. In His life He was entirely faithful where we sinners are entirely unfaithful. In His death He bore the punishment we sinners justly deserve. On the third day He rose again from the dead, and forty days later He ascended from earth to heaven to take His seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Therefore, with one voice we gladly confess that in Christ alone we find the sinner’s only hope of salvation from the wrath to come.

We turn our attention to Article 7 in the Creed here.

“The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue to work our way through the Apostles’ Creed, examining its articles in the light of Scripture, we come now to Article 5: The third day He rose again from the dead.

There is no doubt that this is what Scripture teaches. Moreover, this is what the church of Jesus Christ, following Scripture, has confessed throughout its history. That is, with Scripture, the true church continues to confess that Christ really and truly did rise from the dead, and in rising His soul was really and truly reunited with His body, inasmuch as the two had been separated at death. He really and truly did come out of His tomb in which He had been buried, despite the steps that the Roman guards had taken to make the tomb secure. He rose again the same Person, the same Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man—only now glorified! The same body, the one that had fallen victim to death and burial, rose again—only now it was a glorious body (Phil 3:21).

The particular phrase that the Creed uses to affirm Christ’s resurrection is noteworthy: He rose again. Elsewhere we read that He was raised again. What’s the difference? The Creed’s word choice puts an emphasis on Christ’s power to rise from the dead, to raise His body from the grave. In other words, the Creed bears witness that Christ rose again from the dead because Scripture teaches that, as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself (John 5:26). In this connection, we remember that Jesus had declared, speaking of His body: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days (John 2:19). He had also proclaimed: I have authority to lay down My life, and I have authority to take it up again (John 10:18).

It’s equally noteworthy that the Creed specifies that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel (e.g., 1 Cor 15:4), to which the Creed bears witness, was (and is) not a novelty. The resurrection that they preached and documented was the NT fulfillment of the promises of God in the OT Scriptures. Moses, the Prophets after him, and the Psalms testified that the Christ would suffer and rise again from death on the third day. Strikingly, Scripture provides many pictures (foreshadowings) of resurrection, including birth from barrenness, return from exile, release from a death sentence, release from prison, deliverance from the waters of death, deliverance from thirst, hunger, sickness; deliverance from the sting of the viper, and the raising up of a fallen tabernacle. In the places where we find these themes, we find that life comes from death after three days, on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel, then, was the OT gospel. 

So what difference does Christ’s resurrection make? How does it benefit us? First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that believers share in the righteousness that He obtained for them by His death. In other words, through faith, God reckons to sinners Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our sins. By Christ’s resurrection, God our Judge declares: “Debt paid in full!” And not only that. By Christ’s resurrection our Divine Judge declares to us who believe: “Accepted as righteous in Christ; in Him you have all the righteousness I require.” Second, by His power we are raised up to live a new life of obedience to God. United to the resurrected Christ by faith, we have been raised from death in sins to a new life of seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Third, Christ’s bodily resurrection is to us believers God’s sure pledge of our own glorious bodily resurrection. Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Cor 15:20), the first one to have been raised from the dead to die no more. Christ is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. For believers, then, their resurrection is as sure as Christ’s resurrection. Particularly as believers get older, the more they appreciate God’s pledge of their own resurrection, a pledge that holds true because Christ is the firstfruits of the full resurrection-harvest to come.

Of course, our pagan culture is flooded with skepticism of the miraculous, particularly about the resurrection of Christ. Yet we forget that the original skeptics of His resurrection were His first disciples. Some folks like to portray them as a gullible, superstitious group that simply took resurrection as a given. But that portrait is fake news. For example, the NT Gospel writers make a considerable effort to show their readers that Jesus’ earliest followers did not go to His tomb believing in His resurrection or presuming His resurrection. No, they went to His tomb with spices because they expected to find a decaying dead body there. There was no hint that they anticipated His resurrection. In fact, it was a surprise to them. Now don’t get me wrong: the resurrection of Jesus should not have been the surprise to His disciples that it was. After all, what they found at His tomb was exactly what He had predicted on at least six different occasions. In fact, what they found at the sepulchre was exactly what they had been told they would find and what they could and should have remembered and expected. But they did neither of these things. In truth, so-called “Doubting Thomas” turned out to represent, to some degree, all of Jesus’ earliest followers when he said: Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.

The point is, Jesus’ initial followers became convinced of His resurrection as God bore witness to them in word and deed and as they saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him (1 John 1:1-3). The first followers of Jesus became what they were not at first. They became eyewitnesses of His resurrection. This is why the message of the Apostles, documented in the Scriptures, is what it is. Of the resurrected Christ, the Apostles all ended up confessing with Thomas, My Lord and my God! Readers and hearers of Scripture, then, are not expected to be gullible. No, they are expected to take seriously what the historic church of Christ persists in confessing forthrightly with the Apostles’ Creed, following the Scriptures of the Prophets and the Apostles: the third day Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.

Our meditations turn to Article 6 of the Creed here.

“He Descended into Hell”

posted by R. Fowler White

It’s an understatement to say that the last phrase of Article 4 of the Apostles’ Creed—He descended into hell—has generated a lot of controversy. Because its appearance in the Creed came later than its other articles and because its meaning is open to question, some advocate for removing it from the Creed’s publication or, at the very least, for excluding it from the Creed’s public recitation. Those opinions deserve our attention, but they are not conclusive. For our purposes here we’ll take our point of departure from J. A. MacCulloch’s work, The Harrowing of Hell (1930). He provides a fair and reasonable basis for the article’s acceptance for the church’s continued consideration and recitation as follows: “Although the confessional use of the Descent doctrine was only sporadic and occasional before the eighth century, on the other hand the doctrine itself was mentioned repeatedly by the Fathers and in the religious literature of the early centuries.” So it remains appropriate for us to look more closely at the interpretation of the Creed’s words He descended into hell.

Even with repeated mention of the Descent, there remains no consensus on its interpretation. Early on, the received text of the Creed’s Descent clause was typically taken as a simple declaration that Christ, having humbled Himself to be crucified, dead, and buried, had also been consigned to the common ignominious place of the dead, namely, the grave (as distinguished from the place of suffering-beyond-the-grave, namely, hell). As time moved on, however, various other views of the Descent arose. Some believed that after His death Christ’s disembodied soul went to hell in order to complete what was lacking in His suffering on the cross. Others affirmed that His soul went to the place of waiting for disembodied souls (aka limbus patrum) in order to facilitate the transport of the souls of pre-Christ saints to heaven. Still others believed that Christ’s soul went to hell in order to achieve and announce His victory over it.

Strikingly, despite their variety, common to these views is the belief that between His death and His resurrection Christ’s disembodied soul relocated to a place other than and in addition to the heavenly paradise of God to which He referred on the cross (Luke 23:43, 46; cf. Matt 27:50). Furthermore, as we look into the attempts to justify this belief, we realize that basically they involve imposing dubious interpretations of Eph 4:8-10 and 1 Pet 3:18-20 onto the supposed chronology and theology of events related to Christ’s soul between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Suffice it to say here that neither Eph 4:8-10 nor 1 Pet 3:18-20 refers to a relocation of Christ’s soul to hell. To the contrary, the Ephesians text affirms His descent from heaven to earth for His incarnation, while the First Peter passage contemplates His ascension (not His descent), in which was proclaimed His victories over sin, death, and all the fallen angelic host. In short, Scripture provides no witness to the relocation of Christ’s soul after His death to any place other than the paradise of God in heaven. In fact, the Creed itself seems to point the way to a better understanding of its Descent clause. That clue appears when we notice the likeness between the second article and the words dealing with Christ’s suffering. Even as the second article presents distinguishable perspectives on Christ’s person in the two phrases His only Son and our Lord, so the words about His suffering present distinguishable perspectives in the two phrases was crucified, dead, and buried and He descended into hell. We can elaborate briefly by looking first to Scripture and then to the Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms.

Turning to the Prophets and Apostles, we find that they vividly narrate the incarnate Son’s suffering in both soul and body from Gethsemane to the grave. For example, Isaiah, cited by Peter (1 Pet 2:22-25), prophesied expressly about the anguish of soul and body that would arise in the Lord’s Servant as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4), was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5), endured our chastisement (53:5), and bore the iniquities and sin of many (53:11-12). Isaiah saw that, despite His innocence, the Servant would be stricken for the transgression of the Lord’s people, enduring even the degradation of being cut off from the land of the living (53:8) and swallowed up into the belly of the grave (53:9). Indeed, the Prophet discerned that deepest misery would be His because it was the will of the Lord to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and because the Lord imputed to Him the iniquity of us all (53:6). Isaiah thus envisioned the Lord’s righteous Servant voluntarily subjecting Himself to be for His many seed their guilt offering, their sin-bearing substitute, their surety (53:10-12). Fittingly, we find Matthew reporting Jesus’ words to His disciples in Gethsemane: “My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Climactically, Matthew records Jesus’ dying words as those from David’s prophetic psalm about God’s royal Son who had put Himself in harm’s way for His people: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Ps 22:1; cf. Heb 5:7).

Reading such words, we have to ask ourselves: what is Jesus’ lament if not the incarnate Son’s disclosure of the otherwise indiscernible truth that, on the tree (Deut 21:23), He had become a curse for us (Gal 3:13), that for our sake God had made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21)? Is His lament something other than His testimony to the gravest torment of a soul subjected to divine judgment, a torment compounding the sheer agony in a body brutalized by human hands? Are those words anything but His witness to the hellish suffering that He underwent in accord with divine foreordination and prophecy, while drinking the cup of God’s holy wrath against us sinners (Matt 26:39, 42) and bearing and feeling the crushing weight of God’s just anger against our iniquities imputed to Him? Reading this sampling of what the Prophets and Apostles tell us about Christ’s suffering, we realize that it is not the case that between His death and His resurrection His soul relocated to hell. Rather it is the case that, in God’s reckoning, when He laid our iniquities on His incarnate Son, He effectively relocated hell onto Christ Himself such that from Gethsemane to the grave His humiliation for sinners reached its nadir in both soul and body.

Compelled by Scripture texts like those above, we appreciate the help offered for our understanding of the Descent clause in the Reformed catechisms of Heidelberg and Westminster. Heidelberg instructs us why the Creed adds the clause He descended into hell in these words: “To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment” (Q & A 44). In a complementary fashion, Westminster takes us back to the earliest interpretation of the Creed’s most contested clause. After expounding Christ’s humiliation in His death in the Larger Catechism Q & A 49, we read in Q & A 50 that His “humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing 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.” Taken together, these catechisms assist us to see in the Descent clause what Ursinus suggested in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 232): “the descent into hell in the Creed follows the burial of Christ, not because it was accomplished after his burial; but because it is an explanation of what precedes concerning his passion, death, and burial, lest something should be detracted from these.” In that light, many will find good reason to include and recite the words of the Descent clause. In them we confess that the benefits of Christ’s suffering for us sinners extend from the visible to the invisible, even from the least extreme to the most extreme torments, pains, anguish, and ignominy of both soul and body. Certainly, we recognize too with Olevianus (see his A Firm Foundation, p. 71) that “the further Christ humbled Himself for us in all His anguish, and the more dearly He paid for our salvation, the more firm our trust in the love of God and in the satisfaction of Jesus Christ becomes.”

We reflect on Article 5 of the Creed here.

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