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An Examination of Bishop Pearson’s Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed

(Continued from page 35.)

The Bishop proceeds to the next point: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate,” declaring his belief, beyond all possibility of contradictions, that the eternal Son of God did suffer for the sins of men. Now in the preceding section he asserts that the divine nature did not and could not suffer, but only the humanity; and though the divine nature was joined to the human, it suffered as little by the sufferings of the humanity as if it had not been united to it; therefore the Son of God, which was the divine nature of <<86>>the compound Jesus Christ, did not suffer, and the Bishop contradicts the truth which he affirms to be beyond contradiction.

He says in the preceding section that the two natures each kept their respective properties distinct, without the least mixture or confusion. The Bishop refers to several occurrences which he calls types of the crucifixion:—Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice; the brazen serpent in the wilderness; the paschal lamb. I wonder he did not discover that the two young men who attended Abraham were types of the two thieves between whom Jesus was crucified. As to the command that “Ye shall not break a bone thereof,” concerning the paschal lamb, which he pretends alluded to and was fulfilled in the crucifixion,—is it probable, or indeed possible, that a man should be suspended by nails inserted through his hands and feet, without one of the many minute bones of which those parts of the human frame are composed being broken? Or is it likely the spear head of the Roman soldier entered the side of Jesus without fracturing a rib?

The Bishop speaks of Jesus “cancelling the law of commandments by nailing it to his cross.” Now what is meant by this sentence I have often heard it asserted that Jesus had abrogated the law, though in contradiction to what he himself declared; but this was explained as the ceremonial part of the law, not the moral precepts; but the Bishop declares he cancelled the law of commandments, which must be the whole of the law. In the following section, commenting on the words, “was crucified, dead,” he explains that the eternal Son of God did, in our nature, which he took upon him, really and truly die. His soul was actually separated from his body, although neither soul nor body was separated from the divinity. Here he can only be speaking of the mortal frame of Jesus, from which the soul was separated by death at the crucifixion. The divinity, the eternal Son of God, had nothing to do with the death of the humanity. The two natures kept their respective properties distinct, without the least mixture or confusion; it is therefore a fallacy to say that the divinity did really and truly die, because the humanity, which was distinct from it, did die. The fact that the divine nature did suffer and die is repeatedly denied in the course of the “Exposition,” as frequently is the distinctness of the two natures affirmed, which makes it impossible that the divinity could feel the suffer<<87>>ings of the humanity. Yet it is asserted that the Son of God died for the remission of the sins of mankind. The Bishop refers to the wonderful events said to have taken place at the tune of the crucifixion, asking why did the sun put on mourning? why were the graves opened? why were the rocks rent? but because the God of nature died. This again points to the divinity, and can by no means be applied to the humanity, in the frame of Jesus, which alone died.

The note (e) in this section is a remarkable instance of unmeaning phraseology. In the following section, the Bishop takes great pains to prove that the body was to be buried, such being the custom among the Jews. This point does not appear in itself of much importance, but is used to prove the resurrection, showing that the body was laid in the sepulchre and watched, to which we shall refer in the sequel, but now pass to the dogma, “He descended into hell.” This article, the Bishop tells us, was first inserted by the Church of Aquileia, about four hundred years after the death of Jesus, into what is still called the Apostles’ Creed. The Bishop explains what he understands and believes by these words, for it appears we must not take the meaning of the dogmas of Christianity from the natural meaning of the words in which they are enounced in the creeds. The subject which was being treated on, as appears from the text and the Bishop’s Exposition, was “the only begotten and eternal Son of God;” but in this section the Bishop calls it “Christ,” and says that, his sufferings being finished on the cross, his soul went to the place where the souls of men are kept for their sins. Now by using the word Christ, and referring to his death, we must understand that he is speaking of Jesus, and that it was his soul that descended into hell, and not the Son, in contradiction to the positive words of the creed. It appears that, in assuming human nature, the Son assumed the soul as well as the body of Jesus,  which were made use of afterwards,—the body to suffer stripes, the ignominy and the agony of the cross, and the soul to go to hell; all which, by the constitution of Christianity, was to be performed by the Son personally. In the notes appended to this Exposition, we are given the different opinions which have been broached on this article. The writers all seem to have considered the words to have a metaphorical or figurative meaning, and not to be understood literally; but the Bishop considers their explana<<88>>tions absurd, and unsupported by any authority, and embraces the opinion that the soul of Christ did really descend or pass into hell, and for the purpose of appearing there in the similitude of a sinner, as he had appeared on earth in the similitude of sinful flesh; averring that by his descent into hell all those who believe in him are secured from going there, and that as Satan, who had possession of those regions, had no power over him, so he would not be able to exercise any over the souls of those who believed in him. Though the Bishop in his Exposition speaks of the soul of Christ, from the sequel it would seem he means the divinity, since he assigns to it the power of preserving souls from Satan. In that case “the only Begotten” is called the “soul of Christ.” Or would he have us to understand that the soul of the Divinity was separated from his body? The words of the creed are very explicit. Speaking of the Son, it says “He descended into hell.” The Bishop’s exposition of the meaning of those words involves them in inexplicable confusion.

In commenting on the following words—“The third day he rose again from the dead,” he affirms that “the eternal Son of God did not long continue in a state of death, but did revive and raise himself by reuniting the same soul which was separated, to the same body which was buried, and so rose the same man.” From this we learn that the divinity was the soul which was separated by death from the body of Jesus. Now as it is believed that the soul is contained in the human body, it follows that the eternal Son of God, who was reunited to the body of Jesus, from which it had been separated, had been and was again contained within the frame of Jesus. The Bishop, in explaining how we are to understand the fourth article—“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,” points to the twofold nature of the second person of the Trinity, and reprobates the supposition that the divinity could suffer, saying that, although the divinity was united to the humanity, it suffered as little as if if had not been united; or, in other words, that the divinity did not suffer at all. But here in the fifth article he confesses that the eternal Son of God did die, and continued for a certain space of time in a state of death; that the humanity also was dead and was resuscitated by the revival and return of the soul, namely, the eternal Son of God. He also asserts that the said soul rested <<89>>in the grave on the Sabbath day. It is not easy to discover what it was that rested in the grave. It could not be the divinity, and in the preceding section he maintained that the soul of Christ descended into hell.

In the notes he supports the truth of the descent and resurrection on the third day, by the boast attributed to Jesus: “Destroy the temple, and in three days I will build it up;” (a boast he might safely make without any fear of being called upon to realize it;)—and by his assertion, Matt. 12:40, that he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. This last promise, or prophecy, is among the greatest difficulties the Christians have to surmount. There is no room for metaphorising or typifying; the words are clear. Three days and three nights: now Jesus was buried towards evening on the Friday, and according to Matt. 28:1, had risen when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, when “the pious women came to anoint him,” a space which could scarcely exceed thirty-six, or at most forty hours. The Bishop has recourse to several expedients to remove this difficulty, beginning with the observation that the two expressions above quoted, as well as “After three days I will rise again,”—Destroy the temple, and in three days I will build it up,” “must be interpreted so as they may be reducible to the more general and constant phrase of his rising on the third day.” This is a very convenient method of removing a difficulty by interpreting the contradictory words so that they may agree.

(To be continued.)