The Heidelberg Catechism has stood the test of time as one of the most beloved confessions used by many Reformed churches. It has also been common, especially from the time of the Synod of Dort in the early seventeenth-century, for Dutch Reformed ministers to preach sermons on the Catechism in the second service of the Lord’s Day. This enabled pastors to instruct their congregations regularly in the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. This has the advantage of keeping the whole counsel of God before the entire congregation, which is important for pastors to do through some venue or another in order to strengthen the church in sound doctrine and life.
Theodorus VanderGroe (1705-1784) was one of the last proponents of the so-called Dutch Second Reformation. This movement, which was a counterpart in many respects to English Puritanism, aimed to inculcate the experimental knowledge of God in the church. The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life and Death represents Bartel Elshout’s translation of VanderGroe’s sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism. This work, which was well-loved by many in its time and long afterwards, is now available in English for the first time. It is easy to read and full of helpful pastoral counsel.
VanderGroe’s sermons are simple and full of Scripture and application. The pastoral quality of this book pervades throughout. He rarely engaged in polemics beyond passing references in order to teach the truths of Scripture with greater clarity and power (e.g., 1:141, 269, 347). The sermons generally follow the division of the Catechism into fifty-two Lord’s Days, with the exception of adding several sermons treating the preface to the Ten Commandments and a few additional sermons at various points, in which he ran out of time to treat his subject fully in a single sermon. His treatment of the Ten Commandments is particularly helpful, since his exposition is brief, to the point, and edifying.
Another useful feature of this set is that VanderGroe appealed to the work of all three persons of the Trinity throughout, even concluding the entire work with a Trinitarian doxology. For example, in treating prayer, he wrote,
Thus, believers are fully in need of the triune God in all their prayers – one God, the Father, out of and from whom grace must proceed; one God, the Son, who must secure and make available this grace from the Father; and one God, the Holy Spirit, who must transmit the grace of the Father and the Son to believers and work it within their souls. Therefore, though believers end in God the Father in their prayers, they go to him through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit, they come to the Son and are united to him (2:439).
This trinitarian emphasis is welcome today, both in light of the increasing interest in the doctrine in many circles and in light of the common assumption that Reformed authors treated the Trinity only as an appendix to the doctrine of God. Vandergroe helps readers grow in devotion to the triune God even as they work their way through the entire system of Christian doctrine.
In spite of the usefulness of VanderGroe’s sermons, they are marked by some pastoral imbalances. Most of his direct application and exhortations were directed towards the unconverted exclusively. He frequently describes the blessedness of Christians without applying the truths of Scripture to them directly, exhorting those who do not match such descriptions simply to wait for the Spirit to work faith in them as they sit under the means of grace. This differs from the emphases of the New Testament, which directs people to exercise Spirit-wrought faith and repentance rather than merely waiting for it. He also gives the impression throughout that most of his readers are presumably outsiders to experiencing the glorious truths of Scripture. For example, he states that “thousands in the church” believe mistakenly that Christ died for them (1:336). While it is true that there are hypocrites mixed among true believers in the church, the tone of VanderGroe’s exhortation results in pastoral imbalance that runs the risk of discouraging many of his readers rather than teaching them how to exercise faith in Christ for all things.
At one point, VanderGroe imagined some in his audience complaining that while ministers should address faults in their sermons, they should not be so ready to condemn their hearers are being false Christians. He even depicted this audience as saying that the minister says many good things in his sermons, though he is at fault in condemning his hearers too readily. He responded that such hearers were unconverted (2:297). However, while this reviewer agrees with VanderGroe that ministers should press hearers to self-examination, he agrees with his imagined audience that his pastoral emphases were often imbalanced in favor of conviction at the expense of comfort. This does not match the tone of the Heidelberg Catechism, which addresses the issue of hypocrisy while expecting readers to exercise firm faith in Christ throughout. While VanderGroe’s teaching is often true in relation to this issue, he did not always present the truth with balance by accentuating its positive aspects. In this reviewer’s opinion, it is better, under self-examination, to exercise faith in Christ to supply all that we lack than to be left wondering whether we have faith in Christ at all. This kind of self-examination might even lead to more conversions in the long-run, with the Spirit’s blessing.
In spite of some deficiencies, The Christian’s Only Comfort in Life and Death is a welcome addition to the growing body of English translations of classic Reformed literature. Discerning readers will find much food for the soul in these pages. VanderGroe wrote excellently and frequently about Christ’s glory and the believer’s union with him, which enables readers to offset his pastoral imbalances. This book should help pastors, in particular, preach the whole counsel of God more effectively by providing them with a model of clarity and simplicity of style. It should help all readers meditate on the great truths embodied in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Don't forget our current giveaway of a set of VanderGroe's sermons.

Thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Books—the book sponsor of Meet the Puritans—we have one (1) set of the newly translated The Christian's Only Comfort in Life and Death: An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism by the influential Dutch Second Reformation preacher, Theodorus VanderGroe. Deadline to register is Friday, April 7.

Stay tuned this coming Monday and Tuesday for reviews and articles on this book to give you a sense of its valuable content.

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Pray for Meet the Puritans editor, Danny Hyde, as he travels and speaks at the second annual Soli Deo Gloria Conference in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, March 23-Saturday, March 25. He will be joining MtPs friends, Lee Gatiss and Mark Jones as they speak on the theme La Reforma Continúa, "The Reformation Continues."

Watch the stream on Youtube (Iglesia Cristo rey Las Condes) and Facebook (Ministerios Soli Deo Gloria).

¡Gloria a Dios!

Last time we examined the Anglican principle in how the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer form the confessional structure of our theology and worship. This time, we need to illustrate how the Articles have an almost narrative structure. In other words, what is established in the Articles that preceded, inform the content of a subsequent article. This principle may be an obvious principle to many, but there is a failing within American Anglican thinking to interpret an article as a proof-text, as it were, of their theological presuppositions.
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.
Oliver O’Donovan reminds us that the exposition of our redemption in the life, death, and resurrection is the most weighty task in theology, and also the hardest. With the doctrine of the Trinity established in Article 1, the Thirty-nine Articles develops its doctrine still further in Articles 2 through Article 5, the doctrines of the person and work of Christ. The topic of Article 2 is the understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ in light of his gracious work to save: “The Son…took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin;” he “…truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.”
Like Article 1, this article substantially reproduces the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Article 3) via Cranmer’s “first draft” Thirteen Articles of 1538. Article 2 was intended to summarize the teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ from the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. According to Gerald Bray’s Documents of the English Reformation, Cranmer's added phrases concerning eternal generation and consubstantiality are original (p. 286). Only the last phrase, clarifying the atonement, was added in 1563. Cranmer’s original reads: “to be a sacrifice for all sin of man, both original and actual” to “to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for the all actual sins of men.”
The Article states that there are three things necessary for salvation to know:
  1. Christ is truly God, and he is truly man.
  2. Christ both truly God and man is united in one person. 
  3. Christ is our Savior. 
The Lord Jesus Christ is truly God because his essence or substance is divine. He has a whole and perfect divine nature. Complete in the Godhead, he is in an eternal and perfect relationship with the Father. He is wholly God and yet distinguishable in relation to the Father, as the Son (and he is begotten from everlasting of the Father). This relationality is termed his “generation” and is sometimes used synonymously with filiation.
When the Article refers to Christ as “Son,” we are not to think human terms, but of the precise language of the Nicene Creed (325AD) we regularly use in the Lord’s Supper of the Book of Common Prayer. When we use the term, Son, we do not mean that he is inferior to the Father, or that as the son he moves from non-being to existence, but an eternal and perpetual relation in the Godhead. It is an unchanging activity that is in God’s very essence as Trinity. We are aware of this relationship because as the "Word" of the Father, the Son perfectly and completely expresses the one and revealed the purpose of God.
To enable human beings to be in a real personal relationship with God and for the salvation of human beings to be accomplished, it was necessary for Jesus also to be truly human as he is truly divine. This is the incarnation, the conception by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Thus, Christ gained a full, true human nature. It is the incarnation that draws the two entire and perfect natures together in one Person, never to be divided. The two natures are distinct, not separate. This understanding was the fruit of centuries of reflection that culminated in the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Having established Jesus’ perfect divinity and humanity, the article summarizes how he is uniquely and perfectly the Savior of his people. Salvation is first rooted in the real historical events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In his human nature, the Lord Jesus “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.” His resurrection is set out in Article 4, but Article 2 sets his work both temporally and logically in his death. 
Article 2 emphasizes that Jesus’ death brings reconciliation with the Father and is an atoning sacrifice. The latter we understand readily, but what of the former when most of Scripture speaks more of us being reconciled to God? The article underlines the point that our real problem is that our sinfulness deserves God’s righteous anger, and only the death of the transgressor will satisfy the violation of his holiness. Article 2 stresses that Jesus is our Savior because he is “a sacrifice” for our original guilt and actual sins. It is a substitutionary atonement: Jesus according to his human nature dies in our place, satisfying God's perfect justice. The language change made in 1563 is the language used in the Roman Catholic view of the Council of Trent (1545-1563): that while Jesus’ death dealt with original guilt inherited from Adam, it required the sacrifices of Mass to deal with our actual sins. However, the Article affirms Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is sufficient in itself to atone. 
Although written to counter Roman Catholic theology, it is today’s Arminian Anglicans that have a lot of trouble accepting original guilt, and among Baptists, there is the "age of accountability" so that children are not born guilty or culpable before God until they reach a certain age when they can make their decisions. 
An Arminian Anglican would argue that we have Adam’s corrupt nature but not Adam’s guilt. Therefore human beings are corrupted physically and intellectually, but not volitionally. Therefore the will retains its ability to seek God through the invention of prevenient grace that replaces original guilt. God gives a prior grace that nullifies the legal guilt. When an Arminian Anglican insists that Article 17 (Of Predestination and Election) will allow a free will, they have forgotten the point in Article 2 points on the nature of Christ's atonement for Adam's guilt. We will need to revisit this principle when we come to Article 28 and the Prayer Book on the sacrament of baptism.
Continuing our series on the covenant theology of the Westminster Standards (see parts #1, #2), the third element of a covenant, namely conditions, may be the most controversial and perhaps the most confusing. In fact, at least some of the controversy over the conditionality of the covenant of grace is due to the confusion surrounding the meaning and use of the word “condition.”
Theological words and phrases may and do have multiple meanings. For example, the phrase “republication of the covenant of works” may refer to a number of different and quite distinct views. The same may be true of “the two kingdoms” or “covenantal justification.” Consequently, a person may hold to one understanding of republication, of the two kingdoms, and of covenantal justification and reject other understandings of those very same terms. Or a person may reject the terms themselves but keep the concepts and refer to them by different names. For example, a person may reject the term “covenant of works,” but still embrace the theology behind that term and refer to it by “covenant of life” or “Adamic Administration.”
All of this and more is true of the theological term “condition.” Many puritans used it and by it they generally meant whatever is required on our part in the covenant of grace. Although they were careful in their use of the word to avoid legalism, Arminianism and Romanism, they were sometimes still accused of all three. Of the puritans who embraced conditionality, some believed that faith, repentance, and obedience are all conditions, albeit in different senses; while others believed that faith is the only condition of the covenant. Samuel Rutherford, for example, argued that faith is the condition of the covenant while “holiness and sanctification is the condition of the Covenanters.”
There were some puritans who rejected the term “condition” altogether. Tobias Crisp argued that there were no conditions in any sense. Faith, thus, is not a condition or requirement of salvation, it is rather evidence of salvation. William Bridge wrote in 1667 that there were no conditions in the new covenant, which he limited to the elect, because if a requirement on our part is promised then it can’t be a condition. Even faith, therefore, is not a condition because God promises to give faith to his people.  ridge did, however, believe that faith, obedience and repentance are required in the covenant as duties.
In light of these disagreements, what do the Westminster Standards say about conditions and the covenant of the grace? Since, antinomianism, which categorically rejected all conditions, was considered to be a grave threat to orthodoxy in mid-17th century England, it is not surprising at all that not only the theology but the term “condition” is found in the Westminster Standards. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 says that the Lord requires man to have faith in order to be saved. Similarly, Westminster Larger Catechism 32 says that faith is required as “the condition to interest them [sinners] in him [the Mediator].” Although the Standards speak of repentance and good works as necessary for salvation in a broad sense, they do not employ the word “condition” with respect to either of them. Thus, strictly speaking only faith is the condition of the covenant of grace.
Since a good number of puritans believed that repentance and obedience are also conditions of the covenant, it is noteworthy that the Standards limit the condition to faith. What accounts for this? The Standards were probably so formulated in order to accommodate the views of those who limited the condition of the covenant to faith such as Samuel Rutherford. By affirming that faith is a condition, by not denying that repentance and obedience are conditions, and by expressing the necessity of repentance and obedience, the Westminster divines produced a document that rejected antinomianism on the one hand, and embraced the varied opinions concerning conditionality on the other hand. The Westminster Standards, therefore, are, at least with respect to the topic of covenant conditions, a fine example of a Reformed consensus document.

Our latest giveaway is of two (2) I AM: Kids Sing Psalms! CDs from our friends at Crown & Covenant Publications. Enter here.

The Puritans set high standards for preaching. They believed they should preach the Bible from their own experience of it and apply what they preached to the particular needs of their hearers. But as much as we admire the Puritans, we should not slavishly imitate them, but critically examine their approach to preaching. My topic for the next two posts is “Should We Preach like the Puritans?” In this first post I will answer “no.” In the second I will answer "yes.”
The Puritans followed an educational method called "Ramism" after French philosopher Petrus Ramus (1515–1572) who attempted to modify Aristotelian philosophy by orienting it toward practical godliness instead of intellectual speculation. In many ways, the Ramist approach helped Puritans to analyze a topic theologically and practically. However, Ramism also introduced a methodological complexity to preaching that few modern hearers can receive well. Let me offer some specifics.
1. Do Not Structure Sermons by Theology but Exegesis
The typical Puritan sermon began with an exegetical introduction that derived a specific doctrinal proposition. This was broken down into its parts and expounded. Finally, various applications were made. John Flavel’s (1628-1691) sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:30 is an example (Works 2:15–33). He began by speaking of the excellence of Christ and arguing that we must have his benefits applied to us. He then examined the four benefits: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This led to his main doctrine: “The Lord Jesus, with all his precious benefits, becomes ours, by God’s special and effectual application,” which in turn led to several doctrinal propositions and seven practical inferences. In print, the exegesis fills only three pages; the doctrines and applications occupy fifteen.
As much as we can learn from Flavel, I do not believe that this is the best way to preach today. I am not against topical or doctrinal preaching; in my Dutch Reformed tradition, we regularly preach based on the Heidelberg Catechism. However, the standard Puritan method places systematic theology in the foreground and the particular words of Scripture in the background. We would do better to reverse this and devote the whole sermon to expounding and applying the message of a particular text.
2. Do Not Multiply Points but Strive for Simplicity
The Ramist method analyzed a topic by dividing it into categories, and those categories into sub-categories with each level becoming more specific. The aim was to avoid abstract generalities and to discuss a topic with a level of detail and concreteness that facilitated practical application. For example, Peter Vinke's (d. 1702) sermon on original sin (Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, 5:115-134). His text was Romans 6:6, which he handled in a single page. After the intro, he propounded two main doctrinal headings and one practical. Point 1 has two sub-points; the first sub-point contains four sub-sub-points; the fourth of these sub-sub points contains two sub-sub-sub-points. You get the point! The outline contains sixty-four points organized in six descending levels.
Don’t try this at your church! The Puritan method system of education prepared people to listen in this way; ours does not. In all fairness, we should also remember that Puritan sermons as they appears in print may not reflect exactly how they were preached as authors would later revise them for publication. Nevertheless, the Puritan style of preaching involved a complexity of structure that most modern hearers cannot sustain well in their minds.
3. Do Not Overwhelm with Applications but Focus
The Puritans called applications “uses.” They developed multiple uses for different spiritual conditions of people as well as different kinds of applying Scripture. Their preaching was so rich in application that it functioned as a kind of biblical counseling from the pulpit. However, the effect of such elaborate schemes of application was to blunt the effect of the whole sermon. For example, consider a sermon by Thomas Manton (1620–1677) on Isaiah 53:5 (Works, 3:272-295). He had three main doctrines. The first had two uses, the first of which was consolation for the suffering, subdivided into people suffering at the hands of their families and friends, or from general rejection, legal injustice, and public contempt. The second doctrine had another two uses: confutation of theological errors of the Socinians and Papists and exhortation for people to look upon Christ’s suffering for sins with faith, love, and repentance from sin. The third doctrine was divided in two, each with two applications. From a single verse he made eight distinct applications.
If we visualize his uses, the effect is somewhat like shooting with a shotgun loaded with scatter shot. You may hit many targets, but you will not take any of them down. It is wiser to structure a sermon as a high-powered rifle with a scope. Make application with each main point of your sermon, but align the applications so that they all have one unified thrust, which is the main thrust of the text.
4. Do Not Preach Too Many Sermons on One Topic or Verse but Keep Moving
The Puritans’ thorough approach often resulted in extended sermon series, which you can see in their books, many of which consist of published sermons. Robert Traill (1642–1716) preached sixteen sermons on only one verse: John 17:24 (Works, 2:1-298). Thomas Hooker’s (1586–1647) sermons on Acts 2:37 and the breaking of the heart over sin prior to conversion fill seven hundred pages in the original edition (reprinted as "The Application of Redemption"). Hooker spent so much time on the series on contrition over sin that it could have made the love and forgiveness of Christ seem distant to his hearers. This method makes for excellent reading but will not work well as a series of messages today.
5. Do Not Preach with Too Many Cross-References but Only a Few
It is amazing to see the Puritans’ grasp of the whole Bible, especially knowing that they lived long before the days of Bible software and internet search engines. They drew proof texts from all over the Old and New Testaments. For example, Owen preached two sermons on Romans 1:16 (Works, 9:217–37), citing fifty texts; Flavel’s sermon on John 3:16 cites thirty-three texts (Works, 1:62–72).
The great strength of this is that it roots systematic theology in the whole Bible. This wide-ranging knowledge of God’s Word that men like these had at the tip of their tongues should humble us. However, the main text had a tendency to be obscured. We should use cross-references to confirm the doctrines we derive from the main text, but it is best to focus on an exposition of one text, and cite only one or two cross-references for each point. If you are going to preach Romans 1:16 or John 3:16, then allow that text to control your sermon and press its major thrust of application upon your listeners with all your might.
In critiquing Puritan preaching, we do not dishonor the Puritans as faithful servants of God, but only acknowledge that they were mere men, fallen and fallible, and men of a particular time and place. Even as we disagree with their methods, let us admire their zeal and effectiveness under the blessing of God’s Spirit.
In our previous three posts (#1, #2, #3), we considered questions on hell from Puritan Christopher Love’s Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In this post, we will examine his perspective on the controversial doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell. Again, I will pose the question he asks (specifically on this issue) then answer as if Love were speaking to us. We will then conclude with some analysis on his position. 
Did Jesus personally descend into hell as the place of torment? 
No. Related to the phrase in the Apostles Creed, “he descended into hell,” Jesus did not descend into hell literally or virtually. Likewise, the phrase must not be regarded as synonymous with the power of death.
First, Jesus did not descend into hell literally. Luke as a careful historian (see Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) does not mention this personal descent, which he would surely would have done had it occurred. Likewise, that Jesus rested in the grave the day he died denies a literal descent. In connection with physical burial, Jesus in his soul entered his Father’s presence (Luke 23:43). This occurred according to the promise made to the thief of entering paradise with Jesus “today.” The explanations for his physical descent are faulty. Such include the idea that he needed to: deliver souls out of hell; make further satisfaction due to the incompleteness of that on the cross, or “vanquish and overcome the Devil.” Indeed, Christ’s satisfaction was “finished” at his death (John 19:30) and he overcame the devil “by dying” (Heb 2:14). In the end, the physical descent “is both disagreeable to Scripture and Reason.”
Second, we must reject the idea that the phrase is synonymous with either “the power of death” or hell “virtually” by way of the cross. Such explanations corrupt “mens judgements more,” by dismissing the “generality of Intrepreters” who argue for the literal understanding of the phrase. So, rather than altering the phrase to make it more palatable, we need to do away with it entirely in the Apostles’ Creed.  So, while Love believed that Christ suffered the torments of hell on the cross, the use of this clause in the original Creed did not teach this. 
Most Reformed theologians differ with Love who wanted to take the phrase out of the Creed entirely. Many of such believe that the phrase is simply a synonym for death with “hell” denoting Hades or the realm of the dead.  Two other popular views were mentioned above by Love, namely, that the descent clause symbolizes Christ’s sufferings on the cross (implying descent before burial) or refers to the curse of death he endured. John Calvin held to the first of these two (Institutes 2.16.8-12) and The Westminster Larger Catechism set forth the second (see Q.50). 
Our own Danny Hyde’s In Defense of the Descent identifies six major interpretations of the descent clause, these two symbolic ones and four variances of the literal descent. He finally argues for a combination of the two symbolic views (as in Calvin’s 1545 Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Q&A 65-72) to teach: “As to the body of Jesus Christ, He descended into the state of death, As to the soul of Jesus Christ, He suffered the agonies of hell.” 
For Wayne Grudem in, "He Did Not Descend," the various interpretations are in some sense moot, since the clause did not appear in the earlier forms of the Creed and when it finally did was considered a synonym for burial. Such thinking, in line with Love, maintains that Jesus may have suffered the agonies of hell on the cross, but the original clause did not teach this.  
I am sympathetic with the doctrine Danny Hyde espouses in line with Reformed Orthodoxy. However, I am also sympathetic with Grudem that the Creed did not teach this originally when the clause eventually found its way into the text. Besides, the clause “he descended into hell,” fails to express such theology and remains “confusing” and “misleading.” Were we to ask the majority of Christians today what this clause means, such misunderstanding would quickly become apparent. 
I do not like changing creeds, especially when they unite the church through history preserving solidarity and in hope that nothing will stop the progress of the church. However, we cannot preserve unity at the expense of integrity. If the original usage did not teach this, we do not have the liberty to make the Creed say it, even if the thought is orthodox. In other words, the Creed cannot be treated as a wax nose shaped as we please while claiming, “Look, it’s the same nose. It’s all there after all, is it not?”
Many Americans despise such treatment of the Constitution by the Supreme Court who often maintain wording while transforming authorial intention. Many Evangelicals protested the same with the supposed creedal agreement between Catholics and Evangelicals in “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (1994). For example, how can we agree on the wording for the teaching of justification, when the words mean something different for the two traditions? Similarly, why do we feel at liberty to change the meaning of a clause in the Creed just so we can preserve its wording? Have we not detracted from the unity we supposedly enjoy with the original authors of the document? 
With this in mind, I believe we ought to remove the clause or at least clarify it in a modern form. So, our options are two: (1) Remove the clause entirely with an appeal to the earlier forms of the Creed and/or the idea that early usage of “he descended” simply repeats “was buried”;  (2) Modernize the language of the early usage to remove the confusion of descent into “hell,” which the majority of the Reformed do not hold in a literal sense. Why not say something like “he descended into Hades” (with a footnote indicating Hades as the realm of the dead) or “he went to the dead” (as some modern Lutheran forms do–contrary to Luther), which preserves early usage of the phrase? 
Some say that this changes the creed and detracts from ecclesiastical unity. I am perplexed by this as most Christians rightly allow and justify modern English translations of the Bible. Why not set forth modern versions of the Creed seeking to preserve not only original wording (formal equivalence/word-for-word translation from Latin) but also original meaning (functional equivalence/thought-for-thought translation). In the end, a good translation seeks to preserve both wording and meaning in a balanced manner. In this way, we can justify, for example, modern versions of the Westminster Standards (which I personally do not like but see how helpful they can be). So, if the clause “he descended into hell” causes confusion, why not modernize it without losing its meaning of being synonymous with burial? Let us be done with this clause, which most Christians fail to understand, not because it is unclear in English but just the opposite. 
Did Christ descend into hell? No and Yes, but let us clarify.
No doubt Simon Peter’s most memorable words were those of his great confession in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16). That’s a Bible verse to memorize, isn’t it? What we don’t often realize, though, is what Jesus goes on to say. Do you remember? Jesus tells Peter that this confession was revealed to Peter from heaven (Matt. 16:17). The true identity of Jesus as the “Christ”—the Messiah or anointed one—is a truth that God reveals to us. And this is a vital reason why we need to understand the meaning of this title. To understand his title—Christ—is to be illuminated and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 45 gives us background to this title and its significance as it foreshadows the coming of the Anointed One. The Psalmist praises Solomon as king in verses 1–9 and then praises his wife in verses 10–17. Note well the Psalmist's praise of Solomon. In verse 2 he speaks of his person, in verses 3–5 he speaks of his majesty, in verses 6–7a he speaks of his throne, in verses 7b–8a he speaks of his anointing, and in verses 8b–9 he speaks of his praise. In commenting on these verses John Calvin so masterfully showed how in praising Solomon and his wife the Psalmist speaks prophetically of Christ: “But as this excellence was displayed in Solomon so also did it shine forth more fully afterwards in Christ” (Psalms, 2:176).
What do we learn here about our Mediator who is called “Christ?”
Endowed with the Spirit
First, Jesus’ title “Christ” means he was endowed with the Spirit: “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Ps. 45:7). Later in the history of salvation, John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in this vein, saying, that God gives the Spirit to his Son “without measure” (John 3:34). Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 42 picks up on this and says Jesus was “anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure.”
Jesus was endowed with the Spirit above his companions and without measure in the plan and the council of redemption in eternity, but we see it especially in his life and ministry. From his conception and birth he was endowed with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). At his baptism he was endowed with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16). His temptation was the result of his being led and thrust out by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). His preaching was affected by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14, 18–19). Jesus is “Christ” because he was and is the Spirit-endowed and Spirit-filled man par excellence.
Equipped by the Spirit
Second, Jesus’ endowment with the Spirit was for the purpose of equipping him to act as our mediator by the Spirit. In the typological words of this psalm, the Spirit equipped him to “gird [his] sword on [his] thigh” (Ps. 45:3), to “ride out victoriously” (Ps. 45:4), and to fire his sharp arrows into the hearts of his enemies (Ps. 45:5). And this equipment by the Spirit “so set apart” (WLC, Q&A 42) our Lord from all others who call themselves the Christ (cf. Matt. 24:24), that he also is “fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation” (WLC, Q&A 42).
Solomon was equipped to be Israel’s king after David by an anointing. Solomon was equipped to be Israel’s wisest man so that peoples from all over the world came to hear his 3,000 written proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Yet Solomon was merely a king. He did not hold the offices of prophet, although his words speak prophetically, nor of priest. He held one office. Yet Jesus’ endowment and equipping by the Spirit enabled him to be set apart as our highest prophet, final priest, and greatest king. For example, all of Solomon’s wisdom pales in comparison to Jesus’, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). What a sufficient mediator and Savior Jesus is for sinners like you and me!
Our Experience
Let me conclude by answering the question of what does Jesus’ anointing mean for my Christian experience?
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One I experience assurance and confidence that he is my Savior. As my anointed prophet he saves me from my spiritual blindness and ignorance. As my anointed priest he saves me from my sins’ guilt before Almighty God. As my anointed king he saves me from my inability to serve the Lord so that I may join him on the field of battle against the corruption of my sins (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:518).
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One and I am united to him by faith I share in his anointing with the Holy Spirit. He is anointed above his companions; I am one of his companions; therefore I am endowed with and equipped by the same Holy Spirit. I am Spirit-filled!
Because Jesus alone is the Anointed One and I share in him, I too am called to be a prophet to speak of the Lord in the midst of the world; I too am called to be a priest to pray to the Lord for the world; I too am called to be a king to fight against the world, my sin, and Satan.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Know it. Thank him for it. Live empowered because of it.
Meditation is a difficult duty. Most Christians struggle even with where to begin with respect to this duty. It is particularly important for us to mediate upon the Person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, since beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is the primary means by which we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). In his devotional work, The Glory of Christ, John Owen provided five useful helps to meditate on Christ as a divine/human Person. I pass these meditations along to you, hoping that they will increase your devotion to Christ (you can read the full section in Owen's Works, 1:312-322).
  1. Meditating on Christ is Useful: Consider that the knowledge of Christ as fully God and fully man in one Person is the most useful object of our contemplations and affections (1:312-314). Christ’s identity as the God-man places him in a unique position to make your redemption possible. He also reveals the glory of God to your understanding in a unique manner.
  2. Learn to Look for Christ in Scripture: Diligently study the Scriptures with the express purpose of finding the glory of Christ in them (1:314-316). The Scriptures assert that Christ is their primary object (Lk. 24:26-27, 45-46; 2 Cor. 3:13-16). The three primary ways that Christ is revealed in the Old Testament is by direct descriptions of his Person and incarnation, by prophecies concerning him, and by the Old Testament ceremonies of worship (Owen richly expands each of these). Yet there is also a devotional necessity for thinking through Scripture in terms of our relation to Christ. If we are convicted, then we need Christ for forgiveness and repentance. If we are exhorted to godliness, then we need Christ as our foundation and pattern. If we are suffering, then we must remember that we share in Christ’s sufferings. If we are comforted by God’s promises, then we must consider that all divine promises are yes and amen in him. Too often Christians read the Old Testament in a manner that is no better than the Jews. Even if we do not see Christ foreshadowed directly in various parts of the Old Testament, we must self-consciously take our knowledge of Christ with us while reading the Old Testament.
  3. Use What you Know Already: Meditate frequently upon the knowledge of Christ that you have already obtained, both from Scripture and from sermons (1: 316-317). Failing to use and to build upon the knowledge of Christ that we have already is, according to Owen, the “fundamental mistake” standing behind the lack of spiritual growth among so many Christians. This is the error of treating the doctrines of Christ as fundamental and basic, and thus taking them for granted. Owen adds that although we must not isolate ourselves from the world, we must love solitude as well. Without some measure of regular solitude, meditation upon the Lord Jesus Christ is impossible.
  4. Incorporate Thoughts of Christ into Your Life: Do not simply rely upon fixed times set aside for meditation, but think upon Christ at every possible occasion throughout the day (1:317-320). This is particularly important during those seasons in which Christ “withdraws” himself from our “spiritual experience.” If we know what it is like to “miss” Christ sometimes, then we should take comfort from the fact that this means that we have known what it is to have fellowship with him. When the comforts of communion with Christ diminish, we must seek him with the desperation of thirsty person seeking water. Christ sometimes acts in this way toward us for our good, since his withdrawals increase our dependence on him and the fervency with which we seek him. The truth is that Christ is always near to us, but, as Owen adds, “the principal actings of the life of faith consist in the frequency of our thoughts concerning him” (1:319).
  5. Be Thankful to Christ and Worship Him: Accompany your thoughts of Christ with admiration, adoration, and thanksgiving (1:320-322). The more we contemplate the glory of our divine/human Lord, the more we will realize that he is beyond the limits of our comprehension. This should lead us to love the Lord Jesus Christ with every faculty of our souls. In heaven, we shall exercise all of the faculties of our souls simultaneously in the worship and service of Christ, but in this world both our understanding and our strength is incomplete. Therefore, sometimes our thoughts of Christ should lead to admiration, at other times to adoration, and still at others to thanksgiving according to our understanding and our capacity. You must never lose sight of the fact that the purpose for which you know Christ is worship.
Owen closes this section with the useful reminder that meditating on the glory of the Person of Christ occurs only in the context of a heavenly-minded life. This is an important thought. Perhaps one reason why meditation is so hard for us is that we have not set our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in everything that we set our hands to (Col. 3:1-2). Meditation on Christ’s glory can be a jarring, and sometimes painful, interruption if our minds are trained to run exclusively along the well-worn grooves of our earthly routine. Let us never forget that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world! Let us never be surprised at the difficulty of heavenly-mindedness on this side of glory! Let us make use of means to help us contemplate the glory of our Savior more fully! And may we come to our heavenly Father who is able and ready to help us learn to meditate on the glory of his Son through the power of his Spirit!