The 1689 Exposition Series has several lessons regarding the Christological view of what happened at Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Some of this material, regarding the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament age as compared to now, was also addressed and in more depth, in David Murray’s blog post series (reference this previous blog post): the quantitative difference, that the indwelling Holy Spirit in OT saints was like a water-dropper as compared to a pressure washer.
From this 1689 series lesson, another interesting difference between the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT versus now: The Holy Spirit came in an Official, Formal sense at Pentecost; Christ also made His official/formal entrance at His incarnation. Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, always existed and was active and present in the Old Testament (before His formal entrance at the incarnation). Christ even appeared, in the many theophanies/Christophanies of the “Angel of the Lord,” in visible form many times to the Old Testament saints — such as to the patriarchs, Moses, and later Joshua, as well as later appearances (such as to Samson’s parents in Judges 13). 1 Corinthians 10:4-5 further tells us that Christ was the Rock that followed the people of Israel in the wilderness.
In like manner, we can know that the Holy Spirit existed before Pentecost (no error of Sabellianism, a type of modalism), was active and present in that age, and indwelled believers. What came at Pentecost, that had not occurred before, included the greater quantity (a great outpouring, seen in the later massive number of believers saved in the book of Acts, as compared to the relative trickle of believers before that time) as well as this formal, official entrance — an entrance that occurred in connection with the other historical events of that time. Following after Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, came what Christ had promised would come, what He told the disciples to wait for (Acts 1:4-5).
Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, the in-depth study of chapter 8 of the confession (Christ’s mediatorial work) includes a lesson on the question of Christ’s burial (available here) and time in the grave, specifically looking at the issue of the Apostles’ Creed (see this recent post that also mentions the Apostles’ Creed) and its statement that “he (Christ) descended into hell.”
This statement did not appear in the earlier forms of the Apostles’ Creed, but showed up by the 4th century. Later Christians have considered the importance of this early creed, desiring to show the continuation of the orthodox faith from its early history — and have thus attempted to explain what the early church meant by this statement. This lesson in the 1689 series mentions six “interpretations” of what was meant by “he descended into hell”:
- Rufinus – the first interpretation, from A.D. 390: it means “he descended into the grave, the abode/realm of the dead.” Yet this is redundant, as the previous phrase has already told us that “he was buried.”
- John Calvin – the view described in the Heidelberg catechism. Jesus suffered hell on the cross; the sufferings, felt in His soul, an infinite amount of wrath in a finite period of time. Certainly this is true, but does not fit with what the Apostles’ Creed meant—the sequence is wrong. If they had meant this, the line would have been earlier in the creed, instead of after the part about being crucified, buried and dead.
- The view of the Westminster confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession, also stated in the Westminster Larger Catechism: “He remained in the state of the dead; the realm of the dead.” Again, redundant to say buried and descended into being dead.
- The “Roman Catholic” view, which is also commonly taught in Arminian Baptist churches: this view expands into much speculation, though at least they come up with scripture references, as for instance the story in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Here is the idea that Christ during this time went in His soul (not His body) into the holding place where OT saints were waiting for the application of redemptive work; He preached the gospel to them (“got them fully saved”) and then brought them out from there into heaven. Other proof-texts for this view include Ephesians 4:8-9 – “He descended into the lower regions” (some think this means hell, below Earth, instead of the Earth itself). A better way to understand this, though, is the contrast between the lower regions as the earth, versus the higher regions (ascending to heaven). Additional texts for this view include 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:4-6, and the above lesson explains the supposed idea here as well as other ways to understand these texts.
- The Lutheran view: Jesus went to hell, to the place of torment for the damned – not to suffer, but to preach judgment upon them and declare His victory and Lordship, as somehow an inauguration of His victory march. The problem here is complete speculation with no proof from scripture, plus the fact that Christ’s burial was part of His humiliation; this was before the resurrection, and not at all the time of His exaltation.
- The Anglican view: Jesus went down to the place of the dead, and gave a fuller explanation of the gospel to the OT saints who were waiting there. Again, this is only speculation, with no proof from scripture or any indication that the writers of the apostles’ creed believed this.
As Hodgins observed, in quoting Wayne Grudem on this subject, certainly we should appreciate the Apostles’ creed as an early statement from the historic church. But the historical importance alone is not a good reason for “keeping” this phrase and seeking to somehow explain it away. We don’t really know exactly what the early church meant by it, and a survey of early church history does tell us that the early church fathers were wrong on some of their theology. This is certainly brought out in the RTS Christian History series, including the fact that understanding of the Trinity, and even the nature of the Father and Son, was not fully developed until the Arian controversy in the mid-4th century; before that time, even Tertullian held onto some idea of the Son being subordinate to the Father and just didn’t develop his thoughts to the full level that is now considered an orthodox view of the Trinity.
It’s time again for a topic I occasionally write about (see previous posts): Hymns and wrong/bad theology.
At least some churches now frequently sings a simple, one paragraph song called “The Gospel Song,” with the following lyrics:
Holy God, in love became Perfect Man to bear my blame
On the cross He took my sin. By His Death I live again.
No doubt the people singing it understand the real doctrine of the trinity, and just don’t think about what song lyrics actually say – and might claim I am being too picky. If so, I am in good company, following the example of the late S. Lewis Johnson, who often pointed out the wrong theology in hymns, as for example with one of the phrases in the chorus of “One Day” (“living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away, Rising He Justified, Freely forever”): I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed. We’re not justified by the resurrection. We’re justified by His death.
The simple “gospel song” above has a much more obvious problem, in that by its simple lyric, leaving so much of Christian truth out, it actually teaches modalism: Holy God … became Perfect Man(?)
The early church, responding to the many errors and heresies regarding the nature of God and Christ, would have found such a song quite unwelcome. Modalism — one God who becomes different members of the Trinity at different times — appeared by the early 3rd century and was strongly denounced by early leaders including Tertullian. The Church, in its creeds and confessions, carefully worked out its statements about the Triune nature of one God in three persons, and Christ having two natures in one person.
Of course local churches like to introduce new songs, especially ones that have a simple tune and simple words. But why not, instead, provide a song with lyrics of actual confessions or creeds from the historic church, such as the Apostles’ Creed (itself a fairly brief statement, yet far more correct and comprehensive than the above “gospel song”). Indeed, two of my favorite Christian rock groups from years past, Petra and Rich Mullins, have tunes with the lyrics from the Apostles’ Creed, as noted in this interesting article. The Rich Mullins song stays close to the original wording of the Apostles’ creed; and put to song, this creed is easily learned — and a much better alternative to a four-line “gospel song” which omits too much, to the point that its statement about God denies the Trinity for the teaching of modalism.
I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth,
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified and dead and buried.
And I believe, what I believe is what makes me what I am.
I did not make it, no it is making me.
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man
I believe that He who suffered, was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and on the third day, rose again.
He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at God’s mighty right hand.
I believe that He’s returning to judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men.
I believe in God the Father almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
and in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, Our Lord.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, one Holy Church, the communion of Saints,
The forgiveness of sin, I believe in the resurrection.
I believe in a life that never ends.
Continuing in the 1689 Exposition series, a few messages on the incarnation address an error that I first heard about two years ago (as put forth by a local Sunday School teacher): the idea that for Christ to be sinless, He could not have had any of Mary’s DNA; he was human but with no physical, genetic relation to Mary. As noted in this series (see these messages: “The Incarnation” and “The Virgin Conception”), this view is called ‘seminal headship’, the idea that sin is transmitted through physical substance, and idea in contrast to ‘federal headship,’ in which the sin nature is a legal condition placed upon every person descended from Adam.
Even when I first heard this idea (though not knowing the specific background or terminology), I realized how wrong this is, for several reasons, rooted in the important fact that Jesus was fully God AND fully Man. This is one of the basic doctrines of Christianity, the hypostatic union, addressed by the early church in response to so many heresies regarding Christ’s nature: errors that said He was only a man, or only God. But it’s part of basic understanding of true science, how God has propagated the human race, that we all have DNA, the genes passed down from parent to child. No one could really be human if he did not have the DNA of any human parents. Furthermore, if Jesus did not inherit any human genes from his human mother, He would not be descended from the line of David and would not even be a Jew – another serious theological error. Plus, if He was not really descended from Mary, without Mary’s genes, then He was not the seed of the woman prophesied in Genesis 3:15. The Messiah was to come from the woman (Mary; Genesis 3:15), from the Jews and the line of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and descended from David, per the terms of the Davidic covenant. As to Jesus’ physical appearance: we know that the Jews slandered Jesus for his “illegitimate” birth and the question of who was His father (reference John 8:41). But they never brought forth the charge that He was not really Mary’s son and did not belong to Mary’s family – which certainly would have been the case if He had not inherited any of Mary’s DNA and had no physical resemblance to Mary or His human brothers and sisters.
The series from Arden Hodgins notes that a few theologians have held to seminal headship, including William G.T. Shedd, Lorraine Boettner, plus Amish and Mennonites. Amish and Mennonite groups hold to an idea of “heavenly flesh.”
An excellent point to counter this idea: sin is not contained in physical substance such as the human seed. That is a gnostic idea, that something physical is bad or sinful. Also, our righteous nature — regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit — does not come to us through any physical means; the new nature does not come to us through the genes. So why should people think that the sin nature is transmitted through physical means? “Federal headship” makes sense concerning both our sinful nature inherited from the first Adam (a legal state put upon us), and our new righteous nature given to believers in the Last Adam.
In my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon sermons, near the end of 1863 comes a sermon which includes a great quote I recognized – from its inclusion in some free audio recordings of classic Christian books:
Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted; he who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own! Brothers and Sisters, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritan writers, and expositions of the Bible.
The full sermon references Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13, “Bring the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when you come—and the books, but especially the parchments.” Spurgeon here notes some interesting points that I had not considered: we do not know what these books were (and books were few and rare in ancient times, unlike our world after the invention of the Printing Press), yet:
Even an apostle must read. He is Inspired, and yet he needs books! He has been preaching for at least 30 years, and yet he needs books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he needs books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he needs books! He had been caught up into the Third Heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he needs books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he needs books!
The apostle here is also not ashamed to confess that he reads books. He has no secrets to keep from young Timothy, and tells Timothy about his books. Paul needs books, and is not ashamed to tell Timothy that he does; and Timothy may go and tell Tychicus and Titus if he likes—Paul does not care.
Furthermore, Paul is in prison, yet here shows himself as industrious. He cannot work a trade, and he cannot preach – so he will read. He is in prison; he cannot preach—what will he do? As he can-not preach, he will read! As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats, the fishermen were out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets! So if Providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class—if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading! If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the Apostle read you a lesson of industry.
Especially the parchments: possibly these were scripture parchments, or even some of Paul’s own parchments, his epistles we know as part of the inspired canon of scripture. Here again, great words from Spurgeon affirming the importance of reading the Bible:
Now, it must be, “Especially the parchments” with all our reading; let it be especially the Bible. Do you attach no weight to this advice? This advice is more needed in England now than almost at any other time, for the number of persons who read the Bible, I believe, is becoming smaller every day. … the Book, the good old Book, the Divine Fountainhead from which all Revelation wells up—this is too often left! You may go to human puddles until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the Throne of God. Read the books, by all means, but especially the parchments! Search human literature, if you will, but especially stand fast by that Book which is Infallible, the Revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!