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First Published 1659

[see original text for extensive footnotes]


He descended into hell.
[see sections 17 to 19 for a summary]

1. The former part of this article of the descent into hell, hath not been so anciently in the CREED, or so universally, as the rest.  The first place we find it used in was the church of Aquileia, and the time we are sure it was used in the creed of that church was less than 400 years after Christ.  After that it came into the Roman creed, and others, and hath been acknowledged as a part of the Apostles’ creed ever since. 

Indeed the descent into hell hath always been accepted, but with a various exposition; and the church of England at the Reformation, as it received the three creeds, in two of which this article is contained, so did it also make this one of the articles of religion, to which all who are admitted to any benefice or received into holy orders are obliged to subscribe.  And at the first reception it was propounded with a certain explication, and thus delivered in the fourth year of King Edward the Sixth, with reference to an express place of scripture interpreted of this descent, That the body of Christ lay in the grave until his resurrection; but his spirit, which he gave up, was with the spirits which were detained in prison, or in hell, and preached to them, as the place in St. Peter testifieth [1 Peter 3:19].  So likewise after the same manner in the creed set forth in metre after the manner of a Psalm, and still remaining at the end of the Psalms, the same exposition is delivered in this staff:-- 

“And so he died in the flesh, 
But quickened in the Sprite: 
His body then was buried, 
As is our use and right. 

“His spirit did after this descend 
Into the lower parts, 
Of them that long in darkness were 
The true light of their hearts.” 

But in the synod ten years after, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, the articles, which continue still in force, deliver the same descent, but without any the least explication or reference to any particular place of scripture, in these words:  As Christ died for us and was buried, so also it is to be believed that he went down into hell [Article iii, 1562].  Wherefore being our church hath not now imposed that interpretation of St. Peter’s words, which before it intimated; being it hath not delivered that as the only place of scripture to found the descent into hell upon; being it hath alleged no other place to ground it, and delivered no other explication to expound it; we may with the greater liberty pass on to find out the true meaning of this article, and to give our particular judgment in it, so far as a matter of so much obscurity and variety will permit. 

2. First, then, it is to be observed, that as this article was first in the Aquileian creed, so it was delivered there not in the express and formal term of hell, but in such a word as may be capable of a greater latitude, descendit in inferma: which words, as they were continued in other creeds, so did they find a double interpretation among the Greeks; some translating inferna hell, others the lower parts: the first with relation to St. Peter’s words of Christ, Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell [Acts ii. 27]; the second referring to that of St. Paul, He descended into the lower parts of the earth [Eph. iv. 9]. 

3. Secondly, I observe that in the Aquileian creed, where this article was first expressed, there was no mention of Christ’s burial; but the words of their confession ran thus, crucified under Pontius Pilate, he descended in inferna.  From whence there is no question but the observation of Ruffinus, who first expounded it, was most true, that though the Roman and Oriental creeds had not their words, yet they had the sense of them in the word buried.  It appeareth, therefore, that the first intention of putting these words in the CREED was only to express the burial of our Saviour, or the descent of his body into the grave.  But although they were first put in the Aquileian creed to signify the burial of Christ, and those which had only the burial in their creed did confess as much as those which without the burial did express the descent; yet since the Roman creed hath added the descent unto the burial, and expressed that descent by words signifying more properly hell, it cannot be imagined that the CREED as now it stands should signify only the burial of Christ by his descent into hell.  But rather, being the ancient church did certainly believe that Christ did some other way descend beside his burial; being though he interpreted those words of the burial only, yet in the relation of what was done at our Saviour’s death he makes mention of his descent into hell, beside and distinct from his selpulture; being those  who in after-ages added it to the burial did actually believe that the soul of Christ descended: it followeth that, for the exposition of the CREED, it is most necessary to declare in what that descent consisteth. 

4. Thirdly, I observe again, that whatsoever is delivered in the CREED we therefore believe, because it is contained in the scriptures, and consequently must so believe it as it is contained there; whence all this exposition of the whole is nothing else but an illustration and proof of every particular part of the CREED by such scriptures as deliver the same, according to the true interpretation of them and the general consent of the church of God.  Now these words as they lie in the CREED, he descended into hell, are nowhere formally and expressly delivered in the scriptures; nor can we find any one place in which the Holy Ghost hath said in express and plain terms that Christ, as he died and was buried, so he descended into hell.  Wherefore being these words of the CREED are not formally expressed in the scripture, our inquiry must be in what scriptures they are contained virtually; that is, where the Holy Ghost doth deliver the same doctrine, in what words soever, which it contained and to be understood in this expression, He descended into hell. 

5. Now several places of scripture have be3en produced by the ancients as delivering this truth, of which some without question prove it not; but three there are which have been always thought of greatest validity to confirm this article.  First, that of St. Paul to the Ephesians seems to come very near the words themselves and to express the same almost in terms: Now that he ascended, what is it but that he descended first into the lower parts of the earth [Eph. iv. 9]?  This many of the ancient fathers understood of the descent into hell, as placed in the lowest parts of the earth; and this exposition must be confessed so probable, that there can be no argument to disprove it.  Those lower parts of the earth may signify hell, and Christ’s descending thither may be, that his soul went to that place when his body was carried to the grave.  But that it was actually so, or that the apostle intended so much in those words, the place itself will not manifest.  For we cannot be assured that the descent of Christ, which St. Paul speaks of , was performed after his death; or if it were, we cannot be assured that the lower parts of the earth did signify hell, or the place where the souls of men were tormented after the separation from their bodies.  For as it is written, No man ascendeth up to heaven, but he that descended from heaven [John iii.13]; so this may signify so much, and no more, In that he ascended, what is it but that he descended first?  And for the lower parts of the earth, they may possibly signify no more than the place beneath; as when our Saviour said, Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world [John viii. 23]: or as God spake by the prophet, “I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath” [Joel ii. 30; Acts ii. 19].  Nay, they may well refer to his incarnation, according to that of David, “My substance was not hid from thee when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lower parts of the earth” [Ps 139:15]; or to his burial, according to that of the prophet, “Those that seek my soul to destroy it shall go into the lower parts of the earth” [Psalm 63:9]: and these two references have a great similitude according to that of Job, “Naked came I out of tmy mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither [Job i. 21]. 

The next place of scripture brought to confirm the descent is not so near in words, but thought to signify the end of that descent, and that part of his humanity by which he descended.  For Christ, saith St. Peter, was “put to death in the flesh, and quickened by the spirit, by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison [1 Peter iii. 18, 19]; where the spirit seems to be the soul of Christ, and the place at least separated from the joys of heaven: whether because we never read our Saviour went at any other time, we may conceive he went in spirit then when his soul departed from his body on the cross.  This did our church first deliver as the proof and illustration of the descent, and the ancient fathers did apply the same in the like manner to the proof of this article.  But yet those words of St. Peter have no such power of probation, except we were certain that the spirit there spoken of were the soul of Christ, and that the time intended for that preaching were after his death, and before his resurrection.  Whereas if it were so interpreted, the difficulties are so many, that they staggered St. Augustine, and caused him at last to think that these words of St. Peter belonged not unto the doctrine of Christ’s descending into hell.  But indeed the spirit by which he is said to preach was not the soul of Christ, but that Spirit by which he was quickened; as appeareth by the coherence of the words, “being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit, by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.  Now that Spirit by which Christ was quickened is that by which he was raised from the dead, that is, the power of his divinity, as St. Paul expresseth it, “Though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God [2 Cor. 13:4]: in respect of which he preached to those which were disobedient in the days of Noah, as we have already shown [see p. 175 of On the Creed]. 

The third, but principal text, is that of David, applied by St. Peter.  For “David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.  Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad: moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope.  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption” [Ps. 16:8-10].  Thus the apostle repeated the words of the Psalmist, and then applied them: He “being a prophet, and seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” [Acts ii. 25-27, 30, 31].  Now from this place the article is clearly and infallibly deduced thus: if the soul of Christ were not left in hell at his resurrection, then his soul was in hell before his resurrection; but it was not there before his death, therefore upon or after his death, and before his resurrection, the soul of Christ descended into hell, and consequently the CREED doth truly deliver that Christ, being crucified, was dead, buried, and descended into hell.  For as his flesh did not see corruption by virtue of that promise and prophetical expression, and yet it was in the grave, the place of corruption, where it rested in hope until his resurrection, so his soul, which was not left in hell, by virtue of the like promise or prediction, was in that hell, were it was not left, until the time that it was to be united  to the body for the performing of the resurrection.  We must, therefore, confess from hence that the soul of Christ was in hell; and no Christian can deny it, saith St. Augustine, it is so clearly delivered in this prophecy of the Psalmist and application of the Apostle. 

6. The only question then remains, not of the truth of the proposition, but the sense and meaning of it.  It is most certain that Christ descended into hell, and as infallibly true as any other article of the CREED; but what that hell was, and how he descended thither, being once questioned, is not easily determined.  Different opinions there have been of old, and of late more different still, which I shall here examine after that manner which our subject will admit.  Our present design is an exposition of the CREED as now it stands, and our endeavour is to expound it according to the scriptures in which it is contained.  I must, therefore, look for such an explication as may consist with the other parts of the CREED, and may withal be conformable unto that scripture upon which the truth of the article doth rely; and consequently, whatsoever interpretation is either not true in itself, or not consistent with the body of the CREED, or not conformable to the doctrine of the apostle in this particular, the expositor of that CREED by the doctrine of the apostle must reject. 

7. First, then, we shall consider the opinion of Durandus, who as often, so in this, is singular.  He supposeth this descent to belong unto the soul, and the name of hell to signify the place where the souls of dead men were in custody; but he maketh a metaphor in the word descended, as not signifying any local motion, nor inferring any real presence of the soul of Christ in the place where the souls of dead men were, but only including a virtual motion, and inferring an efficacious presence, by which descent the effects of the death of Christ were wrought upon the souls in hell; and because the merits of Christ’s death did principally depend upon the act of his soul, therefore the effect of his death is attributed to his soul as the principal agent, and consequently Christ is truly said at the instant of his death to descend into hell, because his death was immediately efficacious upon the souls detained there.  This is the opinion of Durandus, so far as it is distinct from others. 

8. But although a virtual influence of the death of Christ may be well admitted in reference to the souls of the dead, yet this opinion cannot be accepted as the exposition of this article; being neither the CREED can be thought to speak a language of so great scholastic subtilty, nor the place of David expounded by St. Peter can possibly admit any such explication.  For what can be the sense of those words, thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, if his death were his descent, then is he descended still, because the effect of his death still remaineth.  The opinion, therefore, of Durandus, making the descent into hell to be nothing but the efficacy of the death of Christ upon the souls detained there, is to be rejected, as not expositive of the CREED’s confession, nor consistent with the scripture’s expression. 

9. 10.  The next opinion, [… that Christ experienced the torments of hell, he refutes]

11. 12.  [The opinion that the reference in the Creed is only to the deposition of Christ's body in the grave, he refutes] 

13. There is yet left another interpretation grounded upon the general opinion of the church of Christ in all ages, and upon a probable exposition of the prophecy of the Psalmist, taking the soul in the most proper sense, for the spirit or rational part of Christ; that part of man which, according to our Saviour’s doctrine, the Jews could not kill, and looking upon hell as a place distinct from this part of the world where we live, and distinguished from those heavens whither Christ ascended, into which place the souls of men were conveyed after or upon their death: and therefore thus expounding the words of the Psalmist in the person of Christ; Thou shalt not suffer that soul of mine which shall be forced from my body by the violence of pain upon the cross, but resigned into thy hands, when it shall go into that place below where the souls of men departed are detained, I say, thou shalt not suffer that soul to continue there as theirs have done, but shalt bring it shortly from thence and re-unite it to my body. 

14. For the better understanding of this exposition, there are several things to be observed, both in respect of the matter of it and in reference to the authority of the fathers.  First, therefore, this must be laid sown as a certain and necessary truth, that the soul of man, when he dieth, dieth not but returneth unto him that gave it, to be disposed of at his will and pleasure, according to the ground of our Saviour’s counsel, Fear not them which kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. [Matt. x. 28].  That better part of us, therefore, in and after death doth exist and live, either by virtue of its spiritual and immortal nature, as we believe, or at least the will of God, and his power upholding and preserving it from dissolution, as many of the fathers thought.  This soul thus existing after death, and separated from the body, though of a nature spiritual, is really and truly in some place, if not by way of circumscription, as proper bodies are, yet by way of determination and indistancy, so that it is true to say this is really and truly present here, and not elsewhere. 

Again, the soul of man, which, while he lived, gave life to the body and was the fountain of all vital actions, in that separate existence after death must not be conceived to sleep, or be bereft and stript of all vital operations, but still to exercise the powers of understanding and of willing, and to be subject to the affections of joy and sorrow.  Upon which is grounded the different estate and condition of the souls of men during that time of separation; some of them by the mercy of God being placed in peace and rest, in joy and happiness, others by the justice of the same God left to sorrow, pains, and misery. 

As there was this different state and condition before our Saviour’s death, according to the different kinds of men in this life, the wicked and the just, the elect and reprobate; so there were two societies of souls after death, one of them which were happy in the presence of God, the other of those which were left in their sins and tormented for them.  Thus we conceive the righteous Abel the first man placed in this happiness, and the souls of them that departed in the same faith to be gathered to him.  Whosoever it was of the sons of Adam which first died in his sins was put inot a place of torment, and the souls of all those which departed after with the wrath of God upon them were gathered into his sad society. 

Now as the souls at the hour of death are really separated from the bodies, so the place where they are in rest or misery after death is certainly distinct from the place in which they lived.  They continue not were they were at that instant when the body was left without life; they do not go together with the body to the grave; but as the sepulchre is appointed for our flesh, so there is another receptacle or habitation or mansion for our spirits.  From when it followeth that in death the soul do4th certainly pass by a real motion from that place, in which it did inform the body, and is translated to that place and unto that society which God of his mercy or justice hath allotted to it.  And not at present to inquire into the difference and distance of those several habitations (but for method’s sake to involve them all as yet under the notion of the infernal parts, or the mansions below), it will appear to have been the general judgment of the church that the soul of Christ contradistiguished from his body, that better and more noble part of his humanity, his rational and intellectual soul, after a true and proper separation from his flesh, was really and truly carried into those parts below where the souls of men before departed were detained, and that by such a real translation of his soul he was truly said to have descended into hell. 

Many have been the interpretations of the opinion of the fathers made of late, and their differences are made to appear so great, as if they agreed in nothing which concerns this point; whereas there is nothing which they agree in more than this which I have already affirmed, the real descent of the soul of Christ unto the habitation of the souls departed.  The persons to whom and end for which he descended they differ in; but as to a local descent into the infernal parts they all agree.  Who were then in those parts they could not certainly define; but whosoever were there, that Christ by the presence of his soul was with them they all determined. 

15. That this was the general opinion of the church, will appear not only by the testimonies of those ancient writers which lived successively, and wrote in several ages, and delivered this exposition in such express terms as are not capable of any other interpretation, but also because it was generally used as an argument against the Apollinarian heresy, than which nothing can show more the general opinion of the catholics and the heretics, and had been little less than ridiculous to have produced that for an argument to prove a point in controversy which had not been clearer, than that which was controverted and had not been some way acknowledged as a truth by both.  Now the error of Apollinarius was, that Christ had no proper intellectual or rational soul, but that the Word was to him in the place of a soul; and the argument produced by the fathers for the conviction of this error was, that Christ descended into hell, which the Apollinarians could not deny, and that this descent was not made by his divinity, or by his body, but by the motion and presence of his soul, and consequently that he had a soul distinct both from his flesh and from the Word.  Whereas if it could have then been answered by the heretics, as now it is by many, that his descent into hell had no relation to his soul, but to his body only, which descended to the grace; or that it was not real, but only virtual, descent, by which his death extended to the destruction of the powers of hell; or that his soul was not his intellectual spirit or immortal soul, but his living soul was not his intellectual spirit or immortal soul, but his living soul, which descended into hell, that is, continued in the state of death: I say, if any of these senses could have been affixed to this article, the Apollinarians’ answer might have been sound, and the catholics’ argument of no validity.  But being those heretics did all acknowledge this article; being the catholic fathers did urge the same to prove the real distinction of the soul of Christ both from his divinity and from his body, because his body was really in the grave when his soul was really present with the souls below; it followeth that it was the general doctrine of the church that Christ did descend into hell by a local motion of his soul separated from his body, to the places below where the souls of men departed were. 

Nor can it be reasonably objected that the argument of the fathers was of e2qual force against these heretics, if it be understood of the animal soul, as it would be if it were understood of the rational; as if those heretics had equally deprived Christ of the rational and animal soul.  For it is most certain that they did not equally deprive Christ of both; but most of the Apollinarians denied an human soul to Christ only in respect of the intellectual part, granting that the animal soul of Christ was of the same nature with the animal soul of other men.  If, therefore, the fathers had proved only that the animal soul of Christ had descended into hell, they had brought no argument at all to prove that Christ had an human intellectual soul.  It is therefore certain that the catholic fathers in their opposition to the Apollinarian heretics did declare that the intellectual and immortal soul of Christ descended into hell. 

16. The only question which admitted any variety of discrepance among the ancients was, who were the persons to whose souls the soul of Christ descended, and, that which dependeth on that question, what was the end and use of his descent.  In this, indeed, they differed much, according to their several apprehensions of the condition of the dead and the nature of the place into which the souls before our Saviour’s death were gathered.  Some, looking on that name which we translate now hell, hades, or infernus, as the common receptacle of the souls of all men, both the just and the unjust, thought the soul of Christ descended unto those which departed in the true faith and fear of God, the souls of the patriarchs and the prophets, and the people of God. 

But others there were who thought hades or infernus was never taken in the scriptures for any place of happiness [Augustine], and therefore they did not conceive the souls of the patriarchs or the prophets did pass into any such infernal place, and consequently that the descent into hell was not his going to the prophets or the patriarchs, which were not there.  For as, if it had been only said that Christ had gone unto the bosom of Abraham, or to paradise, no man would have ever believed that he had descended into hell; so being it is only written, Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, it seems incongruous to think that he went then unto the patriarchs, who were not there. 

Now this being the diversity of opinions anciently in respect of the persons unto whose souls the soul of Christ descended at his death, the difference of the end or efficacy of that descent is next to be observed.  Of those which did believe the name of hades to belong unto that general place which comprehended all the souls of men (as well those which died in the favour of God as those which departed in their sins), some of them thought that Christ descended to that place of hades, where the souls of all the faithful, from the death of the righteous Abel to the death of Christ, were detained below, translated them into a far more glorious place, and stated them in a condition far more happy in the heavens above. 

Others of them understood no such translation of place, or alteration of condition there, conceiving that the souls of all men are detained below still, and shall not enter into heaven until the general resurrection.  They made no such distinction at the death of Christ, as if those which believed in a Saviour already come should be admitted thither immediately upon their expiration. 

But such as thought the place in which the souls of the patriarchs did reside could not in propriety of speech be called hell, nor was ever so named in the scriptures, conceived, that as our Saviour went to those who were included in the proper hell, or place of torment, so the end of his descent was to deliver souls from those miseries which they felt, and to translate them to a place of happiness and a glorious condition.  They which did think that hell was wholly emptied, that every soul was presently released from all the pains which before it suffered, were branded with the names of heretics; but to believe that many were delivered was both by them and many others counted orthodox. 

The means by which they did conceive that Christ did free the souls of men from hell was the application of his death unto them, which was propounded to those souls by preaching of the gospel there; that as he revealed here on earth the will of God unto the sons of men, and propounded himself as the object of their faith, to the end that whosoever believed in him should never die, so after his death he showed himself unto the souls departed, that whosoever of them would yet accept of and acknowledge him should pass from death to life. 

Thus did they think the soul of Christ descended into hell to preach the gospel to the spirits there, that they might receive him who before believed in him, or that they might believe in him who before rejected him.  But this cannot be received as the end, or was to effect the end, of Christ’s descent; nor can I look upon it as any illustration of this article, for many reasons.  For first, I have already showed that the place of St. Peter, so often mentioned for it, is not capable of that sense, nor hath it any relation to our Saviour after death.  Secondly, the ancients seem upon no other reason to have interpreted this place of St. Peter in that manner, but because other apocryphal writings led them to that interpretation, upon the authority whereof this opinion only can rely.  A place of the prophet Jeremy was first produced, that the Lord God of Israel remembered his dead, which slept in the land of the grave, and descended unto them, to preach unto them his salvation.  But being there is no such verse extant in that prophet or any other, it was also delivered that it was once in the translation of the Septuagint, but rased out from thence by the Jews; which, as it can scarce be conceived true, so, if it were, it would be yet of doubtful authority, as being never yet found in the Hebrew text.  And Hermes, in his book called the Pastor, was thought to give no good authority, and in this particular is most extravagant, for he taught that not only the soul of Christ, but also the souls of the apostles, preached to the spirits below; that as they followed his steps here, so did they also after their death, and therefore descended to preach in hell. 

Nor is this only to be suspected in reference to those pretended authorities which first induced men to believe it, and to make forced interpretations of scripture to maintain it, but also to be rejected in itself, as false and inconsistent with the nature, scope, and end of the gospel (which is to be preached with such commands and ordinances as can concern those only which are in this life), and as incongruous to the state and condition of those souls to whom Christ is supposed to preach.  For if we look upon the patriarchs, prophets, and all saints before departed, it is certain they were never disobedient in the days of Noah; nor could they need the publication of the gospel after the death of Christ, who by virtue of that death were accepted in him while they lived, and by that acceptation had received a reward long before.  If we look upon them which died in disobedience, and were in torments for their sins, they cannot appear to be proper objects for the gospel preached.  The rich man, whom we find in their condition, desired one might be sent from the dead to preach unto his brethren then alive, lest they also should come unto that place; but we find no hopes he had that any should come from them which were alive to preach to him.  For if the living, who heard no Moses and the prophets, would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead [Luke xvi. 31], surely those which had been disobedient unto the prophets should never be persuaded after they were dead. 

Whether, therefore, we consider the authorities first introducing this opinion, which were apocryphal; or the testimonies of scripture, forced and improbable; or the nature of this preaching, inconsistent with the gospel; or the persons to whom Christ should be thought to preach (which, if dead in the faith and fear of God, wanted no such instruction; if departed in infidelity and disobedience, were unworthy and incapacle of such a dispensation); this preaching of Christ to the spirits in prison cannot be admitted either as the end, or as the means proper to effect the end, of his descent into hell. 

Nor is this preaching only to be rejected as a means to produce the effect of Christ’s descent, but the effect itself pretended to be wrought thereby, whether in reference to the just or unjust, is by no means to be admitted.  For though some of the ancients thought, as is shown before, that Christ did therefore descend into hell, that he might deliver the souls of some which were tormented in those flames and translate them to a place of happiness; yet this opinion deserveth no acceptance, neither in respect of the ground or foundation on which it is built, nor in respect of the action or effect itself.  The authority upon which the strength of this doctrine doth rely is that place of the Acts, whom God hath raised us, loosing the pains of hell, for so they read it; from whence the argument is thus deduced.  God did loose the pains of hell when Christ was raised; but those pains did not take hold of Christ himself, who was not to suffer anything after death, and consequently he could not be loosed from or taken out of those pains in which he never was: in the same manner the patriarchs and the prophets, and the saints of old, if they should be granted to have been in a place sometimes called hell, yet were they there in happiness, and therefore the delivering them from thence could not be the loosing of the pains of hell: it followeth, then, that those alone which died in their sins were involved in those pains, and when those pains were loosed then were they released; and being they were loosed when Christ was raised, the consequence will be, that he, descending into hell, delivered some of the damned souls from their torments there. 

But, first, though the Latin translation render it so, the pains of hell, though some copies and other translations, and divers of the fathers, read it in the same manner; yet the original and authentic Greek acknowledgeth no such word as hell, but propounds it plainly thus, whom God hath raised up loosing the pains of death.  Howsoever, if the words were so expressed in the original text, yet it would not follow that God delivered Christ out of those pains in which he was detained any time, much less that the soul of Christ delivered the souls of any other, but only that he was preserved from enduring them. 

Again, as the authority is most uncertain, so is the doctrine most incongruous.  The souls of men were never cast into infernal torments, to be delivered from them.  The days which follow after death were never made for opportunities to a better life.  The angels had one instant either to stand or fall eternally; and what that instant was to them, that this life is unto us.  We may as well believe the devils were saved, as those souls which were once tormented by them.  For it is an everlasting fire, and everlasting punishment, a worm that dieth not [Matt. 25:41, 46; Mark 9:44].  Nor does this only belong to us who live after the death of Christ, as if the damnation of all sinners now were ineluctable and eternal, but before that death it were not so; as if faith and repentance were now indispensably necessary to salvation, but then were not.  For thus the condition of mankind before the fulness of time, in which our Saviour came into the world, should have been far more happy and advantageous than it hath been since [Greg. Great].  But neither they nor we shall ever escape eternal flames, except we obtain the favour of God before we be swallowed by the jaws of death.  “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body [2Cor. v. 10]: but if they be in the state of salvation now by virtue of Christ’s descent into hell which were numbered amongst the damned before his death, at the day of the general judgment they must be returned into hell again; or if they be received then into eternal happiness, it will follow either that they were not justly condemned to those flames at first, according to the general dispensations of God, or else they did not receive the things done in their body at the last; which all shall as certainly receive, as all appear.  This life is given unto men to work out their salvation with fear and trembling; but after death cometh judgment, reflecting on the life that is past, not expecting amendment or conversion then.  He that liveth and believeth in Christ shall never die; he that believeth, though he die, yet shall he live [John 11:25, 26]; but he that dieth in unbelief shall neither believe nor live.  And this is as true of those which went before, as of those which came after our Saviour, because he was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world [Rev. 13:8].  I therefore conclude, that the end for which the soul of Christ descended into hell was not to deliver any damned souls, or to translate them from the torments of hell unto the joys of heaven. 

The next consideration is, whether by virtue of his descent the souls of those which before believed in him, the patriarchs, prophets, and all the people of God, were delivered from that place and state in which they were before, and whether Christ descended into hell to that end, that he might translate them into a place and state far more glorious and happy.  This hath been in the later ages of the church the vulgar opinion of most men, and that as if it followed necessarily from the denial of the former; he delivered not the souls of the damned, therefore he delivered the souls of them which believed, and of them alone [Greg. Great], till at last the schools have followed it so fully, that they deliver it as a point of faith and infallible certainty, that the soul of Christ descending into hell, did deliver from thence all the souls of the saints which were in the bosom of Abraham, and did confer upon them actual and essential beatitude, which before they enjoyed not.  And this they lay upon two grounds: first, that the souls of saints departed saw not God; and secondly, that Christ by his death opened the gate of the kingdom of heaven. 

But even this opinion, as general as it hath been, hath neither that consent of antiquity, nor such certainty as it pretendeth, but is rather built upon the improbabilities of a worse.  The most ancient of all the fathers [Jusin Martyr, Ireneaus, Tertullian, Hilary, Gregory Nyssen, Novatian], whose writings are extant, were so far from believing that the end of Christ’s descent into hell was to translate the saints of old into heaven, that they thought them not to be in heaven yet, nor ever to be removed from that place in which they were before Christ’s death, until the general resurrection.  Others, as we have also shown, thought the bosom of Abraham was not in any place which could be termed hell, and consequently could not think that Christ should therefore descend into hell to deliver them which were not there.  And others yet which thought that Christ delivered the patriarchs from their infernal mansions, did not think so exclusively, or in opposition to the disobedient and damned spirits, but conceived many of them to be saved as well a the patriarchs were, and doubted whether all were not so saved or no [Augustine, Greg. Naz.].  Indeed I think there were very few (if any) for above five hundred years after Christ, which did so believe Christ delivered the saints out of hell, as to leave all the damned there: and therefore this opinion cannot be grounded upon the prime antiquity, when so many of the ancients believed not that they were removed at all, and so few acknowledged that they were removed alone. 

And if the authority of this opinion in respect of its antiquity be not great, the certainty of the truth of it well be less.  For first, if it be not certain that the souls of the patriarchs were in some place called hell after their own death, and until the death of Christ; if the bosom of Abraham were not some infernal mansion; then can it not be certain that Christ descended into hell to deliver them.  But there is no certainty that the souls of the just, the patriarchs and the rest of the people of God, were kept in any place below, which was or may be called hell: the bosom of Abraham might well be in the heavens above, far from any region where the devil and his angels were; the scriptures nowhere tell us that the spirits of just men went unto, or did remain in hell; the place in which the rich man was in torments after death is called hell, but that into which the angels carried the poor man’s soul is not termed so.  There was a vast distance between them two; nor is it likely that the angels which see the face of God should be sent down from heaven to convey the souls of the just into that place where the face of God cannot be seen.  When God translated Enoch, and Elias was carried up in a chariot to heaven, they seem not to be conveyed to a place where there was no vision of God; and yet it is most probable that Moses was with Elias as well before as upon the mount: nor is there any reason to conceive that Abraham should be in any worse place or condition than Enoch was, having as great a testimony that he pleased God, as Enoch had [Heb. xi. 9]. 

Secondly, it cannot be certain that the soul of Christ delivered the souls of the saints of old from hell, and imparted to them the beatifical vision, except it were certain that the souls are in another place and a better condition now than they were before.  But there is no certainty that the patriarchs and the prophets are now in another place and a better condition than they were before our blessed Saviour died; there is no intimation of any such alteration of their state delivered in the scriptures; there is no such place with any probability pretended to prove any actual accession of happiness and glory already past.  “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven [Matt. 8:11]; there then did the Gentiles which came in to Christ find the patriarchs, even in the kingdom of heaven; and we cannot perceive that they found them anywhere else than Lazarus did.  For the description is the same, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” [Luke 13:28].  For as the rich man “in hell lift up his eyes being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off [Luke 14:23], before the death of Christ; so those that were in “weeping and gnashing of teeth, saw Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets,” when the Gentiles were brought in. 

Thirdly, though it were certain that the souls of the saints had been in a place called hell, as they were not; though it were also certain that they were now in a better condition than they were before Christ’s death, as it is not; yet it would not follow that Christ descended into hell to make this alteration; for it might not be performed before his resurrection, it might not be effected till his ascension, it might not be attributed to the merit of his passion, it might have no dependence on his descension.  I conclude therefore that there is no certainty of truth in that proposition which the schoolmen take of a matter of faith, that Christ delivered the souls of the saints from that place of hell which they call limbus of the fathers, into heaven; and for that purpose after his death descended into hell. 

Wherefore being it is most infallibly certain that the death of Christ was as powerful and effectual for the redemption of the saints before him, as for those which follow him; being they did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink [1 Cor. 10:3, 4]; being Abraham is the “father of us all”, and we now after Christ’s ascension are called but to “walk in the steps of the faith” of that father [Rom. 4:12, 16]; being the bosom of Abraham is clearly propounded in the scriptures as the place into which the blessed angels before the death of Christ conveyed the souls of those which departed in the favour of God [Luke 14:22], and is also promised to them which should believe in Christ after his death [John 13:23; Luke 14:23; Matt. 8:11]; being we can find no difference or translation of the bosom of Abraham, and yet it is a comfort still to us that we shall go to him, and while we hope so never fear that we shall go to hell [Augustine]; I cannot admit this as the end of Christ’s descent into hell, to convey the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and those which were with them, from thence; nor can I think there was any reference to such an action in those words, “Thou shalt not leave my souls in hell.” 

Another opinion hath obtained, especially in our church, that the end for which our Saviour descended into hell was to triumph over Satan and all the powers below within their own dominions… 

[Note:  Pearson shows that Col. 2:15 and Eph. 4:8,9 cannot be properly used to defend this.] 

17. And this leads me to that end which I conceive most conformable to the words of the prophet, and least liable to question or objection.  We have already shown the substance of the article to consist in this, that the soul of Christ, really separated from his body by death, did truly pass unto the places below where the souls of men departed were.  And I conceive the end for which he did so was, that he might undergo the condition of a dead man as well as of a living.  He appeared here in the similitude of sinful flesh, and went into the other world in the similitude of a sinner.  His body was laid in a grave, as ordinarily the bodies of dead men are; his soul was conveyed into such receptacles as the souls of other persons use to be.  All, which was necessary for our redemption by way of satisfaction and merit, was already performed on the cross; and all, which was necessary for the actual collation and exhibition of what was merited there, was to be effected upon and after his resurrection: in the interim, therefore, there is nothing left, at least known to us, but to satisfy the law of death.  This he undertook to do, and did; and though the ancient fathers by the several additions of other ends have something obscured this, yet it may be sufficiently observed in their writings [Irenaeus, Hilary, Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, Fulgentius], and is certainly most conformable to that prophetical expression, upon which we have hitherto grounded our explication “Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” 

18. Secondly, by the descent of Christ into hell all those which believe in him are secured from descending thither; he went unto those regions of darkness that our souls might never come into those torments which are there.  By his descent he freed us from our fears, as by his ascension he secured us of our hopes.  He passed to those habitations where Satan hath taken up possession, and exerciseth his dominion, that having no power over him, we might be assured that he should never exercise any power over our souls departed, as belongeth unto him.  “Through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil” [Heb. 2:14], and by his actual descent into the dominions of him so destroyed secured all which have an interest in him of the same freedom which he had.  Which truth is also still preserved (though among many other strange conceptions) in the writings of the fathers [De Anima, Augustine, Athanasius]. 

19. Having thus examined the several interpretations of this part of the article, we may now give a brief and safe account thereof, and teach every one how they may express their faith without any danger of mistake, saying, I give a full and undoubting assent unto this as to a certain truth, that when all the sufferings of Christ were finished on the cross, and his soul was separated from his body, though his body were dead, yet his soul died not, and though it died not, yet it underwent the condition of the souls of such as die, and being he died in the similitude of a sinner, his soul went to the place where the souls of men are kept who die for their sins, and so did wholly undergo the law of death; but because there was no sin in him, and he had fully satisfied for the sins of others which he took upon him, therefore as God suffered not his holy one to see corruption, so he left not his soul in hell, and thereby gave sufficient security to all those who belong to Christ of never coming under the power of Satan or suffering in the flames prepared for the devil and his angels.  And thus and for these purposes may every Christian say, I believe that Christ descended into hell.