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Christian world, the doctrine of the Pharisees, and especially that part of it which doomed the reputed sinner to unending woe, gained ground, and diffused its gloomy influence with kindred errors co-extensive with the empire of Christianity. But when reason and religion were loosed from the manacles in which superstition and ignorance had bound them, the Scripture doctrine of an equal resurrection, and an endless life for all mankind, was again recognized, and believed, and cherished with unspeakable joy. As, therefore, when the religion of Moses was obscured and corrupted, the pagan doctrine of eternal torments usurped its place; so, in the degree that Christianity was defaced by superstition, the same doctrine became an abhorrent part of the creed of the follower of Jesus. These facts admonish us to give heed to the injunction of our Saviour, 'beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees.'
S. R. S.
Christ's Preaching to the Spirits in Prison.
'By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which were sometime disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.' 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20.
I. THIS has been regarded as one among the texts most difficult of interpretation; and, as might be expected in such a case, different opinions have been offered upon it. Most commentators have supposed that St. Peter here spoke of Christ's preaching by his spirit through Noah, at the time when the ark was preparing, before the deluge. But no reason is offered for such view of this scripture, except the simple fact, that the spirits in prison are said to have been disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.' But this circumstance does not appear to authorize the conclusion that Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison, was Noah's preaching to the antediluvians. This preaching is ascribed to Christ. What was done by his apostles and ministers whom he chose, qualified, and sent into the world, might justly be, and often is, referred to Christ, as if he were
personally engaged in the work. But we know of no apostolical usage for attributing directly to him any works performed by men before he came into the world. The preaching to the spirits in prison is ascribed directly to Christ, and is introduced as something which he performed after his resurrection, or his having been quickened by the spirit: 'For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God; 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 it is clear, that if there was any such work as is here described, (and we expect to show that there was,) performed by Christ's own power and authority subsequently to his being quickened by the spirit, it will be most reasonable to apply this text to that subsequent work.
Others have understood St. Peter to teach in this place, that the spirits of the antediluvians were in a prison of darkness at the time of Christ's coming into the world, suffering punishment for sins which they committed when on the earth; and that the spirit of Christ, between his death and resurrection, went down into that prison, to preach to them and to save them. But we have the following reasons to offer, which weigh conclusively in our mind, against this view of the passage.
1. No such doctrine was ever taught by the patriarchs and prophets, as that which this explanation would make St. Peter to teach in this place. The ministry of the patriarchs and prophets ran through the space of nearly four thousand years; and they were commissioned of God to warn the people of all real dangers incurred by their conduct. Now, since they did not, in this long period, apprize the people that they were liable to be cast into a prison after death for the punishment of their sins on earth, we feel obliged to conclude that such infernal prison was not one of the dangers to which they were exposed. It will not be to the point to reply here, that we may as well conclude that the doctrine of life and immortality is not true, because it was not revealed under the Old Testament dispensation; for this doctrine is contained in the Old Testament, though not so clearly revealed there as in the New. But what if immortality, as the final inheritance of mankind, had not been revealed at all under that former dispensation? It is what God has secured to all men by his own purpose and grace, and is not to be either obtained or lost by means of
their own performances. It is therefore, as it relates to the present question, a different subject entirely from that of rewards and punishments for human couduct. And further, the patriarchs and prophets were not specially commissioned to be ministers of the doctrine of life and immortality; but they were especially commissioned to be ministers of the doctrine of rewards and punishments. It was incumbent on them, by virtue of their appointment from God, to encourage the people in virtue and dissuade them from sin, by plainly declaring to them the benefits of the former, and all the real evils of the latter. We cannot accuse them of unfaithfulness; and consequently, as they did not warn the people of a prison for punishment after death, we cannot admit that such a prison was one of the evils to which they were exposed. Accordingly we consider it proper, and even requisite out of respect for the. sacred Scriptures, to take the position, that if this passage, written in the year of the world 4063, will admit of any other fair construction, it ought not to be applied to the doctrine, unrevealed before, of such an infernal prison, as a place of retribution for the people of those former ages.
2. But St. Peter does not here introduce the mention of the spirits in prison as the main subject of discourse, nor as a motive of fear to restrain sinners, nor as if he designed to give any new information. He was urging upon his brethren the example of Christ, who suffered for sinners, and being raised again from the dead, pursued their interests, instructing and enlightening those who were in prison. His mention of the spirits, or as Wakefield translates it, 'the minds of men in prison,' is introduced incidentally, to illustrate the remarks concerning Christ's devotedness to the interests of mankind, and the benefits of his mission which extended to sinners. But nothing appears here like a design to introduce any new doctrine in relation to the dangers of sin.
3. If St. Peter meant to teach, that all who died in unbelief before the coming of Christ, had been kept in a state of suffering in an infernal prison, and were visited by Christ's disembodied spirit between his death and resurrection, why did he mention those in particular, and those only, who were drowned in the deluge? This reference to the antediluvians, and the mention of the few of them who were saved upon the water, indicates a design to introduce a comparison between that case and some other; but it does not appear designed to teach the doctrine that all unbelievers, at the close of life, are to be consigned to an infernal prison after death.
4. The scripture before us does not say that the work here ascribed to Christ was performed in the time between his death and resurrection. Nor are we informed by any other passage that Christ performed any work during the time when he was in hades, the state of death. The language of this text, with the preceding context, implies that the work which is here ascribed to Christ, was performed after his resurrection: Being put to death in the flesh, and quickened by the spirit, by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.' He was put to death in the flesh, then quickened by the spirit of God, and then, by the same spirit or power by which he was raised from the dead, he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.
II. Having given our reasons against adopting either of the above-noticed opinions, we will now present what we consider a rational and Scriptural interpretation of the passage. And here we will premise, that the word spirits in the Scriptures, sometimes means men, or the minds of men, who are alive in the flesh. The spirits of just men made perfect,' (Heb. xii. 23,) unto whom the Hebrew Christians had come, were certainly living men. St. Paul's Hebrew brethren had come into a unison of mind and spirit with just men made perfect in love. And in the phrase, Father of spirits, (Heb. xii. 9,) the same sentiment is expressed as in the saying, 'We are also his offspring.' God is our Father; and he is the God of the spirits of all flesh 2 that is, he is the God of all men.
But with regard to this word in the text before us, there are several various readings in ancient copies of the New Testament. Dr. Adam Clarke says, that in some Greek MSS. it reads, in spirit, the word spirit applying to Christ: 'By which he came in spirit, and preached to them who were in prison.' And he says that he had before him, when writing his commentary, one of the first editions of the Latin bible, in which the verse stands thus: By which he came spiritually, and preached to them that were in prison.' In several very ancient MSS. of the Vulgate, the clause is similar: Christ came in spirit, and preached to them who were in prison.'
But taking the word spirits, as in our common version, to stand for the persons who were the subjects of Christ's ministry, we inquire, Who were these spirits, or men, or as Wake
Acts xvii. 28.
* Num. xvi. 22: xxvii. 16.
field renders it, minds of men, in prison, to whom Christ went and preached after his resurrection from the dead? On this question the Scriptures give us satisfactory information. The Lord said by the prophet Isaiah, Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth! I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. . . . . . I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.' Here the Gentiles are expressly called prisoners, sitting in darkness, and in the prison-house. And the elect servant of God, his Messiah, was not only to be a covenant of the people Israel, but a light also unto the prisoners of the Gentiles, by the energy of his truth opening their eyes, and delivering them from their dark imprisonment. Again; concerning his chosen servant, the Lord said, 'It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. . . . . . That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves: they shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.' In another place Christ himself is represented as saying, 'The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.'5" But this work of Christ, so far at least as it related to the enlightening and liberating of the Gentiles, who were especially meant by those in darkness and in prison, did not go into effectual operation until he had been put to death in the flesh, and quickened again by the spirit of God. During his life in the flesh, he charged his ministering disciples, saying, 'Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' 6 But when he had been put to death, and raised again, he commanded them to go into all the world, and preach the gospel
Isa. xlii. 1-7.
Isa. xli. 1; Luke iv. 16-21.
Isa. xlix. 6, 9.