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ties in the Bible, equally prove that they are very superficial observers or very prejudiced judges. That in writings so ancient as the Holy Scriptures, published originally in a state of society so different from that which at present prevails, among a people whose language has long ceased to be spoken, and whose laws and customs and manners have little resemblance to ours, there should be difficulties, was naturally to be expected, and indeed this could not have been prevented without a miracle. But these obscurities attach themselves to comparatively few passages, and the difficulties to which they give origin are gradually diminishing and disappearing as the knowledge of the sacred languages, antiquities and criticism makes progress; and with regard to those which remain, there are two considerations that deserve remark; the first that in no case is there uncertainty cast on any of the leading facts or doctrines of revelation by these obscurities and difficulties, and the second, that in almost every case, though there may be particular words and phrases, the precise import or reference of which it may be difficult or impossible to determine with certainty, these passages are found notwithstanding replete with important instruction.
These remarks are applicable to the passage of Scripture to which our attention is now to be directed. The observation of the apostle Peter respecting his beloved brother Paul is applicable to himself. In his epistles "there are some things hard to be understood which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction," and this is one of them. Few passages have received a greater variety of interpretation, and he would prove more satisfactorily his self-confidence than his wisdom who should assert that his interpretation was undoubtedly the true one. Yet though we should not be able to determine with absolute certainty who these "spirits in prison" are, and when, and where, and how, and for what purpose Christ "went and preached" to them, and whatever opinion we may adopt as most probable on these subjects, no Christian doctrine, no Christian duty is affected by our uncertainty or by our opinion. Even were we holding, what appears to us the least probable opinion, that the words teach us that our Lord during his disembodied state went to the region of separate souls, and made a communication of some kind to its inhabitants, either to such of them as were "in safe keeping" in Paradise, or "in prison" in Gehenna; they would give no countenance to the delusive dreams either of the Roman Catholic re
2 Peter 3: 15, 16.
General aim of the Passage.
specting purgatory, or of the Universalist concerning the possibility of favorably altering the condition of men after they have left the present state; they would merely mention an isolated fact nowhere else referred to in Scripture, and from which no legitimate consequence can be deduced at all inconsistent with any other portion of revealed truth; and though we should never obtain satisfactory information on the points referred to, how replete with truth and holy influence is the sentence, v. 18-22, of which one or two clauses are obscure, perhaps unintelligible,-how "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness!" It would be very presumptuous to expect that I should be able entirely to remove difficulties which have baffled the attempts of the ablest interpreters, yet I believe that patient, careful, honest, persevering, prayerful study of any portion of God's word is never unproductive of some good effect, and I must say, after the experience of forty years' study of the Bible, that in enquiring into the meaning of Scripture, “darkness has often been made light before me; crooked things straight; rough places plain."2
The paragraph of which the subject of this excursus forms a part is occupied with a view of the sufferings of Christ,-(their nature, as violent, penal, vicarious, and expiatory,-their design, to bring men to God,—and their consequences more immediate and remote) considered as a source of support and consolation and hope to Christians persecuted for righteousness' sake. It is to a portion of the consequences of Christ's sufferings that the whole of the difficult passage before us refers.
"Christ the just one suffered for sins in the room of the unjust, that he might bring them to God;-was put to death in the flesh
Those are well weighed words of the candid and learned Joachim Camerarius, a man every way worthy of being Melanchthon's friend: "Est hic unus ex iis locis sacrarum literarum, de quibus pietas religiosa quaerere amplius et dubitare quid dicatur, sine reprehensione: et de quibus diversae etiam sententiae admitti posse videantur, dummodo non detorqueatur kavov Toù tò avrò opovεiv, id est, religiosa de fide consensio, neque aberretur úлò тis úvahoyias rūs riorεws.”—Luther's remarks, characteristic as they are, do not merit the same eulogium. Hac tam horribili poena Petrus apostolus quoque motus videtur, ut non aliter quam fanaticus loquatur talia verba, quae ne hodie quidem, a nobis intelligi possunt. 1 Pet. 3: 19, 20. Mirabile profecto judicium, et vox paene fanatica."-Luth. Exeg, Opp. Latt. tom. II. p. 221. I do not know that we can make any better apology for the rashness of the great reformer, than to confess with Langé, the worthy father-inlaw of the learned and judicious Rambach," virum optimum aliquid humani passum esse," and that what he says, "ex affectu potius, quam verbis estimandum esse."
but quickened by the Spirit, by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, and having risen from the dead he went into heaven, where he is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him." The consequences of the penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings of our Lord plainly divide themselves into two classes, first, such as took place not in heaven, for that is all that we yet consider ourselves as warranted to say of them,— whether on the earth or under the earth-may perhaps appear in the course of our illustrations. "He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, he by it went and preached to the spirits in prison who sometime were disobedient;" and secondly, such as took place in heaven: "Having risen from the dead he went into heaven and is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him." It is to the first class of consequences,-those which took place not in heaven, that our attention is to be turned.
Some interpreters consider only the words rendered "put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit," as descriptive of the result of our Lord's penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings; what follows they consider as referring to something which he did in or by the same spirit by which he was quickened, on another occasion altogether, at a former period so long gone by as the antediluvian times. They interpret the words descriptive of the consequences of our Lord's sufferings for sins, in the room of sinners, thus," He was violently put to death in his body, or in his human nature, but he was quickened, restored to life by the Spirit, i. e. either by the Holy Ghost the third person of the Holy Trinity, or by his divine nature "the Spirit of holiness" according to which he is "the Son of God," in contradistinction to his being "the Son of David according to the flesh,"-that Spirit by which he was "justified," that "Eternal Spirit through which he offered himself to God a sacrifice without spot or blemish ;" and the remaining part of the statement they consider as equivalent to, " By the Holy Spirit inspiring Noah as a preacher of righteousness, or in his divine nature through Noah's instrumentality, he in the antediluvian times "went and preached"-either a pleonastic expression for preached, or came from heaven in his divine influence and operation,-as he came to Paradise in the cool of the day, came down to see the Tower of Babel, came down on Mount Sinai at the giving of the law,-and made known the will of God to the men of that generation who were then "spirits in
Objections to the Common Interpretation.
prison," condemned men, doomed to punishment for their sins, and kept as in a prison till the time of execution when the flood came, or who are now spirits in the prison of hell, kept along with the evil angels" under chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day."
The sense thus brought out of the words is self-consistent and not incompatible with any of the facts or doctrines of revelation, but this mode of interpretation seems to us liable to great and indeed insurmountable objections. The words "flesh" and "spirit" are plainly opposed to one another, the prepositions in and by are not in the original. The opposed words' are in the same case; they stand plainly in the same relation respectively to the words rendered "put to death" and "quickened ;" and that relation should have been expressed in English by the same particle.3 If you give the rendering "put to death in the flesh" you must give the corresponding rendering "quickened in the Spirit" which would bring out the sense either "quickened in his human spirit or soul" a statement to which it is difficult to attach a distinct meaning, for the soul is not mortal,-Christ's spirit did not die,— and to continue alive is not the meaning of the original word; or "quickened in his divine nature,”- —a statement obviously absurd and false, as implying that he who is "the life"-the living one can be quickened either in the sense of being restored from a state of death or of being endowed with a larger measure of vitality. On the other hand if you adopt the rendering of our translators in the second clause "quickened by the Spirit," then you must render in accordance with it the first clause "put to death by the flesh." If by "the Spirit” you understand the divine nature of our Lord, by "the flesh" you must understand his human nature, which makes the expression "put to death by the flesh" an absurdity. On the other hand if you understand by "the Spirit" the Holy Ghost, then by "the flesh" you must understand mankind—put to death by men but restored to life by God the Spirit. This interpretation though giving a consistent and true sense,-the sense so
1 Σαρκὶ, πνεύματι.
* θανατωθεὶς, ζωοποιηθεὶς.
* Wiclif is uniform in his rendering "made dede in fleisch, but made quyk in spirit-he cam in spirit," etc. So is Tyndale, so far as the repeated mention of spirit is concerned,-" was kylled as pertayning to the flesshe: but was quyckened in the sprete, in which sprete he also went," etc. Cranmer repeats Tyndale-as does the Geneva with some slight orthographical change. The Khemists in the first part of the rendering are nearer the truth than any of them— "mortified certes in flesh but quickened in spirit. In the which spirit," etc.
VOL. IV. No. 16.
forcibly expressed in Peter's words to the Jews, "whom ye crucified,-whom God raised from the dead," is forbidden by the usage of the language. Then there can be no doubt that there does appear something very unnatural in introducing our Lord, in the midst of what is plainly a description of the results of his atoning sufferings, as having, in the spirit by which he was quickened, after he had been put to death, gone many centuries before in the antediluvian age to preach to an ungodly world,-and there is just as little doubt that the only meaning which the words will bear, without violence being done them, is that it was when he had been put to death in the flesh and quickened in the Spirit or by the Spirit, whatever that may mean,—he went and preached; and that "the spirits" whoever they be, were "in prison," whatever that may mean, when he preached to them. These are not all the difficulties connected with this interpretation, which may be termed the common Protestant interpretation of the passage; but they are quite sufficient to convince us that it is untenable, and to induce the apprehension that it would never have been resorted to but from its supposed necessity to destroy the shadow of support which another mode of interpretation gives to some of the errors of Popery which, by that "deceivableness of unrighteousness" which characterizes the system, have been turned to great account in fettering the minds and plundering the property of the unhappy victims of that masterpiece of imposture and superstition; or to the soul-endangering dream of Universalism, that there are means of grace, of which those who die unforgiven, may avail themselves in the separate state, so as to avoid the natural results of their living and dying in unbelief and impenitence.
Another class of interpreters consider the whole statement before us as referring to what happened subsequent to, and consequent on our Lord's penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings.!
1 A pretty full account of the diversified opinions referred to in this and the following paragraph is to be found in the third Excursus appended to the second fasciculus of Potts' Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, forming the IXth volume of the "Editio Koppiana" of the N. T. It is entitled "Variae interpretum, de descensu J. C. ad inferos, sententiae secundum temporum ordinem enumerantur, et breviter dijudicantur; nostraque interpretatio, copiosius explicatur." Bishop Horsley belongs to the more reasonable portion of this class. His defence of his view of the passage like everything he did bears the marks of power-imaginative, and ratiocinative-but like many things he did is lamentably deficient in sober thinking and conclusive argument. It is a happy thing that Priestley had other confuters, and the divinity of Christ other defenders than the Bishop of Rochester.