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Another class of Opinions examined.
Some of these consider the event referred to in the words, "He went and preached to the spirits in prison," as having taken place during the interval between our Lord's death and resurrection; others as having taken place after his resurrection. The first consider the words rendered "having been put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit" as equivalent to "having become dead as to his body"-a fair rendering of the words,-" but continuing alive as to his soul,"—a sense which the original words will not bear, he in that soul went to the region of separate souls, Hades, the invisible state, and there preached to the spirits in prison who before were disobedient. The second consider the words referred to as equivalent to "being put to death in his human nature, but restored to life by his divine nature or by the Holy Ghost, he in his resurrection-body, (which they conceive was not subject to the ordinary laws of matter) in his new life, went down to the region of separate souls and there preached to the spirits in prison.
These two classes of interpreters, holding in common that our Lord went down to Hades, are considerably divided as to what was his object in going there as described or hinted at in the passage before us; one class holding that he went to hell (Gehenna) the place of torment, to proclaim to the fallen angels who are kept there under chains of darkness, as the "spirits in prison," (though how they could be disobedient in the days of Noah does not appear, and these spirits seem plainly to belong to the same class of beings as "the souls" that were saved v. 20,) to proclaim throughout that dismal region his triumph over them and their apostate chief; another class holding that he went to the place of torment to announce his triumph over the powers of darkness, and to offer salvation through his death to those human spirits who had died in their sins; a third class holding that he went to purgatory to deliver those who had been sufficiently improved by their disciplinary sufferings and to remove them to paradise; and a fourth class holding that he went to paradise, the residence of the separate spirits of good men, translating the "spirits in prison"-the spirits in safe keeping, to announce to them the glad tidings that the great salvation which had been the object of their faith and hope was now completed.
Each of these varieties of interpretation is attended with its own difficulties,-difficulties which appear to me insuperable.
1 Τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασι.
Some of them go upon principles obviously and demonstrably false, and all of them attempt to bring much out of the words which plainly is not in them. To state particularly the objections against each of them would occupy a good deal of time, and, I am afraid, would afford little satisfaction and less edification to my readers. There are however common difficulties bearing on them all which seem quite sufficient to warrant us to set them all aside, and which may be stated in a sentence or two. It seems incredible if such events, as are darkly hinted at, rather than distinctly described in these words thus interpreted, had taken place that we should have no account of them, indeed no certain allusion to them, in any other part of Scripture. It seems quite unaccountable why the separate spirits of those who had lived in the days of Noah and perished in the deluge, are specially mentioned as those among the inhabitants of the unseen world to whom the quickened Redeemer went and preached, the much greater multitude before and since that time who had gone down to the land of darkness being passed by without notice; and what will weigh much with a judicious student of Scripture, it is impossible to perceive how these events, supposing them to have taken place, were, as they are represented by the construction of the language to be, the effects of Christ's suffering for sins, in the room of sinners, and how these statements at all serve to promote the apostle's practical object which was to persuade persecuted Christians to submit patiently and cheerfully to sufferings for righteousness' sake from the consideration, exemplified in the case of our Lord, that suffering in a good cause and in a right spirit, however severe, was calculated to lead to the happiest results. No interpretation, we apprehend, can be the right one which does not correspond with the obvious construction of the passage, and with the avowed design of the writer.
Keeping these general principles steadily in view, I proceed now to state as briefly and as plainly as I can, what appears to me the probable meaning of this difficult passage," a passage” as Leighton says, "somewhat obscure in itself, but as it usually falls, made more so by the various fancies and contests of interpreters aiming or pretending to clear it."
The first consequence noticed here of those penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings which Christ the Just One endured by the appointment of his Father the righteous judge, for sins, in the room of the unjust, is that he "was put to death in the flesh."
1 θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκί.
Christ's death was expiatory.
unjust in whose room he stood were doomed to death, and he, in bearing their sins submitted to death-to a violent death-to a form of violent death which by a divine appointment marked him as the victim of public justice. He was with wicked hands crucified, hung on a tree,-and he that was banged on a tree was declared to be accursed or to have died as a victim of sin by the hand of public justice. The idea here however seems not to be so much the violent nature of the infliction, as its effect,-the entire privation of life and consequently of power. The word seems used as in Romans 7: 4, "ye are dead."2 He became dead in the flesh, he became bodily dead, he died ougxixos,-he lay an inanimate, powerless corpse in the sepulchre.
But his becoming thus bodily dead and powerless was not more certainly the effect of his penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings, than the second circumstance here mentioned, his "being quickened in the spirit." If this refers to his resurrection we must render it "quickened by the Spirit,"-but we have already seen that without misinterpretation it cannot be so rendered. Besides, the resurrection is expressly mentioned in the twenty-first verse in connection with the ascension to heaven. To be "quickened in the spirit" is to be quickened spiritually, as to be put to death in the flesh is to become dead bodily. Thus poor in spirit, πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, i. e, πνευματικῶς ;3 waxed strong in spirit, ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, i. e. πνευματικῶς ;4 rejoiced in spirit, ἠγαλλίασατο τῷ πνεύματι, i. e. πνευματικώς.5 The word rendered to be "quickened," Cooлoέσα, literally signifies to be made alive or living. It is used to signify the original communication of life, the restoration of life to the dead, and the communication of a large measure of life to the living. A consequence of our Lord's penal, vicarious and expiatory sufferings was that he became spiritually alive and powerful, in a sense and to a degree in which he was not previously, and in which but for these sufferings he never could have become,-full of life to communicate to dead souls, "mighty to save." He was thus spiritually quickened. "The Father gave him to have life in himself" that he might give eternal life to as many as the Father had given him,—to all coming to the Father through him." "All power," even the power of God, "was given to HIM" who had been crucified in weakness, and by this power he lives and gives life. "The second
Deut. 21: 23; Gal. 3: 13.
* EdavaTwoNTE T vóμ, not "ye have been put to death by the law."
4 Luke. 1: 80.
Adam" thus "became a quickening spirit." He became as it were the receptacle of life and spiritual influence, out of which men were to "receive and grace for grace." As a divine person, all life, all power necessarily adhered in his nature; but as Mediator, that spiritual life and energy which makes him powerful to save are gifts bestowed on him by the Father as rewards of his obedience to death, and as the means of gaining the ultimate object of his atoning sufferings. "He asked" of the Father this "life," and "He gave it him." It was the consequence of his penal, vicarious, expiatory sufferings. It is to this that our Lord refers when he says, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die," or rather falling into the ground, being dead, "it abideth alone, but if it die,”—if it be dead, "it bringeth forth much fruit." Had Christ not died bodily as the victim of sin, he could not have "lived forever" as our all successful Intercessor,-"able to save to the uttermost"-forever. "I if I be lifted up," said he,—lifted upon the cross, "for this he said signifying what death he should die," "I if I should be lifted up will draw all men unto me."1 "The captain of our salvation was perfected by his sufferings." "Because he humbled himself, God highly exalted him, and gave him" all "power over all flesh," "all power in heaven and in earth."
The spiritual life and power conferred on the Saviour as the reward of his disinterested labors in the cause of God's honor and man's salvation, was illustriously manifested in that wonderful quickening of his apostles by the communication of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and in communicating through the instrumentality of their ministry spiritual life and all its concomitant and following blessings to multitudes of souls "dead in sin.”
It is to this, I apprehend, that the apostle refers when he says by which or whereby-by this spiritual quickening, or wherefore being thus spiritually quickened "he went and preached to the spirits in prison who before time were disobedient." If our general scheme of interpretation is well founded there can be no doubt as to who those spirits in prison are. They are not human spirits confined in bodies like so many prisons as a punishment for sin in some previous state of being. That is a heathenish doctrine to which Scripture rightly interpreted gives no sanction. They are sinful men righteously condemned, the slaves and captives of Satan, shackled with the fetters of sin. These are the captives to whom Messiah, "anointed by the Spirit of the Lord," 2 Ev Y.
1 John 12: 24, 32.
Sense of the words-" Spirits in Prison."
-i. e. just in other words, "quickened in the Spirit," was to proclaim liberty, the bound ones to whom he was to announce the opening of the prison. This is no uncommon mode of representing the work of the Messiah. "Thus saith the Lord God, he that created the heavens and stretched them out, he that spread forth the earth and that which cometh out of it, he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein; I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee and will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light to 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." "He said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God. And now, saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And he 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. Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee. Thus saith the Lord, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; 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. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold these shall come from far; and lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim."2
It is not remarkable then that guilty, depraved men should be
1 Isaiah 42: 5, 7.
2 Isaiah 49: 3-12.