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1. The apostle is not here speaking of the human spirit of Christ, but of the Divine Spirit.* The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, preached to the spirits in prison" Being put to death in the flesh, but quick"ened by the Spirit, by which also he went and "preached," &c. But the Divine Spirit raised Christ from the dead. See Rom. viii. 11. Heb. xiii. 20. The pretence, therefore, of Christ's local descent into hell, derives no support from this passage.
2. Christ never did, nor ever will descend locally into bell. I believe no one supposes he went there prior to This death. He did not go there in His disembodied state. For he promised the penitent thief, "To-day thou shalt "be with me in paradise ;" and in His last address to His Father, He said, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." If His soul went into paradise-into the hands of His Father-it did not descend into hell.-He did not preach to disembodied spirits between His resurrection and ascension. The forty days which intervened between these events, were taken up in giving the disciples more full instructions respecting the Christian dispensation, Acts i. 3. I do not know of any one who pleads for his descent into hell after His ascension to the right-hand of
* Bishop Pearson remarks upon this text,-" Those words of St. Peter "have no such power of probation; except we were certain that the "Spirit there spoken of was the soul of Christ, and that the time intended "for that preaching was 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: in respect of which he "preached to those which were disobedient, in the days of Noah, as we "have already shown." Pearson on the Creed, p. 253. 2d Edit.
3. The mercy of God towards the antediluvians terminated with their existence in this world. They 66 were "disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited.' But when was this season of mercy? "In the days of "Noah." How long did it last? "While the ark was "preparing," ver. 20. How absurd then is it to talk about the Gospel being preached to a people, after the longsuffering of God, in relation to them, had ceased?
4. Suppose we were to allow that Jesus Christ spent two or three days in hell in preaching to the antediluvians, what must we infer therefrom? That they were converted, when we know that by his Spirit in Noah He preached to them a hundred and twenty years in vain? And must we infer that the Gospel is preached to all sínners in the intermediate state because it was preached to them? and that all sinners will be restored, although we cannot be certain that one of the antediluvians was?
It is far from being clear that the phrase, spirits in prison, denotes disembodied spirits in hell. When Jesus Christ preached the Gospel to sinners on earth, He used similar language,-He proclaimed "liberty to the cap"tives, and the opening of the prison to them that are "bound," Isa. lxi. 1. Luke iv. 18. The antediluvians, while in the body, might be termed spirits in prison, not only as they were slaves to corruption, but also because they were shut up in the world, as in a prison, under the sentence of destruction till the day of execution. But the preceding observations are not affected either by the adoption, or rejection of this interpretation.
Mr. Winchester spends some time in proving that by the dead in 1 Pet. iv. 6. is not "intended those that are spiritually dead only, but those whose bodies are dead."*
This is granted, but it does not follow that
* Dialogues, p. 67.
the Gospel is preached in the intermediate state. The apostle's words are, "For this cause was the Gospel "preached also to them that are dead." Observe, the apostle does not say IS, but WAS. The Gospel was preached to Abraham and the patriarchs, to Cornelius and his household, who are all dead, Gal. iii. 8. Acts x. No man infers from this that the Gospel is preached to them in their disembodied state. But for what cause was the Gospel preached to them that are dead? "they might not be judged according to men in the flesh, "but live according to God in the spirit." In the preceding verse the apostle speaks of Christ judging the quick and dead; and the quick, as distinguished from the dead, may be here meant by men in the flesh. Now the quick, or men in the flesh, cannot be judged in any other way than according to the deeds done in the body; and since the dead will be judged in the same manner, they must, like those that are living at Christ's coming, have heard the Gospel while in the body. If the Gospel be preached to some men's spirits in the intermediate state, such persons must be judged according to, or as men in the spirit, and not according to, or as men in the flesh.
A similar mode of expression occurs in Ruth i. 8. "And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law, Go, "return each to her mother's house: the Lord deal
kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and "with me." By reading the context, no doubt can remain but that by the dead here, is meant the two sons of Naomi; and the kindness of her daughters-in-law to them cannot surely refer to them when dead, but while they were living; for in what way was it possible to serve them after they were laid in the grave?
The words of the apostle may be thus paraphrased : "For this cause was the Gospel preached to them in this "world that are now dead, that they might be judged ac"cording to, or as the men will be judged, who will be in
the flesh at Christ's coming to judgment, and that they
"might live according to God, in holiness and happiness, "in the spirit, during the period which shall intervene be"twixt death and judgment." With this interpretation agrees the context. The apostle exhorts that we
longer should live the rest of our time in the flesh to "the lusts of men, but to the will of God;" and again reminds us, that "the end of all things is at hand: Be ye, "therefore, sober, and watch unto prayer." But if the Gospel be preached in the intermediate state, the end of all things is not at hand, we may "live the rest of our "time in the flesh, according to the lusts of men," and yet have plenty of time in hell to learn to be sober, to watch and to pray. Whereas the words are very forcible, on the supposition that all means of salvation terminate with the present life.*
* Dr. Doddridge's paraphrase on this difficult text is as follows: "It was to this purpose that the Gospel was preached also to the dissolute Gentiles, who might truly be said to be dead in trespasses and sins, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; that they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbours would look upon as a kind of condemnation and death; but might live according to God in the spirit, might be brought to a truly spiritual and divine life; and if, when men hear the Gospel, they will not receive and improve it for this important purpose, they must expect to render to God an impartial and severe account for their abuse of it, and must stand by all the terrible consequences of their folly." And the Doctor observes in a note, "This interpretation, which is preferred by Brennius and Dr. Whitby, appeared to me, on a full examination, most probable; though the text must be confessed to be extremely difficult. Some have thought the apostle refers to those who then suffered martyrdom for Christianity, as if he had said, 'It was Gospel indeed, good tidings, even to those that died for it; for though men condemned their bodies, yet the salvation of their souls, which is of infinitely greater importance, has been secured by it." This last-mentioned exposition of the words seems to be peculiarly worthy of attention. The Gospel was preached to those that were dead, when the apostle wrote, but were alive on earth when it was preached to them, that they might be judged or condemned, with respect [xara] to men in the flesh, that is, that they might be judged, or condemned and put to death in the flesh, by their persecutors, as Christ had been, and might thus be conformed to him in his sufferings, but, even after they were condemned and put to death, might live according, or with respect, to God in the spirit.
It is well known that many of the Universalists hold the doctrine of the sleep of the soul; this sentiment is perfectly inconsistent with the Gospel being preached in the intermediate state: they might as well contend, that the Gospel is preached to stocks and stones, as to souls in a state of unconsciousness.
But what Gospel is it which is preached in another world? is it the same which is preached to us in this world, or do we look for another? If it be the same, it is addressed to free agents, its blessings are suspended upon certain conditions, and a failure in the performance of those conditions involves a very high degree of guilt, which merits proportionate punishment. If, therefore, we grant that the Gospel is preached in the intermediate state, the scheme of Universal Restoration is not helped by it, unless it can be proved, that every devil and every wicked spirit will improve the day of his visitation; but this is impossible. The probability respecting men, is on the other side of the question. They are more depraved when they leave this world than they were when they came into it; there is, therefore, no likelihood that the same means which are ineffectual to their recovery here, will be quite sufficient for that purpose hereafter. It is certainly the design of the Gospel to lead men to piety and righteousness in order to their happiness. But is hell a situation favourable to the practice of these virtues? What saints will be found there to stimulate the inhabitants by precept and example to the discharge of these duties?-In short, what room is there for virtue in hell? Must sobriety be considered as a virtue, where there is not so much as a single drop of water? Is honesty a virtue where there is no property-no opportunity of cheating, defrauding, or stealing? Can the inhabitants of hell feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be fathers to the fatherless, and make the widow's heart to dance for joy? And if they be incapable of practising the