« PreviousContinue »
did not go himself. Christ, speaking of his disciples, says to his Father, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." But in this account of Christ's preaching, it does not say, he sent and preached to the spirits in prison, but it says he went; and yet, strange to tell, it remains a disputable point among us, whether he sent or went!
It does not appear that Christ himself preached to the antediluvians in the days of Noah, nor do any attempt to support the idea. It is then evident from this consideration as well as the connexion of St. Peter's account, that he preached to them after they had departed this life. And if he preached by the spirit that raised him from the dead, he undoubtedly preached after his crucifixion and resurrection. He preached to them that they might be judged according to men in the flesh. This seems to imply, they were not in the flesh. If they were, this object would be useless; for any one may be judged according to the state in which he is, without hearing the preaching of the gospel. Indeed a man can be judged in no other than the state in which judgment finds him. The term flesh, applied to Christ, when it was said he was put to death in the flesh, is underscod of his natural body. Ought not the same phrase, applied to the spirits in prison, in the same account, to have the same meaning? Various scriptures have been brought, which have no
nexion with this subject, to show that it means something else. And in all this, it yet remains to point out a proper applica tion.
"The gospel," says St.Peter, "was preached to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh." The query is, whether these dead were in the flesh or not. The natural construction of the words carry an idea that they were not in the flesh. If they were not in the flesh, it is easy to understand what is meant by the dead; not those who were dead in sin only, but they who have departed this natural life. This plainly agrees with every circumstance of the whole relation. If by the dead" we are to understand the dead in sin, naturally alive, why did the apostle particularize a certain class, namely, the disobedient in Noah's time, and say, "For, for this cause was the gospel preached to them that are dead," when the gospel had never been preached to any, but those who were dead? The proposition is too universal to be embraced in so particular an account.
We find the dead are mentioned in connexion with the quick, which does not favor the common mode of interpretation. phrase quick and dead is found in Acts x. 42, and 2 Tim. iv. 1, besides in St. Peter; in all of which places, Christ is called the Judge of both. If we understand the quick and dead to be those who are living and
dead in a natural sense, both classes would include all mankind, according as as other scriptures state that Christ is the Judge of all. But if we consider them in a spiritual point of view, they would be considered to embrace those in this life only. St. Paul's words in Rom. xiv. 8, 9, seem to add light to this subject. "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living."
An opinion has lately appeared in public, by one who appears not satisfied with the common opinion, nor the literal construction of the words of St. Peter, that the preaching said to be to the spirits in prison, who were disobedient in the days of Noah, was in reality by Christ, after he arose from the dead, to the Gentiles, whose character was like the character of the antediluvians. But to this ingenious author we are altogether indebted for the sentiment. St. Peter who undertook to tell us who those spirits in prison were, makes no mention of the Gentiles in his description. He says, Acts x. 40, 41, "God raised up Jesus the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." By this it does not appear.
he went" and preached to the Gentiles at all, and at the most to but very few, but sent his disciples, saying, "Go, and preach the gospel to every creature."
The ideas which St. Peter expresses on the subject, that we are now considering, though indited in clear and expressive language, are opposed by the ingenuity of those, whose sentiments do not accord with what he has expressed, in various and singular ways. To consider all these would exceed the limits of the present discourse. A few, however, we will notice. It is asked, if the meaning. be according to the ideas expressed in this Lecture, held by Mr. Winchester and others, why Jesus Christ never mentioned the subject in any of his discourses? why is it not mentioned by any other of the Apostles? It is further observed, that the prophets no where predict any such event; and yet no event which is made the subject of prophecy, is of more interest and importance than this. In reply to such remarks it is asked, if we admit the ideas contained in these questions, whether the questions should be considered of force to do away the plain testimony of an inspired Apostle? Do they contain any evidence against him? No. Is the testimony of a man of truth to be denied or turned into a figure, because a number of others, acquainted with the same facts, bear no testimony against him? but are silent when he speaks in their presence, or writes to their know
Jedge? Let every one judge for himself. If we admit the intended force of such questions, it would afford a very unfavorable precedent for many other cases. The resurrection of Lazarus, after he had been dead four days, is related only by St. John, and not so much as mentioned by three others who wrote histories of Christ. I think no one will contend, that either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, who wrote before John, has related a miracle more striking and important than this. But who ever thought of considering this account merely an allegory, because the only authority we have of the event is the testimony of St. John?
Who is prepared to say, Christ never informed his disciples, before or after his resurrection, of his preaching to the spirits in prison? St. John gives us to understand, he did many other things besides those that were written. But it is said, St. Peter barely throws an allusion to the subject.-The more in our favor; for it makes it evident the brethren generally understood it by previous information, though the account was not transmitted to us; it was consequently no new thing to the ancient churches, although St. Peter be our principal informer.
Respecting the prophets and other Apos-tles, is it certain they alluded not to the subject under consideration? What shall we think of the following passages? "Now, that he ascended, what is it but that he also de