Here and Hereafter

16/57

6. - THE SPIRITS IN PRISON

“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; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the day of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.” 1 Peter 3:18-20. HHMLD 93.1

The advocates of natural immortality are not long in finding their way to this passage. Here, it is claimed, are “spirits” brought to view, out of the body; for they were the spirits of the antediluvians: and they were conscious and intelligent; for they could listen to the preaching of Christ, who, by his conscious spirit, while his body lay in the grave, went to their prison and preached to them. HHMLD 93.2

Let us see just what conclusions the popular interpretation of this passage involves, that we may test its claims by the Scriptures. 1. It is held that these were disembodied spirits, but they were the spirits of wicked men; for they were disobedient in the day of Noah, and perished in the flood. 2. They were consequently in their place of punishment, the place to which popular theology assigns all such spirits immediately on their passing from this state of existence, - the burning, quenchless hell of fire and brimstone. 3. The spirit of Christ went into this hell to preach to them. These are the facts that are to be cleared to improbabilities, and harmonized with the Scriptures, before the passage can be made available for the popular view. HHMLD 93.3

But the bare suggestion of no singular a transaction as Christ’s going to preach to these spirits, under these conditions, immediately gives rise to the query, for that purpose Christ should take pains to go down into hell, to preach to damned spirits there; and what message he could possibly bear to them. The day of their probation was past; they could not be helped by any gospel message: then why preach to them? Would Christ go to taunt them by describing before them blessings which they could never receive? or by raising in their bosoms hopes of a release from damnation, which he never designed to grant? HHMLD 93.4

These considerations fall like a mighty avalanche across they way of the common interpretation. The thought is felt to be almost an insuperable objection, and many are the shifts devised to get around it. One think that the word “preached” does not necessarily mean to “preach the gospel,” notwithstanding almost every instance of the use of the word in the New Testament describes the preaching of the gospel by Christ or his apostles; but that Christ went there to announce to the lost that his sufferings had been accomplished, and that prophecies concerning him fulfilled. But what possible object could there be in that? How would that affect their condition? Was it to add poignancy to their pain by rendering their misery doubly keen? And were there not devils enough in hell to perform that work, without making it necessary that Christ should perform such a ghostly task, and that, too, right between those points of time when he laid down his life for our sins, and was raised again for our justification? HHMLD 94.1

Another thinks these were the spirits of such as repented during the forty days’ rain of the flood; that they were with the saved in paradise, a department of the under world where the spirits of the good are kept (the Elysium, in fact, of ancient heathen mythology), but that they “still felt uneasy on account of having perished [that is, lost their bodies] under a divine judgment,” and “were now assured by Jesus that their repentance had been accepted.” HHMLD 94.2

Such resorts show the desperate extremities to which the popular exposition of this passage is driven, and afford aid and comfort to the Romish purgatory. HHMLD 95.1

Others frankly acknowledge that they cannot tell what, nor for what purpose, Christ preached to the lost in hell. So does Landis (p. 236). But he says it makes no difference if we cannot tell what he preached nor why he preached, since we have the assurance that he did go there and preach. Profound conclusion! Would it not be better, since we have the assurance that he preached, to conclude that he preached at a time when preaching could benefit them, rather than at a time when we know that it could not profit them, and there could be no occasion for it whatever? HHMLD 95.2

The whole issue thus turns on the question, When was this work of preaching performed? Some will say. “While they were in prison, and that means the state of death, and shows that the dead are conscious, and can be preached to.” Then, we reply, the dead can also be benefited by preaching, and led to repentance; and then the Romish doctrine of purgatory springs at once fullfledged into our creed; and not only that, but that worse than the Romish purgatory, the modern doctrine of probation after death, is sustained. HHMLD 95.3

But does the text affirm that the preaching was done to these spirits while they were in prison? May it not be that the preaching was done at some previous time to persons who were, when Peter wrote, in prison, or, if you please, in a state of death? So it would be true that the spirits were in prison when Peter makes mention of them, and yet the preaching might have been done to them at a former period, while they were still in the flesh and could be benefited by it. This is the view taken of the passage by Dr. Clarke. He says:- HHMLD 95.4

“[He went and preached] By the ministry of Noah one hundred and twenty years.” HHMLD 96.1

Thus he places Christ’s going and preaching by his spirit in the days of Noah, and not during the time his body lay in the grave. HHMLD 96.2

Again, he says:- HHMLD 96.3

“The word, ‘spirits,’ is supposed to render this view of the subject improbable, because this must mean disembodied spirits; but this certainly does not follow; for the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23) certainly means righteous men, and men still in the church militant; and the Father of spirits (Hebrews 12:9) means men still in the body; and the God of the spirits of all flesh (Numbers 16:22 and 27:16) means men not in a disembodied state.” 1 HHMLD 96.4

The preaching was certainly to the antediluvians. But why, according to the popular notion, should Christ single out that class to preach to, about twenty-four hundred years afterward, in hell? The whole idea is forced, unnatural, and absurd. The preaching that was given to them was through Noah, who, by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Peter 1:12), delivered to them the message of warning. Let this be the preaching referred to, and all is harmonious and clear; and this interpretation the construction of the original demands; for the word rendered in our version. “Were disobedient,” is simply the aorist participle; and the dependent sentence, “when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah,” limits the verb “preached” rather than the participle. The whole passage might be translated thus: “In which also, having gone to the spirits in prison, he preached to the then disobedient ones, when once [or at the time when] the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” Christ is said to have preached because it was Christ’s Spirit in Noah. Noah was his representative; and according to the Latin maxim, “Qui facit per alium, facit per se,” “What one does through another, he does himself,” the preaching of Noah by this means, was the preaching of Christ. HHMLD 96.5

But in what sense were they in prison? - In the same sense in which persons in error and darkness are said to be in prison. Isaiah 42:7: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.” Also Isaiah 61:1: “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.” Christ himself declared (Luke 4:18-21) that this scripture was fulfilled in his mission to those here on earth who sat in darkness and error, and under the dominion of sin. So the antediluvians were shut up under the sentence of condemnation. Their days were limited to a hundred and twenty years; and their only way of escape from impending destruction was through the preaching of Noah. Genesis 6:3. HHMLD 97.1

So much with reference to the spirits to whom the preaching was given. Now we affirm further that Christ’s Spirit did not go anywhere to preach to anybody while he lay in the grave. If Christ’s Spirit, the real being, the divine part, did survive the death of the cross, then - HHMLD 97.2

1. We have only a human offering as a sacrifice for our sins; and the claim of Spiritualists, which no Christian can hear without a shudder, is true, that the blood of Christ is no more than that of any man. HHMLD 97.3

2. Then Christ did not pour out his soul unto death, and make it an offering for sin, as the prophet declared that he would do (Isaiah 58:10, 12); and his soul was not sorrowful even unto death, as he himself affirmed that it was. Matthew 26:38. HHMLD 98.1

3. The text says Christ was “quickened by the Spirit;” and between his death and quickening no action is affirmed of him; and hence for any one to affirm that he was alive and active during this time, is only assumption. There can be no doubt but the “quickening” here brought to view was his resurrection. The Greek word is a very strong one,, “to impart life, to make alive.” He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit. Mr. Landis (p. 232) labors hard to turn this word from its natural meaning, and make it signify, not giving life, but continuing alive. It is impossible to regard this as anything better than unmitigated sophistry. The verb is a regular, active verb. In the passive voice it expresses an action received. Christ did not continue alive, but was made alive by the Spirit. Then he was for a time dead. How long? - From the cross to the resurrection. Romans 1:4. So he says himself in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead.” Yet men will stand up, and for the purpose of sustaining a pet theory, rob the world’s Offering of all its virtue, and nullify the whole plan of salvation, by declaring that Christ never was dead! HHMLD 98.2

The word “quicken” is the same that is used in Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” God brought again our Lord from the dead by the Holy Spirit; and by the same Spirit are his followers to be raised up at the last day. HHMLD 98.3

But that Christ went anywhere in Spirit, or did any action between his death and quickening, is what the Scriptures nowhere affirm, and what no man has a right to claim. HHMLD 99.1

Mr. Landis (p. 235) argues that this preaching could not have been in the days of Noah, because the events narrated took place this side the death of Christ. Why did he not say this side the resurrection of Christ? - Oh! that would spoil it all. But the record shows upon its very face that if it refers to a time subsequent to Christ’s death, it was also subsequent to his resurrection; for if events are here stated in chronological order, the resurrection of Christ, as well as his death, comes before his preaching. Thus, (1) he was “put to death in the flesh;” (2) “was quickened by the Spirit,” which was his resurrection, as no man with any show of reason can dispute; and (3) “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” So the preaching does not come in, on this ground, till after Christ was made alive from the dead. HHMLD 99.2

Some people seem to treat the Scriptures as if they were given to man that he might exercise his inventive powers in trying to misunderstand or pervert them to avoid the doctrines they teach. But no inventive power that the human mind has yet developed will enable a man, let him plan, contrive, devise, and arrange as he may, to fix this preaching of Christ between his death and resurrection. If he could fix it there, what would it prove? The man of sin would rise up and bless him from his papal throne, for proving his darling purgatory. Such a position may do for Mormons, Mohammedans, pagans, and papists; but let no Protestant try to defend it, and not hang his head for shame. Mr. Landis says that “Mr. Dobney and the rest of the fraternity conveniently forget that there is any such passage [as 1 Peter 3:19] in the word of God.” But we cannot help thinking that it would have been well for him, and saved a pitiful displays of distorted, not to say dishonest, logic, if he had been prudent enough to forget it too. HHMLD 99.3

Another testimony in favor of the correct view, which is entitled to respectful consideration, may here be introduced. It is from Alvah Hovey, D. D., of Newton Theological Seminary, and is issued in a pamphlet entitled, “State of Men after Death,” published by the American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia. He contends that those to whom Christ went and preached, were those who were disobedient in the days of Noah, and that he preached during the time when Noah was preparing the ark; and he declares that “neither human reason, nor the word of God give a shadow of support” to the assumption that any who have not repented of sin in the present life, will be likely to do so in the intermediate state. From his argument we quote the following passages (pp. 82-86):- HHMLD 100.1

“It seems to me that the apostle intended to represent the going and preaching as belonging to the same period of time with the disobedience and long-suffering.... The participle may be rendered ‘when they were disobedient’ just as a similar participle is translated by Hackett, Conant, Noyes, and Alford (Acts 19:2). ‘Did ye receive the Holy Spirit ye believed?’ ... Nay, it is possible that the phrase ‘spirits in prison,’ was Peter’s customary designation for the ungodly of former times, even when he was referring to their earthly career.... If the Spirit, then, was Christ’s Spirit, the preaching of the illuminated prophet was Christ’s preaching, and any contempt or disobedience to that preaching, was contempt or disobedience to him .... But if the preaching referred to by Peter was accomplished in hades, it is not so easy to understand why the contemporaries of Noah are singled out as the particular spirits addressed. [If this view be taken of it, he says,] we have no knowledge whatever of the message delivered by Christ in spirit; if he went and preached to the dead in hades, we are profoundly ignorant of what he announced; and it is not surprising that those who adopt this theory, differ greatly as to the nature of his supposed message.” HHMLD 100.2