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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    “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 days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.” 1 Peter 3:18-20.MND 80.1

    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 and preached to them.MND 80.2

    Let us see just what conclusions the popular interpretation of this passage involves, that we may test its claims by the Scriptures. 1. The spirits were the spirits of wicked men; for they were disobedient in the days 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 hell to preach to them. These are facts that are to be cleared of improbabilities, and harmonized with the Scriptures, before the passage can be made available for the popular view.MND 80.3

    But the bare suggestion of so singular a transaction as Christ’s going to preach to these spirits, immediately gives rise to the query, for what 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 raising in their bosoms hopes of a release from damnation, which he never designed to grant?MND 81.1

    These considerations fall like a mighty avalanche across the 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 thinks that the word “preached” does not necessarily mean to preach the gospel, not withstanding 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 them that his sufferings had been accomplished, and the prophecies concerning him fulfilled. But what 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 sure? 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?MND 81.2

    Another thinks these were the spirits of such as repented during the forty day’s 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.”MND 82.1

    Such resorts show the desperate extremities to which the popular exposition of this passage is driven.MND 82.2

    Others frankly acknowledge that they cannot tell what, nor for what, purpose, Christ preached to the lost in hell. So 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?MND 82.3

    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 full-fledged into our creed; and not only that, but that worse than the Romish purgatory, the modern doctrine of probation after death.MND 82.4

    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:MND 82.5

    He went and preached By the ministry of Noah one hundred and twenty years.”MND 83.1

    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.MND 83.2

    Again, he says:-MND 83.3

    “The word pneuma, 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.”MND 83.4

    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.MND 83.5

    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 brokenhearted, 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.MND 84.1

    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 -MND 84.2

    1. We have only a human offering as a sacrifice for our sins; and the blasphemous claim of Spiritualists is true, that the blood of Christ is no more than that of any man.MND 85.1

    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 53:10, 12); and his soul was not sorrowful even into death, as he himself affirmed that it was. Matthew 26:38.MND 85.2

    3. The text says Christ was quickened by the Spirit; and between his death and quickening no action is affirmed of him; and hence any such affirmation on the part of man is assumption. There can be no doubt but the quickening here brought to view was his resurrection. The Greek word is a very strong one, zoopoieo, “to impart life,” “to make alive.” He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit. 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.MND 85.3

    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. 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.MND 85.4

    Mr. Landis (p235) 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.MND 86.1

    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 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 display of display of distorted, not to say dishonest, logic, if he had been prudent enough to forget it too.MND 86.2

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