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if we understand that whereas in the one the abiding and enduring result of the kingdom of the Son is asserted, in the permanent and everlasting establishment of righteousness and truth, in the other the cessation of the special character of it as mediatorial is declared. As a victory over evil, the kingdom of Christ will have no end, though, when that victory has been finally achieved, He will cease to reign as the Son of Man, for He is to reign till He hath put all enemies under his feet. In anticipation, then, of this victory of good over evil, assured that the purpose of the kingdom cannot fail, but that it must culminate in the complete and universal triumph of the Saviour King, we ascribe unto Him all glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever, Amen.
THE PREACHING OF CHRIST TO THE
SPIRITS IN PRISON.
AMONG the various questions that present themselves for discussion, in connection with the subject now under consideration, one of the most interesting and important relates to the dead. As to those who prior to the second coming of Christ shall have departed this life in God's faith and fear, we know that they'rest from their labours,' rest from the infirmities and pains of the body, rest from the conflicts and sorrows of sin. Away from the home in the body, their spirits are at home with the Lord in the paradise of souls, their bodies sleeping in Jesus, waiting for the resurrection, when that which was sown a natural body shall be raised a spiritual body, suited to the capacities and fitted to become the organ of the renewed spirit. That this intermediate state between death and the resurrection will be to the saints one of progression I firmly believe, and on that point I shall have something more to say in the next chapter. But what of those who die in either utter ignorance of the truth as it is in Jesus or in conscious rejection of it? This question forces itself on our attention, because if ultimately all things are to be reconciled
Ret. civ. 13.
2 Cor. v.8.
1 Cor. xv. 44.
The Preaching of Christ to the Spirits in Prison. 167 unto God, if the kingdom of Christ is to eventuate in the restitution of all things, then it seems necessarily to follow, in regard to those who are not saved from sin and brought to God in this life, that there must be some provision for their rectification and restoration in an after-state of existence. Only let it be admitted that Holy Scripture does most clearly and distinctly teach that all things in heaven and earth are to be gathered up again into one in Christ, and that by Him everything is to be brought into subjection to God, that in his name every knee is to bend and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father ; only let this be admitted, and the inference seems inevitable that, even though there were no specific revelation on the point, there must be some provision hereafter for the reconciliation and restoration of those who in this life have not been reconciled and restored.
But apart from such inference, Is there, it may be asked, any sort of direct intimation in the Inspired Word to warrant the idea ? I think so, 1 Pet. iii. 18–20. and that in the passage in which St. Peter tells us how between his death and resurrection Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison. This passage has, indeed, been usually regarded as one of peculiar difficulty and mysteriousness, and a too common mode of treating it has been to try and make it mean almost anything but what it does mean, if taken in the simple literality of its words. No doubt, to those who hold that death terminates the possibility of salvation, that what a man dies that he will be to all eternity, that, to use their
Eccles, xi, 3.
own expression, misapplying and misquoting a passage which has nothing whatever to do with the matter, ‘As the tree falls, so shall it lie'; no doubt to those, I say, who utterly discard the idea of any remedial process after death in the ages to come, this passage in St. Peter is one of almost insuperable difficulty, because, as they cannot help seeing, it certainly does speak of a preaching to spirits in another state of existence.
Now, without taking note of the various interpretations which have been given of this passage, let us examine it independently, and endeavour to get a clear understanding of what it really does say. It comes in as a confirmation by the Apostle of his exhortation to Christians respecting their right behaviour under persecution. To make the meaning more clear, a short paraphrase of the whole passage may be of use. If, he says, you have to suffer on account of righteousness, then is yours the blessedness which Christ spoke of when He said, Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Do not be affected with the fear with which your persecutors seek to inspire you, nor let your hearts be troubled, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord, making this your anxiety to keep his temple pure, so shall no other care disturb you. So far from being afraid of men, be ever ready to give them an answer, when they ask you for a reason of your hope, in a meek and reverent spirit and with a clear conscience, so that in the matter wherein you are spoken against, they who traduce your behaviour as Christians may be ashamed.
For if it be the will of God that you should be subjected to suffering, it is better that ye should suffer for doing well than as evil-doers. And that ye should suffer is not to be counted a strange thing; nay, ye ought rather to think it a blessed thing to suffer for well-doing, after the example of your Master, because Christ also suffered once as a sacrifice for sins, a righteous one on behalf of unrighteous ones, in order that He might bring us (sinners) near to God, being put to death, indeed, in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (not 'by the Spirit,' as in the English version); that is to say, suffering death as far as the flesh was concerned, his body being put to death upon the cross, but continuing to live in respect of his spirit, which did not die, but passed from the body on its dying, and descended into hell, i.e., Hades, the place of disembodied spirits, in which also,' that is, in his spirit, 'He went and preached to the spirits in prison.'
It is upon this passage, in no inconsiderable degree, that that article of our Creed depends, He descended into hell,' as also upon that prophetic utterance, ' Thou wilt not leave my soul in Ps. sci. 10. hell, which St. Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Acts ii. 27. Pentecost, expounded as referring to the same. It is also in allusion to this that St. Paul says, “Now Eph. iv. 9 that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth.' But in the passage before us we have not only the fact of our Lord's descent into Hades declared, but also the object, or at least one object of it stated, namely, that He went and preached to the spirits