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in prison, which were sometime disobedient, when the long-suffering of God was waiting in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.
Now what these words mean cannot better be stated than in the words of the late Dean Alford in his commentary on this passage :-“With the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I understand these words to say that our Lord in his disembodied state did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce his work of redemption, preach salvation in fact to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them.” Here, however, a question arises why these only should be mentioned? Of all the spirits in the unseen' world, were these the only ones to whom Christ preached? I cannot think so; for while a reason is apparent for these being specially mentioned, no conceivable reason can be assigned for the preaching of Christ being restricted to them. That they in particular should be mentioned is, I think, to be accounted for from their immediate connection with that type of baptism which follows, and on which the Apostle speaks with such marked emphasis. Moreover, they were eminently a representative instance, they the closing generation of the old world, they who for one hundred and twenty years had disregarded the preaching of Noah, and had not fled from the wrath to come of the threatened deluge. It is not here only that the antediluvian sinners are singled out for special mention. Our Lord refers to them as a type of the state of the world immediately before his second coming; and in his next epistle CHAP. XVI. St. Peter again refers to them as a conspicuous instance of God's tremendous judgment; that old 2 Pet. ii. 5. world,' which He spared not, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.' Yet it is these notable sinners who are specially mentioned as having been preached to by Christ on his descent into Hades. If to these, then surely unto all, may we believe, was the announcement made, more especially when this same Apostle in the next chapter 1 Pet. iv. 6. explicitly declares, in view of the judgment hereafter to be held by Christ on living and dead, that to dead men also was the gospel preached, that they might, indeed, be judged according to men as regards the flesh, but might live according to God as regards the spirit.'
Whether, however, it was only to those spirits in prison who once were disobedient in the days of Noah, or whether it was to all of them that Christ went and preached, this much remains indisputable, that to some the finished atonement was announced and salvation proclaimed. Be they few or be they many, to dead ones was the gospel preached, as St. Peter distinctly states. The one instance given is enough to prove that death does not absolutely and necessarily cut off the means and possibility of salvation, that there is such a thing as mercy beyond the grave, that in those who have passed away there is a capacity for repentance and for faith, otherwise the preaching to them had only been a mockery.
“And when we consider the gracious purpose and significance of Christ's visit to Hades, it helps us to
understand what else would seem a strange inter
ruption to continuity of thought in that passage Eph. iv. 9, 10. already referred to, in which St. Paul speaks most
clearly of Christ's descent into hell. He is dwelling mainly on the gifts that had been bestowed on the Church by her risen and ascended Lord. But that word “ascended' leads him to pause abruptly. Men were not to think that the work of Christ was limited to that which followed his ascension. Now that He ascended, what is it but that He descended first into the lower parts of the earth. He that descended is the same also that ascended
far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.' Hades, as well as the heaven of heavens, had felt the glory and the blessing of his presence. In his name had bowed knees, not only of men on the earth or of angels in heaven, but of those who were (as it was thought) beneath the earth, the spirits of the departed.”
“ And what we are thus led to by the intimations of Scripture, more or less distinct, is just what analogy would lead us to expect. Prior to revelation, all our thoughts of a life to come rest on our belief in the law of continuity. We are living, conscious beings, capable of willing, thinking, loving, acting, up to the hour of death. What is there in the fact of bodily death that should lead us to think that it puts an end to that conscious and energetic life of the soul? And if the soul's existence continues, must we not think of it as passing into its new phase of being with the same capacities, with the character plastic and capable of reformation, in the same measure as at the hour of death."
Then, too, the conclusion, which both the intima- CHAP. XVI. tions of Scripture and the argument from analogy appear to sanction, seems almost to be necessitated by the facts of the case. Think of the countless myriads who have passed away without so much as having heard of the name of Christ, of in any way coming within the offer of salvation. Do we believe for a moment that they are hopelessly lost, consigned to irremediable perdition, because in this life no opportunity was given them of accepting the truth? If we do not believe this, then must we believe that after death there is some provision of divine mercy to bring these poor souls within the range of salvation. And if to those who had been disobedient in the days of Noah, how much more to these spirits in prison may we believe shall be the gospel preached. Or take another case, such as even in Christian England often occurs, and such as, when a curate in a large London parish, often fell under my own observation. Here is one who, born of parents themselves steeped in crime, was from his infancy associated with all that is vile, and familiar with every sort of evil. Growing up, physically and morally, under demoralizing influences, ever breathing a depraved and depraving atmosphere, the moral sense never evoked, subjected to no checks but such as the terror of human law supplied, checks that so far from ameliorating rather helped to brutalize and harden, this wretched being passes on from one stage of crime to another, till at last, perhaps, his life is terminated by a death at the hands of the ministers of the law. What becomes of that unhappy soul ? Damned for ever
CHAP. XVI. in hell fire, says stern orthodoxy. He that can
receive that ruthless dictum, let him receive it. For my part I cannot, when I remember that the Great Father made that soul, and that the Great Redeemer died for it. Rather do I rejoice to believe, and to believe it, as I think, on grounds both of reason and revelation, that beyond the grave there is a remedial process, though one indeed of 'many stripes,' that shall rectify and repair the terrible anomalies of the present life, and thus that the love of the Great Father, who willeth not that they should perish, and the grace of the Great Redeemer, who died the Just for the unjust, to bring them unto God, shall triumph even over this aggravated form of evil, and destroy this work of the devi).
And, here, may we not be permitted to indulge the thought that as the Lord Jesus in his spirit went, in the interval between his death and resurrection, and preached to the spirits in prison, so possibly this may form part of the blessed occupation of the saints in Hades. They rest, indeed, we are told, from their labours, so far as weariness is connected with them, and yet their works do follow them. May it not be that the work in which they delighted here, that of winning souls, shall follow them there? "If the future is to be the development and continuation of the present, if we are not to pass from a life of ever-varying relations with our fellow-men, each bringing with it opportunities for self-discipline and for serving God, to an absolute isolation, may we not go yet one step further and believe, as some did in the