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"You say, a true knowledge of God, manifested through his Anointed, and a conformity of heart to his moral perfections, alone fit the subject for the kingdom of happiness; and that this may be in a good measure, if not wholly, effected in this world.' I agree to all this. But does not observation convince us that many pass from this world without the smallest indication of this 'conformity to moral perfection'? And if so, we ought to have competent evidence that the gospel promises take such subjects up, immediately, where death sets them down."
Mr. Ballou said, in regard to the last intimation, if it were necessary to have proof that the gospel takes up sinners in the future state immediately where death puts them down, then, in the case of St. Paul, or any other saint like him, who felt the infirmities of the flesh, the same rule would hold. And if Mr. T. felt no difficulty in one class of these cases, why should he in the other?
SECTION XII.-CONCERNING THE "SPIRITS IN PRISON.
Mr. Ballou reflected deeply on the passage, 1 Peter 3:18-20. Was it the intent of the apostle to teach that these "spirits" were in prison in the future state, and that Christ went to them there and preached? If, as Mr. T. intimated, the prophetic and Christian Scriptures were not silent on the subject of future punishment, then Mr. B. thought that the natural and safe way, in which to bring forward the proof, would be to begin with the prophets, and show what they taught concerning thi matter, and then to adduce the testimony of the apostles.
* See vol. I. of this work, p. 366.
In this way, the one would help to illustrate the other, being taken in the order of time in which they were delivered. But these considerations Mr. B. waived, although he might have pressed them. He had, within the last few months, given deep thought to the passage in Peter, and an entire revolution had taken place in his mind in regard to the true interpretation thereof. He was ready to avow the change to the world, for he believed it honorable to a Christian to confess past errors, and "to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ." The following was the result of his inquiries:
"AN INQUIRY CONCERNING ST. PETER'S DECLARATION OF CHRIST'S PREACHING TO 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 days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.'-1 PETER 3: 18-20.
"It appears that different opinions have been entertained of this passage by Christian commentators. The Papists make use of it to support their views of a purgatory, and a deliverance from a state of punishment hereafter. St. Augustine, as well as some other of the fathers, is said to have held the same opinion of the passage.
"Mr. Winchester, with some others, who have maintained the doctrine of universal restoration, also agreed with the Papists in the use of this passage. But Protestants in general make a very different application, and suppose that Christ preached to those people in the days of Noah whose spirits were in the prison of hell in the time of Peter.
"By looking at the different methods by which commentators
of various systems explain particular passages of Scripture, it appears that the general system of the commentator governs his application. Now, as it is very certain that many passages have, in various ways, suffered violence by reason of this arbitrary manner of interpretation, so there is room to believe that the one under consideration has not escaped this influence.
"In the present attempt, arguments will be offered to disprove both the above-mentioned opinions; followed by an interpretation that is thought to be more correct and consistent with Scripture in general, and especially with the subject on which St. Peter was treating.
"To suppose that the passage teaches that Christ preached in the days of Noah to those whose spirits were in the prison of hell at the time Peter wrote this epistle, does not well agree with the words of the text: 'Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit: by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison; which some time were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.' It is the disobedience which the apostle states to have been in the days of Noah, not the preaching. Again; By which, also, he went and preached.' By what did he go and preach? The relative which must either refer to Christ's being quickened by the spirit, or to the spirit. If it refer to being quickened, it then puts the preaching subsequent to Christ's being put to death in the flesh if it refer to the spirit, it means that Christ was the preacher; and the spirit by which he was quickened was the spirit by which he preached. This also implies that the preaching was subsequent to Christ's being put to death in the flesh.
"Should it be urged that Christ possessed the same spirit in the days of Noah by which he was quickened after being put to death in the flesh, and that he preached by that spirit to the people of the old world, it may be replied, that, though Noah is called a preacher of righteousness, we are not informed that he preached to the people of his day, or that he preached by the spirit of Christ; and, moreover, the apostle does not make Noah the preacher, but Christ, who was quickened for that purpose after he was put to death in the flesh. If it had been the intention of Peter to state
the fact we have here disproved, he would have been more likely to have said: By which spirit Noah preached to those who were disobedient in his day, whose spirits are now in prison. That the preaching of which Peter here speaks was in the days of Noah, seems so foreign from the text, there is no probability of its ever having been thought of, but from the necessity of taking the passage away from the use to which the Papists put it; which use shall now be examined.
"Examination of the usual Application made by Universalists. "The opinion founded on this passage, that Christ went to a place where the spirits of the literally dead were imprisoned for the purpose of preaching the gospel to them, is subject to many objections, some of which are the following:
"1st. This event, which must be considered, if true, of equal moment with any particular circumstance attending the ministry of Jesus Christ, was never once mentioned by him, that we have any account of.
"Why he should be particular in informing his disciples that he should be betrayed by one of them, that they all should be offended because of him, that he should be delivered into the hands of sinners, that he should be crucified, and that he should rise the third day,— and, moreover, that he would go before them into Galilee, and never mention, before or after his crucifixion, the weighty fact of preaching to spirits in prison in the future world, if it were a fact, would be difficult to account for.
“If he thought best not to mention it before, it seems he would have communicated it after the event had actually taken place. An opinion involving so much as the confining of spirits in a prison from the days of the flood to the time of Christ's crucifixion, and of the Redeemer's going to them after he was quickened by the spirit, and preaching the gospel to them, seems of too much consequence not to have been spoken of by the blessed Agent himself.
"It may be proper to mention here that the temporal circumstances of the people before the flood were noticed by Christ,* and
See Matt. 24: 37-39.
compared with the state in which the Jews would be found at the time of their destruction; but no mention is made by him of their condition after the flood.
"2d. None of the prophets, who spake of the glorious things which the Messiah should do, made mention of this mission to the spirits in prison, if the meaning of it be as Universalists have generally interpreted it. And yet none of them have spoken of any particular event of the Messiah's mission which is of greater moment than this, if it be a fact.
"3d. No writer of the New Testament has mentioned this supposed fact, except St. Peter. St. Paul, whose writings occupy so large a part of the New Testament, mentioned not a word of this important mission to the spirits in prison, in the sense in which our brethren have usually explained it.
"If it be said, although this subject be not spoken of by any other writer in the holy Scriptures, as St. Peter has mentioned it, that as much consequence ought to attach to it as if mentioned by many, or ever so often, it is again objected, that Peter does not mention it by making it of the consequence of a main subject of communication or argument. He only makes an allusion to it, while writing on another subject.
"The subject on which he was treating was that of suffering for righteousness' sake, to which he exhorts his Christian brethren. In doing this, he mentions the sufferings of Christ as an example. In this example Christ suffered the just for the unjust, to bring the latter to God. He names this to incite his brethren to act upon the same principle, and to suffer for righteousness' sake, if need be, that it might operate to bring the unrighteous to God.
"The True Application.
"The particular subject to which he alluded when he spake of Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison (in consequence of being put to death in the flesh, and quickened by the spirit), is thought to be this, namely, he went and preached to the Gentiles who were dead in trespasses and sins, and of a character similar to those people who were destroyed by the flood.
"During the life of Jesus Christ, he confined his ministry to