“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 longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.”
When the prophet of the Lord applied to the widow of Sarepta for food, she did not withhold from him a portion of the scanty provision on which she and her son depended for subsistence, because she had so little, but generously divided her little store with him; neither do we feel at liberty to withhold from our brethren and sisters such views as we have, because we are unable to comprehend the deep things of God any farther than it is his divine will to lead us into an understanding of them by his Spirit. Like the widow’s meal and oil, our stock of understanding is exceedingly limited, and if we were certain that such views as we have, limited though they are, were all taught us by the Spirit, we should feel relieved from much embarrassment. The first verse seems clear and plain; but the two succeeding verses have puzzled the minds of some of the most wise and talented commentators we have among us.
That Christ has once suffered for sins, is a truth so rooted and established in the hearts and experience of all who are born of God, that we cannot recognize any as being of that number, before whose eyes Christ has not been evidently set forth crucified, for it is only by a revelation of the crucified, risen and exalted Savior, that any of us have truly found deliverance from the condemnation which we were under as sinners before God. But in this instance, the inspired apostle, in urging upon the saints the necessity of a circumspect and holy walk and conversation, and a patient endurance of all the sufferings they are called to bear, reminds them that their adorable Lord and Master, once suffered for sins. Having admonished them against giving occasion for being buffeted for their sins, he adds, But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; and as an encouragement to them in their suffering for righteousness’ sake, he reminds them that the blessed Savior suffered the just for the unjust. No guile was found in him; he was holy, harmless, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens; and yet he suffered for sins. But his sufferings were for the sins of his people, which he bore in his own body on the tree. Only on the ground of imputation could he be numbered with the transgressors; but in that indissoluble union and relationship in which the holy law of God could regard him as the Head over all things to his church, and the members of the church, as members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones, could eternal justice lay on him the iniquities of us all. Thus related he could surely bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, and endure the chastisement of our peace, so that with his stripes we are healed. Thus related, and thus united, he was delivered for our offenses, and raised from the dead for our justification. He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. In this sense he suffered the just for the unjust.
The grand object of his sufferings was, as stated in our text, that he might bring us to God. He is himself God in his eternal oneness and equality with the Father, but in his mediatorial relationship with his church, he was found in fashion as a man. The Word which was God, was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory; the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth. While his eternal Godhead is underived, and unbegotten, his mediatorial identity is begotten of the Father, and did proceed forth and come out from the Father, and as Son of God, and Head of the church, his goings forth were of old, from everlasting. As truly and absolutely the very and eternal God, as he is truly and absolutely the mediatorial Son of God. Hence, when as a Son, all things shall be subdued unto him, and the last enemy shall be destroyed, he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and the Son himself shall be subject to him that put all things under him; even then his eternal Majesty and Godhead shall be but the more fully understood, worshiped and adored by his redeemed family. He shall not fail nor be discouraged; though suffering, bleeding, groaning and dying on the painful cross, lay in his way, he had undertaken the redemption of his people unto God, and he was fully able, and fully resolved to bring them to him. Therefore it was for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, and it behooved him to suffer all these things, and then to enter into his glory. All this he has effectually accomplished.
“Being put to death in the flesh.” Some have contended, and some do still contend, that the Son of God was not put to death in the flesh; that only the flesh of the Son of God suffered. We design not in this article to join issue with them on the point; but we will only say, the flesh in which he suffered, was that flesh which the Word of God was made; for the Word was made flesh, and as such was recognized as the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. - John i. 14. At least until we shall be better informed, we desire to be excused for believing that Christ himself bare our sins in his own body, and that Christ suffered, and that God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up, and that he commanded the sword to awake against the man that was his fellow, and that Christ was, even as our text plainly declares, put to death in the flesh. Christ was crucified, Christ died, and Christ is risen indeed, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.
“But quickened by the Spirit.” Do any inquire, By what spirit was he quickened? We understand it to be the Spirit of the Lord God, which is upon him, because he is anointed to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken hearted, &c. Paul speaks of it as being the Spirit of Christ, and in the same connection, of its dwelling in his saints, and of their walking after it, and sowing to it, in distinction from the flesh. Says he, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.” - Rom. viii. 10, 11. The same Spirit that raised up Christ, shall also raise up all the members of his body. For, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are all called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” - Eph. iv. 4-6. This Spirit is life, and this life is Christ. “And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” - 1 John v. 11, 12. In Romans viii. 9, it is called the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ; and in the same chapter it is also called the Spirit of life, and the Spirit of him that hath raised up Jesus from the dead. But the Spirit by which he was quickened is in our text simply identified as that.
“By which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” Who the spirits in prison were, when he went and preached to them, or what, or how he preached., we are not told; only the spirits preached to, were sometime disobedient, and a reference is made to the long-suffering of God, in the days of Noah, &c. Many vague and vain speculations have been indulged in regard to the meaning of the apostle, while very many of the more cautious have regarded the subject as Peter did some of the writings of his beloved brother Paul, hard to be understood; and so have generally passed it by as too deep and obscure for their soundings. Of this last class, the writer of this article may be numbered, as we have never ventured to express any view upon the subject, until the present time; and even now we approach the subject with fear and trembling. Some have expressed the opinion that the spirits in prison here intended, are the spirits of the departed dead, and that when Jesus died he descended into hell, and there preached to the spirits of the damned; what they suppose he preached to them we are not informed. Others have supposed that the spirits of all the dead remained in a sort of purgatory between heaven and hell, but in neither until after the crucifixion of Christ, and that he went and preached to them, disclosing to them the destiny that awaited them. But our own view of the subject is, that the same Spirit by which Christ was raised from the dead, is that in which his goings forth have been of old, from everlasting. By his Spirit, or angel, before he was made manifest in the flesh, he went and preached to the spirits in prison; and the example given in the text may be regarded as an illustration of every other instance. In the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, he went by this spirit and preached to the antediluvians. His Spirit then strove with men, in the person, and in the work of Noah. Christ, not in his incarnation, but by his Spirit which was in and upon Noah, was a preacher of righteousness. Thus by his Spirit his goings forth have been of old, as he appeared unto the patriarchs, to Moses in the burning bush, as the Captain of the Lord’s host unto Joshua, unto Manoah, to the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, to Daniel in the den of lions, and in many other examples which are given in the Scriptures. The same apostle says the prophets sought to know what manner of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, did signify, when it spake of his sufferings, and of the glory that should follow. As we know of no mission which Christ had to those who are finally lost, we are compelled to the conclusion that the spirits in prison, had reference to the prisoners of hope, and that he, by the same quickening Spirit which raised up his crucified body from the dead, went forth from the days of Abel, in spiritual converse and communion with all the Old Testament saints, the same as he now, by the same Spirit, preaches to the heirs of promise under the gospel dispensation. His mediatorial commission is to the meek; to them he is anointed with the Spirit of the Lord God, to preach good tidings. He is sent to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, to open the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day and vengeance of God, and to comfort all that mourn, &c. Our text does not say, nor imply, that he went during the time his body lay in the tomb, or immediately after his resurrection, and preached to the spirits in prison, but simply we are informed that his body was quickened by the Spirit by which also he went and preached to them.
We shall not at this time attempt to show in what sense those unto whom Christ ministered, by his Spirit, either under the old or new dispensation, are called spirits in prison; it is enough to know that they were so called, and that as such, in all their afflictions, he was afflicted, and the angel (or Spirit) of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them, and he carried them, and bare them all the days of old. They were addressed by the angel of his presence, through the prophet. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem, Behold thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation,” &c. This was loud preaching to the meek; and in this connection he adds, still addressing the daughter of Zion, of Jerusalem, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee.” - Zech, ix. 11, 12. The inspired psalmist says, “This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoners; to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem.” - Psalm cii. 18, 20. It is, we think, in view of this quickening, or life-giving Spirit of the Lord God, which was and is upon Christ, as the anointed One, by which his own body was quickened from the dead, and by which also his mystical body is quickened together with him, and made to sit together with him in heavenly places, by which he putteth forth his own sheep, and goeth before them, that Paul speaks of the quickening of all the saints, as being effected only by the exceeding greatness of the mighty power of God, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead. In perfect harmony with the same idea, Peter, in our text, says the Spirit by which he was quickened from the dead, is that by which he went and preached to the spirits in prison. His preaching to such spirits, is the preaching liberty to captives, the opening of the prison, and the bringing the prisoners out of these prison-houses. It is the preaching of righteousness in the great congregation. Thus did he go by and in his prophets, at sundry times, and in divers manners, in days of old, and thus by his apostles, and other gifts bestowed on his church, does he now preach glad tidings to the meek. In all these things may we know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings; being made conformable to his death. May he, by that Spirit by which he burst the bars of death, bruise Satan under our feet, deliver us from all bondage, open our prisons, and set us at large. The reason of the reference to the days of Noah, the builder of the ark, and the salvation of Noah and his family, appears to be because it presents a striking figurative illustration of the doctrine embraced in the text. The Spirit of Christ in Noah, striving with, and contending against the wickedness of the people, made him a preacher of righteousness. The building of the ark, was in itself a preaching of righteousness, testifying the impending judgments which hung over a guilty world, and the salvation which God had provided for Noah, and those who went with him into the ark. Eight souls were saved by water; the same water which bore up their ark, and saved them, overwhelmed the ungodly in death. This was a figure of salvation, not a type of baptism; but a like figure. The ark, and the preservation of the godly in it, was a figure, and so baptism to us is a like figure of the same distinguishing grace of God, in the salvation of his people. The ark did not save or deliver the eight souls which it contained from the curse of the law of God, or prepare them for eternal glory, their eternal salvation, as well as that of all the saints, is by the blood and righteousness of the Son of God alone; but their temporal salvation from the deluge, was a figure, and a very brilliant one, of God’s method of salvation, and so also is baptism a figure of that salvation which is effected by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
If what we have written shall be blessed of the Lord to the edification of any honest inquirer after truth, our labor will not be in vain. If any, or all of our brethren shall see defection in our views, or in our manner of presenting them, we shall not be surprised; we will only say we have done the best we can, and shall be glad if brethren who are favored with a clearer view of the subject, will let their light shine. The subject is by no means exhausted, and we will be highly gratified to receive the views of others on it.
Middletown, N. Y.
April 15, 1855.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 192 - 199