Page images
PDF
EPUB

to nothing but the contrast between flesh and spirit,' or (as the terms are popularly used) body and soul. Taking the words of the apostle, then, as they stand, it would appear that they speak directly of what happened after the death of Christ. Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened (i.e. endowed with a new power of life) in the spirit "He" went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The spirits to whom the announcement was made are further described as those "which aforetime were disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing." If the interpretation here given be correct, these words definitely teach us that the or at any rate an object of the descent was the proclamation of the gospel to that generation which had been cut off by the flood. Two questions immediately present themselves : (1) What was the effect of the preaching, i.e. did it bring about any alteration in the condition of those to whom it was made ? and (2) Was it confined to the generation actually specified by S. Peter, or were its benefits (if any) extended to others also

1. With regard to the first of these questions, it has been pointed out that the word used by the apostle is ékýpuče, proclaimed as a herald. Hence it has been inferred that the preaching was “a mere proclamation of blessedness to men who had already repented when on earth, and had no need of repentance after death, when it never comes, and could not avail even if it did come." This view is unsatisfactory for two reasonsfirst, the words of Scripture cannot be said to imply that the recipients of the preaching had “already repented when on earth." S. Peter speaks of them as having been “aforetime disobedient,” but says not one word of any

Cf. Rom. i. 4; 1 Tim. iii. 16.
Bishop Browne on The Articles, p. 96.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

subsequent repentance; secondly, 1 Pet. üü. 19 does not stand alone. It cannot be fairly isolated or considered apart from ch. iv. 6, which speaks of the gospel being preached-using the word ευαγγελίζειν not κηρύσσεινto the dead (verpoîs), and states further the object of the preaching : "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. These words are admittedly difficult, but they certainly seem to imply that the preaching was attended with some beneficial result. On the whole, the best interpretation of them appears to be that which takes the first clause immediately following iva (that they might be judged, etc.) as a subordinate one, of the state which the eungyenlo on left remaining, and thus makes the last words “that they might live, etc.," as the true result and end of the preaching. But whatever be the details of interpretation, the passage as a whole is surely a sufficient warrant for holding (a) that there was a second object of the descent into hell, namely, to preach to the spirits in prison; and (b) that this preaching of the gospel to the dead was in some way instrumental in changing their condition for the better.

If this view be correct it follows that the descent into hell should be regarded not only as the last step in the humiliation of Christ, but also as the first step in His triumph. It witnessed the initial fulfilment of that acknowledgment of Him, of which S. Paul speaks in Phil. ü. 10," that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth (kataydovíwv), and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," where it should be noticed that the word used for “things under the earth” is rendered in the Vulgate, Inferna, which, as we have already seen, is one of the terms most frequently employed to describe the place to which Christ “ descended ” after His death.

1 It is remarkable that neither Horsley in his celebrated sermon on 1 Pet. iii. 19 (Works, vol. ii. Serm. 20) nor Bishop Browne (on the Thirty-Nine Articles) makes the slightest allusion to this text.

2 Cf. Alford, in loc. ; the construction may be illustrated by Rom. vi. 17, viii. 10. See also on the whole passage C. Bigg in the International Critical Commentary.

2. The second question, Was the preaching confined to the generation specified by S. Peter, or were its benefits extended to others as well, is one to which it is perhaps impossible to return a definite and certain answer. One generation, and one generation alone, is specified by the apostle; and that just the generation of which it might be said that it received exceptional treatment on earth. It may, therefore, have been the subject of a special extension of mercy in the unseen world of Hades. But, as will be shown immediately, there is an extraordinarily strong tradition among the Fathers that Christ descended to the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Dispensation, and preached to them, and bettered their condition. There is no other passage of Holy Scripture from which such a tradition can have originated; and it would therefore seem that the Fathers took it that those mentioned by S. Peter were but specimens, so to speak, of a class of those, that is, who had lived and died under the Old Covenant. may

But this is all that can be said. Where Scripture is silent, such an inference must be more or less precarious, and though the opinion may appear a probable one, it can only be held (if at all) as a “pious opinion,” which cannot be pressed upon any as a part of the faith. In any case, it would be rash in the extreme to infer from this passage the possibility of an extension of the day of grace, or an opportunity of repentance beyond the grave, for Christians, whose case is wholly different. It cannot be said that the apostle's words afford the slightest grounds for

It

be so.

expecting a second offer of salvation to any of those who have slighted or misused God's revelation made “in His Son."

III. The History of the Doctrine in the Church, and of the

clause in the Creed referring to it. Although the clause “ He descended into hell,” has never formed part of the creed of the Eastern Church, and only made its way into that of the West in comparatively late times, it is remarkable how prominent a position the fact of the descent occupied in the belief of the early Christians, and how very general was the belief that it was instrumental in changing for the better the condition of the faithful who had died before the coming of Christ. It meets us from the very first. Ignatius (A.D. 115), in his Epistle to the Magnesians, speaks of it: “ Even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher, through the Spirit. And for this cause He, whom they rightly awaited, when He came, raised them from the dead."1 Justin Martyr (140) and Irenæus (180) both quote the following passage as from Jeremiah or Isaiah, and apply it to the descent into hell. “ The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and descended to preach to them His own salvation.' Irenæus also quotes a certain presbyter “ who had heard it from those who had seen the apostles and from those who had been their disciples,"

» 2

1 Ignatius, Ad Magn. ch. ix.

? Justin Martyr's Dial. with Trypho, ch. lxxii. Justin Martyr here (probably without sufficient justification) accuses the Jews of having cut out the passage from the sayings of Jeremiah. There is no trace of any such words in existing copies of the LXX. Irenæus says nothing of any such charge against the Jews, but cites the passage several times ; in III. xxii. as from Isaiah, in IV. xxxvi. as from Jeremiah, and in IV. lv., without giving the name of the author.

as having said that the Lord “ descended in ea quce sunt sub terra, preaching His advent there also, and declaring remission of sins received by those who believe in Him. But all those believed in Him, whose hope was set on Him—that is, who foretold His advent and submitted to His dispensations, just men and prophets and patriarchs, etc.”i Similarly, Tertullian (200) says that Christ "in Hades (apud inferos) underwent the law of human death, nor did He ascend to the heights of heaven, until He descended to the lower parts of the earth (in inferiora terrarum) that there He might make patriarchs and prophets sharers of His life (compotes sui).” To a still earlier date, perhaps, belongs the recently discovered fragment of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, which refers to the descent into hell in the following words :

They see three men coming forth from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, and a cross following them; and the head of the two reached to heaven ; but that of Him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, Thou didst preach (érýpuças) to them that sleep; and a response was heard from the cross, yea.” It would be easy to multiply quotations from later Fathers. References to some of them are appended in a note.* But those just · Irenæus, IV. xlii.

? De Anima, ch. 55. S“ About A.D. 165." See Swete, Gospel of Peter, p. xliv. The passage quoted in the text occurs in ch. ix.

* The descent into hell is a prominent feature in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which perhaps dates from the second century (ch. xxxi.xviv.). The doctrine was accepted by the heretic Marcion (see Irenæus, I. xxv.). It also appears in the apocryphal correspondence between Abgar of Edessar and our Lord, preserved by Eusebius, H. E. I. xiii. Of the third century the following Christian Fathers among others refer to it :Hippolytus, De Antichristo, 45 ; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, vi 6; Origen, Contra Celsum, ii. 43 ; cf. in Lucam, Hom. iv.; in Joann. ii. 30; Cyprian, Testim. adv. Jud. ii. ch. xxiv. In the fourth century reference may be made to Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. iv. 11 ; xiv. 18, 19. Athana. sius, Orat. contr. Arian. iii. 23, 29; Epist. ad Epict. 6; Hilary of

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »