Page images

fully moved by the mere preaching, than were the minds of the Jews, who had not only heard his authoritative instruction, but had also been eye-witnesses of his mighty works? Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles were converted by Christ and his Apostles—they repented after believing, and were ultimately saved. Had the spirits of hell opportunity not merely for believing, but for bringing forth fruits mect for repentance, and suflicient to deliver them from the continuance of the punishment inflicted upon them before Christ appeared among thein?

Such are the apposite, and, I think, the irresistible questions which may be proposed to every man who contends for the common interpretation. Upon what then, you will ask, is that interpretation founded? I answer, upon one solitary and very obscure passage in the first Epistle of Peter. Misconceived it certainly has been for many centuries, and that misconception has produced the mention of the fact in some creeds. I shall therefore now lay before you the words of St. Peter, which I am confident do not warrant the conclusions sometimes drawn from them; and I shall subjoin such an explanation as to my mind is clear and satisfactory.

The words of St. Peter are, “Christ being put to death in the flesh, but restored to life (or made alive) by the Spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits nou in prison, who formerly disbelieved, when the long suffering of God earnestly waited in the days of Noah.” Archbishop Newcome's note runs thus : “ By which Spirit he, as the representative of Jehovah, appeared on earth, and warned the whole world of their guilt and impending punishment. Gen. vi.3, 7, 13. He warned, I say, the spirits now kept in custody, or safeguard (compare c. i. 5; Sheol Syr. in Hades, in the separate, invisible state) to the judgment of the last day. (See Beza, Schmidius, and Elsner.) Or, by which Spirit he inspired Noah, and thus, in effect, went (compare emowy, Eph. ii. 27) and preached, &c. See e. i. 11.” Mr. Pyle, a very judicious interpreter, says, “not that Christ himself preached, but preached by the spirit, i. e. by sending the spirit upon Noah, agreeably to 2 Pet. ii. 5, and 1 Pet. i. 11.” He subjoins the interpretation of a sensible expositor, who paraphrased the Epistle after Locke's manner; and you will observe, that he, like Archbishop Newcome, thought it necessary to insert now before the words in prison. The paraphrase runs thus: “ By which Spirit he (Christ) endeavoured to do good to mankind in former ages, inspiring Noah, and thereby preaching unto those who are now spirits-are souls -in prison, or in safe custody, in the state of the dead, but formerly disobedient, &c.” Thus, you see, it was not Christ who preached personally and immediately, but mediately by the Spirit. The Spirit preached, not to the great body of sinners, but particularly to those, who sinned in the days of Noah. The Spirit preached, not to persons who had been condemned to a state of punishment in hell, but to those who had been formerly disobedient, when Noah was preparing his ark, who are now in custody, and reserved for the judgment of the last day.

But even in this controverted passage we are not told, that Christ went down into hell in order to preach; and therefore the words of St. Peter leave us at full liberty to consider Christ as having descended into the grave, from which he was to rise again miraculously, and in which he remained three days.

Here then you have an immediate agent, different from that which is supposed in the common and erroneous interpretation of St. Peter; for it is the Spirit, which preached, not Christ personally. You have a different time ; for it was in the age of Noah, not during the three days when Christ lay in the grave. You have a different place; for it was not Hell, but the country in which Noah lived. You have different persons ; for they to whom the Spirit preached, were not the accursed inhabitants of Hell, but the contemporaries of Noah. You have a different purpose; for there is no resemblance between the Spirit, which preached unto the unrighteous contemporaries of Noah, to check their ungodliness, lest they should be destroyed by the flood, and the preaching of Christ to wicked spirits, who were already suffering in the fire of Gehenna, and of whom we do not learn that even one was so influenced by the instruction of Christ, as to be reformed from wickedness, and released from torment.

The very learned Dr. Hicks, in a sermon, where carnestness is recommended in contending for the faith, has given a full and accurate account of the contents of various creeds upon the descent of Christ into Hades.

In the creed of the church of Jerusalem, which, as we know from Scripture, was the first church, we have a form of confession, commonly called the Apostles' Creed. It cannot be traced to the times of the Apostles, but by some learned men it is supposed to resemble the creed of the church of Jerusalem. The words used here are taken from the catechism of Cyril, who about the year 350 was catechist in the church of Jerusalem, and afterwards bishop of it. The words are "he was crucified, dead, and buried; he rose again the third day from the dead, and ascended into heaven.” Here there is no mention of the descent into bell or the grave.

The next is the creed of the church of Alexandria, of which St. Mark was the first bishop extant in the ecclesiastical history of Socrates, who sets it down as it was produced at the Council of Nice. The words are, “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, and in the Lord Jesus Christ his son, who came, and was incarnated, suffered, and ascended into heaven." Here also there is no mention of the descent into the grave.

In the famous creed, which Eusebius produced in the Council of Nice, we have these words, “ Christ, who was incarnate for our salvation, and conversed with men, and suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended to the Father.” Here the descent is not mentioned. This confession was admitted in the Council of Nice; and though for the better confutation of the Arian heresy, the fathers made some alterations in it, yet they did not say that Christ descended into hell. The Emperor Justinian declared, 534 years after Christ, that he would rely on the confessions of the first five general Councils, and it is only in one of them, which is the Church of Aquileia, the descent is inserted; and in that one you will be told, the old Roman Creed omitted those words.

Irenæus tells us, that in the Scriptures, we read of the advent of Christ, of his birth of a virgin, of his passion, of his resurrection from the dead, and his bodily ascension to heaven-not a word is said of the descent.

Tertullian, in his rule of faith, says, that the Son of God suffered, that he was dead, and buried, according to the Scriptures, and raised again by the Father, and received into heaven. Here then we have a negative proof from that rule which Tertullian elsewhere calls the law of faith, and the only immoveable and irreformable rule of faith, even of that faith, which he saith all people ought to seek and believe.

I shall now enumerate the Creeds, in which it is mentioned. In the Creed of the Church of Aquileia, extant in the exposition of Ruffinus, a presbyter, of that Church, we read “ Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried and descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.” But some copies of this Creed vary, and omit the descent. The ancient Roman Creed, says Hicks, as Ruffinus informs us, was the same with this of Aquileia, excepting that it had not these words “ he descended into hell;" so that, as Bishop Usher observes, the Creed which the Church of Rome now uses, and we from them commonly call the Apostles' Creed,

« PreviousContinue »