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This obviously is the design of Peter in the preceding context. He is there endeavoring to fortify Christians against discouragement from the sufferings to which they were exposed for the sake of the gospel. To this end, he tells them that it is better, if the will of God be so, that they suffer for welldoing than for evil-doing; assuming that all suffering for adhering to the gospel is suffering for well.doing. He cites, in confirmation of this, the example of Christ, who suffered as a well-doer, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God;—the highest instance that ever was or will be, both of well-doing and of suffering on account of it. What the apostle would have them particularly remember was, that the sufferer in this instance found ultimately no disadvantage from the unparalleled injuries which he endured. Though he suffered to i he greatest extremity, even to his being put to death in the flesh, the ignominious death of the cross, yet he was quickened by the Spirit, by which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, etc.
“ This place is somewhat obscure in itself, but as it usually happens, made more so by the various fancies and contests of interpreters, seeming or pretending to clear it.” The fact, however, that efforts to explain it have been unsuccessful, will not and should not preclude continued attempts. It is relied upon to support unsound and dangerous doctrines, and it should, if possible, be shown by just exposition, that it lends them no countenance. Its affirmation concerning Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison, is interpreted to mean that he went after his death to the abode of departed sinners," the proper hell," and "that as be revealed here on earth the will of God unto the sons of men, and propounded himself as the object of their faith, to the end that whosoever believed in him should never die; so after his death he showed himself unto the souls departed, that whosoever of them would yet accept of him should pass from death to life.” This and other dogmas contrary to the catholic faith, appeal to this scripture as their warrant, and so long as they do so, the friends of truth, certainly, should not cease looking for the key to its true interpretation. Whether there be any conclusive force in the following remarks, is with deference subinitted to the decision of the reader.
We would first ascertain the meaning of the phrase rendered in our version, "quickened by the Spirit.” So far as we know, what we take to be the sense of the original words, has never been given. If this can be established, we think a new ray of light will be thrown on the passage.
Our translation, it is adınitted, is not the only one the original will bear. Nay, much as we desire to honor the received English version, we are constrained to say that it has in this instance given a reading which the original will not bear. The true reading is not, quickened by the Spirit, but quickened in the Spirit. So it is given by Wickliffe, by Tyndale, by Cranmer, and in the versions of Geneva and Rheims, and so, but for certain theological antipathies, it would probably have been given by our translators. Both the prepositions, in the clause,“ put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit," have been supplied. The words flesh and spirit stand in the original without any preposition whatever, and it is obvious froin their antithesis, that if the word “spirit” denote the active cause by which Christ was restored to life, the word “flesh” must equally denote the active cause by which he was put to death; which, therefore, must bave been the flesh of his own body, an interpretation too manifestly absurd to be admitted.*
The important phrase before us must have one of the five following significations. 1. That Christ, after his death, was invigorated as to his human soul as distinguished from his body; that, though as to his body he was dead, he was more vital than before as to his soul. We cannot adopt this as the true sense, though the thing affirmed may have been true, for a reason, which will hereafter be given. It may seem to be required, at the first view, by the law of antithesis, but besides that it is a feeble
sense, it does not, as we shall see, fall in with the scope of the context.
2. That Christ, after death, was inade more vital as to his deity, as distinguished from his human nature. This sense rust be rejected, as being inconsistent with the essential immutability of the Godhead.
3. That Christ suffered death indeed as to his body, but was resuscitated or quickened again into bodily life, by the Holy Ghost. This, however true, is not what the words were intended to express : (1.) Because, as we have shown, the original cannot be justly rendered so as to give this sense ; it must be translated quickened, not by, but in the Spirit. (2.) Because
the resurrection of Christ was not more the act of the Holy Ghost, than that of the Father; nay, than Christ's own act. It is ascribed to the Father in Eph. 1:20. It is ascribed to Christ himself in John 2: 19, and John 10: 18. If it is anywhere ascribed to the Holy Ghost, it is not as his act exclusively or peculiarly; and no reason appears from either the text or context for introducing the Holy Ghost here as the agent in raising the body of Christ: nay, (3.) the raising of his body cannot have been referred to in this quickening, for the very reason that the context on that supposition cannot be explained. Indeed all context, i. e. connection, between the parts of the passage is destroyed by it. For where is any connection between Christ's being raised from the dead, and his preaching to the antediluvians ?
4. That Christ, after being put to death as to his body, quickened hiinself into bodily life by his own eternal Deity. This cannot be what is intended, because, to mention no other reasons, the original cannot be so translated as to admit the preposition by.
5. The only remaining sense of the phrase is, that Christ, after his death, was quickened in reference to bis great work, the salvation of mankind ;-quickened as to that efficacious agency, by which this work was to be carried forward :-an agency by which Christ made himself to be felt among men in his power to save; an agency which diffused new and mighty life through his boily the church, and, by means of his church, thus vitalized, throughout the world. This agency was specifically that of the Holy Spirit. The propriety of speaking of Christ as quickened, because of the increased influence and exertion of this agency, appears from this, that the Holy Spirit, according to the representations of Scripture, is the Spirit of Christ. So he is called in Rom. 8: 10, and elsewhere, (1,) because, the Holy Spirit, in reference to the accomplishment of our redemption, is possessed by Christ above measure; John 3: 34, Acts 4:38, Is. 42: 1; and, (2) because, for the same purpose, the Holy Spirit is given or sent by Christ; John 1: 33, 15:26, Luke 24: 49. The distinguishing mark of our Lord, as the Messiah, was, that he baptized with the Holy Spirit. So he baptized his disciples on the day of Pentecost; and so, by their instrumentality, he baptized great multitudes throughout the world, or in the language of the prophet," sprinkled many nations,” Is. 52: 15.
Thus, though Christ suffered unto death in the flesh, in accomplishing the redemption of man, yet relatively to that work, he was quickened in the Spirit, became efficaciously vital and life-giving, in the influences of the Holy Ghost, which were thenceforward so abundantly bestowed. In the Spirit, thus understood, he was “straitened” before his death, according to his own complaint, Luke 12: 50; after his death he was “ quickened ;" life flowed from him, filling his church with vitality, and the world too became conscious of his life-giving energy; agreeably to his own forcible illustration, John 12: 24, " Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit;!' and agreeably also to his prediction, John 12:32, “ And if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.”
We propound this, then, as the true sense of the expression, as being, 1, the worthiest and greatest sense, and on that account preferable, other things being equal; 2, accordant with a manifest and wonderful fact, which was then filling the world with excitement, namely, the outpouring of the Spirit in his divinely vivifying influences; and, 3, coincident with the scope of the place, in connection with which it stands, as follows: No damage comes from well-doing : Christ suffered extremely on that account, and the result is known. To redeem man, he was put to death in the flesh; but his death was the means of life to his cause. Before he died, to use his own simile, he was like an unplanted grain which abideth alone; after his death, he was like a corn of wheat, which having yielded its life in the midst of a fruitful soil, is now producing an hundred-fold increase. To vary the form of speaking, he was straitened before he suffered; he was quickened afterwards. Filled himself with the Spirit above measure, he poured it out from on high, baptized his church with it, and diffused, through his church, a heavenly life among the nations.
Such is our understanding of this very important phrase “quickened in the Spirit.” Irrespective of the light which the remaining part of the text receives from this interpretation, it commends itself, we think, as the only one the place will bear. It will appear, however, as having new claims to our adoption, when it is seen how it elucidates the following context. We proceed with our exposition.
The apostle having mentioned Christ's becoming thus quickened in consequence of his death, as to the life-giving power of the Spirit, goes on to speak of his having exerted himself, in
an office of the Spirit, among those who perished by Noah's flood. He expresses ihis in the following language: “By which 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.” But why does he mention this ancient fact in this connection ? What has Christ's ministry to the antediluvians, in the person of Noah, to do with the subject which the apostle has in band, namely, his being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit ? This, at the first view, seems exceedingly abrupt, and some persons, probably, have been inclined by this appearance of dislocation and irrelevance, to question, if the apostle be in fact speaking of what we have said, namely, the preaching by means of Noah to the disobedient men of his day. The dogma, as we have before mentioned, has been advanced that Christ, after his death, went to the place where the antediluvians were now confined, for the purpose of preaching to them; and in accordance with it this text has been explained ; and the explanation has, it may be said, this at least to recommend it, namely, that it makes the apostle less disjointed and incoherent in his discourse. For it is what one would be naturally enough led to inquire about, after being told that Christ, when lying dead in the grave, was, in spirit, more vital and energetic than before. Where was Christ's disembodied spirit, and how was it exerting its invigorated powers during the three days and nights which intervened between his crucifixion and his resurrection ? An inquiry which it has been supposed the apostle, in the words following, proceeds to resolve. Is this so ?
Was the soul of Christ in fact thus employed, while his body was in Joseph's tomb? If there is any testimony in Scripture in favor of this, it is in the present text. There is no parallel place, no hint, no trace of evidence, direct or indirect, besides. Presumption certainly is against it: for why should these antediluvians, above all mankind who have departed in disobedience, be distinguished by such a privilege as it is said they had ? It is moreover fatal to this exposition, that it gives a feeble sense to the great expression, "quickened in the Spirit.” The spirit, according to this interpretation, means Christ's human soul; but to say that Christ did not die as to his soul when his body was dead, but was rather more vigorous, were but to make a commonplace remark, and to say what is doubtless true of every one who dies, as well as of our Lord. We shall see yet further reason for not adopting this exposition.