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REMARKS ON A PIECE ENTITLED, "AN INQUIRY
CERNING ST. PETER'S DECLARATION OF CHRIST'S
The piece above alluded to, may be found in “The Gospel Visitant,” Vol. III. page 296. The portion of scripture which is there made the subject of discussion, is found in 1 Pet. iii. 18, 19, 20. Our readers will recollect, that in our last number, we offered a piece from the Gospel Visitant on the same subject, and, as we believe, from the same writer. The latter piece was offered in a controversy on future punishment, in which the writer's object was to maintain the negative. But the piece has since been offered to the public, in detachment from the controversy, and is, therefore, made a proper subject of animadversion from
After a number of queries on the impropriety of various opinions, our writer gives his own, in the following language : “The particular subject to which the Apostle alluded, when he spake of Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison, in consequence of being put to death in the flesh, and being quickened by the spirit, is thought to be this, viz. he went and preached to the Gentiles who were dead in trespasses and sins, and of a character similar to those abominable people who were destroyed by the flood.”
From the explanation given in our last, we quote the following : “th. Those spirits in prison, to whom Christ preached, were disobedient when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah. 7th. The preaching to those spirits in prison was performed by Christ, after he was put to death in the flesh and quickened by the Spirit.” The writer gives us to
understand in words connected with this last explana tion, that he is not disposed to learn the scriptures how to talk ;” but is "willing to be taught by them.” He confidently observes ; “Our duty is plain, and as easy as it is plain. It is only to let the scripture speak its own most natural language, connecting the divine testimony, and permitting one part to explain to us, what may appear enigmatical in another.” After six years laborious study, which brings our writer from the date of his first explanation to the second, he leaves this plain duty, (to let the scripture speak its oron language,) and concludes, that when Christ preached to the spirits in prison, who were disobedient in Noah's day, it was not those spirits, but Gentiles of a SIMILAR character. If we may be allowed to judge the latter composition by the former, has not the writer violated his own rules, and undertaken to learn the Bible how to talk ? He certainly six years before, must have been a complete novice, or his departure from that explanation is altogether unwarrantable. He then said ; "In this subject there is not the least ambiguity, ner is there any other difficulty than that it is as plain and direct a contradiction of the commonly received opinion, i. e. that there is no mercy to be communicated to those who die in ureconciliation to God, or in unbelief of the gospel, is can possibly be stated." Here let the question be asked, who, that understands himself, would express his ideas of a passage of scripture, thus dogmatically, unless the language was exceedingly perspicuous ? Who would deliberately write them, and suffer them to be printed in a book ?
Our writer remarks to his opposer in introducing his subject; “On this passage in Peter present you the following very inperfect sketch of what I am, for myself, after much inquiry, fully satisie:! is the trije evangelical sense of the apostie.” The expositio therefore, he now gives, he informs us here, is the reser! of “much inquiry." Perhaps the reader would sing to be informed why there should be “sch ing:
into a subject, in which, a few years before, there was thought by the same writer, then equally eminent for renown and authorship, not to be “the least ambiguity.” Once confident there was no other difficulty, than a plain and direct contradiction of the commonly received opinion, he now sees another difficulty, that has lately occasioned “much inquiry.” This difficulty is future punishment, which the writer is striving to disprove. The common opinion which this writer opposes, is, that the spirit of Christ in Noah, preached to the inhabitants of the old world. He says, “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 express the idea which is 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, than to say as he did.” Applying this reasoning to his own explanation, we say, It was not the Gentiles of the apostolic age to whom St. Peter said Christ preached; but to the spirits who were disobedient in Noah's dạy, He has as much violated his own rule, in substituting the Gentiles of the apostolic age for the spirits who were disobedient in Noah's day, as the common opinion does, in substituting Noah in the room of Christ for the preacher. Besides, if we may believe the sacred historians, Christ never preached to the Gentiles, after he arose from the dead. He was shown openly ; not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God.* So, after all the writer's care, to show that Christ was the preacher, in opposition to the common opinion, he has fallen into the same error himself, and explained the passage in such a way, that Christ cannot be the preacher. Should it be said, the preaching of the apostles was the preaching of Christ, the same may be said, in reply, of any other, whom Christ sends, with equal propriety. Christ sent his apostles ta preach ; but here St. Peter said, he went and preached. If going and sending mean the same thing, the writer may plead that Christ preached to the spirits in prison himself, when the preaching was performed by the disciples ; otherwise, he fails in establishing this point. It
* Acts &. 40, 41.
may be well to notice the mode which our writer has adopted in his last explanation, and which has le: him to the conclusion he has made. “It is believed," says he, "that most of the erroneous applications of particular passages of scripture, are made in consequence of an unwarrantable departure from the main thread of discourse into which they were introduced ; and that the best way to rectify such mistakes is to draw a strait line from the beginning of a subject to the end of it, and then to be careful that every intervening passage be placed contiguous to this line." This is quite different from his former instructions, when he was not disposed to learn the scriptures how to talk ; but was willing to be taught by them. He now undertakes to fix the beginning and end of his subject, draws his line, and measures scripture by his strait line. We very plainly perceive that one end of the line was, that there was no future punishment. For this reason St. Peter said Christ preached to one people, and meant another people, similar to the first !
Tho our writer once saw not the least ambiguity in the passage under consideration, we now find
him laboring under a series of difficulties, that induce him to believe St. Peter did not mean as he said. His first objection is, the event was not mentioned by Jesus Christ that we have any account of. This is one reason he cannot believe St. Peter as he wrote. cond objection is; “No mention is made by any of the prophets, who spake of the glorious things which the Messiah should do, of this mission to the spirits in prison.” But what objection is this ? One man is not to be believed, because another has not told it! Surely, nothing else. This is a most singular way of
discrediting an inspired writer. But is it true that the prophets did not allude to such an event? See on this subject, Isa. Ixi. 1 ; xlix. 9 ; Zech. ix. 10, 11, 12. After our writer had inquired, why St. Peter should be alone in introducing this account of Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison, he notices the above texts, and accedes to the opposite idea, in the following language : «These quotations from the prophets are designed to show that St. Peter's language was similar to the language of the prophets on the same subject.” The concession in this passage is calculated to confute completely, what he had said before. Is it certain also that other apostles did not allude to it? See Phil. ii. 10, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth.” The phrase under the earth would be a very natural figure for those who had departed this life. Other passages might be adduced, which may well be supposed to have a relation to the same subject.
Our writer in his objections remarks; “No writer in the New Testament has mentioned this thing except St. Peter.
St. Paul, whose writings occupy so large a part of the New Testament, has never mentioned a word of this important mission to the spirits in prison, if this mission is to be understood in the way which this examination is intended to disprove." Granting all this to be true, how does it affect the argument ? Does it bear any thing against the apostle Peter ? Christ said ; "I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed saving Naaman the Syrian.” Should one be disposed to say this cannot be true in a literal sense, should we not be surprised to hear him undertake to establish his ar