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BIBLICAL CRITICISM.—PURGATORY. INQUIRY RESPECTING CHRIST PREACHING TO THE SPIRITS IN PRISON. Rev. Sır.-Having come in contact with some Roman Catholics on the doctrine of purgatory, and not being competent satisfactorily to answer their objections, I take the liberty of soliciting your elucidation of that passage in 1 Peter iii. 19, 20, which passage, I think, is the most relied on by Romanists to substantiate the doctrine of purgatory. Hoping you will condescend to comply with my request and furnish me with an answer,
I beg to remain yours humbly,
J. B. A.
ANSWER.– We will not trouble the reader with the several different readings of this passage which are found in some manuscripts, both Greek and Latin. We prefer to take the passage as it stands before us, supported, as it is, by the best and oldest manuscripts; and, instead of encumbering our pages with numerous conflicting views, simply to offer our own interpretation, adopting that mode of exegesis which we have ever found the best and the safest, namely, comparing Scripture with Scripture, and making the word of God its own interpreter.
This passage is confessedly the stronghold of Papists in their defence of the doctrine of purgatory. It must, however, be a matter of regret with Papists that a doctrine to which they attach so much importance should have such slender support from Scripture that they are obliged to have recourse to a few of the most obscure and difficult passages in the sacred volume. This is not the case with evangelical truth. It is clear and obvious. It shines forth by its own light. It is published as with a sunbeam. It stands out in bold and prominent relief, and is so constantly presented to our view that, turn to what part of the New Testament we may, it meets us there in some form, forcing itself upon our attention and commanding our assent. If I were a Papist I should certainly feel mucho perplexity and misgiving respecting the doctrine, if to find even a slender support of it I must leave the plain and obvious parts of Scripture, and have recourse to the difficult and obscure. I should feel this embarrassment increased if, as a Romanist, I found that some emi
nent teachers in my own Church expressed their doubts wbether the doctrine of purgatory could be fairly deduced from this passage. If this obscure text be the strongest that can be adduced in support of Popery and some learned men in the Romish Church hesitate to affirm that the doctrine is taught there, then, indeed, my doubts and misgivings would be increased. Yet such is the fact, as we shall soon see. St. Jerome applies the passage to the present life ; for he says “ that Christ preached to the spirits in prison, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, bringing the flood upon the wicked."* St. Augustine suggests respecting this passage, that “the whole of St. Peter's statement concerning the spirits in prison, who believed not in the days of Noah, may have no reference whatever to the spiritual world, but rather to those times of which he has transferred the example to our own. For before Christ came once in the flesh to die for us, he came often in the spirit to those whom he would, giving them by visions such spiritual intimations as he wished; by which he was also quickened.”+
*“ Prædieavit spiritibus in carcere constitutis, quando Dei patientia exspectabatur in diebus Noe, diluvium impiis inferens." Hieron. lib. xv. Comment. in Isa, cap. 64, tom. iij. col. 395. Paris, 1704.
+ " Considera tamen ne forte totum illud, quod de conclusis in carcere spiritibus, qui in diebus Noe non crediderant, Petrus Apostolus dicit, omnino ad inferos non pertineat, sed ad illa potius tempora, quorum formam ad bæc tempora transtulit. . . . Quoniam priusquam veniret in carne pro nobis moriturus, quod semel fecit, sæpe antea veniebat Thomas Aquinas agrees with this interpretation.*
But there are other distinguished writers of the Romish Church who still more plainly and decisively give this passage a Protestant interpretation. The Venerable Bede thus ex. plains it, in the following forcible language : “He who in our times, coming in the flesh, preached the way of life to the world, preached also before the Flood by his Spirit to those who were then unbelieving and carnally minded. For he was by his Holy Spirit in Noah, and in the other holy men who lived at that time, and by their good conversation preached to the wicked men of that age that they might be converted to better things."
The learned Calmet also gives the same interpretation of this passage. He observes, “Christ preached by his Spirit, with which he filled Noah, to the unbelievers of that time. He preached, therefore, to those unbelievers, not in person, or visibly, but by his Spirit communicated to Noah."
These quotations are from weighty authorities in the Church of Rome. If the sentiments of such men as Je rome, Augustine, Bede and Calmet are against the Papai interpretation of this the strongest passage that can be
adduced in favour of purgatory, the doctrine may well be regarded as resting on a slender foundation; and no wonder that the candid and inquiring Romanist "should entertain serious doubts of its validity.
But let us ourselves enter upon an examination of this passage. Those who suppose it to favour the dogma of purgatory imagine that the “prison" spoken of is some invisible region called purgatory; that "the spirits" who are said to have been "disobedient" are the souls of the ani. tediluvians, who perished in the Flood and were sent to the prison of purgatory; and that to these Christ went and preached in the interval between his death and resurrection. Such is the interpretation which most Papists give of this passage in order to make it speak in favour of purgatory. We think, however, a very little exami. nation will show that it has no more to do with purgatory than it has with the planet Jupiter and his inhabitants, and that its application to purgatory is totally inadmissible, even on the principles which Romanists themselves maintain.
Our first argument is, that the text speaks only of one particular class of individuals—those who were disobedient in the days of Noah and who perished in the universal Deluge. Now, if there be a purgatory, it is, of course, a place for the reception, not only of those who perished in the Deluge, but a place for the reception of certain individuals in all ages of the world; for those who died before the Flood and for those who died after the Flood; for those who died in the patriarchal age, in the Levitical age, in the prophetical age, and in the Christian age. Now had the apostle been speaking of Christ's preaching to souls in purgatory, he would doubtless have spoken of his preaching to all departed souls who were in purgatory; but instead of this, he confines his remarks to one class of men. He speaks of Christ preaching, not to all, but only to those individuals who lived at one particular period and perished in one particular judg. ment. No other are mentioned; no other are referred to; to no other is the slightest allusion made in the
in Spiritu ad quos volebat, visis eos admonens sicut volebat utique in spiritu; quo Spiritu et vivificatus est." Augustin., Epist. clxiv., ad Evodium, c. vi. sec. 18, tom. ii. col. 578. G. 580, c.
*T. Aquin. Summ. Theol. pars iii. quest. 53, art. 11, p. 145. Lyons, 1567.
+ " Qui vostris temporibus in carne veniens iter vitæ mundo prædicavit, ipse etiam ante diluvium eis, qui tunc increduli erant el carnaliter vivebant, Spiritu veniens prædicavit. Ipse enim per Spiritum Sanctum erat in Noe, cæterisque qui tunc fuere sanctis; et per eorum bonam conversationem, pravis illius ævi hominibus, ut ad meliora converterentur, prædicavit.” Beda in Pet. iii. 19, tom. v, col. 980. Basil, 1563.
“ Christ, par son Esprit, dont il remplit Noë, prêcha aux hommes incrédules de ce tems-lá. Christ prêcha, donc, à les incrédules, non en personne ni visiblement, mais son Esprit, qu'il avait communiqué a Noë," Calmet; Comment. iv. 24. 159.
passage. The question, then, neces. purgatory the souls of just men are sarily arises, If purgatory be a re- cleansed by a temporal punishment, ceptacle for a certain class of cha- in order to be admitted into their racters in every age, and if all such eternal country, into which nothing be undergoing a process of purifica- that defileth entereth."* tion to fit them for final deliverance, In “ The Grounds of the Catholic why did Christ preach to one class Doctrine contained in the Profession only? why are all the rest passed by of Faith," published by Pope Pius without being once mentioned? This, IV., by way of question and answer, we think, is inexplicable, and incom- we have the following: patible with the Papistical doctrine “Question. What do you mean by of purgatory. If the disobedient purgatory? persons who perished in the Flood “ Answer. A middle state of souls, were in purgatory, they were only which depart this life in God's grace, the men of one particular period. yet not without some lesser stains or There were millions besides them guilt of punishment, which retards in every age; why are all the rest them from entering heaven." passed over in silence ? Christ died The Douay Catechism is published for all others as well as for those by high authority, and is a recognised men who perished in the Deluge, exponent of the Papal doctrine. Reand the millions who were with them specting purgatory and the futuro in purgatory were surely not less world the following tenets are taught: worthy of his regard; why, then, were “Q. Whither go such as die in they all overlooked? How is it that mortal sin? Christ neither preached to them, nor “ A. To hell to all eternity. does the apostle notice them? There “Q. Whither go such as die in is but one consistent answer. St. venial sin, or not having satisfied Peter was not alluding to purgatory fully for the punishment due to their at all!
mortal sins? Our second argument against the “A. To purgatory till they have application of this text to purgatory made full satisfaction for them, and is the fact that the characters spoken then to heaven.” of were unsuitable for purgatory, even Here let it be well observed by the on the Romanists' own statements. reader that those admitted to purga. Hell is a place of eternal punishment tory are described as those only wlio for the wicked ; heaven is a place of are designated" the souls of the pious rest and joy for the perfectly holy; dead," * the souls of just men,” “ the but purgatory is said to be a middle souls which depart this life in God's place of purification for the righteous grace," " such as die in venial sin ;" who, though the children of God, while those who die in mortal sin go are not sufficiently pure for heaven, to hell to all eternity. These are and who are sent to purgatory to be their own words. Now, such being fully purified and made meet for the doctrine of Romanists respecting heaven. Let us hear the Romanists purgatory, it follows that the indi. themselves expound this doctrine. We viduals who perished in the Deluge refer to none but the highest autho could not be admitted into purga. rities. Dens in bis Theology thus tory, for they died in mortal sin. They speaks of purgatory : “It is a place were neither saints, nor the souls in which the souls of the pious dead, of the pious dead, nor persons who obnoxious to temporal punishment, died merely under venial sins. Insuffer enough or make satisfaction."* deed, they were not ordinary transgresIn the Catechism of the Council of sors, but the most abandoned and Trent it is declared, “In the fire of notoriously wicked beings who in any
age have offended God and polluted *“Quid est purgatorium? R. Est lo
the earth. We have no description cus, in quo animæ justorum defunctorum obnoxiæ pænis temporalibus satis pa
given in the sacred volume of men tiuntur."-Dens, Theolog., tom. 7., tract. de Quatuor Novissimis de Purgatorio, - Catechism of the Council of Trent, No. 25.
so utterly depraved as those who perished in the Deluge. Let us turn to the Book of Genesis and behold the loathsome portraiture of their character. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. ... And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them. And, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Gen. vi. 5,12,13.) We ask, in the name of common-sense, whether these persons are to be numbered with “the pious dead?” Whether the description given of their gross sensuality, outrageous violence, aw. ful depravity, and universal contempt of God, comports with the doctrine of " venial sins ?" If these were “ venial,” where shall we find “mortal sins ?" If these men were merely imperfect saints, when God pronounced not only their lives to be corrupt, but the very imaginations of the thoughts of their heart so thoroughly depraved as to be evil, evil only and evil continually—where, we ask, shall we look for sinners ?
To this enormous and universal guilt we must add the sin of incorrigibility. They continued hardened to the last moment. Jehovah warned them of the coming judgment, he sent his servant to preach repentance and reformation, he strove with them by the powerful agency of his Spirit, and he waited for them during the protracted period of 120 years, while the ark was preparing. But they heeded not his threatened judgment, they accepted not his offered mercy, and they repented not at his long. suffering and forbearance. When they saw the ark finished they were still impenitent; when the venerable patriarch entered the appointed refuge they laughed at his folly; when they beheld the animals spontaneously follow him their stubborn hearts still yielded not. They sought no refuge
from the impending storm; but to the last moment, when Jehovah himself shut the patriarch in with his own hand, they were still found in the attitude of defiance, the victims of dissipation, carelessness and sin; eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, living in pleasure, riot, excess and carnal ease, as if all religion were a lie and the world were destined to last for ever, up to the moment when the fearful deluge burst upon them and swept them all away in a tempest of indignation. Such are the characters to whom Popery points as the inhabitants of purgatory!
The rich man in the gospel is described as lifting up his eyes, not in purgatory, but in hell, being tormented with the flames of the awful pit; yet, so far as we know, he led a harmless life compared with antedi. luvian sinners. The slothful servant who did not squander his talent in licentiousness, but merely neglected to improve it, is condemned and cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth ; but the men whose lives were wholly corrupt, and whose hearts were the repository of evil, and only evil continually, are favoured by Popery with a place in purgatory!
Truth is always in harmony with itself, but it is hard for false doctrine to maintain even the semblance of consistency. We have seen in the present instance, the Church of Rome affirms that none can go to purgatory but “the souls of the pious dead," or those who die in venial sins; yet the only examples to which she points in proof are those transgressors who died in mortal sins, in the darkest and foulest sins which have degraded our fallen nature. Thus Popery contradicts alike herself and the Word of God.
Our next argument is based on the fact that our Lord, after his death, did not go to a purgatorial prison, but to the paradise of God. The papist construes the words of the text, “ By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison," to mean that our Lord went to pur. gatory. This notion, however, is, we think, exploded by what we have already advanced; for if the characters we have noticed were not such as are adapted for purgatory, the Romanists themselves being our wit nesses, it follows that they did not go to purgatory. From this conclusion it follows again that the “prison" spoken of in the text cannot mean purgatory; and from these facts we hare the further conclusion that, if the persons to whom Christ preached were not in any purgatorial prison, then the text does not teach that Christ went to purgatory at all. If at the time when Christ preached to these persons they were not in purgatory, so Christ himself could not be in purgatory when he preached to them.
Such is the logical and necessary deduction from our previous arguments, but we have also direct evidence from the plain and obvious declarations of Scripture, and it is well to show the weakness of a Papal error from every point of attack. The gospel informs us that the soul of Christ, on leaving the body, went immediately, not to the prison of purgatory, but to paradise. The dying Saviour said to the expiring penitent who hung by his side on the cross, " This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Again, just at the moment of his departure, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." We ask, do these phrases comport with purgatory? Is the hand of his loving Father synonymous with the prison of purgatory? or is paradise identical with the doleful regions of limbo? It surely requires both the credulity and the perverted mind of a Romanist to receive such a conclusion. But the Holy Ghost has decided what paradise is. It is not the prison of purgatory, but the third heaven, the seat of the blessed, a region of glory and blessedness. “I knew a man in Christ,” says an apostle, “ whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell, God knoweth, such a one caught up to the third heaven. . . . How that he was caught up to paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." 2 Cor. xii. 2,4. Now the third heaven, in the language of Scripture, is a region of glory
and blessedness. The first heaven is the atmosphere around us, in which the fowls of the air fly and where the clouds are suspended; the second heaven is the region beyond, where the sun, moon and stars revolve; and the third heaven is a place of glory and joy. That paradise and the third heaven are only different names for the same happy place is further obvious from Rev. ii. 7, where the reward of the righteous is expressed by admission to the enjoyments of the paradise of God. To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” And again, “ Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of Life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." (Rev. xxü. 14.) If, then, the paradise of God be identical with the third heaven, it is evident that paradise cannot be synonymous with purgatory; and if Christ on the day of his crucifixion entered paradise, it is fatal to the Papal figment of his going to preach to imprisoned souls in purgatory.
The preceding arguments prove, we conceive, two things. 1, That the disobedient persons who perished in the Deluge never entered into any purgatory; 2, That neither did the Saviour enter into any such place. And hence it follows that the passage does not speak of such a place as purgatory, or of any individuals who had entered there. In fact, while the name of purgatory is not mentioned, neither is there any allusion to it, either as a place or state, in any form whatever. Thus the passage on whico the Romanists rely as their chief foundation for the doctrine of purgatory is found, on examination, to give the notion no sanction. No doubt such reasons as those we have adduced prevailed with those writers of the Romish Church whom we have already quoted-Jerome, Augustine, Bede and Calmet, and they must prevail, we think, with every candid mind.
It will now be demanded, What. then, is the interpretation which we give of the passage? We believe that the persons who are designated