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And, 3. His spirit here is the same with the sense of the foregoing words, which mean not his soul, but his eternal deity. 4. Nor is it the spirits that were in prison, as they read it, but the spirits in prison, which, by the opposition of their former condition, sometime or formerly disobedient, doth clearly speak their present condition, as the just consequent and fruit of their disobedience.
Other misinterpretations I mention not, taking it as agreeable to the whole strain of the apostle's words, that Jesus Christ did, before his appearing in the flesh, speak by his Spirit in his servants to those of the foregoing ages, yea the most ancient of them, declaring to them the way of life, though rejected by the unbelief of the most part. This is inserted in the mentioning of Christ's sufferings, and exaltation after them. And, after all, the apostle returns to that again, and to the exhortation which he strengthens by it; but so as this discourse taken in, is pertinently adapted to the present subject. The apostle's aim in it, we may conceive to be this, (his main scope being to encourage his brethren in the faith of Christ, and way of holiness, against all opposition and hardship:) so to instruct his readers in Christ's perpetual influence into his church in all
• Thus I then thought, but do now apprehend another sense, as probable, if not more, even that so much rejected by most interpreters: the mission of the Spirit, and preaching of the gospel by it, after his resurrection, preaching to sinners, and converting them, according to the prophecy which he first fulfilled in person, and after more amply in his apostles. That prophecy I mean, Isa. Ix. 1. The Spirit upon him; and it was sent from him on his apostles, to preach to spirits in prison; to preach liberty to these captives, captive spirits; and therefore called spirits in prison, to illustrate the thing the more, by opposition to that Spirit of Christ, the spirit of liberty, setting them free; and this to shew the greater efficacy of Christ's preaching than of Noah's, though he a signal preacher of righteousness, yet only himself and his family, éight persons saved by him, but multitudes of all nations by the Spirit and preaching of Christ in the gospel; and that by the seal of baptism, and the resurrection of Christ, represented in the return from the water, and our dying with bim by immersion, and that figure of baptism like their ark.
ages, even before his incarnation, as that they might atthe same time see the great unbelief of the world, yea their opposing of divine truth, and the small number of those that receive it, and so not be discouraged by the fewness of their number, and the hatred of the world; finding that salvation in Jesus Christ, dead and risen again, which the rest miss of by their own wilful refusal. And this very point he insists on clearly in the following chapter, ver. 3, 4. And those very ways of ungodliness there specified, which believers renounce, were those that the world was guilty of in these days, and in which they were surprised by the flood: They eat and drank till the flood came upon them.
In the words of these three verses we have three things: 1. An assertion concerning the preaching of Christ, and the persons he preached to. 2. The designment and description of the time or age wherein that was, and the particular way of God's dealing with them. 3. The adapting or applying of the example to christians. First, the assertion concerning the preaching of Christ, and the persons he preached to, in these words, which I take together, By the which spirit he went and preached to the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient.
In these words we have a preacher and his hearers. First, Of the preacher. We shall find here, 1. His ability. 2. His activity in the use of it. 1. His ability, altogether singular and matchless; the very spring of all abilities, the spirit of wisdom himself, being the co-eternal Son of God: that spirit he preached by, was that spirit by which he raised himself from the dead; and without this spirit there is no preaching: now he was, as our apostle calls him, a preacher of righteousness; but it was by the power of this spirit; for in him did this spirit preach. The Son is the wisdom of the Father: his name is the word; not only for that by him all things were created, as John hath it"; not only as the Son is that by which, as by the word of his mouth, all things were made; but he is the word, likewise, as revealing the Father; declaring to us the counsel and will of God: therefore he is by the same Evangelist, in the same place, called that Light that illuminates the world, without which man, called the lesser world, the intellectual world, were as the greater world without the sun. And all that bring aright the doctrine of saving wisdom, derive it necessarily from him ; all preachers draw from this sovereign preacher, as the fountain of divine light, as all the planets receive their light from the sun, and by that diffusing amongst them, it is not diminished in the sun, but only communicated to them, remaining still full and entire in it, as its source. Thus doth the Spirit flow from Christ, in a particular degree, unto those he sends forth in his name, and it is in them that he preaches by the power and light of his eternal Spirit.
d John i. 4.
power e John i.9. Utilis lectio, utilis eruditio, sed magis unctio necessaria, quippe quæ sola docet de omnibus. Bern.
Hither, then, must they all come that would be rightly supplied and enabled for that work. It is impossible to speak duly of him in any measure, but by his Spirit. There must be particular access, and a receiving of instructions from him, and a transfusion of his Spirit into ours. Oh! were it thus with us, how sweet were it to speak of him? To be much in prayer, much dependence on him, and drawing from him, would do much more in this, than reading and studying, seeking after arts and tongues, and common knowledge. These, indeed, are not to be despised nor neglected. Reading is good, and learning good, but above all anointing is necessary, that anointing that teacheth all things'. And you that are for your own interest, be earnest with this Lord, this fountain of Spirit, to let forth more of it upon his messengers in these times; you would receive back the fruit of it, were ye busy this way; you should find more life and refreshing sweetness in the word of life, how weak and worthless soever they were that brought it; it should descend as sweet showers upon the valleys, and make them fruitful.
2. We have the activity of Christ as a preacher. By this spirit, it is said here, he preached : not only did he so in the days of his abode on earth, but in all times, both before and after ; he never left his church altogether destitute of saving light, which he dispensed himself
, and conveyed by the hands of his servants; therefore it is said, he preached; that this may be no excuse for times after he is ascended into heaven, no, nor for times before he descended to the earth in human flesh; though he preached not then, nor does now in his flesh, yet by his spirit he then preached, and still doth; so according to what was chief in him, he was still present with his church, and preaching in it, and is so to the end of the world. This his infinite Spirit, being every where, yet it is said here, by it he went and preached, signifying the remarkable clearness of his administration that way: as when he appears eminently in any work of his own, or taking notice of our works, God is said to come down; so to those cities of Babel and Sodom", Let us go down; and", I will go down and see; so, Exod. iii. 8. I am come down to deliver Israel : thus here, so clearly did he admonish them by Noah, coming as it were himself on purpose to declare his mind to them. And this word, I conceive, is the rather used to shew what equality there is in this: he came, indeed, visibly, and dwelt amongst men, when he became flesh; yet before that, he visited by his Spirit; he went by that and preached. And so in after-times, himself being ascended, and not having come visibly in his flesh to all, but to the Jews only; yet in the preaching of the apostles to the Gentiles, as the great apostle
, says of him in this expression, he came and preached to you which were afar off ; and this he continues 8 Gen. xi. 5. 7.
h Gen. xviii. 21. i Eph, ii, 17.
to do in the ministry of his word: and therefore, says he, He that despiseth you, despiseth mek.
Were this considered, it could not but procure far more respect to the word, and more accptance of it. Would you think that in his word Christ speaks by his eternal Spirit ? yea, he comes, and preaches, addresses himself particularly to you in it; could you slight him thus, and turn him off with daily refusals, or delays at least? Think it is too long you have so unworthily used so great a Lord, that brings unto you so great salvation; that came once in so wonderful a way to work that salvation for us in his flesh, and is still coming to offer it unto us by his Spirit; does himself preach to us, tell us what he undertook on our behalf, and how he hath performed all; and now nothing rests but that we receive him, and believe on him, and all is ours. But alas! from the most, the return is, which we have here, disobedience. And this is what we are,
2dly, To consider of his hearers. You may indeed observe two things in these hearers, by which they are characterised: their present condition in the time the apostle was speaking of them, they are spirits in prison; and this former disposition, when the Spirit of Christ was preaching to them, they were sometime disobedient : this latter went first in time, and was the cause of the other. Therefore of it first.
1. The past disposition of the hearers spoken of; they were sometime disobedient. If you look to their visible subordinate preacher, you find he was a holy man, and an able and diligent preacher of righteousness, both in his doctrine, and in the track of his life, which is the most powerful preaching; on both which accounts it seems strange that he prevailed so little. But it
But it appears much more so, if we look higher, even to this height, at which the apostle points, that almighty Spirit of Christ that preached to them; and yet they were disobedient. The word is ámulýcars, they were not persuaded; and
k Luke x. 16.