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intended evidently as explanatory—whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. The traditional interpretation of this passage is, that the binding and loosing, and also the keys, indicate the forgiveness of sin, expressly given or refused to particular individuals. And there is correctness in this, so far as its binding and loosing are explained as meaning the retention and remission of sins. The explanation, which restricts it to certain permissions and prohibitions, is chiefly supported by a rabbinical form of speech quoted by Lightfoot on this passage. But, even in this form of speech, the real meaning of binding and loosing seems to be the declaration that such and such actions are sinful or innocent, a meaning which might easily lead to the other, viz., the remission or retention of the guilt attaching to a certain action or condition. If, now, Christ really intended to endow Peter with full power to make laws which should be universally binding, and on the keeping of which the entrance to the kingdom of heaven should depend, the same power is necessarily imparted to the whole Church by Matthew xviii. 18; but the possession of such power does not agree with the immediate context. Moreover, we cannot doubt the connexion between this passage and John xx. 23, especially when we observe that Christ speaks of this gift of the keys as yet future— I will give.' There are, undoubtedly, very great difficulties in the passage when viewed in connexion with the teaching of the New Testament; but such an interpretation must have the most convincing evidence before we can be brought to believe that Christ, who himself would give no new precepts to men, but, on the contrary, has set his followers free from the yoke of the letter of the law, by pouring the essence of the law into their hearts as a quickening spirit, can ever have given to the apostles and the Church the unlimited power to make laws of general application, on the fulfilment of which salvation should depend.
Reference to the retention or remission of sins we must certainly maintain ; it is not, however, for legislative, but judicial labours, that Peter is here empowered. The figure of the keys of the kingdom of heaven points to a work of far wider extent than the giving or refusal to certain individuals of the forgiveness of sins ; whilst this is by no means generally found to have accompanied the preaching of the apostle concerning that kingdom. Moreover, if we refer the passage to express forgiveness, or refusal of forgiveness, the inevitable conclusion is that the apostolic absolution and retention was universally valid. And thus the decree of God, by which forgiveness is imparted or withheld, is made dependent upon the apostolic decree, God always confirming unconditionally what the apostle decided. Such an idea no one can earnestly defend; it is but one of those opinions which, on closer investigation, their stoutest defenders explain away. Indeed, it were better to assume that God had given up to the apostles, within the sphere of their labours, all decision as to the forgiveness of sins. And he who can imagine such an abdication by God of an express right of majesty, must, since certain results must follow the giving or refusal of pardon, either go a step further, and suppose that He, who alone can save and condemn, transferred this power to some of his creatures--a representation very nearly approaching polytheism-or come back to the notion that God became dependent upon the apostles—for we must always regard Peter as representing the whole body—and simply acted as executor of their decrees. We must, indeed, believe in the Divine power of the word, even when working through human instruments, but only so far as they are organs of the will and word of God, and not from any power in their word itself. But, however such notions may be twisted, if we maintain the infallible validity of every absolution and retention expressed by an apostle, we must, at all events, believe that they always saw so perfectly through the inward state of an individual as to perceive infallibly his fitness or unfitness to receive forgiveness of his sins. That Christ possessed this power, to look directly into the secrets of a man's heart, whenever, by an express act of will, he fixed his attention upon him, the gospels leave no room to doubt; but such a perception is neither promised to the apostles, nor actually shown by them. On the contrary, from many passages, it is clear that they did not possess the gifts of an immediate or unfailing knowledge of the heart (e.g., 1 John ii. 19; Matt. xii. 29 ; xxiv. 45; 1 Pet. v. 12). The apostle Paul, too, in his absolution of the incestuous Corinthian, does not proceed as one who knows that his decision is thoroughly identical with that of God, but says to the Corinthians (2 Cor. ii. 10), “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also.'
The reference of this passage to an express decision, with regard to individuals, becomes more difficult still, when we compare Matt. xviii. 18, where confessedly precisely the same power is given to the whole Church. How can the idea be entertained for a moment, that Christ intended to attribute absolute validity to the decision of the Church, when that decision must partake of the weakness and infirmity of the Church's life? All the passages adduced to disprove the possession by the apostles of an unerring knowledge of men's minds, must tell with increased effect against such a supposition, with regard to the Church generally.
The true meaning of the expression becomes apparent, if we observe how frequently reference is made to the loosing and binding effect of the preaching of Christ and his apostles, although in other terms. He is the sign spoken against,' which is set for the deeper fall of some, and the rising up of others in Israel (Luke ii. 34); the chosen corner-stone, precious to those who believe in him ; to the unbelievers a stone of stumbling' (John iii. 18), for he is come for judgment into this world, that they who see not might see, and that they who see might be made blind' (John ix. 39). Thus his apostle, also, is 'to some a savour of death unto death, to others a savour of life unto life’ (2 Cor. ii. 16). And this is in reality the sense in which the preaching of Peter would exert a binding and loosing power upon the world. Peter, as believing and confessing, through the power of God, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, is the rock on which Christ builds his death-defying Church.* In this belief and confession, he possesses the keys of the kingdom of heaven, so that everyone who despises his declaration, is shut out of the kingdom, as fettered by the guilt of his sins; everyone who receives with faith this announcement of Christ, becomes, as one delivered from that guilt, a member of the Church of Christ, and a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Thus the effect of his preaching will be a judicial decision; till this truth is published everything is undecided, there is as yet no perfect loosing, no final shutting; wherever the publication of the gospel reaches, it is attended by the grand decision; and if rejected, instead of leaving a man as it found him, it binds him faster to his previous guilt. This is the decisive importance, which life on earth has since the coming of Christ for all, on whom the light of his coming falls. Thus Christ is speaking, not of an express declaration to individuals, but of the effect which the preaching of the gospel by the apostles will, of itself, produce in the hearts of those to whom it is offered. Some difficulty may be thought to arise from the use of the neuter whatsoever (o and őoa), as referring to persons. But Winer, in his grammar, has cited many analogous passages in the New Testameni, where the writer intends to speak generally; and ours is a precisely similar case.
But the Lord says to Peter, 'I will give you the keys.' He does not send him at once with the gospel message into the world, but points to a future mission and preparation. This time, undoubtedly, is that of which John speaks (ch. xx. 22, 23), when Christ, in the same way, empowers all the apostles to be his witnesses, though even in Matthew Peter is most probably addressed as the speaker for the rest. As the Father had sent him, so would he send them, to offer to the world the eternal salvation which had appeared to it in him. Thus the working of the apostles' preaching, foretold by Christ, is a iudicial acting through the spiritual power of the word—a life-anddeath-bringing influence, which they really exerted outwardly upon the world-a double action, inseparable from the highest gift of God, because it is the highest-not its intention, but its result. Thus the binding and loosing, resulting from the proclamation of the gospel, operate of themselves within the hearts of men.
We may now determine in what sense the power of the keys really belongs to the ministerial office. If it is said that the holders of the office possess the keys as successors of the apostles, there is a sense in which we can yield assent. Though if the meaning be, that the power of the keys does not really reside in the whole Church, but in the apostolic office, and, after that, the pastoral, as its direct successor, this is false, and opposed to the Scriptures. Such an explanation takes for granted that the gift of the keys to the apostles denoted their power to rule the Church by absolution and retention, and, in
• By the gates of Hades (ver. 18—Eng. tr., hell) we are certainly not to understand, as most theologians formerly supposed, the power of the devil, but rather the power of death, of destruction, which cannot touch the Church of Christ.
extreme cases, by the ban. Now, even granting that this notion of the keys were correct, it would be first of all necessary to show, from the Scriptures, that the peculiar authority of the apostles passed in succession to others. But for this, the New Testament does not afford the shadow of a proof, and the history of the Church is decidedly against it, if not by direct expressions, yet by an unequivocal silence. In the Church of Christ only apostles can be personal heirs of the whole possessions of apostles, for here the question is, once for all, not of rights which were external and capable of transmission, but of spiritual powers; and, therefore, he who inherited all that an apostle possessed, would, of necessity, be himself an apostle. Where, then, have there been such apostles, since the departure of the last of the twelve? Had the keys really denoted the peculiar power of the apostles in the Church, they would have been withdrawn by the Lord from the Church, together with the apostles, excepting that they might still have existed in the writings of the apostles, and thus have continued to open and shut.
Undoubtedly, the apostles did receive from the Lord a commission to feed his Church, and minister to it by governing it. In this power, too, which was entrusted to the apostles for the edification, not for the destruction, of his Church, there were involved, no doubt, the right and duty to watch over it, and see that discipline was not neglected; as the apostle Paul, in this sense, directed the exclusion, in the name of the Lord, of the incestuous man in the church at Corinth, by virtue of the apostolic authority conferred upon him by Christ. But with the power of the keys this has nothing to do. This (the keys) is an exercise of spiritual power, which, although manifested by the apostles in its highest degree, was yet, of necessity, according to its idea, by no means peculiar to them. As receiver of this spiritual power, Peter is the representative of the whole living church, which after him, and with him, preaches to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We see this most clearly on comparing the second declaration concerning the keys (Mat. xviii. 18). For if Christ confirms this power, after saying that he who despises the Church is to be regarded as a heathen and a publican, he certainly intends to indicate this binding and loosing as a constant operation of the Church, and one in which the despised power and worth of the Church, upheld by his presence in the midst of her members, would make itself actually known.
Thus the Church, in all its members, who share in its spiritual life, is sent into the world by Christ, as he was sent by the Father, in order that forgiveness of sins may continually flow from God through it into the world, but retention of them to those who exclude themselves. It is thus ever binding and loosing, and in consequence of the mighty increase of dead stuff within its own outward bounds, this power is at the present time exerted more upon the world within it than upon the world without. Now, since there is within the Church an office for the preaching of the gospel and administration of sacraments, it is. evident that to this the keys are most closely united, and that they
will be used with powerful results, according to the measure in which the pure and living preaching of the gospel by the apostles is really imitated. But that the true Church of Christ should continually take part in the exercise of this calling, is a right of which the ministerial office never in the least deprives it, and which no human power at all can or needs to confer upon it. It does so of itself, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, which works within it, whether the outward arrangements of the Church favour or impede it; it does so directly by existing, and showing that it exists; it does so by word and deed, by working and suffering; because both by its speaking and doing, by its working and suffering, the one confession forces its way to notice, that Jesus is the saving Messiah of his people, the Son of the living God. And even were it the case-a case neither real or imaginablethat no Christian without office had ever given assurance to another from the word of God of the forgiveness of sins, yet the attempt to attach to the ministerial office exclusively the binding and loosing power of the keys, would be nothing else than to forbid the Church to show its faith, and, in this faith, its life.
The Threr Brothers;
A., B., and C., were the sons of one father, and trained up with the wisest and most tender care. The youngest was near man's estate when the father saw fit to leave to them the charge of his house and lands, while he went into a far country. He enjoined them diligently to cultivate the farm, much of which was waste land, and had to be reclaimed. He requested them, also, for his sake, carefully to minister help to the poor of the neighbourhood, who were very numerous. These poor,' said he,' as you know, if neglected by you, may die of starvation. Moreover, they are in danger from a most cruel and unprincipled oppressor, whom I need not name, but who constantly, “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.'
But he most of all enjoined upon them one other command, with which, he said, their obedience to the rest must be intimately connected, and which he seemed anxious to repeat in every variety of form. • Above all,' he said, solemnly, “ have fervent love among yourselves.' And when they asked him, in conclusion, for an epitome of all his counsels—The end of the commandment,' said he, is love, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.' And, on the very eve of his departure, when they inquired if he had