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their hearts forgive to their brethren their trespasses; and promiseth remission of sins to them who (according to what they profess to do in their prayers) shall forgive to men the offences committed against them; making it not only an indispensable condition, but a sufficient means of obtaining the divine favour and mercy.
20. iii. 19.
I shall only further take notice, that although it be true that God in the gospel doth generally propound remission of sins (upon account of our Acts xxvi. Lord's performances, and in his name) to all that truly repent and turn unto him, chiefly granting it on this consideration, and not withholding it from any, upon a blameless default of other performances; yet he requires (and complying with his will therein is part of the duty which repentance disposes to and is declared by) that (as well for public edification and the honour of his church, as for the comfort and advantage of persons concerned therein) this repentance should be solemnly declared and approved by the church; that this remission should be formally dispensed by the hands of God's ministers, being declared by express words, or ratified by certain seals, or signified by mysterious representations appointed by God. And to remission of sins, as thus dispensed, I doubt not but this article hath an especial reference; it being in St. Cyprian's form of profession at baptism expressed by, Credo remissionem peccatorum in ecclesia: but because the church's remitting of sins thus is by virtue of that authority which Christ imparted to his church, called the power of the keys, I shall, upon this occasion, here briefly explain the nature of that power.
THE POWER OF THE KEYS.
THIS power in part is founded upon (and this name of it was wholly drawn from) those words of our Lord to St. Peter, And I will give thee the keys Matt. xvi. of the kingdom of heaven. Where that which our Lord doth promise to St. Peter (not to him personally, but, as the Fathers interpret it, representatively; he then signifying the church, and standing in the place of its governors; however not exclusively, for it) is by a parity of reason to be extended to all the apostles, and after them to all the governors of the church; unto whom the same power is otherwhere in terms equivalent committed, and by whom it was exercised, as may appear from comparing the practice of the apostles, and of the church in continual succession from them, with the nature or intent of this power; the which it is now our business very briefly to explain.
It is expressed in a metaphorical term; and it is therefore to be understood according to the analogy it beareth with the thing assumed to resemble it, as the nature of the object thereof doth require or admit. Wherefore it being the main property of a key, by opening, to give ingress and egress, (admittance into a place, or emission from it ;) or by shutting, to exclude from entrance, or to detain within; this power may be supposed to imply a right or ability to perform such actions in reference to its object, which is the kingdom of heaven.
By the kingdom of heaven is understood the state of religion under the gospel, in distinction, as it seems, from the constitution and condition thereof under the Mosaical law. In the times of the law, God's law was in a manner terrestrial, he being King of the Jewish nation particularly, Jerusalem being his royal seat, and the temple his throne; where he was served with external and visible performances; where he expressly promised earthly benefits and privileges, (long life and prosperity in the land of Canaan,) and threatened punishments answerable but in the gospel God is worshipped universally, as resident in heaven, as requiring spiritual services addressed to heaven, as conferring rewards and inflicting penalties relating to the future state there. This state therefore aptly is called the kingdom of heaven, of which all Christians are subjects; the body of whom consequently may also be named the kingdom of heaven: (for the word kingdom sometimes denoteth the constitution of things in or under which a certain people do live, sometimes the people themselves.)
Now whereas this state hath two degrees, or the persons under it two conditions; one here present upon earth, in transition and acquisition; the other hereafter, of residence and fruition in heaven; (one like that of the Israelites travelling in the wilderness, the other like their possession of Canaan ;) in this case we may well understand both, but chiefly the first, (the kingdom of grace here,) wherein immediately this power is exerted, although its effects do finally refer and reach to the other, (the kingdom of glory hereafter.)
Let us then consider how this kingdom may be
opened or shut by the governors of the church. This evidently may be performed several ways.
1. The kingdom of heaven may be opened by yielding real helps, inducing to enter into the church; it may be shut by the same means, inducing persons to continue within it. So by instruction, advice, persuasion, admonition, reproof; by affording fit means and occasions, by prescribing laws and rules conducing to those purposes, the governors are obliged to open and shut the kingdom of heaven: and the doing so therefore may be conceived an ingredient of this power.
2. The kingdom of heaven may be opened by intercession, or imprecation from God of fit dispositions qualifying persons to enter, together with a mind willing to do so. Thus, as all Christians in their way may open the kingdom, so particularly the governors, by their office and function, are obliged to do it, as the public mouths of the church. Wherefore St. Paul enjoins, that supplication be made for 1 Tim. ii. 1, all men; because God would have all men to be &c. saved, and to have them come to the knowledge of the truth; or would have all men brought into this kingdom.
3. The kingdom of heaven may be opened or shut by prudent discrimination of persons who are fit to be received into the church, (εὔθεται εἰς βασιλείαν, welldisposed for the kingdom, as St. Luke speaks,) or who deserve to be rejected from it.
Thus the governors of the church do open and shut the kingdom, when they determine who shall be admitted to baptism, (which is ecclesiæ janua, and porta gratiæ, as St. Austin calls it,) and who shall be refused; they admitted, who appear competently
instructed in Christian doctrine, and well resolved to obey it; they refused, who seem in those points ignorant or ill-resolved.
4. The kingdom of heaven may be opened or shut by judicial acts, whereby unworthy persons (whose conversation may be infectious, or whose continuance in the church may be infamous thereto) are excluded from it, or kept without; or whereby persons, upon sufficient presumption of repentance and amendment, are restored to communion.
Thus considering the sense of the words with the nature of the matter, the power of the keys may be understood.
The same may be further cleared by considering and explicating the phrases equivalent, by which it is expressed or interpreted. Such are especially binding and loosing, remitting and retaining sins.
By binding and loosing, our Lord himself interpreteth this power; I will, saith he, give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. For understanding the sense of which phrases, we may consider that things or persons may be several ways bound and loosed.
1. Binding may denote any sort of determination, restriction, or detention imposed on persons and things; and loosing answerably may signify the contrary effects: so by just authority to command or prohibit a thing, (whereby its moral quality is determined, it is made good or bad,) is to bind that thing, and the persons subject to that authority. Also to abrogate a law, or to dispense with its observation, is to loose the matter of that law, together