Matthew 16:19. I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven This expression is metaphorical. As stewards of great families, especially of the royal household, bore a key or keys in token of their office, the phrase of giving a person the keys naturally grew into use, as an expression significative of raising him to great authority and power. See note on Isaiah 22:22. The meaning of the promise here is, that Christ would give Peter, (but not to him alone, for similar promises are made to all the apostles,) power to open the gospel dispensation, (which he did, both to Jews and Gentiles; see Acts 3:14; Acts 10:34; being the first who preached the gospel to them;) and to declare authoritatively the laws thereof, and the terms of salvation, as also to exercise discipline in the Christian Church, namely, to refuse admission into it to all those who did not comply with those terms, and to exclude from it all such as should violate those laws. According to this sense of the words, the power of binding and loosing, added to the power of the keys, may be considered as partly explicatory thereof. “It can be no objection,” says Dr. Macknight, “against this interpretation, that it connects the idea of binding and loosing with that of the keys, contrary to the exact propriety of the two metaphors; for all who have studied the Scriptures know, that in many passages the ideas and expressions are accommodated to the subject matter, rather than to the precedent metaphor.” In further proof that the power of binding and loosing, now conferred on Peter, and afterward on all the apostles, chap. Matthew 18:18, included a power of declaring the laws of the gospel and the terms of salvation, as well as all those acts of discipline which Peter and his brethren performed as apostles, it may be observed, that “in the Jewish language, to bind and loose were words made use of by the doctors, to signify the unlawfulness or lawfulness of things, as Seldon, Buxtorf, and Lightfoot have proved. Wherefore our Lord’s meaning, at least in part, was, Whatever things thou shalt bind up from men, or declare to be forbidden to them, on earth, shall be forbidden by Heaven; and whatever things thou shalt loose to men, or permit to be done, shall be lawful and obligatory in the esteem of Heaven. Accordingly the gender made use of in both passages agrees to this interpretation.” There are some, however, who by the power of binding and loosing understand the power of actually remitting and retaining men’s sins; and in support of their opinion they quote John 20:22. But it may be justly doubted whether our Lord ever bestowed on his apostles, or any other of his ministers, any other power of remitting or retaining men’s sins, than, 1st, the power of declaring with authority the Christian terms of pardon, that is, whose sins are remitted and whose are retained; as is done in the form of absolution contained in the Liturgy: and, 2d, a power of inflicting and remitting ecclesiastical censures, that is, of excluding from and readmitting into a Christian congregation; together with a particular power of remitting and retaining, in certain instances, the temporal punishment of men’s sins, which it is evident from some passages of the Acts and the Epistles, the apostles occasionally exercised. “This high power of declaring the terms of salvation and precepts of the gospel, the apostles did not enjoy in its full extent till the memorable day of pentecost, when they received the Holy Ghost in the plenitude of his gifts. After this their decisions, in points of doctrine and duty, being all given by inspiration, were infallible definitions, and ratified in heaven. Here then was an immense honour conferred on the apostles, and what must yield great consolation to the pious. There is nothing doubtful in the gospel, much less false: but we may safely rest the salvation of our souls on the discoveries there made to us, since they have all come originally from God.”
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