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The Keyes Of The Kingdom Of Heaven And Power Thereof by John Cotton

CHAP. I. What the Keyes of the Kingdome of Heaven be, and what their Power.

THe Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven are promised by the Lord Jesus (the head and King of his Church) unto Peter, Mat.16.19. To thee (saith Christ) will I give the keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt binde on earth, shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in Heaven. The words being Allegoricall, are therefore somewhat obscure: and holding forth honor and power in the Church, are therefore controversall; For where there is no honour (nor pride to pursue it) there is no contention. (Prov.15.1.) It will not therefore be amisse, for opening of the Doctrine of the Power of the keyes; somewhat to open the words of this Text, whereon that power is built. Five words require a little clearing.

1. What is here meant by the Kingdome of Heaven?

2. What are the keys of this kingdom, and the giving of them?

3. What are the acts of these Keyes, which are said to be binding and loosing?

4. What is the object of these acts to be bound or loosed, here put under generall name, Whatsoever?

5. Who is the subject recipient of this power, or to whom is this power given? To thee will I give the Keyes, &c.

1. For the first: By the Kingdome of Heaven is here meant both the Kingdome of Grace, which is the Church; and the Kingdome of Glory, which is in the highest heavens; For Christ giving to Peter the keys of the kingdome of Heaven, conveyeth therewith not only this power to binde on earth (that is, in the Church on earth; for he gave him no power at all to binde in the world; The kingdome of Christ is not of this world;) but he gives him also this priviledge; That what he bound on earth, should be bound in heaven. And heaven being distinguished from the Church on earth, must needs be meant the kingdome of Glory.

2. For the second: What the keys of the kingdom of heaven be?

The keys of the kingdom are the Ordinances which Christ hath instituted, to be administred in his Church; as the preaching of the Word, (which is the opening and applying of it) also the administring of the Seals and censures; For by the opening and applying of these, both the gates of the Church here, and of heaven hereafter, are opened or .shut to the sons of men.

And the giving of these keyes, implyeth, that Christ investeth those to whom he giveth them, with a power to open, and shut the gates of both. And this power lyeth partly in their spirituall calling (whether it be their office, or their place & order in the Church:) and partly in the concurse and co-operation of the Spirit of Christ, accompanying the right dispensation of these keyes; that is, of these Ordinances according to his will.

Moreover, these keys are neither Sword nor Scepter; No Sword, for they convey not civill power of bodily life and death; nor Sceptre, for they convey not Soveraigne or Legislative power over the Church, but stewardly and ministeriall. As the key of the House of David was given to Hilkiah (Isa.22.22.) who succeeded Shebna in his office; and his office was lhbyt over the house, v.15. and the same word over the house, is translated steward in the house, Gen.43.19.

3. Touching the third thing, what are the acts of these keys?

The acts of these keys, are said here to be binding and loosing, which are not the proper acts of materiall keys; for their acts be opening and shutting, which argueth the keys here spoken of be not materiall keys, but metaphoricall; and yet being keys they have a power also of opening and shutting: for Christ who hath the soveraigne power of these keyes, hee is said to have the key of David to open, and no man to shut; to shut, and no man to open, Rev.3.7. which implyeth, that these keys of Christs Kingdome, have such a power of opening and shutting, as that they do thereby, binde and loose, retain and remit; in opening, they loose, and remit: in shutting they binde, and retain; which will more appeare in opening the fourth point.

The fourth point then is, What is the subject to be bound and loosed?

The Text in Mat.16.9. saith, whatsoever, which reacheth not (so far as the Papists would stretch it) to whatsoever oathes, or covenants, or contracts, or counsels, or laves; as if whatsoever oathes of allegiance, covenants of lease or marriage, &c. the Pope ratifieth or dissolveth on earth, should be ratified or dissolved in heaven: No, this is not the key of the kingdome of heaven, but the key of the bottomlesse pit, Rev.9.1. But this word whatsoever is here put in the Neuter Gender, (not in the Masculine whomsoever) to imply both things and persons Things, as sins; Persons, as those that commit them. For so when our Saviour speaketh of the same acts, of the same keys, Joh.20.21. he explaineth himself thus; Whose sins soever yee remit, they are remitted, and whose sins soever yee retain, they are retained. Whatsoever you binde on earth, is, as much therefore, as whose sins soever you retain on earth; and whatsoever you loose on earth, is as much as whose sins soever you loose on earth.

Now this binding and loosing of whatsoever sins, in whosever commit them, is partly in the conscience of the sinner, and partly in his outward estate in the Church, which is wont to be expressed in other terms, either in foro interiori, or in foro exteriori. As when in the dispensation of the Ordinances of God, a sinner is convinced to lie under the guilt of sin, then his sin is retained, his conscience is bound under the guilt of it, and himself bound under some Church-censure, according to the quality and desert of his offence; and if his sin be the more hainous, himself is shut out from the communion of the Church: But when a sinner repenteth of his sin, and confesseth it before the Lord, and (if it he known) before his people also, and then in the ministery of the Doctrine and Disciple of the Gospel, his sin is remitted, and his conscience loosed from the guilt of it, and himself hath open and free entrance, both unto the promise of the Gospel, and into the gates of .the holy communion of the Church.

5. The fifth point to be explained, is, To whom is this power of the keyes given? The Text saith, To thee Simon Peter, the sonne of Jona, whom Christ blesseth, and pronounceth blessed upon his holy confession of Christ, the Sonne of the living God, and upon the same occasion promiseth both to use him and his confession, as an Instrument to lay the foundation of his Church; and also to give him the keys of his Church, for the well ordering and governing of it. But it hath proved a busie Question, How Peter is to be considered in receiving this power of the keys, whether as an Apostle or as an Elder, (for an Elder also he was, 1 Pet.5.1.) or as a Believer professing his faith before the Lord Jesus, and his fellow Brethren. Now because wee are as well studious of peace, as of truth, wee will not leane to one of these interpretations, more than to another. Take any of them, it will not hinder our purpose in this ensuing Discourse, though (to speake ingenuously and without offence what we conceive) the sense of the words will be most full, if all the severall considerations be taken joyntly together. Take Peter considered not onely as an Apostle, but an Elder also, yea, and a Beleever too, professing his faith, all may well stand together. For there is a different power given to all these, to an Apostle, to an Elder, to a Beleever, and Peter was all these, and received all the power, which was given by Christ to any of these, or to all of these together. For as the Father sent Christ, so Christ sent Peter (as well as any Apostle) cum amplitudine, et plenitudine potestatis (so far as either any Church-Officer, or the whole Church itselfe, was capable of it) John 20.21. So that Austin did not mistake when he said Peter received the keys in the name of the Church. Neverthelesse, wee from this place in Mat.16.19. will challenge no further power, either to the Presbytery, or to the Fraternatie of the Church, then is more expressly granted to them in other Scriptures. Now in other Scriptures it appeareth; First, That Christ gave the power of retaining or remitting of sins (that is, the power of binding and loosing, the whole power of the keys) to all the Apostles as well as to Peter Joh.20.21.23. Secondly, It appeareth also that the apostles commended the rule and government of every particular Church to the Elders (the Presbytery) of that Church, Heb.13.17.1 Tim.5.17. And therefore Christ gave the power of the Keys to them also. Thirdly, It appeareth farther that Christ gave the power of the keys to the Body likewise of the Church, even to the Fraternatie with the Presbytery. For the Lord Jesus communicateth the power of binding and loosing, to the Apostles, or Elders, together with the whole Church, when they are met in his name, and agree together in the censure of an offender, Mat.18.17.18. If an offender (saith he) neglect to heare the Church, let him be to thee as an Heathen or a Publican, that is, let him be excommunicated. Which censure administered by them, with the whole Church, he ratifieth with this promise of the power of the keys, Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall binde on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. In which place, howsoever there be some difference between Classicall and Congregationall Divines, what should be meant by the Church (Tell the Church) whether the Presbytery or the Congregation: yet all agree in this (and it is agreement in the truth, which wee seek for) That no offender is to be excommunicated, but with some concurse of the Congregation, at least by way.1. Of consent to the sentence.2. Of actual execution of it by withdrawing themselves from the offender so convicted and censured. Now this consent and concurse of the Congregation, which is requisite to the power and validitie of the censure, we conceive is some part of the exercise of the power of the keys.

So that when Christ said to Peter, To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: If Peter then received the whole power of the keys, then he stood in the roome and name of all such, as have received any part of the power of the keys, whether Apostles, or Elders, or Churches. Or if he stood in the roome of an Apostle onely, yet that hindreth not, but that as he there received the power of an Apostle, so the rest of the Apostles received the same power, either there or elsewhere: and the Presbytery of each Church received, if not there, yet elsewhere, the power belonging to their office: and in like sort each Church or Congregation of professed Believers, received that portion also of Church-power which belonged to them.

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