“ For as by baptism we are born again, and as by the authority of the keys and penance, we are lifted up again, when we are fallen into sin after baptism, so by the communion of the holy supper of the Lord, we are preserved and strengthened ” —Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Catechismus ; A Short Instruction Into Christian Religion (1548) ; Google Books. “ A kingdom cannot stand without ministering of justice, punishing sin, and maintaining the truth, delivering the innocent repenter, and condemning obstinates. So the ministers of Christ’s kingdom have power spiritual to loose and bind, as they see the scriptures teach them, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost : whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven ’ ” —Bishop James Pilkington, Exposition upon the Prophet Obadiah (1562) ; Google Books. “ We commit the keys of the kingdom of heaven only unto the priest, and to none other ; and to him only we say, ‘ Whatsoever thou bindest in earth shall be bound in heaven ’ […] Neither doth it follow of our doctrine, that either children or laymen do or may forgive sins. ” —Bishop John Jewel, The Defence of the Apology (1567) ; Google Books. “ In the sixth book and fourth chapter, he [ S. Augustine ] se- ems to give authority to all christian people to remit and to re- tain sins ; […] lack of diligent reading has driven you into this judgment of him. […] But I will give you a medicine for this disease, even out of these books that you name… Christ in these words gave unto Peter [ and the apostles ] the power to forgive sins, meaning thereby the power to excom- municate, and to absolve ” —Archbishop John Whitgift, The Defence of the Answer to the Admonition (1574) ; Google Books. Vide passim. The Form of Ordination: “ Receive the Holy Ghost, for the Office, and work of a Priest, in the Church of God, now com- mitted unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven ; And whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the word of God, and of his Holy Sacraments ; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. ” —The Ordinal. The Forme and Manner of Making, Ordeining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, According to the Order of the Church of England (1662) ; justus.anglican.org.
John. Chap. XX. Ver. XXIII.
Quorum remiseritis peccata, remittuntur eis: Et quorum retinueritis, retenta sunt.
VVhose-soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose-soever ye retain, they are retained.
The Conclusion of the Gospel for the Sunday.
These be the words of our Saviour Christ to his Apostles, among the first words which he spake to them at his Epiphany, or first apparition after he arose from the dead. And they contain a Commission by him granted to the Apostles, which is the sum or contents of this Verse.
This Commission was his first largesse after his rising again. For, at his first appearing to them, it pleased him not to come empty, but with a blessing, and to bestow on them, and on the world by them, as the first fruits of his resurrection, this Commission ; a part of that Commission, which the sinful world most of all stood in need of for remission of sins.
When he grants this Commission, He proceeds not without some solemnity or circumstance, well worthy to be remembered.Summary of the Commission.
In verse 21. he says, As my father sent me, so send I you : which is what gave them authority, and Credibility.
And in verse 22. he breathes upon them, and withal inspires them with the Holy Ghost : which is their enabling or furnishing thereto.
And having so authorized and enabled them, now in this Verse here, He gives them their Commission, and thereby perfectly inaugurates them into this part of their Office.
A Commission is nothing else, but the imparting of a power which before they had not. First therefore, he imparts to them a power, a power over sins ; over sins, either for the remitting, or the retaining of them, as the persons shall be qualified.
And after, to this power he adds a promise ( as the Lawyers term it ) of Ratification, that he will ratify and make it good, that His power shall accompany this power, and the lawful use of it in his Church for ever.
Fittingly it is at this time, after his resurrection, that he bestows the power. It was not possible to do before his death ; because till then, he had not made his soul an offering for sin, nor till then, he had not shed his blood, without which there is no remission of sins. Therefore it was promised before, but not given till now ; it was first necessary for there to be a solution, before there were an absolution. Not before he was risen, but after.Why it could not be before. Isaiah. 53. 10. Heb. 9. 22. Mat. 16. 19. 18. 18. Why now.
Yet while it had to wait until he was risen, it could not wait until after he ascended. First, to show that the remission of sins is the undivided and immediate effect of his death. Secondly, to show how much the world needed it, for which reason he would not withhold it, no not so much as one day ( for, this was done in the very day of his resurrection. ) Thirdly but especially, it was to demonstrate his great love and tender care over us, in that as soon as he had accomplished his own resurrection, he immediately put his hand into ours, and began our resurrection on the very first day of his rising.
The Scripture makes mention of a first and second death, and from these two, of a first and second resurrection. Both, expressly set down in one verse ; Happy is he that hath his part in the first resurrection ; for over such, the second death hath no power. Understanding by the first, the death of the soul by sin, and the rising thence to the life of grace : by the second, the death of the body by corruption, & the rising thence to the life of glory.Apoc. 20. 6.
True it is that Christ is the Saviour of the whole man, both soul and body, from the first and second death.
But the first begins with the first, that is with sin, the death of the soul, and the rising from it. Such is the method of Divinity which He prescribes. First, to cleanse that which is internal ( the soul ), and then that which is external ( the body. ) And so is the method of Medicine, first to cure the cause, and then the disease. Now the cause ( or as the Apostle calls it ) the sting of death, is sin. Therefore it is first to remove sin, and then death afterwards. For the cure of sin being performed, the other will follow of its own accord. As Saint John tells us, He that hath his part in the first resurrection, shall not fail of it in the second. The first resurrection then from sin, is it which our Saviour Christ refers to here, to accomplish which is required a power no less than a divine one. For look what power is necessary to raise the dead body out of the dust ; just as much in every way is required to raise the dead soul out of sin. For which reason, the Remission of sins is an Article of faith, no less than the Resurrection of the body. For, in very deed, a resurrection it is, and so it is termed, no less than that.Mat. 23. 16. 1. Cor. 15. 56.
To the service and ministry of which divine work, a Commission is here granted to the Apostles. They have their sending from God the Father ; their inspiration from God the Holy Ghost ; their commission from God the Son : that being thus sent from the Father, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the person of Christ, they may perform the Office, or ( as the Apostle calls it ) the Mission of reconciling sinners unto God, to which they are appointed. And so much for the Sum and dependence of this Scripture.2. Cor. 5. 19.
The points of special observation are three. 1. First, the Power that is granted. 2. The Matter or Subject, on which the power is to be exercised. 3. The Promise of ratifying the exercise of that power.The three sections.
The Power itself : where we need to cover, 1. What is meant by remitting and retaining. 2. That there is in general a power to remit and retain : first to remit, and then to retain. 3. Then, as that power is particularly set down in the words Remiseritis and Remittuntur.I.
The Matter or subject, namely sin ; which may be considered first as sin is in itself ; and then as the sin of concrete persons ( for it is Quorum, not Quae peccata ), which is the proper subject of this power.II. III.
I. The Power that is granted.
THe terms of remitting and retaining may be taken in many ways. To the end then, that we may the more clearly conceive that which shall be said, it will be expedient, that we first understand, in what sense especially, and according to what resemblance, those terms are to be taken.I. The meaning of the terms.
This we may best do out of our Saviour Christ’s own Commission. For, the commission of the Apostles is nothing else but a branch of his, which he himself ( as man ) had here upon earth. For as man, he himself was sent, and was anointed with the Spirit, and proceeded by Commission.Origin in Christ’s Commission.
His Commission we find in Luc. 4. which he himself read in the Synagogue at Nazareth at his first entering on it, as is originally recorded in Isaiah 61. In both passages this power is the same : to preach
ἄφεσιν ( that is ) Remission, as it is turned here ; or deliverance, as it is turned there : but the word is one in both verses ; and that respectively to captives : and ( as it follows in Isaiah ) to them that are bound, the opening of the prison.
Which very term ( of Captives or such as are in prison ) reveals to us with what deference or respect, this term of remitting, or letting go, is to be conceived. And as it was in his, so must it be understood here in this, since this is but derived from that of Christ’s.Sin, an imprisonment.
The mind of the Holy Ghost then, as in other verses by diverse other resemblances, so in this here, is to compare the sinner’s case to the estate of a person imprisoned. And indeed, whoso well weighs the text cannot take it otherwise. For, not only here, but elsewhere where this Power is expressed, it seems to always be with reference ( as it were ) to parties committed. The very term of the Keys ( wherein it was promised, and wherein it is most usually delivered ) ; the terms of opening and shutting, which seem to have relation ( as it were ) to the prison gate. The terms of binding and loosing, relating ( as it were ) to the fetters or bonds. And the terms in our text of setting free, or still detaining in each case seem to have an evident relation to a prisoner’s estate ; as if sin were a prison, and the case of sinners, like theirs that are shut up.Mat. 16. 29. Mat. 18. 18.
Verily, as sin at the first in committing, seems sweet ; that men cannot be got to spit it out ( says Job ) but hold it close under their tongues, till they have swallowed it down ; but after it is committed, the sinner finds that it is Malum & amarum dereliquisse Dominum ( says the Prophet ), that it turns to a bitter and choleric matter, breeding a worm which never stops gnawing : Even so does sin at first to also seem a matter of liberty. For, a liberty it is, not to be restrained ; not to be ( as the Apostle speaketh ) committed to Moses, to be kept & shut up under the Law ; Not to be forbidden any fruit ( under which very term, the serpent did persuade it : ) But when it was done and past, then shall a man feel a pinching or discomfort in his soul, termed by the Apostle
στενοχωρία, which properly signifies the pain which they suffer, that are shut up in a narrow room or some place of little ease.
So speaks Solomon of sin. His own wickedness shall attach the sinner, & he shall be holden, or pinioned, with the cords of his own sin. So S. Peter, to Simon Magus : I perceive, thou art ( to express the former resemblance ) in the gall of bitterness ( & to express the later ) in the bond of iniquity. And S. Paul : that sinners, instead of having Moses to their keeper, become the Devil’s captives, & are of him holden and taken at his will & pleasure.Pro. 5. 22. Act. 8. 13. 2. Tim 2. ult.
Truly some have felt as much as I speak of, and have in pregnant terms complained of it. I am so trapped in prison ( says David ) that I cannot get out. And, bring my soul out of prison & I will praise thee : And, I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt set my heart at liberty.Psalm 88. 8. Psalm 142. ult. Psalm 119. 32.
It happens that not all feel this immediately as soon as they have sinned ; nor ( it may be ) a good while after. So God told Cain at the beginning : his sin should lie at the door ; that is, while he kept within, he should not be troubled with it perhaps ; but at his coming forth, it should certainly attach him. But says Moses, let every one who sins know that his sin at last will find him out : For he shall no sooner be under arrest of any trouble, sickness, cross, or calamity, but he shall be shut into this
στενοχωρία, and feel it presently. As the brethren of Joseph seemed at liberty for very many years, after having enviously and pitilessly sold him to be a bond-servant : No sooner fell they into danger and displeasure, in a strange country, but it came to mind and they were served with it straightaway. Even as in Job, it is said : The sins of our youth shall let us go up and down quietly all our youth time, but when we come to years we shall feel them pinch us in our very bones.
Many people whose souls feel this pang find a way to put it away, and seem merry and light enough ( as prisoners often behave in jail until the very day of their judgment : ) but eventually it will come to Iudex est prae foribus, when comes the terror of death, and with it a fearful expectation of judgment ; then certainly, then without all doubt, the anguish S. Paul speaks of, shall be upon every soul of every one that doth evil. Then, there is no man ever so wicked who would willingly die in his sins, but instead would wish to have them released while he is yet in viâ, still on the way. In those moments we seek help from such verses as this, and call for the persons to whom this Commission belongs. And then, having for 7. years walked past such people without exchanging a word, we are finally content to speak with them, when we are scarce able to receive their counsel and direction, much less to put it into practice. As if, our whole life we believed the permission of sins ; as if that were the article of our faith all our life long, and the article of Remission of sins, never till the point of death.James 5. 9. Heb. 10. 27. Joh. 8. 27. Mat. 5. 25.
This may help to briefly convey to us what is meant by this prison of the soul : but if what has been said does not persuade someone, I must say with the Prophet to them ; such a thing exists for certain, and that In novissimo intelligetis haec plane, at their latter end ( I wish, before ; but surely then ) they shall very plainly understand, that there is such a thing.Jer. 30. ult.
But now, those who have either felt or believe that such an imprisonment exists, will be glad to hear, that there is a Power which may give them hope : it will be a glad and welcome news that there is a Remission from these fetters, this prison, this thorn or anguish of the soul. What thanks are we eternally bound to render unto God for the existence of this Remission, or Remituntur as scripture calls it ? For I tell you, nusquam Angelos apprehendit, never have the Angels found something like it. The Angels, which fell from grace, hath been reserved by Him for everlasting chains of darkness, until the judgement of the great Day. Their chains, everlasting ; their imprisonment, perpetual : No commission can plead for them : There is no Remission to them, or Remittuntur eis as scripture says. But with man, it is not so. To him, deliverance ; to him, loosing of the chains ; to him, opening of the prison is promised. For his sins, a Commission is granted out, his sins have a Remission. This, is a high and special privilege of our nature, to be had by us in an everlasting thankful remembrance. No man needs now to cry out as they did in Jeremiah, Desperavimus, we are desperate ; now, we never shall be forgiven, let us now do what we wish. No : but ( as it is said in Ezra ) Though we have grievously sinned yet there is hope for all that : and ( as in Ezechiel ) that we may so use the matter ; that Peccata nostra non erunt nobis in scandalum, Our sins shall not be our destruction. Which very point is both a key pillar of our hope, and a principal means of manifesting unto us the great goodness of God.Good news that there is Remission. Heb. 2. 16. Jud. 6. Jer. 18. 12. Ezra. 10. 2. Ezec. 18. 30. Remission first, before Retention. Isaiah. 28. 21. 2. Cor. 10. 8.
Image from: Anthony Scoloker, “Instructions for a New Christian” (1549). Link: Anglican.net.
This Power is mentioned twice in my text ; 1 first in Remiseritis, and 2 then in Remittuntur. Which two words plainly lead us to two acts, from which by good consequence are inferred two powers. Which two Powers, though they be concurrent to one end, yet they are distinct in themselves. Distinct, in person, for Remiseritis is in the second person and addressed to the Apostles, and Remittuntur is in the third person, and meant of God Himself. They are similarly distinct in place : for the one is exercised in earth, which is the Apostle’s ; the other in heaven, which is God’s. Quicquid solverîtis in terrâ, solutum erit in Coelo, that which you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed in heaven.Of Remission in particular. The Power two-fold. 1. Remiseritis. 2. Remittuntur. Mat. 16. 19.
Now where there are two powers, and one of them is in God, then the other must needs be subordinate and derived from it. For there cannot be duo principia, two sources or beginnings. Therefore it can proceed from nowhere else but from God, and from the power in Him alone.
Of these two then. Remittuntur, though latter in place, yet indeed is by nature and order first, and the other of Remiseritis proceeds from it ; While in the sentence it comes first, yet without all question it is derived from it an depends on it. Therefore the case stands thus between them : Remittuntur, which is God’s power, is the source or origin ; Remiseritis, which is the Apostles power, is merely derived. That in God, sovereign : This in the Apostles, dependent. In Him only absolute : In them, delegated. In Him imperial ; In them, ministerial.I. Remittuntur. ( God’s power ) first in order. Isaiah. 43. 25.
The Power of remitting sin is originally in God, and in God alone. And in Christ our Saviour, by means of the union of the God-head, and Manhood into one person : By virtue whereof, the Son of Man hath power to forgive sins upon earth.Mar. 2. 10.
This Power being thus solely invested in God, He might without wrong to anyone, have retained and kept to himself, exercising it immediately by himself from heaven without means of Word or Sacrament, and without Ministers, either the Apostles or others.
But we should then have said of the Remission of sins ( with Saint Paul ), Who shall go up to heaven for it, and fetch it thence ? He answers : The righteousness of faith tells us to not say so in our heart. The word shall be near thee in thy mouth, and in thy heart, and this is the word of faith which we preach.Rom. 10. 6.
Tyndale’s New Testament (1552). Link: bibles-online.net.
From God, then it is derived : From God and to men.2. Remiseritis. God’s power derived to men, not Angels. To sinful men. 1. Tim. 1. 15. 2. Cor. 2. 10.
To men, and not to Angels. And this I take to be a second prerogative of our nature. An Angel may order Cornelius to send to Ioppe for one Simeon, to speak words to him, by which he and his household should be saved ; but the Angel cannot be the doer of it. Not to Angels but to men is committed this Office or Mission of reconciliation. And that which is yet more, To sinful men, for so is the truth, and so themselves confess it. S. Peter : Go, from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. S. James : In many things we offend all ( putting himself in the number : ) And ( lest we should think it to be but their modesty ) S. John speaks plainly : If we say we have no sin ( what then? not, we are proud, and there is no humility in us, but ) we are liars and there is no truth in us. And here is what is wonderful, that S. Paul who confesses himself a sinner and a chief sinner ; yet it was he who addressed the incestuous Corinthian ; I forgive it him, says he, in the person of Christ (
ἐν προσώπῳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ).
Now if we ask, to what men was it given ? the Text is plain. Those to whom Christ said this Remiseritis were the Apostles.To the Apostles.
In the Apostles ( that we may come nearer yet ) we find three capacities as we may term them. 1. As Christians in general. 2. As Preachers, Priests, or Ministers, more particularly. 3. As those Twelve persons, whom in strict propriety of speech we term the Apostles.
Some things, that Christ spake to them, he spake to them as representing the whole Company of Christians : as when he said be vigilant.Mar. 13. ult.
Some things he said to them not as Christians, but as Preachers or Priests : as when he said Go and preach the Gospel, and Do this ; which no man thinks that all Christians may do.Mat. 28. 18. Luc. 22. 19.
And some things he said to them personally : as that he had appointed them Witnesses of his miracles and Resurrection, which cannot be applied but to them, and them in person. It remains then to enquire, in which of these three Capacities does Christ impart this Commission to them.Act. 1. 8.
It was not said to them as personally. That is, this was no personal privilege to be in them, and to die with them, which they should only execute for a time with none ever after them. God forbid, we should so think it. For, this power being more than needful for the world ( as said above ) it was not to be either personal, or for a time. Otherwise, those persons dying and the era coming to an end, then all the people in succeeding ages ( such as ours ) who should fall into this prison or captivity of sin, how could they or we benefit from this Commission ? It is said by the heathen Philosopher about Nature, that it neither does Abundare in superfluis, nor deficere in necessarijs, i.e., that it is neither abundant in superfluities, nor deficient in necessities. Then God forbid if we should accuse Him of anything less ; that either He would ordain a power superfluous or more than needed, or despite it being necessary He would assign it unto one age, and leave all others destitute of it ; and not rather as all Writers both new and old take it, continue it successively to the world’s end.
As it was not given to the Apostles personally, so neither was it given in common to all Christians in general, nor in the persons of all Christians conveyed to them. This point is evinced by the very circumstances of the text. For he sent them first, then he inspired them ; and after both these, he gave them this commission. Now all Christians are not so sent, nor are all Christians inspired with the grace or gift of the Spirit, that they were here. Consequently, it was not intended for the whole society of Christians. Yea I add, that these two, both these two, 1 Missio, and 2 Inspiratio, must go before it : although God inspires some Laymen, if I may be allowed so to call them, with very special graces of knowledge to this end ; yet since they do not first have the sending, the commission does not apply to them, and they may not exercise it until they be sent, that is until they have their calling thereunto.Verse 21. Verse 22.
The commission being then neither personal nor peculiar to them as Apostles, nor again common to all as Christians, it must needs be committed to them as Ministers, Priests or Preachers. Consequently it is those who succeed them in that Office and Function, to whom, and by whom, this Commission is still continued. And those who are ordained or instituted to that calling, are not ordained or instituted by any other words or verses, than these. However it is not so absolute that God cannot bestow it on whom or when he pleases, without them ; or that he is bound only to this means, and cannot work without it. For, Gratia Dei non alligatur medijs, The grace of God is not bound but free, and can work without means either of Word or Sacrament ; and as without means, so without Ministers, how and when to him seems good. But speaking of that which is proper and ordinary, in the course established by him, this is an ecclesiastical Act, committed, as the residue of the ministry of reconciliation, to ecclesiastical persons. And if at any time he vouchsafe it by means other than these, they be in that case, Ministri necessitatis, non Officij : In case of necessity, Ministers ; but by Office, not so.To them as Ministers.
Now, in committing this power, God does not deprive or bereave himself of it. His Remittuntur, It is remitted, remains chief, sovereign, and absolute. God follows the act of the Church, as ordinarily he does since it is his own ordinance ; so whosoever will be partaker of the Church’s act, must be partaker of it by the Apostle’s means, and the Remiseritis, Whosoever you remit, concurs with his order and place, and there runs a correspondence between both. Thus God associates his Ministers, and makes them Workers together with him. They have their parts in this work, and cannot be excluded : no more in this, than in the other acts and parts of their function. And to exclude them, is ( after a sort ) to wring the keys out of the hands of those to whom Christ hath given them ; it is to cancel and make void the Remiserîtis clause, as if it were no part of the sentence ; To account of all this solemn sending, and inspiring, as if it were an idle and fruitless ceremony. And if we reject doing so, we must admit that they have their part and concurrence in this work, as in the rest of the ministry of reconciliation.God’s power remains sovereign. Zach. 13. 7. 1. Cor. 3. 7.
Neither is this a new or strange thing, for it was so from the beginning. It was there under the law of Nature. Elibu tells Job this, about one who is in God’s prison for his sins : If there be an Ambassador, Commissioner, or Interpreter with God, ( not just anyone, but ) one among a thousand, to show unto the man his righteousness, Then shall God have mercy upon him and say, let him go, for I have received a propitiation.The act of the Church ordinary. Job. 33. 25.
Then under Moses, it is certain that the Covenant of life and peace was made with Levi, and he was always a part in the sacrifices for sin.Mal. 2. 5. Levit. 4. 5.6.
It was also there under the Prophets. It pleased God to apply this concurrence towards David himself : Nathan the Prophet said unto him, Transtulit Dominus peccatum tuum, namely, The Lord hath pardoned this thine sin.The necessity of the Priest therein. Homil. 49. de 50.
This may be enough to distinguish these two Powers: from whom the derivation, to whom, and the continuance and concurrence of them.
The Remission of sins, as it comes from God only, so is it by the death and blood-shedding of Christ alone. But in order to apply all of this unto us, various means are established. There is Multiformis gratia ( says Saint Peter ) a variety of graces, whereof we are made the disposers. Now, each and every one of these means is aimed for the remission of sins, which is the first and greatest benefit our Saviour Christ hath obtained for us, and it remains for us to enquire what that particular means is, which is here imparted.Wherein this power consists. 1. Pet. 4. 10.
For sure it is, that there are other acts apart from this Commission, which are instituted by God and executed by us, toward the remission of sins.Sins remitted.
1. In the institution of Baptism, there is a power to that end. Be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins ( says Saint Peter to three thousand at once. ) Arise and be baptized ( says Ananias to Paul ) and wash away thy sins. And to be short : I believe one baptism for the remission of sins ( says the Nicene Creed. )1 By Baptism. Act. 2. 38. Act. 22. 16.
2. There is also another power for the Remission of sins, in the institution of the holy Eucharist. The words are exceeding plain : This is my blood of the new Testament, for the Remission of sins.2 By the Eucharist. Mat. 26. 28.
3. Besides, there is a similar power ordained in the word itself. Now you are clean, says Christ ( no doubt from their sins ) on account of his Sermon, propter Sermonem hunc. And the very Name gives as much, that it is entitled, The word of reconciliation.3 By Preaching. Joh. 15. 3. 2. Cor. 5. 19.
4. Further, there is to the same effect, a power in Prayer, and that in the Priest’s prayer. Call for the Priests ( says the Apostle ) and let them pray for the sick person, and if he have committed sin, it shall be forgiven him.4 By Prayer. James 5. 24.
Each and every one of these are acts for the remission of sins ; and in each & every one of them, is the person of the Minister required, without whom they cannot be dispatched.
The ceremonies and circumstances which I find in our Text regarding remission, prevail with me to think, that something new is being granted here. It strains credulity that our Saviour would bestow nothing different from what he had in prior times, and yet would use so much solemnity, such diverse and new circumstances, without new or different grace being communicated.None of these meant here.
1. This is different from the power of Baptism, which it is plainly obvious that the Apostles baptized in a specific manner from the beginning ; and I cannot doubt they could not do without a Commission.Joh. 4. 2.
2. It is also different from the power of administering the holy Sacrament, which was expressly granted to them by Do this … , prior to his passion.Luc. 22. 19.
3. Nor is it the same as the power of Preaching, which was already given by this time. He sent them, and commanded them to preach the kingdom of God, long before the power which is bestowed here ; the one being given in Mat. 10. while the other being promised later in Mat. 16.Mat. 10. 7. Luc. 9. 2.
4. Neither can this text be seen to refer to prayer. Prayer has no partition, and prayers and supplications are to be made for all men. But here there is a clear partition : some, Quorum, whose sins are remitted, and a second Quorum, of those whose sins are retained.1. Tim. 2. 2. But the power of Absolution. Verse 21. Verse 22.
II. The Matter or Subject, on which the power is to be exercised.
EVery power is not to be exercised everywhere, or upon every matter ; but each power has his proper subject.II. Quorum peccata. The subject of this Power.
The matter or subject, whereon this power of absolution is to be exercised, is sin. Let us consider sin, first in itself, as the matter at large. And then, as qualified with the person : ( for it is quorum, and not quae peccatae ; ) As the nearer and more proper subject.
First then, the subject are sins. The kinds of sins absolution pertains to is not restrained or limited in any way. No sins at all are excepted from absolution, and neither their number nor their magnitude are an obstacle.Peccata, at large.
The number of sins is not an obstacle ; Christ teaches, That we also should forgive until seventy times seven times, and in a way gives us to understand, that he will also not look too closely at the number of ours. For God forbid that we should imagine him to teach us to be more merciful or of greater perfection then he will be himself. That number amounts to ten Jubilees of pardon : We may hope, then, for the pardon of that many sins at his hands. If those be not enough, we have example of one, whose sins were more in number than the hairs of his head, and of another, whose were more than the sands of Sea : both which give us hope, for they both obtained pardon.Amount not an obstacle. Mat. 18. 22. Psal. 40. 12. Orat. Manass.
The text on this in the verse of Matthew makes clear both of those parts. For there, a debt is remitted not only of five hundred ( as in Luc. 7. ) but of ten thousand, and those ( not pennies, as in Luke, but ) talents : A great and huge sum, yet he still has remission in store for it all. Therefore no man shall need to say, his sin is greater than can be remitted, as Cain did, since that assertion is convinced to be erroneous : Even he who slew Abel his brother may have his sin be forgiven, seeing S. Peter says that even those who slew the Son of God may have their sins be forgiven. For everyone understands that the betraying and murdering of Iesus Christ was far a more heinous offense than that of Abel’s killing : But according to Saint Peter, this may even more so be forgiven. And to end this point, whereas the Apostle affirms truly that the weakness of God is stronger than men, if there were any sin greater than could be remitted, the weakness of man ( the source of sin ) would be stronger than God ; which neither Religion nor reason will admit. In respect of the sin itself therefore, the absolution has no exceptions.Or greatness. Mat. 18. 24. Luc. 7. 48. Gen. 4. 13. Acts 31. 15.19. 1. Cor. 1. 25.
But because the text does not say quae peccata ( the sins which are committed ), but rather quorum ( whose sins are committed ), it shows that the act of remission pertains less to the sin and more to the person. Even though it is true that all sins may be remitted, yet it may not be to all persons, except those which fall under the category, quorum, as we see. For, there is another group of people, another quorum, whose sins are retained. This shows to us the limit of taking sins as the subject for absolution, and points to persons as indeed the Materia propinqua, the immediate subject for absolution.What the act properly pertains to.
Our Saviour Christ himself, when he pronounces his Commission ( of which this is a part ) in effect says as much. For he tells them, There were many lepers in the days of Elisha, and many widows in the days of Elias ; yet none cleansed but Naaman, nor to none was Elias sent but to the widow of Sarephtha. And so the case stands here. There may be many sinners, and many sins may be remitted, but not unless they are in this particular group, this Quorum. The emphasis lay on key of knowledge, which helps to direct to whom remission may be applied, and to whom not ; since it cannot be applied except with advice, nor hands hastily to be laid on any man, the verse which ancient Writers connect to the Act of Absolution, plausibly given its context. Discretion must be used in applying of comfort, counsel, and the benefit of Absolution. As a result, it sometimes happens that the very same sins which are remitted to those who are in the Quorum, are not to some others, who are out of it.Luc. 4. 18. 25. 1. Tim. 5. 22. Cypr. 3 16. Pacian. in Paraen. 16. Aug. de Bapt. 5. 20.23.
Let us look a little into this requirement, in order to discern who belongs to which group of people, to which Quorum. The conditions required, for one to be Of those who are remitted, who are in Quorum remittuntur, are two.The Requirement of the Persons.
First, the person must be within the house and family to which those keys belong, ( that is ) be a member of the Church, and a faithful believing Christian. In the Law, the Propitiatory was annexed to the Ark and could not be severed from it : to show, that they must hold of the Ark ( that is ) be of the number of the people of God, or else could they not be partakers of the Propitiation for their sins. So says the Psalmist, in the Psalm of the Church : All the conduit-pipes of all my spiritual graces are conveyed into thee, and are nowhere else to be had. ( Omnes canales mei erant in te. ) And of this benefit of remission of sins, the Psalmist says : O Lord, thou hast been gracious unto Thy land &c. Thou hast forgiven all their iniquity and covered all their sin. But the Prophet Isaiah speaks on this even more plainly : The people which dwells in her ( that is the Church ) They shall have their iniquity forgiven. And to end this point, the Angel when he interprets the name of Jesvs, extends it no further than thus, that He shall save His people from their sins. To such people then is the benefit of remission of sins entailed and limited ; it is the sors Sanctorum, and the dos Ecclesiae. Those who are of this Quorum, have their certain hope thereof ; and those who are out of it, pertain to the second group, of them who have their sins retained. The power of the keys does not reach to them : What have I to do with those who are outside ? ( saith the Apostle ) Those who are outside, God shall judge. Therefore, all Pagans, Infidels, Jews, and Turks are not part of those whose sins may be remitted. For whoso believes not in Christ, whoso is not a faithful Christian, shall die in his sins.That, in the Church. Exod. 26. 34. Psal. 87. 7. Psal. 85. 1. Isa. 33. ult. Mat. 1. 21. 1. Cor. 5. 12. John 8. 24.
But are all who are inside this House, thereby partakers of this remission? is there nothing else required? Yes indeed, there is yet another required condition, which cuts off many who are within the Quorum of the Church. And that is ( as our Saviour Christ himself sets it down ) Repentance. For, he wills Repentance and Remission of sins to be preached in His name : both these, but Repentance first, and then Remission of sins to follow after. A sinner who is a member of the Church, if he lacks this, belongs not to the group of the remitted, but to that whose sins are retained.That, Repentant. Luke 24. 47.
To Repentance there go two things ( as heretofore hath been entreated more at large. ) First, that he feel his chains and imprisonment and be grieved with them, and therefore would gladly be let loose, and discharged from them. Our Saviour Christ proclaims it in no other words, saying that none should come to him except those who are weary and heavy laden. For, he must feel the weight which he seeks to ease, and he must feel the chains which he seeks to loosen ( sentiat onus qui vult levari, & sentiat vincula qui vult solvi ). But there is no reason to give help to someone who is well enough already, and who had rather remain where he is, than escape it.That, Feeling the burden, & desiring Remission. Mat. 11. 28.
This is what produces the division of sinners into the double Quorum. Some sinners are weary of their commitment and would gladly be rescued. Such as he : O bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thee. And as he : Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me? And to these belongs the first clause of Remission, even poenitentibus & petentibus, to them that are weary of their burden, and who desire and plead for deliverance.Psal. 142. ult. Rom. 7. 24.
And yet there are other sinners, who do not care greatly for their present estate, and are senseless as it were of their misery. The prison does not grieve them ; being in it, they reckon themselves well enough, either because they have drunken of the slumbering cup, which is the very dregs of God’s wrath, having their hearts as brawn, and their consciences seared with a hot iron, that is ( as the Apostle interprets it ) being past all feeling or remorse of sin : Or else a worse sort of people, who are not only senseless but even take delight and pleasure in their present wretched estate, and has no interest in escaping it. Who rejoice at the doing of evil, and delight in the ways of the wicked, who scorn the threats of God’s judgements, and when they hear the words of this curse, absolve themselves and say, I shall have peace and do full well anyway. Moses says of such people: let not the Lord be merciful unto them. It is a pity for them to be let go, and for the key to turn even once to let them out. Sense and sorrow is required of their restraint, and an earnest desire for help, else they pertain not to the first, but to the latter Quorum.Isa. 51. 22. Psal. 119. 70. 1. Tim. 4. 2. Pro. 2. 14. Deut. 29. 19.
In sorrow for sin, there is an especial good use of the key of knowledge for counsel and direction. 1. firstly, Repentance is an act of corrective Justice, and to repent is to do judgement ( says the Prophet ) ; and to judge ourselves, as the Apostle calls it. 2. It requires not only a statement, but also
ἐκδίκησις, a revenge, or punishment. It cannot be a fruitless repentance, but it must have fruits worthy of repentance ( says Saint John Baptist ) ; men must not only repent and turn to God, but also do works worthy of Repentance, says Saint Paul when he was charged to preach even from heaven. 3. On the other hand not all works of Repentance are meet and suitable to every sin, but as the sins are diverse, so are the works to be also. 4. one may go too far in them ( as appears in the case of the Corinthian ), or fall too short, as appears in the case of Miriam : a proportion or Analogy must be kept, according as the case of the sin requires. The Key of knowledge will help to advise what works are suitable, and what measure is to be kept.
The other condition which must be joined to the former, is an unfeigned purpose and endeavour, to remit or let go our selves of those sins, which we would have remitted by God. For, it is not enough to be sorry for past sins, or to seek repentance even if it be with tears : this will not put us in the first Quorum, if there were nothing besides, if our hearts still intend for us to retain and still hold fast our old sins. Esau lifted up his voice with a great cry and bitter out of measure, and wept : Yet even at the same time, vowed in his heart, so soon as his Father was dead, to make away his brother. And this purpose of mind, for all his bitter crying and tears, cast him into the latter Quorum, and made his sins to be retained still. Such is the case of those who wish to be let out of prison, but would also have liberty to go in and out and visit some company there, as often as they wish. This is not the behavior of Saints who are in the first Quorum, to whom God, as he speaks peace, so He also says that they turn not thither again, that they fall not again to their former folly.Heb. 12. 17. Gen. 27. 38. 41. Psal. 25. 8.
Such men want their sins to be let go by God, but will not let of them themselves. They want to hear Christ’s saying, that Thy sins are forgiven thee : but do not want to hear the end of it, Go and sin no more. We must be willing to hear them both : to have our sins remitted by God, and also to remit our sinning, or from thenceforth remissius peccare, to sin more remissly, and nothing so licentiously as before. To the sorrow, statement, and revenge discussed above, we must subjoin a desire,
ἐπιπόθησιν, according to Saint Paul ; we should also have an endeavour,
σπουδὴν. We must make such an endeavour, as to be able to allege for it an
ἀπολογίαν, an honest defense, that we have used all good means to do must be performed on our part, in order to be among those whose sins are absolved.
In this point no less than in the former, the Key of knowledge has a role to advise and direct us, no less in the cure of sin than in the sorrow for it. The people in the second chapter of Acts, who were pricked in their hearts, knew that they should do something ( as appears by their question ) : but what it was they should do, they knew not. Sometimes men intend well, but know not which way to turn themselves about it. A man can be indecisive about the right course of action due to excessive self-favour, being over partial in his own case, neither becoming fully resolved to do good, nor to avoid the occasions of evil as he ought. Let us be confident, and take steps with full resolution. Men sometimes doubt not the power of remitting of sins, but their own worthiness to receive it ; and whether they have ordered the matter so, that they be within the compass of God’s effectual calling, or of the Quorum to whom it belongs. So much for the matter, or subject, whereto this power of absolution is to be applied.Act. 2. 37.
III. The Promise of ratifying the exercise of that power.
IT is known, that God is abundantly willing to show the stability of his counsel to those who would wish to be partakers of it. To those who think deeply into the question, he has penned it exceeding effectually, so that those poor sinners who shall be partakers of it, might have strong consolation and perfect assurance, not to waver in the hope which is set before them.III. Of Ratification.
To that end, I shall point out four things which illustrate and prove the certainty of God’s ratification, to our comfort ; all of them expressing the efficacy of it in more than common manner.
1. First comes the order of the words in the scriptures ; the Remiseritis ( to those tho whom you remit ) comes first, and the Remittuntur ( it shall be remitted unto them ) comes second. Saint Chrysostom’s note is that it begins in earth, and then the heaven follows after. In prayer and other parts of religion the rule is, As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth ; but in this case here, the rule is, as it is on earth, so shall it be in heaven. Chrysostom says that the Lord takes from earth the principal authority of judging heaven. The Judge rests on the ground ; the Lord follows his servant, and whatever the latter has judged below, that he ratifies above ( A terra judicandi principalem authoritatem sumit Coelum ).Super verbis Esaiae Vidi Dominum Homil. 5.
2. Second proof of the strength of the ratification comes from he Tense which the words use. The Remittuntur is in the present tense, showing there is no delay, deferring, or holding in suspense, but the Absolution being pronounced upon earth, they are immediately remitted, Remittuntur. He does not say that they shall be later on, but are already remitted right now.
3. The Format of the sentence. The flow of words shows Christ to be content for the act to be theirs, and the Apostles to be the agents in it, while he himself is the recipient who permits it to take place. The Apostles part is shown to be Active ( Remiserîtis ; ) while his own is shown as Passive, ( Remittuntur. )Mat. 18. 18.