Tho Power of the Keys; or, Consi- been infected with the too common

derations upon the Absolving desire of saying some new thing' Power of the Church, and upon -and not contented with saying it some of the Privileges of the Chris- to himself and his friends, the secret tian Covenant. By the Rev. Ed- must needs be communicated to the ward Burton, M.A. Student of world at large. We have no obChrist Church,

jection to assist in giving circulation

to his theory-upon condition that The usurped power and corrupt we may be permitted to say a few doctrines of the Pope have not yet words respecting its validity. He ceased to afflict and injure the Church opens his argument in the following of England. Every new debate upon terms. our ecclesiastical constitution furnishes fresh proofs of the injuries of binding and loosing, or the power of re

“ The power of the keys, or the power inflicted by the court of Rome upon mitting and retaining sins, (for these three the once simple fabric of the Christian expressions have the same meaning.) rests commonwealth. The favourite ac

upon the following passages of the New cusation in the mouth of her enemies Testament. is, that our Church still retains the “ Matt. xvi. 19. And I will give unto errors of Popish times. She was

thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven : charged not long since in the House and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth of Lords, by Lord Grey, with profess- thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in

shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ing the Popish doctrine of the mass, heaven. and teaching it in the Catechism to

“ Matt. xviii. 18. Verily I say anto her children. Mr. Brougham, and you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth his co-partners in the Edinburgh shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever Review, say that she claims the ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in

heaven. power of forgiving sins, as distinctly

" John xx. 23. Whose soever sins ye and unequivocally, as the Priest in remit, they are remitted nnto them ; and his confessional.

whose soever sins ye retain, they are reThe effect of such calumnies upon tained. those who hate both the Church “ It is allowed on all sides, that by and Christianity, is too notorious to these words Christ conveyed some power require pointing out. Neither are

to his apostles; and it will be attempted

to be proved, that the original grant also they altogether harmless in other quarters. The defenders of the conveyed the same power to all the suc

cessors of the apostles for ever. Church exhibit zeal without know

“ Various interpretations have been ledge, or caution without courage given to these words. They have been and while a few perhaps will as- supposed to mean, that the apostles might sert with Mr. Prebendary Dennis, admit, or refuse to admit, any persons to that the Priest has power to forgive inflict and withdraw the censures of the

the Christian covenant ; that they might sin ; other few, among whom we lament to find Mr. Burton, virtually absolve, or refuse to absolve, any persons

Church; that they might of themselves explain away the absolving power from their sins. of the Church.

“ Advocates have been found for each The Dissertation now before us of these interpretations. Some would is the work of a sensible man, a give all these powers to the Church; while sound theologian, and a good scho

others think that she is only entitled to lar-and there are many parts of some of them; that she has power to in

flict censures, or to enact laws, but not the work, which bear evidence of the

to forgive sins. Among those, who see in combined powers and qualities of these words the grant of an absolving its author. But he seems to bave power, opinions are also divided, Some

think, that the priest may give absolution, between the Resurrection and Ascennot merely as declaratory or promissory, sion-several pages are employed but authoritative and immediate ; that he in proving against the Romanists may actually pronounce the pepitent to be from that very time absolved, and that this

that the gift was not confined to St. absolution will be ratified in heaven. Peter. The argument is put with Others again will not allow this: they great neatness and force, and may think, that the priest merely promises par- be advantageously consulted by such don from God hereafter; or that he de. as entertain any doubts upon the ciares in the name of God, that if the man subject. truly repent him of liis sins, (of which God

The next point is to distinguish only can be a judge,) he may then be absolved,

betweeu the power of remitting and “The Church of England would be quot- retaining sin, which was conferred ert in support of all these several interpre- in the interval between the Resurtations. She undoubtedly claims the right rection and Ascension, and the of ivflicting and withdrawing censures, power of working miracles, and however obsolete such a custom may have speaking with tongues, which was become: she also claims the power of not bestowed will the day of Pentea binding her members to the observation

cost. of certain laws, and of loosing them from

Here again Mr. Burton proothers. With respect to absolution, or

ceeds in a workmanlike mannerthe forgiveness of sins, her authority would shortly and satisfactorily establishes be quoted by those, who assert this doc- his point, and shews that the Histrine in its highest sense, and by tliose, who tory of the two lospirations does not allow it merely in the lowest degree. The give the slightest grounds for conlatter would say, that in her form of absolotion, which is read in the Morning cluding that the Apostles could not Service, the priest evidently does nothing transmit the one power without more than execute a command of God, transmitting all the others likewise. in declaring and pronouncing, that He Our Lord's last charge to his Apospardoneth and absolveth all then that truly tles is then examined-and the difrepent. The former would quote the ferent accounts of it harmonized. office for the visitation of the sick, wliere We extract Mr. Burton's paraphrase the priest is authorized to say by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee

of this most important portion of from all thy sins.'

Scripture--and wish that the infe. “ It will be the object of the following rence which he draws from it, were pages to consider these several interpre- less unworthy of the foundation on tations; and it may perhaps be well to which it rests. state bere the conclusion, which it is intended to draw, viz. that the power of “ We might paraphrase this cliarge in the the keys, or the power which is expressed following manner. The atonement is now in Matt. xvi. 19. xviii, 18, and John xx. made: God has accepted the sacrifice, 23. gave to the apostles and to their suc- which I offered for sin, and allows all men cessors for ever the privilege of admitting to be benefited by it. Power is lienceforth any persons by baptism to the Christian given to nie to put all the inhabitants of covenant; that is, of loosing the faithful the earth into a way of coming to leaven: and peuitent from the disabling curse, they may have their sins forgiven, if they under which they were born, and of putting will believe in me: this is the condition, them into a new condition, which made which I appoint for their being put into them capable of working out their sal- the way of salvation. It was to inake this vation." P. I.

atonement, and to invite all men to par

take of it on this condition, that my Father Mr. Burton then observes, that sent me into the world; and as I am now the words in Matt. xvi. avd xviii. con- going away, in the same manner I send you tain only a promise of what shall be in my name, and authorize you to appoint done ; while the words in John xx.

successors after you, who shall continue intimate an actual gift. He con

till the end of the world to publish these tends therefore that the Power of and make them known to all nations.

glad tidings to all mankind. Go therefore, the Keys was bestowed by our Lord Moreover it is my will, that wherever you opon bis apostles, in the interval make them known, every person, who

wishes to profit by them, and to accept and whatsoever ye loose on earth, sball: the terms offered, shall first be baptized. be loosed in heaven.' And that this is the He must believe in me: he must repent of full meaning of the promise given in his past sins: and then being baptized in Matt. xvi. 19. xviii. 18. and of the power the name of the Father, and of the Son, actually conferred in John xx. 23. is the and of the Holy Ghost *, he shall be fully conclusion wlich I have been endeavouradmitted into the new covenant, wiich we ing to establish. I conceive, that the have established through my blood. Till apostles loosed sinners, or remitted their now it was impossible for men to please sins, when upon their professing their God, or to make any atonement for their belief in Christ, they admitted them to the sins, so as to escape prinishment: if they sacranient of baptism : and so they hound died without committing sin themselves, them, or rather left them bound, and de yet the sin of their first parents, under the clared their sins to be retained, when curse of which they were born, was enough they refused to believe in Christ. to subject them to the wrath of God. But “ If this interpretation be correct, the now they may have this curse effectually absolving power of the church, in the removed, if they will believe in me: and usual sense of the expression, finds no supthey may have their own personal sins for- port from Matt, xvi. 19. xviii. 18. or given, if they will add repentance to their Jolin xx. 23, and the successors of the belief. Go therefore; and by baptizing apostles can never give actual and immethose who believe in me,and admitting them diate remission of sins, except when they into my covenant, loose them from that first admit a man into the covenant, and curse, and from that inability to please baptize himn upon his professing faith and God, by which they were before bound. repentance. If such a man again commit Whosoever are thus loosed by you in my sin, the minister of Christ cannot again name, are really and effectually loosed :

say to him, all thy past sins (including the my Father, who is in heaven, will look sins committed since baptism) are forgiven upon them as beginning a new life, and thee ;-he cannot even say this, though will judge them merely for the works which the sinner again profess to believe in Christ, they do after baptism. The sins, which and to repent. The minister may indeed you then remitted to them, will not be and ought to remind him of the pardon, imputed to them, so as to affect their which he once received ; that all his sins, admission into heaven. But, on the other whether actual or imputed, were once hand, whosoever refuses to believe in me, blotted out: and he ought also to remind is in the same state of condemnation, as if him, that his sins subsequently committed I had never died: he is still bound by the may likewise be blotted out, if he will recarse passed upon Adam, and subject to pent and leave them off. But this forgivethe wrath of God. You cannot loose bim: ness of sins committed after admission into you cannot admit him into the new cove- the covenant will never be declared, tilt nant, or hold out to him any hope of for- the judgment of the last day. The priest giveness, unless he believe in me. In may exhort and encourage the sinner to such cases you have no authority: you look for it: but he can never say with bis must leave such persons bound: you must owo authority, at this very moment all denounce to them, that their sins are still thy sins are forgiven thee. If he could, retained ; and at the last day they will the same man may be absolved several fiod, that they are really and effectually times in the course of his life : there is no retained, so as to keep them from heaven.

reason, why he may not be absolved every “ It will be seen, that in the latter part day. There is no doubt, that he may reof this paraphrase I have intended to give quire absolution every day by committing the meaning of Joho xx. 23. «Whose fresh sins : and as he may also believe and soever sins ye remit, they are remitted repent every day, the priest might give unto them; and whose soever sins ye re- him absolution every time that he professed tain, they are retained;' coupling that this faith and repentance *. passage with Matt. xviij. 18. Whatsoever “ But this conclusion is too absurd to ye bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven ;

• It has been said, that the apostles The eleventh Canon of the third Coundo not appear to have observed this form of cil of Toledo complains, that in certain words, but to have baptized in the name churches of Spain, men do not follow the of Jesus only. (Acts ii. 38. viii, 16.) Yet Canons, but onworthily repent them of we have perhaps a proof to the contrary in their sins, and as often as they please to 1 Cor. vi. 11. where all the three Persons sin, so often they desire the priest to abin the Trinity are mentioned.

solve them.

be entertained. It could never have been tions are irreconcileable with the the intention of our Saviour to give such an formularies of the Church of Engwavailing power of absolution as this, land; and, what is last and worst, when he so solemnly ordained his apostles to remit sins. This alternation of guilt they make so formidable an inroad and purity, of condemnation and absolu- upon the doctrine of forgiveness of tion, can never be the effect of that power,

sins, that few persons who agree which the Holy Ghost conveys to the mi- with Mr. Burton ought to be, or can nisters of Christ. It is surely therefore be, at peace. These are serious more reasonable to say, that the same per- accusations; but, believing that we son receives a positive and valid remission of sins from the minister of Christ only it is our duty to speak out. The

can substantiate every one of them, once, that is, when he is first admitted into the covenant by baptism. It is then that difficulty of the subject is unqueshe is loosed from his inability to please tionable; and that difficulty may be God, and that the sin of bis first parents, pleaded and admitted as an excuse and his own personal sins, are remitted to for declining it altogether, or dishim. Bishop Taylor is express in asserting cussing it with besitation and fear. this doctrine : then (at Baptism) the But when an author undertakes to power of the keys is exercised, and the gates of the kingdom are opened: then explain the hard places of Holy we enter into the covenant of mercy and

Writ be exposes himself to the cenpardon, and promise faith and perpetual sure of those by whom bis error is obedience to the laws of Jesus, and upon perceived, even if they are not prethat condition forgiveness is promised pared to substitute interpretations and exhibited, offered and consigned, of their own. Without presuming, but never after *.!” P. 27.

therefore, to define the precise We shall proceed as speedily as sense in which the power of the possible to examine the contents of keys is to be understood, we shall the three latter paragraphs. But, in animadvert freely upon Mr. Burton's the first instance, we must again limitation of it, and endeavour to return our thanks to Mr. Burton for show that such limitation is entirely his exposition of the doctrines of the of his own making. Christian Covenant, Justification by The first point to which we reFaith, and Infant Baptism. His ob- quest attention is the interpretation servations on each of these subjects put by Mr. Burton on Matt. xviii. are sound and perspicuous : and if 18. He considers it a promise of there be po striking novelty in the the power which was conferred in author's views or expressions, still John xx. 23, and restricts them both less is there any statement which

to baptism. It is true, he does adour Church, or its more esteemed mit (p. 70.) that members, would disown.

“ Our Savionr himself seems to interpret We cannot make the same re

the words binding and loosing with refermark upon his theory respecting the ence to the censures of the Church, when

of the keys. The strict limita- he says, in Matt. xviii. 18. * Whatsoever ye tion which he has placed upon that

shall bind on earth shall be bound in heapower is new, and therefore, of ven,' &c. In the preceding verse he gives course, suspicious. It is not antho

a power to the Church of arbitrating in rized; on the contrary, it is most

private disputes, and of expressing her dis

pleasure against the party which refused to unequivocally renounced by the

abide by her decision : he was to be Scriptures, to which he appeals in treated as an heathen man and a publiits support. His inquiries into the can,' It may be disputed what degree of practice of the primitive Church censure was intended by these words; but upon the subject are meagré, super

some sort of punishment, some exclusion ficial, and unsatisfactory. His no

from advantages enjoyed by the body at large, must certainly be implied by them :

and, in the following verse, our Saviour Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, seems to call this power of exclusion a c. ix. sect. 2. vol. ix. p. 184.

power of binding and loosing."


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This qualified language must not precated, invariably came upon the sinner. be overlooked. Mr. Burton con- This power was supernatural, and confined tends that the power of binding and

to the apostles only: there is no intimaloosing is limited to a particular act.

tion of its being continued to their succes

sors; and therefore we can argue nothing The expression only occurs twice.

concerning our own practice from those On one occasion it is manifestly passages in the New Testament, which impossible to limit it as Mr. Burton speak of such a power. proposes : and to what expedient " That God sometimes sept these bodoes he resort? To a simple admis- dily infirmities, we learn from 1 Cor. xi. sion that our Saviour seems to say,

30. ' -for this cause many are weak and what overthrows Mr. Burton's hy. 32d verse also informis us of the gracious

sickly among you, and njany sleep. The pothesis. Either binding and loos- intentions of God in sending these visitaing are different from remitting and tions : . but when we are judged we are retaining, which Mr. Burton main- chastened of the Lord, that we should not taius that they are not, or our Sa

be condemned with the world. He pu. viour himself expressly and empha- nished them in this life, that they might tically declares that his Church shall

repent, and become fit for the life eternal.

* That the apostles also had this power, have the power of remitting and

or, to speak njore properly, that God conretaining at other times and upon

firmed the sentence of the apostles, when other occasions than that of bap- they imprecated sickness upon a sinner, is tism. The question, in reality, does evident from St. Paul's Epistles. In the not admit of a doubt. Mr. Burton case of the incestuons Corinthian, it aptakes no notice of the subject in pears, that the Church had this power

even without the actual presence of an its proper place; and, until we reached his 70th page, we sup

apostle. They exercised it in his name,

and, as St. Paul says, his spirit being preposed that he had forgotten the con- sent with them, and their sentence was text of the verse upon which he confirmed by God. •I verily, as absent comments. In the 70th page, to in body, but present in spirit, have judged our no small surprise, we find that already, as though I were present, conhe is aware of the difficulty, but cerning bim that hath so done this deed, does not even attempt to remove it.

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, He notices the subject incidentally

when ye are gathered together, and my

spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus and slightly; and, knowing that

Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan there was so formidable an obstacle

for the destruction of the flesh, that the to his hypothesis, observes, that it spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord seems to be irreconcileable with his Jesus *.' By delivering the offender to lucubrations, and says not another

Satan for the destruction of the flesh, he word upon the subject.

evidently means, that permission was given We come next to the practice of

to Satan to inflict some bodily disease t.

He uses the same expression in 1 Tim. i. the primitive Church, and Mr. Bur. 20. speaking of Hymenæas and Alexander, ton's remarks upon the subject are who had made shipwreck of their faith, far from satisfactory.

he says, . whom I have delivered unto " There are also passages in the Epis.

Satan, that they might learn not to blas.

pheme.' tles, which prove that the Church poz.

“ The greatest exercise of this power, sessed some such power. Bat we must

which is recorded to us, is when Ananias remember, that there is this great differ, and Sapphira were struck dead by the ence between the apostolical times and

In those days, God not only punished sin in this life by sending bodily,

* 1 Cor. v. 3-5. diseases, (which we liave no reason to + When St. Paul says of himself, (? think is not the case at present,) but be Cor. xii. 7.) . there was given to me a also gave a power to the apostles of in- thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, flicting these diseases. They of course to buffet me,' we may also interpret bis inflicted them in the name of God: but words as implying some bodily disease. It they liad a positive and absolute power to was Satan who was allowed to tempt Job, do so; and the sickness, which they im. by vexing his body."

our own.

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