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especially on that of Peter. In this manner was Peter made the rock or foundation of the great body of Christians. Christ is in other places called the stone, and the only foundation: for it is no unusual thing in the sacred writers, that the same simile should be used to signify different things in different places. Paul calls himself a master-builder; but Christ here claims this honour to himself: “ upon this rock I will build
The word church, which here first occurs in the New Testament, originally signified any assembly of people, but was used by the Jewish writers to express the whole body of the people of Israel. Thus Stephen, Acts vii
. 38. says, that Moses was with the church in the wilderness; meaning the whole Jewish nation.---In the same manner, Christ here applies the term to the whole body of Christians: for the people of Israel, living in one country, bore a resemblance to the multitude of Christians, dispersed throughout every country: These constitute the church of Christ, as the other constituted the church of God.
And the gates of hell, rather, “ of the grave,” shall not prevail against it.
It is generally agreed that hell does not here signify the place of punishment for wicked men and other wicked beings; but the place of the dead; the grave: for Hezekiah, in lamenting over the shortening of his life, says, “I shall go to the gates of the grave. Is. xxxviii
. 10. David varies the phrase a little, when he says (Ps. ix. 13.) “ Thoy listest me up from the gates of death;” and in another place, the Psalmist says of some, (cvii. 18.) “ Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat, and they draw near unto the gates of death.” The gates of the grave then signify, by an easy figure, the power of the grave; and Christ must be understood to promise to Peter and the rest of the apostles, that notwithstanding their death, the church of Christ should continue in the world and flourish. Others interpret the words somewhat differently, and suppose that as assemblies for trying criminals were held in the
gates of cities, the gates of death must mean those who had the power of life and death in their hands. The · promise of Christ will therefore imply, according to this account of the passage, that none of the devices of the enemies of the church shall succeed against it; or, in other words, that the Christian religion shall never become extinct in the world.
19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven here signifies the Christian church, or a society of people whom the God of heaven has now collected together, to obey his laws and to enjoy his favour. This church Christ had just compared to a house built upon a rock; to whomsoever, therefore, the keys of the house are delivered, to him a power is entrusted of admitting into the house, or escluding from it, particular persons, according to the pleasure of the master of the house. The meaning of these words of Christ therefore is; “I give thee a power of admitting into my church, both from among Jews and Gentiles, those who are worthy of that honour; and of excluding from it those who are unworthy.”
And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be, "will be,” bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Commentators differ greatly about the interpretation of these words. That interpretation seems to me most easy and natural which supposes that by binding and loosing, when applied to keys, is signified the same thing as shutting and opening. The gates and doors of people in ancient times were shut with cords, for binding or loosing which a key was used; so that what with us is to shut and open the door, with them was to bind and loose it. When, therefore, binding is applied to persons, who are here spoken of, it means the same thing as shutting out; and loosing signifies admitting
The passage might therefore be thus translated. “ If thou reject any, that is, from my church, on earth, the rejection shall be ratified with God; if thou admit any, the admission also shall be ratified in like manner;" so that the sense of the whole verse will be this: “I grant thee, Peter, after my return to heaven, a power of unlocking the entrance into my church, both to Jews and Gentiles: if thou find any unworthy to be admitted into the body of Christians, and exclude them from the society of believers; or if thou judge others worthy to be received into the number of my disciples, on account of their possessing a teachable disposition, and having their manners formed agreeably to the laws of the gospel
, both thy acts shall be ratified with God in heaven.
According to this interpretation, no new thing is promised to Peter; but what was said in the preceding verse is expressed in different words; namely, that he should be made the foundation upon which the Christian church should be built.
20. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
Many manuscripts omit the word Jesus here, and it evidently appears to be an error, introduced by some means into the text: for Jesus was his proper name, by which he was known to every one; he could not therefore prohibit his disciples from telling men that he was what they already knew hiin to be. What he forbad them was to say that he was the Christ. of proclaiming that he was the Messiah he reserved for himself, and exercised as he saw occasion, according to the circumstances of time and place. He had commanded the apostles indeed to preach the kingdom of God; this, however, was nothing more than teaching that the kingdom of the Messiah was at hand, and that men must reform their lives, which the apostles could do, although they did not declare who was the Messiah.
The reason why Christ enjoined silence upon his disciples in regard to this subject, was because he foresaw that if it were publicly proclaimed, such were the erroneous notions which prevailed respecting the nature of the Messiah's kingdom, and so much were the passions of the people inflamed against tlie haughty government of the Romans, that dreadful tumults would be the necessary consequence, and occasion would be afforded his adversaries to accuse him of aiming at an earthly kingdoin. He knew at the same time that his miracles and discourses were sufficient to prove that he was the Messiah; and that a conviction produced in this manner would be more useful to men than one arising from his own declaratious.
1. We learn hence how ill founded are the clains of the Popes. From what Christ says to Peter, about building his church upon him, giving him the keys and the power of binding and loosing, they have inferred that this apostle was made the head of the college of apos. tles; that he was invested with supreme power over the Christian church, to prescribe the terms of admission into it, and also the terms of admission into heaven; that all his decisions upon these subjects are infallible, and that the same authority which he possessed liimself descends to his successors, the bishops of Rome. These extravagant doctrines they have built, or attempted to build, upon this figurative language; but we find that the words of Christ convey no such meaning, and that they are best interpreted upon totally opposite principles. They promise to Peter an honour which has leng since been enjoyed by him, that of being the chief instrument in the hands of Providence, in introducing Jews and Gentiles into the Christian church, and hereby becoming, next after Christ, the principal foundation of that glorious building which was erected by God. It appears that whatever authority he possessed was confined entirely to himself, and that nothing is said or insinuated about its descending from him to his successors. So little is there in this passage of Scripture, to countenance a power which has been made equal to that of God himself, and which has been employed to support all kinds of superstition and wickedness in the world.
2. How delightful is it to reflect that the church of Christ is built upon a rock, and that it cannot be destroyed by the revolutions of time or the designs of its enemies! The cause of Christian truth has often appeared to rest upon the abilities and zeal of a few advocates, who have supported it in the world by the force of their exertions and eloquence: when they are removed and laid in the gates of the grave, we are disposed to think that its foundations have been underinined, and that it cannot long subsist: but let us not be discouraged by such events: Christ has promised that the gates of the grave shall not prevail against it. The loss of faithful and active ministers, or of other distinguished members of the church, shall be repaired by successors of the same spirit and talents, raised up by Providence for this purpose; if not in the same part of the church where the former flourished, yet in some other. This cause has the protection of heaven for its support, and will never be suffered to fall for want of able defenders: if it could bear the removal of Christ and the death of the apostles, there can be no other losses which time may produce that it will have any reason to fear.
The church is as secure against the devices of its enemies as against the power of death. Many are the designs which have been formed against the Christian religion, at different periods of time, by open enemies or pretended friends, with the hope of destroying it by fraud or violence: but they have all, hitherto, proved unsuccessful. Similar attempts may be made at present, or in future ages, but they shall all be equally