Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

[The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, by John Fairley.]
The keys of the kingdom of heaven.





Glasgow, May 1, 1816.



Printed by Stephen Young;




MATTHEW 16.19.

WHERE the word of a king is, there is power. It commands attention, enjoins obedience, and is frequently the mean of conveying authority and power, unto those who are called to act in a subordinate station and character under him. Such was eminently the case with the word of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus. His word was that of a king, in the strictest, and most proper sense. It was the word of him who is the King eternal, immortal, and invisible,—the Prince of the kings of the earth,—who judgeth among the gods, and is possessed of supreme dominion and authority over all creatures and things, both in heaven and in earth. Nor did this cease to be the case, even when he was in his humbled state and condition. Though he then appeared in the lowly garment of humanity, he was by no means divested of the splendid robes of his Divinity, but as the Son of God, was still in the bosom of the Father, one in nature and essence with him, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. His word, therefore, behoved to be with power. Accordingly, we find he had even the testimony of his enemies, that never man spake like him; for his word was with {4} power, and not as the Scribes'. It was, therefore, justly entitled to attention: it enjoined obedience on all his followers, and was the blessed mean of conveying authority and power unto those who were appointed to act under him, in the administration of that Gospel kingdom he was now about to set up and establish in the world. Of this we have a striking instance in the words of the text: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

These words are part of an interesting conversation our Saviour had with his disciples in consequence of an inquiry addressed unto them: "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" [verse 13.] This inquiry was not made, to obtain any information concerning himself, of which he was not previously possessed. As the omniscient God he knew all things. He knew what was in man, and needed not that any should testify concerning him. He was perfectly acquainted with the inmost thoughts of his mind and sentiments of his heart, as well as the words of his mouth, concerning himself. But the question was proposed to introduce another, more immediately addressed unto the disciples. The answer given by them, respecting the public opinion concerning our Saviour, was by no means satisfactory: and therefore he brings it home unto themselves: "But whom say ye that I am?" [verse 15.] Ye who are my disciples, ye who have now continued with me a considerable time, and had the best means {5} of attesting the gracious words that have proceeded from my mouth, the heavenly doctrines I have taught, the astonishing miracles I have wrought, and the holy life I have led—whom say ye that I am? Are your sentiments and views concerning me nothing superior to those ye have just now detailed? Under the superior means of knowledge and information ye have enjoyed, Whom say ye that I am? In answer to which, Peter, who appears to have been frequently ready to speak for the disciples, and always zealous to assert and maintain the honour and interest of their Divine Lord and Master, in their name, makes the illustrious confession, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." [verse 16.] It is as if he had said, Thou art neither Elias nor Jeremias, nor any of the ancient prophets. Thou art not to be considered merely as a man, as a person of our own order, nor only in the light of a remarkable prophet come from God, but in a character infinitely superior to any of these, even the promised Messias that was to come into the world—the anointed of the Father—his only begotten Son, who lay in his bosom from all everlasting, and was ineffably the object of his most endeared complacency and delight, being possessed of the Divine nature with all divine perfections and excellencies on a perfect equality with him. Our Saviour, pleased with this confession, declares Peter blessed; and also informs him, as a ground of humility, that this discovery was not made unto him by any subordinate means; it was not the fruit of parental education; it was not enjoyed by the instruction of men, nor even by any power or exertion of his own; but it was wholly a discovery of his heavenly Father {6} who had given it unto him, by a special illumination of his Divine Spirit, as one of the babes of grace, while it was hid from the wise and prudent in the world. He also adds that on this rock, that is, on himself, as the rock of ages, the sure foundation laid in Sion; or which is of a similar import, on the grand, important, and fundamental truths contained in the good confession Peter had made, he would build his church, and erect a dispensation of free grace, against which, either to hinder its erection, mar its progress, or frustrate any of its benevolent designs, the gates of hell should never be able finally to prevail. But then in order to the erection, progress, and final consummation of this sacred edifice, much behoved to be done. The eternal designs of God, respecting his church, must have a full and ample accomplishment. The glory of her adored Head must be illustriously displayed, the honour of his name maintained, the materials must be gathered out of the ruins produced by the awful entrance of sin into our world, all the spiritual stones collected and united, and every individual of these preserved in safety, and the whole built up a holy temple in the Lord. For the accomplishment of these valuable and important ends, the Gospel of the kingdom also must be preached, a banner for truth displayed, the ordinances of the house of Christ must be dispensed, her comely order maintained, proper office-bearers appointed for the due administration of it, and a regular succession of these insured unto the church, even unto the end of time. These were necessary, not only to the benefit and comfort, but even to the existence and standing of the church in an organized state. They are all included in the gracious promise of her exalted Head, and the leading ideas {7} brought into view, by his solemn address unto Peter, as contained in the words of the text: I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The text, then, has an evident allusion to the Gospel church. This is what we are to understand by the kingdom of heaven. She is frequently so denominated in Scripture. And she is called a 'kingdom,' to represent her distinguishing excellency and glory: because Christ himself is her Head, her Lawgiver and King. Her laws proceed from him, her ordinances were instituted by him, her privileges flow from him, and all her true members are continually under his gracious, spiritual, and divine government. She is called the kingdom of 'heaven,' as expressive of her heavenly origin and source. Her Head is in heaven. Her charter was drawn out, and received a solemn confirmation there. Thence her laws, her ordinances and privileges proceed. The dispositions of her true members are heavenly, and in her, they not only receive a right and title unto, but, in due time, are all made meet and fit for the enjoyment of the kingdom of heaven. The 'keys' of this kingdom, as may be afterwards more particularly noticed, are emblematical of power and authority in the church. They are here said to be 'given' unto Peter, but by no means, as may be also afterwards noticed, to the exclusion of the rest of the Apostles, or in the way of pre-eminence over them. They were common to them all, and through them have descended from the same heavenly source, though not in the same extraordinary way, to all the duly qualified, {8} and divinely appointed office-bearers in this kingdom, for the accomplishment of their original design, in such a way as is competent unto them.

But what is further necessary for explaining the words, may afterwards occur, in prosecuting the doctrine of the text. This we shall endeavour to comprise under the following general observations.

I. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the alone King and Head of his Church.

II. Legislative power and authority in the church belongs, and is only competent unto Christ.

III. As the glorious Head of the Church, and in the exercise of his legislative power and authority over her, a particular form and order of government have been instituted by the Redeemer, to be observed and maintained in his kingdom unto the end of time.

IV. For the due administration of order and government in the church, proper officers have also been appointed by her Head.

V. The judicial decisions of the rulers of the church, acting in the name of Christ, and according to the laws and regulations of his word, have a binding obligation upon those who are under their ministerial inspection and care.

To illustrate these a little, in their order, and then conclude with a few practical observations, in the way {9} of improvement, is the method intended in the following discourse.

I. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the alone King and Head of his Church.

To this office he was appointed by his heavenly Father. In this amiable character he is frequently exhibited unto us in the sacred volume. And as clothed with this exalted dignity, he appears and makes the gracious declaration contained in the words of the text. These are clearly the words of a king. They contain in them a royal grant, and therefore the person by whom it is conferred must himself be possessed of royal authority and power. This is also the uniform tenor of the declarations of Scripture concerning him. A great variety of these might be adduced: but in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Hear, then, the declaration of him who is the faithful and true Witness concerning himself: "I was set up from everlasting." [Prov. 8.23.] But in what character and for what end? Just as the glorious Ruler of the church, as her sovereign King, and as given to be Head over all things unto her, to manage them, in a subserviency to her best interests, and the manifestation of the Divine glory. In agreeableness to this, is the solemn declaration of his heavenly Father: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." [Psalm 2.6.] This holy hill of Zion is the church of God, over which Jesus presides as King, and this by a special appointment of his heavenly Father. From rivalship in, or any participation of the exalted honour {10} and dignity, thus solemnly conferred upon him, every other person, however exalted in station and place, is entirely excluded. To all this, the church unites her testimony, in terms of the strongest and most unqualified approbation. She ever glorious in the relation, considers it as her highest dignity, her best security; and in the believing view and consideration of it, she triumphantly exclaims: "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our law-giver, the Lord is our king, he will save us." [Isa. 33.22.] Such is the strong and undoubted testimony of Scripture, to the sole headship of Christ over his church. For this high place he was peculiarly qualified as the Son of God; and the enjoyment of it constituted a fundamental article of the covenant agreement in the counsel of peace from everlasting. It was purchased by him, in the fullness of time, with the costly ransom of his own blood; and it is conferred upon him, in his glorified state, as the high and honorary reward of the arduous and difficult work he had to accomplish, in his mediatorial character.

The Redeemer was peculiarly qualified for this exalted dignity, as the Son of God; being in that relation, the true God, possessed of the Divine nature, with all divine perfection and excellence. The Head of the church must be also the ground and foundation of her confidence and hope. He must be able to support the whole of the spiritual building; bear up the pillars; collect all the spiritual stones given unto him by his heavenly Father; assign to every individual of them his proper place in the building; carry the whole forward to a state of perfection; and, in order to this, {11} afford effectual protection against all the fiery darts of Satan. He must be perfectly acquainted with the wants of all the members of his church, and must be able to supply these wants; to help under difficulties; comfort under discouragements; support in the midst of weakness; assist in the discharge of duty; strengthen in the spiritual warfare; defend from temptation; fortify against the fears of death: and, in fine, he must be able to do every thing necessary to their complete and eternal salvation. But is this a work to which any mere creature is competent? No. The united strength of angels and men is utterly inadequate. No mere creature is fit for it. No power inferior to that of Omnipotence itself, is equal to it. And therefore how arrogant and presumptuous, as well as impious and wicked, is it for the worms of the earth to assume unto themselves this title or claim! It belongs only to the Son of God, and the enjoyment of it was secured unto him, by covenant engagement with his heavenly Father. Hence we find him declaring, in that bright copy of the covenant drawn out unto us, in the 89th Psalm, "I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant. Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne unto all generations." This, however, could only be conferred, on him, and enjoyed by him, on the footing of a fair and adequate price. In this marvelous dispensation of divine grace, the honour and glory of all the awful amiable, and adorable perfections of Jehovah's nature, must be illustriously displayed; the rectitude and purity of the Divine government, in the salvation of the guilty sinner, must be maintained; the precepts of the law must be fully answered; the {12} demands of infinite justice must be completely satisfied; a proper satisfaction for sin must be made; and an everlasting righteousness brought in, as the ground of pardon and forgiveness unto all those who shall become the spiritual subjects of the kingdom. These were the terms the Father required. In these the Son cheerfully acquiesced, and therefore it is said concerning him: "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand." [Isa. 53.10.]

The kingdom of Christ, therefore, is founded in purchase. It was the price of blood. It cost him his own precious and divine life. Into the hand of his heavenly Father this costly price was paid, and in consequence of it the kingdom is conferred upon him, as the stipulated and due reward of his obedience and suffering unto the death. "Because he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name. All power and authority in heaven and in earth, is given unto him. All things are delivered unto him. And he is given to be head over all these to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him, that filleth all in all. [Phil. 2.8,9; Matt. 28.18; Eph. 1.22,23.]

II. Legislative power and authority in the Church belongs, and is only competent unto Christ.

The power possessed by the ministers of Christ and office-bearers in his kingdom, is wholly of a ministerial nature. It does not belong unto them to legislate {13} for the church. This is a power which her glorious Head has, with much propriety, reserved to himself. He is sole legislator unto her, and to him belongs the exclusive right of giving laws to all the subjects of his kingdom: while it is only competent unto those, who are the authorized office-bearers to execute and apply these laws, according to the rule of his word, and in agreeableness to the different circumstances of the members of his church. This is the doctrine of the text; and it is a necessary consequence of the glorious relation in which, under the former observation, Jesus was exhibited as standing unto his church. It is the doctrine of the text: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." That is, I will confer upon you power and authority under me, to dispense the ordinances, execute the laws, and administer the government of my kingdom. But this declaration, in the very nature of it, proclaims him king, it reserves the power of legislation to himself, and it evidently supposes, that the laws and ordinances to be dispensed and executed by the persons addressed, had been previously enacted and instituted by himself. Was the power contained in the grant of the keys, given by Christ unto his disciples, and through them to the standing office-bearers in his house? Did it solely originate in, and proceed from him? It must, then, be only ministerial in its nature, he is to be considered as the glorious fountain of it, and the power of legislation for the church must be viewed as belonging only unto himself.

It is true, the power and authority vested in the apostles of Christ at this time, and especially after his resurrection from the dead, was of a very peculiar and extraordinary nature. On this account, acting in their {14} apostolical character, and under the immediate inspiration of the Divine Spirit, they may justly be considered as legislators to the church. Their mission, being immediately from Christ himself, was accompanied with very ample powers, and frequently followed with the most striking and remarkable effects. From their immediate inspiration, and extraordinary unction from Israel's holy One, an authority attached to their words and actions, to which none of their successors are entitled to lay claim. Still, however, they had a Master in heaven. All their authority was derived from him, and it was only as divinely inspired by his Holy Spirit, that such extraordinary powers were vested in them. Had they or an angel from heaven, acted in opposition to his sacred dictates, they were no longer to be considered as the guides of the church. Her chief Shepherd is infallible. He is totally incapable of error. But this is a property which none of the under-shepherds ever did, or could possibly enjoy, excepting as under the immediate inspiration of the Divine Spirit; and therefore the power of legislating for the church, must still be considered as solely belonging unto Christ himself.

This doctrine is also a necessary consequence of the glorious relation in which Christ stands unto his church, as her exalted King and Head. Is this the dignified character he sustains? Was he solemnly vested with it by his heavenly Father, and given, by a special dispensation of his, to be Head over all things unto the church, it must not be, as is often the case among the children of men, to wear an empty title; it must be to act in agreeableness to that high and honourable station and character, to enact laws, institute ordinances, and perform every necessary act of legislative {15} authority on her behalf. Something of this kind is even found to take place among men. It belongs to the head of the state, either by himself, according to the nature of the power that may be lodged in him, or along with his legal and constitutional advisers, to frame and enact laws for all those who are the subjects of his government. Jesus needed not the assistance of any of his creatures, in framing the laws of his kingdom. They are solely the result of his own infinite wisdom. They were all digested in the counsel of peace from eternity; and by the same covenant agreement he was constituted the sole King and Head of his church, to reign in her, to rule over her, to legislate for her, and to do every thing necessary to her complete and eternal salvation. To all this the church gives her cordial assent, and triumphantly sings in the words formerly quoted: "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our law-giver, the Lord is our king; he will save us." Hence also, the declaration of an inspired apostle: "There is one law-giver, who is able to save, and to destroy." [James 4.12.] This is just Christ himself, the only Law-giver of his church, who is able to save unto the very uttermost, all that come unto God through him, and to dash in pieces, by the iron rod of his divine and almighty power, all who set themselves in opposition unto him; he will laugh at their feeble attempts, frustrate all their impious designs, and if they shall continue impenitent, will at last bring the wheel of his justice over them, and subject them to an awful destruction from the presence of the Lord and glory of his power. {16}

III. As the glorious Head of his Church, and in the exercise of his legislative power and authority over her, a particular form and order of government have been instituted by the Redeemer, to be observed and maintained in his kingdom unto the end of time.

This part of the truth, as it is in Jesus, has been subjected to much and strong opposition, both in former and later times. It has been contended by many, and there is ground to fear, that it is a very prevailing sentiment in the time in which we live: That no particular form and order of government have been appointed by Christ under the gospel dispensation—that this is a thing which is perfectly indifferent in its nature—that the government of the church is altogether discretionary, may with equal propriety exist under different forms, and may therefore be framed according to the nature of the constitution under which we live, the genius of the civil government to which it is allied, or the disposition and inclination of those who are to be subject unto it. Upon such grounds were the religious establishments in these lands settled and confirmed, at the memorable ra of the revolution period. At that time Episcopacy was established in the neighbouring kingdoms, because best adapted, as was then judged, to the nature of the civil government, and most agreeable to the inclinations of those who were to be subject unto it. In our native land, the Presbyterian form of church-government was indeed established, but by no means on a Scriptural basis, not as the divinely appointed order of the house of Christ, but only as being most agreeable to the wishes and inclinations of a great majority of the people. But this sentiment, however popular it may be, however extensively it may prevail, and however generally {17} it may have been acted upon, is in direct opposition to the doctrine of our text, and to many other passages of sacred writing. It is in stated opposition to the declaration of the Saviour, as contained in the words of the text: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." We take it for granted, and suppose it is what cannot be refused, that the kingdom of heaven refers unto the gospel church. Now, by the keys of this kingdom we are to understand, the exercise of that government which belongs unto it which was instituted by its glorious Head, and is greatly conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all its concerns. The grant of the keys, therefore, which is here made unto the disciples, by their Divine Master, and through them to all whom he appoints to act as office-bearers in his kingdom, must be considered as including in it power and authority, not only to proclaim the doctrines and dispense the ordinances, but also to exercise the discipline, and administer the government that belong unto it. It is true, the power contained in this grant, has been by some restricted unto the former of these. But the form of expression which is here used clearly shows, that it must also be considered as extending unto the latter. The words of our Saviour, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," are evidently to be considered as metaphorical. They allude to a well known custom in ancient times, instances of which are also to be found among the Jews, wherein a person called to occupy a place of government, or trust, had a key given unto him, as an emblem of that authority and power, with which he was vested over those who were intrusted to his charge. Hence we find, it was not only given to the Jewish Rabbies, who were called {18} to expound the law, and to which there is an allusion by our Saviour, when he reprehends them for having taken away the key of knowledge, but also to stewards and governors, as expressive of that official authority and power, which was vested in them. Thus it is said of Eliakim, by God himself, when he was called to administer the affairs of the kingdom of Judah: "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder." [Isa. 22.22.] Now, as governors in a kingdom, and stewards of a great house, bore a key in token of their office, hence the expression of giving a key naturally tended to convey the idea of raising the person, to whom it was given, to the exercise of government and rule, as intrusted unto him.

The same emblem is also applied to our Saviour, as expressive of that extensive authority and power, with which he was vested in his mediatorial character. "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David." [Rev. 3.7.] Now, as our Saviour sent his disciples, as his heavenly Father had sent him, and gave them of the glory he had given unto him, so the grant of the keys which he here makes unto them, must be considered as applying to the exercise of that government and authority, with which they were vested as the ministers of his word, and appointed to act as office-bearers under him, in administering the government of his house, as divinely instituted by himself.

This is farther evident from many other passages of sacred writing. That the Divine Redeemer instituted a particular form and order of government for his church, under the Old Testament dispensation, cannot {19} be refused. To this bear all the prophets witness; and indeed, the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures bear ample testimony unto it, especially as they refer to the order and economy of the Jewish church. Her minutely described ordinances, her divinely appointed institutions, and all her sacred laws, concerning the form, the order, and fashion of the house, are all striking evidences of this. They place it beyond a doubt. And can it be supposed that the merciful head of the church is less concerned about her benefit and comfort, her welfare and prosperity, under the present, than he was under the former dispensation. The very supposition, would be totally inconsistent with the character and conduct of him, who was faithful, as a Son, over his own house, even as Moses, his minister, was faithful, in executing the important trust committed unto him. Accordingly we find, when he was in our world, a variety of instructions were tendered by him unto his disciples respecting this. Not only was the grant of the keys made unto them, and the power of binding and loosing, in a judicial capacity, vested in them, but other directions of a similar nature were tendered unto them. They are instructed in the way of dealing with offending brethren, for excluding or for reclaiming and restoring them. [Matt. 18.15.] They are informed, that having followed him in the regeneration, they should afterwards sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [Matt. 19.28.] Now, whatever allusion this might have unto the last and final judgment, it must also be considered as referring unto the exercise of that government and trust, to which they would be advanced in the church of Christ under the gospel dispensation. {20} The nature of their situation, in this respect, and the way in which they were to conduct themselves, while thus employed, are also particularly declared unto them. They are frequently warned against any claim to preeminence or cherishing a disposition to superiority over one another. [Matt. 20.25; Luke 22.25,26.] A perfect parity is established among them. And in this consists the very essence of that Presbyterian form and order of government, which the Head of the church hath instituted and appointed. After his resurrection from the dead, he continued with his disciples a considerable time, instructing them in the things pertaining to his kingdom—that is, just in what related to the doctrine and worship, the discipline and government of his church. When he ascended up on high, and led captivity captive, he also gave gifts for men. Among these, a divinely appointed form and order of government, in his house, must be considered as none of the least or most inconsiderable. Such was also the view of an inspired apostle. "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers." [Eph. 4.8,11.] By the same apostle, he is represented as having set or appointed these in his church. "And God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles; then gifts of healing, helps and governments." [1 Cor. 12.28] Some of these were of an extraordinary, and others of an ordinary and standing nature. Governments are particularly noticed, involving in them the idea of authority and power, on the footing of an instituted government, in the church of Christ. Accordingly {21} having set, fixed, or appointed these, in his church, for the exercise of government in her, this was set up, duly established, and religiously observed by them. All things relating unto this are clearly revealed, in the writings, by the practice, and from the example of the apostles of Christ. General rules are delivered, and these reduced to the laudable principles of order, decency, and the edification of the body. More particular laws are given forth, respecting the order and government of the church. Ordinances are instituted for her. Proper officers are introduced into her. The qualifications these ought to possess are declared; their duty is unfolded; the manner of their admission, by laying on the hands of the Presbytery, is distinctly stated; the different courts of judicature, are exemplified: all which strongly confirm the truth and propriety of our observation, that a particular form and order of government, has been instituted by Christ himself in his church. The nature of this order comes more particularly to be considered, in attending to our following observation.

IV. For the due administration of order and government in the Church, proper officers have also been appointed by her Head.

This is also the doctrine of the text. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." The address is here made unto Peter, but it was not solely applicable to him. It extends unto his fellow disciples. In some of the verses immediately preceding, Christ speaks to them in general, and in other passages of sacred writing, similar language is addressed unto them all. "Verily," says our Saviour, "Whatsoever ye {22} shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." [Matt. 18.18.] The pronoun expressive of the persons addressed here is in the plural number; and he speaks in the same way unto them, when their mission is confirmed by him, after his resurrection from the dead. It is said, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. [John 20.22,23.] These declarations of the Saviour, are strikingly descriptive of the persons addressed in the words of the text: "I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." That is, to you who are my disciples, the representatives of my church, who are now appointed by me to exercise this discipline and administer the government that belong unto her. But was the grant peculiar unto the disciples? Was it restricted unto, and did it terminate in them? By no means. Through them it descends, in regular succession, unto all the ordinary and standing office-bearers in the church.

The ordinary call to the office of the ministry, which now obtains, is indeed different from the miraculous mission of the apostles. In many respects it is inferior unto it. Still, however, the essence of this sacred office is the same, the foundation on which it rests is one, and the appointment unto it is from Christ himself, unto all the faithful ministers of his word. This is evident from his own gracious promise, annexed to the renewed declaration of the apostles' mission, after his resurrection from the dead. {23} "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;—and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." [Matt. 28.19,20.] The disciples of Christ were not to continue in the church unto the end of time. "Your fathers where are they, and the prophets do they live for ever?" But the Church of Christ was to be a permanent society. Her perpetuity was infallibly secured by the faithfulness and veracity of the great Jehovah. And in her his own gracious promise was to have a full and ample accomplishment, that the divine Redeemer would have a seed to do service unto him through all ages. In order to this, the ordinances of his grace must be dispensed, the doctrines of his word must be proclaimed, the order of his house preserved, and the discipline and government of it duly administered. These require a regular succession of office-bearers in the church, and fully confirm the divine appointment of these by her exalted Head.

The same thing is also clear from what has been stated under the former observation. Has a particular form and order of government in the church been appointed, by Christ himself? Was it intended by him, that this should be permanent in her, and necessary, not only to her benefit and comfort, but even to her very existence in an organized state, it will necessarily follow, that proper office-bearers have also been appointed, for the due administration of it. This is requisite under every well regulated government. In civil society there must be an executive, as well as a legislative authority. Subordinate magistrates are {24} appointed under the head of the state, for executing the laws, and administering the government that have been framed and adopted by them. Such also is the need of the church. And this in the best, the wisest and most effectual manner, has been attended unto, and provided for, by her superintending Head. The ministers of the word, the elders who rule well, and those who are called to labour in the word and doctrine, are the proper office-bearers, whom he has appointed under himself, for administering the order and government of his house. These are the only rulers of the church, the stewards of the mysteries of God, the ambassadors of his grace, the overseers of his church, and the divinely appointed office-bearers therein, whom he recognizes in the sacred oracles of his will, under the gospel dispensation.

It is true, the order of deacons, is also represented unto us, in the word of God. But their work seems to have been the service of tables; it related to the necessities of the poor, and external concerns of the church, without holding any place in the exercise of her government and rule. The office, however, seems to have been of a standing nature, and may still obtain, when the wants of the church require, and her circumstances admit the enjoyment of it. But for administering her government, the teaching and ruling elders, are the ordinary and standing office-bearers in her; divinely appointed, graciously promised, and clearly recognized by her adored Head, in the sacred Scriptures. These are totally ignorant of that needless waste, empty show, and lordly supremacy, which attach to the idolatrous and superstitious hierarchy of the Romish and Prelatic churches. Nor are they better acquainted with that system of confusion, and perpetual {25} source of anarchy and disorder, which vests the government of the church in what is called the community of the faithful, or the members of the church in general. None of them have the stamp of Divine authority. None of them have the sanction of he church's Head; nor are they acknowledged by him, in the revelation of his will.

It is, however, a melancholy fact, that the Scriptures of truth have been often wrested by each of these churches, in support of her peculiar system. Nor has this been more frequently the case with any other passage of sacred writing than with the words of our text. The church of Rome has contended, that the grant of the keys was made unto Peter, in his individual capacity, including in it a universal supremacy over the church, which descends through him to their popes, or general councils, or to both acting together: which of these has the preferable claim having never yet been decided by them. But in whatever way it is laid, how arrogant and inconsistent the claim? how inconsistent with the character of Peter, and totally foreign from the obvious design and meaning of the words of the text? These taken in their connexion with the preceding verses, as already stated, and with other passages of Scripture, formerly alluded unto, clearly show that what is here said unto Peter, was also directed to the rest of the apostles; while our Saviour himself in the general tenor of his conduct towards them, so far from encouraging, expressly prohibits any claim to preeminence among them. Indeed, there is not one passage of sacred writing, in which is found the remotest hint of this power being given unto Peter, and far less of its descending, through him, unto any other. {26} On the contrary, the apostle Paul declares, that he was in no respect inferior unto him; and on one occasion he withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. Peter himself, when addressing the elders of the church, does it with much humility, denominates himself under a similar appellation, and makes no pretension to any claim of pre-eminence or superiority over them. "The elders who are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder." [1 Pet. 5.1.] As a minister of Christ, and by virtue of his apostolical authority, he had a right to do this. But it is not in the way of adducing any claim to pre-eminence over them.

The same observations will apply to the no less presumptuous claim of the Prelatic church. By them, in the spirit of the Romish church, their degenerate offspring, a superiority is her ascribed unto Peter, who is considered as representing the dignitaries of their church, to whom the grant of the keys, in a peculiar manner belongs, and with whom, in consequence of it, the government of the church is solely intrusted, to the exclusion, in a great measure at least, from the work of labouring in the word and doctrine. But this claim is equally void of countenance from the Head of the church, and has not the smallest foundation in his word. On the contrary we there find, (and this will be evident in a particular manner unto those, who have only a very moderate acquaintance with the original language,) that the terms Bishop and Presbyter are used in a synonymous sense; that they equally apply to the ministers of the church; while both are enjoined to feed the flock, to give heed unto the ministry they have received, to labour in the word, {27} and with diligence dispense the ordinances of divine grace, as well as exercise the discipline and administer the government of the house of God.

It has been further contended, by those who have embraced what has been denominated the Independent scheme, that Peter is here to be considered as representing the church in general, as an emblem of believers in Christ, by whom, in consequence of their faith and confession, the government of his house is here intrusted unto them. But this view of the words is equally foreign to their obvious meaning. It is evident the church, in general, is not addressed by our Saviour. He does not speak unto all who had been enabled to exercise faith in him, and to make confession of him with the mouth. Nor is the grant, as already noticed, made unto Peter in his individual capacity. It included the rest of the apostles, while to them, and to them alone, as the representatives of the church, including every faithful office-bearer in her, unto the end of time, is the power of the keys given, for executing the laws and administering the government of the house of Christ. Nor can it at all be considered as a just and necessary consequence, that when a person becomes a subject of the Redeemer's kingdom, and a member of his house, that he is thereby advanced to the office and dignity of a ruler and steward in the church. For if this were the case, and all were rulers, who then should be ruled? If all were stewards, where the household intrusted to their charge? And if all were overseers, who the church to be fed and governed by them?

The tendency, then, of the words we have been endeavouring to consider—the evident design of the passage—the nature of the grant bestowed—the persons {28} on whom it is conferred—and the marked distinction, frequently made, in the Book of God, betwixt the rulers and ruled, them that govern and them that are to obey, the stewards and household intrusted to their charge, with other distinguishing characters of a similar nature, frequently applied to the rulers of the church, clearly show, and undeniably prove, the Divine appointment of these, by her adored Head, not only to proclaim the doctrines, and dispense the ordinances of his grace, but also to exercise the discipline, and administer the government which he hath instituted, and appointed in his house. "Let a man so account of us, as the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." [1 Cor. 4.1.] "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves unto them." [Heb. 13.17.]

V. The judicial decisions of the rulers of the Church, acting in the name of Christ, and according to the laws and regulations of his word, have a binding obligation upon those who are under their ministerial inspection and care.

This observation is founded on the express words of the Saviour. "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." That is, Your judicial decisions, in the use and exercise of the keys I have now granted unto you, when these are in agreeableness unto my word, and especially in the way of inflicting or removing the censures of my house, shall have the high sanction and authority of Heaven's {29} eternal Sovereign. This view of the words is supported, by the whole of the doctrine which has been advanced under the former observations. Is our Lord Jesus Christ, by a special appointment of his heavenly Father, the alone King and Head of his church? Do legislative power and authority therein belong only unto him? Has he in the exercise of this power, appointed a particular form and order of government in his church, with proper officers for the due administration of it? It necessarily follows, that the judicial decisions of those acting in his name, by his authority, and according to the laws and regulations of his word, must have a binding obligation upon the members of the church. Their concurrence, in the way of judgment, is not necessary; nor does the power of judging in the affairs of Christ's house belong unto them. This is competent only to those who are the office-bearers of the church; and is a power vested in them, by her exalted Head. It is contained in the grant of the keys, and necessarily flows from the official character of those to whom they are given.

It is true, the power of binding and loosing, here mentioned by our Saviour, has been variously understood, according to the different sentiments of those who have endeavoured to support their peculiar views by the words of the text, or evade their force, as at variance with the particular system of church government, for which they contended. By some it has been considered as an extraordinary grant, equivalent to the power of healing diseases, or working miracles, which was peculiar unto the apostles. It is granted that the power of binding and loosing, as given to the apostles, and exercised by them, in their apostolical character, was of an extraordinary {30} nature. But it is also contended, that the exercise of this power extends unto those who are the ordinary and standing office-bearers in the church. her present situation requires this. Her wants render it necessary; and the gracious promise of her compassionate Head secures it unto her: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

Others again, and those of considerable name, whose praise, on many accounts, is justly in the church, (although even under these considerations, we are to call no man master,) have maintained that the grant of the keys, and power of binding and loosing, as connected with this, is only to be understood in a doctrinal way—that they refer to the first preaching of the gospel by the apostles, the propagation of it by their successors, and their declaring what was to be received or rejected, by the members of the church, as articles of faith and rules of practice. But it is obvious, that although these are not excluded, more is also intended, and evidently implied in the declaration of the Saviour, "whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." [Matt. 28.20. See this passage considered, page 23.] These words are too strong and significant for such a restricted meaning. Nor can they intend only, as Independents maintain, that the deliberations of the ministers of Christ, with relation to what may be submitted unto them, are only to be delivered in the way of an opinion, or advice, to those who are the members of the church, and which may be either received or rejected as may seem meet and proper unto them. A power much superior to this is contained in them. They obviously {31} suggest the idea of judicial authority, and clearly show, that the decisions of the church in her representative capacity, when formed in agreeableness to the law and the testimony, have a binding obligation upon her members.

This also appears from the nature of the decision given, by that remarkable meeting of the representatives of the church, of which we have a very particular account in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Indeed it is clear, that this famous synod, in the very nature of it, in the form of its constitution, in the manner of its deliberation, and in the nature of its decision, must have been intended by the Head of the church, as a striking model of that Presbyterian form, and order of government, which he has appointed in his house, to be observed and maintained in her, even unto the end of time. It was evidently formed on the plan of representation. Its constituent members were the apostles, acting not in their apostolical character, but as ordinary ministers of the word, delegates from Antioch, and there is every reason to suppose, from the churches of Syria and Celicia. A controversy of much importance to the peace and comfort of the church, is submitted to their judgment. They considered it with much attention and care. They reasoned upon it, at considerable length, and then came to a decision exactly similar to that for which we contend. What then was the nature of this decision? It was 'ordained' by them; it is expressly denominated a 'decree;' it was 'laid' upon the members of the church, and must therefore be considered in the light of an authoritative decision. Hence also, such divine injunctions as these frequently occur in the writings of the apostles: "Obey {32} them that have the rule over you. Submit yourselves unto them. Acknowledge such in the Lord." These evidently imply submission to them in their judicial capacity, as well as an acknowledgment of them in the ministry of the word.

This by no means infringes on the liberty of the church, as the enemies to the comely order of her representative government would maintain. She must still stand fast in her liberty. The power vested in her rulers is only of a ministerial nature. It does not belong unto them to legislate for her. This, as already stated, is competent only unto her glorious and divine Head. All her laws proceed from him. Her ordinances were instituted by him: while her rulers, acting in their judicial capacity, are subject unto him, and act under an awful responsibility before him. They are still the servants of the church for Jesus' sake, and in all their judicial proceedings must have a tender regard to her benefit and comfort. Acting therefore in proper character, they do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. They are not to judge for men but for the Lord; they are not to determine, in the courts of judgment, solely under the influence of their own views, nor in any respect from partial considerations. They are continually, to have before them the divine word as their rule, the divine glory as their end, and the edification of Christ's mystical body as the unvaried object of all their judicial proceedings. Acting in opposition unto these, influenced by political motives, and disposed to rule with rigour, over those intrusted to their charge, they do not act in the spirit of that religion they profess, according to the nature of the authority with which they are vested, which is not for the destruction, but {33} edification of the body of Christ, and come under his awful declaration: "Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; Therefore will I save my flock,—and will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." [Ezek. 34.21,23.]


1. We may hence learn the nature, incumbent duty, and great utility of a public, open, and scriptural profession of the name of Jesus. This observation is founded on the words of the text, taken in connexion with some of the verses immediately preceding. Peter makes such a confession of the name of Jesus. He takes a believing view and discovery of him, in the dignity of his person, and glorious excellency of his mediatorial character. He views him as the Son, and sent of God. He states his confession accordingly, and says concerning him, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." His confession is indeed short, but it is very full and comprehensive in its nature. It would be easy to show, that by just and necessary consequences, it extends unto, and includes every doctrine and duty of the religion of Jesus. It was well adapted to the state of the church at that time. It bears particularly on the word of Christ's patience, and refers directly unto those truths that were more especially impugned and opposed, by the generality of the Jewish nation. Such also ought to be the nature of our confession. It must not be restricted {34} unto those truths that are essential unto the salvation of the sinner. It would be extremely difficult to determine these; and in this much will depend upon the circumstances, and situation in which the persons may be placed. But however this may be, it is not the rule of our confession. This ought to extend to all the truths of Christ, to every duty he has enjoined, to the purity of every ordinance he hath instituted, and even unto the scriptural attainments of his church in former times. Hence we find the church of Christ is described as the righteous nation that keepeth the truth. [Isa. 26.2.] Hence the divine injunctions to hold fast our profession. [Heb. 4.14.] To contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints. [Jude 3.] And whereto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. [Phil. 3.16.]

Our confession also ought, in a particular manner, to bear upon the word of Christ's patience. To apply unto every doctrine, ordinance, or duty, that may be particularly impugned or opposed in the time in which we live. For this we find the church in Philadelphia particularly commended by him that hath the key of David. "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." [Rev. 3.10.] The word of Christ's patience must be considered as especially referring unto any particular opposition that may be stated unto him. When any of his truths are more directly impugned, when he is opposed in the dignity of his person, or in any of his royal prerogatives, this becomes specially the word of his patience; and on this, in a peculiar {35} manner, the church's confession ought to bear, in opposition to error of every kind, and for the support and maintenance of the present truth.

When the church's testimony is thus stated, and in a religious, holy, humble, and persevering way maintained, it is of remarkable utility and advantage unto her. This is also clear in the case of Peter. Our Saviour is pleased with his confession; declares him blessed, in consequence of it; makes a further discovery of himself, and a clearer revelation of the truth and doctrines of his word unto him. He makes a grant of the keys unto him, clothes him with an official character, and appoints him to the honourable station of a ruler and office-bearer in his kingdom. This honour, in agreeableness to the order of his house, have all his saints, who are found faithful unto him. It is not conferred upon them, on the footing of merit. Of this they are totally incapable, having done nothing more than their duty. But as a rich reward of free grace, it will be bestowed on all those who are found faithful unto Christ. This shows unto us, the distinguishing utility of an open and scriptural profession of the name of Jesus, whatever hardships and difficulties we may be exposed unto on this account. Jesus can easily make up for these. His gracious presence will abundantly compensate every loss. And therefore he says, "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my names sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life." [Matt. 19.29.] Them that honour him, he will honour: That is, them that honour him by a scriptural profession of his name, and {36} believing obedience unto all his holy and divine commandments, he will honour, by his heart-cheering and soul-comforting approbation of their conduct; by disposing them unto the duty, and assisting them in it; by making clearer discoveries of himself unto them, and giving them more enlarged views of the truth and doctrines of his word; by revealing unto them the secret of his covenant, bestowing upon them the blessings of his grace, and bringing them at last to the happy possession and enjoyment of the inconceivable riches of eternal glory. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." [Matt. 10.32,33.]

2. The subject we have been endeavouring to consider, also informs us of the safety and security of the church of Christ. This is not in herself. It does not consist in the countenance and support of the great ones of the earth. It does not lie in the arm of flesh, nor chiefly in the protection and care of guardian angels; but it lies in her glorious and divine Head. Is this the character which he sustains, and is he given to be Head over all things unto her, and is the church's Head also the church's God, possessed of the Divine nature, with all divine perfections and excellencies belonging unto this? Her security, then, must be great, her condition safe, and all her true members in infallible safety, under his divine management and care. Indeed, could we present him in no other light than that in which he is represented by the impious Socinian, and blaspheming Unitarian, only as a {37} person of our own order, or at most as a remarkable prophet come from God, the situation of the church would by no means be safe, and there would be ground to fear, that one day or other she would fall by the hand of Saul. Her spiritual enemies would be too strong for her, and the gates of hell might finally prevail against her. The chiefest source of her comfort would be dried up, and she would even be brought under the awful declaration, "Cursed is he that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm." But blessed be God, we can exhibit Jesus, and the Scriptures of truth uniformly represent him, under another, and infinitely more amiable and exalted character than this. They exhibit him as the true God and eternal life. As God over all and blessed for ever. As the Mighty God, the everlasting Father and the Prince of peace. They frequently apply unto him, the incommunicable name JEHOVAH, and consequently teach that its high import belongs unto him. They invariably speak of him as sustaining every divine relation, as possessed of every divine incommunicable perfection, as the Author of all divine works, and the proper Object of all divine adoration and praise. How glorious, then, his character, how exalted the dignity of his person, and how safe and secure the condition of his church, under his divine administration and care! Her enemies may strive against her, but they shall never be able to prevail. Satan may throw out his fiery darts, but they shall never effect a mortal wound on any of the true members of Christ's mystical body. The powers of darkness, and the world lying in wickedness may unite their utmost efforts to overthrow the church. The dragon may cast at her a flood from his mouth. The kings of the earth may combine their mighty influence {38} to cut off the name of Israel: But all in vain. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision. He shall speak to them in wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. He shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. He will laugh at all their feeble efforts, and infallibly frustrate all their impious designs. Under his divine protection, guarded by the shield of his omnipotence, and having all the awful, as well as the amiable, perfections of his nature surrounding her as a wall of fire, her condition is safe, nothing that is truly evil shall ever befall her, no enemy shall be able materially to hurt or injure her, none of her true members shall ever be lost, nor shall the united efforts of hell and of earth, ever be able to pluck a single individual of them from the spiritual relation in which he stands unto him. "My sheep," says he, "hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them me, is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." [John 10.27-30.] The security of his church, therefore, lies in the dignity of his person, and in the spiritual relation in which she stands unto him. It results from his possession of the Divine nature, and his perfect equality in this respect with his heavenly Father. In consequence of this the church is made to dwell on high, and her place of defence is the munitions of rocks. We have a strong city, says the prophet, salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Christ himself, in the perfection of his power, in the dignity {39} of his person, and glorious excellency of his mediatorial character, is the grand bulwark of his church. His name is a strong tower into which the righteous run, and are in safety. Accordingly, we find the church herself improves it, in the exercise of faith, for this end, and draws the conclusion of which we have been speaking, from a consideration of the glorious characters of which he is possessed: the Lord, says she, is our judge, the Lord is our law-giver, the Lord is our king: and therefore she concludes, in the holy boldness and encouraging language of a triumphant faith, HE WILL SAVE US.

3. We may hence see the dreadful guilt those persons incur, and awful danger unto which they expose themselves, who usurp the headship of Christ, and lay claim to the power of legislation to his church. These are the sole prerogatives of Christ. They justly belong and are competent only unto him. To them he was appointed by his heavenly Father. For this end he was set up from all everlasting. They were the costly purchase of his blood. They are his own inalienable right, and a part of the glory he will not give unto any other. It must, therefore, be treason and rebellion, of the deepest dye, against the sacred Majesty of Heaven, for any of the sons of men, however exalted in station or place, to usurp or lay claim to any of these. This, however, has been frequently done by the powers of the earth, while a tame submission, or sinful acquiescence, has marked the character, and distinguished the conduct of many of the professors of Jesus' name. The princes of this world, not satisfied with their own peculiar province, as heads of the state, have assumed a headship over the church. They have claimed the title of supreme Head over all {40} causes, ecclesiastical as well as civil. Acting according to this, they have even ventured to legislate for the church. They have entered into the temple, and interfered in her internal concerns. They have assumed the power of convocating and adjourning her judicatories, of prescribing the matters of discussion, and dictating the manner of determining these. They have claimed the right of nominating her pastors, fixing these to particular places, and this in direct opposition to the wish and inclination of those who were to be under their ministerial charge. The government of the church has been often modeled by them, according to the maxims of human policy, and formed to serve their own political designs. A splendid hierarchy has been introduced into her, and a costly train of superstitious ceremonies, in direct opposition to that pure, and spiritual, and scriptural mode of worship, which Christ himself has appointed for her in his word. The forms of her worship have been prescribed by them, and the manner, the time, and particular seasons for engaging in it have been determined unto her. In these, and other instances of a similar nature, have the kings of the earth assumed the headship of Christ, and laid claim to the power of legislation in his church. But this is a matter in which they ought to have no concern. It is too high even for them, and is competent only to him by whom king's ought to reign, and princes decree judgment. It is indeed the duty of these, to exercise their authority and power in behalf of the church. They are called to bring their honour and glory unto her. They are to act the part of nursing fathers to her, and exercise their authority for promoting the Divine glory, the interest of religion, and good of the church, as {41} well as the benefit and comfort of the civil society over which they are placed. It is their highest honour, as well as incumbent duty, to protect and defend the church of Christ, to hold sacred her laws, maintain her rights, preserve and guard her privileges against every encroachment. But to interfere in her internal concerns, to assume headship over her, or presume in any respect to legislate for her, belong not to the highest monarch on the throne. It is the sole prerogative of her glorious Head, while every encroachment upon it incurs his displeasure, and exposes unto the awful vengeance of his wrath. This has sometimes been manifested even in this present world. Of this we have a striking instance in the case of Uzziah, an eminent king of Judah. He entered into the temple, usurped the sacerdotal functions, and, contrary to the express command of God, presumed to burn incense, a sacred act which was competent only unto the priests. By them he was valiantly withstood, and obliged to leave the sanctuary. The Lord himself, also punished his presumption, smote him with a leprosy, and under this severe calamity he continued unto the day of his death. [2 Chron. 26.18.] To the same purpose is the divine injunction given to the kings of the earth: "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear,—Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way." [Psalm 2.10-12.] That is, submit unto him, and exercise your power and authority for him. Do not violate his headship, nor encroach upon any of his royal prerogatives, lest his indignation be awakened, the vials of his wrath poured out, and their awful contents fall upon you, {42} unto the very uttermost, without any possibility of escape. "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. —The Lord, at thy right hand, shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath." [Psalm 110.1,5.]

4. The subject also informs us, what an important trust is committed to the ministers and office-bearers of the church. It is the exercise of her government and rule. It is to proclaim the doctrines, execute the laws, and administer the government of Christ's house. It is the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with all the high authority and awful responsibility that attach to the use and exercise of them. It is the power of binding and loosing in the name, and by the authority of the great Jehovah himself. It is to unfold the treasures of gospel grace, to dispense the ordinances of Christ's house, to stand in his stead and beseech sinners in his name to be reconciled unto God. What an important trust is this! How momentous in its nature, and in the consideration of it, with how much propriety, may every gospel minister be found in the exercise, and adopt the language of the apostle; "Who is sufficient for these things?" If such were the words of an inspired apostle, in possession of an extraordinary measure of the divine Spirit, and copious store of grace and spiritual endowments, with how much greater propriety may they be adopted by every ordinary gospel minister in the church? But the ground of their encouragement is this: Their sufficiency is of God. The work is his, and the strength and ability to the due discharge of it must also come from him. For this he has pledged his faithfulness {43} and veracity, in the most gracious, loving and condescending manner. He has said, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." His Urim, and Thummim, light and direction from on high, shall be with his holy ones. Where two or three are met together in his name, there is he in the midst of them. When his ministering servants, and office-bearers in his house, though few in their number, and despised in the view of the world, meet together in his name, for ordering the affairs, and exercising the government of his church, he is there in the midst of them. His gracious presence is with them, his divine Spirit is upon them, his grace will be made sufficient for them, and his promise unto them is of a running nature, through every age and period of his church: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Animated, then, by these encouraging considerations, let us study faithfulness in the execution and discharge of the important trust committed unto us. Let us be found occupying with fidelity, as opportunity may be granted by the church's Head, the various talents intrusted to our charge. To some more may be given, and to others fewer: but if only one is enjoyed, it ought to be spent in the service of the church, and for promoting the honour and glory of her adored Head. Let us study, then, to be found at all times on our watch-tower. Let us hold fast our profession. Let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, and whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same things. In all these things, let us study to be found faithful, even unto the death. Let us study faithfulness to the cause of Christ, faithfulness to the concerns of his glory, faithfulness to the souls intrusted to our {44} charge, and faithfulness to the concerns of our own precious and immortal souls, that so, as the reward of free grace, mercifully connected with these things, we may at last receive a crown of life that fadeth not away. Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over all his goods. When the chief Shepherd shall appear, every faithful shepherd under him, shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. They that be wise, in this respect, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, or have been faithful in their endeavours to do so, however little success may have attended their labours, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever, in the everlasting kingdom of their heavenly Father.

Finally. The text and doctrine that have been under our consideration, also inform us what is the incumbent and indispensable duty of all those who are the members of the church, and professed subjects of the Redeemer's kingdom. It is to acquiesce in, cordially approve of, and with cheerfulness submit unto that gracious and merciful dispensation of his, by which the keys of the kingdom are intrusted to those who are the ministers and office-bearers of his church. It is their duty to esteem, and religiously submit unto the scriptural order and government of Christ's house. They are called to make an open profession of it, and contend earnestly for it, as a part of the faith once delivered unto the saints. The government of the church is by no means to be viewed by them as a matter of trivial and indifferent concern. By many {45} professing Christians it is indeed considered in this light. But as an institution of Christ, as the purchase of his blood, and gift of his love unto his church, as a matter in which the glory of his name, the honour of his heavenly Father, and the benefit of his church are all intimately concerned, it ought to be highly valued and esteemed, by all the professed subjects of his kingdom. These are under peculiar obligations to respect its laws, highly esteem its privileges, and conscientiously to submit to every ordinance and institution of its glorious and divine Head. They are also to obey them that have the rule over them, and acknowledge such in the Lord, while they watch for their souls. In fine, they are hereby called to the conscientious discharge of every duty, to prize the ordinances of the grace of God, to submit with alacrity to the order of his house, and to do every thing competent to them, to strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts of those who have been called to the administration of it.

An opposite conduct, in the profession members of the church, is highly dishonouring to her Head, grieving unto his Spirit, exceedingly injurious to themselves, and has a most mournful tendency to wound the interests of religion, even in the house of its professing friends. When are the members of the church chargeable with this? Just when they act a part inconsistent with their religious profession, and are not careful to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour, by a walk and conversation becoming the gospel.—When his gracious institutions are despised, or are not suitably improved for promoting the exercise of grace and holiness in heart and in life.—When the order of his house is vilified, and the government {46} thereof, instituted by himself for the accomplishment of the most valuable and important purposes, is accounted as a light and indifferent matter.—When the ordinance of discipline in the church, that merciful, wise and salutary appointment of her glorious Head, is refused, or perhaps treated with marked ridicule and contempt.—And when in any respect the grant of the keys, made by the glorious Head of the church unto those who are her office-bearers is opposed. When submission in the Lord is refused, and opposition is directed against those who have had the grant of the keys regularly conveyed unto them, instead of having their hearts encouraged and their hands strengthened, their spirits are broken, their hands are weakened, their usefulness marred, and their work retarded by the improper, untender, and sinful conduct of the members of the church. When such is the conduct of the professing subjects of the kingdom, aggravated guilt is contracted, opposition to God himself is stated, and all such are in danger of falling under the awful declaration of the Saviour: "He that despiseth you, despiseth me, and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me."

Let the members of the church, then, the professing subjects of the Redeemer's kingdom, carefully study to avoid these evils. And let us all seek to be found in Christ. Let us study a believing reception of, a cordial submission unto, and a habitual improvement of him, in all his saving characters and relations, as made of God unto sinners of our kind wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. As new born babes, let us desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby. This will also be the case if we have tasted from experience that God is gracious. {47} To whom coming, as unto a living stone, though disallowed of men, yet as chosen of God, let him be precious unto us. And let it be our constant study to evidence this, by obedience to his laws, walking in his ways, and a cheerful submission to the order and government of his house, as this has been intrusted by him to the office-bearers thereof, in the gracious grant made unto them, as contained in the words of the text: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."