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The New Zealand Evangelist

Scripture Exposition

Scripture Exposition.

John xx. 22, 23, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto their, and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Along with this text we may consider the parallel passages in Math. xvi. 19, and xviii. 18. “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” as the same principles of interpretation apply to each. On a forced interpretation of these and similar texts has the dangerous notion been erected, that priests may grant particular absolution to individuals. In opposition to this view, we consider that these verses come under the rule of interpretation that “When an action is said to be done, the meaning frequently is, that it is declared, or foretold that it shall be done” We shall illustrate this rule by a few examples. In Gen. xli, 13. The chief butler says of Joseph, “As he interpreted to us so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged,” Joseph did nor restore the butler and hang the baker, he simply foretold or declared that such should be the case. In Jer. i, 9, 10. The prophet's commission runs thus. “I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant; that is to prophesy or declare them pulled down &c. In Hos. vi. 5, it is said, “I have hewed them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth” that is, I have foretold by the prophets that they should be hewed and slain. page 130 In Levit. xiii. 3, it is said, “The priest shall look on him and pronounce him unclean;” in the original it is, shall pollute him. Priests and prophets, especially, are said to do what they simply foretell or declare. Let us see if the sarne language is employed in the New Testament respecting” its ministers. The Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles, are certainly the best comments on the Commission given to the Apostles. How then do we find them acting as to remitting and retaining, binding and loosing. On the day of Pentecost when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, we find Peter exercising his commission as follows,” Then said Peter to them (the penitent hearers,) Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, &c. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, save yourselves, &c. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.” (Acts ii, 38—41.) Peter evidently understood his power of remitting sins &c., to consist in pointing out the infallible method of obtaining remission, and in admitting professed believers to the fellowship and privileges of the Church. Again when he retained Simon Magus in his sins, it was in this form, “Thy money perish with thee, Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of thy wickedness and pray God, &c, for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. (Acts, viii, 20—23.) Peter judging of his state and character from his conduct, simply declared that the judgments of God would certainly come upon him if he continued impenitent. Paul and Silas acted in the very same manner to the penitent jailor at Philippi; they declared to him how his sins would infallibly be remitted. He professed his belief in their doctrine and was baptized, Paul in 1 Cor. v., shews how the sins of the incestuous person are to be retained, or how he is to be bound on earth. He was to be delivered unto Satan,—excluded from the privileges of the Church; and sent back as a heathen to the world, of page 131 which Satan is the prince or God,—for the destruction of the flesh—the sins of the flesh, of which adultery and fornication are among the principal,—that the spirit might be saved, the graces of the spirit might he preserved and strengthened, and the soul saved, in the day of death and final judgment. These are the only kinds of priestly absolution known in scripture. When the scribes said, (Mark ii. 7.) “Who can forgive sins but God only?” their sole error lay in not receiving Christ as God.

The following judicious remarks, from Scott's Commentary, must carry conviction to the mind of every unprejudiced reader;—

“The expression doubtless immediately related to the authority by which the apostles were employed as the representatives of Christ. They were endued with the Holy Spirit, that they might infallibly declare his truths to mankind, and determine what was binding on the conscience and what not; to show what persons ought to be admitted into the church or excluded from it; to decide on the characters of those whose sins are forgiven or the contrary; and whatever in these, and similar respects, they bound on earth would be bound in heaven. The apostles themselves had not an infallible insight into the characters of men, and they were liable to mistakes and sins in their own conduct. But they were infallibly preserved from error in stating the way of acceptance and salvation, the rule of obedience, the believer's character and experience, and the final doom of unbelievers, hypocrites, and apostates. In such things their decision was absolute, and ratified in heaven; as all will find at last, even they who now despise it. In this respect their apostolic authority continues in their doctrine, as transmitted to us in the New Testament; but all other ministers of whatever rank, name, or age, can do no more than declare the doctrine of the apostles, and apply it to particular cases, by preaching the word, administering divine ordinances, admitting men into the visible church, or excluding them from it, or by personal encouragement and warning. As far as they proceed in accordance to the Scripture in these things, their decisions are warranted, and ratified in heaven; but not when they mistake, either in doctrine, or in its application to particular persons or characters. As no man can see another's heart; and as no man hath any inherent power to forgive sin, or the contrary: so all pretensions absolutely to absolve or to retain men's sins, claim more than even apostolical authority; for surely none will maintain that any man can be made a true believer or a hypocrite by the erroneous decision of another concerning him. * * *

“The absolute authority given to the apostles was inseparably connected with their immediate inspiration; and all their succssors, page 132 pretended or real, from the Conclave at Rome to an Independant Church meeting, are concerned in the promise, just so far as their decisions, whether they bind or loose, accord to the doctrines, precepts, and rules transmitted to us from the apostles, and no further. * * * * * * * * *

“We have not at present such authority as was entrusted to the apostles, and none can forgive sins but God only; yet let no man despise the declarations and censures of Gospel ministers; for as far as they agree with the word of God, they will be ratified in heaven, whether they pronounce the penitent and believing to be fully pardoned, or the unbelieving and hypocritical to remain under the wrath of God.”