Text John xx. 23
Whosoever sins ye remit , they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. The Conclusion of the Gospel for the Sunday.
They be the words of our Saviour Christ to His Apostles; a part of the first words which He spake to them at His Epiphany, or first apparition after He arose from the dead. And they contain a commission by Him granted to the Apostles, which is the sum or contents of this verse.
Which commission is His first largess after His rising again. For at His first appearing to them it pleased Him not to come empty but with a blessing, and to bestow on them and on the world by them, as the first fruits of His resurrection, this commission; a part of that commission which the sinful world most of all stood in need of, for remission of sins.
To the granting whereof He proceedeth not without some solemnity or circumstance, well worthy to be remembered.
For first, verse the 21, He saith, 'As my Father sent Me, so I send you;' which is their authorizing, or giving them their credence.
[82/83] Secondly, verse the twenty-second, He doth breathe upon them, and withal inspireth them with the Holy Ghost; which is their enabling or furnishing thereto.
And having so authorized and enabled them, now in this verse here He giveth them their commission, and thereby doth perfectly inaugurate them in this part of their office.
A commission is nothing else but the imparting of a power which before they had not. First therefore He imparteth to them a power, a power over sins; over sins, either for the remitting or the retaining of them, as the persons shall be qualified.
And after, to this power He addeth a promise (as the lawyers term it) of ratihabition, that He will ratify and make it good, that His power shall accompany this power, and the lawful use of it in His church for ever.
And very agreeably is this power now bestowed by Him upon His resurrection. Not so conveniently before His death, because till then 'He had not made His soul an offering for sin,' nor till then He had not shed His 'blood, without which there is no remission of sins.' Therefore it was promised before but not given till now, because it was convenient there should be solutio before there was absolutio. Not before He was risen then.
And again, no longer than till He was risen, not till He was ascended. First, to shew that the remission of sins is the undivided and immediate effect of His death. Secondly, to shew how much the world needed it, for which cause He would not withhold it, no not so much as one day--for this was done in the very day of His resurrection. Thirdly, but especially, to set forth His great love and tender care over us, in this, that as soon as He had accomplished His own resurrection, even presently upon it, He sets in hand with ours, and beginneth the first part of it, the very first day of His rising.
The Scripture maketh mention of a first and second death, and from them two of a first and second resurrection. Both expressly set down in one verse: Understanding by the first the death of the soul by sin, and the rising, thence to the life of grace; by the [83/84] second the death of the body by corruption, and the rising thence, to the life of glory.
Christ truly is the Saviour of the whole man, both soul and body, from the first and second death.
But beginning first with first, that is with sin, the death of the soul and the rising from it. So is the method of Divinity prescribed by Himself: first, to cleanse that which is within--the soul; then that which is without--the body. And so is the method of physic, first to cure the cause, and then the disease. Now the cause or, as the Apostle calleth it, 'the sting of death, is sin.' Therefore first to remove sin, and then death afterwards. For the cure of sin being performed, the other will follow of his own accord. As St. John telleth us, 'He that hath his part in the first resurrection' shall not fail of it 'in the second.' The first resurrection then from sin is it which our Saviour Christ here goeth about, whereto there is no less power required than a divine power. For look what power is necessary to raise the dead body out of the dust, the very same every way is requisite to raise the dead soul out of sin. For which cause the remission of sins is an article of faith, no less than the rest of the body. For in very deed a resurrection it is, and so it is termed no less than that.
To the service and ministry of which divine work a commission is here granted to the Apsotles. And first, they have here their sending from God the Father, their inspiring from God the Holy Ghost, their commission from God the Son; that being thus sent from the Father, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the person of Christ, they may perform the office or, as the Apostle calleth it, the embassage of reconciling sinners unto God, to which they are appointed. And so much for the sum and dependence of this Scripture.
The points of special observation are three 1. the power that is granted; 2. the matter or subject, whereon the power is to be exercised; 3 the promise of ratifying the exercise of that power.
1. The power itself: in which cometh first to be entreated, 1. What is meant by remitting and retaining; 2. after in general, that there is a power to 'remit and retain,' but first to 'remit' and after to 'retain.' 2. then in particular, [84/85] of that power as it is set down in both words, Remiseritis and Remittuntur.
The matter or subject: which is also two ways to be considered, either as it is sin in itself, which is the matter at large, or as it is the sin of some persons--for it is not Quæ peccata but Quorum--which is the immediate or proper matter of this power.
The ratifying or promise of concurrence, to assure the conscience of the sinner of the certainty and efficacy of the Church's act, that what the Apostles do in the person of Christ by the instinct of the Holy Ghost, He that sent them will certainly make good and effectual from heaven. And of these three in order.
The terms of remitting and retaining may be taken many ways. To the end then that we may the more clearly conceive that which shall be said, it will be expedient that first of all we understand in what sense especially and according to what resemblance those terms are to be taken.
This may we best do out of our Saviour Christ's own commission. For of the Apostles' is nothing else but a branch out of His, which He Himself as man had here upon earth. For as man He himself was sent and was anointed with the Spirit, and proceeded by commission.
His commission we find in the fourth chapter of Luke which He Himself read in the synagogue at Nazareth at His first entering on it; which is originally recorded in the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah. Wherein among others this power is one; to preach ¥fesin, that is, remission, as it is turned here, or 'deliverance,' as it is turned there; but the word is one in both places, and that respectively to 'captives; and, as it followeth in that place of Esay, 'to them that are bound the opening of the prison.'
Which very term of 'captives,' or such as are in prison, doth open unto us with what reference or respect this term of remitting, or letting go, is to be conceived. And as it was in His, so must it be understood here in this, since this is but derived from that of Christ's.
The mind of the Holy Ghost then, as in other places by divers other resemblances, so in this here, is to compare the sinner's case to the estate of a person imprisoned. And [85/86] indeed, whoso well weigheth the place, it cannot well be taken otherwise. For not only here but elsewhere, where this power is expressed, it seemeth every to be with reference as it were to parties committed. The very term of 'the keys'--wherein it was promised, and wherein it is most usually delivered--the terms of opening and shutting, seem to have relation as it were to the prison gate. The terms of binding and loosing, as it were, to the fetters or bands. And these here of letting forth or still detaining, all and every of them seem to have an evident relation to the prisoner's estate, as if sin were a prison, and the case of sinners like theirs that are shut up.
Verily, as sin at the first in committing seemeth sweet, that men cannot be got to spit it out (saith Job) but hold it close under their tongues till they have swallowed it down; but after it is committed, the sinner findeth then that it is malum et amarum dereliquisse Dominum, saith the Prophet; that it turneth to a bitter and choleric matter, of which there breedeth 'a worm' which never leaveth gnawing; even so doth sin at first also seem a matter of liberty. For a liberty it is not to be restrained, not to be, as the Apostle speaketh, committed to Moses, to be 'kept and shut up under the law;' not to be forbidden any 'fruit,' under which very term the serpent did persuade it; but when it was done and past, then shall a man feel a pinching or straitness in his soul, termed by the Apostle stenocwra, which properly signifieth the pain which they suffer that are shut up in a narrow room or some place of little ease.
So speaketh Solomon of sin: 'His own wickedness shall attach the sinner, and he shall be holden or pinioned with the cords of his own sin.' So St. Peter to Simon Magus: 'I perceive thou art (to express the former resemblance) in the gall of bitterness, and (to express the latter) in the bond of iniquity.' And St. Paul; that sinner instead of having Moses to keep their keeper become the devil's captives, and are of him holden and taken 'at his will' and pleasure.
Truly some have felt as much as I speak of, and have in pregnant terms complained of it. 'I am so fast in prison,' saith David, 'that I cannot get out.' And, 'Bring my soul out of prison and I will praise Thee.' And 'I will run the way of [86/87] Thy commandments, when Thou shalt set my heart at liberty.'
Peradventure all feel not this presently as soon as they have sinned, not it may be a good while after. So God told Cain at the beginning: his 'sin should lie at the door,' that is, while he kept within he should not be troubled with it perhaps, but at his coming forth it should certainly attach him. But, saith Moses, let every one that sinneth be sure that 'his sin' at last 'will find him out;' for he shall no sooner be under arrest of any trouble, sickness, cross or calamity, but he shall be shut into his stenocwra and feel it presently. As the brethren of Joseph for very many years after they had of envy and without all pity sold him to be a bondservant seemed at liberty, no sooner fell they into danger and displeasure in a strange country, but it came to mind and they were served with it straightway. Even as in Job it is said: The sins of our youth shall let us go up and down quietly all our youth time, but when we come to years we shall feel them pinch us in our very bones.
Yea though many, even then when they feel this straitness in their soul make means to but it away for the time, and seem merry and light enough, as many times prisoners be in the gaol till the very day of the assizes come; yet when it is come to that, that judex est præ foribus when the terror of death cometh, and with it a fearful expectation of judgment, then certainly, then without all doubt, the 'anguish' St. Paul speaketh of shall be upon every soul of every one that doeth evil. Then, there is no man never so wicked, that with his good will would 'die' in his 'sins,' but would have them released while he is yet in viâ, yet 'in the way.' Then we seek help at such scriptures as this, and call for the persons to whom this commission belongeth. And those whom we have gone by seven years together and never said word to about it, then we are content to speak with, when the counsel and direction they give we are scarce able to receive, and much less to put in practice. As if all our lifetime we believed the permission of sins, as if that were the article of our faith all our life long, and the article of remission of sins never till the point of death.
And this may serve shortly to set forth unto us this [87/88] prison of the soul; which if any conceive not by that which hath been said, I must say with the Prophet to them, that sure there is such a thing, and that in novissimo intelligetis hæc plane, 'at their latter end (I wish before, but sure then) 'they shall very plainly understand that such a thing there is.'
But now they that have either felt or believed that such an inprisonmnent there is, will be glad to hear that there is a power whereby they may be enlarged; and this very tidings in general, that there is a Remittuntur, that men may have deliverance from these fetters, this prison, this straitness or anguish of the soul, must needs be very acceptable and welcome tidings to them. For which very point, even that there is a Remittuntur, what thanks are we eternally bound to render unto God! For I tell you, nusquam Angelos apprehendit, 'the Angels never found the like.' For 'the Angels which kept not their first estate, hath He reserved in everlasting chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day.' Their chains everlasting, their imprisonment perpetual; no commission to be sued for them, no Remittuntur eis. But with man it is not so. To him deliverance, to him loosing of the chains, to him opening of the prison is promised. For his sins a commission is granted out, his sins have a Remittuntur. This is a high and special privilege of our nature, to be had by us in an everlasting thankful remembrance. So that no man needeth now abruptly to say with those in Jeremiah Desperavimus, 'we are desperate now,' we never shall be forgiven, let us now do what we list. No, but as it is said in Ezra, 'Though we have grievously sinned, yet there is hope for all that;' and, as in Ezekiel, that we may so use the matter that peccata nostra non erunt nobis in scandalum, 'our sins shall not be our destruction.' Which very point is both an especial stay of our hope, and a principal means of manifesting unto us the great goodness of God.
Which goodness of God, as it doth shew forth itself in this first, that such a power there is, so doth it secondly and no less in the order, that--where both acts are mentioned, as well retaining as remitting--He placeth the power of remitting first. Which very sorting of them in that order doth plainly shew unto us whereunto God of His goodness is most inclinable, [88/89] and which of them it is that is the principal in His intent. That to 'remit' is more proper to Him, and that He is more ready to it, and that it is first; first in his purpose, first in His grant; and that to the other He cometh but secondarily, but by occasion, when the former cannot take place. For of remitting sin He taketh the ground from Himself and not from any other, and therefore that more naturally; but of retaining it, the cause is ministered from us, even from our hardness, and heart that cannot repent. And as Himnself doth use this power, so giveth He it to them, 'to edification and not to destruction' I say, not first or principally 'to destruction,' nor of any, save only of the wilful impenitent sinner. Thus much of the remitting and retaining in general, and of their place and order. Now of the power itself in particular.
Of this power there is here in my text twice mention; 1. one in Remiseritis and 2. again in Remittuntur. Which two words do plainly lead us to two acts, of which two acts by good consequence are inferred two powers. Which two powers, though they be concurrent to one end, yet are they distinct in themselves. Distinct in person, for Remiseritis is the second person, and meant of the Apostles, and Remittuntur is the third person, and meant of God Himself. And as distinct in person, so distinct in place: for the one is exercised in earth, which is the Apostles', the other in heaven, which is God's. Quicquid solveritis in terrâ, solutum erit in coelo.
Now where two powers are, and one of them in God, the other must needs be subordinate and derived from it. For duo principia, 'two beginnings' there are not. Therefore none other from whence it can proceed, bur from God and from the power in Him alone.
Of these two then. Remittuntur, though latter in place, yet indeed is by nature and order first, and from it doth proceed the other of Remiseritis; which, howsoever in the sentence it stand before it, yet without all question it is derived from it and after it. So that thus the case stands between them : Remittuntur, which is God's power, is the primitive or original; Remiseritis, which is the Apostles' power, is merely derived. That in God sovereign, this in the Apostles dependent. [89/90] In him only absolute, in them delegate. In Him imperial, in them ministerial.
The power of remitting sin is originally in God, and in God alone. And in Christ our Saviour, by means of the union of the Godhead and manhood into one person; by virtue whereof 'the Son of Man hath power to forgive sins upon earth.'
This power being thus solely invested in God He might without wrong to any have retained and kept to Himself, and without means of word or Sacrament, and without Ministers, either Apostles or others, have exercised immediately by Himself from heaven.
But we should then have said of the remission of sins, saith St. Paul 'Who shall go up to heaven for it, and fetch it thence?' For which cause, saith he, 'the righteousness of faith speaketh thus, Say not so in thy heart. The word shall be near thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, and this is the word of faith which we preach.
Partly this that there should be no such difficulty to shake our faith, as once to imagine to fetch Christ from heaven for the remission of our sins.
Partly also, because Christ, to Whom alone this commission was originally granted, having ordained Himself a body, would work by bodily things; and having taken the nature of man upon Him, would honour the nature He had so taken. For these causes, that which was His and His alone He vouchsafed to impart; and out of His commission to grant a commission, and there by to associate them to Himself--it is His own word by the Prophet--and to make them sun_rgouj, that is, co-operatores, 'workers together with Him,' as the Apostle speaketh, to the work of salvation both of themselves and of others.
2. From God then it is derived; from God, and to men.
To men, and not to Angels. And this I take to be a second prerogative of our nature. Than an Angel must give order to Cornelius to send to Joppa for one Simon, to speak words to him by which he and his household should be saved, but the Angel must not be the doer of it. That not to Angels, but to men, is committed thus office or embassage of reconciliation. And that which is yet more, to sinful [90/91] men, for so is the truth, and so themselves confess it. St. Peter: 'Go from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.' St. James: 'In many things we offend all;' putting himself in the number. And, lest we should think it to be but their modesty, St. John speaketh plainly: 'If we say we have no sin'--what then? not, we are proud, and there is no humility in us, but, 'we are liars and there is no truth in us.' And this is that which is wonderful in this point, that St. Paul who confesseth himself 'a sinner and a chief sinner,' quorum primus ego; the same concerning another sinner, the incestuous Corinthian, 'I forgive it him,' saith he, n prosèpJ toà Cristoà 'in the person of Christ.'
Now if we ask to what men? the text is plain.They to whom Christ saith this Remiseritis were the Apostles.
In the Apostles, that we may come nearer yet, we find three capacities, as we may term them: 1. as Christians in general; 2. as Preachers, Priests or Ministers, more special; 3. as those 12 persons, whom in strict propriety of speech we term the Apostles.
Some things that Christ spake to them, He spake to them as representing the whole company of Christians, as His Vigilate.
Some things to them, not as Christians, but as preachers or Priests; as His Ite prædicate Evangelium, and His Hoc facite, which no man thinketh of all Christians may do.
And some things to themselves personally; as that He had appointed them 'witnesses' of His miracles and resurrection, which cannot be applied but to them, and them in person. It remaineth we enquire, in which of these three capacities Christ imparteth to them this commission.
Not as to Apostles properly. That is, this was no personal privilege to be in them and to die with them, that they should only execute it for a time, and none ever after them. God forbid we should so think it. For this power being more than needful for the world, as in the beginning it was said, it was not to be either personal or for a time Then those persons dying, and those times determining, they in the ages following, as we now in this, that should light into this prison or captivity of sin, how could they or we receive any benefit by it? Of nature it is said by the heathen philosopher, that it [91/92] doth neither abundare in superfluis nor deficere in necessariis, God forbid but we should ascribe as much to God at the least, that neither He would ordain a power superfluous or more than needed, or else it being needful would appropriate it unto one age, and leave all other destitute of it; and not rather as all writers both new and old take it, continue it successively to the world's end.
And as not proper to the Apostles' persons, so neither common to all Christians in general, nor in the persons of all Christians conveyed to them. Which thing, the very circumstances of the text do evict. For He sent them first, and after inspired them; and after both these, gave them this commission. Now all Christians are not so sent, nor are all Christians inspired with the grace or gift of the Spirit that they were here. Consequently it was not intended to the whole society of Christians. Yea, I add that forasmuch as these two, both these two, must go before it, 1. Missio, and 2 Inspiratio, that though God inspire some laymen, if I may have leave so to term them, with very special graces of knowledge to this end, yet inasmuch as they have not the former of sending, it agreeth not to them, neither may they exercise it until they be sent, that is, until they have their calling thereunto.
It being then neither personal nor peculiar to them as Apostles, nor again common to all as Christians, it must needs be committed to them as Ministers, Priests or Preachers, and consequently to those that in that office and function do succeed them, to whom and by whom this commission is till continued. Neither are they are ordained, or instituted to that calling, ordained or instituted by any other words of verse than this. Yet not so that absolutely without them God cannot bestow it on whom or when Him pleaseth, or that He is bound to this means only, and cannot work without it. For Gratia Dei non alligatur mediis, 'the grace of God is not bound but free,' and can work without means either of word or Sacrament; and as without means, so without Ministers, how and when to Him seemeth good. But speaking of that which is proper and ordinary in the course by Him established, this is an Ecclesiastical act committed, as the residue of the ministry of reconciliation, to Ecclesiastical persons. And if [92/93] at any times He vouchsafe it by others that are not such, they be in that case Ministri necessitatis non officii, 'in case of necessity Ministers, but by office not so.'
Now as by committing this power God doth not deprive or bereave Himself of it, for there is a Remittuntur still, and that chief, sovereign, and absolute; so on the other side where God proceedeth by the Church's act as ordinarily He doth, it being His own ordinance, there whosoever will be partaker of the Church's act must be partaker of it by the Apostles' means; there doth Remiseritis concur in his own order and place, and there runneth still a correspondence between both. There doth God associate His ministers, and maketh them 'workers together with Him.' There have they their parts in this work, and cannot be excluded; no more in this than in the other acts and parts of their function. And to exclude them is, after a sort, to wring the keys out of their hands to whom Christ hath given them, is to cancel and make void this clause of Remiseritis, as if it were no part of the sentence; to account of all this solemn sending and inspiring, as if it were an idle and fruitless ceremony; which if it may not be admitted, then sure it is they have their part and concurrence in this work, as in the rest of 'the ministry of reconciliation.'
Neither is this a new or strange thing; from the beginning it was so. Under the Law of nature, saith Elihu in Job speaking of one for his sins in God's prison, 'If there be with him an ambassador, commissioner, or interpreter'--not any whosoever, but 'one among a thousand to shew unto him his righteousness, then shall God have mercy upon him and say, Let him go, for I have received a propitiation.'
Under Moses it is certain the 'covenant of life and peace' was made with Levi, and at the sacrifice for sin he was ever a party.
Under the Prophets. It pleased God to use the concurrence towards David himself, Nathan the Prophet saying unto him, Transtulit Dominus peccatum tuum.
Which course so established by God till Christ should come--for neither covenant nor Priesthood was to endure any longer--was by Christ re-established anew in the Church, in that calling to whom He hath 'committed the word of reconciliation.' [93/94] Neither are we, the ordinance of God thus standing, to rend off one part of the sentence. There are here expressed three persons: 1. the person of the sinner, in quorum; 2. of God in Remittuntur; 3. of the Priest, in Remiseritis. Three are expressed, and where three are expressed three are required; and where three are required, two are not enough. It is St.Augustine that thus speaketh of this Ecclesiastical act in his time: Nemo sibi dicat, Occulte ago poenitentiam, apud Deum ago. Novit Deus qui mihi ignoscat, quai in corde ago. Ergo sine causâ dictum est, Quæ solveritis in terrâ, soluta erunt in coelo? ergo sine causâ,Claves datæ sunt Ecclesiaæ Dei? Frustramus Evangelium Dei, Frustramus verba Christi?
Which may suffice for the distinguishing of these two powers, the deriving of the one from whom, and to whom the continuance and concurrence of them.
The remission of sins, as it is from God only, so is it by the death and blood-shedding of Christ alone; but for the applying of this unto us, there are divers means established. There is multiformis gratia, saith St. Peter, 'variety of graces' whereof we are made the 'disposers.' Now all and every of these means working to the remission of sins which is the first and greatest benefit our Saviour Christ hath obtained for us, it resteth that we further enquire what that means is in particular which is here imparted.
For sure it is, that besides this there are divers acts instituted by God and executed by us, which all tend to the remission of sins.
1. In the institution of Baptism there is a power to that end. 'Be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins,' saith St. Peter to three thousand at once. 'Arise and be baptized,' saith Ananias to Paul, 'and wash away thy sins.' And to be short, I believe one baptism for the remission of sins, saith the Nicene Creed.
2. Again, there is also another power for the remission of sins, in the institution of the holy Eucharist. These words are exceeding plain: 'This is My blood of the New Testament for the remission of sins.'
3. Besides, in the word itself there is a like power ordained, 'Now are you clean,' saith Christ, no doubt from their sins, [94/95] propter sermonem hunc, And the very name giveth as much, that is entitled, 'The word of reconciliation.'
4. Further, there is to the same effect a power in prayer, and that in the priest's prayer. 'Call for the priests,' saith the Apostle, 'and let them pray for the sick person, and if he have committed sin it shall be forgiven him.'
All and every of these are acts for the remission of sins; and in all and every of these is the person of the minister required, and they cannot be despatched without him.
But the ceremonies and circumstances that here I find used, prevail with me to think that there is somewhat here imparted to them that was not before. For it carrieth no likelihood, that our Saviour bestowing on them nothing here but that which before He had, would use so much solemnity, so diverse and new circumstances, no new or diverse grace being here communicated.
1. Now for Baptism, it appeareth plainly that the Apostles baptized in a manner from the beginning, which I make no question they did not without a commission.
2. And for the power of administering the holy Sacrament, it was granted expressly to them by Hoc facite before His passion.
3. The like may we asay of the power of preaching, which was given them long before, even when He sent them, and commanded them to preach the kingdom of God, which was done before this power was promised which here is bestowed; as will evidently appear, the one being given, (Mat.10.7) the other after promised. (Mat 16.19)
4. Neither can it be meant of prayer. There is no partition in prayer: 'Prayers and supplications are to be made for all men.' But here is a plain partition. There is a quorum whose sins are remitted, and another quorum whose sins are retained.
Seeing then this new ceremony and solemn manner of proceeding in this are able to persuade any, it was some new power that here was conferred, and not those which before had been, (though there be that apply this, others to some one, and others to all of them,) I take it to be a power distinct from the former and, not to hold you long, to be the accomplishment of the promise made, of the power of 'the keys,' [95/96] which here in this place and in these words is fulfilled, and have therein for me the joint consent of the Fathers. Which being a different power in itself, is that which we all call the act or benefit of absolution, in which, as in the rest, there is in the due time and place of it a use for the remission of sins. Whereunto our Saviour Christ, by His sending them, doth institute them and give them the key of authority; and by breathing on them and inspiring them doth enable them, and give them the key of knowledge to do it well; and having bestowed both these upon them as the stewards of His house, doth last of all deliver them their commission to do it, having so enabled them and authorized them as before. So much for the power.
II. Every power is not everywhere to be exercised, not upon every matter, but each power hath his proper subject.
First then, the subject are sins- sins in themselves, no ways restrained or limited; no sins at all, either for number of greatness, being excepted.
Not for number. For Christ teaching us that we ourselves should forgive until 'seventy times seven times,' doth thereby after a sort give us to understand that He will not stick with us for the like number in ours. For God forbid we should imagine He taught us to be more merciful or of greater perfection than He will be Himself. That number amounteth to ten jubilees of pardon; for so many sins may we then hope for pardon at His hands. If those be not enough, we have example of one whose sins were 'more in number than the hairs of his head,' and of another whose were more; than the sands of the sea,' both which give us hope, for they both obtained pardon.
But that which followeth in the place of Matthew, maketh both part plain. For there a debt is remitted not only of 'five hundred' but of 'ten thousand,' and those not as in Luke 'pence,' but 'talents;' a great and huge sum, yet for that hath He remission in store. So that no man shall need to say [96/97] his 'sin is greater than can be remitted,' as Cain did, since that assertion is convinced to be erroneous; for his sin may be forgiven that Abel though his brother, seeing St. Peter saith that theirs was not greater than might be forgiven that slew the Son of God. For no man but will conceive that the betraying and murdering Jesus Christ was far a more heinous offence than that of Abel's killing: but that might, saith St. Peter; therefore this much more may be forgiven. And, to end this point, whereas it is affirmed, and that most truly, by the Apostle, that 'the weakness of God is stronger than men,' if there were any sin greater than could be remitted, the weakness of man for of that cometh sin should be stronger than God; which neither religion nor reason will admit. In respect of the sin itself therefore, there is no exception.
But because it is not quæ peccata, but quorum, it sheweth that in the act of remission we are to respect not the sin so much as the person. So that, though all sins may be remitted, yet not to all persons, but to a quorum, as we see. For there is another quorum whose sins are retained; so that this limiteth the former, and sheweth indeed what is the materia propinqua, or 'immediate subject' of this power committed.
Our Saviour Christ Himself at the reading of His commission, whereof this is a branch, in effect expresseth as much. For He telleth them, 'There were many lepers in the days of Elisha, and many widows in the days of Elias; yet none cleansed but Naaman, nor to none was Elias sent, but to the widow of Sarepta.' And so the case standeth here. Many sinners there be, and many sins may be remitted, but not to any, except they be of this quorum. In which point there is a special use of 'the key of knowledge,' to direct to whom, and to whom not; since it is not but with advice to be applied, nor 'hands hastily to be laid on any man,' as the Apostle testifieth; which place is referred by the ancient writers to the act of absolution, and the circumstance of the place giveth no less. But discretion is to be used in applying of comfort, counsel, and the benefit of absolution. Whereby it falleth out sometimes, that the very same sins to some may be remitted, being of the quorum, that to some others may not, that are out of it.
[97/98] To see then a little into this qualification, that thereby we may discern who be of either quorum. The conditions to be required, to be of quorum remittuntur, are two:
First, that the party be within, the house and family whereto those keys belong, that is, be a member of the Church, be a faithful believing Christian. In the law, the propitiatory was annexed to the ark and could not be severed from it; to shew that they must hold of the ark, that is, be of the number of the people of God, or else could they not be partakers of the propitiation for their sins. So saith the Psalmists, in the Psalm of the Church: Omnes canales mei erunt in te; 'All the conduit-pipes of all my spiritual graces are conveyed into thee.' And are no where else to be had. And namely, of this benefit of remission of sins; 'Thou hast, saith he, O Lord, been gracious unto Thy land, &c; Thou hast forgiven all their iniquity and covered all their sin.' But the Prophet Esay most plainly; 'The people which dwelleth in her,' that is, the Church, 'they shall have their iniquity forgiven.' And to end this point, the Angel when he interpreteth the name of Jesus, extendeth it no further than thus that 'He shall save His people from their sins entailed and limited; it is sors Sanctorum, and dos Ecclesiæ. And they that are of this quorum, have their certain hope thereof. They that are out of it pertain to the second sort, of them that have their sins retained. The power of the keys reacheth not to them: 'What have I to do with them that are without,' saith the Apostle? 'Them that are without, God shall judge.' Therefore all Pagans, Infidels, Jews, and Turks are without the compass of this quorum. For whoso believeth not in Christ, whoso is not a faithful Christian 'shall die in his sins.'
But are all that are within this house thereby partakers of this remission? Is there nothing else required? Yes indeed, there is yet another condition requisite, whereby many are cut off that are within the quorum of the Church. And that is, as our Saviour Christ Himself setteth it down, repentance. For He willeth 'repentance and remission of sins to be preached in His name;' both these, but repentance first, and then remission of sins to follow after. So that the sinner [98/99] that is a member of the Church, if he want this, is not of the former but of the latter quorum.
To repentance there go two things, as heretofore hath been entreated more at large. To insist upon the resemblance here made. First, that he feel his chains and imprisonment, and be grieved with them, and therefore would gladly be let loose, and discharged from them. And no otherwise doth our Saviour Christ proclaim it; that none shall come to Him, but such as are 'weary and heavy laden.' For sentiat onus qui vult levari, et sentiat vincula qui vult solvi. And no reason there is means should be made for his enlargement that is well enough already, and had rather be where he is than at liberty abroad.
Out of which groweth this division of sinners, which make this double quorum; for there are sinners that are weary of their commitment, and would gladly be enlarged. Such as he was: 'O bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thee.' And as he: 'Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?' And to these belongeth the first clause of remission, even poenitentibus et petentibus, to them that are weary of their durance, and that desire and sue for deliverance.
Again there are sinners which care not greatly for their present estate, but are as it were without sense of their misery. The prison grieveth them not; being in it, they reckon themselves well enough, either because they have drunken of the slumbering 'cup,' which is the very 'dregs' of God's wrath, having their hearts 'as brawn,' and 'their consciences seared with a hot iron,' that is, as the Apostle doth interpret it, 'being past all feeling' or remorse of sin; or else a worse sort of people that not only have no sense of their present wretched case, but do even take delight and pleasure in the place, and, to choose. Will not be out of it. Qui lætantur cum malum fecerint, et exultant in rebus pessimis, that scorn the denouncing of God's judgments, and when they hear the words of this curse absolve themselves and say, 'I shall have peace' and do full well for all that. Of such, Dominus ne ignoscat illis, saith Moses, 'let not God be merciful unto them.' Pity it is they should be let go, or the key once turned to let them out. Sense and sorrow is required of their restraint, and an [99/100] earnest desire of enlargement, else they pertain not to the first but to the latter quorum.
In which very point, of sorrow for sin, there is an especial good use of the 'key of knowledge,' for counsel and direction. 1. For, inasmuch as repentance itself is an act of corrective justice, and to repent is to 'do judgment,' as the Prophet; and to 'judge ourselves,' as the Apostle calleth it. 2. To which there belongeth not only a sentence, but also kdkhsij, 'a revenge,' or punishment. And because it is not a fruitless repentance which must serve the turn, but it must have 'fruits,' saith St. John Baptist, and 'fruits worthy of repentance,' that is more plainly, as St. Paul saith he was charged to preach even from Heaven, that men must not only 'repent and turn to God,' but also 'do good works worthy of repentance.' 3. And for that the works of repentance, all of them, are not meet and suitable to every sin, but as the sins are divers, so are the works to be also 4. For that also, as a man may go too far in them--as apeareth in the case of the Corinthian--so may one fall too short, as appeareth in the case of Miriam; and a proportion or analogy is to be kept, according as the case of the sin requireth. In both these to advise both what works are met and also what measure is to be kept, 'the key of knowledge' will help to direct, and we have use of it if we mean to use it to that end.
The other condition which must be joined to the former is an unfeigned purpose and endeavour ourselves to remit or let go those sins which we would have by God remitted. For it not enough to be sorry for sin past, or to seek repentance, no though it be with tears, this will not make us of the first quorumn if there be nothing but this, if there be in our hearts a purpose ourselves to retain and hold fast our old sin still. Esau lifted up his voice with a 'great cry and bitter out of measure, and wept,' yet even at the same time vowed in his heart so soon as his father was dead, to make away his brother. And this purpose of mind, for all his bitter crying and tears, cast him into the latter quorum, and made his sins to be retained still. And such is the case of them that would be let go out of prison, but would have liberty to go in and out still to visit the company there, when and as often as them list. So do not the Saints that be of the first quorum, [100/101] to whom God, as 'He speaketh peace,' so He speaketh this too, 'that they turn not thither again,' so they fall not again to their former folly.
But these latter would have their sins let go buy God, but themselves would not let them go, but keep fast their end still. They would quoad reatum hear that saying from Christ's mouth, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee;' but quoad actum would not willingly hear that other, 'Go and sin no more.' But we must be willing to hear them both; willing to have our sins remitted by God, and willing to, ourselves to remit our sinning, or from thenceforth 'remissius peccare,' 'to sin more remissly,' and nothing so licentiously as before. To the former sorrow, sentence and revenge, we must, saith St. Paul, join a desire, pipÒqhsin; and to that desire an endeavour spoud_n, and that such an endeavour as may be able to allege for itself ¢pologan, an honest defence, that we have sued all god means to do that which on our parts is to be performed, that we may be of the first quorum.
In which point no less than the former there may be use of 'the key of knowledge' and to advise and direct ourselves, no less in the cure of sin than in the sorrow for it. They in the second of the Acts, which 'were pricked in their hearts,' knew of themselves that somewhat they should do, as by their question appeareth, but what they should do they knew not. Sometimes men have good minds, but know not which way to turn them or set themselves about it. Sometimes they are scrupulous and doubtful whether they do as they should, because one way propitius esse sibi, favour himself too much, and be over partial in his own case, neither so careful to use the means to good, nor to avoid the occasions of evil as he ought. Wherein it were good for men to make sure and to be fully resolved. For most usual it is for men at their ends to doubt, not of the power of remitting of sins, but of their own disposition to receive it; and whether they have ordered the matter so that they be within the compass of God's effectual calling, or, as the text is, of the quorum to whom it belongeth. So much for the matter, or subject whereto this power is to be applied.
And here I should not speak somewhat of the applying or use of it, but the time hath overtaken me and will not [101/102] permit it. Now only a word of the third part, of the efficacy, or as the lawyers term it of God's ratihabition, and so an end.
Wherein God willing more abundantly to shew to them that should be partakers of it the stableness of His counsel, He hath penned it exceedingly effectually, and indeed strangely to them that deeply consider of it; which he hath so done to the end that thereby such poor sinners as shall be partakers of it might have strong consolation and perfect assurance, not to waver in the hope which is set before them.
And to that end, even for comfort, I will only point at four things in the inditing of it, all expressing the efficacy of it in more than common manner.
1. The order in this, that Remiseritis standeth first, and Remittuntur second. It is St. Chrysostom 's note, that it beginneth in earth, and that heaven followeth after, So that whereas in prayer and in other parts of religion it is sicut in coelo, sic in terrâ, 'here it is,' sicut in terrâ, sic coelo. A terrâ judicandi principalem authoritatem sumit coelum. Nam judex sedet in teræ: Dominus sequitur servum, et quicquid hic in inferioribus judicærit, hoc Ille in supernis combrobat, saith he.
2. The time in this, that it is Remittuntur in the present tense; there is no delay between, no deferring or holding in suspense, but the absolution pronounced upon earth, Remittuntur, presently, they are remitted; that He saith not, hereafter they shall be, but they are already remitted.
3. The manner, in setting down of the two words. For it so delivered by Christ as if he were content it should be accounted their act and that the Apostles were the agents in it, and Himself but the patient and suffered it to be done. For the Apostles' part is delivered in the active, Remiseritis, and His own in the passive, Remittuntur.
4. The certainty; which in the identity of the word, in not changing the word, but keeping the selfsame in both parts. For Christ hath not thus indited it: Whose sins ye wish or ye pray for; or, Whose sins ye declare to be remitted; but 'Whose sins ye remit;' using no other word in the Apostles' than He useth in his own. And to all these in St. Matthew He addeth His solemn protestation of 'Verily, verily,' or 'Amen, amen,' [102/103] that so it is and shall be. And all to certify us that He fully meaneth with effect to ratify in heaven that is done in earth, to the sure and steadfast comfort of them that shall partake it.