And I will give unto thee; not unto thee exclusively, that is, to thee and no others; for as we no where read of any such power used by Peter, so our Saviour’s first question, Whom think you that I am? Letteth us know that his speech, though directed to Peter only, (who in the name of the rest first answered), concerned the rest of the apostles as well as Peter. Besides, as we know that the other apostles had as well as he the key of knowledge and doctrine, and by their preaching opened the kingdom of heaven to men; so the key of discipline also was committed to the rest as well as unto him: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained, Joh_20:22,23. The keys of the kingdom of heaven; the whole administration of the gospel, both with reference to the publication of the doctrine of it, and the dispensing out the ordinances of it. We read of the key of knowledge, which the scribes and Pharisees took away, Luk_11:52, and the key of government: The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder, Isa_22:21, I will commit thy government into his hand; which is applied to Christ, Rev_3:7. The sense is, Peter, I will betrust thee, and the rest of my apostles, with the whole administration of my gospel; you shall lay the foundation of the Christian church, and administer all the affairs of it, opening the truths of my gospel to the world, and governing those who shall receive the faith of the gospel.
And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Some very learned interpreters think that our Saviour here speaketh according to the language then in use amongst the Jews; who by binding understood the determining and declaring a thing unlawful; and by loosing, declaring by doctrine, or determining by judgment, a thing unlawful, that is, such as no men’s consciences were bound to do or to avoid. So as by this text an authority was given to these first planters of the gospel, to determine (by virtue of their infallible Spirit, breathed upon them, Joh_20:21) concerning things to be done and to be avoided. Thus Act_15:28,29, they loosed the Gentiles from the observation of the ceremonial law. Some think that by this phrase our Saviour gave to his apostles, and not to them only, but to the succeeding church, to the end of the world, a power of excommunication and absolution, to admit in and to cast out of the church, and promises to ratify what they do of this nature in heaven; and that this text is expounded by Joh_20:23, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained; and that the power of the church, and of ministers in the church, as to this, is more than declarative. That the church hath a power in a due order and for just causes, to cast persons out of its communion, is plain enough from other texts; but that the church hath a power to remit sins committed against God more than declaratively, that is, declaring that upon men’s repentance and faith God hath remitted, I cannot see founded in this text. Certain it is, that Christ doth not here bind himself to confirm the erroneous actions of men, either in excommunications or absolutions; nor to authorize all such actions of this nature that they do. I do therefore rather incline to think that our Saviour by this promise declared his will, that his apostles should settle the affairs of the gospel church, determining what should be lawful and unlawful, and setting rules, according to which all succeeding ministers and officers in his church should act, which our Lord would confirm in heaven. And that the ordinary power of churches in censures is rather to be derived from other texts of Scripture than this, though I will not deny but that in the general it may be here included; but I cannot think that the sense of binding and loosing here is excommunicating and absolving, but a doctrinal or judicial determination of things lawful and unlawful granted to the apostles; the not obeying or living up to whose determinations and decisions may be indeed a just cause of casting persons out of the communion of the church, as the contrary obedience and conformity to them a good ground of receiving them in again. But whether in this text be not granted to the apostles a further power than agrees to any ministers since their age I much doubt, and am very prone to believe that there is.