The kingdom in its present form is established and ruled by the word of an absent King. Being absent, it is clearly His word which speaks for Him,- which represents His authority. His kingdom is a kingdom of truth, according to His own words to Pilate, who asks Him, "Art Thou a king, then?" And He answers, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice" (John 18:37).
"Master"- or "Teacher"-"and Lord" are necessarily associated in thought. "Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am" (John 13:13). "Master" implies of necessity, an authority, in Him absolute: and in this full sense He says to His disciples, "One is your Master, even Christ" (Matt. 28:8). To receive His word is thus to bow to His authority: His word is, as in the parable (Matt. 18:19), "the word of the kingdom." His subjects are thus nothing else than His disciples, and discipling is now into the kingdom of heaven -"every scribe which is instructed into the kingdom of heaven," in the end of the same chapter (v. 52), is literally "discipled."
The Sphere of Discipleship
In the parables of the kingdom thus we find pictured the sphere of discipleship embracing true and false alike. There are tares and wheat, fishes good and bad, wise and foolish virgins, guests that have not on the wedding-garment, servants that have never truly served at all. The end declares the difference; and in the end the Son of Man purges out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. Till the harvest (which is "the end of the age"- not "world"), the tares and wheat, the good and the evil, are found together.
The kingdom, then, covers the whole field of profession. Those in it may be or may not be what they assume to be; and thus blessings of it are conditional accordingly. People may enter it in two ways; there is an outer and an inner sphere, as it were, in the kingdom itself. There is a mere outward belonging to it, not in heart: there is an inward and real entering in, to which salvation attaches: "Whosover shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved." It is here, of course, not merely a "Lord, Lord," but a true subjection of soul to Him.
All this will come out more as we go on with our subject. Yet it is well to realize it at the outset; for it makes simple much that otherwise would be dark and difficult enough. The conditionality of every thing is in accord with the general idea of a kingdom, where government, though it be gracious, is not yet pure grace and where grace is shown, not in setting aside requirement, but in enabling for its fulfillment.
This is how the children of God, as subjects of the kingdom, manifest themselves; and there is a whole class of passages in Scripture which, speaking in this manner, are often misread alike, yet in two opposite ways, by those who would maintain and those who refuse the full reality of divine grace toward men. The one class would take Paul's expression, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,lest after having preached to others I myself should be a castaway", as meaning only that his service might be disapproved; while the others will have it that Paul fears here for his ultimate salvation. Neither view is correct: the term "castaway" is that translated "reprobate" in 2 Cor. 13 and it is of himself he speaks, and not his service. While the New Testment assures us, in its whole testimony in many concurrent lines of careful teaching, that true Christians "are not of them that draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39)
Binding and Loosing
The kingdom of heaven, then, in the form in which we are now considering it, is a kingdom of the truth, by subjection to which its true disciples are manifested. We are now to look at it as committed into the hands of men, the Lord being absent. It is plain that He uses men to minister "the word of the kingdom," and that a certain administration of its affairs is intended in the words, "whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," "whose sins ye remit, they are remitted to them." The nature and limit of these assurances we shall have to inquire into immediately, but that the disciples are in some sense commissioned to represent their Lord, is clear and unequivocal.
The first of these we find for the first time in a promise given to Peter, when in the midst of nearly universal unbelief he confesses his faith in Christ as the Son of the living God: "Blessed art thou, Simon bar Jonah," replies the Lord, "for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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" (Matt. 16:17-19).
The keys of the kingdom are symbolic of authority over it; and almost the same language the Lord uses of Himself in the address to Philadelphia -"He that hath the key of David; that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." The Pharisees He denounces for shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men: "Ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13). And to the lawyers He says similarly (Luke 11:52), "Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered." All this agrees with what we have before seen - that the kingdom is a kingdom of the truth: thus the key speaks of entrance into the kingdom, and the entrance into such a kingdom is by the key of knowledge. The key speaks thus really, if not exclusively, of the power of discipling.
The power of binding and loosing, according to the Rabbinical writings, belonged to and described the office of a teacher. "The Rabbi set apart to 'loose or bind' might authoritatively declare what was binding on the conscience and what not; and in Talmudical writings, the phrase continually recurs by which a teacher or a school is said to loose or to bind,-i.e., to declare something obligatory or non-obligatory." It is plain, then, that if the power of the keys speaks of entrance or admission into the kingdom,- of discipling,- that of binding and loosing applies to the regulation of the conduct of those already admitted or discipled, whatever may be the limits of this power. The latter naturally connects itself with the former, and follows it.
There remains the question, Was the power of the keys personal to Peter only? The Romanist, it is well known, not only makes him the rock upon which the Church is built, but gives him in a special way the keys of heaven. The Church is, however, as distinct from the kingdom as the kingdom of heaven from heaven itself. With the former we have nothing to do just now: as to the latter, it is well to remark that the promise itself limits itself to earth as the sphere of this binding or loosing. "Whatsover thou shalt bind on earth" does not mean "whatsoever thou, being on earth, shalt bind," but just what it says. The earth is where only the binding applies; and "shall be bound in heaven" means simply that heaven being for the kingdom the seat of authority, it would confine the act of its representatives on earth. On earth,- for earth alone is there - power, though he who rebels against it rebels against the authority of heaven. It is as where the Lord says, "He that receiveth you receiveth Me" (Matt. 10:40). The delegated power on earth represents the authority behind it.
But even for Rome, the keys belong not simply to Peter. There are successors to his chair. And the Protestant view, in which they represent the power of administering the Word and sacraments, must of course admit others as participants in this. Nor need there be a doubt that as Peter's faith was but the faith of the other disciples, so they as well as he participate in this promise. No doubt as his energy makes him foremost in confession, so also he retains a foremost place through on and so at Pentecost he opens the kingdom of heaven to the Jews, as afterward he is chosen of God to open it the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius. But we scarcely think of these two instances as being the use made of the keys of the kingdom. The power of binding and loosing which is here also explicitly promised to Peter, we find in the eighteenth chapter of the same gospel (v. 18) extended to others also; and if the power of the keys be the power of administration or of discipling into the kingdom as we have seen, then the commission in the closing chapter explicitly extends this also: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth,"-the kingdom was just ready to begin, - "go ye, therefore, and teach" (or, as the margin and the Revised Version now, "make disciples of") "all nations." And that here successors are contemplated is plainly taught in the closing words: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
Thus the administration of the kingdom is committed to men. They are to initiate and receive others into it; they are to regulate it for and under Him. So completely is it intrusted to their care, that in the gospel of Mark the Lord represents the kingdom of God to be "as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how" (chap. 4:26, 27). Not, of course, that His care over His people sleeps; but outwardly things happen in that which is professedly in subjection to Him without any open interference on His part. "But when the fruit is brought forth" (or "ripe" in the R.V.) "immediately He putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." So will He presently put in the sickle; for, spite of man's doing, the harvest comes in its due season.
Yet in the meanwhile the kingdom takes strange shapes, and because it is true that He will have His harvest, and because it has been forgotten that the seed springs and grows up He knoweth not how, it has been taken for granted that if the kingdom of heaven is in the Word of God said to be "like" such and such things,- "like" mustard-seed, or "like" leaven in a woman's hand, - this decides that all is according to His mind. In fact, it is far otherwise; for this expression, "He knoweth not how," if it does not mean to convey, as we know it does not, any real ignorance, then does certainly imply that the growth spoken of is strange, irregular, as if He knew not. So it is said, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Ps. 1:6). And if it he the fact of course that He knoweth the:; proud, yet to distinguish it from this approving knowledge it is added, "The proud He knoweth afar off" (Ps. 138:6). So of the growth of His kingdom in man's hand it may be truly said, He knoweth it not, or He knoweth it afar off; no new thing, alas! of that which comes of man's responsibility; here the words of the Psalmist surely apply, if any where, "Man being in honour abideth not" (Ps. 49:12).
Dispensation after dispensation has illustrated this rule: none have confirmed it more signily than the present.
Thus in the second parable of Matt. 13 it is "while men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat" (v. 25). Thus, "while the bridegroom tarried," the whole company of professed watchers, wise as well as foolish, "all slumbered and slept" (Matt. 25:5). Bu the history of this declension we shall look at, if the Lord will, at another time. We have yet more precisely to see first how the kingdom of heaven is entered, and wha are the divine regulations for it. To appreciate the disorder, we must learn first of all the order; for it is plain that God has not committed it to man's mere will, but to his charge. He is to bind and loose, not despotically, but as himself in subjection to the will of Another. We must return, therefore, now to the subject of the keys.