The mere expression, "keys of the kingdom," shows clearly that there is a definite mode of entrance, and that the kingdom is not in its present form territorial, as the kingdoms of this world are. A Christianized country, for instance, is not by this, or any the more for it, a part of the kingdom of heaven. Men do not come into it by natural birth, as they do into these. There is a mode of entrance, a method of discipling, not in the hands of the men of this world, but in the hands of disciples only. There is a door by which to enter, and which is in their keeping.
Moreover it is a double door. There is not merely a key, but there are keys to it. We need not be afraid to insist upon the Lord's words in their full meaning; nay, we are bound to insist upon this. His words are precise, and require loyal acceptance; we must neither add to nor yet take from them.
This sets aside (as any sufficient application) what is often taken as explaining this commission to Peter that he was the first to preach the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and to the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius afterward. It does not take two keys to open the same door twice, that is plain. And the proclamation of the gospel to men outside is by itself no real admission of any. It is the offer of its blessedness, but men must be received individually, and for this a distinct form of admission is prescribed.
We have seen that the Lord speaks of the key of knowledge, that the kingdom is a kingdom of the truth, its sphere that of profession, of discipleship; that people are discipled into it. But the key of knowledge is plainly only one key, and we need yet another before the door will open. The other we find in the commission given by the risen Lord to the eleven after His resurrection, in which He is about to ascend to the throne of the kingdom,- all authority given to Him in heaven and in earth; He instructs them as to discipling the nations: for so it really reads, "Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19, 20).
"Baptizing" and "Teaching"
Here there are two keys: "baptizing" and "teaching" are the joint methods of discipling. In the one we have the key of knowledge; in the other that which as the outward part authoritatively admits into the body of disciples upon earth. Without this latter there would be no proper recognition of the body as such, nor of individual relationship to it, nor representation of the King's authority on earth.
Baptism is "unto Christ" (Rom. 6:3), "unto the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:16), a putting on of Christ (Gal. 3:27). It is a separation to Him as Master and Lord, as by the cloud and the sea the Israelites were marked off as followers of their divinely-appointed guide,-"baptized unto Moses" (1 Cor. 10:16). "Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus" - not "in" - defines it as the recognition of His Lordship - of the throne - as His. Thus Paul also is exhorted by Ananias, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the Name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Thus also in Eph. 4:5, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," are joined together.
And thus as a "baptism unto death," Christ having died for us, it is a "being buried with Him by baptism unto death, . . . that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead . . . so also we should walk in newness of life." It is thus for us the passing out of the old into a new condition; a change in which our sins are washed away; as the apostle, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;" and as Ananias, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins."
"Whose sins you remit they are remitted to them," the Lord had said before this; words which cannot be applied, as some would apply them, to the preaching of the gospel. We do not, in the gospel, remit any one's sins. We do what is more blessed: we declare on God's part the terms upon which He remits. "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:38, 39). It is the declaration of the forgiveness of a certain class, but it does not declare any one to be of that class, or to have received the forgiveness. And when a soul through grace believes the gospel, and receives forgiveness,- though it were I that preached it, it is still not from me that he receives it in any wise,- it is not I that remit. Here is a thing in which God and the soul meet personally, and not by representatives. And it is of the greatest possible moment to maintain this. It is just here that popery brings in her falsehoods and builds the Church up into a barrier wall to shut God out into the old darkness.
Disciples have no place in the administration of such forgiveness. They are no more the channel than the source of it. God has not given this glory of His to another; and after this manner none can forgive sins but God alone. Let us only keep clear the distinction between heaven and the kingdom of heaven, and it will be impossible to make such mistakes as these. The kingdom of heaven is but the shadow of heaven upon earth. It witnesses to what is heavenly, finds its authority and sanction there, but remains still only the shadow. Useful and important in its place, it becomes only so much the more important that it retains that place. To confound the shadow with the substance is to degrade and displace both.
"I baptize with water," was John's answer to those who would have implied that, not being the Christ, to baptize was to invade His office. No use of water could possibly do that; and with water "Jesus Himself baptized not." No water can wash the soul; no spiritual transformation could be wrought by it. Divine power never works such marvels. The Creator uses His creation according to the sphere to which it belongs; for which He made it; and Creator and Redeemer are but one blessed God. The mysteries of Babylon the great are no Christian mysteries, but magic. The perversion of truth manifests them as not from above but from beneath.
Water Baptism - A Figure and Witness
When, therefore, baptism is spoken of as for the remission of sins, and when the Lord says, "whosoever sins you remit they are remitted unto them," it is certain that He does not mean that the water of baptism has power to wash the soul. What then is this remission? To understand this we must recognize it as the entrance into the kingdom, that in which one is received out of the outside world into the ranks of Christ's followers and subjects. It is plain that ideally the crossing of the line here is salvation -"the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" (1 Pet. 3:21). To cross the line in spirit is true salvation, and to this grand truth the whole figure witnesses. The controversy with the world is for the rejection of Christ; submission to Him means the controversy over, "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). Yet the activity in salvation is all on His side; men baptize not themselves, but are baptized. And this is the confession of guilt, of being under death; it is burial, yet to Christ, to His death: there is the power of life, not in baptism, hut in Him to whom we are baptized: "Buried with Him by baptism unto death, that, as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4).
There is thus really a witness to the gospel in baptism which is beautiful in its simplicity. No subtlety of understanding is needed for entering into it. No complexity of thought is here. Man's guilt and helplessness, and need of the work of Christ are vividly portrayed and powerfully enforced in it; while also the freeness and certainty of salvation are fully declared, and the blessing appropriated on God's part to the one received. Wilt thou have Christ for thy Lord? wilt thou indeed take thy place as His subject and disciple? Then here is remission of sins, here is salvation for thee, through the work of Christ which He accomplished for thee; take thy place among His disciples a saved man!
It is to be no doubt if He receives thee. He casteth out none. As surely as thou comest thou art received. "Repent and be baptized every one of you unto the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).
Thus the preaching of baptism is a clear, simple, straightforward gospel, with good holdfast for the fingers of drowning men. There are no refinements, and there is no doubt. So only could it represent the salvation of Christ, which is yea only, and not yea and nay,- rest, and self-torture.
But then it is evident also that this is but the shadow, the witness of salvation, not the salvation itself. Not all that are baptized are saved, alas! and this from no uncertainty in the gospel terms, but from uncertainty only as to the reality in the soul of the disciple. And in regard to many, how much uncertainty must there be. And this is expressly contemplated in those parables of the kingdom, in which the mysteries of it are shown forth. Ten virgins go forth alike to meet the Bridegroom; but five of them are wise, and five are foolish. The wedding is furnished with guests, but among them comes the one who has not on a marriage-garment. And in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, at the close, this very matter of forgiveness is taken up, and we are taught in the person of the pitiless servant that forgiveness in the kingdom is not the full and absolute forgiveness which the gospel preaches, but conditional upon character. If the professed disciple turn out to be not one in heart, then the remission grounded on the supposition becomes finally no true remission. The blessings of the kingdom are all conditional and reversible.
Baptism, then, is admission into the kingdom of Christ, out of a world of sin, lying in the condemnation of it. It is reception among those to whom as His own remission belongs. But, as administered by man, the blessings and privileges of it must be received by faith or not received. And this reconciles the fact of baptism as admission into it with what the Lord says as to the necessity of conversion: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). This is indeed the necessity for the class to whom the Lord addresses Himself. Discipleship means no less than this, if it be real. To enter into the kingdom is not merely to come into it in an outward way, but to come into it in spirit also, to be really subjects and followers of the Lord of the kingdom.
But this does not at all imply that people cannot be in it except as converted. The parables that the Lord uttered as to it show the reverse of this. Tares are in it as well as wheat; foolish virgins, as well as wise; in the end of the age, the Son of Man will send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all that offend, and them which do iniquity. Thus the kingdom will be freed: but they must be in it to be gathered out.
Our Lord's words to Nicodemus on the other hand are really different; and I do not ground this upon its being the "kingdom of God," of which He there speaks. While the kingdom of God gives a somewhat different aspect, it is true, it is nevertheless not a different thing. Parables of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew's gospel are in the other gospels parables of the kingdom of God, and among these are those of the leaven and the mustard-seed. But what makes the words of John's gospel different is that the Lord is speaking in them to a Jewish teacher with direct reference to Ezekiel's prophecy of Israel's conversion in the latter day (Ezek. 36:24-26). And this is how, in fact, they will be brought in, the sinners still remaining such being consumed out of their midst by judgment. Thus Isaiah speaks also of the time (chap. 4:3, 4),-"And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning." That the Lord's words had a wider application than to Israel I do not for a moment question, but it is of the kingdom in its future state He speaks, when that which offends, and those who do iniquity, are removed from it. A teacher in Israel should have known the absolute necessity of such a change as new birth for the enjoyment of the blessings the prophets had declared.
But the breadth of the kingdom we must look at more fully now, and together with this the relation to what by many is strangely confounded with it, - the Church, of which the Lord speaks to the apostle in the words preceding those we have been seeking to explain.