John 20:21-23~"Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Here, unquestionably, our Lord has embraced, in a few words, the sum of the Gospel; for we must not separate this power of forgiving sins from the office of teaching, with which it is closely connected in this passage. Christ had said a little before, As the living Father hath sent me, so I also send you He now makes a declaration of what is intended and what is meant by this embassy
, only he interwove with that declaration what was necessary, that he gave to them his Holy Spirit, in order that they might have nothing from themselves, nor trust in their own wisdom and power, but in the written word of God which they were commanded to preach.
The principal design of preaching the Gospel is, to proclaim how sinners are reconciled to God, and this is accomplished by the unconditional pardon of sins; as Paul also informs us, when he calls the Gospel, on this account, the ministry of reconciliation, (See 2nd Corinthians 5:18.) Many other things, undoubtedly, are contained in the Gospel, but the principal object which God intends to accomplish is to proclaim the righteousness of God that is freely imparted to sinner on Jesus' behalf
by the truth of the gospel, to receive men into favor by not imputing their sins. If, therefore, we wish to show that we are faithful ministers of the Gospel, we must give our most earnest attention to this subject; for the chief point of difference between the Gospel and heathen philosophy lies in this, that the Gospel makes the salvation of men to consist in the forgiveness of sins through free grace. This is the source of the other blessings which God bestows, such as, that God enlightens and regenerates us by his Spirit, that he forms us anew to his image, that he arms us with unshaken firmness against the world and Satan. Thus the whole doctrine of godliness, and the spiritual building of the Church, rests on this foundation, that God, having acquitted us from all sins, adopts us to be his children by free grace.
While Christ enjoins the Apostles to forgive sins, he does not convey to them what is peculiar to himself. It belongs to him to forgive sins, not to man. This honor, so far as it belongs peculiarly to himself, he does not surrender to the Apostles, but enjoins them, in his name, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, that through their agency he may reconcile men to God. In short, properly speaking, it is he alone who forgives sins through the redemption that CHrist secured for his people.
But it may be asked, Since he appoints them to be only the witnesses or heralds of this blessing, and not the authors of it, why does he extol their power in such lofty terms? I reply, since this gospel alone is the truth, and any man who preaches another gospel, it IS OUR DUTY to warn them that they fall under the curse of God, so in THIS SENSE we are saying your sins are NOT forgiven you, IF you preach another gospel other than free grace through Jesus' obedience, NOT MAN.
Most absurdly do the Papists, (who preach another gospel, and so do many other sects along with them ) on the other hand, torture this passage, to support their magical absolutions. If any person does not confess his sins in the ear of the priest, he has no right, in their opinion
, to expect forgiveness; for Christ intended that sins should be forgiven through the Apostles, and they cannot absolve without having examined the matter; therefore, confession is necessary. Such is their wicked argument. But they fall into a strange blunder, when they pass by the most important point of the matter; namely, that this right was granted first to the apostles and the faithful among the true churches of Christ, but in a different manner than what they think. For Christ does not here appoint confessors, to inquire minutely into each sin by means of low mutterings, but preachers of his Gospel, who shall cause their voice to be heard, and who shall seal on the hearts of believers the grace of the atonement obtained through Christ. We ought, therefore, to keep by the manner of forgiving sins, is through the redemption that is in Jesus' faith and obedience, not in our works, and not by confessing our sins to another sinner, that may be much more wicked than ourselves!
And to those whose sins you retain (we do this by using scriptures either exposing their false gospel, or their wicked lifestyle) Christ adds this second clause, in order to terrify the despisers of his Gospel, that they may know that they will not escape punishment for this pride. As the embassy of salvation and of eternal life has been committed to the believers, so, on the other hand, they have been armed with vengeance against all the ungodly, who reject the salvation of free grace, as Paul teaches, (2 Corinthians 10:6.) But this is placed last in order, because it was proper that the true and real design of preaching the Gospel should be first exhibited.
It ought to be observed, however, that everyone who hears the voice of the Gospel, if he does not embrace the forgiveness of sins which is there promised to believers, is liable to eternal damnation; for, as it is a living savior to the children of God, so to those who perish it is the savour of death to death, (2ndCorinthians 2:16.) Not that the preaching of the Gospel is necessary for condemning the reprobate, for by nature we are all lost, and, in addition to the hereditary curse, every one draws down on himself additional causes of death, but because the obstinacy of those who knowingly and willingly despise the Son of God deserves much severer punishment.
One more thought these scriptures we also can encourage those men and women who preach the pure gospel of free grace, apart from works that they are among the faithful that God has called out of this world into his kingdom~by them confessing that their sins are forgiven freely through Jesus' obedience.