The Gospel and the Church: 19. The Power of Binding and Loosing

The words “binding” and “loosing” signify power in both ways. The religious as well as the natural flesh loves power and authority, and each uses it sometimes “with a vengeance.”
To whom does the power of “binding” rightly belong? Every believer will agree with me in saying, To Him who “bound the strong man and spoiled him of his goods.” And who has the power of “loosing”? He alone Who said to that daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound those eighteen years, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity; and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” He Who recalled Lazarus from death and corruption into life and said, “Loose him, and let him go; “He Who Himself was “loosed from the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” —to Him alone rightly belongs the power of “binding” and “loosing.” If it has pleased Him, during His absence from this earth, to delegate part of His powers to His apostles and disciples or to the church, who would dispute His right of doing so? But He alone is and remains the source of all power and authority. He Who gave them can withdraw them again, and has done so, where that power and authority had been abused by unfaithful stewards and false shepherds or by Laodicean indifference for self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment and oppression of the flock of Christ.
“Unto him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not, even that which he hath (or, as the Gospel of Luke has it, “which he seemeth to have”) shall be taken away from him.”
Let us now consider:
What is the character and purpose of the power of “binding” and “loosing”?
To whom was it given?
For what time was it given?
1. Their Character And Purpose.
The former is indicated by the very words themselves. To “bind” some one means to take away his liberty. To “loose” him means to give him back his liberty. Through sin man became Satan's slave, bound by the fetters of sin. By faith and regeneration he is set free from that terrible bondage and becomes in the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free, the willing and cheerful servant of God and Christ. The natural man is spiritually and bodily a prisoner, bound by Satan. God in His wisdom may permit Satan even outwardly to make manifest the terribleness of those bonds, as in the case of the demoniac and of the lunatic (Matt. 17:15-2115Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:15‑21)), and of that daughter of Abraham who had been bound eighteen years.
But there are other bonds, those of legal bondage and fear, as expressed in the 7th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Satan and the law (however good and holy the latter) can bind but not loose, i.e., set free. Christ delivers from both, “having found an eternal redemption.” He alone, Who “has ascended on high and led captivity captive,” possesses the supreme power for “binding” and “loosing.” He will ere long bind and shut up in the “bottomless pit” Satan, the prince of this world, who keeps the world chained in the bonds of sin and of the fear of death, “that he may deceive the nations no more.” But after the millennial reign of Christ Satan will be “loosed out of his prison” and make manifest that man, even after a millennial blessing, ever remains the same; whereupon the “deceiver of the nations” and “accuser of the brethren” will be assigned to his final doom in the “lake of fire and brimstone forever and ever.”
But Christ, Who holds the supreme power of “binding” and “loosing” as He holds all power in heaven and on earth, can, as observed already, transfer upon others a part of it according to His good pleasure, as a king may transfer part of his power upon substitutes of higher or lower degree. So Christ, as Son over His own house, has for the purpose of discipline in the church during His absence, delegated to others part of His power and authority; be it for “binding” in cases where the honor and authority of our great Deliverer from the bonds of Satan, sin, and death, and judgment, and the holiness becoming His house have been practically disregarded by one of His redeemed; or be it for “loosing” where the “binding” has had its intended effect and the stray repentant sheep returns to the good “Shepherd and bishop of our souls.”
Sin binds, i.e., deprives of liberty. One who has sinned against God does not feel free before Him. We find this already with Adam and Eve as the effect of the first sin. They endeavored to hide themselves from God. If some one has sinned against his neighbor, he feels no longer free in his presence, but restrained and oppressed. Repentance and confession remove the pressure and restore liberty and easiness. So it is between God and us, and in our communion one with another. But if the one who sins will not confess it nor judge himself for it (I speak of course of believers), the Lord has graciously provided a way of binding the sin on the heart and conscience of the impenitent one, to make him feel its burden, by giving power to His own to exclude him not only from fellowship with the assembly but even with Him Who is in the midst, Matt. 18:1818Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18), thus depriving him, till he repents, of all liberty and joy, and so to bind him
2. Upon Whom Has The Lord Conferred The Power Of “Binding” And “Loosing”?
The Gospel of Matthew is the only part of the New Testament speaking of that power. In chap. 16 Jesus had announced to that “adulterous generation” which desired a “sign from heaven,” the “sign of the prophet Jonah,” so fatal for Israel, i.e., the death and resurrection of their rejected and crucified Messiah. Then “He left them and departed.” All was over with Israel. It was night. But in the same chapter the Lord shows to His disciples the morning dawn of the church, saying, “Upon this rock1 I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But as to Peter himself, the Lord adds the special personal promise, “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."2 That promise was given to the apostle Peter personally, evidently in close connection with the power of the keys for Israel and the Gentiles.
And in chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew, where we behold the morning red of the church, so to speak, the Lord says, “Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Here the Lord confers the power of “binding” and “loosing” on all His own, i.e., on the disciples then with Him, and on every assembly; for His words are here in close connection with what He said just before and after.
But we must not forget what the Lord adds immediately after, which naturally brings to the third question:
For What Time Was The Power Of “Binding” And “Loosing” Given?
To the Lord's apostles and His then disciples it was, of course, given for their lifetime, and also to the churches existing in the days of the apostles. But Christ, knowing before what use an unfaithful church in fleshly self-elevation would make of the privilege of the power of binding and loosing, has added the gracious promise, “Where two or three are gathered unto My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Wonderful privilege of grace, granted by the glorious Head of the church, foreseeing these days of deepest decline, even to two or three (the smallest number to constitute an assembly) who look up to Him from the ruins, as themselves forming a part of them, in the sense of their own weakness and our common shame. What are two or three thousand without Christ in their midst? Nothing but so many cyphers without a figure before them. Put the figure 1 before them, and it makes with the two following “naughts” one hundred, and three of them one thousand.
But think you, Christian reader, that the Lord will put His seal upon the decisions of gatherings small or great, and grant them the power of “binding” and “loosing,” which are founded on human statutes and ordinances, or such as were originally founded on scriptural ground, but have left the way of truth and followed man's will instead of the word of God? Never! That would mean setting His seal to what is contrary to His own word. Or could He recognize church actions. on the part of meetings which had been gathered according to scriptural principles, but have sunk to such a degree of moral and spiritual degradation that they have become destitute of spiritual discernment? Impossible. That would be nothing less than making Christ the servant of sin. It was Paul, but not the church at Corinth, who delivered the wicked person “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."3 The Corinthians, as every assembly of God, were responsible to “put away from among themselves that wicked person,” but could not “deliver him unto Satan.” Only the apostle as such could do this. But in the Corinthians “godly sorrow had wrought repentance not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7); or they would not have been able to exercise “loosing” discipline in the power of the Holy Ghost and with the seal of Christ's authority.
To exclude or receive persons after the good pleasure of human leaders or of a party is easy enough; but such “bindings” and “loosings” are not recognized in heaven. J. A. von P.