“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.” – Matthew 18:18
The text states clearly and concisely the relation between our life here and our life in the spiritual world.
The teaching that Christ suffered the penalty of sin in substitution for the sinner – called the doctrine of the vicarious atonement – denies the teaching of this text, as that doctrine means that there is no real relation between the character of our life in this world and our life in the next.
The sphere of the vicarious atonement, although this doctrine is seldom specifically preached today, still environs us. It is still strong. Unconsciously it enters into our minds and twists our thoughts, making us feel that our culture, learning, wealth, social position, or system of faith, apart from the real quality of our life, will save us. Against such dreams of imagined salvation is asserted this law of honest, stalwart labor in the heart and mind: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
What is it that is to be bound or loosed? It is traits of character, faculties of the mind, affections of the heart, the capacity for love and joy in the soul, in short, all our human possibilities so marvelously provided within each person by the Creator.
Our text goes right to the heart of human interests, because life here is intended to be one continual process of binding and letting loose – of binding that which is evil, false, and harmful, and letting loose that which is good, true, and helpful.
A child is born into the world bound. It cannot walk, talk, or understand. It does not enjoy the beauty of art, or the grandeur of nature, or the wisdom of men, or the love of God. It is bound physically, mentally, and spiritually. All of its wonderful and unlimited possibilities are bound. All its faculties are bound. Education is the process of loosing the faculties and possibilities that are bound. Through education the eye learns to see, the ear to hear, the feet to walk, the hand to acquire skill. Memory, perception, understanding, judgment, reason, the will, and all the faculties are let loose, that the natural mind may become efficient.
When the natural mind is trained, the power to accomplish is loosened; whence come invention, art, science, and the multitude of great and good works that contribute to the happiness of an ever advancing society. If we believe that all things come from the Lord, and that He stands ever ready to give us all things, we can see that progress is the continuous loosing of the bound.
But in the process of loosing our natural faculties and possibilities, the natural desires are liberated. Self-esteem, arrogance, envy, revenge, cruelty, lust; the desire for riches, honor, and power; the love of the world and of self. These spring forth with the loosening of the natural faculties because they are all bound up in the same bundle. As the natural faculties are let loose, there comes the time for binding. Man before regeneration is like an animal. The animal traits in him must be bound that the heavenly things may be loosened and that he may become truly human. An animal is cunning, cruel, and selfish. It may be affectionate, yet all its affections have self as their end, like those of the unregenerate man. Man who is truly man has wisdom in place of cunning, mercy in place of cruelty, and sympathy and generosity instead of selfishness.
The text tells us the relation that one’s life here bears to the life everlasting. If we do not want to be deceitful in the world beyond, we must bind deceit here. If we do not want jealousy, cruelty, and revenge, bind them here and they will be bound in the life beyond. And there are idleness, apathy, bigotry, discontent, vulgarity, ill will, and the myriad forms of selfishness. Bind them in this life and they will be bound in heaven. We do not want these things in our characters here. Still less do we want them in the world to come. Every day we should struggle against the wrong and evil, the undesirable, that they may be bound. This work is imperative; so it is said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
In the first stages of regeneration, we are at work binding our external habits, binding the tendency to be critical of others, the tendency to think only of ourselves and of our own, the tendency to anger and to revenge, the tendency to be discontented with our lot. At first we fight against such external evils, but when we are further along, we are summoned to a new battlefield. There are other and more desperate enemies of the heavenly life that must be bound on earth if they are to be bound in heaven. There are the deeper temptations that come upon us – the doubts as to the truths of the Word, of the spiritual life, and of the Lord’s ever-present nearness and desire to help. These doubts come and go like the wind. We cannot tell whence they come or whither they go. But the Lord can tell, and He has told. They come from the hells. And they are to be bound that we may have peace. They are to be bound by the clearness of vision which enables us to see the nature of the hells, and by that power of the will which enables us to confide in the Word of the Lord. In the Scriptures the hells are likened to a sea which rises and overflows the land. This is a deeper struggle in a darker night. It is the conflict with those subtle and unseen principalities of the evil world described in the words, “Save me, O God; for the waters are come into my soul… the floods overflow me.” We can bind even this power in the living faith that “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” In this labor our text should be an abiding inspiration: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
But this is the negative side of the law. It is the hard side, the side on which we find struggle and sorrow. We should look at it in the light of the second part of the law: “Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is the positive side of the text, the side of encouragement, beauty, and delight. The spiritual when once loosed is forever loosed. True faith and love once loosed are forever loosed for both worlds. Love to the Lord and the neighbor once gained is forever gained. The law is simple and clear. We want truth, faith, love, and happiness in the life to come. We should be willing to do anything for the short threescore and ten years here if it will mean countless ages of happiness free from all that harms. If we want happiness forever, we should loose it here and now.
It is here that we determine what we want to be. The text tells us how to become what we desire. First bind all that we do not want. Then loose all that we do want.
So far we have considered the text in relation to the two great divisions of creation – this world and the other, life here and life in the world beyond.
Let us apply the text to our daily living. “Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth” – the earth is the external mind, outwardly exercised in the daily life – “shall be loosed in heaven” – heaven is the internal mind. The text reveals not only the relation between the earth and heaven, but also the relation between the natural mind and the spiritual mind. It shows us how wonderfully we are constituted, and how our external acts are causes having corresponding effects on the spirit. Whatever we make the external life, the internal life will inflow and give it its character. If we do not want weakness or wickedness, keep them out of the external life. If we want understanding, gentleness, truth, mercy, spiritual beauty, or any virtue, loose them in the external life and they will be loosed in the internal life. So can we put away anything that we do not desire, and become anything that we wish. For, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”