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Peter’s Confession; Matt. xvi. 16 — Conceits of the Papists thereon — The Substance and Excellency of that Confession.
OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR, INQUIRING OF his disciples their apprehensions concerning his person, and their faith in him, Simon Peter — as he was usually the forwardest on all such occasions, through his peculiar endowments of faith and zeal — returns an answer in the name of them all, Matt. xvi. 16: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Baronius, and sundry others of the Roman Church, do all affirm that the Lord Christ did herein prescribe the form of a general council. “For here,” say they, “the principal article of our Christian faith was declared and determined by Peter, whereunto all the rest of the apostles, as in duty they were obliged, did give their consent and suffrage.” This was done, as they suppose, that a rule and law might be given unto future ages, how to enact and determine articles of faith. For it is to be done by the successors of Peter presiding in councils, as it was now done by Peter in this assembly of Christ and his apostles.
But they seem to forget that Christ himself was now present, and therefore could have no vicar, seeing he presided in his own person. All the claim they lay unto the necessity of such a visible head of the church on the earth, as may determine articles of faith, is from the absence of Christ since his ascension into heaven. But that he should also have a substitute whilst he was present, is somewhat uncouth; and whilst they live, they shall never make the pope president where Christ is present. The truth is, he doth not propose unto his disciples the framing of an article of truth, but inquires after their own faith, which they expressed in this confession. Such things as these will prejudice, carnal interest, and the prepossession of the minds of men with corrupt imaginations, cause them to adventure on, to the scandal, yea, ruin of religion!
This short but illustrious confession of Peter, compriseth eminently the whole truth concerning the person and office of Christ:— of his person, in that although he was the Son of man, (under which appellation he made his inquiry, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”) yet was he not only so, but the eternal Son of the living God:— of his office, that he was the Christ, he whom God had anointed to be the Saviour of the church, in the discharge of his kingly, priestly, and prophetical power. Instances of the like brief confessions we have elsewhere in the Scripture. Rom. x. 9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” 1 John iv. 2, 3: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” And it is manifest, that all divine truths have such a concatenation among themselves, and do all of them so centre in the person of Christ — as vested with his offices towards the church — that they are all virtually comprised in this confession, and they will be so as counted by all who destroy them not by contrary errors and imaginations inconsistent with them, though it be the duty of all men to obtain the express knowledge of them in particular, according unto the means thereof which they do enjoy. The danger of men’s souls lieth not in a disability to attain a comprehension of longer or more subtile confessions of faith, but in embracing things contrary unto, or inconsistent with, this foundation thereof. Whatever it be whereby men cease to hold the Head, how small soever it seem, that alone is pernicious: Col. ii. 18, 19.
This confession, therefore, — as containing the sum and substance of that faith which they were called to give testimony unto, and concerning which their trial was approaching — is approved by our Saviour. And not only so, but eminent privileges are granted unto him that made it, and in him unto the whole church, that should live in the same faith and confession:verses 17, 18. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also 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.”
Two things doth our Saviour consider in the answer returned unto his inquiry. 1. The faith of Peter in this confession — the faith of him that made it; 2. The nature and truth of the confession: both which are required in all the disciples of Christ — “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation:” Rom. x. 10.
1. The first thing which he speaks unto is the faith of Peter, who made this confession. Without this no outward confession is of any use or advantage. For even the devils knew him to be the Holy One of God; Luke iv. 34; yet would he not permit them to speak it: Mark i. 34. That which gives glory unto God in any confession, and which gives us an interest in the truth confessed, is the believing of the heart, which is unto righteousness. With respect hereunto the Lord Christ speaks: verse 17. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
He commends and sets forth the faith of Peter — (1.) From its effect; (2.) From its cause. Its effect was, that it made him blessed in whom it was. For it is not only a blessed thing to believe and know Jesus Christ, as it is called life eternal; John xvii. 3; but it is that which gives an immediate interest in the blessed state of adoption, justification, and acceptance with God: John i. 12. (2.) The immediate cause of this faith is divine revelation. It is not the effect or product of our own abilities, the best of which are but flesh and blood. That faith which renders them blessed in whom it is, is wrought in them by the power of God revealing Christ unto their souls. Those who have more abilities of their own unto this end than Peter had, we are not concerned in.
2. He speaks unto the confession itself, acquainting his disciples with the nature and use of it, which, from the beginning, he principally designed: verse 18. “And I say also 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.”
From the speaking of these words unto Peter, there is a controversy raised in the world, whether the Lord Christ himself, or the pope of Rome, be the rock whereon the church is built. And unto that state are things come in religion, among them that are called Christians, that the greatest number are for the pope and against Christ in this matter. And they have good reason for their choice. For if Christ be the rock whereon the church is built, whereas he is a living stone, those that are laid and built on him must be lively stones also, as this apostle assures us, 1 Epist. ii. 4, 5, they must be like unto Christ himself, partaking of his nature, quickened by his Spirit, so, as it were, to be bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh: Eph. v. 30. Nor can any be built on him but by a living faith, effectual in universal obedience. These things the generality of men like not at all; and, therefore, the fabric of the living temple on this foundation is usually but small, seldom conspicuous or outwardly glorious. But if the pope be this rock, all the Papists in the world, or all that have a mind so to be — be they ever so wicked and ungodly — may be built upon him, and be made partakers of all that deliverance from the powers of hell which that rock can afford them. And all this may be obtained at a very easy rate; for the acknowledgment of the pope’s sovereign authority in the church is all that is required thereunto. How they bring in the claim of their pope by Peter, his being at Rome, being bishop of Rome, dying at Rome, fixing his chair at Rome, devoting and transmitting all his right, title, power, and authority, every thing but his faith, holiness, and labour in the ministry, unto the pope, I shall not here inquire; I have done it elsewhere. Here is fixed the root of the tree, which is grown great, like that in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, until it is become a receptacle for the beasts of the field and fowls of the air — sensual men and unclean spirits. I shall, therefore, briefly lay an axe unto the root of it, by evidencing that it is not the person of Peter who confessed Christ, but the person of Christ whom Peter confessed, that is the rock on which the church is built.
1. The variation of the expressions proves undeniably that our Saviour intended we should not understand the person of Peter to be the rock. He takes occasion from his name to declare what he designed, but no more: “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter.”...