1.Let every soul, etc. Inasmuch as he so carefully handles this subject in connection with what forms the Christian life, it appears that he was constrained to do so by some great necessity which existed especially in that age, though the preaching of the gospel at all times renders this necessary. There are indeed always some tumultuous spirits who believe that the kingdom of Christ cannot be sufficiently elevated, unless all earthly powers be abolished, and that they cannot enjoy the liberty given by him, except they shake off every yoke of human subjection. This error, however, possessed the minds of the Jews above all others; for it seemed to them disgraceful that the offspring of Abraham, whose kingdom flourished before the Redeemer’s coming, should now, after his appearance, continue in submission to another power. There was also another thing which alienated the Jews no less than the Gentiles from their rulers, because they all not only hated piety, but also persecuted religion with the most hostile feelings. Hence it seemed unreasonable to acknowledge them for legitimate princes and rulers, who were attempting to take away the kingdom from Christ, the only Lord of heaven and earth.
By these reasons, as it is probable, Paul was induced to establish, with greater care than usual, the authority of magistrates, and first he lays down a general precept, which briefly includes what he afterwards says: secondly, he subjoins an exposition and a proof of his precept.
He calls them the higher powers, not the supreme, who possess the chief authority, but such as excel other men. Magistrates are then thus called with regard to their subjects, and not as compared with each other. And it seems indeed to me, that the Apostle intended by this word to take away the frivolous curiosity of men, who are wont often to inquire by what right they who rule have obtained their authority; but it ought to be enough for us, that they do rule; for they have not ascended by their own power into this high station, but have been placed there by the Lord’s hand. And by mentioning every soul, he removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience.
For there is no power, etc. The reason why we ought to be subject to magistrates is, because they are constituted by God’s ordination. For since it pleases God thus to govern the world, he who attempts to invert the order of God, and thus to resist God himself, despises his power; since to despise the providence of him who is the founder of civil power, is to carry on war with him. Understand further, that powers are from God, not as pestilence, and famine, and wars, and other visitations for sin, are said to be from him; but because he has appointed them for the legitimate and just government of the world. For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, (ἀταξίας)are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the wellbeing of mankind. As it is lawful to repel wars and to seek remedies for other evils, hence the Apostle commands us willingly and cheerfully to respect and honor the right and authority of magistrates, as useful to men: for the punishment which God inflicts on men for their sins, we cannot properly call ordinations, but they are the means which he designedly appoints for the preservation of legitimate order.
Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. The expression every soul is often used as equivalent to every one; it is at times, however, emphatic, and such is probably the case in this passage. By higher powers are most commonly and naturally understood those in authority, without reference to their grade of office, or their character. We are to be subject not only to the supreme magistrates, but to all who have authority over us. The abstract word powers or authorities (ἐξουσίαι) is used for those who are invested with power, Luk_12:11; Eph_1:21; Eph_3:10, etc. etc. The word (ὑπερέχων) rendered higher, is applied to any one who, in dignity and authority, excels us. In 1Pe_2:13, it is applied to the king as supreme, i.e. superior to all other magistrates. But here one class of magistrates is not brought into comparison with another, but they are spoken of as being over other men who are not in office. It is a very unnatural interpretation which makes this word refer to the character of the magistrates, as though the sense were, ‘Be subject to good magistrates.’ This is contrary to the usage of the term, and inconsistent with the context. Obedience is not enjoined on the ground of the personal merit of those in authority, but on the ground of their official station.
There was peculiar necessity, during the apostolic age, for inculcating the duty of obedience to civil magistrates. This necessity arose in part from the fact that a large portion of the converts to Christianity had been Jews, and were peculiarly indisposed to submit to the heathen authorities. This indisposition (as far as it was peculiar) arose from the prevailing impression among them, that this subjection was unlawful, or at least highly derogatory to their character as the people of God, who had so long lived under a theocracy. In Deu_17:15, it is said, “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.” It was a question, therefore, constantly agitated among them, “Is it lawful to pay tribute unto Caesar, or not?” A question which the great majority were at least secretly inclined to answer in the negative. Another source of the restlessness of the Jews under a foreign yoke, was the idea which they entertained of the nature of the Messiah’s kingdom. As they expected a temporal Prince, whose kingdom should be of this world, they were ready to rise in rebellion at the call of every one who cried, “I am Christ.” The history of the Jews at this period shows how great was the effect produced by these and similar causes on their feelings towards the Roman government. They were continually breaking out into tumults, which led to their expulsion from Rome, and, finally, to the utter destruction of Jerusalem. It is therefore not a matter of surprise, that converts from among such a people should need the injunction, “Be subject to the higher powers.” Besides the effect of their previous opinions and feelings, there is something in the character of Christianity itself, and in the incidental results of the excitement which it occasions, to account for the repugnance of many of the early Christians to submit to their civil rulers. They wrested, no doubt, the doctrine of Christian liberty, as they did other doctrines, to suit their own inclinations. This result, however, is to be attributed not to religion, but to the improper feelings of those into whose minds the form of truth, without its full power, had been received.
For there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ἀπὸ θεοῦ. This is a very comprehensive proposition. All authority is of God. No man has any rightful power over other men, which is not derived from God. All human power is delegated and ministerial. This is true of parents, of magistrates, and of church officers. This, however, is not all the passage means. It not only asserts that all government (ἐξουσία, authority) is (ἀπὸ θεοῦ) derived from God, but that every magistrate is of God; that is, his authority is jure divino. The word ἐξουσία is evidently, in this connection, used in a concrete sense. This is plain from the use of the word in the other clauses of the verse. “The higher powers,” and “the powers that be,” are concrete terms, meaning those invested with power. Compare Rom_13:3, Rom_13:4, where “rulers” and “ministers” are substituted for the abstract “powers.” The doctrine here taught is the ground of the injunction contained in the first clause of the verse. We are to obey magistrates, because they derive their authority from God. Not only is human government a divine institution, but the form in which that government exists, and the persons by whom its functions are exercised, are determined by his providence. All magistrates of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God designates the individuals, but it being his will that there should be magistrates, every person, who is in point of fact clothed with authority, is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, founded on the will of God. In like manner, the authority of parents over their children, of husbands over their wives, of masters over their servants, is of God’s ordination. There is no limitation to the injunction in this verse, so far as the objects of obedience are concerned, although there is as to the extent of the obedience itself. That is, we are to obey all that is in actual authority over us, whether their authority be legitimate or usurped, whether they are just or unjust. The actual reigning emperor was to be obeyed by the Roman Christians, whatever they might think as to his title to the sceptre. But if he transcended his authority, and required them to worship idols, they were to obey God rather than man. This is the limitation to all human authority. Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God, then disobedience becomes a duty.
Let every soul – Every person. In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government; a subject which is extremely important, and at the same time exceedingly difficult. There is no doubt that he had express reference to the special situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a “general” bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following:
(1) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. Yet it contemplated the rearing of a kingdom amid other kingdoms, an empire amid other empires. Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their Lawgiver, their Sovereign, their Judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, “what kind” of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates.
(2) the kingdoms of the world were then “pagan” kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of paganism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, and blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were blood-stained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in their private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question, and one which could not but occur very early. It would occur also very soon, in circumstances that would be very affecting and trying. Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry.
(3) many of the early Christians were composed of Jewish converts. Yet the Jews had long been under Roman oppression, and had borne the foreign yoke with great uneasiness. The whole pagan magistracy they regarded as founded in a system of idolatry; as opposed to God and his kingdom; and as abomination in his sight. With these feelings they had become Christians; and it was natural that their former sentiments should exert an influence on them after their conversion. How far they should submit, if at all, to heathen magistrates, was a question of deep interest; and there was danger that the “Jewish” converts might prove to be disorderly and rebellious citizens of the empire.
(4) nor was the case much different with the “Gentile” converts. They would naturally look with abhorrence on the system of idolatry which they had just forsaken. They would regard all as opposed to God. They would denounce the “religion” of the pagans as abomination; and as that religion was interwoven with the civil institutions, there was danger also that they might denounce the government altogether, and be regarded as opposed to the laws of the land,
(5) there “were” cases where it was right to “resist” the laws. This the Christian religion clearly taught; and in cases like these, it was indispensable for Christians to take a stand. When the laws interfered with the rights of conscience; when they commanded the worship of idols, or any moral wrong, then it was their duty to refuse submission. Yet in what cases this was to be done, where the line was to be drawn, was a question of deep importance, and one which was not easily settled. It is quite probable, however, that the main danger was, that the early Christians would err in “refusing” submission, even when it was proper, rather than in undue conformity to idolatrous rites and ceremonies.
(6) in the “changes” which were to occur in human governments, it would be an inquiry of deep interest, what part Christians should take, and what submission they should yield to the various laws which might spring up among the nations. The “principles” on which Christians should act are settled in this chapter.
Be subject – Submit. The word denotes that kind of submission which soldiers render to their officers. It implies “subordination;” a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority of those over us. The word used here does not designate the “extent” of the submission, but merely enjoins it in general. The general principle will be seen to be, that we are to obey in all things which are not contrary to the Law of God.
The higher powers – The magistracy; the supreme government. It undoubtedly here refers to the Roman magistracy, and has relation not so much to the rulers as to the supreme “authority” which was established as the constitution of government; compare Mat_10:1; Mat_28:18.
For – The apostle gives a “reason” why Christians should be subject; and that reason is, that magistrates have received their appointment from God. As Christians, therefore, are to be subject to God, so they are to honor “God” by honoring the arrangement which he has instituted for the government of mankind. Doubtless, he here intends also to repress the vain curiosity and agitation with which men are prone to inquire into the “titles” of their rulers; to guard them from the agitation and conflicts of party, and of contentions to establish a favorite on the throne. It might be that those in power had not a proper title to their office; that they had secured it, not according to justice, but by oppression; but into that question Christians were not to enter. The government was established, and they were not to seek to overturn it.
No power – No office; no magistracy; no civil rule.
But of God – By God’s permission, or appointment; by the arrangements of his providence, by which those in office had obtained their power. God often claims and asserts that “He” sets up one, and puts down another; Psa_75:7; Dan_2:21; Dan_4:17, Dan_4:25, Dan_4:34-35.
The powers that be – That is, all the civil magistracies that exist; those who have the “rule” over nations, by whatever means they may have obtained it. This is equally true at all times, that the powers that exist, exist by the permission and providence of God.
Are ordained of God – This word “ordained” denotes the “ordering” or “arrangement” which subsists in a “military” company, or army. God sets them “in order,” assigns them their location, changes and directs them as he pleases. This does not mean that he “originates” or causes the evil dispositions of rulers, but that he “directs” and “controls” their appointment. By this, we are not to infer:
(1) That he approves their conduct; nor,
(2) That what they do is always right; nor,
(3) That it is our duty “always” to submit to them.
Their requirements “may be” opposed to the Law of God, and then we are to obey God rather than man; Act_4:19; Act_5:29. But it is meant that the power is intrusted to them by God; and that he has the authority to remove them when he pleases. If they abuse their power, however, they do it at their peril; and “when” so abused, the obligation to obey them ceases. That this is the case, is apparent further from the nature of the “question” which would be likely to arise among the early Christians. It “could not be” and “never was” a question, whether they should obey a magistrate when he commanded a thing that was plainly contrary to the Law of God. But the question was, whether they should obey a pagan magistrate at “all.” This question the apostle answers in the affirmative, because “God” had made government necessary, and because it was arranged and ordered by his providence. Probably also the apostle had another object in view. At the time in which he wrote this Epistle, the Roman Empire was agitated with civil dissensions. One emperor followed another in rapid succession. The throne was often seized, not by right, but by crime. Different claimants would rise, and their claims would excite controversy. The object of the apostle was to prevent Christians from entering into those disputes, and from taking an active part in a political controversy. Besides, the throne had been “usurped” by the reigning emperors, and there was a prevalent disposition to rebel against a tyrannical government. Claudius had been put to death by poison; Caligula in a violent manner; Nero was a tyrant; and amidst these agitations, and crimes, and revolutions, the apostle wished to guard Christians from taking an active part in political affairs.
2.And they who resist, etc. As no one can resist God but to his own ruin, he threatens, that they shall not be unpunished who in this respect oppose the providence of God. Let us then beware, lest we incur this denunciation. And by judgment, I understand not only the punishment which is inflicted by the magistrate, as though he had only said, that they would be justly punished who resisted authority; but also the vengeance of God, however it may at length be executed: for he teaches us in general what end awaits those who contend with God.
Whoso, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. This is an obvious inference from the doctrine of the preceding verse. If it is the will of God that there should be civil government, and persons appointed to exercise authority over others, it is plain that to resist such persons in the exercise of their lawful authority is an act of disobedience to God.
And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. This also is an obvious conclusion from the preceding. If disobedience is a sin it will be punished. The word (κρίμα) rendered damnation, means simply sentence, judicial decision; whether favorable or adverse, depends on the context. Here it is plain it means a sentence of condemnation. He shall be condemned, and, by implication, punished. As the word damnation is by modern usage restricted to the final and eternal condemnation of the wicked, it is unsuited to this passage and some others in which it occurs in our version; see 1Co_11:29. Paul does not refer to the punishment which the civil magistrate may inflict; for he is speaking of disobedience to those in authority as a sin against God, which he will punish.
It is clear that this passage (Rom_13:1, Rom_13:2) is applicable to men living under every form of government, monarchical, aristocratical, or democratical, in all their various modifications. Those who are in authority are to be obeyed within their sphere, no matter how or by whom appointed. It is the οὖσαι ἐξουσίαι, the powers that be, the de facto government, that is to be regarded as, for the time being, ordained of God. It was to Paul a matter of little importance whether the Roman emperor was appointed by the senate, the army, or the people; whether the assumption of the imperial authority by Caesar was just or unjust, or whether his successors had a legitimate claim to the throne or not. It was his object to lay down the simple principle, that magistrates are to be obeyed. The extent of this obedience is to be determined from the nature of the case. They are to be obeyed as magistrates, in the exercise of their lawful authority. When Paul commands wives to obey their husbands, they are required to obey them as husbands, not as masters, nor as kings; children are to obey their parents as parents, not as sovereigns; and so in every other case. This passage, therefore, affords a very slight foundation for the doctrine of passive obedience.
Whosoever therefore resisteth … – That is, they who rise up against “government itself;” who seek anarchy and confusion; and who oppose the regular execution of the laws. It is implied, however, that those laws shall not be such as to violate the rights of conscience, or oppose the laws of God.
Resisteth the ordinance of God – What God has ordained, or appointed. This means clearly that we are to regard “government” as instituted by God, and as agreeable to his will. “When” established, we are not to be agitated about the “titles” of the rulers; not to enter into angry contentions, or to refuse to submit to them, because we are apprehensive of a defect in their “title,” or because they may have obtained it by oppression. If the government is established, and if its decisions are not a manifest violation of the laws of God, we are to submit to them.
Shall receive to themselves damnation – The word “damnation” we apply now exclusively to the punishment of hell; to future torments. But this is not necessarily the meaning of the word which is used here κρίμα krima. It often simply denotes “punishment;” Rom_3:8; 1Co_11:29; Gal_5:10. In this place the word implies “guilt” or “criminality” in resisting the ordinance of God, and affirms that the man that does it shall be punished. Whether the apostle means that he shall be punished by “God,” or by the “magistrate,” is not quite clear. Probably the “latter,” however, is intended; compare Rom_13:4. It is also true that such resistance shall be attended with the displeasure of God, and be punished by him.
3. For princes, etc. He now commends to us obedience to princes on the ground of utility; for the causative γὰρ, for, is to be referred to the first proposition, and not to the last verse. Now, the utility is this, — that the Lord has designed in this way to provide for the tranquillity of the good, and to restrain the waywardness of the wicked; by which two things the safety of mankind is secured: for except the fury of the wicked be resisted, and the innocent be protected from their violence, all things would come to an entire confusion. Since then this is the only remedy by which mankind can be preserved from destruction, it ought to be carefully observed by us, unless we wish to avow ourselves as the public enemies of the human race.
And he adds, Wilt not thou then fear the power? Do good. By this he intimates, that there is no reason why we should dislike the magistrate, if indeed we are good; nay, that it is an implied proof of an evil conscience, and of one that is devising some mischief, when any one wishes to shake off or to remove from himself this yoke. But he speaks here of the true, and, as it were, of the native duty of the magistrate, from which however they who hold power often degenerate; yet the obedience due to princes ought to be rendered to them. For since a wicked prince is the Lord’s scourge to punish the sins of the people, let us remember, that it happens through our fault that this excellent blessing of God is turned into a curse.
Let us then continue to honor the good appointment of God, which may be easily done, provided we impute to ourselves whatever evil may accompany it. Hence he teaches us here the end for which magistrates are instituted by the Lord; the happy effects of which would always appear, were not so noble and salutary an institution marred through our fault. At the same time, princes do never so far abuse their power, by harassing the good and innocent, that they do not retain in their tyranny some kind of just government: there can then be no tyranny which does not in some respects assist in consolidating the society of men.
He has here noticed two things, which even philosophers have considered as making a part of a well-ordered administration of a commonwealth, that is, rewards for the good, and punishment for the wicked. The word praise has here, after the Hebrew manner, a wide meaning.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. This verse is not to be connected with the second, but with the first, as it assigns an additional reason for the duty there enjoined. Magistrates are to be obeyed, for such is the will of God, and because they are appointed to repress evil and promote good. There is a ground, therefore, in the very nature of their office, why they should not be resisted.
Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shall have praise of the same. That is, government is not an evil to be feared, except by evil doers. As the magistrates are appointed for the punishment of evil, the way to avoid suffering from their authority is not to resist it, but to do that which is good. Paul is speaking of the legitimate design of government, not of the abuse of power by wicked men.
For rulers – The apostle here speaks of rulers “in general.” It may not be “universally” true that they are not a terror to good works, for many of them have “persecuted” the good; but it is generally true that they who are virtuous have nothing to fear from the laws. It is “universally” true that the design of their appointment by God was, not to injure and oppress the good, but to detect and punish the evil. Magistrates, “as such,” are not a terror to good works.
Are not a terror … – Are not appointed to “punish the good.” Their appointment is not to inspire terror in those who are virtuous and peaceable citizens; compare 1Ti_1:9.
But to the evil – Appointed to detect and punish evildoers; and therefore an object of terror to them. The design of the apostle here is evidently to reconcile Christians to submission to the government, from its “utility.” It is appointed to protect the good against the evil; to restrain oppression, injustice, and fraud; to bring offenders to justice, and thus promote the peace and harmony of the community. As it is designed to promote order and happiness, it should be submitted to; and so long as “this” object is pursued, and obtained, government should receive the countenance and support of Christians. But if it departs from this principle, and becomes the protector of the evil and the oppressor of the good, the case is reversed, and the obligation to its support must cease.
Wilt thou not … – If you do evil by resisting the laws, and in any other manner, will you not fear the power of the government? Fear is “one” of the means by which men are restrained from crime in a community. On many minds it operates with much more power than any other motive. And it is one which a magistrate must make use of to restrain men from evil.
Do that which is good – Be a virtuous and peaceable citizen; abstain from crime, and yield obedience to all the just laws of the land,
And thou shalt have praise of the same – Compare 1Pe_2:14-15. You shall be unmolested and uninjured, and shall receive the commendation of being peaceable and upright citizens. The prospect of that protection, and even of that reputation, is not an unworthy motive to yield obedience to the laws. Every Christian should desire the reputation of being a man seeking the welfare of his country, and the just execution of the laws.
4.For he is God’s minister for good, etc. Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked.
For they bear not the sword in vain, etc. It is another part of the office of magistrates, that they ought forcibly to repress the waywardness of evil men, who do not willingly suffer themselves to be governed by laws, and to inflict such punishment on their offenses as God’s judgment requires; for he expressly declares, that they are armed with the sword, not for an empty show, but that they may smite evil-doers.
And then he says, An avenger, to execute wrath, etc. This is the same as if it had been said, that he is an executioner of God’s wrath; and this he shows himself to be by having the sword, which the Lord has delivered into his hand. This is a remarkable passage for the purpose of proving the right of the sword; for if the Lord, by arming the magistrate, has also committed to him the use of the sword, whenever he visits the guilty with death, by executing God’s vengeance, he obeys his commands. Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men.
For he is the minister of God to thee for good, etc. This whole verse is but an amplification of the preceding. ‘Government is a benevolent institution of God, designed for the benefit of men; and, therefore, should be respected and obeyed. As it has, however, the rightful authority to punish, it is to be feared by those that do evil.’ For good, i.e. to secure or promote your welfare. Magistrates or rulers are not appointed for their own honor or advantage, but for the benefit of society, and, therefore, while those in subjection are on this account to obey them, they themselves are taught, what those in power are so apt to forget, that they are the servants of the people as well as the servants of God, and that the welfare of society is the only legitimate object which they as rulers are at liberty to pursue.
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath (εἰς ὀργήν, i.e. for the purpose of punishment) upon him that doeth evil. As one part of the design of government is to protect the good, so the other is to punish the wicked. The existence of this delegated authority is, therefore, a reason why men should abstain from the commission of evil. He beareth not the sword in vain, i.e. it is not in vain that he is in vested with authority to punish. The reference is not to the dagger worn by the Roman emperors as a sign of office, μάχαιρα in the New Testament always means sword, which of old was the symbol of authority, and specially of the right of life and death. As the common method of inflicting capital punishment was by decapitation with a sword, that instrument is mentioned as the symbol of the right of punishment, and, as many infer from this passage, of the right of capital punishment.
The minister of God – The “servant” of God he is appointed by God to do his will, and to execute his purposes. “To thee.” For your benefit.
For good – That is, to protect you in your rights; to vindicate your name, person, or property; and to guard your liberty, and secure to you the results of your industry. The magistrate is not appointed directly to “reward” people, but they “practically” furnish a reward by protecting and defending them, and securing to them the interests of justice.
If thou do that … – That is, if any citizen should do evil.
Be afraid – Fear the just vengeance of the laws.
For he beareth not the sword in vain – The “sword” is an instrument of punishment, as well as an emblem of war. Princes were accustomed to wear a sword as an emblem of their authority; and the “sword” was often used for the purpose of “beheading,” or otherwise punishing the guilty. The meaning of the apostle is, that he does not wear this badge of authority as an unmeaningful show, but that it will be used to execute the laws. As this is the design of the power intrusted to him, and as he will “exercise” his authority, people should be influenced “by fear” to keep the law, even if there were no better motive.
A revenger … – In Rom_12:19, vengeance is said to belong to God. Yet he “executes” his vengeance by means of subordinate agents. It belongs to him to take vengeance by direct judgments, by the plague, famine, sickness, or earthquakes; by the appointment of magistrates; or by letting loose the passions of people to prey upon each other. When a magistrate inflicts punishment on the guilty, it is to be regarded as the act of God taking vengeance “by him;” and on this principle only is it right for a judge to condemn a man to death. It is not because one man has by nature any right over the life of another, or because “society” has any right collectively which it has not as individuals; but because “God” gave life, and because he has chosen to take it away when crime is committed by the appointment of magistrates, and not by coming forth himself visibly to execute the laws. Where “human” laws fail, however, he often takes vengeance into his own hands, and by the plague, or some signal judgments, sweeps the guilty into eternity.
To execute wrath – For an explanation of the word “wrath,” see the notes at Rom_1:18. It denotes here “punishment,” or the just execution of the laws. It may be remarked that this verse is an “incidental” proof of the propriety of “capital punishment.” The sword was undoubtedly an instrument for this purpose, and the apostle mentions its use without any remark of “disapprobation.” He enjoins subjection to those who “wear the sword,” that is, to those who execute the laws “by that;” and evidently intends to speak of the magistrate “with the sword,” or in inflicting capital punishment, as having received the appointment of God. The tendency of society now is “not” to too sanguinary laws. It is rather to forget that God has doomed the murderer to death; and though humanity should be consulted in the execution of the laws, yet there is no humanity in suffering the murderer to live to infest society, and endanger many lives, in the place of his own, which was forfeited to justice. Far better that one murderer should die, than that he should be suffered to live, to imbrue his hands perhaps in the blood of many who are innocent. But the authority of God has settled this question Gen_9:5-6, and it is neither right nor safe for a community to disregard his solemn decisions; see “Blackstone’s Commentaries,” vol. iv. p. 8, (9.)
5.It is therefore necessary, etc. What he had at first commanded as to the rendering of obedience to magistrates, he now briefly repeats, but with some addition, and that is, — that we ought to obey them, not only on the ground of necessity arising from man, but that we thereby obey God; for by wrath he means the punishment which the magistrates inflict for the contempt of their dignity; as though he had said, “We must not only obey, because we cannot with impunity resist the powerful and those armed with authority, as injuries are wont to be borne with which cannot be repelled; but we ought to obey willingly, as conscience through God’s word thus binds us.” Though then the magistrate were disarmed, so that we could with impunity provoke and despise him, yet such a thing ought to be no more attempted than if we were to see punishment suspended over us; for it belongs not to a private individual to take away authority from him whom the Lord has in power set over us. This whole discourse is concerning civil government; it is therefore to no purpose that they who would exercise dominion over consciences do hence attempt to establish their sacrilegious tyranny.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. That is, subjection to magistrates is not only a civil duty enforced by penal statutes, but also a religious duty, and part of our obedience to God. For wrath, i.e. from fear of punishment. For conscience’ sake, i.e. out of regard to God, from conscientious motives. In like manner, Paul enforces all relative and social duties on religious grounds. Children are to obey their parents, because it is right in the sight of God; and servants are to be obedient to their masters, as unto Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, Eph_6:1, Eph_6:5, Eph_6:6.
Wherefore – διό dio. The “reasons” why we should be subject, which the apostle had given, were two,
(1) That government was appointed by God.
(2) that violation of the laws would necessarily expose to punishment.
Ye must needs be – It is “necessary” ἀναγκή anagkē to be. This is a word stronger than what implies mere “fitness” or propriety. It means that it is a matter of high obligation and of “necessity” to be subject to the civil ruler.
Not only for wrath – Not only on account of the “fear of punishment;” or the fact that wrath will be executed on evil doers.
For conscience’ sake – As a matter of conscience, or of “duty to God,” because “he” has appointed it, and made it necessary and proper. A good citizen yields obedience because it is the will of God; and a Christian makes it a part of his religion to maintain and obey the just laws of the land; see Mat_22:21; compare Ecc_8:2, “I counsel them to keep the king’s commandments, and “that in regard of the oath of God.”
6.For this reason also, etc. He takes occasion to introduce the subject of tributes, the reason for which he deduces from the office of magistrates; for if it be their duty to defend and safely preserve the peace of the good, and to resist the mischievous attempts of the wicked, this they cannot do unless they are aided by sufficient force. Tributes then are justly paid to support such necessary expenses. But respecting the proportion of taxes or tributes, this is not the place to discuss the subject; nor does it belong to us either to prescribe to princes how much they ought to expend in every affair, or to call them to an account. It yet behooves them to remember, that whatever they receive from the people, is as it were public property, and not to be spent in the gratification of private indulgence. For we see the use for which Paul appoints these tributes which are to be paid — even that kings may be furnished with means to defend their subjects.
For, for this cause, pay ye tribute also. This verse may be connected, by the words (διὰ τοῦτο) rendered for this cause, with the preceding, thus, ‘Wherefore (i.e., for conscience’ sake) ye should pay tribute also.’ But it is better to consider this clause as containing an inference from the foregoing exhibition of the nature and design of civil government: ‘Since civil government is constituted for the benefit of society, for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of those that do well, ye should cheerfully pay the contributions requisite for its support.’
For they are the ministers of God, attending continually on this very thing. This clause introduces another reason for the payment of tribute. They, not the tax-gatherers, but οἱ ἄρχοντες, the rulers, to whom the tribute is due. Magistrates are not only appointed for the public good, but they are the ministers of God, and consequently it is his will that we should contribute whatever is necessary to enable them to discharge their duty. The word (λειτουργοί) rendered ministers, means public servants, men appointed for any public work, civil or religious. Among the Greek democratical states, especially at Athens, those persons were particularly so called, who were required to perform some public service at their own expense. It is used in Scripture in a general sense, for Servants or ministers, Rom_15:16; Heb_1:7; Heb_8:2. The words εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο, to this very thing, may refer to tax-gathering. The magistrates are divinely commissioned, or authorized to collect tribute. This is necessary to the support of government; and government being a divine institution, God, in ordaining the end, has thereby ordained the means. It is because magistrates, in the collection of taxes, act as the λειτουργοὶ θεοῦ, the executive officers of God, that we are bound to pay them. Others make the αὐτὸ τοῦτο refer to the λειτουργία, or service of God, which is implied in magistrates being called λειτουργοί. ‘They are the ministers of God attending constantly to their ministry.’ The former interpretation is the more consistent with the context.
Ye pay (teleite). Present active indicative (not imperative) of teleō, to fulfil.
Tribute (phorous). Old word from pherō, to bring, especially the annual tax on lands, etc. (Luk_20:22; Luk_23:1). Paying taxes recognizes authority over us.
Ministers of God’s service (leitourgoi theou). Late word for public servant (unused leitos from Attic leōs, people, and ergō, to work). Often used of military servants, servants of the king, and temple servants (Heb_8:2). Paul uses it also of himself as Christ’s leitourgos (Rom_15:16) and of Epaphroditus as a minister to him (Phi_2:25). See theou diakonos in Rom_13:4.
Attending continually (proskarterountes). Present active participle of the late verb proskartereō (pros and kartereō from kartos or kratos, strength) to persevere. See note on Act_2:42 and note on Act_8:13.
For this cause – Because they are appointed by God; for the sake of conscience, and in order to secure the execution of the laws. As they are appointed by God, the tribute which is needful for their support becomes an act of homage to God, an act performed in obedience to his will, and acceptable to him.
Tribute also – Not only be subject Rom_13:5, but pay what may be necessary to support the government. “Tribute” properly denotes the “tax,” or annual compensation, which was paid by one province or nation to a superior, as the price of protection, or as an acknowledgment of subjection. The Romans made all conquered provinces pay this “tribute;” and it would become a question whether it was “right” to acknowledge this claim, and submit to it. Especially would this question be agitated by the Jews and by Jewish Christians. But on the principle which the apostle had laid down Rom_13:1-2, it was right to do it, and was demanded by the very purposes of government. In a larger sense, the word “tribute” means any tax paid on land or personal estate for the support of the government.
For they are God’s ministers – His servants; or they are appointed by him. As the government is “his” appointment, we should contribute to its support as a matter of conscience, because we thus do honor to the arrangement of God. It may be observed here, also, that the fact that civil rulers are the ministers of God, invests their character with great sacredness, and should impress upon “them” the duty of seeking to do his will, as well as on others the duty of submitting to them.
Attending continually – As they attend to this, and devote their time and talents to it, it is proper that they should receive a suitable support. It becomes then a duty for the people to contribute cheerfully to the necessary expenses of the government. If those taxes should be unjust and oppressive, yet, like other evils, they are to be submitted to, until a remedy can be found in a proper way.
7.Render then to all what is due, etc. The Apostle seems here summarily to include the particulars in which the duties of subjects towards magistrates consist, — that they are to hold them in esteem and honor, that they are to obey their edicts, laws, and judgments, — that they are to pay tributes and customs. By the word fear, he means obedience; by customs and tributes, not only imposts and taxes, but also other revenues.
Now this passage confirms what I have already said, — that we ought to obey kings and governors, whoever they may be, not because we are constrained, but because it is a service acceptable to God; for he will have them not only to be feared, but also honored by a voluntary respect.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. ‘Such being the will of God, and such the benevolent design of civil government, render to magistrates (and to all others) what properly belongs to them, whether pecuniary contribution, reverence, or honor.’ The word all seems, from the context, to have special reference to all in authority, though it is not necessary to confine it to such persons exclusively. The word (φόρος) tribute is applied properly to land and capitation tax; and (τέλος) to the imposts levied on merchandise. The words (φόβος) fear, and (τιμή) honor, are generally considered in this connection as differing only in degree; the former expressing the reverence to superiors, the latter the respect to equals.
Render therefore … – This injunction is often repeated in the Bible; see the notes at Mat_22:21; see also Mat_17:25-27; 1Pe_2:13-17; Pro_24:21. It is one of the most lovely and obvious of the duties of religion. Christianity is not designed to break in upon the proper order of society, but rather to establish and confirm that order. It does not rudely assail existing institutions: but it comes to put them on a proper footing, to diffuse a mild and pure influence over all, and to secure “such” an influence in all the relations of life as shall tend best to promote the happiness of man and the welfare of the community.
Is due – To whom it properly belongs by the law of the land, and according to the ordinance of God. It is represented here as a matter of “debt,” as something which is “due” to the ruler; a fair “compensation” to him for the service which he renders us by devoting his time and talents to advance “our” interests, and the welfare of the community. As taxes are a “debt,” a matter of strict and just obligation, they should be paid as conscientiously and as cheerfully as any other just debts, however contracted.
Custom – τέλος telos. The word rendered “tribute” means, as has been remarked, the tax which is paid by a tributary prince or dependent people; also the tax imposed on land or real estate. The word here translated “custom” means properly the revenue which is collected on “merchandise,” either imported or exported.
Fear – See Rom_13:4. We should stand in awe of those who wear the sword, and who are appointed to execute the laws of the land. Since the execution of their office is suited to excite “fear,” we should render to them that reverence which is appropriate to the execution of their function. It means a solicitous anxiety lest we do anything to offend them.
Honour – The difference between this and “fear” is, that this rather denotes “reverence, veneration, respect” for their names, offices, rank, etc. The former is the “fear” which arises from the dread of punishment. Religion gives to people all their just titles, recognizes their rank and function, and seeks to promote due subordination in a community. It was no part of the work of our Saviour, or of his apostles, to quarrel with the mere “titles” of people, or to withhold from them the customary tribute of respect and homage; compare Act_24:3; Act_26:25; Luk_1:3; 1Pe_2:17. In this verse there is summed up the duty which is owed to magistrates. It consists in rendering to them proper honor contributing cheerfully and conscientiously to the necessary expenses of the government; and in yielding obedience to the laws. These are made a part of the duty which we owe to God, and should be considered as enjoined by our religion.
On the subject discussed in these seven verses, the following “principles” seem to be settled by the authority of the Bible, and are now understood,
(1) That government is essential; and its necessity is recognised by God, and it is arranged by his providence. God has never been the patron of anarchy and disorder.
(2) Civil rulers are dependent on God. He has the entire control over them, and can set them up or put them down when he pleases.
(3) the authority of God is superior to that of civil rulers. They have no right to make enactments which interfere with “his” authority.
(4) it is not the business of civil rulers to regulate or control religion. That is a distinct department, with which they have no concern, except to protect it.
(5) the rights of all people are to be preserved. People are to be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and to be protected in those rights, provided they do not violate the peace and order of the community.
(6) Civil rulers have no right to persecute Christians, or to attempt to secure conformity to their views by force. The conscience cannot be compelled; and in the affairs of religion man must be free.
In view of this subject we may remark,
(1) That the doctrines respecting the rights of civil rulers, and the line which is to be drawn between their powers and the rights of conscience, have been slow to be understood. The struggle has been long; and a thousand persecutions have shown the anxiety of the magistrate to rule the conscience, and to control religion. In pagan countries it has been conceded that the civil ruler had a right to control the “religion” of the people: church and state there have been one. The same thing was attempted under Christianity. The magistrate still claimed this right, and attempted to enforce it. Christianity resisted the claim, and asserted the independent and original rights of conscience. A conflict ensued, of course, and the magistrate resorted to persecutions, to “subdue” by force the claims of the new religion and the rights of conscience. Hence, the ten fiery and bloody persecutions of the primitive church. The blood of the early Christians flowed like water; thousands and tens of thousands went to the stake, until Christianity triumphed, and the right of religion to a free exercise was acknowledged throughout the empire.
(2) it is matter of devout thanksgiving that the subject is now settled, and the principle is now understood. In our own land (America) there exists the happy and bright illustration of the true principle on this great subject. The rights of conscience are regarded, and the laws peacefully obeyed. The civil ruler understands his province; and Christians yield a cheerful and cordial obedience to the laws. The church and state move on in their own spheres, united only in the purpose to make men happy and good; and divided only as they relate to different departments, and contemplate, the one, the rights of civil society, the other, the interests of eternity. Here, every man worships God according to his own views of duty; and at the same time, here is rendered the most cordial and peaceful obedience to the laws of the land. Thanks should be rendered without ceasing to the God of our fathers for the wondrous train of events by which this contest has been conducted to its issue; and for the clear and full understanding which we now have of the different departments pertaining to the church and the state.
8.To no one owe ye, etc. There are those who think that this was not said without a taunt, as though Paul was answering the objection of those who contended that Christians were burdened in having other precepts than that of love enjoined them. And indeed I do not deny, but that it may be taken ironically, as though he conceded to those who allowed no other law but that of love, what they required, but in another sense. And yet I prefer to take the words simply as they are; for I think that Paul meant to refer the precept respecting the power of magistrates to the law of love, lest it should seem to any one too feeble; as though he had said, — “When I require you to obey princes, I require nothing more than what all the faithful ought to do, as demanded by the law of love: for if ye wish well to the good, (and not to wish this is inhuman,) ye ought to strive, that the laws and judgments may prevail, that the administrators of the laws may have an obedient people, so that through them peace may be secured to all.” He then who introduces anarchy, violates love; for what immediately follows anarchy, is the confusion of all things.
For he who loves another, etc. Paul’s design is to reduce all the precepts of the law to love, so that we may know that we then rightly obey the commandments, when we observe the law of love, and when we refuse to undergo no burden in order to keep it. He thus fully confirms what he has commanded respecting obedience to magistrates, in which consists no small portion of love.
But some are here impeded, and they cannot well extricate themselves from this difficulty, — that Paul teaches us that the law is fulfilled when we love our neighbor, for no mention is here made of what is due to God, which ought not by any means to have been omitted. But Paul refers not to the whole law, but speaks only of what the law requires from us as to our neighbor. And it is doubtless true, that the whole law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors; for true love towards man does not flow except from the love of God, and it is its evidence, and as it were its effects. But Paul records here only the precepts of the second table, and of these only he speaks, as though he had said, — “He who loves his neighbor as himself, performs his duty towards the whole world.” Puerile then is the gloss of the Sophists, who attempt to elicit from this passage what may favor justification by works: for Paul declares not what men do or do not, but he speaks hypothetically of that which you will find nowhere accomplished. And when we say, that men are not justified by works, we deny not that the keeping of the law is true righteousness: but as no one performs it, and never has performed it, we say, that all are excluded from it, and that hence the only refuge is in the grace of Christ.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another, etc. That is, acquit yourselves of all obligations, except love, which is a debt that must remain ever due. This is the common, and considering the context, which abounds with commands, the most natural interpretation of this passage. Others, however, take the verb (ὀφείλετε) as in the indicative, instead of the imperative mood, and understand the passage thus: ‘Ye owe no man any thing but love, (which includes all other duties,) for he that loves another fulfills the law.’ This gives a good sense, when this verse is taken by itself; but viewed in connection with those which precede and follow, the common interpretation is much more natural. Besides, “the indicative would require οὐδενὶ οὐδέν, and not μηδενὶ μηδέν. The use of the subjective negative shows that a command is intended.” Meyer. The idea which a cursory reader might be disposed to attach to these words, in considering them as a direction not to contract pecuniary debts, is not properly expressed by them; although the prohibition, in its spirit, includes the incurring of such obligations, when we have not the certain prospect of discharging them. The command, however, is, ‘Acquit yourselves of all obligations, tribute, custom, fear, honor, or whatever else you may owe, but remember that the debt of love is still unpaid, and always must remain so; for love includes all duty, since he that loves another fulfills the law.’ He that loveth another hath fulfilled (πεπλήρωκε) the law. It is already done. That is, all the law contemplated, in its specific commands relating to our social duties, is attained when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Save to love one another (ei mē to allēlous agapāin). “Except the loving one another.” This articular infinitive is in the accusative case the object of opheilete and partitive apposition with mēden (nothing). This debt can never be paid off, but we should keep the interest paid up.
His neighbour (ton heteron). “The other man,” “the second man.” “Just as in the relations of man and God pistis has been substituted for nomos, so between man and man agapē takes the place of definite legal relations” (Sanday and Headlam). See Mat_22:37-40 for the words of Jesus on this subject. Love is the only solution of our social relations and national problems.
Owe no man anything – Be not “in debt” to anyone. In the previous verse the apostle had been discoursing of the duty which we owe to magistrates. He had particularly enjoined on Christians to pay to “them” their just dues. From this command to discharge fully this obligation, the transition was natural to the subject of debts “in general,” and to an injunction not to be indebted to “any one.” This law is enjoined in this place:
(1) Because it is a part of our duty as good citizens; and,
(2) Because it is a part of that law which teaches us to love our neighbor, and to “do no injury to him,” Rom_13:10.
The interpretation of this command is to be taken with this limitation, that we are not to be indebted to him so as to “injure” him, or to work “ill” to him.
This rule, together with the other rules of Christianity, would propose a remedy for all the evils of bad debts in the following manner.
(1) it would teach people to be “industrious,” and this would commonly prevent the “necessity” of contracting debts.
(2) it would make them “frugal, economical,” and “humble” in their views and manner of life.
(3) it would teach them to bring up their families in habits of industry. The Bible often enjoins that; see the note at Rom_12:11; compare Phi_4:8; Pro_24:30-34; 1Th_4:11; 2Th_3:10; Eph_4:25.
(4) Religion would produce sober, chastened views of the end of life, of the great design of living; and would take off the affections from the splendor, gaiety, and extravagances which lead often to the contraction of debts; 1Th_5:6, 1Th_5:8; 1Pe_1:13; 1Pe_4:7; Tit_2:12; 1Pe_3:3, 1Pe_3:5; 1Ti_2:9.
(5) Religion would put a period to the “vices” and unlawful desires which now prompt people to contract debts.
(6) it would make them “honest” in paying them. It would make them conscientious, prompt, friends of truth, and disposed to keep their promises.
But to love one another – Love is a debt which “can” never be discharged. We should feel that we “owe” this to all people, and though by acts of kindness we may be constantly discharging it, yet we should feel that it can “never” be fully met while there is opportunity to do good.
For he that loveth … – In what way this is done is stated in Rom_13:10. The law in relation to our neighbor is there said to be simply that we do no “ill” to him. Love to him would prompt to no injury. It would seek to do him good, and would thus fulfil all the purposes of justice and truth which we owe to him. In order to illustrate this, the apostle, in the next verse, runs over the laws of the Ten Commandments in relation to our neighbor, and shows that all those laws proceed on the principle that we are to “love” him, and that love would prompt to them all.
9.For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc. It cannot be from this passage concluded what precepts are contained in the second table, for he subjoins at the end, and if there be any other precept He indeed omits the command respecting the honoring of parents; and it may seem strange, that what especially belonged to his subject should have been passed by. But what if he had left it out, lest he should obscure his argument? Though I dare not to affirm this, yet I see here nothing wanting to answer the purpose he had in view, which was to show, — that since God intended nothing else by all his commandments than to teach us the duty of love, we ought by all means to strive to perform it. And yet the uncontentious reader will readily acknowledge, that Paul intended to prove, by things of a like nature, that the import of the whole law is, that love towards one another ought to be exercised by us, and that what he left to be implied is to be understood, and that is, — that obedience to magistrates is not the least thing which tends to nourish peace, to preserve brotherly love.
For this – “This” which follows is the sum of the laws. “This” is to regulate us in our conduct toward our neighbor. The word “this” here stands opposed to “that” in Rom_13:11. This law of love would prompt us to seek our neighbor’s good; “that” fact, that our salvation is near, would prompt us to be active and faithful in the discharge of all the duties we owe to him.
Thou shalt not commit adultery – All the commands which follow are designed as an illustration of the duty of loving our neighbor; see these commands considered in the notes at Mat_19:18-19. The apostle has not enumerated “all” the commands of the second table. He has shown generally what they required. The command to honor our parents he has omitted. The reason might have been that it was not so immediately to his purpose when discoursing of love to a “neighbor” – a word which does not immediately suggest the idea of near relatives. The expression, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” is rejected by the best critics as of doubtful authority, but it does not materially affect the spirit of the passage. It is missing in many manuscripts and in the Syriac version.
If there be any other commandment – The law respecting parents; or if there be any duty which does not seem to be “specified” by these laws, it is implied in the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is briefly comprehended – Greek, It may be reduced to “this head;” or it is summed up in this.
In this saying – This word, or command,
Thou shalt love … – This is found in Lev_19:18. See it considered in the notes at Mat_19:19. If this command were fulfilled, it would prevent all fraud, injustice, oppression, falsehood, adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness. It is the same as our Saviour’s golden rule. And if every man would do to others as he would wish them to do to him, all the design of the Law would be at once fulfilled.
10.Love doeth no evil to a neighbor, etc. He demonstrates by the effect, that under the word love are contained those things which are taught us in all the commandments; for he who is endued with true love will never entertain the thought of injuring others. What else does the whole law forbid, but that we do no harm to our neighbor? This, however, ought to be applied to the present subject; for since magistrates are the guardians of peace and justice, he who desires that his own right should be secured to every one, and that all may live free from wrong, ought to defend, as far as he can, the power of magistrates. But the enemies of government show a disposition to do harm. And when he repeats that the fulfilling of the law is love, understand this, as before, of that part of the law which refers to mankind; for the first table of the law, which contains what we owe to God, is not here referred to at all.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. That is, as love delights in the happiness of its object, it effectually prevents us from injuring those we love, and, consequently, leads us to fulfill all the law requires, because the law requires nothing which is not conducive to the best interests of our fellow men. He, therefore, who loves his neighbor with the same sincerity that he loves himself, and consequently treats him as he would wish, under similar circumstances, to be treated by him, will fulfill all that the law enjoins; hence the whole law is comprehended in this one command, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Love worketh no ill … – Love would seek to do him good; of course it would prevent all dishonesty and crime toward others. It would prompt to justice, truth, and benevolence. If this law were engraved on every man’s heart, and practiced in his life, what a change would it immediately produce in society! If all people would at once “abandon” what is suited to “work ill” to others, what an influence would it have on the business and commercial affairs of people. How many plans of fraud and dishonesty would it at once arrest. How many schemes would it crush. It would silence the voice of the slanderer; it would stay the plans of the seducer and the adulterer; it would put an end to cheating, and fraud, and all schemes of dishonest gain. The gambler desires the property of his neighbor without any compensation; and thus works “ill” to him. The dealer in “lotteries” desires property for which he has never toiled, and which must be obtained at the expense and loss of others. And there are many “employments” all whose tendency is to work “ill” to a neighbor. This is pre-eminently true of the traffic in “ardent spirits.” It cannot do him good, and the almost uniform result is to deprive him of his property, health, reputation, peace, and domestic comfort. He that sells his neighbor liquid fire, knowing what must be the result of it, is not pursuing a business which works no ill to him; and love to that neighbor would prompt him to abandon the traffic; see Hab_2:15, “Wo unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that putteth thy bottle to him, and makest him drink also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness.”
Therefore … – “Because” love does no harm to another, it is “therefore” the fulfilling of the Law, implying that all that the Law requires is to “love” others.
Is the fulfilling – Is the “completion,” or meets the requirements of the Law. The Law of God on this “head,” or in regard to our duty to our neighbor, requires us to do justice toward him, to observe truth, etc. “All” this will be met by “love;” and if people truly “loved” others, all the demands of the Law would be satisfied.
Of the law – Of the Law of Moses, but particularly the Ten Commandments.
11.Moreover, etc. He enters now on another subject of exhortation, that as the rays of celestial life had begun to shine on us as it were at the dawn, we ought to do what they are wont to do who are in public life and in the sight of men, who take diligent care lest they should commit anything that is base or unbecoming; for if they do anything amiss, they see that they are exposed to the view of many witnesses. But we, who always stand in the sight of God and of angels, and whom Christ, the true sun of righteousness, invites to his presence, we indeed ought to be much more careful to beware of every kind of pollution.
The import then of the words is this, “Since we know that the seasonable time has already come, in which we should awake from sleep, let us cast aside whatever belongs to the night, let us shake off all the works of darkness, since the darkness itself has been dissipated, and let us attend to the works of light, and walk as it becomes those who are enjoying the day.” The intervening words are to be read as in a parenthesis.
As, however, the words are metaphorical, it may be useful to consider their meaning: Ignorance of God is what he calls night; for all who are thus ignorant go astray and sleep as people do in the night. The unbelieving do indeed labor under these two evils, they are blind and they are insensible; but this insensibility he shortly after designated by sleep, which is, as one says, an image of death. By light he means the revelation of divine truth, by which Christ the sun of righteousness arises on us. He mentions awake, by which he intimates that we are to be equipped and prepared to undertake the services which the Lord requires from us. The works of darkness are shameful and wicked works; for night, as some one says, is shameless. The armor of light represents good, and temperate, and holy actions, such as are suitable to the day; and armor is mentioned rather than works, because we are to carry on a warfare for the Lord.
But the particles at the beginning, And this, are to be read by themselves, for they are connected with what is gone before; as we say in Latin Adhoec — besides, or proeterea — moreover. The time, he says, was known to the faithful, for the calling of God and the day of visitation required a new life and new morals, and he immediately adds an explanation, and says, that it was the hour to awake: for it is not χρόνος but καιρὸς which means a fit occasion or a seasonable time.
For nearer is now our salvation, etc. This passage is in various ways perverted by interpreters. Many refer the word believed to the time of the law, as though Paul had said, that the Jews believed before Christ came; which view I reject as unnatural and strained; and surely to confine a general truth to a small part of the Church, would have been wholly inconsistent. Of that whole assembly to which he wrote, how few were Jews? Then this declaration could not have been suitable to the Romans. Besides, the comparison between the night and the day does in my judgment dissipate every doubt on the point. The declaration then seems to me to be of the most simple kind, — “Nearer is salvation now to us than at that time when we began to believe:” so that a reference is made to the time which had preceded as to their faith. For as the adverb here used is in its import indefinite, this meaning is much the most suitable, as it is evident from what follows.
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than then we believed. From this verse to the end of the chapter, Paul exhorts his readers to discharge the duties already enjoined, and urges on them to live a holy and exemplary life. The consideration by which this exhortation is enforced, is, that the night is far spent, and that the day is at hand, the time of deliverance is fast approaching. The words (καὶ τοῦτο) rendered and that, are by many considered as elliptical, and the word (ποιεῖτε) do is supplied; ‘And this do.’ The demonstrative pronoun, however, is frequently used to mark the importance of the connection between two circumstances for the case in hand, (Passow, Vol. 2., p. 319,)‹71› and is, therefore, often equivalent to the phrases, and indeed, the more, etc. So in this case, ‘We must discharge our various duties, and that knowing,’ etc., i.e., ‘the rather, because we know,’ etc.; compare Heb_11:12; 1Co_6:6; Eph_2:8. Knowing the time, i.e. considering the nature and character of the period in which we now live. The original word (καιρός) does not mean time in the general sense, but a portion of time considered as appropriate, as fixed, as short, etc. Paul immediately explains himself by adding, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; it was the proper time to arouse themselves from their slumbers, and, shaking off all slothfulness, to address themselves earnestly to work. For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. This is the reason why it is time to be up and active, salvation is at hand. There are three leading interpretations of this clause. The first is, that it means that the time of salvation, or special favor to the Gentiles, and of the destruction of the Jews, was fast approaching. So Hammond, Whitby, and many others. But for this there is no foundation in the simple meaning of the words, nor in the context. Paul evidently refers to something of more general and permanent interest than the overthrow of the Jewish nation, and the consequent freedom of the Gentile converts from their persecutions. The night that was far spent, was not the night of sorrow arising from Jewish bigotry; and the day that was at hand was something brighter and better than deliverance from its power. A second interpretation very generally received of late is, that the reference is to the second advent of Christ. It is assumed that the early Christians, and even the inspired apostles, were under the constant impression that Christ was to appear in person for the establishment of his kingdom, before that generation passed away. This assumption is founded on such passages as the following: Phi_4:5, “The Lord is at hand;” 1Th_4:17, “We that are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air;” 1Co_15:51, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” etc. With regard to this point, we may remark —
1. That neither the early Christians nor the apostles knew when the second advent of Christ was to take place. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, nor the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall the coming of the Son of man be,” Mat_24:36, Mat_24:37. “They (the apostles) asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power,” Act_1:6, Act_1:7. But of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you, for ye yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night,” 1Th_5:1, 1Th_5:2.
2. Though they knew not when it was to be, they knew that it was not to happen immediately, nor until a great apostasy had occurred. “Now we beseech you, brethren, by (or concerning) the coming of the Lord Jesus, and our gathering together to him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind … as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed,” etc., 2Th_2:1-3; and 2Th_2:5, “Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” Besides this distinct assertion, that the second advent of Christ was not to occur before the revelation of the man of sin, there are several other predictions in the writings of Paul, which necessarily imply his knowledge of the fact, that the day of judgment was not immediately at hand, 1Ti_4:1-3; Rom_11:25. The numerous prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the future conversion of the Jews, and various other events, were known to the apostles and precluded the possibility of their believing that the world was to come to an end before those prophecies were fulfilled.
3. We are not to understand the expressions, day of the Lord, the appearing of Christ, the coming of the Son of man, in all cases in the same way. The day of the Lord is a very familiar expression in the Scriptures to designate any time of the special manifestation of the divine presence, either for judgment or mercy; see Eze_13:5; Joe_1:15; Isa_2:12; Isa_13:6, Isa_13:9. So also God or Christ is said to come to any person or place, when he makes any remarkable exhibition of his power or grace. Hence the Son of man was to come for the destruction of Jerusalem, before the people of that generation all perished; and the summons of death is sometimes represented as the coming of Christ to judge the soul. What is the meaning of such expressions must be determined by the context, in each particular case.
4. It cannot, therefore, be inferred from such declarations as “the day of the Lord is at hand;” “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh;” “the judge is at the door,” etc., that those who made them supposed that the second advent and final judgment were to take place immediately. They expressly assert the contrary, as has just been shown.
5. The situation of the early Christians was, in this respect, similar to ours. They believed that Christ was to appear the second time without sin unto salvation; but when this advent was to take place, they did not know. They looked and longed for the appearing of the great God their Savior, as we do now; and the prospect of this event operated upon them as it should do upon us, as a constant motive to watchfulness and diligence, that we may be found of him in peace.
There is nothing, therefore, in the Scriptures, nor in this immediate context, which requires us to suppose that Paul intended to say that the time of the second advent was at hand, when he tells his readers that their salvation was nearer than when they believed.
The third and most common, as well as the most natural interpretation of this passage is, that Paul meant simply to remind them that the time of deliverance was near; that the difficulties and sins with which they had to contend, would soon be dispersed as the shades and mists of night before the rising day. The salvation, therefore, here intended, is the consummation of the work of Christ in their deliverance from this present evil world, and introduction into the purity and blessedness of heaven. Eternity is just at hand, is the solemn consideration that Paul urges on his readers as a motive for devotion and diligence.
And that – The word “that,” in this place, is connected in signification with the word ““this” in Rom_13:9. The meaning may be thus expressed: All the requirements of the Law toward our neighbor may be met by two things: one is Rom_13:9-10 by love; the other is Rom_13:11-14 by remembering that we are near to eternity; keeping a deep sense of “this” truth before the mind. “This” will prompt to a life of honesty, truth, and peace, and contentment, Rom_13:13. The doctrine in these verses Rom_13:11-14, therefore, is, “that a deep conviction of the nearness of eternity will prompt to an upright life in the contact of man with man.
Knowing the time – Taking a proper “estimate” of the time. Taking just views of the shortness and the value of time; of the design for which it was given, and of the fact that it is, in regard to us, rapidly coming to a close. And still further considering, that the time in which you live is the time of the gospel, a period of light and truth, when you are particularly called on to lead holy lives, and thus to do justly to all. The “previous” time had been a period of ignorance and darkness, when oppression, and falsehood, and sin abounded. This, the time of the “gospel,” when God had “made known” to people his will that they should be pure.
High time – Greek, “the hour.”
To awake … – This is a beautiful figure. The dawn of day, the approaching light of the morning, is the time to arouse from slumber. In the darkness of night, people sleep. So says the apostle. The world has been sunk in the “night” of paganism and sin. At that time it was to be expected that they would sleep the sleep of spiritual death. But now the morning light of the gospel dawns. The Sun of righteousness has arisen. It is “time,” therefore, for people to cast off the deeds of darkness, and rise to life, and purity, and action; compare Act_17:30-31. The same idea is beautifully presented in 1Th_5:5-8. The meaning is,” Hitherto we have walked in darkness and in sin. Now we walk in the light of the gospel. We know our duty. We are sure that the God of light is around us, and is a witness of all we do. We are going soon to meet him, and it becomes us to rouse, and to do those deeds, and those only, which will bear the bright shining of the light of truth, and the scrutiny of him who is “light, and in whom is no darkness at all;” 1Jo_1:5.
Sleep – Inactivity; insensibility to the doctrines and duties of religion. People, by nature, are active only in deeds of wickedness. In regard to religion they are insensible, and the slumbers of night are on their eyelids. Sleep is “the kinsman of death,” and it is the emblem of the insensibility and stupidity of sinners. The deeper the ignorance and sin, the greater is this insensibility to spiritual things, and to the duties which we owe to God and man.
For now is our salvation – The word “salvation” has been here variously interpreted. Some suppose that by it the apostle refers to the personal reign of Christ on the earth. (Tholuck, and the Germans generally.) Others suppose it refers to deliverance from “persecutions.” Others, to increased “light” and knowledge of the gospel, so that they could more clearly discern their duty than when they became believers. (Rosenmuller.) It probably, however, has its usual meaning here, denoting that deliverance from sin and danger which awaits Christians in heaven; and is thus equivalent to the expression, “You are advancing nearer to heaven. You are hastening to the world of glory. Daily we are approaching the kingdom of light; and in prospect of that state, we ought to lay aside every sin, and live more and more in preparation for a world of light and glory.”
Than when we believed – Than when we “began” to believe. Every day brings us nearer to a world of perfect light.
12.The night has advanced, and the day, etc. This is the season which he had just mentioned; for as the faithful are not as yet received into full light, he very fitly compares to the dawn the knowledge of future life, which shines on us through the gospel: for day is not put here, as in other places, for the light of faith, (otherwise he could not have said that it was only approaching, but that it was present, for it now shines as it were in the middle of its progress,) but for that glorious brightness of the celestial life, the beginnings of which are now seen through the gospel.
The sum of what he says is, — that as soon as God begins to call us, we ought to do the same, as when we conclude from the first dawn of the day that the full sun is at hand; we ought to look forward to the coming of Christ.
He says that the night had advanced, because we are not so overwhelmed with thick darkness as the unbelieving are, to whom no spark of life appears; but the hope of resurrection is placed by the gospel before our eyes; yea, the light of faith, by which we discover that the full brightness of celestial glory is nigh at hand, ought to stimulate us, so that we may not grow torpid on the earth. But afterwards, when he bids us to walk in the light, as it were during the day time, he does not continue the same metaphor; for he compares to the day our present state, while Christ shines on us. His purpose was in various ways to exhort us, — at one time to meditate on our future life; at another, to contemplate the present favor of God.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast of the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. The general sentiment of this verse is very obvious. Night or darkness is the common emblem of sin and sorrow; day or light, that of knowledge, purity, and happiness. The meaning of the first clause therefore is, that the time of sin and sorrow is nearly over, that of holiness and happiness is at hand. The particular form and application of this general sentiment depends, however, on the interpretation given to the preceding verse. If that verse refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, then Paul means to say, that the night of persecution was nearly gone, and the day of peace and prosperity to the Gentile churches was at hand. But if Rom_13:11 refers to final salvation, then this verse means, that the sins and sorrows of this life will soon be over, and the day of eternal blessedness is about to dawn. The latter view is to be preferred.
Paul continues this beautiful figure through the verse. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. That is, let us renounce those things which need to be concealed, and clothe ourselves with those which are suited to the light. The works of darkness are those works which men are accustomed to commit in the dark, or which suit the dark; and armor of light means those virtues and good deeds which men are not ashamed of, because they will bear to be seen. Paul probably used the word (ὅπλα) armor, instead of works, because these virtues constitute the offensive and defensive weapons with which we are here to contend against sin and evil; see Eph_6:11. The words ἀποτίθεσθαι and ἐνδύεσθαι suggest the idea of clothing. We are to cast off one set of garments and to put on another. The clothes which belong to the night are to be cast aside, and we are to array ourselves in those suited to the day.
The night – The word “night,” in the New Testament, is used to denote “night” literally (Mat_2:14, etc.); the starry heavens Rev_8:12; and then it denotes a state of “ignorance” and “crime,” and is synonymous with the word “darkness,” as such deeds are committed commonly in the night; 1Th_5:5. In this place it seems to denote our present imperfect and obscure condition in this world as contrasted with the pure light of heaven The “night,” the time of comparative obscurity and sin in which we live even under the gospel, is far gone in relation to us, and the pure splendors of heaven are at hand,
Is far spent – Literally, “is cut off.” It is becoming “short;” it is hastening to a close.
The day – The full splendors and glory of redemption in heaven. Heaven is often thus represented as a place of pure and splendid day; Rev_21:23, Rev_21:25; Rev_22:5. The times of the “gospel” are represented as times of “light” (Isa_60:1-2; Isa_60:19-20, etc.); but the reference here seems to be rather to the still brighter glory and splendor of heaven, as the place of pure, unclouded, and eternal day.
Is at hand – Is near; or is drawing near. This is true respecting all Christians. The day is near, or the time when they shall be admitted to heaven is not remote. This is the uniform representation of the New Testament; Heb_10:25; 1Pe_4:7; Jam_5:8; Rev_22:10; 1Th_5:2-6; Phi_4:5. That the apostle did not mean, however, that the end of the world was near, or that the day of judgment would come soon, is clear from his own explanations; see 1Th_5:2-6; compare 2 Thes. 2.
Let us therefore – As we are about to enter on the glories of that eternal day, we should be pure and holy. The “expectation” of it will teach us to “seek” purity; and a pure life alone will fit us to enter there; Heb_12:14.
Cast off – Lay aside, or put away.
The works of darkness – Dark, wicked deeds, such as are specified in the next verse. They are called “works of darkness,” because darkness in the Scriptures is an emblem of crime, as well as of ignorance, and because such deeds are commonly committed in the night; 1Th_5:7, “They that be drunken, are drunken in the night;” compare Joh_3:20; Eph_5:11-13.
Let us put on – Let us clothe ourselves with.
The armour of light – The word “armor” ὅπλα hopla properly means “arms,” or instruments of war, including the helmet, sword, shield, etc. Eph_6:11-17. It is used in the New Testament to denote the “aids” which the Christian has, or the “means of defense” in his warfare, where he is represented as a soldier contending with his foes, and includes truth, righteousness, faith, hope, etc. as the instruments by which he is to gain his victories. In 2Co_6:7, it is called “the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” It is called armor of light, because it is not to accomplish any deeds of darkness or of crime; it is appropriate to one who is pure, and who is seeking a pure and noble object. Christians are represented as the “children of light;” 1Th_5:5; Note, Luk_16:8. By the armor of light, therefore, the apostle means those graces which stand opposed to the deeds of darkness Rom_13:13; those graces of faith, hope, humility, etc. which shall be appropriate to those who are the children of the day, and which shall be their defense in their struggles with their spiritual foes. see the description in full in Eph_4:11-17.
13.Not in reveling, etc. He mentions here three kinds of vices, and to each he has given two names, — intemperant and excess in living, — carnal lust and uncleanness, which is connected with it, — and envy and contention. If these have in them so much filthiness, that even carnal men are ashamed to commit them before the eyes of men, it behooves us, who are in the light of God, at all times to abstain from them; yea, even when we are withdrawn from the presence of men. As to the third vice, though contention is put before envying, there is yet. no doubt but that Paul intended to remind us, that strifes and contests arise from this fountain; for when any one seeks to excel, there is envying of one another; but ambition is the source of both evils.
Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and darkenness; not in chambering and wantonness; not in strife and envying. This verse is an amplification of the preceding, stating some of those works of darkness which we are to put off; as Rom_13:14 states what is the armor of light which we are to put on. The word (εὐσχημόνως) rendered honestly, means becomingly, properly. There are three classes of sins specified in this verse, to each of which two words are appropriated, viz., intemperance, impurity, and discord. Rioting and drunkenness belong to the first. The word (κῶμος) appropriately rendered rioting, is used both in reference to the disorderly religious festivals kept in honor of Bacchus, and to the common boisterous carousing of intemperate young men, (see Passow, Vol. 1, p. 924.) The words chambering and wantonness, include all kinds of uncleanness; and strife and envying, all kinds of unholy emulation and discord.
Let us walk – To “walk” is an expression denoting “to live;” let us “live,” or “conduct,” etc.
Honestly – The word used here means rather in a “decent’ or “becoming” manner; in a manner “appropriate” to those who are the children of light.
As in the day – As if all our actions were seen and known. People by day, or in open light, live decently; their foul and wicked deeds are done in the night. The apostle exhorts Christians to live as if all their conduct were seen, and they had nothing which they wished to conceal.
In rioting – Revelling; denoting the licentious conduct, the noisy and obstreperous mirth, the scenes of disorder and sensuality, which attend luxurious living.
Drunkenness – Rioting and drunkenness constitute the “first” class of sins from which he would keep them. It is scarcely necessary to add that these were common crimes among the pagan.
In chambering – “Lewd, immodest behavior.” (Webster.) The Greek word includes illicit indulgences of all kinds, adultery, etc. The words chambering and wantonness constitute the “second” class of crimes from which the apostle exhorts Christians to abstain. That these were common crimes among the pagan, it is not necessary to say; see the Rom. 1 notes; also Eph_5:12 note. It is not possible, nor would it be proper, to describe the scenes of licentious indulgence of which all pagans are guilty. Since Christians were to be a special people, therefore the apostle enjoins on them purity and holiness of life.
Not in strife – Strife and envying are the “third” class of sins from which the apostle exhorts them. The word “strife” means “contention, disputes, litigations.” The exhortation is that they should live in peace.
Envying – Greek, Zeal. It denotes any intense, vehement, “fervid” passion. It is not improperly rendered here by envying. These vices are properly introduced in connection with the others. They usually accompany each other. Quarrels and contentions come out of scenes of drunkenness and debauchery. But for such scenes, there would be little contention, and the world would be comparatively at peace.
14.But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, etc. This metaphor is commonly used in Scripture with respect to what tends to adorn or to deform man; both of which may be seen in his clothing: for a filthy and torn garment dishonors a man; but what is becoming and clean recommends him. Now to put on Christ, means here to be on every side fortified by the power of his Spirit, and be thereby prepared to discharge all the duties of holiness; for thus is the image of God renewed in us, which is the only true ornament of the soul. For Paul had in view the end of our calling; inasmuch as God, by adopting us, unites us to the body of his only-begotten Son, and for this purpose, — that we, renouncing our former life, may become new men in him. On this account he says also in another place, that we put on Christ in baptism. (Gal_3:27.)
And have no care, etc. As long as we carry about us our flesh, we cannot cast away every care for it; for though our conversation is in heaven, we yet sojourn on earth. The things then which belong to the body must be taken care of, but not otherwise than as they are helps to us in our pilgrimage, and not that they may make us to forget our country. Even heathens have said, that a few things suffice nature, but that the appetites of men are insatiable. Every one then who wishes to satisfy the desires of the flesh, must necessarily not only fall into, but be immerged in a vast and deep gulf.
Paul, setting a bridle on our desires, reminds us, that the cause of all intemperance is, that no one is content with a moderate or lawful use of things: he has therefore laid down this rule, — that we are to provide for the wants of our flesh, but not to indulge its lusts. It is in this way that we shall use this world without abusing it.
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. be as he was. To put on Christ, signifies to be intituately united to him, so that he, and not we, may appear, Gal_3:27 : ‘Let not your own evil deeds be seen, (i.e., do not commit such,) but let what Christ was appear in all your conduct, as effectually as if clothed with the garment of his virtues.’
And make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. That is, let it not be your care to gratify the flesh. By flesh, in this passage, is perhaps generally understood the body; so that the prohibition is confined to the vicious indulgence of the sensual appetites. But there seems to be no sufficient reason for this restriction. As the word is constantly used by Paul for whatever is corrupt, and in the preceding verse the sins of envy and contention are specially mentioned, it may be understood more generally, ‘Do not indulge the desires of your corrupt nature.’