Subjection to civil governors inculcated, from the consideration that civil government is according to the ordinance of God; and that those who resist the lawfully constituted authorities shall receive condemnation, Romans 13:1, Romans 13:2. And those who are obedient shall receive praise, Romans 13:3. The character of a lawful civil governor, Romans 13:4. The necessity of subjection, Romans 13:5. The propriety of paying lawful tribute, Romans 13:6, Romans 13:7. Christians should love one another, Romans 13:8-10. The necessity of immediate conversion to God proved from the shortness and uncertainty of time, Romans 13:11, Romans 13:12. How the Gentiles should walk so as to please God, and put on Christ Jesus in order to their salvation, Romans 13:13, Romans 13:14.
To see with what propriety the apostle introduces the important subjects which he handles in this chapter, it is necessary to make a few remarks on the circumstances in which the Church of God then was.
It is generally allowed that this epistle was written about the year of our Lord 58, four or five years after the edict of the Emperor Claudius, by which all the Jews were banished from Rome. And as in those early times the Christians were generally confounded with the Jews, it is likely that both were included in this decree.
For what reason this edict was issued does not satisfactorily appear. Suetonius tells us that it was because the Jews were making continual disturbances under their leader Christus. (See the note on Acts 18:2.) That the Jews were in general an uneasy and seditious people is clear enough from every part of their own history. They had the most rooted aversion to the heathen government; and it was a maxim with them that the world was given to the Israelites; that they should have supreme rule every where, and that the Gentiles should be their vassals. With such political notions, grounded on their native restlessness, it is no wonder if in several instances they gave cause of suspicion to the Roman government, who would be glad of an opportunity to expel from the city persons whom they considered dangerous to its peace and security; nor is it unreasonable on this account to suppose, with Dr. Taylor, that the Christians, under a notion of being the peculiar people of God, and the subjects of his kingdom alone, might be in danger of being infected with those unruly and rebellious sentiments: therefore the apostle shows them that they were, notwithstanding their honors and privileges as Christians, bound by the strongest obligations of conscience to be subject to the civil government. The judicious commentator adds: "I cannot forbear observing the admirable skill and dexterity with which the apostle has handled the subject. His views in writing are always comprehensive on every point; and he takes into his thoughts and instructions all parties that might probably reap any benefit by them. As Christianity was then growing, and the powers of the world began to take notice of it, it was not unlikely that this letter might fall into the hands of the Roman magistrates. And whenever that happened it was right, not only that they should see that Christianity was no favourer of sedition, but likewise that they should have an opportunity of reading their own duty and obligations. But as they were too proud and insolent to permit themselves to be instructed in a plain, direct way, therefore the apostle with a masterly hand, delineates and strongly inculcates the magistrate's duty; while he is pleading his cause with the subject, and establishing his duty on the most sure and solid ground, he dexterously sides with the magistrate, and vindicates his power against any subject who might have imbibed seditious principles, or might be inclined to give the government any disturbance; and under this advantage he reads the magistrate a fine and close lecture upon the nature and ends of civil government. A way of conveyance so ingenious and unexceptionable that even Nero himself, had this epistle fallen into his hands, could not fail of seeing his duty clearly stated, without finding any thing servile or flattering on the one hand, or offensive or disgusting on the other.
"The attentive reader will be pleased to see with what dexterity, truth, and gravity the apostle, in a small compass, affirms and explains the foundation, nature, ends, and just limits of the magistrate's authority, while he is pleading his cause, and teaching the subject the duty and obedience he owes to the civil government." - Dr. Taylor's Notes, page 352.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers - This is a very strong saying, and most solemnly introduced; and we must consider the apostle as speaking, not from his own private judgment, or teaching a doctrine of present expediency, but declaring the mind of God on a subject of the utmost importance to the peace of the world; a doctrine which does not exclusively belong to any class of people, order of the community, or official situations, but to every soul; and, on the principles which the apostle lays down, to every soul in all possible varieties of situation, and on all occasions. And what is this solemn doctrine? It is this: Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Let every man be obedient to the civil government under which the providence of God has cast his lot.
For there is no power but of God - As God is the origin of power, and the supreme Governor of the universe, he delegates authority to whomsoever he will; and though in many cases the governor himself may not be of God, yet civil government is of him; for without this there could be no society, no security, no private property; all would be confusion and anarchy, and the habitable world would soon be depopulated. In ancient times, God, in an especial manner, on many occasions appointed the individual who was to govern; and he accordingly governed by a Divine right, as in the case of Moses, Joshua, the Hebrew judges, and several of the Israelitish kings. In after times, and to the present day, he does that by a general superintending providence which he did before by especial designation. In all nations of the earth there is what may be called a constitution - a plan by which a particular country or state is governed; and this constitution is less or more calculated to promote the interests of the community. The civil governor, whether he be elective or hereditary, agrees to govern according to that constitution. Thus we may consider that there is a compact and consent between the governor and the governed, and in such a case, the potentate may be considered as coming to the supreme authority in the direct way of God's providence; and as civil government is of God, who is the fountain of law, order, and regularity, the civil governor, who administers the laws of a state according to its constitution, is the minister of God. But it has been asked: If the ruler be an immoral or profligate man, does he not prove himself thereby to be unworthy of his high office, and should he not be deposed? I answer, No: if he rule according to the constitution, nothing can justify rebellion against his authority. He may be irregular in his own private life; he may be an immoral man, and disgrace himself by an improper conduct: but if he rule according to the law; if he make no attempt to change the constitution, nor break the compact between him and the people; there is, therefore, no legal ground of opposition to his civil authority, and every act against him is not only rebellion in the worst sense of the word, but is unlawful and absolutely sinful.
Nothing can justify the opposition of the subjects to the ruler but overt attempts on his part to change the constitution, or to rule contrary to law. When the ruler acts thus he dissolves the compact between him and his people; his authority is no longer binding, because illegal; and it is illegal because he is acting contrary to the laws of that constitution, according to which, on being raised to the supreme power, he promised to govern. This conduct justifies opposition to his government; but I contend that no personal misconduct in the ruler, no immorality in his own life, while he governs according to law, can justify either rebellion against him or contempt of his authority. For his political conduct he is accountable to his people; for his moral conduct he is accountable to God, his conscience, and the ministers of religion. A king may be a good moral man, and yet a weak, and indeed a bad and dangerous prince. He may be a bad man, and stained with vice in his private life, and yet be a good prince. Saul was a good moral man, but a bad prince, because he endeavored to act contrary to the Israelitish constitution: he changed some essential parts of that constitution, as I have elsewhere shown; (see the note on Acts 13:22;); he was therefore lawfully deposed. James the Second was a good moral man, as far as I can learn, but he was a bad and dangerous prince; he endeavored to alter, and essentially change the British constitution, both in Church and state, therefore he was lawfully deposed. It would be easy, in running over the list of our own kings, to point out several who were deservedly reputed good kings, who in their private life were very immoral. Bad as they might be in private life, the constitution was in their hands ever considered a sacred deposit, and they faithfully preserved it, and transmitted it unimpaired to their successors; and took care while they held the reins of government to have it impartially and effectually administered.
It must be allowed, notwithstanding, that when a prince, howsoever heedful to the laws, is unrighteous in private life, his example is contagious; morality, banished from the throne, is discountenanced by the community; and happiness is diminished in proportion to the increase of vice. On the other hand, when a king governs according to the constitution of his realms and has his heart and life governed by the laws of his God, he is then a double blessing to his people; while he is ruling carefully according to the laws, his pious example is a great means of extending and confirming the reign of pure morality among his subjects. Vice is discredited from the throne, and the profligate dare not hope for a place of trust and confidence, (however in other respects he may be qualified for it), because he is a vicious man.
As I have already mentioned some potentates by name, as apt examples of the doctrines I have been laying down, my readers will naturally expect that, on so fair an opportunity, I should introduce another; one in whom the double blessing meets; one who, through an unusually protracted reign, during every year of which he most conscientiously watched over the sacred constitution committed to his care, not only did not impair this constitution, but took care that its wholesome laws should be properly administered, and who in every respect acted as the father of his people, and added to all this the most exemplary moral conduct perhaps ever exhibited by a prince, whether in ancient or modern times; not only tacitly discountenancing vice by his truly religious conduct, but by his frequent proclamations most solemnly forbidding Sabbath-breaking, profane swearing, and immorality in general. More might be justly said, but when I have mentioned all these things, (and I mention them with exultation; and with gratitude to God), I need scarcely add the venerable name of George the Third, king of Great Britain; as every reader will at once perceive that the description suits no potentate besides. I may just observe, that notwithstanding his long reign has been a reign of unparalleled troubles and commotions in the world, in which his empire has always been involved, yet, never did useful arts, ennobling sciences, and pure religion gain a more decided and general ascendancy: and much of this, under God, is owing to the manner in which this king has lived, and the encouragement he invariably gave to whatever had a tendency to promote the best interests of his people. Indeed it has been well observed, that, under the ruling providence of God, it was chiefly owing to the private and personal virtues of the sovereign that the house of Brunswick remained firmly seated on the throne amidst the storms arising from democratical agitations and revolutionary convulsions in Europe during the years 1792-1794. The stability of his throne amidst these dangers and distresses may prove a useful lesson to his successors, and show them the strength of a virtuous character, and that morality and religion form the best bulwark against those great evils to which all human governments are exposed. This small tribute of praise to the character and conduct of the British king, and gratitude to God for such a governor, will not be suspected of sinister motive; as the object of it is, by an inscrutable providence, placed in a situation to which neither envy, flattery, nor even just praise can approach, and where the majesty of the man is placed in the most awful yet respectable ruins. I have only one abatement to make: had this potentate been as adverse from War as he was from public and private vices, he would have been the most immaculate sovereign that ever held a scepter or wore a crown.
But to resume the subject, and conclude the argument: I wish particularly to show the utter unlawfulness of rebellion against a ruler, who, though he may be incorrect in his moral conduct, yet rules according to the laws; and the additional blessing of having a prince, who, while his political conduct is regulated by the principles of the constitution, has his heart and life regulated by the dictates of eternal truth, as contained in that revelation which came from God.
Whosoever resisteth the power - Ὁ αντιτασσομενος, He who sets himself in order against this order of God; τῃ του Θεου διαταγῃ, and they who resist, οἱ ανθεστηκοτες, they who obstinately, and for no right reason, oppose the ruler, and strive to unsettle the constitution, and to bring about illegal changes,
Shall receive to themselves damnation - Κριμα, condemnation; shall be condemned both by the spirit and letter of that constitution, which, under pretense of defending or improving, they are indirectly labouring to subvert.
For rulers are not a terror to good works - Here the apostle shows the civil magistrate what he should be: he is clothed with great power, but that power is entrusted to him, not for the terror and oppression of the upright man, but to overawe and punish the wicked. It is, in a word, for the benefit of the community, and not for the aggrandizement of himself, that God has entrusted the supreme civil power to any man. If he should use this to wrong, rob, spoil, oppress, and persecute his subjects, he is not only a bad man, but also a bad prince. He infringes on the essential principles of law and equity. Should he persecute his obedient, loyal subjects, on any religious account, this is contrary to all law and right; and his doing so renders him unworthy of their confidence, and they must consider him not as a blessing but a plague. Yet, even in this case, though in our country it would be a breach of the constitution, which allows every man to worship God according to his conscience, the truly pious will not feel that even this would justify rebellion against the prince; they are to suffer patiently, and commend themselves and their cause to him that judgeth righteously. It is an awful thing to rebel, and the cases are extremely rare that can justify rebellion against the constituted authorities. See the doctrine on Romans 13:1.
Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? - If thou wouldst not live in fear of the civil magistrate, live according to the laws; and thou mayest expect that he will rule according to the laws, and consequently instead of incurring blame thou wilt have praise. This is said on the supposition that the ruler is himself a good man: such the laws suppose him to be; and the apostle, on the general question of obedience and protection, assumes the point that the magistrate is such.
For he is the minister of God to thee for good - Here the apostle puts the character of the ruler in the strongest possible light. He is the minister of God - the office is by Divine appointment: the man who is worthy of the office will act in conformity to the will of God: and as the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears open to their cry, consequently the ruler will be the minister of God to them for good.
He beareth not the sword in vain - His power is delegated to him for the defense and encouragement of the good, and the punishment of the wicked; and he has authority to punish capitally, when the law so requires: this the term sword leads us to infer.
For he is the minister of God, a revenger - Θεοῦ διακονος εστιν εκδικος, For he is God's vindictive minister, to execute wrath; εις οργην, to inflict punishment upon the transgressors of the law; and this according to the statutes of that law; for God's civil ministers are never allowed to pronounce or inflict punishment according to their own minds or feeling, but according to the express declarations of the law.
Ye must needs be subject - Αναγκη, There is a necessity that ye should be subject, not only for wrath, δια την οργην, on account of the punishment which will be inflicted on evil doers, but also for conscience' sake; not only to avoid punishment, but also to preserve a clear conscience. For, as civil government is established in the order of God for the support, defense, and happiness of society, they who transgress its laws, not only expose themselves to the penalties assigned by the statutes, but also to guilt in their own consciences, because they sin against God. Here are two powerful motives to prevent the infraction of the laws and to enforce obedience.
- The dread of punishment; this weighs with the ungodly.
For this cause pay ye tribute also - Because civil government is an order of God, and the ministers of state must be at considerable expense in providing for the safety and defense of the community, it is necessary that those in whose behalf these expenses are incurred should defray that expense; and hence nothing can be more reasonable than an impartial and moderate taxation, by which the expenses of the state may be defrayed, and the various officers, whether civil or military, who are employed for the service of the public, be adequately remunerated. All this is just and right, but there is no insinuation in the apostle's words in behalf of an extravagant and oppressive taxation, for the support of unprincipled and unnecessary wars; or the pensioning of corrupt or useless men. The taxes are to be paid for the support of those who are God's ministers - the necessary civil officers, from the king downwards, who are attending Continually on this very thing. And let the reader observe, that by God's ministers are not meant here the ministers of religion, but the civil officers in all departments of the state.
Render therefore to all their dues - This is an extensive command. Be rigidly just; withhold neither from the king nor his ministers, nor his officers of justice and revenue, nor from even the lowest of the community, what the laws of God and your country require you to pay.
Tribute to whom tribute - Φορον· This word probably means such taxes as were levied on persons and estates.
Custom to whom custom - Τελος· This word probably means such duties as were laid upon goods, merchandise, etc., on imports and exports; what we commonly call custom. Kypke on this place has quoted some good authorities for the above distinction and signification. Both the words occur in the following quotation from Strabo: Αναγκη γαρ μειουσθαι τα τελη, φορων επιβαλλομενων· It is necessary to lessen the Customs, if Taxes be imposed. Strabo, lib. ii., page 307. See several other examples in Kypke.
Fear to whom fear - It is likely that the word φοβον, which we translate fear, signifies that reverence which produces obedience. Treat all official characters with respect, and be obedient to your superiors.
Honour to whom honor - The word τιμην may here mean that outward respect which the principle reverence, from which it springs, will generally produce. Never behave rudely to any person; but behave respectfully to men in office: if you cannot even respect the man - for an important office may be filled by an unworthy person - respect the office, and the man on account of his office. If a man habituate himself to disrespect official characters, he will soon find himself disposed to pay little respect or obedience to the laws themselves.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another - In the preceding verses the apostle has been showing the duty, reverence, and obedience, which all Christians, from the highest to the lowest, owe to the civil magistrate; whether he be emperor, king, proconsul, or other state officer; here he shows them their duty to each other: but this is widely different from that which they owe to the civil government: to the first they owe subjection, reverence, obedience, and tribute; to the latter they owe nothing but mutual love, and those offices which necessarily spring from it. Therefore, the apostle says, Owe no man; as if he had said: Ye owe to your fellow brethren nothing but mutual love, and this is what the law of God requires, and in this the law is fulfilled. Ye are not bound in obedience to them as to the civil magistrate; for to him ye must needs be subject, not merely for fear of punishment, but for conscience sake: but to these ye are bound by love; and by that love especially which utterly prevents you from doing any thing by which a brother may sustain any kind of injury.
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery - He that loves another will not deprive him of his wife, of his life, of his property, of his good name; and will not even permit a desire to enter into his heart which would lead him to wish to possess any thing that is the property of another: for the law - the sacred Scripture, has said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
It is remarkable that ου ψευδομαρτυρησεις, thou shalt not bear false witness, is wanting here in ABDEFG, and several other MSS. Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is wanting also in the Syriac, and in several of the primitive fathers. The generality of the best critics think it a spurious reading.
Love worketh no ill - As he that loves another will act towards that person as, on a reverse of circumstances, he would that his neighbor should act towards him; therefore, this love can never work ill towards another: and, on this head, i.e. the duty we owe to our neighbor, love is the fulfilling of the law.
And that, knowing the time - Dr. Taylor has given a judicious paraphrase of this and the following verses: "And all the duties of a virtuous and holy life we should the more carefully and zealously perform, considering the nature and shortness of the present season of life; which will convince us that it is now high time to rouse and shake off sleep, and apply with vigilance and vigor to the duties of our Christian life; for that eternal salvation, which is the object of our Christian faith and hope, and the great motive of our religion, is every day nearer to us than when we first entered into the profession of Christianity." Some think the passage should be understood thus: We have now many advantages which we did not formerly possess. Salvation is nearer - the whole Christian system is more fully explained, and the knowledge of it more easy to be acquired than formerly; on which account a greater progress in religious knowledge and in practical piety is required of us: and we have for a long time been too remiss in these respects. Deliverance from the persecutions, etc., with which they were then afflicted, is supposed by others to be the meaning of the apostle.
The night is far spent - If we understand this in reference to the heathen state of the Romans, it may be paraphrased thus: The night is far spent - heathenish darkness is nearly at an end. The day is at hand - the full manifestation of the Sun of righteousness, in the illumination of the whole Gentile world approaches rapidly. The manifestation of the Messiah is regularly termed by the ancient Jews יום yom, day, because previously to this all is night, Bereshith rabba sect. 91, fol. 89. Cast off the works of darkness - prepare to meet this rising light, and welcome its approach, by throwing aside superstition, impiety, and vice of every kind: and put on the armor of light - fully receive the heavenly teaching, by which your spirits will be as completely armed against the attacks of evil as your bodies could be by the best weapons and impenetrable armor. This sense seems most suitable to the following verses, where the vices of the Gentiles are particularly specified; and they are exhorted to abandon them, and to receive the Gospel of Christ. The common method of explanation is this: The night is far spent - our present imperfect life, full of afflictions, temptations, and trials, is almost run out; the day of eternal blessedness is at hand - is about to dawn on us in our glorious resurrection unto eternal life. 'Therefore, let us cast off - let us live as candidates for this eternal glory. But this sense cannot at all comport with what is said below, as the Gentiles are most evidently intended.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day - Let us walk, ευσχημονες, decently, from εν, well, and σχημα, mien, habit, or dress. Let our deportment be decent, orderly, and grave; such as we shall not be ashamed of in the eyes of the whole world.
Not in rioting, and drunkenness - Μη κωμοις και μεθαις· Κωμος, rioting, according to Hesychius, signifies ασελγη ᾳσματα, πορνικα συμποσια, ῳδαι, unclean and dissolute songs, banquets, and such like. Μεθαις signifies drunken festivals, such as were celebrated in honor of their gods, when after they had sacrificed (μετα το θυειν, Suidas) they drank to excess, accompanied with abominable acts of every kind. See Suidas and Hesychius, under this word.
Not in chambering - This is no legitimate word, and conveys no sense till, from its connection in this place, we force a meaning upon it. The original word, κοιταις, signifies whoredoms and prostitution of every kind.
And wantonness - Ασελγειαις, All manner of uncleanness and sodomitical practices.
Not in strife and envying - Μη εριδι και ζηλῳ, Not in contentions and furious altercations, which must be the consequence of such practices as are mentioned above. Can any man suppose that this address is to the Christians at Rome? That they are charged with practices almost peculiar to the heathens? And practices of the most abandoned and dissolute sort? If those called Christians at Rome were guilty of such acts, there could be no difference except in profession, between them and the most abominable of the heathens. But it is impossible that such things should be spoken to the followers of Christ; for the very grace that brings repentance enables the penitent to cast aside and abominate all such vicious and abominable conduct.
The advices to the Christians may be found in the preceding chapter; those at the conclusion of this chapter belong solely to the heathens.
Put ye on the Lord Jesus - This is in reference to what is said, Romans 13:13; : Let us put on decent garments - let us make a different profession, unite with other company, and maintain that profession by a suitable conduct. Putting on, or being clothed with Jesus Christ, signifies receiving and believing the Gospel; and consequently taking its maxims for the government of life, having the mind that was in Christ. The ancient Jews frequently use the phrase putting on the shechinah, or Divine majesty, to signify the soul's being clothed with immortality, and rendered fit for glory.
To be clothed with a person is a Greek phrase, signifying to assume the interests of another - to enter into his views, to imitate him, and be wholly on his side. St. Chrysostom particularly mentions this as a common phrase, ὁ δεινα τον δεινα ενεδυσατο, such a one hath put on such a one; i.e. he closely follows and imitates him. So Dionysius Hal., Antiq., lib. xi., page 689, speaking of Appius and the rest of the Decemviri, says: ουκετι μετριαζοντες, αλλα τον Ταρκυνιον εκεινον ενδυομενοι, They were no longer the servants of Tarquin, but they Clothed Themselves with Him - they imitated and aped him in every thing. Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, says the same of his sons, they put on their father - they seemed to enter into his spirit and views, and to imitate him in all things. The mode of speech itself is taken from the custom of stage players: they assumed the name and garments of the person whose character they were to act, and endeavored as closely as possible to imitate him in their spirit, words, and actions. See many pertinent examples in Kypke.
And make not provision for the flesh - By flesh we are here to understand, not only the body, but all the irregular appetites and passions which led to the abominations already recited. No provision should be made for the encouragement and gratification of such a principle as this.
To fulfill the lusts thereof - Εις επιθυμιας, in reference to its lusts; such as the κωμοι, κοιται, μεθαι, and ασελγειαι, rioting, drunkenness, prostitutions, and uncleanness, mentioned, Romans 13:13, to make provision for which the Gentiles lived and labored, and bought and sold, and schemed and planned; for it was the whole business of their life to gratify the sinful lusts of the flesh. Their philosophers taught them little else; and the whole circle of their deities, as well as the whole scheme of their religion, served only to excite and inflame such passions, and produce such practices.
- I. In these four last verses there is a fine metaphor, and it is continued and well sustained in every expression.
- III. After what I have said in the notes, I need add nothing on the great political question of subordination to the civil powers; and of the propriety and expediency of submitting to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake. I need only observe, that it is in things civil this obedience is enjoined; in things religious, God alone is to be obeyed. Should the civil power attempt to usurp the place of the Almighty, and forge a new creed, or prescribe rites and ceremonies not authorized by the word of God, no Christian is bound to obey. Yet even in this case, as I have already noted, no Christian is authorized to rebel against the civil power; he must bear the persecution, and, if needs be, seal the truth with his blood, and thus become a martyr of the Lord Jesus. This has been the invariable practice of the genuine Church of Christ. They committed their cause to him who judgeth righteously. See farther on this subject on Matthew 22:20; (note), etc.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany