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1.Let every soul, (399) 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, (400) 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. (401)
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, (
(401) [Grotius ] qualifies this obedience by saying, that it should not extend to what is contrary to the will of God. But it is remarkable, that often in Scripture things are stated broadly and without any qualifying terms, and yet they have limits, as it is clear from other portions. This peculiarity is worthy of notice. Power is from God, the abuse of power is from what is evil in men. The Apostle throughout refers only to power justly exercised. He does not enter into the subject of tyranny and oppression. And this is probably the reason why he does not set limits to the obedience required: he contemplated no other than the proper and legitimate use of power. — Ed.
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, (402) 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.
3. For princes, etc. He now commends to us obedience to princes on the ground of utility; for the causative
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.
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, (404) 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.
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.
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. (406) 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.
(406) The words “to this very thing
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. (407)
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.
(407) The distinction commonly made between the two words is this
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. (408)
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.
(408) The debt of love is to be always paid, and is always due: for love is ever to be exercised. We are to pay other debts, and we may pay them fully and finally: but the debt of love ever continues, and is to be daily discharged. — Ed.
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.
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.
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. (409) 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
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.
(409) The preceding explanation of night and day, as here to be understood, does not comport with what is afterwards said on Romans 13:12. The distinction between night and day of a Christian, ought to be clearly kept in view. The first is what is here described, but the latter is what the passage refers to. And the sleep mentioned here is not the sleep of ignorance and unbelief, but the sleep, the torpor, or inactivity of Christians.
That the present state of believers, their condition in this world, is meant here by “night,” and their state of future glory is meant by “day,” appears evident from the words which follow, “for nearer now is our salvation than when we believed.” Salvation here, as in Romans 8:24, and in 1 Peter 1:9, means salvation made complete and perfect, the full employment of all its blessings. Indeed in no other sense can what is said here of night and day be appropriate. The night of heathen ignorance as to Christians had already passed, and the day of gospel light was not approaching, but had appeared. — Ed.
(410) The words
11.Moreover, know the time, that it is even now the very time for us to awake from sleep; for nearer now is our salvation than when we
12.believed: the night has advanced, and the day has approached; let us then cast away the works of darkness, and let us put on the
13.armor of light; let us, as in the day, walk in a becoming manner, etc. — Ed.
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.
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. (411)
(411) The case is the same with the two preceding instances; the vice which seems to follow is placed first. Revelling is first mentioned, though drunkenness goes before it; and “chambering,” or concubinage, or indulgence in unlawful lusts is first stated, though lasciviousness or wantonness is the source from which it proceeds. It is an example of the Apostle’s mode of writing similar to what we find in Romans 11:29, as to “the gifts and calling of God,” and in Romans 11:33, as to “the wisdom and knowledge of God.” — Ed.
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. (412) On this account he says also in another place, that we put on Christ in baptism. (Galatians 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.
(412) Many have explained “the putting on” here in a manner wholly inconsistent with the passage, as though the putting on of Christ’s righteousness was intended. [Calvin ] keeps to what accords with the context, the putting on of Christ as to his holy image. Sanctification, and not justification, is the subject of the passage. To put on Christ, then, is to put on his virtues and graces, to put on or be endued with his spirit, to imitate his conduct and to copy his example. This is in addition to the putting him on as our righteousness, and not as a substitute for it. Both are necessary: for Christ is our sanctification, the author, worker, and example of it, as well as our righteousness. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany