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Romans 13:1.—Let every one submit to the authorities that are over him. A precept made remarkable by the time in which it was written. πᾶσα ψυχή, every soul; every office-bearer as well as member of the Church. ἐξουσία is authority, distinguished from δύναμις, power or force, and may exist where there is no authority, and even in opposition to it. If any earthly authority command anything that is contrary to the will of God, the apostles have taught us to say, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Wordsworth). Authority used for human magistrates. In Peter Romans 3:22 denotes rather angelic powers. Of or from God; mediately through men. By divine permission; divine appointment. Form of government left to human discretion.
Romans 13:2.—Origen having cited this and the previous verse in his dissertation against Celsus, confesses it is a place capable of much disquisition, by reason of such princes as govern cruelly and tyrannically, or who, by reason of their power, fall into effeminacy and carnal pleasures. He says this is not to be understood of persecuting powers, for in such cases that of the apostle takes place, “We must obey God rather than man,” but of those powers which are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. It is a contradiction to the holiness, justice, and goodness of God to say that He has given princes any power to do any injury to their subjects. Non-resistance of the Greek commentators is the non-performance of subjection and obedience to commands. We cannot be obliged from conscience towards God to be subject to them in those things which they have no authority from God to require, and for refusal of obedience to which we have God’s authority.
Romans 13:3. For rulers are not a terror.—He is speaking of what is commonly the case, of what may fairly be expected to be the case. And even the worst authority is better than mere force.
Romans 13:4.—μάχαιρα is not here a dagger, but gladius. The Roman power is symbolised in the Apocalypse with the great sword. Symbol of magistrate’s power to punish.
Romans 13:5.—διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν, for conscience’ sake—because of God’s institution and command.
Romans 13:6.—Revenues of the Roman empire consisted chiefly:
1. Of the rents of public lands farmed by the publicans, and collected by tax-gatherers employed by them—the publicans of our version;
2. Customs or taxes on goods;
4. Pasturage, etc.;
5. Poll or personal tax;
6. Property tax;
7. Army tax—φόρος paid as capitation money according to census, τέλος paid on any other account; the former paid on things immovable, the latter on things which may be conveyed.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 13:1-6
True subjection.—There are many powers in the world—material, social, intellectual, and moral. Above all powers is the supreme Power. God ordains all powers. Man must recognise his inferiority. How the infinite Spirit directs material powers we cannot tell. There must be a way, though we cannot comprehend. But as man by the greater force of his intellectual power rules the brute creation and makes vast material changes, so God by His infinitely vast nature must have a marvellous method of controlling all powers. There are men who resist the highest ordering power. They reject God or relegate Him to some remote corner of His own universe. Such shall receive to themselves condemnation. Resistance of the supreme power leads to other resistance, engenders anarchy, and produces disaster. Man’s power of resistance, though often futile, speaks of man’s dignity and man’s great responsibility. Man’s wisdom is seen in learning the lesson of subjection. Man, sooner or later, falls by rebellion. Man rises by subjection.
I. True subjection is inward.—The subjection of the brute is outward; he is not a consenting party. The subjection of material forces is an affair of material pressure; when that is removed or becomes weak the material force revenges the restraint by destructive leaps and bounds. The subjection of the man is inward; with his soul he places himself beneath the higher powers. The motive force of true subjection is conscience. Thus the man who has the spirit of true subjection is ennobled and not degraded by the process. Nobility is seen in recognising human limitations and working in harmony with divine order. Greatness sees its own littleness, does not parade a fancied largeness, and thus attains to highest dignity.
II. True subjection is upward.—Some take downward glances; their range of vision is contracted; they resist, and that resistance binds them with galling fetters. Others take upward glances; their range of vision is large. They see a divine force beyond and above human forces. They submit, and by their very submission are elevated. The humble are exalted somewhere, somehow; all the powers are moving towards the exaltation of the souls that look upward. The recognition of a higher power is the exaltation in measure and degree of the recognising being. Thus to bend low is to rise high.
III. True subjection works outwardly from the inward.—The earth subject is a time-server. He works through pressure. He submits to law and pays tribute; but he is subject only for wrath, so that if he can break the law without punishment he is not averse, if he can shirk the tribute or defraud he is not indisposed. The good subject works through pressure, but it is an inward pressure. He pays tribute conscientiously. The only resistance he knows is that which is induced by an enlightened conscience, and so careful is he not to go wrong that he rather suffers wrong than be found guilty of doing wrong. The citizens of heaven are the best citizens of earth. Eternal laws are the best basis for time laws. The powers that be will find it safest and wisest to recognise the supreme Power and to foster in the nation all God-fearing spirits.
IV. True subjection is beneficial; it benefits the individual, for it scatters fear.—The sword does not appal when goodness emboldens. Judicial pomp does not affright when good works are maintained.
1. It secures praise. If it do not always secure the praise of men, it must meet with the praise of God. In lowly spheres we cannot always obtain the plaudits of the higher powers. We cannot all do some great deed which may blazon our name into the ears of the world. Westminster Abbey could not find room for monuments to be erected to all faithful subjects. Most can only tread the lowly pathway to heaven’s immortality. “The trivial round, the common task,” is the obscure way of the majority. Better and more enduring than the praise of fallible men is the praise of God. Sweet as may be the voice of the approving power, sweeter is the voice of an approving conscience. Royalty itself has no gifts so rich as those which a conscience royally kept can bestow. Let us be true to its claims; let us see that it moves along right lines; let us be subject to the highest Power, that ordains all higher powers.
2. It benefits the nation. The individual is helped to the performance of his duty by regarding himself as an important factor in the nation’s welfare. If we consider ourselves as parts of the national fabric, we feel our importance and rise up to the proper sense of our duty. The claims of self should be subordinated to the claims of the state in the consideration of the Christian patriot. The nation is strong as its good men are increased. When virtue is triumphant, the nation is victorious and prosperous. Let us work to the increase of good men; and to this end let each man begin to improve himself. Good men are the seed-germs out of which other good men grow. The sword may rust in the sheath when good men abound. The executors of wrath have no functions to discharge when evildoers cease from the land. Material wealth engenders selfishness, licentiousness, and corruption. Moral wealth promotes benevolence, purity, and all things that are grandly noble. The increase of material wealth is often promotive of national decline. The increase of moral wealth tends to the larger growth and the more permanent establishment of the nation.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 13:1-6
Universal necessity of government.—Human society is so constituted that the instinct of self-preservation compels men to set up a form of government—i.e., to commit to some men power over the rest. Every one knows that a bad government is almost always better than none at all. The universality and the universal necessity of government prove it to be God’s will that men live under rule. But God has not prescribed a definite form of rule. Consequently the universal principle of government assumes an infinite variety of forms. We also notice that nearly always opposition to the men actually in power tends to weaken and destroy the principle of government and leads towards anarchy. How frequently the murder even of a bad ruler has been followed by utter lawlessness and by infinite loss to the nation! Consequently opposition to the individuals in power is practically, with few exceptions, an opposition to the divine principle of government. Observing this, and remembering that nothing takes place without foresight and permission of God, we may say, as Paul says, that the existing rulers, by whatever steps they mounted the throne, have been put on it by God. For God created that felt necessity for government which was their real stepping-stone to power. And He did so in full view of the persons into whose hands, throughout the ages of the world, the power would fall. We notice further that all bad conduct tends to weaken and good conduct to strengthen a government. Consequently rulers are compelled, for the maintenance of their position, to favour the good and oppose the bad. We cannot doubt that this necessity comes from the Ruler of the race. Therefore God, who has laid upon mankind the necessity of appointing rulers, has laid upon rulers the necessity of rewarding the good and punishing the bad; and has done this in order to make rulers the instruments of carrying out His own purpose of kindness to the good and punishment to the wicked. Thus rulers are, perhaps unconsciously, ministers of God, doing God’s work. These considerations are an abundant reason for obedience to civil authority. Since rulers are compelled by their position to favour the good and punish the bad, resistance to them generally proves that we are in the wrong, and will be followed by the punishment which they cannot but inflict on evildoers. Hence the motive of fear should lead to obedience. And since resistance to existing rulers tends to weaken and destroy that principle of government which God has set up for the good of the race, we ought to submit to them for conscience’ sake. That we feel ourselves morally bound to pay the taxes imposed without our consent or in opposition to our judgment, and that all admit the right of the ruler to enforce payment, also confirms the divine origin of his authority.—Beet.
How far should a Christian resist?—But for the very reason of this precept it is asked, If it is not merely the state in itself which is a thought of God, but if the very individuals who possess the power at a given time are set up by His will, what are we to do in a period of revolution when a new power is violently substituted for another? This question, which the apostle does not raise, may, according to the principles he lays down, be resolved thus: The Christian will submit to the new power as soon as the resistance of the old shall have ceased. In the actual state of matters he will recognise the manifestation of God’s will, and will take no part whatever in any reactionary plot. But should the Christian support the power of the state even in its unjust measures? No; there is nothing to show that the submission required by St. Paul includes active co-operation; it may even show itself in the form of passive resistance; and it does not at all exclude protestation in word and even resistance in deed, provided that to this latter there be joined the calm acceptance of the punishment inflicted. This submissive but at the same time firm conduct is also a homage to the inviolability of authority; and experience proves that it is in this way all tyrannies have been morally broken and all true progress in the history of humanity effected.—Godet.
Religious feeling required in governors and governed.—He who does not bring into government, whether as governor or subject, some religious feeling, some higher motive than expediency, is likely to make but an indifferent governor or an indifferent subject: without piety there will be no good government.—Sir Arthur Helps.
Corruption of an institution does not disprove divine origin.—The fact that an earthly government may be corrupt and tyrannical does not disprove the divine origin of government, any more than the fact that parents may be unfaithful to their duties proves that the family is not divinely originated, or the fact that a particular Church may become corrupt proves that the Church is not divine in its source. St. Paul, however, does not teach here that any degree of tyranny whatever is to be submitted to by a Christian. If the government attempt to force him to violate a divine command—for example, to desist from preaching the gospel or to take part in pagan worship—he must resist even unto death. Most of the apostles suffered martyrdom for this principle.—Shedd.
The wide sway of law.—Of law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and in earth do her homage; the very least is feeling her care, and the greatest is not exempted from her power: both angels and men and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.—Hooker.
God uses all nations.—For each of the nations God had “an office”; for each He had appointed a beginning and an end. One by one, in orderly succession, those stupendous kingdoms of the East, Babylonian and Persian, Egyptian and Greek, God had required their armies; He had His hand upon their captains; Assyria was His hammer, Cyrus was His shepherd, Egypt was His garden, Tyre was His jewel; everywhere He was felt; everywhere the divine destiny directed and controlled. The shuttle of God passes in and out, weaving into its web a thousand threads of natural human life. All history is put to the uses of God’s holier manifestations; He works under the pressure laid upon Him by the wants and necessities of social and political progress.—Canon Holland.
“Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.”—Archbishop Ussher, in his treatise on the “Power of the Prince and the Obedience of the Subject,” quotes the following admirable paraphrase, by Primasius, of the above clause: “Either thou dost justly, and the just power will praise thee; or, thus doing justly, although the unjust power should condemn thee, the just God will crown thee.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Romans 13:1-2. Condescension.—The following simple story illustrates a trait in the character of our Queen which explains much of the feeling of fond regard entertained for her by all classes of her subjects. One year, when the Court was at Balmoral, her Majesty made a promise to Jenny—the daughter of a humble Balmoral neighbour, but who was an especial favourite with her Majesty—saying, “I’ll bring a pretty toy for you when we come back next year.” The Court went, and the promise was thought little more of—at least on one side. Her Majesty went that year to Paris to visit the emperor of the French. Amid all the pomp and style of royalty and imperiality, there was enough in the events of the year generally to drive many others besides the peasant child from the thoughts of the sovereign of Great Britain. Well, next season came, and with it the Court returned to Balmoral. The Queen, in making her rounds, soon called on her little protégée, and, with a “Now, I haven’t forgotten you,” exhibited the promised present. While Queen Victoria was in the French capital, amid all the din and distraction of French state pageantry, she found time to think of the little Highland girl on the banks of the Dee, and then and there bought an article to please and gratify the little child. Royal courtesy.—Frederick II., king of Prussia, made it a point to return every mark of respect or civility shown to him in the street by those who met him. He one day observed at table that whenever he rode through the streets of Berlin his hat was always in his hand. Baron Polintz, who was present, said that his Majesty had no occasion to notice the civility of every one who pulled his hat off to him in the streets. “And why not?” said the king, in a lively tone. “Are they not all human beings as well as myself?”
Romans 13:5-6. New experiments in government.—It is a dangerous thing to try new experiments in a government; men do not foresee the ill consequences that must happen when they go about to alter the essential parts of it upon which the whole frame depends; for all governments are artificial things, and every part of them has a dependence one upon another. And it is with them as with clocks and watches—if you should put great wheels in place of little ones, and little ones in the place of great ones, all the movement would stand still: so that we cannot alter any part of a government without prejudicing the motions of the whole.
Romans 13:8.—Augustine says that “love is a debt which is multiplied by paying.” Milton says, “By owing owes not, but still pays, at once indebted and discharged.” The debt of love can never be fully discharged.
Romans 13:9.—Love to God and love to man said by the Jews to be the great sum or heads of the law.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 13:7-10
Christian citizenship and Christian brotherhood.—Compare the text with the life and precepts of Jesus. They are entire harmony. He was subject unto His parents. His precept as to Christian citizenship was, “Render unto Cæsar,” etc.
I. The need for this injunction to early Christians.—False charges levelled against them: one was disloyalty. Paul set forth the duties of Christian citizenship. There was the added injunction, Be good to neighbours, loving all men. It was necessary to publish the fact that Christians aimed, not at the overthrow of governments, but to show sincerest loyalty and brotherly kindness. In one sense appearances were against Christians. Their mysterious meetings lent colour to the charges of conspiracy—false and wicked charges; for the whole tenor of Christ’s doctrine, and Christian practice too, was: tolerate no violence; live at peace; do not retaliate; be magnanimous. Of course Christianity was opposed to the way of the world, and libellous charges gave excuse for persecution.
II. The text deals with Christian citizenship.—It asserts the principle of submission to civil authority. Four thoughts suggested:
1. It is impossible to secure successful action apart from organisation. Union is strength, and orderly unity is strength at its best. Confusion in council leads to internal anarchy and contempt from other powers.
2. The avowed object of all government to put down the wrong and enforce the right. Crime, the citizen’s enemy; and the government deals it deadly blows. This an unanswerable argument for Christian obedience to the state.
3. It is admitted that “by means of society not only is the race preserved, but civilisation is developed.” Therefore maintain government.
4. The only basis of commercial enterprise is a thoroughly substantial government. Political crises influence the trade of a country. When Philip II. of Spain pursued his suicidal policy in the Netherlands, merchants transferred their workshops to England.
III. Here also we have the principle of Christian brotherhood.—
1. We are to render to the individual his or her due. What men’s dues are is measured by the fact that Christianity has taught men to consider each man a brother.
2. The worldly usage is that the great are honoured at the expense of the more humble. This is anti-Christian.
3. The spirit of forbearance is exhibited in the text. A disgrace to professors of religion is the habit of fault-finding, the lack of a charitable spirit. If we want to be Christlike, we shall not repay people’s faults and forget their excellences. “When a leaf drops and dies, it goes down to mingle with the ground. When moss falls off, it disappears. Everything in nature, as it decays, hides itself.” And so it should be in human life.
4. God’s attitude that of forgetfulness of our faults. Love has sat on heaven’s throne rather than judgment. And so it comes to pass that “the base of this low altar-stair of suffering slopes through darkness up to the everlasting heavens, and far, far within their piercing deeps love is enthroned for ever.” Cannot man learn of his God? Even the dying Christ thought first of the pardon of His murderers: “Father, forgive them.” Let every man strive in his human degree to traverse the divine range of sympathy. It is not so much doctrine or creed that we want, as that Christlike spirit of love that will enable us to love God and also man—the spirit that will enable us to overcome every obstacle, and, like the Master, “bear one another’s burdens.”—Albert Lee.
Romans 13:7. Legal and moral dues.—It has been sometimes objected that preachers put too much of the gospel into their sermons, and do not speak sufficiently of the every-day duties of life. St. Paul binds himself to the gospel, and so must his followers. But we shall not understand the gospel aright if we do not bear in mind the fact that it is to teach men to be good citizens of earth as well as of heaven. Christianity leaves no part of the nature, and no portion of society untouched; it speaks to rulers and ruled, to kings and subjects, to parents and their children. The New Testament lays down general laws by which men are to be guided in the affairs of life. The best all-round man is the one who makes a sensible application of those laws in the management of his earthly affairs. We are to bring heaven down to earth, and thus make it more blessed.
I. Christianity teaches classification.—There is method observable in the material universe: lower and higher forms of life—vegetable life, animal life, and intellectual life. Creation culminates in man, and in the human animal there are differences—some excel in strength and others in wisdom. God has set men in societies where there are differences; He instituted the family, which is the germ and type of all true human societies. As there are differences in the family, so will there be differences in the clan, the tribe, the nation: the rich and the poor dwell together. Where the right spirit reigns all will work together so as to make the commonwealth strong, healthy, and happy: the king will be the true father of his subjects, and they will be his faithful children.
II. Christianity inculcates discrimination.—It differentiates between the powers. There are higher powers and lower powers, and those who have little or no power. It seems to point out that all have their dues. Tribute is the due of one power, custom of another, fear of a third, and honour of a fourth. Shall we go far wrong if we say that honour is due to all who have not rendered themselves vile, ignoble, and utterly dishonourable? Thus there is not only the material due, the money payment, but there are intellectual or moral dues, the payment of fear and honour. Enough has not been done when the taxes are paid. There is the emotional tribute. We are not only to uphold the throne and constitution, not only to obey our country’s laws, not only to respect the magistrates and judges of the land, but to give to all men their dues. Each man has his rights, which must be respected. Shall we render to all their dues if we rob God? The man who robs God would rob his fellow, providing a safe opportunity were presented. What is due from the creature to the Creator? Thankfulness at least is due. Cicero said that thankfulness is the mother of all virtues. Even the very heathen said that all evil is spoken in this one word—viz., “unthankfulness.” Gratitude is God’s due for His wisdom and power in creation, for His mercy in preservation, for His love and grace in redemption. Life is due to Him who gave His life. Love is due to Him who poured out an infinite wealth of love upon the world. Let us live our thanks. Let our lives be made fragrant and beautiful by the influence of grateful hearts.
III. Christianity proclaims responsibility.—Some one said, “It is a solemn thing to die,” which was met by the reply, “It is a solemn thing to live.” Surely a solemn thing to live, for none of us can live to ourselves. We are debtors, whether we like it or not, to our fellows. A self-contained, self-included life is impossible. The hermit in his cave, the naturalist in his hut, the monk in his cell, cannot completely shut themselves out from their fellows. And in the present complex state of society we may well be startled as we think of the responsibilities of life. How vast the debt we owe to our fellow-creatures! How much larger the debt we owe to God and to Jesus Christ! How much is due to Jesus Christ, who has done more to shape human destinies into divine forms, to bless the world, to beautify existence, than all the monarchs, statesmen, warriors, philosophers, and moralists of time! Our debt to Jesus Christ is so great that had we a thousand lives to give they would not be adequate to discharge the claim. And yet He asks no more than each is able to give. He asks thy love, thy life, thy all. Give thy life to Jesus, and He will so ennoble the offering that it will be no longer poor. Give thy love to Jesus, and He will increase it so that it will become like a live coal within thee from God’s altar, and thy nature will be all aglow with the celestial flame. If thus we love Jesus, we shall learn to love our fellows more, and we shall learn from Jesus to render to all their dues. How kind, gentle, and considerate He was to all men and women! He paid to the higher powers the tax which was required. He paid to the lower orders help and sympathy. He paid the tax of tears where tears were due; He paid the tax of sorrowful lamentations where woe was impending; He paid the tax of a sacrificed life upon the altar erected by human need and divine requirement. In the light of His large life we shall learn to take a complete view of the words, “Render to all their dues.” A holy life is due to infinite goodness, to human wretchedness, to God, to angels, and to men, to others and to ourselves. We should all strive so to live that others may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, as some did of the early believers. Helpful is the thought that Jesus is no hard taskmaster. He notices the right intention; He approves the pure motive and the earnest purpose. Let us go forward seeking to render to all their dues.
Romans 13:10. The last analysis.—The first golden stair is this: we ask, What is the origin of love? Christianity answers, Love is of God. Hatred, then, is not of God; it is of the devil. Selfishness, jealousy, envy, all that spoils the gentle and the perfect life in us—heedlessness of others, forgetfulness of the wishes and the hopes of. others, the egoism which ignores others, to say nothing of the sarcastic tongue which delights to inflict pain, or the vanity which will sacrifice a reputation for a stroke of wit, or the ambition which bustles all weaker folk aside that it may reach its own coveted goal—all this is not of God. The original impress of God upon this world was an impress of love There was a time when gentleness, tenderness, considerateness, stamped the whole creation. Wherever you find these qualities still, they are of God; something saved out of the wreck of man, fair stretches of green landscape not submerged beneath the flood of evil, or else recovered from it. God is love, and love is of God. “Every one that loveth is born of God.” It follows, then, that there is a second golden stair which we may climb. “Love is of God”—that is the first stair. The second is Love in morality. “Love,” says the apostle Paul, “is the fulfilling of the law.” Let us pause again, and ask, “What then is law?” Law is a series of instructions and restraints to make us like God. It begins at the very lowest level of things, and tells us not to steal, not to covet, not to lie, and not to murder. But these crimes and vices are not so much causes as effects. And you may take the commandments one by one, and apply this test to them, and you will see at once that they would not have been needed if only men had loved one another. Get love then, and you cannot help keeping the law. Get love, and you cannot help being moral. It may seem but a scanty equipment to produce perfection, and so the seven notes of music may seem to be a scanty equipment to produce the heaven-born melodies of a Handel or Beethoven. But see how they use them—of what infinite and glorious combinations are they capable! So it is with this supreme quality of love. It is capable of all but infinite combinations and interpretations; it utters the grand music of heroism and the soft lute music of courtesy; it is patriotism, altruism, martyrdom; it stoops to the smallest things of life and governs the greatest; it controls the temper and regulates the reason; it extirpates the worst qualities and refines the best. Go one step further. Love is of God; love is morality; now you find that love is religion also. “Every one that loveth is born of God.” How often do we find in the communion of other Churches men who surprise us by the spirituality and the saintliness of their lives! We hold such Churches, perhaps, to be in error; but where love reigns there is morality. And then take one more golden stair. Love is of God; love is morality; love is religion; lastly, love is life, love is immortality. “Every one that loveth is born of God”—born into a larger life. We sometimes permit ourselves to debate whether life is not more than love. There are times when we are impressed with the spaciousness of this life of ours, when we suddenly realise the joys of living, and are athirst to drink a full draught of life. We want to know everything, we want to understand everything; we would fain mix in the most crowded places of life, and feel the pulsations of the tide of humanity, and move amid its swiftest currents; and in such an hour we ask ourselves, What is love? Surely it is nothing more than a mere episode in the great drama, one of the many fruits of life—perhaps the choicest, but that is all. For when that passion of mere living possesses us it eclipses all other passions, and then we turn away from love because we see that it is a yoke, because we believe it to be a renunciation of the fulness of personal life, because it is the subjugation of our nature to the exigencies and the needs of another nature. The man and woman who do this usually live to learn that love, after all, is the one thing worth living for, and they often know what it is to sit amidst the ruins of life in a friendless old age, amidst gains and gauds that have lost their charm, and to long with inexpressible yearning for one drop of that cup which they once so contemptuously rejected. For the truth is that love is life; it is the only true and eternal life; it is the birth of a man’s soul into a higher state of being. There, then, as I have said, is the last analysis of Christianity, and I pray you to accept it. Like all profound things, it is really simple; it is in fact so simple that men doubt whether it can be true. Men cannot make themselves believe and understand that Christianity is merely love, that a great church is simply the temple of love, that what all this elaborate organisation of worship and preaching aims at is this—to teach men to love God, to love each other. And so I rejoice. I see a world that is not outcast, not wholly evil, and not forsaken, for love works in it still, and God is love, and love is everywhere. Like a great bell of hope, mellow, ceaseless, glorious in its music, the words of John ring across the world, “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”—W. G. Dawson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 13:7-10
Custom.—There is some difficulty about the distinctive signification of φόρος (tribute) and τέλος (custom). By some the former is regarded as a tax upon land; by others, as upon property generally, whether movable or immovable. Those critics who give to φόρος the wider signification limit τέλος to a capitation tax; and those who confine φόρος to a tax upon land give τέλος a larger meaning, as signifying a tax upon merchandise as well as upon persons. Judging from the apostle’s use of the word, φόρος was the general term for all contributions, and was used in the same sense that the word “taxes” is largely used; and in its limited sense it applies to all burdens upon landed or personal property; while τέλος was the capitation tax which our Lord told Peter to pay for himself and his Lord.—Knight.
“Honour to whom honour.”—Christians are not to neglect the laws of social life, or overlook the fact that distinction of rank is highly necessary for the economy and safety of the world. This precept especially claims our thoughtful attention in an age when an increase of knowledge, prosperity, and political freedom has removed many of the material props upon which the influence of parents and masters and those placed over us formerly rested. We might, with advantage, take a useful hint from the Lacedæmonians, who laid such stress on the training of their youth to give honour to whom honour was due.—Neil.
Christian brotherhood.—Love will not permit us to injure, oppress, or offend our brother; it will not give us leave to neglect our betters or despise our inferiors. It will restrain every inordinate passion, and not suffer us to gratify our envy at the expense of our neighbour’s credit and reputation; but it will preserve us harmless and innocent.—Sherlock.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Romans 13:9-10. Love to God fulfils the law.—An orphan boy of peculiar vivacity and uncommon talents, and who had been a favourite comic performer in the heathen sports, was sent by his relations to New Herrnhut, a settlement of the Moravian missionaries. His agreeable and engaging manners gained him the affection of one of the wealthiest Greenlanders, in whose family he was placed, who had no son, and whose presumptive heir he was. At the first catechetical meeting at which he was present, being asked whether he would wish to be acquainted with our Saviour and be converted, “Oh yes!” replied he gaily; “I shall soon be converted”; on which another, who had been lately baptised, gravely told him he knew little what conversion meant—that it was to yield the heart wholly to our Saviour, and to make a surrender of every evil inclination. This he found a hard saying, and would rather have thrown up his prospects among the brethren, and returned to his amusements among the heathen; till, after considerable mental conflict, he at last ceased contending with his Maker, and yielded a willing and cheerful obedience.
Romans 13:10. Doddridge’s child.—Doddridge buried a most interesting child at nine years of age. The dear little creature was a general favourite; and he tells us in his funeral sermon that when he one day asked her how it was that everybody loved her, “I know not,” she said, “unless it be that I love everybody.” Tell your children this. Also read to them, “The child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord and also with men.”
Romans 13:10. Five people supported on a needle’s point.—There was a student once who asked Robertson of Irvine the old scholastic quibble, whether he could tell how many souls could be supported on the point of a needle. “Oh! dear me, yes,” said he; “that is easy enough. I can tell that.” “How so?” said the student. “Well,” said Robertson, “as I was walking home the other night along the seashore, I passed a house where a poor widow lives; her husband was drowned at sea last winter. She has five little children, and as I looked through the window I saw in the firelight two little golden heads in the bed yonder, and another little golden head in the cradle, and two other children sitting at the mother’s knee. She was working away with her needle, and it was flashing in the firelight, and was going as hard as it could go. So,” continued Robertson, “I know how many souls can be supported on the point of a needle—five: don’t you see?” And as I look through that window I seem to look upon the whole vision of domestic life, on mothers toiling and never calling it toil, on the vision of innumerable women all the world over who give themselves away, and are not so much as thanked for it, on the silent heroisms which redeem life, and which are its unuttered poetry, its saving salt, its divine attestation. And these heroisms, which are the birth of love, are everywhere.—Dawson.
Romans 13:11.—Because we know the time, let us fulfil the law by love. We have been in the dark, but let us awake with the light. ῦπνου, deep sleep; dreams of the present time. Physical death. Spiritual stupor. The image of death. As χρόνος is duration of time, so καιρός is definition of time. It is a portion cut out of time, a season, an opportunity. Salvation.—Full spiritual salvation and day of perfect redemption viewed as connected with the universal spread of Christianity. Spiritual salvation in the world of glory. All is night here, in respect of ignorance and daily ensuing troubles.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 13:11
The Christian’s duty and encouragement.—Different views are taken of time. Some seem to regard it as a useless commodity, to be frittered away in vain trifles. Others consider it too short for the work to be accomplished. Thus some hoard and others squander time. The majority do not look beyond the bounds of time. It is not to them fraught with eternal issues. Time, however, to the Christian is important, for it is the pathway to eternity. Time impresses eternity. How solemn the thought! All time’s thoughts, words, and deeds have a bearing upon the future. How seasonable the petition, “so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”!
I. The Christian’s knowledge.—The Christian is or should be a man who knows. Principally he should know the season, the period, in which he lives. It is difficult in these days to know the season. This is a time of great perplexity. The world has both changed and enlarged since the days of primitive Christianity. The man who knows the time in these days is a man of extensive knowledge. Still, the Christian may know the time as far more advanced than it was eighteen centuries since. He may know that great interests are at stake. He should know that increased activity is demanded, that overwhelming zeal is required. In these days, when wealth on the one side and poverty on the other are increased, when licentiousness, lawlessness, selfishness, and indifference still prevail to an alarming extent, it becomes the Christian to keep his intellect alive to the stirring events of his period.
II. The Christian’s duty.—“To awake out of sleep.” If the apostle’s time demanded wakeful spirits, much more do these times. Alas, how many so-called Christians are fast asleep! The enemy is upon them, and they do not heed the approach. Their dreams are of sweet music and of pleasant services. They are not awake to the calls of duty. They become somnambulists, and walk away from the voice of God’s messenger directing them to the post of duty. Such require a thunder-peal from heaven to awake them from sleep. It is consolatory to reflect that some are awake. But none are so wide awake as to be without need of the apostolic injunction which says that it is high time to awake out of sleep. We must shake off the torpor of indifference. Sleepy men are an easy prey to evil. By sleep we put on strength, but by moral sleep we induce weakness. Awake, awake, O Church of the living God, and put on immortal strength!
III. The Christian’s encouragement.—“Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” The period of completed salvation is fast approaching. Every beat of the minute-hand tells its advent. Salvation in prospect was accomplished when Jesus said, “It is finished.” Salvation is secured when faith lays hold on the Saviour. Salvation is perfected when the redeemed spirit enters into the perfect rest of heaven; and every moment of the believer’s life brings that completed salvation nearer. There are two advents to the soul: the first advent when Christ enters into that soul and is in it the hope of glory; the second advent when either Christ will come to the soul at His second coming, or when that soul shall go to be with Christ in paradise. The blest reunion is fast approaching. Here there is a union of faith; yonder there will be a union of sight. We are united with Christ by faith. We shall be reunited, perfectly united, to Christ by blissful vision. That union will be a perfect salvation from all that harasses in the present state. The prospect is stimulating. It quickens the drowsy powers; it delivers from lethargy. As the sailor draws nearer to his native land, after a prolonged absence, every sense is quickened, and he puts on fresh energy. As the runner is nearing the goal he takes quicker steps; his eyes catch a new light; he forgets the strain in his eagerness to win the prize. What buoyancy takes possession of the inventor’s spirit when after years, it may be, of experimenting he finds himself within measurable reach of the desired discovery! Shall the Christian runner lag when the prize of eternal glory is almost within reach? Shall the Christian sailor sleep, after the storms and buffetings of time, when the clear lights of heaven shine across the intervening waters? The sound of the harpers on the eternal shores greets his ears, and he can no longer slumber. From this dim cloud-land of partial knowledge he is hastening to the sphere of the complete unfolding of many mysteries, and his soul is all eagerness to enter upon the all-revealing light of eternity. It is high time to awake out of sleep, for the times are busy, for the world is pressing close, and the other world is letting down dazzling views of its surpassing glory.
Knowledge of time.—We should know time in its:—
I. Worth.—Estimated at the value of:
1. Life. Time the measure of life of a being capable of thought, endowed with conscience, gifted with immortality.
2. What able to be done during its progress.
II. Responsibilities.—Our relation to God. Knowledge of salvation. Duties in our sphere of life. Influence we exert. Ignatius when heard clock strike said, “Now I have one hour more to account for.”
III. Uncertainty.—Commercial institutions and projects abundantly prove this, but he who counts on time presumes on probability that has even more impressively proved its questionableness (James 4:13-14).
V. Powerlessness.—It cannot destroy sin or take away its guilt. It cannot act for us. It cannot destroy the soul, though it end the life.
VI. Irrevocableness.—G. McMichael, B.A.
Self-denial the test of religious earnestness.—By “sleep” in this passage St. Paul means a state of insensibility to things as they really are in God’s sight. Thus, whether in private families or in the world, in all the ranks of middle life men lie under a considerable danger at this day, a more than ordinary danger, of self-deception, of being asleep while they think themselves awake. How, then, shall we try ourselves? Can any tests be named which will bring certainty to our minds on the subject? No indisputable tests can be given. We cannot know for certain. We must beware of an impatience about knowing what our real state is. We cannot, indeed, make ourselves as sure of our being in the number of God’s true servants as the early Christians were; yet we may possess our degree of certainty, and by the same kind of evidence—the evidence of self-denial. This was the great evidence which the first disciples gave, and which we can give still. The self-denial which is the test of our faith must be daily. The word “daily” implies that the self-denial which is pleasing to Christ consists in little things. This is plain, for opportunity for great self-denials does not come every day. Thus to take up the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all; it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us. If, then, a person ask how he is to know whether he is dreaming on in the world’s slumber or is really awake and alive unto God, let him first fix his mind upon some one or other of his besetting sins. It is right then almost to find out for yourself daily self-denials, and this because our Lord bids you take up your cross daily, and because it proves your earnestness, and because by so doing you strengthen your general power of self-mastery and come to have such an habitual command of yourself as will be a defence ready prepared when the season of temptation comes. Let not your words run on; force every one of them into cation as it goes; and thus cleansing yourself from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfect holiness in the fear of God. In dreams we sometimes move our arms to see if we are awake or not, and so are wakened. This is the way to keep your heart awake also. Try yourself daily in little deeds to prove that your faith is more than a deceit.—Newman.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 13:11
Christian’s view of time.—What is the true measure of time? I know that the outward measures are accurate enough; and when a man says to his friend, “Another year is gone,” they understand a certain space which can be precisely computed; but if acts and activity are the true measures of time for us, and not the hands on the clock, nor the changing path of the sun, then it may be well doubted whether in fact we do know at the end of a year what or how much it is that has gone away from us. A year of earnest work in the way of duty and for the cause of God, a year of amusement, a year marked by tasting first and then drinking deep of the foul cup of some new sin, a year marked by a great change of character for the better, in which he that once served sin has made up his mind, through God’s help, to serve it no more—any of these may be included under the phrase, “Another year has passed.” Out of the looms of time a measured portion of the web of our life has come: the measure the same for all, the texture and the tints how different! Nay, are there not even single minutes in which the scattered lights of our thoughts are gathered into one focus, and burn an indelible imprint into the soul? A man went once to Damascus, and a light from heaven struck him blind, and the Spirit of Christ, more penetrating than that light, sent deep into his conscience the unanswerable question, “Why persecutest thou Me?” The man was St. Paul, and that minute bore in it the germ of the Church of the Gentiles and of our knowledge of the Redeemer. A careless student was walking with his friend, when a flash of lightning struck the friend dead and awoke the student out of his worldliness. Luther was that student, and the Reformation began from that terrible instant. Minutes like these are not to be reckoned only at their value as fractional portions of a year. Time has a quality as it has a quantity. We cannot be sure that a single day or year may not carry in it the decision of our eternity. There may be no great sign or wonder to tell us so; to all around the weight of another year upon us may seem no greater than in time past. But every part of us is growing. Habits are strengthening, feelings growing calmer, the advice of others losing its influence over us, the circle of those who might have the right to advise is fast contracting. And it is surely possible that when we are only conscious that a year is gone, our whole life, so far at least as life is a state of probation admitting of change and improvement, may have passed away with it.—Archbishop Thomson.
“High time to awake out of sleep.”—These words regard Christians themselves. This is undeniable, from the motive subjoined: “For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Are believers, then, asleep? Not in the sense they once were—this would be impossible. But there are found even in them some remains of their former depravity. Though the good work is begun in them, it is far from being accomplished. While the bridegroom tarried, even the wise virgins slumbered and slept. Yes, Christians are often in a drowsy frame. This is sadly reproachful. Yet if the address be proper for Christians, how much more necessary is it for those who are entirely regardless of the things that belong to their peace!—if we consider how long they have been sleeping! We ought to lament that we have lost any of our precious hours and opportunities. However short it may have been, the time past of our life should more than suffice, wherein we have lived to the will of man. What then should those feel who have sacrificed the whole of their youth—perhaps the vigour of mature age? What should those feel who perhaps have grown grey in the service of sin and the world? The later we begin, the more zealous should we be to redeem the advantages we have lost, and to overtake those who were wise enough to set off early. High time—if we consider that the day is arrived and the sun is risen so high. “The night is far spent,” etc. We can say more than the apostle. The night is spent; the day is fully come. And we are all the children of the light and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep as do others. “They that sleep, sleep in the night.” Our obligations always increase with our advantages. To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. And the servant that knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, shall be beaten with many stripes; for where much is given much will be required. High time—if we consider the business they have to do. I am doing, said Nehemiah to some who would have interrupted him; I cannot come down to you—I am doing a great work. How much more may a Christian say this! He has an enterprise connected with the soul and God and eternity. Some things are desirable, and some are useful; but this is absolutely indispensable—
“Sufficient in itself alone;
And needful, were the world our own.”
Neglect in many a concern is injurious; but here it is ruinous—ruinous of everything, and ruinous for ever. High time—if we consider the nature of the season in which this difficult and all-important work is to be accomplished. It is short, and there is but a step between us and death. It is uncertain in its continuance, and may be terminated every moment by some of those numberless dangers to which we are exposed: once gone, it can never be renewed. High time—if we consider the danger they are in. If a man were sleeping in a house and the fire were seen, who would not think it high time for him to awake and escape for his life? This is but a weak representation of the danger of sinners. They are condemned already. High time to awake out of sleep—if we consider that all besides are awake. God, glorified saints, the children of this generation, devils, and death, are awake. “It is high time to awake out of sleep.”—W. Jay.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Romans 13:11. Cæsar wept.—When Cæsar, in Spain, met with a statue of Alexander, he wept at the thought that this illustrious conqueror had achieved so much before he had even begun his career. The man who is awake will accomplish much. Every sight will stir his soul to energy. He will emulate others in good works.
Romans 13:11. Sunrise from the Righi.—Doubtless many readers of these pages have been among the number of the thousands of travellers who each year witness the sunrise from the culm of the Righi. So anxious were you to behold the sight that you rose from your bed the moment you heard the sound of the horn which announced that the night was far spent and the day was at hand. Hastily dressing, you were soon silently and earnestly watching for the first gleam of light in the Eastern sky. It may be that some one of you turned to see whether your friend and fellow traveller was sharing your eager anticipations, and found him wanting. You at once hastened back to the hotel and knocked loudly at his door. He, too, had been awoke by the blast of the horn, but, being weary, was half asleep. You exclaimed, “Do you know the time? It is high time to awake out of sleep, for the sight for which you have travelled so far is far nearer than when first you were roused.” He, too, was soon among the silent band of watchers, and with you beheld the King of Day as he crowned each snow-capped peak with roseate hues, and lit up the lakes of Lucerne and Zug and Lowerz below, and many a distant valley, until the whole panorama was bathed in his glorious light. St. Paul, as a watchful sentinel in the Church, as one who was eagerly expecting the glorious appearing of his Lord and Master, earnestly exhorts the Christians at Rome to live in no debt but that of love (see Romans 13:10). He seeks to awaken them from their indifference by reminding them that the “day of the Lord,” the consummation of their “salvation,” was nearer than when “first they were roused from their sleep of sin.” “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”—Bardsley’s “Illustrated Texts.”
Romans 13:11-12. The improvement of time.—Boyle remarks “that sand-grains are easily scattered, but skilful artificers gather, melt, and transmute them to glass, of which they make mirrors, lenses, and telescopes. Even so vigilant Christians improve parenthetic fragments of time, employing them in self-examination, acts of faith, and researches of holy truth, by which they become looking-glasses for their souls and telescopes revealing their promised heaven.” Jewellers save the very sweepings of their shops because they contain particles of precious metal. Should Christians, whose every moment of time was purchased for them by the blood of Christ, be less careful of time? Surely its very minutiæ should be more treasured than grains of gold or dust of diamonds.
Romans 13:12. Night.—Time of Mosaic law, previous to Christ’s first coming. Time of ignorance of God. The whole of life in this world, in comparison with the kingdom of glory. Night the heathen condition of Rome. Consummated triumph over the night of evil. Armour consisting in the power and disposition of light, truth, and righteousness. Roman armour kept bright.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 13:12
Proper equipment.—It is proper that the children of light should put on the armour of light. There is a charm about that which is suitable and proper. The painting is attractive which is in harmony with our feeling and is the expression of our unformulated thoughts. A piece of music delights when it pleasantly touches the emotions and finds its echo in our natures. Nature clothes herself in colours suitable to the varying seasons. And the children of light should be arrayed in that which is suitable to the character. They must cast off the works of darkness. Nothing dark, unholy, or degrading should appear. They must put on the armour of light, stand ready for defence, and appear as those who can grace the company of followers who shall attend the Lord Jesus.
I. The Christian’s state is one of preparation.—The foolish virgins who had no oil in their lamps were to blame. Their sin was one of omission. They could have provided oil, and yet failed. We are exhorted to prepare ourselves, to be in a state of preparation, and we shall be without excuse if we refuse to obey. God’s storehouse is open and available. In the Tower of London we look at the armour, but we are not permitted to touch. In God’s tower there is a large supply of armour, and each may therefrom supply his need. If at the last day we are asked why we have not on the armour of light, we shall be speechless. As summer draws nigh nature puts on her brightest hues and gayest colours. The lightsome season of the Saviour’s second advent draws nigh. Winter’s chilling frosts, howling blasts, and tossing tempests are disappearing; the sun seems to show fresh power, and sails along the azure sky with renewed splendour. We must be ready and clothed with light for the lightsome season. The Bridegroom is coming; the lights are in the distance; the music is sounding. Our hearts answer to the glad summons.
II. The Christian’s state is one of development.—All great things are gradual in their development. The tree of rapid growth does not produce valuable timber, while the tree of slow growth becomes a prize in the market. The Christian character is great, and one which is not to be rapidly formed. Like the good tree, the Christian must gather strength and beauty alike from the winter’s storms and the summer’s gentle gale. There are sudden conversions. St. Paul was suddenly converted, but he says, “Let us cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light.” Conversion is the starting-point. It sets the man forth on a new career. He then begins to cast away the works of darkness. The more rapidly it is done the better. Justification is instantaneous, while sanctification is gradual. It may be objected that the dying thief went straight to paradise, and passed through no long periods of discipline. But we cannot tell what experiences were gone through in the short interval between the thief’s conversion and his entrance into paradise. Further, we are not to judge God’s ordinary rules of procedure by His extraordinary. Neither in nature nor in grace does the infinite Worker proceed by leaps, bounds, and surprises. We see method and gradual processes. If there be “faults” and dislocations, they may be taken as the exceptions which prove the rule. The Christian life is not a stagnant existence, but a growth—not a leap, but a walk—not a startling bound, but a development, a gradual and secret unfolding.
III. The Christian’s state is one of glory.—It is a mistake to suppose that all the glory of the Christian character is to be referred to the future of eternity. There is glory in the present. Is not the light glorious? Natural, intellectual, and moral light are all glorious. The glory of God is seen in the fact that He dwells in light inaccessible. The glory of Jesus Christ is set forth in the circumstance that He is the light of the world. The mountain is glorious when the sun shines full upon it, and brings out to view its grandeur and beauty. The Christian is glorious when arrayed in the armour of light which reflects the glory of the eternal Light. Doddridge well explains: “The armour of light of those Christian graces which, like burnished and beautiful armour, would be at once an ornament and a defence, that which would reflect the bright beams that were so gloriously rising upon them. The Christian army should stand like soldiers ready for the battle with all their armour brightly polished. The glory is manifest as there shines upon them the bright beams of the Sun of righteousness.”
IV. The Christian’s state is one of safety.—The Christian is safe when he is rightly armed and makes a wise use of his weapons—when his frame is strengthened, his arm nerved, and his hand directed by the Holy Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is not like the swords of this world. This sword may be successfully used by the weak and feeble, if there be strong faith and earnest prayer. The Christian is safe as he puts on the armour of light and keeps it in constant wear. He is protected behind and before. When the king of Israel went up to Ramoth Gilead to battle, a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness. The armour of light is so constructed that no arrow can pierce the joints so as to destroy. On the moral battle-plains not one of God’s royal sons can be slain. The Christian soldier may fall, but he only falls to rise victorious.
V. The Christian’s state should be one of cheerfulness.—It is a cheerful thing to dwell in the light. The Preacher says, “The light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” Heaven’s own light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the Sun of righteousness. He is never hid by clouds, except those of our own making; He never scorches with withering beams: He ever diffuses plenty and beauty. What a pity that we cannot always be cheerful! Let us feel that we are the children of light.
“Your harps, ye trembling saints,
Down from the willows take;
Loud to the praise of love divine
Bid every string awake.”
Let us wear the armour of light which is the garb of joy and cheerfulness.
The armour of light.—What is that armour of light which is spoken of in the text? The Christian, whilst on earth, is a member of the Church militant; he must pass through successive contests, and be defended against various attacks, at once insidious and hurtful. Nor is he to be content with merely escaping unhurt; he is to act on the offensive; he is to carry on a warfare against his enemies, as well as defend himself against any warfare which they wage against him. “Having your loins girt about with truth.” There is first the girdle, intended to give support, by which St. Paul indicates sincerity; next, the “breastplate of righteousness,” a word signifying holiness, “and your feet … peace,” signifying readiness; next, “the shield of faith,” to “quench the darts of the devil”; next, “the helmet, which is the hope of salvation”; and finally, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Why is it called “the armour of light”? First, with reference to its origin, which is heavenly; and next, because it is only found where Christianity exists and exerts its proper influence. No man is seen in the armour of light but a true Christian. Man was never seen thus armed but under its influence or under some of the corresponding and earlier dispensations of it to mankind. Thirdly, it is called “the armour of light” because it corresponds with the character of our dispensation, which is a dispensation of light. There are many persons who see and acknowledge the necessity of gaining those spiritual victories to which alone the crown of life is promised, and therefore they begin to war what in itself is the good warfare, but they do not consider what kind of weapons they use or what it is that they trust as the means of success. Some trust in their own native strength; but how does that correspond with the religion of which it is one of the first principles that all our strength is but weakness, and when we were without strength Christ died for the ungodly? Others trust to the firmness of their own resolves, while this religion tells them that, even in the early and first stage of gracious influence itself, which has brought them to acknowledge the excellence of divine law, when they would do good evil is present with them. Others, again, trust to their increasing acquaintance with Christian doctrine, as if supposing that there is some secret charm in this knowledge which shall sanctify the heart and transform the character. What are the motives which should induce us to array ourselves in this armour? The first motive is derived from a consideration of the degraded state of the man who is not invested with this armour—degraded at all times, but degraded more especially when the absence of all those principles which constitute the armour of light is the result of his own rejection of the truth and gospel of Christ. What is a man without sincerity as to God? He is a hypocrite whom God will by-and-by expose. What is a man without holiness but an offensive sinner in the sight of God? The second motive is the moral elevation which this armour gives to every one who is invested with it. This moral elevation is one great end of our life, and ought to be the grand object of our ambition. The ambition of being distinguished among men, of standing high in the opinion of the world, is from beneath, and not from the Father, and will always tend to the grovelling source from which it springs; but the grace of God from its first commencement in the soul kindles a noble ambition in the soul to rise higher and higher in the scale of moral attainment.—R. Watson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 13:12
Our duty in view of the approaching day.—“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” St. Paul speaks in this chapter of great and important duties—duties devolving upon all men, and most certainly and especially on disciples of Jesus Christ. Besides the duties named, he tells us that every other duty is comprehended in that of love—the divine law of love—and says plainly, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” And it is certain that love towards God will prompt to pure devotion, sincere worship, and acceptable obedience; love towards men will refrain from injury, and restrain from all that may hurt our character, prospects, and interests. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” Our time on earth is short; the longest life passes swiftly away. It is therefore supremely important that we use it to the best advantage. “Knowing the time”—its uncertainty, its dangers, the obligations it brings—an injunction as to the duty of “redeeming the time,” should be regarded as most weighty and urgent. We ought to “awake” to our responsibilities, and be keenly alive to the solemnities of our state; if we are believing with our hearts unto righteousness as we approach the goal, the end of our course, “our salvation is nearer” and more fully assured.
I. The night of ignorance, doubt, and difficulty is for the believer, rapidly passing.—The night of mere ceremonialism, the night of ignorance, and the darkness of evil cannot last for ever. Many of the first Christian converts were brought up in Judaism, and were not free from the prejudices which then clung to it: from these they were partially delivered. All of them were ignorant of Messiah’s true claims and offices until they had heard the gospel preached; then many of the clouds were rolled away, “the darkness was past, and the true light now shined” upon them. Still it was not yet perfect day, the night was not altogether past; there had been doubts: “Can there any good come out of Nazareth?” “Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another?” Much doubt had been removed; the night was far spent. To very many of us the darkness of this earthly life is a thing of the past; difficulties innumerable have been faced, and yielded to or overcome: we have “dragged hard uphill this heavy load of death called life”; but we begin to see light streaming from the distant hills, and soon it shall fill the vales. “The night is far spent.”
II. The day of deliverance from evil, of the assurance of hope, of the enjoyment of true Christian grace and peace, nay, the day of eternal redemption in all its blessedness, is at hand.—The believer is in the possession of much that is valuable—peace, inward and spiritual grace, freedom from guilt—but all this is but as a drop in a bucket compared with what is to come. “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.” The night of death cometh, but even then “there shall be light”; and that comparative darkness is to be followed by the glory of eternal day. Now we have a foretaste of the good in store—love, joy, peace, “rest” in the grace of Christ; but it is a promise and pledge of more:
“So glittering here the drops of light;
There, the full ocean rolls how bright.”
But in many senses “the day is at hand,” as the law and fact of progress show—as the advance of knowledge, science, arts, etc., sufficiently indicates: “we are on the eve” of great discoveries, greater than have yet been made, and man shall prove in the grandest sense to be “but a little lower than the angels.”
III. There must be the absolute and complete renunciation of sinful desires, habits, and works, and the assumption of holiness, inward and outward, which St. Paul calls “the armour of light,” because righteousness is a defence of the soul against evil and the powers of evil. Sinful practices are called works of darkness, because the thought of them is conceived in souls unillumined by spiritual knowledge and divine grace. “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” As the worst crimes are commonly committed in darkness or in secrecy, darkness becomes quite naturally the emblem of wrong-doing in general, and also of wrong-thinking. Every thought of work contrary to the spirit of Christianity is to be rejected and abhorred. The believer assumes “the armour of light,” “the armour of righteousness” (see Ephesians 6:11-18), when he, in repentance, fully accepts Christ and determines to live in and by His blessed religion. There is no defence on earth against temptation and sin equal to that which we derive from the teaching, example, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: he who has righteousness of heart and holiness of life is strong,—strong in all time, however trying or adverse; strong even in the greatest bodily suffering; strong in the Lord.—Dr. Burrows.
Time is short in retrospect.—“Knowing the time”—the time of this our mortal life. How soon it will be over, at the longest! How short the time seems since we were young; how quickly it has gone! How every year as we grow older seems to go more and more quickly, and there is less time to do what we want, to think seriously, to improve ourselves! So soon, and it will be over and we shall have no time at all, for we shall be in eternity. And what then? What then? That depends on what now, on what we are doing now. Are we letting our short span of life slip away in sleep, fancying ourselves all the while wide awake, as we do in dreams, till we wake really, and find that it is daylight and that all our best dreams were nothing but useless fancy? How many dream away their lives!—some upon gain, some upon pleasure, some upon petty self-interest, petty quarrels, petty ambitions, petty squabbles and jealousies about this person and that, which are no more worthy to take up a reasonable human being’s time and thoughts than so many dreams would be. Some, too, dream away their lives in sin, in works of darkness which they are forced for shame and safety to hide, lest they should come to the light and be exposed. So people dream their lives away, and go about their daily business as men who walk in their sleep, wandering about with their eyes open and yet seeing nothing of what is really around them—seeing nothing, though they think that they see and know their own interest, and are shrewd enough to find their way about this world. But they know nothing—nothing of the very world with which they pride themselves they are so thoroughly acquainted. None know less of the world than those who pride themselves on being men of the world; for the true light which shines all around them they do not see, and therefore they do not see the truth of things by that light—if they did, then they would see that of which now they do not even dream.—Charles Kingsley.
God made this life; therefore good.—For is not this mortal life, compared with that life to come, as night compared with day? I do not mean to speak evil of it; God forbid that we should say impiously to Him, Why hast Thou made me thus? No; God made this mortal life, and therefore, like all things which He has made, it is very good. But there are good nights and there are bad nights, and there are happy lives and unhappy ones. But what are they at best? What is the life of the happiest man without the Holy Spirit of God? A night full of pleasant dreams. What is the life of the wisest man? A night of darkness, through which he gropes his way by lanthorn light, slowly and with many mistakes and stumbles. When we compare man’s vast capabilities with his small deeds, when we think how much he might know, how little he does know in this mortal life, can we wonder that the highest spirits in every age have looked on death as a deliverance out of darkness and a dungeon? And if this is life at the best, what is life at the worst? To how many is life a night, not of peace and rest, but of tossing and weariness, pain and sickness, anxiety and misery, till they are ready to cry, When will it be over? When will kind death come and give me rest? When will the night of this life be spent and the day of God arise? “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.… My soul doth wait for the Lord, more than the sick man who watches for the morning.”—Charles Kingsley.
A double inference.—On the one hand the night deepened, on the other the day drew near. The former of these figures signifies that the time granted to the present world to continue its life without God had moved on, was shortened; the latter, that the appearing of the kingdom of Christ had approached. Hence a double inference. As the night is dissipated, there should be an end to the works of the night; and as the day begins to shine, awaking should be completed, and there should be effected what may be called the toilet worthy of the day. The works of darkness: all that dare not be done by day, and which is reserved for night. The term ὅπλα may be translated in two ways: the instruments or arms of light. The parallel (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11) speaks in favour of the second sense. In that case the reference would be to the breastplate, the helmet, the sandals of the Roman soldiers, arms which may be regarded as garments fitted on in the morning to replace the dress of night. But the delineation as a whole does not seem to apply to a day of battle; rather it appears that the day in question is one of peaceful labour. And for this reason we think it more natural to apply the expression here to the garments of the laborious workman who, from early morning, holds himself in readiness for the hour when his master waits to give him his task.—Godet.
A difference between the primitive and modern Church.—The primitive Church was more under the influence of the lust of the flesh than of the pride of life; the modern Church is more under the influence of the pride of life than of the lust of the flesh. But pride is as great a sin in the sight of God as sensuality. This should be considered in forming an estimate of the modern missionary Church.—Shedd.
The certainty and the uncertainty of the event beneficial.—The fact that the nearness or distance of the day of Christ’s coming was unknown to the apostles in no way affects the prophetic announcements of God’s Spirit by them concerning its preceding and accompanying circumstances. The day and hour formed no part of their inspiration; the details of the event did. And this distinction has singularly and providentially turned out to the edification of all subsequent ages. While the prophetic declarations of the events of that time remain to instruct us, the eager expectation of that time, which they expressed in their day, has also remained a token of the true frame of mind in which each succeeding age should contemplate the ever-approaching coming of the Lord. On the certainty of the event our faith is grounded; by the uncertainty of the event our hope is stimulated and our watchfulness aroused.—Alford.
Romans 13:13.—εὐσχήμων, beautiful and symmetrical. Banquets, drinking feasts. Noisy crowds of drunken men ran dancing and singing through the streets. Lascivious banquets.
Romans 13:14. Be clothed.—Exhibit Him both before men and God, both outwardly and inwardly. Put Him on, so that He only may be seen in you. Care of the flesh permitted, but not its lusts. Put on, invest yourselves with, Christ in the exercise of that union with Him which is already yours in possession. Chrysostom says it was a common phrase, “Such a one hath put on such a one”—that is, he is an imitation of him; so to put on the new man is to walk as new men, in newness of life and conversation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 13:13-14
A graceful walk.—It would be a gain to the cause of holy living if Christians could be led to feel and to act as if the daylight were round about them, making bare all their actions, words, and thoughts. Men and women have too great a tendency to act as if they were children of the night. They have the vain fancy that they are shrouded by the darkness, but the mistake is seen when a beam of light falls upon their pathway, and tells them that there can be no such thing as darkness in God’s nature and in God’s moral government. There is night to the children of men, but there is no night to God, and there should be no night to the children of eternity. They should walk as children of the day. The clear day reveals blemishes which escape notice in the murky light. We are to think of ourselves as walking in the clear day, in the revealing sunlight. When the sun shines into the room it reveals dust dancing in the atmosphere; and so when the sun of divine requirements shines into the chambers of our souls it shows our own imperfections. Let us not be afraid of the light, but let us be afraid of that which the light makes known. Let us walk honestly, gracefully, handsomely, as in the day. What are the characteristics of a graceful Christian walk? How is a Christian to bear himself handsomely?
I. The man will walk handsomely who exercises the knowing faculty.—This is the proud prerogative of man—that he knows—and which sets him at the head of the lower creation. The perfect flower is well shaped in form, beautiful and attractive in colour, and sweet in fragrance; but it has not the power of rejoicing in its own beauty, and of inhaling its own fragrance. The landscape is charming, and yet it does not rejoice in its own attractiveness. The nightingale chants its lays in the lonely forest, floats its sweet liquid notes on the still surface of the midnight air, but is itself unconscious of the wealth of song. The horse shows its power as it draws the heavy load, as it fleets over the greensward, and bounds with wondrous agility over the high-raised fence. Though the horse is superior to other animals, it does not know its advantages. At times it may appear to catch a glimpse of its greatness, and to make a grasp at power; but it cannot link cause and effect, it cannot be said to know. Man rises in excellency above all other creatures in the fact that he is a knowing animal. He knows what he is—what he is in part; for his ignorance is still very great. The degree in which the knowing faculty is exercised by man is the degree in which he walks handsomely. The man does not walk gracefully who walks as in the night of ignorance. When the knowing faculty is oppressed by the mist and fog and cold of the night, then the man walks dishonourably; but when the faculty is developed by the daylight of goodness, then the man walks handsomely. Knowledge is good, but knowledge handled and controlled by evil must lead to impious results; so that for the man to walk handsomely it is needful that the knowing faculty be directed in the right channel of truth and of goodness. We must know ourselves, and we must know God in and through Jesus Christ; we must know how great and vast are our possessions, our privileges, our dignities, our glories, our honours, and our destiny. This is the first and last great step in knowledge—to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. This knowledge is life eternal. This knowledge gives eternal life, and requires eternal life for its completion. Eternal life is an ever-unfolding scene, and the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ is an ever-developing knowledge. Growth in this knowledge is growth without cessation; and the more we increase in this knowledge the more do we possess the power of walking handsomely. So that we must begin here, at the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ, if we are rightly to obey the apostle’s exhortation. Let us walk gracefully, handsomely, as in the day.
II. The man will walk handsomely who keeps in view the nobility of his origin.—The question Whence is man? is variously answered, and is the cause of discussion in some quarters; but there is no occasion for misgiving on our part, for we believe that God is the father of men. They are God’s children, made in His image and likeness, and capable of rendering Him reasonable service. In this sense man has a noble origin. He is the highest of creatures, the link between earth and heaven. On one side of his nature he touches the lowest, and on the other side he reaches to heaven. He overtops the material universe, and stands amid the immensities of eternity. But the question with which we are now concerned is as to the origin of the spiritual man. On this question the New Testament alone can be our guide. The spiritual man boasts not his first but his second birth. He is born, not of corruptible seed, but of God; he need not glory in earthly ancestors, for he is united to Jesus Christ; he does not require to speak of royal blood, since by the new birth he is linked to Him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. There is not always with noble descent the transmission of noble qualities. Sometimes as the race proceeds the quality of the stock degenerates; but in the spiritual descent there must be the transmission of noble qualities. The man is born again that he may be made a new creature in Christ Jesus; he is born from heaven, and receives heavenly qualities which he himself must develop. How gracefully the man should walk who is thus fashioned anew, who draws a new life from the very source of life, who is begotten again by the incorruptible word and power of God, who is lifted up amid the sublime hierarchy of God’s redeemed and chosen children! Art thou a King’s son? Then be noble in thy doings, right royal in thy actions.
III. The man will walk handsomely who constantly regards the large extent of his sphere.—The man is apt to get careless who feels that he has no sphere, and that there is nothing in his surroundings demanding the exercise of his powers. He has only one talent, and so he wraps it up in a napkin, and binds himself in cerecloths. The poet who had produced his great work, and felt that life was finished, passed his days in indolence, consoling himself with the thought and the expression, There is no motive. Paley’s great powers were lying waste and useless until the voice of a fellow-student called him to action and opened out to him the vast possibilities of his nature. But surely there is a sphere and there is a work for all. Man may rouse himself by the thought of the philosopher who said that man is the end of all things in a semicircle—that is, all things in the world are made for him, and he is made for God. Man is not an insignificant creature shut up in a shell, covered with which he crawls about in a little space. No doubt by the body man is confined; but by the spirit he strips himself of the burden of fleshly covering and travels through infinite spaces. He lives in the mighty past, in the ever-working present, and even in the unenacted future. This time world, changing, moving, passing away, is his sphere. Then the no-time world, the life unknown, unseen, immeasurable, and infinite, is also his sphere by anticipation and by expectation. The spiritual man acts not in a semicircle merely, but in a vast circle. He is the source of undying influences. The spiritual man touches on all sides wherever he moves. An atom of influence for good set in motion must affect other atoms, and the motion will continue through unknown regions. The mountains appear strong and immovable, but motion in the material world reaches to distances beyond our comprehension. And much more is this true with reference to motion in the moral world. The good man is the centre and source of vast outlying and fertilising regions of goodness. He is surely the good seed from which other good men spring. They in their turn are good seed giving birth to other noble spirits. The upper room at Jerusalem did not seem a large sphere; it had no architectural glory. Yet there met in that place twelve of the mightiest spirits of all time. There a force was being developed which was to subdue the material power of Rome, to confute the wisdom of Greece, to give laws and rules which should influence and control the mightiest forms of civilisation, and the greatest nations of all periods. A certain widow with only two mites had, to human seeming, no extensive sphere of usefulness. She had no costly offerings; and yet those mites have been of more value to the Church of Christ than the thousands of pounds she has since received. Here indeed we require to exercise the knowing faculty, and to take broad views, and to consider our sphere as much larger than might be supposed by shallow thinking. We rise in manhood; dormant faculties are called into action as we consider the vast possibilities of the meanest life. We shall no longer creep as if going a monotonous round of mean duties, but we shall walk with stalwart spirit and with hopeful mien, as men appointed to do great works which shall in one way or other be finally successful and triumphant.
IV. The man will walk handsomely who wisely considers the glory of his final destiny.—What a man may become will have an important bearing upon the way in which he treats himself and the way in which he is treated by his fellows. Wisely did that man conduct himself with respectful bearing in the presence of every schoolboy, for he viewed him in the light of a possibly great future. There he saw the ruling statesman, the thrilling orator, the conquering general, the stately bishop, or the world-renowned author. There is to the spiritual man a positive great future, not after the dreams of earth-bound souls, but according to the revelations and provisions of infinite love, wisdom, and power. The spiritual man is a king on earth. The kingdom over which he rules is his own inner nature, but his kingship is imperfect and oft contested. Sometimes he is ensnared and taken captive; but in God’s great future he shall be a king, and his kingship will not be contested, and he shall never be brought into bondage. The sceptre of royalty will never be wrested from his grasp. The golden crown will never be taken from his head; he shall reign for ever and for ever. In this world he is often as a king in exile, but in the other world he will be a king acknowledged. In this world he is a king in poverty, but in the other world he will be a king surrounded with untold wealth. In this world he is a king in sorrow, but in the other world he will be a king in unspeakable happiness. Here he is a king in a cottage, but there he will be a king in a house of many mansions—in a city whose walls are jasper, whose streets are gold, whose gates are pearl, whose fruits and flowers are perennial, whose society is angels, archangels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs. What manner of person ought such a man to be who has before him such a glorious prospect? The wise heathen said he was greater and born to greater things than that his soul should be the slave of his body. Surely the wise Christian may say in far larger sense that he is greater and born to greater things than that the soul should be slave of the body. He will walk honestly, gracefully, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envy; but putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and making provision for the enlargement and development of his nobler nature.
The life-long putting on of Christ.
I. What this is that is put on.—It is Christ Himself that we put on; not one thing merely, such as righteousness, but everything which makes us comely and acceptable to God. Christ Himself is here described as a robe. The figure is not of His giving us a robe, but of His being that robe. It is a whole Christ whom we put on; it is with a whole Christ that God deals in dealing with us.
II. How this putting on is done.—The link by which we become personally connected with Christ is our own believing. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” We put on Christ simply in believing. Our reception of the Father’s testimony to the work and person of Christ is the “putting on.” There is no other.
III. What is the effect?—There are two aspects or sides which are to be regarded in this:
1. God’s side;
2. The believer’s.
1. God’s side. God looks at us and sees us as if we were His own Son. He sees not our deformity and imperfection, but His beauty and perfection.
2. Our side.
(1) Our consciences are completely satisfied. Not only have we the blood to purge the guilt, but we have the perfection to cover all imperfection, so that we feel that God “sees no iniquity in Jacob, and no transgression in Israel.”
(2) Our bands are completely loosed. The certainty of possessing God’s favour in such surpassing measure gives the fullest liberty.
(3) Our joy overflows. Such love! such favour! such nearness! such dignity!
(4) Our motives to a holy life are increased. What manner of persons ought we to be who are so regarded by God, so beloved of Him!
(5) Our zeal is quickened. Loved with such a love, and treated in so divine a way, what is there that we are not willing to do for Him?—H. Bonar.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 13:13-14
Pilgrims of the dawn.—The pilgrims of the dawn tolerate nothing in themselves that the light of day would rebuke. Hence it is the counterpart of this that they make no provision for the flesh; whatever provision they take for their heavenly journey, the flesh has no share in it. The sin adhering to their natures, the old man not yet dead, is an enemy whose hunger they do not feed, to whose thirst they do not administer drink, whose dying solicitations they regard not, but leave him to perish by the way. But the supreme preparation, uniting all others in one, is the putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him alone the dignity and the purity of our nature meet; transformed into His character, we need nothing more to fit us for the holiest heavens. But nothing less will suffice His expectation at His coming. He will come to be glorified in His saints—already the likeness in ten thousand reproductions of Himself; and they shall in turn be glorified in Him. Hence the great business of the pilgrims is to occupy the precious moments of the morning in weaving into their nature the character of Christ as the apparel of the eternal day. And if in faith that worketh by love—the love that fulfilleth the law—they diligently co-operate with the Holy Spirit, it will be His blessed function to see to it that before the Bridegroom cometh His bride, and every individual soul that makes up her mystical person, shall be found clothed in His spiritual perfection as with a garment without seam, woven from the top throughout. Beyond this we cannot go. This is the close and the secret of the whole exhortation to the pilgrims of the dawn. They have come up out of the night at the sound of His awakening voice, and have left their Egyptian darkness for ever. They are wrestling with the dangers of the morning, rejoicing in its partial satisfactions. But supremely and above all they are intent upon the coming day; in their pathway there is no death, but they wait for the more abundant life; they are full of trembling, solemn expectation of all that the day will pour out of its unfathomable mysteries. But the end of all their expectation is the person of their Lord. And to prepare for Him by being like Himself is the sum of all their preparation.—Pope’s “Kingdom of Christ.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 13
Romans 13:14. The story of St. Augustine’s repentance.—Sometimes mothers’ and fathers’ eyes are sealed in death before the one whom they gave really gives himself to God. You have all heard of the great Augustine. There are few stories more interesting, few for which the Church has had greater cause to thank God, than the story of his repentance. His mother’s heart was nearly broken by his profligacy and folly. She, like Hannah, had consecrated him from birth. She had watched over him, taught him, prayed for him. But he gave no heed to her counsel. Her patience was sorely taxed. An old bishop one day found her almost in despair. “O woman, woman!” he said, “the child of so many prayers will be saved!” And so it was. When he was on a visit at Milan, God found him. One day, sitting with a friend, “there arose a mighty storm of grief, bringing a mighty shower of tears.” He left his friend, hastened to the garden, cried, “How long? how long? Why not now?” when lo! he seemed to hear a voice as of a child repeating, “Take up and read, take up and read.” And he rose from the ground, opened his Bible, and read the first verse which he found. It was, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh.” As he read darkness vanished. His mother’s prayers were answered.—Rev. J. Marshall Lang, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28