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Thursday, September 28th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

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Verse 1


Here are various Directions concerning Christian Graces, And the Chapter concludes with an affecting call of the Apostle from the shortness of Life, to be always clothed with Christ.

Verses 1-10

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (2) Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: (4) For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (5) Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (6) For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. (7) Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (8) Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (9) For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (10) Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The obedience which the Apostle enforceth to the civil powers, is abundantly heightened in the consideration, that what Paul here recommended to the Church then at Rome, of a peaceable submission to the higher powers, which were heathens; comes home with double argument, considered as to Christian Princes. And, indeed, the motives which the Apostle adopts in recommending those duties, are in themselves unanswerable. All government must be the result of divine ordination. And the Lord's design in that ordination is gracious. His Church cannot but derive blessedness from it, however it may be administered, agreeably to that comprehensive promise, Romans 8:28 . And, if the Lord enjoined his Church, as he did, when going into captivity, to seek the peace of the city, whither they were carried, and to pray unto the Lord for it, for in the peace thereof, they should have peace; how much more under the fostering care of a Christian government, are those duties enforced? Jeremiah 29:7 .

Verses 11-14

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (12) 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 armor of light. (13) Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (14) But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.

There would be a considerable difficulty in the right apprehension of what the Apostle here saith, of awakening out of sleep, if he had not in the preceding part of this Epistle sufficiently shewn, that the Church was not only in an awakened state, but in a truly converted and justified state before God. But, beheld in this point of view, all difficulty is at once removed, and the words of the Apostle, in those few verses, appear in all the loveliness of exhortation to the Church of God. The sleep which the Apostle had in view, is that sleep too common among believers, to which God's dear children are but too much addicted. Not the sleep of death, for they have passed from death unto life. You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Ephesians 2:1 . But it means a sleepy, drowsy frame of mind, such as the Church complained of, and out of which the Lord called her, Song of Solomon 5:2 , see Commentary there. The wise, virgins, as well as the foolish, are described as fallen into a state of sleep while the bridegroom tarried, Matthew 25:5 , see Commentary also. If I detain the Reader over the view of the Apostle's words, it shall only be to observe, that the Church of God in all ages bath been but too often discovered in this state; and, perhaps, in none more than in the present. And, therefore, if with an eye to the account, as here stated by the Apostle, we consider the high time Paul mentions, of awakening out of sleep, as if personally directed by the Holy Ghost to each child of God, to whom this Poor Man's Commentary may come, I shall hope the Lord will commission it to usefulness.

Every child of God, though in a justified state before God, in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, may be said to be in a sleepy, drowsy frame of soul, when grace is not in lively exercise, and the goings forth upon the Person, and blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ are not continual. Time was, when the Day-spring from on high first dawned upon the soul, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God first shone in the face of Jesus Christ; that his name was as the richest ointment poured forth. The soul ran, yea, fled to Christ, like as on the chariots of Amminadib. And the heart was prompted to ask of ail we met, saw ye him whom my soul loveth? If this be not the case now, is it not because a sleepiness is crept into the soul? If the bread of life is not daily sought for with the same keen desire as before, can anything be plainer, than that the appetite is wanting? Reader! what view have you of this state of the case? Certainly if you and I do not feel our daily need of Jesus, yea, if a sense of our wants, and his all-sufficiency to supply, do not make him increasingly precious, somewhat is sadly out of tune in the heart. Though rooted in Christ, yet it is a wintry season, when the branches have neither leaves nor fruit. This was the charge which the Lord brought himself against his Church at Ephesus. Though the Lord knew her works, and her labor, and her patience, and bore testimony to her as his; yet, Jesus charged her with coldness. She had not lost all love to Him, but she had left her first love, Revelation 2:1-7 . Oh! my poor heart! What reproach is it, that He to whom I owe so much, should have so little of my affections! And, while I need him more, should manifest that love less! Reader! Is it your case? If so, is it not as Paul saith, high time to awake out of sleep?

But let us go one step further. From whence doth this spring, and where is the seat of the disease? Very plain it is, that the mind revolts at it, and the regenerated soul is continually reproaching itself in consequence thereof. The child of God feels evident principles of a different nature and tendency within him. The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Like Paul, with the mind we serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. So that there are two I's in every renewed man's nature. There is the I which serves the law of God. And there is the I which serves the law of sin. And painful and humbling as this review is, yet is it a blessed discovery, and which can never be made but by the Spirit's teaching. The carnal, unawakened, unregenerated man knows it not; yea, indeed, it is impossible he should, for he feels it not, neither doth it exist in him. His spiritual part is unawakened, but remains as he was born, dead in trespasses and sins. So that there is no conflict in his heart. A dead soul can make no opposition to a living body, wholly employed under one form or other, in making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. It is only when by the quickening and regenerating influences of the Holy Ghost, the soul, which by nature is dead in trespasses and sins, is brought forth into life, that the warfare begins, and which never ends until the body drops into the grave.

Reader! do not dismiss the subject without taking with you the suitable improvements from it. There is much in it to humble the best and most faithful followers of the Lord. And there are some things connected with it, which under grace, may lead to other improvements. Let me beg my Reader's indulgence to offer a few words upon each. In the first place, there is much to humble the child of God, both before God, and to his own heart, when he beholds in himself those remains of indwelling corruption, and that he carries about with him such a body of sin and death, which harrass and afflict the soul. What poverty, what leanness in spiritual enjoyments it occasions! How barren are ordinances, when grace is low, and corruption high ? The heart is like a captive in prison, when neither a sense of sin, nor of mercy, for the time, affects. A sense of want will quicken the desire; and when God the Holy Ghost creates an hungering in the soul, and spreads Jesus with his banquet open to view, everything is blessed then in the enjoyment. But, when the Lord the Comforter is away, and the soul asleep; means of grace, though still followed, degenerate into a mere form; and, however the shadow remains, the substance is wanting. Moreover, the evil of this drowsiness is not confined to the person of the child of God only, which is under its distressing influence, the whole Church is injured by it, Christ is dishonored, and, not unfrequently, occasion is afforded thereby for the enemy to blaspheme. While men slept, saith Jesus, (in that beautiful parable of the good seed,) the enemy sowed tares. And to what cause so likely is it in the present hour, that we can ascribe the awful heresies which have sprung up among us, even to the denying of the Lord that bought them; as the lukewarm, indifferent spirit, which hath been manifested in the Churches, to the great and distinguishing doctrines of our most holy faith? That temporizing conduct, that wish to avoid giving offence, that endeavour to make the iron and the clay join, in, bringing together men of the most opposite principles, under the specious pretext of promoting the Lord's glory, by propagating his holy word; while concealing and keeping in the back ground an open profession of some of his most blessed truths, which truly honor him; what are all these, but some of the sad, sad consequences of a sleepy state of the Church, instead of casting off, and having no fellowship with the works of darkness, but as true soldiers of Jesus Christ, putting on the whole armor of light ?

But I said, there are some things connected with this view of a sleepy frame in the Church, or in any individual of the Church, which, under grace, may lead to other improvements. And I will beg to mention a few of them. And, first. Nothing can be more evident, than that one gracious purpose, which the Lord intended from it is, to make sin appear exceeding sinful No man, no angel, no, nor all the creatures of God, can tell, what sin is; or have they any adequate conceptions of its awfulness. The child of God therefore shall be taught, and feelingly taught too, somewhat of its dreadful nature, from the remains of in-bred and in-dwelling corruption in himself; and as the Prophet saith, thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord, thy God, and that my fear in not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts, Jeremiah 2:19 .

Secondly. This consciousness of a body of in-bred, in-dwelling sin, from which the soul, though renewed by grace, cannot disentangle itself, neither will be able, until life is over, serves, under grace, to keep open a constant spring of true sorrow and repentance in the heart. Paul the Apostle, though he had been caught up to the third heaven, and was himself a chosen vessel before God; yet was so sensible of this distressed state, that he went in great mourning of heart. Oh! wretched man that I am, (said he,) who shall deliver me from the body of this death ? Romans 5:21 . It is very blessed to have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, 2 Corinthians 1:9 .

Thirdly. Perhaps there is hardly a cause, which relates to the state of the redeemed soul, groaning under the remains of corruption, more striking to shew, how the Lord overrules evil for good, than when by this process the believer is divorced from all self-righteousness. Nothing but the continual humblings of sin under grace, can accomplish this blessed purpose. We are so wedded to some fancied goodness in our poor fallen nature, that it requires frequent mortifications from human infirmities, to teach us what we are. And very blessed it is, when humbled to the dust before God, to be rooted out of it. The child of God is living nearer to the Lord, when humbled for some renewed instance of infirmity, than when lifted up, in some fancied work of self-righteousness. And far better is he that is made watchful and jealous over his own heart, by reason of conscious sin, than he that is made proud and secure in fancying himself something when he is nothing.

But fourthly, and above all. Whatever tends to endear Christ, and enhance to the soul the preciousness of Jesus, must be blessed. And, what can accomplish this purpose more, than a sense of our daily, momently need of him? Precious Lord! let me be anything, or nothing, yea, worse than nothing, so that my soul be humbled and my God be exalted as the Lord my righteousness! Oh! for grace to win Christ, and to be found in him: not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ; the righteousness which is of God by faith! Philippians 3:8-9 .

Reader! it will be blessed, if your soul, and my soul, be taught, to mourn in secret, over a nature, which in its highest attainments, is still the subject of sin. And do not forget, how much we owe to grace, in thus having brought us acquainted with ourselves, to hide pride from our eyes! And, how blessed it is in God, to give us grace, to acknowledge before God, those remaining corruptions. And, let me beg the Reader to mark it down, as an unerring rule of grace in the heart, when we are led to see our corruptions, and to acknowledge them. But for grace, we should not have known them. Blessed be God! that while we are led to see, and know, and feel, what poor creatures we are in ourselves; we are led to see, and know, and enjoy also, our interest in Jesus. Oh! the preciousness of that holy Scripture: Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound? that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness, unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 14


Surely the good order of society, and the general peace of states and kingdoms, are promoted, by wise laws, and regulations; and happy the nation, who hath the Lord for their God.

But, my soul! as thou art looking for a city which hath foundation, whose Builder and Maker is God; be thou on the watch tower, for the Lord's coming. And, aware that to thee the night of this wilderness-state is far spent, and the day of the immortal world is at hand, which like the tide of a vast ocean is hastening to cover over the whole earth; oh! for grace to be weaned from all things here below, and to be ready at a moment's warning to mount up and meet the Lord in the air. Blessed Lord Jesus! be it my happiness, to be found waiting! And may God the Spirit put on Christ, and his righteousness on my soul, that when my Lord shall come, I may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 13". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/romans-13.html. 1828.
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