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From admonitions to keep peace, if possible, with all men, whether or not within the Christian circle, and to act honourably and benevolently towards all, the apostle now passes to the duty of Christians towards the civil government and the laws of the country in which they lived. It is well known that the Jews were impatient of the Roman dominion, and that some held it to be unlawful, on religious grounds, to pay tribute to Caesar (Matthew 22:17). Insurrections against the government had consequently been frequent. There had been the notable one under Judas the Gaulonite of Gamala (called ὁ Γαλιλαῖος, Acts 5:37), who left followers behind him, called Gaulonites, and to whose tenets Josephus attributes all subsequent insurrections of the Jews ('Ant.,' 18.1. § 1). Recently one had broken out in Rome, which had caused Claudius to order the expulsion of all Jews from the city (Acts 17:2; cf. Suetonius, 'Claud.,' 25; Din Cassius, 60.6). The Christians, being regarded as a Jewish sect, and known for their acknowledgment of a Messiah and their refusal to comply with heathen usages, were not unnaturally confounded with such disturbers of the peace (cf. Acts 17:6, Acts 17:7; Acts 21:37). It was, therefore, peculiarly needful that the Christian communities should be cautioned to disprove such accusations by showing themselves in all respects good, law-abiding subjects. They might easily be under a temptation to be otherwise. Feeling themselves already subjects of Christ's new kingdom, and regarding the second advent as probably near at hand, they might seem to themselves above the powers and institutions of the unbelieving world, which were so soon to pass away. St. Paul himself condemned resort to heathen tribunals in matters which Christians might settle among themselves (1 Corinthians 6:1, etc.); and many might go so far as to ignore the authority of such tribunals over the saints at all. Peter and John had at the first defied the authority even of the Sanhedrin in matters touching conscience (Acts 4:19); and many might be slow to distinguish between temporal and spiritual spheres of jurisdiction. St. Paul, therefore, lays down the rule that the civil government, in whatsoever hands it might be, was, no less than the Church, a Divine institution for the maintenance of order in the world, to be submitted to and obeyed by Christians within the whole sphere of its legitimate authority. He does not refer to cases in which it might become necessary to obey God rather than man: his purpose hero does not call on him to do so; nor were the circumstances so far such as to bring such cases into prominence; for he was writing in the earlier part of Nero's reign, before any general persecution of Christians had begun. Nor does he touch on the question whether it may be right in some cases for subjects to resist usurped power or tyranny, or to take part in political revolutions, and even fight for freedom. Such a question was apart from his subject, which is the general duty of obedience to the law and government under which we are placed by Providence. This is the only passage in which he treats the subject at length and definitely. In a doctrinal and practical treatise like this Epistle, addressed as an apologia pro fide sua to the metropolis of the world and the seat of government, it was fitting that he should express clearly the attitude of the Church with regard to the civil order. But his teaching in other Epistles is in accordance with this; as where (1 Corinthians 7:21) he bids slaves acquiesce in the existing law of slavery, and (1 Timothy 2:1, etc.) he desires especially prayers to be made in behalf of kings and rulers. And he himself notably carried out his principles in this regard (cf. Acts 23:1-35. Acts 23:5; Acts 25:8-11). There is a closely similar passage in the First Epistle of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:12-18).
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of (rather, from) God: the powers that be are ordained of God. It is of God's ordering that there should be human governments and human laws. Without them there could be no order, security, or progress among mankind. Imperfect as they may often be, and in some instances oppressive and unjust, still they exist for a purpose of good, and form part of the Divine order for the government of the world. In this sense all are from God, and ordained of God; and in submitting to them we are submitting to God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they which withstand shall receive to themselves condemnation (i.e. really God's, operating through the human "power;" not meaning damnation in the common sense of the word). 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. It is the theory of the laws of all civilized governments to uphold justice, and only to punish what is wrong; and in the main they do so. The principles of the Roman law were just, and Paul himself found protection from its officers and tribunals, whose fairness he had, and had reason to have, more confidence in than in the tender mercy of either Gentile or Jewish zealots (cf. Acts 19:35, seq.; Acts 21:31, seq.; Acts 22:30; Acts 24:10; Acts 25:10, Acts 25:11; Acts 26:30, seq.). As has been observed already, the Neronian persecutions had not yet begun. 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, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wrath here expresses the familiar idea of the Divine wrath against evil-doing, for the execution of which, in the sphere of human law, the magistrate is the appointed instrument (see note on Romans 12:19). Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. Not only for fear of penal consequences, but because it is your duty, whatever might ensue, to submit to the ordinance of God. Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:13, submission to every ordinance of man is enjoined "for the Lord's sake (διὰ τὸν Κύριον)."
For for this cause ye pay. And what the apostle means may be that the same principle on which they paid their taxes extended to all legal requirements) tribute also: for they (i.e. the officers who exact tribute) are God's ministers (not, as in Romans 13:4, διακόνοι, but λειτουργοὶ. This word, with its correlatives, is used in the New Testament especially with reference to the ceremonial services of the temple, and to their counterpart in Christian devotion; but not exclusively so (see Romans 15:27; Philippians 2:25). In classical Greek it denotes peculiarly persons performing public duties, or works of public use. This well-known use of the word may have suggested it here, the apostle meaning to say that such as in any such way served the state were in fact serving God), attending continually upon this very thing; i.e. on λειτουργία for God.
Render to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Whatever, either by law or by the constituted order of society, may be due to any, in the way of deference and honour, as well as payments, Christians, as members of society, are bound to render.
From specific admonitions on this subject, the apostle passes naturally to the principle which, in these regards as well as others, should inspire all our dealings with our fellow-men. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another (literally, the other, meaning the same as his neighbour) hath fulfilled law. Νόμον here is anarthrous, denoting law in general, not the Mosaic Law in particular, though the instances of transgression that follow are from the Decalogue. The idea of the passage is but a carrying out of our Lord's saying, Matthew 22:39, Matthew 22:40. We find it also in Galatians 5:14 more shortly expressed. 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 (or, summed up) in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of law.
There is now interposed among the particular admonitions a call to watchfulness, with a view to holiness in all relations of life, on the ground that the day is at hand. There can be little, if any, doubt that the apostle had in view the second coming of Christ, which he with others supposed might be close at hand, Our Lord had said that of that day none knew but the Father, and that it would come unexpectedly. Further, in the same addresses to the disciples before his death in which these things were said, he seems to have disclosed a vista of the future, after the manner of the ancient prophets, in which more immediate and more distant fulfilments of the prophetic vision were not clearly distinguished; so that words which we now perceive to have pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was typical of the final judgments, might easily have been understood as referring to the latter. Such are, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled". Hence it was natural that the apostolic Church should regard the second advent as probably imminent. We find in the apostolic Epistles several intimations of this expectation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, seq.; 2 Corinthians 5:2-5; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:28; Revelation 22:20); and though it was not realized in the event, the authority of the apostles as inspired teachers is not thus disparaged, this being the very thing which Christ had said must remain unknown to all. Nor does their teaching, enforced by this expectation, lose its force to us; for, though "the Lord delayeth his coming," and may still delay it, yet to each of us at least this present world is fast passing away, and the Lord may be close at hand to call us out of it. The duty of watchfulness and preparedness remains unchanged. The Parousia or, as it is called in the pastoral Epistles, the Epiphany (in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, ἐπιφανεία τῆς παρουσίας) of Christ is here, as elsewhere, presented under the figure of the day appearing (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13; Ephesians 5:14; l Thessalonians Ephesians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 1:19), the previous ages of the world being regarded as the time of night. The figure is found in the prophets with reference to that day—the coming day of the Lord (cf. e.g. Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1-3; Malachi 4:2), But though the day has not yet come, Christians are viewed as already in the radiance of its dawn, in which they can walk as children of the day, and be on the watch, and not be surprised asleep, or doing the deeds of darkness, when the full daylight bursts upon them. For in the first advent of Christ the day dawned, though, to those who loved darkness rather than light, but as a light that shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5, seq.; John 3:19, seq.; cf. 2Pe 1:19; 1 John 2:8; and also Luke 1:78, seq.; Luke 2:32).
Romans 13:11, Romans 13:12
And that (for a similar use of καὶ τοῦτο, or καὶ ταῦτα, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:8; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:28; Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 11:12), knowing that it is high time for you to awake out of sleep (more literally, that it is the hour for you to be already roused out of sleep); for now is our salvation nearer (or, now is salvation nearer to us. The salvation here meant is "the restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21), the "manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19), "the regeneration" (Matthew 19:28), the "gathering together in one of all things in Christ," (Ephesians 1:10), which is yet to come) than when we believed (i.e. than when we first became believers; cf. Acts 19:2; 1Co 3:5; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 2:16. Time has been gradually advancing since then, bringing the consummation we look for ever nearer). The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore put off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Former habits of life are here, as elsewhere, regarded as clothing once worn—a man's habitual investment, though not part of his real self—which is to be put off (cf. Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8, Colossians 3:9); instead whereof are to he put on, as a new investment, the graces and virtues, supplied to us from the region of light, which constitute the Christian character (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:11, seq.). In all these passages the new clothing to be put on is designated as armour, the idea being carried out in detail in Ephesians 6:11, etc.; and thus the further conception is introduced of Christians being as soldiers on the watch during the watches of the night, awaiting daybreak, equipped with arms of heavenly proof, careful not to sleep on their post, or to allow themselves in revelry or any deeds of shame, such as are done in the night under the cover of darkness.
Romans 13:13, Romans 13:14
As in the day, let us walk honestly, and of the things done in secret of which it is a shame to speak; cf. Ephesians 5:11, Ephesians 5:12); not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying (rather, jealousy, denoting jealous wrath, cf. Acts 13:45). But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. The figure of a new investment being renewed from Ephesians 5:12, it is here Christ himself who is to be put on. So also Galatians 3:27. For the idea implied, of. Ephesians 4:23, Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:12; ch. 8:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 1 Corinthians 6:17. "Induere autem Christum hic significat virtute Spiritus ejus undique nos muniri, qua idonei ad omnes sanctitatis partes reddamur. Sic enim instauratur in nobis imago Dei, quae unicum est animae ornamentum" (Calvin). It may be observed that in Galatians 3:27 Christians are said to have already put on Christ in their baptism; here they are exhorted still to do so. There is no real contradiction; they are but exhorted to realize in actual life the meaning of their baptism. And make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (literally, unto lusts).
There was danger, in the first age of Christianity, lest the nature of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus should be misunderstood even by its subjects, and misrepresented by those without. A spiritual empire was a new conception, and carnal minds were prone to confound the dominion over souls with civil and political authority. Hence the importance and appropriateness of the admonitions so emphatically addressed by the apostle to the Christians of Rome.
I. THE INSPIRED CONCEPTION OF CIVIL AUTHORITY. By this the apostle understood the actually constituted power of the state. The Roman emperor was the head and chief of the greater part of the population of the then known world, and Rome was the centre of political rule and authority. The proconsuls and propraetors represented in the provinces the imperial majesty and sway of senate and of emperor. But it is evident that the view of civil power taken by the apostle was equally applicable to monarchies and to republics. Whatever the form of government, whatever the designation of the ruler, whatever the rank of the administrator of the law, authority was recognized as of Divine origin and right. It has sometimes been deemed a reproach to the apostle that he should have written thus when Nero was on the throne. But this fact rather emphasizes the principle that the authority is Divine, although the person or persons who wield it may be unworthy of the trust. Nero was at this time under the influence of the wise and moderate counsels of Seneca and of Burrhus, yet this language which Paul employed would probably have been unaltered had the apostle been writing during the subsequent and infamous period of the tyrant's sway. It would be straining this passage to deduce from it
"The right Divine of kings to govern wrong,"
and it would be unjust to argue from it that it is always unlawful to resist and to dethrone a tyrant. But we may learn to regard subordination, rule, subjection, loyalty, as all part of a Divine order imposed upon human society by the Lord of all.
II. THE SCOPE OF LOYALTY.
1. Respect and honour are due from the governed to the governor. Even where there is a lack of those qualities which command personal respect, honour may be rendered to the office which is held, and the duties of which are faithfully fulfilled.
2. The payment of taxes and tributes is required. In this precept Paul followed the teaching of his Master, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Subjects are not responsible for the use made of the money which is exacted from them by just authority. When a king who has no constitutional right to levy taxes without the consent of a parliament demands money upon his own authority, such a demand may be refused without disobedience to the injunction of the text.
3. Obedience and subjection are enjoined. The extent and range of this injunction are very large. "Every soul"—every intelligent member of society—is under an obligation to obey; and resistance to the ruler is resistance to God, and entails just punishment and retribution.
4. Virtue generally is commended as contributive to the well-being of society. Good works are to evince the sincerity of the Christian's faith. The Roman law was the highest expression the ancient world attained of justice in the relations subsisting between man and man. It has been the foundation of the codes of many civilized Christian nations in modern times. Obedience to the law was the duty of every good citizen, every well-wisher of society, every true member of the human family. For the law was the sanction of virtue and righteousness. Doubtless there have been and are unjust laws; yet it is the duty of the citizen to obey them when obedience does not come into conflict with the higher duty to God.
III. THE GROUNDS OF LOYALTY. These, as adduced by St. Paul, are two.
1. Personal considerations are advanced. The wrath of the magistrate is to be feared; rulers are a terror to the evil; they that resist shall receive retribution; the ruler bears not the sword in vain. Such motives are almost the only motives to which the coarse and vicious are accessible. They are motives to which none are altogether superior. The consequences of injustice have to be borne in mind by those who are liable to the passions of cupidity or of revenge
2. Religious motives are presented. Government is an ordinance of God, and rulers are the ministers of God. A had subject, then, cannot be a good Christian. In our own days, individualism is carried to such an extent that authority is often disdained and defied, even by those who are by no means the dregs of society, who make pretensions to intelligence and virtue. It is well, therefore, that the inspired teaching should be pondered which attaches importance so great to order, patriotism, and loyalty.
Love and law.
To the unthinking, and at first sight, there seems a contradiction between law, which expresses authority, and is sanctioned by force, and love, which is spontaneous, and is of the heart. Christ himself, however, brought the two into harmony when he said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments;" and the apostle, in this passage, shows that, really and essentially, the two are one.
I. THE TRUE PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL LIFE IS LOVE. The new commandment which Christ gave was, "Love one another;" and his peculiar canon of conduct was, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Of this principle we may remark that:
1. It is in harmony with our own constitution. Our true nature is to live in mutual affection and confidence; it is the depraved nature that develops hatred, malice, and uncharitableness.
2. It is imposed and sanctioned by the Divine Head of the new humanity, the Lawgiver of the spiritual kingdom.
3. It provides the radical cure for human ills.
4. It has not only a negative, it has also a positive virtue; it is the proper and natural origin of the several virtues, supplying their motive, prompting to their exercise.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE IN PRACTICE. The apostle, whose mind was as thoroughly ethical and practical as it was theological and doctrinal, traced the working of this principle of love, in preserving human nature and protecting human society from the vices, crimes, and sins which have cursed the world. In this passage he teaches us that love must act in keeping Christians from wronging their neighbours. He whose heart is filled with true love will neither covet nor steal his neighbour's goods, nor take his neighbour's life, nor make inroads upon his neighbour's domestic happiness, nor in any way inflict injury upon his neighbour's interests, or deprive him of his rights. For to love our fellow-men is to count their welfare our own, and to do go them as we would they should do to us.
III. THE ACQUISITION OF THIS PRINCIPLE. It may be argued that the counsels of the apostle are unpractical; that whilst love is a cure for human ills, it is not shown how love may be acquired, any more than it is how sin may be avoided. But the fact is that revelation links together the love of man and the love of God, and teaches us that the one way to the cherishing of Divine love is the reception of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Manifestation of Divine love to human hearts. "We love him, because he first loved us;" "He that loveth God loveth his brother also."
A startling summons.
The admonition of this passage is especially addressed to Christians; yet to Christians who stand peculiarly in need of a rousing appeal and summons, to call them to a more spiritual and a more watchful life.
I. THE CRISIS OF LIFE.
1. The night is well-nigh gone. Between our Lord's first and second comings stretches the dawn of the world. Behind his first coming lay the night of humanity. Beyond his second advent the daylight beams, with the brightness of knowledge, of holiness, of happiness, of glory.
2. Salvation is nearer than ever. In one sense, indeed, salvation is a present blessing; for we are delivered from condemnation if we are in Christ Jesus. In another sense it is future; for we shall hereafter receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. It is something to be looked forward to with keenest joy of hope, something the prospect of which may well inspire us to endurance and to toil.
II. THE SUMMONS OF GOD.
1. To spiritual energy. To such a period, drowsy, slumberous inactivity is utterly inappropriate.
2. To the renunciation of all that interferes with the fulfilment of our calling and the realization of our hope.
3. To a spiritual warfare and campaign.
4. To purity of body and of mind, as those who are in their whole nature redeemed, that in their whole nature they may be consecrated.
Night and day.
Christian motives are brought forward to incite to moral duties. We are called upon to do right, not only by the voices of expediency and of authority, but by the voice of revelation. Christians are addressed as those who know the seasons, who discern the signs of the times, who regard the present as a period of probation, of discipline, of education, and whose gaze is ever forwards, whose hope is in their Lord's return to judge and to save.
I. THE RETROSPECT OF THE PAST. "The night is far spent."
1. The spiritual night of the world is passing away. The true Light is shining, and the radiance of his beams is illumining the darkest and most distant shores.
2. The night of time is departing, and eternity, resurrection, the new heavens and the new earth, are about to dawn.
3. The night of life is nearly spent, and the day of immortality approaches. If this is the case with all, how manifestly is it so with the aged!
II. THE PROSPECT OF THE FUTURE.
1. "The day is at hand." So far as the opportunity for labour is concerned, we may admit that the night cometh, when no man can work." But, in another sense, it is a welcome truth that "the day dawns, and the shadows flee away." Full light shall soon be shed upon our intellectual and spiritual darkness. The fears, the ignorance, the doubts of the present shall cease to be; we shall see Christ as he is, and we shall know even as we are known.
2. "Salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed" A fortress is beleaguered by the forces of the foe. The garrison, long besieged, is feeble, weary, and all but exhausted, ill supplied with provisions and ammunition, and in great straits. But relief is planned, and is approaching. At night the prospect seemed dark. But now, when the morning breaks, the besieged, looking from their walls, behold the banners of the deliverer drawing near, and hear the welcome music of his march. Salvation is at hand! It is in this light that we are encouraged to look at life, at time. Now we are besieged by our spiritual foe, and our condition is often apparently desperate. But our redemption draweth nigh, and our salvation is nearer. The perfection of our salvation, the fulfilment of the promise of victory,—this is in the future.
III. THE DUTY OF THE PRESENT. This is not the time to indulge mere sentiment, whether of retrospect or of anticipation. The living present demands all our energy.
1. "It is time to awake out of sleep;" to arouse ourselves from indifference to concern, from half-belief to earnest faith, from inactivity to zeal.
2. To "cast off the works of darkness." By the clothing, the impediments thus designated, we understand the negligences, the sins, which are inconsistent with true spirituality.
3. To "put on the armour of light." Holiness and diligence, patience and devotedness,—these are the spiritual exercises appropriate to those who have a hope so glorious and promises so sure as ours. Let the soldier see to his weapons, the servant to his work, the steward to his trust!
APPLICATION. Every crisis of human life, of Church history; every day which tells of the flight of time; every instance of human mortality,—speaks loudly to us, summoning us, as children of the day, to live as in anticipation of the Divine Deliverer's speedy and welcome approach.
Awake and arm!
It is strange that, at the very commencement of a new dispensation, the prospect of its close should be so often presented to the view. No sooner had Christ's first coming ended, than his people were taught to anticipate his second coming. Thus the thoughts and affections of Christians are clustered around their Lord, and the revelation of the past suggests the approaching epiphany. The contrasts of this passage are very striking. When carefully analyzed, they appear—
I. As applied to CONDITION.
1. The night of danger is nearly over. This applies to the individual, to any community, to the whole Church.
2. The morning of deliverance is dawning. An inspiration and comfort to the pilgrims, the soldiers, who are often oppressed by the gloom of the present perils.
II. As applied to CHARACTER.
1. The works of night are to be abandoned. These belong to the era which now lies in the remote distance, and from which Christ has emancipated his people.
2. The life of the spiritual day is to be adopted. If the flesh and its lusts are to be crucified, what is to be crowned? The Lord Jesus is to be "put on," the armour of light is to be taken and worn; and the Christian soldier is to go forth to meet the coming day, with his face towards the rising sun, with his heart bounding with delight at his great Captain's long-expected appearance.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
The Christian as citizen.
The duty of Christians as citizens is in our day not sufficiently recognized. Many Christians keep aloof from public life and the duties of citizenship because of the political corruption and party strife which are so common. Others, again, enter into public duties, but seem to leave their religion behind them. The result is a sad want of Christian statesmanship and of Christian legislation.
I. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE NECESSITY OF GOVERNMENT. "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). This is not to be understood as meaning that every individual ruler is ordained of God. That would make the Divine Being responsible for many acts of despotism and oppression. We might as well say that every minister of religion who had received the form of ordination was therefore chosen of God, no matter what his personal character might be. The meaning rather is that government is an ordinance of God—that God has ordained or appointed it, that there should be authority and rulers. Government is necessary:
1. For the protection of life and property.
2. For the repression of crime. "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (Romans 13:3). Governors, says St. Peter, are appointed "for the punishment of evil-doers" (1 Peter 2:14).
3. For the rewarding and encouraging of virtue. "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" (Romans 13:3). So St. Peter also speaks of governors as "a praise to them that do well." Wise rulers will not only repress crime, but they will seek to encourage well-doing. They will show special favour to those who, by their own character and efforts, promote morality and temperance and honesty, and thus help to make government easy. How often do rulers forget this! How often the Christian people of a nation are ignored or even discouraged, while the godless and the immoral are high in place and favour!
II. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RULERS. Rulers are here called "ministers of God" (Romans 13:4, Romans 13:6). Our sovereign entitles herself "Victoria, by the grace of God." All who are concerned in government have a solemn responsibility, whether they be kings or queens, ministers of state, members of the legislature, judges, magistrates, or jurymen. All must appear one day before a higher tribunal. Then the judge will be asked, "Have you done justice as between man and man?" The juryman will be asked, "Have you rendered a verdict according to the evidence?" The sovereign will be asked. "Have you been faithful to your coronation vows?" Therefore the Christian should pray for rulers. "For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2). The Christian should do all he can to secure good rulers. What we need in our day is less of party politics, and more of Christian polities. Christian people, Christian Churches, should band themselves together, laying aside all political and all ecclesiastical differences, to secure Christian representatives, Christian law- makers for our professedly Christian nation.
III. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY. There are two duties distinctly specified here for the Christian citizen.
1. Obedience. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1); "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Romans 13:2); "Wherefore ye must needs be subject" (Romans 13:5). If the law is to be upheld, there must be an obedient and submissive spirit on the part of every good citizen. Yet there are limits to all this. We are to interpret this passage in the light of other Bible teaching and the examples which it sets before us. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of passive obedience or non-resistance. At Babylon, Daniel resisted the reigning power. The royal mandate was issued, but Daniel did not obey it. "He kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." The Apostles Peter and John declined to obey the Jewish council at Jerusalem when they were commanded to speak no more in the Name of Jesus. They boldly answered, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot, but speak the things which we have seen and hear. Where the law of a nation or the command of an earthly ruler conflicts with the law of God, then it is clearly the Christian's duty to obey God rather than men. The English people in their past history have acted upon this principle. Twice under the reign of the Stuart sovereigns the subjects of the realm asserted, on conscientious grounds, their right of revolution and resistance. So also did the Covenanters of Scotland. Yet resistance to constituted authority should ever be a last resort, and is only to be resorted to when all more peaceful means have utterly failed to obtain justice and redress of wrongs.
2. Taxation. "For this cause pay ye tribute also" (verse 6). This also was the teaching of Christ. No government can be maintained without expense. National defences, public institutions, all of which have for their object the protection and the well-being of all the citizens, require to be kept up. Every citizen is responsible for bearing his share in meeting expenditure for the common good. He may not approve of every item of expenditure, but that is no valid reason for refusing to contribute his share of taxation, where the representatives of the nation have decreed that the expenditure is wise and necessary. This rule, of course, has its exception also in the case of any expenditure which would do violence to the individual conscience.
3. There are other practical duties. The Christian will ever cooperate with rulers in securing and promoting peace and temperance, morality and honesty, truthfulness and justice. All these virtues are necessary to national well-being. Government would be easy if every citizen was a Christian, and if every Christian would realize his duties as a citizen. The words of Sir Arthur Helps ('Friends in Council') may be fittingly quoted here: "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."—C.H.I.
The Christian's duty in the present age.
The Christian is not to be insensible to the movements of the world. "Knowing the time," says the apostle (Romans 13:11). Mr. Spurgeon says he reads the newspapers to see how God is governing the world. It is well for us to know what are the current beliefs and motives of our fellow-men.
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S CONFIDENCE.
1. "The night is far spent."
(1) The forces of evil are far spent. Some Christians are always looking on the dark side of things. They see no traces of the breaking day. With them it is always night. They would have us believe, with Canon Taylor, that missions are a failure. They would have us believe, with Lord Wemyss, that prohibition of the liquor traffic is a failure. They would have us believe that Sunday closing is a failure. But it is those who want such movements to fail that usually originate such a cry. There is no failure in the forces of right. Failure is written on the forces of sin. Its night is far spent.
(2) The clouds of mystery will soon be lifted. There are difficulties in reconciling religion and science. Yet the. difficulties are only apparent. They are only temporary clouds. There are difficulties in God's providence that we cannot understand. But by-and-by they will all be made plain. Every mystery will be solved. "Now we know in part; but then shall we know even as also we are known."
(3) The dark hours of pain and sorrow will soon be over. How dark is the hour of sickness! how dark the hour of bereavement! What shadows disappointment causes to pass over our lives! But the night is far spent. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
2. "The day is at hand." The day of our Saviour's coming is rapidly drawing nearer. Already we may hear the sound of his chariot-wheels. Gradually his kingdom has been making progress in the earth, his truth has been gaining the victory over error. The Reformation shook off the dust of centuries from the Word of God. The discovery of printing had already prepared the way for the spread of the emancipated Bible. Old kingdoms that encouraged error and fostered ecclesiastical despotism have been falling. New nations have arisen to sway the destinies of the world—the nations of the Bible-loving, liberty-loving, Anglo-Saxon race. Old wrongs have been redressed. Our King is coming. "The day is at hand."
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S CALL.
1. A call to activity. "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep" (Romans 13:11). It is plain that this exhortation is addressed to Christians, for the writer adds, "for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Many Christians are asleep. They are inactive and idle, and are doing nothing to prepare the way of the Lord. It may be addressed also to the unconverted. This very passage, the closing part of this thirteenth chapter, was the means of converting St. Augustine.
2. A call to amendment. "Let us cast off the works of darkness" (Romans 13:12). Some works are literally works of darkness, as for example those specified in the thirteenth verse. Drunkenness and impurity are most practised in the night. "They that be drunken are drunken in the night." But "works of darkness" may be regarded as including all sinful works. Sin loves concealment. The Christian is to cast off everything that will not bear the light, to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. "The day is at hand." How shall we abide the day of our Lord's coming if we do not, by Divine help, separate ourselves from sin?
3. A call to conflict. "Let us put on the armour of light" (Romans 13:12). We are to wage war with our own temptations, and with the evil that is in the world. Let our armour be the armour of light. Let us not fight the world with its own weapons—with hatred, or bitterness, or deceit. Let our weapons be good weapons—the weapons of truth, justice, love. They will conquer. Let us never do evil that good may come.
4. A call to Christ-likeness. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14). That is to say, "Be clothed with his spirit." This is the secret of strength. Like Sir Galahad, whose strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure, the man who is Christ-like in spirit will overcome all temptations, and will grapple victoriously with all difficulties. This is emphatically a call which the Christian needs to hear in the present age, when there is so much in the Church as well as in the world that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Let us, then, hear the trumpet-call of duty, and, as we go forth, let us brace up our spirits with the inspiring thought that "the night is far spent, and the day is at hand."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
We now pass from ecclesiastical to civil relations. Because the Christian has entered upon a new brotherhood in Christ, he does not cease to belong to the old brotherhood of natural society. And as in the spiritual brotherhood humility and love are the twin principles that should regulate all our conduct, so in the natural commonwealth of the state there should be, analogously, submission towards the powers, and a love-inspired justice towards private members of the same. In these verses is inculcated the duty of conscientious submission to state authorities.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF SUBMISSION. The submission to authority is spoken of as of a twofold nature—obedience to law generally, and payment of all dues. And the spirit in which such obedient and loyal conduct should be exercised is the spirit of reverence and honour. For even in state duties the heart should be concerned equally with the life.
1. It is reasonable, then, that we:
(1) Obey the laws in general well-doing. For viewed merely as a human institution of a utilitarian nature, the authority of law is for our good, if we obey. "Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same."
(2) And is it not equally reasonable that we pay the dues to constituted authorities?—tribute, custom. For here again we are only contributing towards the expenses of our own protection.
2. But our obedience and payment of dues will only be properly rendered by us, and will only tend to the proper rendering of the same by others, if our heart go with our deed. Let there then, as is reasonable, be fear, let there be honour, towards those to whom fear, to whom honour is due.
I. THE RIGHTNESS OF SUBMISSION. The natural man, on the grounds of mere reason, then, should submit to authority, with deed and with heart. But surely the Christian man should submit on some higher ground than this? It is not only reasonable, it is divinely right, that such submission be rendered to the powers.
1. It is right that we:
(1) Obey law. For the authority which gives the law is not arbitrarily instituted by man; it is of God's appointment. Generally: for "there is no power but of God;" i.e. whenever the exigencies of society demand that one shall exercise power over others, these very exigencies show that the exercise of some such power is divinely purposed. Specially: for in his providential governance of the world he has foreseen and ordained the exercise of the power by these very individuals who for the time have authority committed to them. And can a Christian resist God's' ordinance? In so doing he will not merely be punished by man, but judged by God. The sword is God's sword; the wrath, God's wrath.
(2) And so of tribute and custom. This is not merely a payment because of personal interest accruing, but in recognition of their high office as "ministers of God's service." They fulfil a Divine vocation, and, like the priests in the temple, must be supported as servants of God.
2. So the spirit in which we obey and pay tribute is to be one of reverence and honour, not only on the lower ground of the reasonableness of the same, but because in these human powers we discern God.
Here, then, as in the whole of life, the religious penetrates and sanctifies the natural. There is to be a perpetual transfiguration, in our eyes, of the human with the Divine. This is but an application of the injunction, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."—T.F.L.
We here pass from public to private relations. Still in the civic sphere, viewing men as men, not as Christian brethren. And reminded by thought just advanced, the thought of tribute, custom, etc., as being "due" to those in power, that there are dues also which we owe each one to his neighbour. And it is of the very essence of justice that we "render to all their dues;" or, in the words of the eighth verse, that we "owe no man anything." Here, then, we may consider the justice which binds together human society; and the love by which the justice is fulfilled.
I. JUSTICE. Justice is the bond of human society. To do to others as we may reasonably expect them to do to us is indeed the golden rule which conserves all security and peace among men. To be just towards them is to respect their rights, And what are the rights of man? God has set them forth strongly, in their essentials, in that Decalogue which was the Divine code of justice for a barbarous nation. Think of them—rights without which life amongst others would be intolerable.
1. The right of life. "Thou shalt not kill." Sacredness of existence; but frailty. So precious, and yet so easily destroyed. And in wantonness, or in malice, man may destroy his brother-man. But the "Thou shalt not kill" sounds in his ears, a spoken law of God: the right of life must be conserved.
2. The right of sacred relationship, dearer than the right of life. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Organic union of men. Relationships interwoven into human nature husband and wife, parent and child, brother and brother. The conjugal relation the foundation of the rest. Any tampering with this relation is, in its degree, adultery, and loosens the whole relational fabric; any violation of the sacrament of this relation, "They twain shall be one flesh," is in the highest degree adultery, and goes far to destroy the whole relational fabric. But the "Thou shalt not commit adultery" sounds in our ears, a spoken law of God: the rights of sacred relationship must be conserved.
3. The right of property. "Thou shalt not steal." An instinctive acquisitiveness in man; he lords it over the world. This acquisitiveness sanctioned by God: "have dominion." Same acquisitiveness, perverted from its proper use, may lead us to acquire that to which we have no right, to "steal" the property of our brother. But the "Thou shalt not steal" sounds in our ears: God utters his sanction of the sacredness of property.
4. Fundamental to all these main rights of man is the right to be secure from even the unlawful desire of a brother. "Thou shalt not covet." For "out of the heart proceed," etc. (Matthew 15:19). So to covet another's life, or wife, or property, even in the first faint beginning of desire, is to allow the lust from which all evil flows; and, as against "sin in its beginning," the "Thou shalt not covet" of God is uttered with solemn emphasis as the last commandment.
II. LOVE. The last commandment? Nay, for Christ has said, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another." We have seen how this is the bond of the new brotherhood in Christ; it is set forth here as the Christian's own safeguard of the rights of man. As a man amongst men you must respect the rights of men, i.e. you must fulfil the law; as a Christian amongst men you must love them for the Lord's sake, and so you assure your respect for all their rights, for "love is the fulfilment of the Law." Need this be proved? Law says sternly, "No ill to one's neighbour;" love says, "Give all good." Ah! here is a yet Diviner impulse, and covering a broader ground. And the Christian will be content with nothing less than this Diviner impulse and broader ground. But if there be the higher impulse, the lower shall be secure; if there be the wider range, the narrower shall be covered. Yes; love men, and you will work no ill.
The importance of justice amongst men demands that, as good citizens, we see to it that justice is everywhere advanced; hence our parliaments, our courts. But that justice may be advanced, to say nothing of yet higher ends, let us, as Christians, cherish this principle which constitutes the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."—T.F.L.
The day breaketh!
"And this"—the work of progressive sanctification, in all its aspects and relations—this surely claims our strong attention now, when the day of God is nigh unto dawning! For, visibly to us, the shadows pass and the morning breaks. It is the night-watch still, but the day is at hand. We have here to consider—the nearness of the day of God; our full awaking.
I. THE DAY OF GOD. In and through all the declarations of the Scriptures there mingles this warning note—the day of God will come! Men seem to have their day, and work their will; God will have his day, and will work his will. We must not narrow the meaning of this presentment of the Scriptures: whenever God interferes amid the doings of men to show forth his power, his day has come. In our individual life-histories, in the histories of nations, as well as in the larger history of the race, God has come, does come, many times and in many ways. For mercy? Yes; to deliver those who trust in him and seek to work his will. And for judgment: for "wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." But amid these many manifestations of God's power, there are some which stand out conspicuously, like the mountain-peaks among the lower hills. Such was the advent of the Christ, looming large before the vision of Old Testament seers. Such is the second advent of the Christ, looming large to the view of the apostles and to us. For mercy and for judgment was the former; for mercy and for judgment shall be the latter. To the Christian believer, for fall salvation! Oh, what a hope is this! It has glowed before us as we have traced God's purposes declared in foregoing chapters; Paul would have it burn as our beacon-light, ever brighter and more near! A beacon-light? Nay, rather it is the dawn of the new day, when the shining of God's full-orbed love shall scatter for ever all the lingering shades of night.
II. OUR FULL AWAKING. But what shall be our attitude in view of such a daybreak? We must surely be watchers for the morning, children of light! The very regeneration of those to whom he writes was truly an awaking out of sleep; but there might be need still for a more thorough arousal and readiness. Nay, is there not, in each one, this need? The works of darkness will cling to us, if we do not ever resolutely cast them off. We may forget that the day is shining, and sink back into our sleep.
1. The works of darkness? Yes, such works as pertain to the corruption of the night-time of the world—base revelry, impure pleasures, passion, and strife. The works of the flesh, which are manifest (Galatians 5:19-21). And oh, what a night-time the world has had! what a night-time has been ours! We have loved the darkness, because our deeds were evil.
2. But we, as children of light, are to put on the armour of light, to walk honestly, as in the day. The gleam of that dayspring has already caught our vision and lit up our brow; it is to irradiate all our path. We are to walk as though the cloudless eternity were about us now. Your citizenship is in heaven! So then, while the children of the darkness "make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof," seek ever to gratify their low desires, and make their whole life subservient to this, we are to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." He is to be our clothing and adornment; the pure, spiritual nature which he showed to the world is to be our arraying for the new sunrise, bringing the world's new year!
And that glorious goal of our best hopes, "salvation" in its fullest scope and working, is "nearer to us than when we first believed." Let us gladden our hearts and rekindle all our longings. We are not to be ever battling, weary, sad; but he whom we look for shall come; yes, "the second time, unto salvation!"—T.F.L.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
Submission to constituted authority.
The reception of a new truth requires its adjustment to previously accepted truths. The introduction of a new system like Christianity necessitated an examination of its relationship to existing systems of government. There was a danger of Jewish fanaticism being fanned into heated sedition in Jewish converts to the gospel by the very joy of finding the Messiah and of hopes concerning a literal temporal kingdom. And the novelty of the views opened up before Gentile converts might easily beget in them a feeling of freedom from and superiority to all law and custom. Yet the advice to such, in order to be practical and effective, must be simple and concise. The apostle, therefore, enunciates a principle, and leaves its limitations to be afterwards discovered.
I. THE DIVINE FOUNT OF AUTHORITY. Government is traced to its source in God. "Order is Heaven's first law." Where no order reigns, there is no security, no progress to better things. Absolute equality is impossible amongst men; society has no safeguards, no cohesion, without a recognized tribunal of authority. Whether this authority is taken and exercised as a matter of course by the wisest or strongest, or is the acknowledged result of station conferred by the community, the necessity for such leadership and oversight manifests the will of God, and authority as such is seen to emanate from him. The Creator controls the works of his hands. The camp of Israel maintained a certain disposition of tents and tribes at rest and on the march, because of a Divine ordinance. Disorder would ill have befitted the presence of the Monarch Jehovah. Whatever the forms which government assumes, we are compelled to ascend in thought by rising steps and hierarchies up to him who sitteth on the great white throne, the mighty Arbiter of all events, the Judge of quick and dead. Recall the majestic passage from Hooker: "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 earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as 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."
II. THE HUMAN ADMINISTRATORS OF JUSTICE. "The powers that be are ordained of God." Not that he has placed each ruler in office or assents to each judicial function. But the leaders of human society represent the authority of God on earth. They are the "ministers" of God, acting in subordination to him; at least this is the fundamental idea of their position, however overlooked in practice. "They bear the sword" for God, are his vicegerents, and herein lies the honour and accountability of their decisions. Let them recollect that "One higher than the highest regardeth." "He that ruleth over men righteously, ruling in the fear of God, he shall be as the sunny light of a cloudless morning." Cf. Samuel's account of his judgeship, that he had defrauded none, oppressed none, nor taken a ransom from any. As families are governed by their natural head, the father, so is the universal family named after and ruled by the great Father in heaven, whom earthly parents are to copy. The fact that parents use delegated authority lends weight and responsibility to their behaviour. For the superintendence of Israel the seventy elders received a special donation of the spirit of Moses. How needful that rulers in Church and state, in households and in municipalities, should seek wisdom from him that giveth to all men liberally! Many a riotous subject has become a thoughtful, self-restrained governor when realizing the momentous grandeur and obligations of his office.
III. THE GENERAL RULE OF OBEDIENCE. Submission follows the recognition of the Divine authority at the back of magistrates. To rebel, to disobey, is to cast off allegiance to God. Even the apostle, smarting under the illegal order of Ananias, regretted his strong language when informed that he had reviled the high priest. To refuse due honour to rulers and parents is to demoralize society. The Saviour resisted not the officers of justice, though he was unjustly condemned to death. The apostle urged slaves to be quiet, and subject to their froward masters, that by well-doing they might silence malicious accusers of Christianity. This did not signify that the gospel sanctioned slavery and despotism when the time arrived for their peaceful overthrow. Submission to persecution has been mightier, more lasting in its effects than an armed resistance, for it enlightens public opinion without kindling strife, and prepares for a change that shall be virtually unanimous. The two sanctions of the magistrate's authority are mentioned in Romans 13:5, viz. "wrath," that is, punishment, and "conscience," that is, the assurance which the peaceable subject has that he has acted in accordance with the mind of God.
IV. PARTICULAR EXCEPTIONS. No public edict has a right to coerce any man's conscience. Let the ruler attempt to promulgate a law that sins against morality, and obedience must be refused at all hazards. When Caesar steps out of his province into the realm of religion, no regard for the "powers that be" can for a moment be suffered to suspend compliance with the felt dictates of the Almighty. The proclamations of Nebuchadnezzar commanding to worship the golden image, and of Darius prohibiting prayer to any save the king, were rightly unheeded by God-fearing men. But let each protester take great care to have his conscience illumined, lest he erect his individual judgment into a law of God. Again, when a government has shown itself incapable of protecting the good and punishing the transgressors, and is notorious for its reversal of the true principles which should guide its action and for its forgetfulness of the intent of its functions, it has put itself outside the pale of respect and submission; it may lawfully be overthrown and another substituted. Allowance must, however, be made for the human infirmities even of kings and councillors. In modern states agitation can effect needed reforms in public administration. It behoves each citizen to think, speak, and vote as he deems will best promote the interests of the state. Indifference, on whatever spiritual grounds, to evils which he can remedy, carelessness respecting the general welfare,—this is a crime. It is a refusal to employ a talent which Providence has committed to his care. Modern legislation does not hesitate to withdraw children from the custody of parents who act with cruelty or surround their offspring with deleterious influences.—S.R.A.
Love, the fulfilment of the Law.
The Lord's Prayer speaks of forgiving "our debtors." But it is the bounden duty of every man to strive to discharge his pecuniary obligations, otherwise he is guilty of living contentedly on stolen goods. The command, "Owe no man anything," if obeyed, would hinder many a bankruptcy and prevent many a business scandal. The apostle proceeds, with one of his skilful turns of thought, to speak of that debt which never can be entirely liquidated—a debt under which we must be content to rest, paying portions of it as opportunity occurs; only to discover, and that with gladness, that the obligation magnifies with every attention to it. Could a man by love so serve his neighbour as not to owe him any more love, then might he feel free to disregard in future the interests of his neighbour, and he would thus sin against the second table of the Law. Love alone fulfils the Law, yet never exhausts the Law's requirements.
I. OFFENCES AGAINST OUR NEIGHBOURS ARE VIOLATIONS OF THE LAW OF LOVE. The ten commandments are mainly prohibitory. The Levitical statutes, however, enjoined many kindly and beneficent acts, these positive precepts filling up the outline thundered forth from the mount. The Saviour educed from the lawyer the statement that the Mosaic Law clearly enunciated the one principle underlying every regulation of social conduct, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." God has committed to each man specially the care of himself, to preserve and develop his various faculties. And just as no sane man voluntarily injures himself, so must he guard against damaging the well-being of his fellows. Cynicism, greed, tyranny, cannot survive the entrance of this humanizing agent, love, which evokes compassion, benevolence, philanthropy, as set forth so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Adultery, murder, coveteousness, in all degrees of desire and behaviour, imply that men are careless of another's happiness if they can secure some additional gratification for themselves.
II. CONTRAST LOVE AS A MOTIVE WITH A SENSE OF DUTY. The only answer to the question, "Why should altruism be a regulating principle in my life?" is that God has made us "members one of another;" that he has implanted in our nature, together with the instinct of self-preservation, certain affections towards others; that God's intention is thus plainly indicated in our constitution; and that experience shows that to make self the sole factor in our consideration is to rend the ties of society, and ultimately to ruin our own welfare and enjoyment. Congregation, not segregation, is the law of human life. Nevertheless, even this conviction, "I ought to pay respect to my neighbour's interests and needs," may stop far short of that proper care for others which the perfect law expects. The house of duty is a dark temple if unlit by the Shechinah of love. Obligation may lead some citizens to pay the taxes claimed; it never suggests willing offers of further help to the body politic to which they belong. Duty draws rigid lines, examines each article of a bond for fear of excess. Love delights in all extra occasions of service. Duty is cool and calculating; love rises to boiling pitch, and its energy longs for work, like the pressure of steam. Duty moves with measured tread; love runs upon its errands, takes pleasure in obedience, whereas duty is glad when the business is accomplished. The law of obligation is a huge skeleton; love clothes it with flesh and sinew, endues it with life and beauty.
III. THE STRENGTH WHICH JESUS CHRIST HAS GIVEN TO THE LAW OF LOVE. He has furnished a unique example of love in his incarnate condescension, in his words and deeds of grace, helping and healing men, and like a good Shepherd yielding up his own life to save his flock. His miracle of love sheds love abroad—love to God and man, in the hearts of his disciples. Gratitude to Christ fills the soul with generous emotion. A spark of Divine generosity is sufficient to kindle the inflammable material in the human heart, diffusing light and warmth. Christ has emphasized the worth of humanity. He came to redeem not a particular race or sect, but men. He despised none, taught the salvability of all except wilful rejectors. How can we treat contemptuously the "brother for whom Christ died"? Under the dark skin of the negro, under the barbarous superstition of the African, under the stolid impassiveness of the Chinaman, under the rags of the English beggar, love discerns a possible regenerated member of the Christian family, a child of God, a jewel in the Saviour's crown. Christ has exalted self-sacrifice into a heroism that charms the beholder, as he realizes the true glory of an intelligent will, that wins life by losing it, and imparts instead of egoistic happiness a Divine blessedness.—S.R.A.
The approach of day.
Sin has been defined as "an act or state inconsistent with the relations" in which we stand. To act as our position demands is to act rightly. The apostle appeals to Christians as reasonable individuals desiring to behave as befits their condition. Incongruities excite ridicule, as when the sailor walks on land as if he had to steady himself against the tossing of his ship. Who has not dreamed of being found in daylight in the street attired in the garments of sleep, and felt the peculiar shame of such an incident? How different the decorations that look well enough by gaslight appear when the scene is surveyed in sunshine! the tinsel and gaudy brilliancy disgust a healthy eye.
I. A CRITICAL SEASON. The daybreak is at hand, when the labourer should be found at work, the soldier engaged in conflict, and the traveller started on his journey. Night is the time in which Christianity has to struggle for existence, its adherents sometimes forced to resort to obscurity for fear of persecution. Christ's departure was the setting as his advent shall be the rising again of the sun; the interval is summer night. Our salvation is nearer than when we began to believe. Faith commenced the process of sanctification, ushered us into that kingdom of God on earth, whose consummation, whose outward triumph and glory, are approaching. The apostle may have deemed Christ's appearance nigh. Like the ancient seers, he viewed coming events in a picture, where the distinction could not always be accurately perceived between the background and the foreground. He knew, however, that certain occurrences must precede the Parousia. Surely this incentive to vigilance should be operative with us, to whom later centuries have rolled. Who shall say when the cry may resound, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh"? No doubt, too, that the apostle foresaw a rapid extension of evangelistic endeavours. The nearing downfall of Jewish hopes would cause many to turn to the gospel as the only possible fulfilment of their Messianic aspirations. Such times of potency are ever occurring to us individually and collectively. Like ardent men of business, we should be on the look-out to seize our opportunities. Both at home and abroad this is an unequalled season for missionary effort; doors are being opened on every side. To spend the night in rioting is to slumber during the day: the morning will find us heavy-eyed and dull of brain. And to each one the day of death is drawing near—a day of deliverance, of full salvation to the faithful. Who would indulge the ambition of standing before the blaze of glory from the throne in filthy garments, with marks of sin upon the brow, and defiling stains upon the person? This night is our earthly day of service and opportunity. The day of heaven closes for ever the night of earth. The remembrance of wasted moments will diminish the splendour of the heavenly reward. "Work, for the day is coming!" The anticipation of such a season of disclosure is calculated to melt the stoniest heart into contrition. All deeds will stand confessed.
"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale."
II. THE CONDUCT REQUISITE IN SUCH A CRISIS.
1. Cultivate a spirit of wakefulness. "When the sun ariseth, man goeth forth to his labour." Those who sleep heavily, like the drunken, know nothing of the signs of dawn, and are surprised that the morning could come without their noting its approach. "Awake thou that sleepest," for thy sleep is that of death! His voice sounding through the cavern shall give thee strength to arise, and in his light thou shelf see all things clearly. It is death to the sentinel to sleep at his post. The lover cannot rest when he pictures the joy of the morrow, and the bride of Christ may well watch with intense delight the multiplying tokens of her Lord's arrival.
2. Indue the appropriate attire. This involves, first, the "casting off" of the vestments of the night, and secondly, the "putting on" of the costume of day. The works of darkness are like an infected garment, which the instructed wearer throws aside as worse than no covering at all. The panoply of light, the faith, hope, and love in which Christ arrays his followers,—this is the armour which will bear the scrutiny of the Captain, and prove a sure defence against the powers of evil. This negative and positive preparation is in essence one and the same, as the entrance of light scatters the darkness. Armour was the favourite dress of Romans, and though they would doff it for night revels, they would scorn to lack their accoutrements in the daytime. The cross of Christ is the tiring-room of his servants; there they die to sin and live unto righteousness; there they "put on Christ," imbibe his spirit, and receive his colours. The Northumbrian earl, conscious of the advent of death, desired to be clothed in the suit of mail in which he had won so many fights; but the eye became glazed, the nerveless hand could not grasp the spear, the ashen hue of mortality overspread his face. The Christian dons his equipment, never to lay it aside; in it he shall join the throng of those who have overcome.
3. Exert a decorous activity. Avoid evil by pursuing good. "Walk honestly," not indulging in intemperance, impurity, and discord, but leading a righteous, sober, godly life. Deeds of darkness are condemned by the light, revealing their hideousness, whilst habits of integrity and virtue shrink not from any scrutiny; they shine most lustrous in the brightest rays. Attain "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," "growing up into him who is the Head in all things." We are now weaving and sewing and donning the vestments that shall be our glory or our shame through eternity.—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
From the admirable spirit which Christianity infuses into society, the apostle next takes us to the spirit which should regulate the believer's relations to the civil magistrate. It is most important that Christianity should leaven all these relations to the powers that be. "I could not," says Dr. Arnold, "name easily any branch of human conduct from which the influence of the gospel has been more completely shut out than this; any one on which worldly motives are avowed more boldly and more exclusively. In fact, many men seem to have vaguely confounded the gospel and the clergy in their notions about these matters; and because clergymen, like other men, have often interfered in them in the worst possible spirit, not setting an example of Christian conduct, but plunging into the lowest motives of passion or interest by which other men are actuated, there seems a sort of fear that the gospel itself will teach something mischievous to the public welfare or liberty. But, indeed, in all moral wisdom, in all duty, whether as private men or citizens, there is but one Master, even Christ, from whom we can draw nothing but what is pure and upright." £ It is most important, then, to see how the gospel handles the question of citizenship.
I. CIVIL GOVERNMENT IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. (Romans 13:1.) We are tempted in thinking on civil society, to look upon it "either as a matter of mutual convenience between man and man, or else as an injustice and encroachment made by the rich and powerful on the rights and welfare of others." But in this we are mistaken. It has grown up as a Divine ordinance, and we are not in right relation to it until we recognize this. And this is true not merely of the Jewish commonwealth, where Divine ideas were more or less regarded and embodied, but also of the other nations of the world. They have organized themselves and performed a certain mission, and passed, it may be, from the stage, in fulfilment of a Divine purpose. For each of these nations, as it has been recently said, "he had an office; for each he had appointed a beginning and an end. One by one they rose in orderly succession, those stupendous kingdoms of the East. Babylonian and Persian, Egyptian and Greek, God had required their armies; he had laid 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 manifestation; he works under the pressure laid upon him by the wants and necessities of social and political progress." £ Of course, this does not imply that we are calmly to accept of all a government chooses to inflict; but simply that, speaking generally, civil society and civil government are ordained of God to prevent us descending to beastly levels again.
II. CIVIL GOVERNMENT IS ESTABLISHED AS A TERROR TO EVIL-DOERS. (Romans 13:2, Romans 13:3.) This is the rough yet salutary morality it undertakes. If we will only consider what a state of society we should have if there were no public government to punish crimes, we can have no difficulty in recognizing in it s Divine institution. The arrangement about the manslayer in the olden time was to reinforce the rude justice of the early age before public justice had grown up into the recognized power which in civil government it has now assumed. £ We thus see that civil government is an institution which professes to favour morality, and, if it professed anything else, it would break down. It may not always succeed, but this is its profession. We are bound to give it a loyal trial, and to submit to it, so far as it does not dictate anything to its subjects contrary to the clear command of God. "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 (see Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). Most of the apostles suffered martyrdom for this principle" (so Shedd, in loc.).
III. THE BELIEVER IS EXPECTED TO BE LOYAL TO THE EXISTING GOVERNMENT AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE. (Romans 13:5.) We have already seen where the duty of resistance to the civil magistrate comes in—where he interferes with God's province and assumes the lordship of the conscience. But when he keeps clear of this we are to yield him obedience as a matter of conscience, and not as a matter of fear. Treason is a business outside a believer's functions altogether. His simple duty is submission; under protest, sometimes, it may be; but he should not incur the curse of taking the sword and perishing by it. "In respect to things pertaining only to this life," says Dr. Shedd, "and in cases in which the rights of conscience and religious convictions are not infringed upon, both Christ and his apostles taught that injustice, and even tyranny, should be submitted to, rather than that revolutionary resistance be made. And this, because merely earthly liberty, and the rights of property, are of secondary consideration. The same rule applies to the relation of the individual to the state, in this case, that applies to the relation between man and man. If a Christian is defrauded of his property by a fellow-believer, he ought to "take the wrong, and suffer himself to be defrauded," rather than "go to law one with another" (1 Corinthians 6:7). In like manner, in regard to merely worldly good, the Christian should forego his rights, and allow himself to be ill treated even by the government under which he lives, rather than organize a rebellion and bring on war with its untold evils."
IV. TAXATION IS THE SUPPORT OF A DIVINE ORDINANCE.
All are to get their due, whether direct taxes, or duties of excise, or fear and honour; for these arrangements of state are, as a rule, favourable to good morals, and deserve to be respected. Now, there are one or two objections to the principle of Christian citizenship as here laid down which, before concluding this homily, we may dispose of.
1. How about a state when it proceeds to persecution and injustice? Answer: The believer in such a case must protest against the injustice, and patiently bear it, while he respects the Divine principle embodied in the persecuting state. He avoids disloyalty, yet advocates reform.
2. Is the Church to be the tool of the state? Answer: By no means. They have distinct spheres. It is as false to put the Church against the state, as to confound the Church and the state. The Church recognizes the state as a moral institution for securing justice, and the state should recognize the Church as a Divine institution for securing love. The state enforces justice by penalties; the Church promotes love by persuasion. There need be, and should be, no confusion between them.—R.M.E.
From citizenship, which is disposed of in the preceding verses, the apostle passes on to the Christian spirit as manifested in neighbourly relations. He here enters into the very spirit and essence of God's law, showing it to be love. And here we have—
I. THE DEBT WHICH CAN NEVER BE DISCHARGED. (Romans 13:8.) We may pay all other debts, and should owe no man anything; but love is a debt that can never be discharged, an obligation which abides, a blessed law laid on us in perpetuity. All the commandments of the second table are covered by this one law of love. No one in his senses would ever seek discharge from such a law. Could it be a privilege to hate one's neighbour? "Good haters," as they are pleased to call themselves, are usually public nuisances. We are under this law of love for ever, because we are under grace. It is here that our Divine sonship is realized; it is here that Christ-likeness begins. God is love; and in proportion as we are loving are we like Christ and his Father above. £
II. WITH THE CHRIST-LIKE LIFE HAS CEASED TO BE A DREAM. (Romans 13:11.) This is the case with the worldly; they fancy they are "wide awake," and yet they are asleep so far as eternal realities are concerned. How time slips through their fingers, as it does with those in sleep! Life is not in earnest; they have pillowed themselves upon success, and are dead to things Divine. But when Christ comes, then we awake and find ourselves in the morning hours. That Sun of Righteousness arises and our dream and night are over, and the activities of the new day are come. The Christ-like feel that life is earnest, and no time should be lost in dreams. As Feuchtersleben has pointedly said, "Life is no dream. It only becomes so by the fault of man, and when his mind disobeys the summons to awake." £
III. THE WORKS OF DARKNESS AND THE LUSTS OF THE FLESH ARE OUT OF DATE. (Romans 13:12-14.) While life is only a dream, while the night of indifference and neglect is around the soul, indulgence will he tolerated and provision made for the lusts of the flesh. Pleasure will be the pole-star of life, and decency will not deter the soul from its satisfactions. Of course, the primitive Church had to deal more with the lusts of the flesh than we have; or perhaps they went more thoroughly into the morals of their members. "The primitive Church," it has been said, "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, in loc.). But the soul which has awaked through the advent of Jesus regards these deeds of darkness as out of date. They would be anachronisms of the day. The light has come and put to flight the darkness.
IV. THE ARMOUR OF LIGHT ALONE BEFITS THE DAY. (Romans 13:12, Romans 13:13.) Now, it is wonderful what a protection light, even in its physical form, is against pollution. There are deeds which can only be done in darkness. Turn the light upon them, and they are annihilated through sheer shame. In the same way, when the full spiritual light which Jesus Christ, our Sun, embodies, plays upon our life, we are instantly aroused and elevated, and the tone of life improves. This is our panoply in the morning hours. Christ with us, near us, observing us, encircling us with his light, becomes our great protection.
V. CHRIST-LIKENESS THROUGH CLOTHING OURSELVES WITH HIM IS THE GREAT SECRET OF A USEFUL AND HAPPY LIFE. (Romans 13:14.) As the Sun of Righteousness shines around us we contract a luminosity like his. We get sanctified through contemplating him. The same image that is in him becomes ours from glory to glory, as with unveiled face we behold the face of God (2 Corinthians 3:17). It is this likeness to our Lord which makes us increasingly earnest and useful and happy in life's young day. We feel that salvation, in all its length and breadth, is Hearer realization than when we first believed. The morning hours give promise of the perfect day. £ As one has well put it, "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 nature, 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 and 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." £ May we all thus put on Christ and be like him!—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34