Observe here, 1. The title given to magistrates, they are powers, higher powers, that is, persons invested with power, and placed in supreme authority over us. All mankind is not of one rank, doth not stand upon an equal level. Magistracy is an eminency or superiority of some persons above others.
Observe, 2. The original fountain from whence all power is derived from God, and is to be used for God; the magistrate acts by his authority, and consequently is to act for his interest, honour, and glory. It is agreeable to the will of God, that there should be such a thing as magistracy and government in the world; and it is his appointment that men should be governed by men deriving the power and authority from him: The powers that be are ordained of God.
Observe, 3. The apostle's strict injunction for subjection unto magistracy, as a divine ordinance: Let every soul be subject, that is, every person, by he of what rank, or in what station he will, high or low, honourable or ignoble, rich or poor, clergy or laity, he must be subject to God's ordinance.
Where note, That Christ is a friend to Caesar, and Christianity no enemy to loyalty: the best Christians are always the best subjects; none so true to their prince, as they that are most faithful to their God. Obedience to magistrates is both the duty of Christians, and the interest of Christianity.
The forementioned duty of subjection unto magistracy, insisted upon in the foregoing verse, the apostle urges and enforces upon all Christians, by sundry arguments in this and the foregoing verses; as, namely, 1. From the sinfulness of resistance: They resist the ordinance of God; they make war upon God himself; he that rebelleth against his prince, is a rebel also to his God. From the danger of resistance: They shall receive to themselves damnation.
That is, 1. Temporal judgement from the hand of the magistrate, to whom the sword is committed, as Korah, Absalom, and others, did experience.
2. Eternal punishment from the hand of God, who will plead the cause, and vindicate the honour of his vicegerents and representatives here on earth, and cast those into hell who pour contempt upon them, if sincere repentance by a timely interposure prevent it not.
Here we have a further argument for subjection to rulers and governors, drawn from the end of the magistrate's office, which is to punish vice, and to promote virtue: Rulers are not a terror to good works; that is, they ought not, and they ordinarily are not; they were not ordained for that end, and it is not their place so to be, namely, a terror to the good, but to the bad only; for God giveth no authority against himself, or his own righteous laws, which require the punishing of the bad, and the rewarding of the good.
Learn hence, 1. That magistrates, by virtue of their place, ought to be a terror, or exceeding terrible, to evil works, and evil workers.
Learn, 2. That magistrates are not terrible, but amiable, to good men; they fear rulers, but it is with a fear of reverence, not with a tormenting, servile fear: Do that which is good, and thou shalt not be afraid of the power.
Here the apostle subjoins a reason, why a magistrate is not to be unduly dreaded and feared by his subjects who live well, for he is by his institution the minister of God to thee for good, if thou beest a doer of that which is good.
Learn hence, that the magistrate is the minister of God for the good of them over which he is set, especially of them that are virtuous and good: he is a shield to the godly, a husband to the widow, a father to the orphan, a patron to the poor, and a refuge to the oppressed.
Observe farther, How the magistrate is set forth with the ensign of terror to evil-doers: he has a sword put into his hand by God himself, a sword to wound; not a wooden dagger to scare offenders barely; and a sword, not rusting in the scabbard, but drawn and whetted; he must show it, and strike with it upon a just occasion, and make those feel it who are not awed with the sight of it: He beareth not the sword in vain.
Observe again, Though the magistrate is said to bear a sword, yet he is never called a sword, but a shield often; a shield is for defence, a sword for destruction; intimating, that the magistrate's power is protection, not destruction; magistrates have swords, but they are shields, and not swords: they have a sword to cut off evil-doers; God help them to draw it upon atheism and blasphemy, upon vice and immorality. One hearty stroke of the magistrate's sword would stun error and vice more than a thousand sermons.
Observe lastly, The magistrate is said not to snatch or take the sword, but to bear the sword. He doth not wrest it out of the hand of another, but it is put into his hand by God himself: the commission to bear the sword is from God; the magistrate doth not hold his authority by virtue of the sword, but he holds his sword by virtue of his authority. When he draweth the sword, it is not merely backed with an arm of flesh, but with a warrant and commission signed by God himself: He beareth the sword.
Here the apostle doth again assert the necessity of subjection to the civil magistrate. Seeing that magistracy is God's ordinance, for the good of human society; seeing that the sword in the magistrate's hand is backed and edged with God's authority; therefore there is a necessity of subjection unto magistracy and magistrates, and that for a double reason--for fear of wrath and punishment from man, and from a principle of conscience in obedience to the command of God. We must be subject, not only for wrath, that is, not only for fear of man's wrath, but for conscience' sake; that is, with respect to the command of God, which has made subjection our indispensible duty.
From the duty of subjection unto magistrates, the apostle proceeds to urge and enforce the duty and necessity of paying tribute to them, or allowing them an honourable maintenance, for and towards the support of the government which they sustain and bear. The payment of taxes and tribute to the supreme magistrate is necessary upon several accounts:
1. As it is an acknowledgment of the power which God hath set over us.
2. As it tends to the support of the government which we live under.
3. As it is a small recompence for the governor's continual care and industry, he attending, that is, watching perpetually, and taking pains continually, for procuring and maintaining the good and happiness of his subjects; and therefore both duty and obligation, both religion and gratitude, do bind and engage us to aid and assist him, and, so far as it is in our power, to requite and reward him for his care of the common safety, and regard to the public good.
A twofold duty towards magistrates is here laid down by our apostle, namely, maintenance and reverence.
1. There is due unto them maintenance. Tribute and custom is payable to them for that purpose, and not without great reason and obligation: for he is the minister of God for our good, that is, an instrument under God to preserve our blessings to us, and farther, because such supplies are necessary to defray those vast expenses, which they are constrained to be at, for the security and welfare of their subjects. Taxes, tribute, and custom, are not so much gifts as due debts to princes, which by the command of God are to be justly and cheerfully paid unto them, and which cannot without sin and injustice be denied to them, or purloined from them. To cheat our prince, is as great a sin in the sight of God as to rob our father, though few think it so: Render tribute to whom tribute is due.
Again, 2. There is reverence as well as maintenance due to magistrates: Render fear to whom fear, and honour to whom honour, is due. Fear denotes inward reverence, and honour outward respect: fear is the magistrate's due by reason of his authority, and honour by reason of his dignity.
Here note, That the apostle is thus particular and express in asserting the rights of princes and assigning the proper duties of subjects towards them, because the Jews held opinions which were destructive of all civil government; as, namely, that they being the only people of God, God alone was to be owned as their Lord and Governor, and none under him but such as should be immediately chosen by him; and, as a consequent of this, they refused to pay tribute to Caesar, looking upon that as a token of subjection to him.
Therefore the apostle here presses the Christians at Rome to show their freedom from, and opposition to, all such pernicious principles, and to give the world a convincing proof that Christianity makes the best men, the best magistrates, the best subjects, of any religion in the world.
Our apostle having finished his exhortation to duty towards our superiors, comes now to enforce the duties which we owe unto our neighbours; the first of which is, to render and pay to every one what is due unto him. Moral duties are mutual debts which we owe one to another; one of which namely, that of love, we can never fully discharge, but must be ever paying, yet always owing: Owe nothing to any man but love, implying that must be always owing.
The truth is, this debt of love is so far from a possibility of being paid on earth, that it is due in heaven to God, angels, and saints; There abideth charity, 1 Corinthians 13:13. All other debts may be paid whilst we live; but this of love cannot be satisfied while we live.
Observe next, The argument, reason, or motive, to excite unto this duty, and that is drawn from the excellency of this grace of love: He that loveth, hath fulfilled the law; that is, he that loveth his neighbour as he should and ought to do, in deed and in truth, out of a pure heart fervently, he hath fulfilled the law, that is, the law relating to his neighbour, the duties of the second table are fulfilled by him.
Two particulars are here observable, namely, a proposition asserted, that love is the fulfilling of the law. "And this proposition proved by an induction and enumeration of particular duties belonging to the second table.
Observe, 1. The proposition asserted and maintained by the apostle, ver 8 and 10 namely, that love is the fulfulling of the law.
"But can the law be said to be fulfilled by us? If so, in what sense?
Answer By the law here we are certainly to understand that branch of the moral law which respects our duty to our neighbour. All our duty to men is virtually comprehended in loving them as ourselves; as no man will hurt himself, so neither will he hurt his neighbour, if he loveth him as himself: thus love is the complement or fulfilling of the law relating to our neighbour.
The church of Rome would infer from hence, That a person may keep the law of God perfectly, and without the least deficiency.
But observe, He that loveth keepeth the law. How keepeth? Even as he loveth; if he loveth perfectly, he keepeth the law perfectly; but if his love be imperfect, (as is the best on this side heaven,) then is his fulfilling of the law imperfect also. Perfect fulfilling of the law is what we should labour after, but whilst in an imperfect state we cannot attain unto; yet such is the grace of God in the gospel, as to account sincerity instead of perfection, and to esteem unfeigned love to our neighbour the fulfilling of the law, or all the duties of the second table.
Observe, 2. This proposition is proved by an induction and enumeration of particular duties belonging to the second table: Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, nor bear false witness, nor covet. Where all injury is forbidden to be done to our neighbour, in his name, in his estate, marriage right, &c. and this is called the fulfilling of the law.
"But how can that be? Is the law fulfilled by mere negatives, by doing no hurt to our neighbours? Is not doing them all the good we can, required also?
Answer Yes, no doubt: Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, it is implied, that love doth all possible good to his neighbour, as well as worketh no evil; though the negatives only are mentioned, yet the affirmatives also are included.
Here begins the last part of the chapter, which treats of our duty towards ourselves, namely, sobriety, temperance, mortification of sin, and all the works of darkness, such as rioting and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness, and the like; and the argument or motive which the apostle uses in this verse to excite and quicken the converted Romans to the last-mentioned duties, is drawn from the consideration of their present state and condition; they were believers, the gospel light was risen upon them, and they were nearer salvation now than when they first believed: Now is your salvation nearer than when you believed. this, by the way, is a meditation full of comfort to a gracious person; every breath he draws, draws him a degree nearer to perfect happiness; he is nearer heaven, nearer his reward, than when in the infancy of his faith; therefore let him gird up the loins of his mind, and be more cheerful and more laborious in the Lord's work.
Lord! how transporting is it to thy faithful ones, to consider how small a matter is betwixt them and their complete salvation! no sooner is their breath gone, but the full desire of their souls is come; their salvation is near, very near, much nearer than when they first believed. But, O! what a meditation of terror is it to a wicked person! his damnation is near, and every hour nearer and nearer; there is but a puff of breath betwixt him and hell; ere long his last breath and his last hope will expire together.
Lord! give sinners heart to consider, that a graceless man ere long will be a hopeless man; the state he was born in was sad, the state he is now in is worse, but the state he will shortly be in, without conversion, will be unspeakably worst of all: his damnation is near, it slumbereth not.
Observe here, 1. The apostle puts the Romans in mind of their former state before conversion, when the might of heathenish ignorance and darkness was upon them, when they spent their time and strength in rioting and drunkenness, in lasciviousness and wantonness.
Where note, The odious character wherewith sin is branded; it is darkness, a work of darkness; so styled, because sin originally springs from darkness, because it naturally delights in darkness, because it ultimately leads to eternal darkness.
Observe, 2. How he puts them in mind of their present state and condition since the day-star of the gospel did dawn upon them, The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: that is, the night of heathenish ignorance, blindness and darkness, is in a great measure past and over, and the day of grace and salvation is come unto you; gospel light is among you, illuminating grace and saving knowledge is now found with you.
Observe, 3. The duties enjoined answerable to the privileges enjoyed; and that is, to walk as the children of day, soberly, righteously, and godly, abstaining from all intemperance and excess of every kind, and being clothed with all Christian virtues and graces, which are called armour of light.
Armour, because they defend us against the assaults of sin, Satan, and the world, and all our spiritual enemies whatsoever; and armour of light, because such Christian graces are bright and shining in the eyes of the world.
Learn hence, 1. That the enjoyment of gospel-light lays a person or a people under special obligations to cast off the works of darkness.
2. That such as enjoy the light and liberty of the gospel, ought to walk as becometh the gospel which they do enjoy; that is, according to the precepts and commands of the gospel, answerable to the privileges and prerogatives of the gospel, answerable to the helps and supplies of grace which the gospel affords, and answerable to those high and glorious hopes which the gospel raises the Christian up to the expectation of: This is to cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light, &c.
Observe here, the apostle doth not say, as a moral philosopher would have said, "Instead of rioting and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness, put on temperance, put on sobriety, put on chastity, and so set a single virtue against a single vice; but, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, seek by faith union with him, that so you may derive virtue from him, to enable you unto holy walking before him. Set the doctrine and life of Christ continually before you; follow every instruction, and imitate all the parts of his holy conversation, even as the garment is commensurate to the body: Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."
May not the expression imply, 1. That the soul of man, since the fall, is in a naked state, destitute of those divine graces of the Holy Spirit, which were its original clothing in the day of undefiled innocency?
2. That Jesus Christ is our spiritual clothing?
(1.) In his righteousness, to pardon and justify us; he is our clothing, to cover the guilt of sin out of God's sight.
(2.) In his grace, to sanctify us, by which he cleanses us from our sin's pollution and filthiness.
3. That Jesus Christ, in order to our spiritual clothing, must be put on by faith: an unapplied Christ justifies none, saves none.
It was not sufficient under the law that the blood of the sacrifice was shed, but it was also to be sprinkled, in order to the expiation of guilt. The personal application of Christ's blood by faith on our part, is as absolutely necessary to salvation as is the shedding of his blood on his part, in order to our remission and salvation. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. It follows, And make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Observe, the apostle doth not say, Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the necessities and the necessary desires thereof. But, to fulfil the lusts, or inordinate desires, thereof. Then only is provision for the flesh sinful and unlawful, when it is sought more to satisfy its appetite, and to gratify the inordinate desires, than to strengthen and fit us for our duty to God and man.
In this latter sense, to make provision for the flesh, is to furnish our enemy with arms and ammunition to fight against ourselves. Interpretatively, he makes provision for his lusts, that doth not provide against them; he feeds his lusts, that doth not starve them; he nourishes and strengthens his lusts, that doth not mortify and kill them.
Explicity and directly, men provide for their lusts by entertaining such thoughts in their minds as do kindle, excite, and stir up lust; and when those thoughts are gratified with desires, and those desires accompanied with endeavours; but worst and saddest of all it is, when men's desires to gratify their lusts are turned into prayers unto God Almighty in order to that end. Thus the apostle James says, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. James 4:3.
Learn hence, 1. That a sober and moderate use of the creatures which God has given us, not barely for necessity, but delight, is allowable, and a commanded duty.
Learn, 2. That to make use of the comforts of life, not to satisfy our natures, but to gratify our lusts and inordinate desires, is a perverting of God's intention in bestowing the supports of life upon us, and a very heinous sin. Make we then no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 13". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany