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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

1. Every soul A term of solemn universality; every human being needs the government and should obey it.

Higher powers The apostle uses the abstract, and not the concrete. It is the government that is of God, not necessarily the particular governor.

No power but of God Nor is it said that there is no usurper who is of the devil. But as government is ordained of God, so every admitted government must be attributed to God.

It has often been the case in human history that conscientious Christians have been doubtful what, or which, is the true government, the government entitled to their Christian obedience. When the popish tyrant, James II., was driven from the throne of England, and a constitutional sovereign substituted in his place, a large class of conscientious thinkers continued for near half a century sincerely to believe that James and his heirs were their true and lawful sovereigns. So believing, they thought it their duty to withhold their allegiance from the reigning authority. They believed that there is no power but of God; but they also believed that the new king was, in the apostle’s sense, not a power.

Verses 1-7

3. Subjection to government as to a divinely established authority , Romans 13:1-7 .

To the young Christian Church it could not but occur as a very momentous and very doubtful question, What are we to do with the governments of the world? They are all in pagan hands, with despots for their heads. In the Old Testament the visions of Daniel describe them as beasts. Christ is our true king, and we know not how soon he may appear to overthrow all existing despotism and establish a universal reign of righteousness.

Paul here furnishes the divine reply. Bad as human governments are, brutal and ferocious as is often their spirit, there is a benign and beneficial side to them. Government is ordained of God. Society is not formed by a fabled social compact. On the contrary, God has formed man for society, and government is the form into which he has obliged society to throw itself for its own peace and conservation. Hence, at all times, every government that truly is a government is ordained of God and entitled to our obedience.

The exceptions to this normal law, and its limitations, the apostle does not discuss. That an authority which commands us to violate the law of God should not be obeyed, he would, of course, not only have admitted, but affirmed. Had the emperor with all his powers required him to abjure Christ, he would have promptly disobeyed and suffered the result. Why? Because government, if ordained by God, is limited by the law of God. And if it oversteps the law of God, it oversteps the boundary line of its authority, and ceases to be a government, and has no title to be obeyed. Cesar, then, is no longer Cesar, but, so far, simply a private man. If the President of the United States orders his general to overthrow the Constitution he acts outside his office, and on that outside ground he is not President, and can claim no rightful obedience. What a legitimate government is the apostle does not here discuss. Nor does he raise the question of the right of revolution. The only question before him is, What is the duty of the Christian to a government which he acknowledges to be the government? (See note on Acts 4:19.)

Verse 2

2. Resisteth the power That is, resisteth a power which is confessedly the government.

The Romans to whom Paul wrote were under the rule, and lived not many yards from the palace of the Emperor Nero, whose is one of the names in history most conspicuous for tyranny and blood. Yet, bad as he was, and bad as was his government, it was the best thing of which the age was capable. When he was assassinated a series of civil wars and of brief tyrannies succeeded, under which the empire declined to its final fall under the incoming flood of the northern barbarians, under which the ancient society perished.

Damnation Divine condemnation. For he is guilty of treason not only against the existing government, but against the public welfare.

The apostle now argues against resistance, first, from the social necessity of a terror over the evil, and, second, from the rightfulness of terror as a governmental principle.

Verse 3

3. Not a terror to good In its legitimate character, government is necessary to prevent evil and to secure peace. The very worst government is better than aimless anarchy.

Not be afraid To fear the just penalty of law is a duty. So to fear the just penalty of the law of God is a duty.

Verse 4

4. Minister of God Though as pagan, antichristian, or worldly, the government is, according to Daniel, a beast, yet as a conservator of society required by the divinely established laws of human nature the governor is the minister of God.

The sword The ensign of sovereignty. It is the emblem also of death. And as it is placed by God in the hands of the sovereign as the minister of God, so to him is delegated from God the power over life and death in order to secure the just peace of society. The sword is authorized by God to the government, to be used not only in just execution upon the domestic criminal, but in just war against a foreign foe. For one of these rights involves the other. The execution of the criminal is a lesser war upon a single foe. The difference is a difference only in numbers.

A revenger… doeth evil According to the apostle the ruler is of God only as a revenger upon him that doeth evil. He is not a minister of God when he is the executioner of the good.

Verse 5

5. For wrath… for conscience’ sake The apostle by his wherefore draws the inference from the two previous verses that it is a matter of conscience that we entertain a salutary fear of the punitive power of the government.

Verse 6

6. For this cause From the fact that government is of divine authority.

Pay ye tribute Primarily, the payment imposed upon us by a foreign power, such as the Romans over the Jews. Secondarily, it means the tax necessary to the support of government.

Attending continually Spending their time and abilities in the very business of government, and therefore entitled to support.

Verse 7

7. Their dues It is the Christian’s duty to pay to all what is due to all. And as tribute, custom, fear, and honour are due to government, both by divine authority and for human good, it is matter of conscience that he render them all.

Custom Usually the duty paid on exports and imports.

Verse 8

8. Owe no man From the payment of government dues the apostle makes transition to the universal due of love, required by and lying as basis of the divine law, toward all our fellow men. The emphasis, therefore, does not rest upon this clause as if the apostle forbade the credit system in trade; but it is rather the transit to the duty of ever recognizing and ever paying the debt of love.

Any thing This does not forbid contracts to pay at a future time, but a violation of the contract, or the violation of any obligation to pay when justly due. We must avail ourselves of no technicality of law to avoid what is equitably due. In short, we must obey the golden rule in the moneyed transactions of life. The law of equitable love must underlie our business dealings.

Love This is a debt which though forever paid is forever due. It is a vessel which even though forever full forever needs filling.

Verses 8-14

4. Duties to our living contemporaries , Romans 13:8-14 .

All are comprehended under love, (8-10,) under pressure of the most solemn Christian motives requiring of us perfect purity of life, (11-14.)

Verse 9

9. For Implying that the term law finds its standard expression in the decalogue, as the due performance of the decalogue requires, as its source and spring, love in the heart. Right doing, as a permanent life, can only flow from right feeling.

Thou shalt not The negative form forbids every possible course but the right one, and so hems us in to the right. It is implied by this negative form that the directions toward wrong are innumerable, and man’s impulses toward them as countless.

Thou shalt love This form of the decalogue locates the obedience in the heart, and not in the outward limb, and substitutes the positive for the negative form, and concentrates it into the briefest, most portable, and most practical form.

Verse 10

10. No ill… fulfilling As working no ill, love performs the decalogue in the negative form in which it is written.

Verse 11

11. And that The apostle, with a startling abruptness, as if from a sudden impulse, turns from the law to the great and closing execution of the law at the judgment seat of Christ. He speaks of it as if conceptually and practically standing in close connexion with the close of human earthly existence, whether individual or general. So in 2 Timothy 4:5-8, when he was assured that his own death was at hand, he held the righteous Judge as conceptually close upon death.

Sleep Life is a night; time and its sublunary engrossments are a sleep; death, judgment, salvation, are the approaching dawn before us; it becomes us to be awake out of sleep, and watch the approaches of the morning, of the glorious day at hand.

High time Urgent reason.

Nearer than Each passing moment draws us nearer to the gates of blessedness.

When we believed We are midway between our first earthly salvation and our final heavenly one.

Verse 12

12. Night… spent It is the three o’clock of our waning night of life.

Works of darkness The wickednesses that men commit in darkness and night.

Armour of light Darkness and light are now two hostile armies; the apostle exhorts to buckle on the armour of soldiers in the cause of light.

Verse 13

13. Walk The rapid apostle now changes his figure from that of war to revelry.

Walk honestly That is, walk becomingly or decently; not like revellers who race shamefully through the nightly streets.

Rioting In the streets. Drunkenness In the drinking houses.

Chambering Literally, beds; that is, of debauchery.

Wantonness Loose immorality of any kind.

Strife and envying Vices more decent, but not less malignant.

Verse 14

14. Put ye on… Christ Let him be buckled on to your body and soul as all armour, Romans 13:12; let him be invested upon you as a dress instead of wanton attire, Romans 13:13. Put him on as your righteousness, as pardoning your sin and ruling your life. Put him on as your Redeemer and ultimate Glorifier. Put him on by an inward living faith, and by an external exemplary profession.

Provision Forethought, purpose.

Flesh In so pure an attire as Christ, be infinitely removed from all the lusts of the fallen nature.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/romans-13.html. 1874-1909.
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