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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and RevelationNewell's Commentary

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Verses 1-7

  • Subjection to Rulers, as Ordained of God. Verses 1 to 7.

  • No Debt but Love: What that Achieves! Verses 8 to 10.

  • Awake! Christ’s Coming Nears! Put on Christ Now! Verses 11 to 14.

Verse 1

1 Let every soul be in subjection to the authorities in power. For there is no authority save from God; and those that exist are put in place by God. 2 Therefore he that sets himself against the authority, with standeth the ordinance of God: and those [thus] withstanding shall receive for themselves judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the authority? Practice that which is good and thou shalt have praise from the same. 4 For it is God’s servant to thee for good. But if thou dost practice that which is evil, be afraid! For not in vain doth it bear the sword! For God’s minister it is, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very matter. 7 Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

WE HAVE HERE a passage of great importance in these lawless days!

Let every soul be in subjection to the authorities in power [or, the constituted authorities]. For there is no authority but from God; and those that exist are put in, place by God.

Every soul here, of course, means every believer: this Epistle is addressed only to believers (see 1:1-8 (Romans 1:1-8)). The authorities in power are the civil authorities ordained of God into whose hands God has committed external human government. (We say external, as opposed to inward, spiritual, which lies outside Caesar’s province.)

To be in subjection to the higher powers, means to render them their due respect and obedience according to verse 7: tribute to whom tribute, etc.

There is great necessity at this hour to emphasize to all Christians this solemn exhortation of the apostle. Lawlessness, — contempt for authority — is upon us like a flood. This lawlessness (anomia (G458)) is the essence of sin. We have already called attention to the fact that the Old Version translation of 1 John 3:4 : “Sin is the transgression of the Law,” is wholly astray. Not parabasis (G3847), transgression; nor paraptoma (G3900), offense; but a much deeper word, anomia, — literally, lawlessness: the spirit of refusing control, — this does God define as sin! Sin was in the world 2500 years before the Law. Already existing sin caused the Law’s “Thou shalt not.” Lawlessness is behind and below all law-breaking!

That the lawlessness of the last days is coming upon us, we see everywhere! In the contempt of treaty obligations on the part of nations; in the disregard for old-time honesty in private contracts; in the “breaking loose” of “flaming youth” from parental restraint, and the rush to “expressionism,” whether in school “dramatics” or in disdain of “old fogy” morals; in the calling the sin of lasciviousness and adultery by “modern” names, — such as “petting,” “sex-experience”; in the flood of murder magazines and “mystery” novels; in the unwillingness of the public to have crime really punished, — showing public sympathy with sin!

It is because of this latter that law-enforcement breaks down. For, on the whole, judges, prosecuting attorneys, sheriffs, and police, would have criminals dealt with firmly: but the “technicalities” of legal procedure are seized upon by evil, unscrupulous men to defeat law. And who would be so foolish as to claim that things could be so if the entire community were, in their hearts, righteously abhorrent toward all law-breaking?

Perhaps the most glaring of all instances of last-days lawlessness, is the tolerance of Red Communism. We do not now speak of Russia; but of the fact that Communistic doctrines (which openly declare war upon all Divinely appointed order) are held, — even by professing Christians! in England, the United States, Canada, and all over the world. You have no more right to “sit down” upon another’s property, against his will, than any common thief has to enter your home to plunder! God’s Word defends the rights of property, just as the right to life. “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not kill,” are in the same code of law. Christians need to read and heed Matthew 20:1-15. The “householder” there “agrees” with the “laborers”: these had the right to sell their labor at an “agreed” price; while he had the right to decide what he could profitably pay them, and “agree” to pay it. And he recognizes what they had earned as theirs: “Take up that which is thine, and go thy way” (verse 14). But as concerning that which was his, and which they had not earned, he says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” He paid them what they had earned, and sent them off his property! Now Christ gave this lesson! And He calls the eye “evil” (verse 15) that would covet what it had not earned!

No wonder Marx and Lenin and the Communists hate the Bible! It convicts them of covetousness and thievery! Read Matthew 20:1-15 again; and see what you think our Lord would have said of those laborers, if they had “sat down” in that vineyard, claiming, “It really belongs to us, the workers’; and we will not move until this householder raises our wages to what we ask!” You see, the only way for Communism to exist, is to destroy all hold of the Bible on men! Communism is the devil’s opium for a people willing to let go the Word of God!

Let Christians beware of the specious lies of all movements of force (“direct action,” the Reds call it!) to right the wrongs of this present world. There are wrongs, as James tells us (James 5:1-6), but the Christian is told to be “patient until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7-8). Pray and wait. Things will get worse and worse, until “violence fills the earth,” as in “the days of Noah.” But God will deliver you — if you trust Him, and do not put forth your hand with “violent men.” I pray you, read Proverbs 1:10-15, where you have a vivid picture of all the “share the wealth” movements! Let the Lord’s people avoid them as the very plague! If, instead of “godliness with contentment,” earthliness and covetousness seize your heart, you are really setting in on Lenin’s and Stalin’s path — which ends in hell! and makes a land a bloody horror meanwhile.

The “restlessness” of today is really that deep “lawlessness” which God calls sin: “SIN IS LAWLESSNESS!” The Man of Sin is called “the lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8, where we are told that “the mystery of lawlessness” is already working, but that there is One (the Holy Spirit, we believe), that “restraineth now” until He be “taken out of the way.” “And then shall be revealed the lawless one.” This is the coming Antichrist.

Now since God’s saints know that lawlessness and violence, lust and covetousness, are characteristic of the last days, and know from Daniel’s prophetic interpretation of the Great Image Nebuchadnezzar saw, that we must be nearing the time of the end of the age, how peculiarly needful that we all lay to heart these instructions concerning magistrates!

Magistrates are put in place, set up, or ordained, of God. Never mind if they are bad ones, the word still stands, “There is no power but of God.” Remember your Savior suffered under Pontius Pilate, one of the worst Roman governors Judea ever had; and Paul under Nero, the worst Roman Emperor. And neither our Lord nor His Apostle denied or reviled the “authority!”

The authority is called a servant (diakonos (G1249)) of God to us for good (verse 4): and those exercising this authority, are called ministers (leitourgoi (G3011)) of God for good: He [the power or authority set up by God] is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil (verse 4 and again in verse 6). Against the evil-worker, the ruler is an avenger for wrath, not bearing a vain sword like some lodge officer on parade, but bearing a sword given to him by the covenant of Genesis Nine, — a sword with, necessarily, the death penalty wrapped up in it, to be exercised when necessary: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” God said to Noah, when He lodged governmental authority in human hands. For the support of this governmental work, we pay “tribute”; for They are God’s ministering officers, attending continually upon this very thing (verse 6).

Thus there is in this passage to be considered, the governmental authority as an abstract thing established by God; and then the personal ruler’s exercising his rights and duties under the authority. God established human government, and then appointed certain men to administer it.

Verse 2

Therefore he that sets himself against the authority, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and those [thus] withstanding, shall receive to themselves judgment.

It is only in spiritual matters — ”things that are God’s” — that “to obey God rather than men” is our path. The things pertaining to God are those that concern our obedience to our confession of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, — that is, all matters of our Christian conscience. Caesar has no right to touch my conscience. If I yield to him there, I am a traitor to the truth. We should emulate the old martyrs here, and even those who are suffering for the truth under Caesar’s wickedness in our own day: for instance, under pagan Hitlerism in Germany, or atheist communism in Russia, where, often, the most noble witnesses of Christ are found. But, as to our persons and our property and our lives, that is, as regards earthly things, we are subject to the powers that God has put in place or ordained; and should not “withstand” them. Those who do so withstand, will bring on themselves guilt and Divine chastening. The Christian, above all men, should be in quiet subjection to constituted authority.

Verse 3

For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the authority? Keep practicing that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same.

This is the rule in general. Of course, Satan will stir up special trouble against those who are proclaiming the gospel, which he desperately hates; as he stirred up unjust accusation and persecution against the apostles and the Lord Himself. Also, “the will of God may so will,” that some may suffer for well-doing (1 Peter 3:17). This whole passage, however, regards the general path of the believer with reference to Divinely constituted authorities; rather than the peculiar enmity of Satan and the world toward the message of the gospel. Every Christian, in his life, should be praiseworthy in the eyes of rulers, and, if consistent, he generally is so.

William Kelly well says: “Authorities in power’ is an expression that embraces every form of governing power, monarchical, aristocratic, or republican. All cavil on this score is therefore foreclosed. The Spirit insists not merely on the Divine right of kings, but that there is no authority except from God.’ Nor is there an excuse on this plea for change; yet if a revolution should overthrow one form and set up another, the Christian’s duty is plain: those that exist are ordained by God.’ His interests are elsewhere, are heavenly, are in Christ; his responsibility is to acknowledge what is in power as a fact, trusting God as to the consequences, and in no case behaving as a partisan. Never is he warranted in setting himself up against the authority as such.” [In those cases where Christians have been able to withdraw from intolerable situations, this rule is in no wise broken. The Huguenots fled from France to England, and the Puritans from England to America, for freedom of conscience, — much as the Lord said, “If they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” Escape is sometimes possible, and is not rebellion.]

Verse 4

For it [the authority] is a servant of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for not in vain does it bear the sword.

To “bear” is, literally, to bear constantly, illustrated in the provincial Roman magistrates’ habitual wearing of the sword. It was also borne before them, in public processions, as a symbol of their right to punish by death. This is in accordance with God’s covenant with Noah, after the Flood, which covenant remains in force: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Those who decry “capital punishment,” are themselves withstanding the Word of God as to the very foundation of human government.

For a minister of God it is! an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.

There are people in every community who live in constant terror of government, because of their evil-doing. Let no Christian be in such a position! You say, would the magistrate have a right to deal with a real Christian, if he became an evil-doer? Most certainly; and would be bound to do so. Peter says: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other man’s matters,” showing that Christians as such, have no protection from human law. But Peter’s exhortation has not kept some true Christians out of these things; insomuch, indeed, that God’s established government on earth would not or should not permit them to go unpunished here, (if murder or crime had been done); although the blood of Christ was their entrance into Heaven!

Verse 5

Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, — not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Believers are to be in subjection, not only to avoid earthly governmental dealing, but because of a loving conscience toward God, — knowing that in being subject, they are doing right, as well as avoiding trouble.

The constituted authorities include all the civil officers, state, county, and municipal; together with the police, militia, and military forces. There are many indeed in these foolish days who call themselves “pacifists,” and decry the work and office of the soldier. Yet we believe they would with alacrity telephone for the police if they found marauders breaking into their houses! Police protect towns and cities. State constabulary and militia, under the hand of the governor, protect life, liberty, and order in the state; and a national army does likewise for the nation.

It is God who has allowed the formation and growth of nations, and given them “the bounds of their habitations”; and the “authorities” who govern them do so by Divine command. They “bear the sword,” — whether for order within the nation, or for defense toward an outward enemy. Therefore it is folly to call the work of a soldier evil, and to confuse personal murder with the public execution of justice. When “soldiers on service” (Luke 3:14, margin), asked John the Baptist: “And we, what must we do”? his answer was not, Resign your commissions, or Leave the army. On the contrary he recognized their work as honorable, saying to them only: “Extort from no man by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully; and be content with your wages” (generally, with soldiers, small enough!)

Cornelius, the centurion of Acts 10, “a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always,” heard the gospel at Peter’s mouth and believed it, and was filled with the Holy Spirit; and he kept right on being a soldier, a minister of God’s service along the line of government. Such men as General Havelock, General “Chinese” Gordon of the British Army; General O. O. Howard and General “Stonewall” Jackson, of American Civil War fame; and General Allenby, in the World War, have performed nobly and ably their soldier’s duty, — the while maintaining a Christian’s walk with God. [Pacifists and “Internationalists” are (sometimes doubtless ignorantly) deadly enemies of God’s order. It is a cowardly and a decadent generation that is willing to enjoy a heritage purchased at the cost of blood and tears, and then with an ignorant or basely perverted conscience say, “I do not believe in war or in fighting,” — a generation ignorant, first, of the very Scripture we are now studying, which tells us that magistrates, bearing no vain swords, are ministers of God; ignorant, second, of the lessons of history. “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” Effeminacy, dilettantism, and loss of patriotism, have always gone together. The hordes of barbarians from the North came down on a Rome enfeebled by luxury and hideous sin, and we know the result! Today America is filling up with the same sort of moral weaklings! We abhor war; but war there will be. We say to pacifists”: Study the Scriptures and history, and be awakened from a fool’s dream of unrealities. To those “conscientiously objecting” to bearing arms, we say: Study God’s Word here in Romans 13. The magistrates, the rulers, are ministers of God, bearing not the sword in vain.” Pacifist principles are doomed to defeat, for they are anti-Scriptural. You ask me, Would you fight? If called to military service by my government, I should answer that my ministry is preaching God’s gospel of grace; but that I should gladly go to the battle front, and be placed in any position of danger, and should minister the gospel even to an active enemy, or to a prisoner from the enemy’s ranks, with the same earnestness which I should hope to show toward men of my own country. On the other hand, I should abhor even the thought of divulging my country’s secrets to my country’s enemy. This would be rebuked by God Himself, who established nations, and gave them the duty of protecting their citizens and their borders. Strange dupes are American “pacifists” and “internationalists!” Christians who desire to know the conditions of the age, and how rapidly “The iniquity of the end” is rushing toward us should read pages 68 to 140 of A. C. Gaebelein’s Conflict of the Ages. While we are not to be perplexed by the terrible things happening in the world: for the Lord said, “When ye hear of wars and rumors of wars see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must needs come to pass.” Nevertheless, we should not be as the leaders of Israel — blind to the days in which they lived. All these new forms of power — Communism, Facism, Naziism; and also the subtle powers of evil working in America are preparing the way for the Antichrist. Several easily procurable books, such as Tainted Contacts by Col. E. N. Sanctuary; The Red Network, by Elizabeth Dilling; and Pastors, Politicians, and Pacifists, by L. F. Smith and E. B. Johns, expose the poison of this “deadly white snake,” pacifism; and should be in the possession of every believer. In parallel columns on pages 100 to 107, in Tainted Contacts, Communists, Socialists, Internationalists, and Pacifists, are shown to be bed-fellows of common aims. The “Federal Council of Churches,” (perhaps the most insidiously serpentine in its operations of any organization in America) is seen to be hand-in-glove with all these evil influences. Again we say, Read the Scriptures, and re-read them! They alone enlighten, reprove, correct, instruct.]

Verse 6

For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God, attending continually upon this very matter.

Here the apostle uses the word from which we get “liturgy” (leitourgoi (G3009)) in describing these “authorities.” God uses the same word in Hebrews 1:14 regarding the angels, calling them “ministering spirits”; and also concerning the “ministering” of the Old Testament priests (Hebrews 10:11). In these days of restlessness toward restraint, and flouting of authority, we need to meditate much on the fact that the constituted authorities are liturgists of God: not indeed at all in spiritual things, but none the less God’s own ministers in governmental things. It is on this account that those governed pay tribute; for these ministers of government must be supported.

Verse 7

Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Here “tribute” (taxes) comes first. How great the temptation to avoid rendering this that is due! Next, “custom”; “tribute” (pharos (G5411)) is generally a tax paid by subjects to a ruling nation (Luke 20:22); while custom (telos (G5056)) is a tax on us, or duty on our goods, by our own nation. Alas, how we loathe having the customs officers “go through” our effects!

But let us remember that even customs are “dues,” by God’s appointment. Fear to whom fear — ”Fear” does not here designate terror, but (which removes terror) a conscientious regard for and awe of men in whose hands God has placed governmental authority, — whether police, magistrates, judges, governors, presidents, or kings. [“This ideal of the apostle neither confounds church and state, nor places them in antagonism, but properly co-ordinates them in Christian ethics. Romanism subordinates state to church; Erastianism [as today Fascism and Communism — W. R. N.], subordinates the church to the state, usually confounding them; Puritanism also confounded them, but with more of an acknowledged theocratic principle — Schaff and Riddle. We may add that the Reformation did not fully escape, in this respect, from Romanism and Judaism. Calvin established a theocratic state at Geneva, holding fast to civil powers in religious things, which led to the burning of Servetus! While Zwingli, in Switzerland, took the sword, and perished by it. We may further add that in our own day the perpetual meddling with governmental affairs carried on at various government centres by the church lobbies (I write in America) reveals that ignorance of the Church’s heavenly calling, and that vain hope to “mend” this present world, which so darkens the counsels of government itself, and increases daily that deep-seated resentment by the powers that be against those who claim spiritual directive authority over government. The upshot has always been and will always be disastrous; for the State finally rises up and wades to independence of “religious” interference through rivers of blood!]

Honor to whom honor — Honor is our attitude of reverence for the persons of those who have authority over us; as also toward those who stand in any place of earthly dignity. As Peter says so beautifully, “Honor all men [for they are made in the image of God]. Love the brotherhood [of saints]. Fear God [with whom you have constantly to do]. Honor the king” [whom you may never see, but whom you hold in due regard in your heart] (1 Peter 2:17). Not only law-officers, but those men to whom God has committed wealth, or outstanding ability; or who have risen honorably among their fellows, should receive the honor due them. Let Christians be first to give “honor to whom honor is due.” Leave to the base the despising of others!

Verses 8-10

8 To none owe anything, except to love one another: for he that loveth the other hath fulfilled law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to one’s neighbor: love therefore is law’s fulness.

To none owe anything, except to love one another — The word "owe" here is the verb of the noun "dues" in verse seven. The connection is direct: when you pay up all your dues, whether private debts or public, and have only this constant obligation before you, — to love one another, "Love must still remain the root and spring of all your actions; no other law is needed besides. Pay all other debts; be indebted in the matter of love alone." So Paul continues: For he that loveth the other hath fulfilled law. Notice carefully that it is love, and not law-doing which is the fulness (Greek, pleroma (G4138)) of law! The one who loves has (without being under it) exhibited what the Law sought! For the law said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and lo, love has, from another principle, even love and grace, zealously wrought no ill to others. Love, therefore, is shown to be the fulness (not, "the fulfilling") of the law. It is only those not under law that are free to love others. Love, and not righteousness, is the active principle of Christianity. And lo, one loving, has wrought righteousness! Thus, only those not under law show its fulness. Of course, the believer is in a "new creation," and is to walk by that infinitely higher "rule of life" (Galatians 6:15-16), and not by the Law. Nevertheless, in loving he has fulfilled the lower law!

Verse 11

11 And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer to us than when we [first] believed. 12 The night is far spent, and the day is at hand! Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chamberings and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, — do not make provision to fulfil its lusts!

And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer to us than when we [first] believed.

The hope of the imminency of our Lord’s coming, with the consummation of salvation in bodily redemption and glorification, is constantly used by the apostles in exhorting believers to a holy walk in love. This present verse sets before us the awful tendency to sink down (as did the ten virgins!) into slumber and sleep, — into a state of spiritual torpor in which no Christian duties are effectively done. Believers are to "know the season." Our Lord sternly arraigned the Jews of His day for their ignorance concerning "the time"; "When ye see a cloud rising in the West, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time? And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?"

There their Messiah was, in their midst, and they knew Him not! Why? Because they did not apply themselves to know the time they were in, although they could have known it, both from the prophetic Word which was being fulfilled before their eyes in Christ; and also "of their own selves," if they had set themselves to judge truly of the moral conditions about them and the necessities of action involved therein. If the Jews even then were called by our Lord "hypocrites," for applying their God-given discernment to the signs of the weather, and neglecting to apply it to spiritual things, and so going on blindly to judgment; how much more this should arouse us who have so much greater light and knowledge, in view of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and the certainty of our Lord’s coming, and our uncertainty as to the day and hour!

Verse 12

The night is far spent, and the day is at hand! Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us Put on the armor of light.

As long as our Lord was on earth, He was the light of the world (John 9:5). Since He is gone, it is spiritual night. But He now says, "Ye [believers] are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16). Of course, it was night for the human race from the moment Adam sinned; and deeper night, as sin increased.

Our Lord’s coming brought a brief day — a "day of visitation," and of actual blessing, if they received Him. His return to earth is spoken of as "the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in His wings," when it will again be day! It is good to know, in our wrestling with "the principalities and powers, the world-rulers of this darkness," that the night is far spent, the day is at hand. The word translated at hand is from the verb to "draw nigh," as in Matthew 21:1. Paul uses it in Hebrews 10:25: "So much the more as ye see the day approaching": and it is the same word in 1 Peter 4:7: "The end of all things is at hand" (drawing nigh). No matter what others say about the second coming of Christ, the apostles and the early Church lived in the expectation of it! Read Dean Alford’s excellent comment below: remembering that as an expositor of Scripture he is rightly held in the very highest regard with respect to scholarship, sanity, and honesty, as well as devotedness to God. ["A fair exegesis of this passage can hardly fail to recognize the fact that the Apostle here as well as elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51), speaks of the coming of the Lord as rapidly approaching. Prof. Stuart, (Comm. p. 521), is shocked at the idea, as being inconsistent with the inspiration of his writings. How this can be, I am at a loss to imagine. "OF THAT DAY AND HOUR KNOWETH NO MAN, NO NOT THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN, NOR THE SON: BUT THE FATHER ONLY" (Mark 13:32). And to reason, as Stuart does, that because Paul corrects in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, the mistake of imagining it to be actually come, he did not himself expect it soon, is surely quite beside the purpose. The fact that the nearness or distance of that day was unknown to the Apostles, in no way affects the prophetic announcements of God’s Spirit by them, concerning its preceding and accompanying circumstances. The day and hour’ formed no part of their inspiration: — the details of the event, did. And this distinction has singularly and providentially turned out to the edification of all subsequent ages. While the prophetic declarations of the events of that time remain to instruct us, the eager expectation of the time, which they expressed in their day, has also remained, a token of the true frame of mind in which each succeeding age (a fortiori) should contemplate the ever-approaching coming of the Lord. On the certainty of the event, our faith is grounded: by the uncertainty of the time our hope is stimulated, and our watchfulness aroused."]

Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness — In Ephesians Five, after speaking of the "sons of disobedience," Paul says: Be not ye therefore partakers with them; for ye once were darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light. Now Paul had said the saints had put off the old man (when they were put into Christ). Now they are to put away, or cast off as not of their new life, all evil things. See Colossians 3:8-9;Hebrews 12:1, — for it is the same Greek word as the one there rendered "lay aside." The "works of darkness" are to be "put away," "cast off." And since "our old man was crucified with Christ," we see we can put them away! Let us put on the armor of light. This is a marvelous exhortation! Modern warfare has contemplated throwing upon the enemy mighty electric lights of such overwhelming brilliancy as to completely dazzle them. We all know how approaching automobile lights often blind us. In the remarkable passage of Luke 11:33-36, our Lord says: "If therefore thy whole body be full of light, having no part dark, it shall be wholly full of light, as when the lamp with its bright shining shall give thee light." This is the redeemed one whom Satan hates and fears, — one filled with light, armored with light. A blaze of light is harder to approach than swords or bullets. Our Christian armor, piece by piece, is described in Ephesians 6:11-18. But here it is more our "walking in the light, as God is in the light," that is in view. Since we are "light in the Lord," let us so walk and war!

Verse 13

As those in the day, let us be walking becomingly — Men choose the night for their revels; but our night is past, for we are all "children of the light and of the day" (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Let us therefore do only what is fit for the light and for the day. We belong to that "day" which our Lord’s coming will usher in, — and that shortly! Therefore, let us walk as those already in the daylight of that day! Not in riotings and drunkennesses — Nocturnal revels such as characterized the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, and the myriad drunkennesses of modern "night parties," are in view here. How needful the warning to keep clear of these things in this hour when the time of "the iniquity of the end" (Ezekiel 21:25; Ezekiel 21:29) is drawing nigh! Young people, rushing on to damnation, with "dates" beginning at 10 or 11 or even midnight, and ending perhaps at dawn, know well what "revellings and drunkennesses" are. Let the saints in horror shun them!

And the next things of the text follow these, as they have always followed them: Not in chamberings and wantonness — The word translated "chamberings" occurs three other times: Luke 11:7, Romans 9:10, Hebrews 13:4. Its being in the plural number here, and associated with the word generally rendered "lasciviousness," suggests its horrid meaning. Schaff and Riddle well say: "Various forms of secret vice are here indicated by the plural. These sins are closely connected with the preceding (revellings and drunkennesses), often caused by them. The word translated wantonness’ points to an abandoned sensuality." David said: "The floods of ungodliness (Heb. Belial (H1100)) made me afraid" (Psalms 18:4). So earth’s steadily increasing tide of Noah’s-day wickedness would terrify us, did we not know that the Lord is coming, to deliver His saints and to judge this very wickedness!

Not in strife and jealousy — Brawls, troubles, "wounds without cause"; hatreds and jealousies, follow this train of self-indulgent sins. "Strife and jealousy," here, may also particularly indicate those strifes, envyings, and jealousies which so frequently remain not put away among believers: "Wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven [that is, revellings and vices of the world of the wicked], neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness," (1 Corinthians 5:8) — which, alas, Paul has to warn against over and over among Christians: "Whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3). "Put away anger, wrath, malice, railing" (Colossians 3:8).

Verse 14

But on the contrary, put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and for the flesh, — do not make provisions, to fulfil its lusts.

The full title of our Lord Jesus Christ awakes, almost startles us, here: Jesus is His personal name (Matthew 1:21); as Christ, the anointed One, He does His saving work; as Lord, He is over all things. The full title was announced by Peter at Pentecost: "God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified." All true believers have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27) for He is their life; and the Corinthians were told that — Jesus Christ was in them (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is striking that the first use of our Lord’s full title is by Peter in Acts 11:17, in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the upper room: "The gift God gave unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ." They had before believed on Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God: but evidently when He had ascended into glory, God led them to a surrendering of earthly hopes, and an appropriating of their Lord, in His now exalted and glorified character, as the Lord Jesus Christ, in a phase of faith never known before. It is this Christ Paul commands us to put on — the Lord Jesus Christ! Not as our righteousness are we to "put Him on": for He is Himself the righteousness of all believers. But it is as to our walk and warfare that we put Him on. We are to be panoplied with Christ!

There is an instructive passage in Colossians Three, giving light on this command to "put on." In verse 3 there, the Holy Spirit says through Paul, "Ye died." (It is an aorist tense, asserting a fact.) The believer now shares Christ’s risen life, and is told (as we have repeatedly seen) that he is "alive from the dead," a new creation. In the ninth verse of the same chapter, we have the words, "Ye have put off the old man"; and in verse 10, "Ye have put on the new man"! Then, in verses 5 and 8, "put to death," "put away," your "members which are in the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion; anger, wrath, malice," and all such things. It is in and by the fact that we died with Christ that we have "put off the old man": as is said in Colossians 2:11, also, concerning our participation in "the circumcision of Christ" [The circumcision with hands, of our Lord, when He was a babe eight days old (Luke 2:21), is here distinguished from His death, as cut off from natural life, — a "circumcision made without hands," and in which we have such part that we are now called "the circumcision" (Philippians 3:3). Jewish circumcision was a striking token of that death to the flesh which was executed at the cross.] (His cutting off in death), we put off "the body of the flesh."

Then, (and not until our realization by faith of this federal death with Christ), are we ready in confidence to "put away" all those things that belong to our former manner of life, the old things) and to "put on, as God’s elect, holy and beloved (of Him.), a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness" (Colossians 3:12, ff).

"Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ" is, therefore, our path, not only prescribed, but gloriously attainable. For we are in Him! and that federal "new man which hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:24) belongs now to us. Even as "the old man" belonged by natural birth to us in the First Adam, so does the "new man" belong to us who are in Christ, the Last Adam!

Make not provision for the flesh — The word "provision" here is literally "forethought." It denotes the attitude of mind we used to have toward the flesh, as secretly expecting to gratify it, if not immediately, yet at some time. It is the opposite of the spirit of Galatians 5:24; it is Saul sparing Agag.

To fulfil its desires — The flesh has endless lusts and desires, — all clamoring for indulgence. Besides the lower lusts, and our natural self-sparing slothfulness, there are all the forms of self-pleasing: self-esteem, "sensitiveness," love of praise, man-fearing, fleshly amiability, flattery of others for selfish ends, pride, "dignity," impatience of non-recognition by others, sheer empty conceit, and a thousand other "desires of the flesh," for which no provision is to be made. Often we can, if we will, see beforehand and shun circumstances that would give the flesh an advantage to indulge itself. But it is only by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ as the positive attitude of the soul, that we shall find ourselves able and willing to refuse any provision for the flesh. [Bishop Moule beautifully says: "Put on, clothe, and arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, the living Sum and true Meaning of all that can arm the soul. It is by living our life in the flesh by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20), that is, to say, in effect, by personally making use of the crucified and living Savior, Lord, Deliverer, our Peace and Power, amidst all the dark hosts of evil can do against us. Full in the face of the realities of sin — of Roman sin, in Nero’s day — St. Paul has written down across them all, this spell, this Name: Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Take first a steady look, he seems to say, at your sore need, in the light of God; but then at once look off, look here. Take your iniquities at the worst; this can subdue them. Take your surroundings at the worst, — this can emancipate you from their power. It is the Lord Jesus Christ’ and the putting on’ of Him. We can put Him on’ as Lord, surrendering ourselves to His absolute, while most benignant, sovereignty and will, — deep secret of repose. We can put Him on as Jesus,’ clasping the truth that He, our human Brother, yet Divine, saves His people from their sins. We can put Him on as Christ’ our Head, anointed without measure by the eternal Spirit, and still sending of that same Spirit into His happy members, — so that we are indeed one with Him and receive into our whole being the resources of His life."]


1. God for His own reasons forbade any human hand to execute Cain, the first murderer. Iniquity increased, and God brought the Deluge.

2. After the Deluge, God announced a complete change of earth’s governmental affairs. In the words of Genesis 9:5-6, "Surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man." God here puts the sword of the magistrate into man’s hand as not before. Furthermore, the "everlasting covenant" with Noah, of which the above quoted words were a part, God said would last "while the earth remaineth" (Genesis 8:20-22; Genesis 9:1-7).

3. Under the Law of Moses, 1000 years later, God reaffirmed the governmental duty of punishing murderers with death: "Ye shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer that is guilty of death. For blood, it polluteth the land, and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it" (Numbers 35:31; Numbers 35:33).

4. Note that in the above quotation, the crime of murder is said by God so to pollute the land, that there can be "no expiation made for a land" for this crime, save by the execution of the murderer.

5. It is said that upwards of 200,000 known man-killers are alive in America. "To realize," said Judge Kavanagh of Chicago, "the prevalency of this invisible class (murderers at large in the United States), it is only necessary to consider that they are more than we have of clergymen of all denominations, or male teachers in our schools; or all lawyers, judges, and magistrates, put together; and three times the number of our editors, reporters, and writers; and 52,000 more unconfined killers than we have policemen." Only by the stern carrying out of the command of God regarding the murderer, can this crime be checked.

(In England, where more than 90% of murderers are executed after a fair but speedy trial, even the police do not carry revolvers except by special license!)

6. To claim that it is "not Christian" to execute murderers, is to deny directly Paul’s plain word here in Romans Thirteen, that the magistrate "beareth not the sword in vain," being "a minister of wrath to him that doeth evil," and one of whom evil-doers are commanded to be afraid.

7. It is therefore an appalling disservice to home, state, and nation, to call that murder which God has commanded to be done — the execution of shedders of human blood. It is a libel on Christianity to claim that the current anti-capital-punishment cry is Christian. It is not Christian, but rebellion against God. "We suffer," said the penitent thief to his impenitent companion on the cross, "the due reward of our deeds!" That penitent thief said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me"; and our Lord’s answer, "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise," shows anew the great truth that government in this world, and salvation in the next, are two absolutely distinct things. Only the ignorant confound them.

Bibliographical Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Romans 13". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wnc/romans-13.html. 1938.
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