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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Romans 13

 

 

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Verse 1

Romans 13:1. From exhorting the believers at Rome to a life of entire devotedness to God, and the various duties of brotherly kindness, the apostle now proceeds to inculcate upon them that subjection and obedience which they owed to their civil rulers, and those duties of justice and benevolence which were due from them to all men. And as Rome was the seat of the empire, it was highly proper for the credit of Christianity, for which indeed it was, in effect, a public apology for him to do this when writing to inhabitants of that city, whether they were originally Jews or Gentiles. Let every soul — Every person, of whatever state, calling, or degree he may be, however endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, whatever office he may sustain, or in what esteem soever he may be held in the church of Christ; (for that these things were apt to make some Christians overvalue themselves, is obvious from what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, first epistle, chap. 12.; and to the Romans, in the preceding chapter of this epistle;) be subject to the higher powers εξουσιαις υπερεχουσαις, the superior or ruling powers; meaning the governing civil authorities which the Divine Providence had established in the places where they lived: an admonition this peculiarly needful for the Jews. For as God had chosen them for his peculiar people, “and, being their king, had dictated to them a system of laws, and had governed them anciently in person, and afterward by princes of his own nomination, many of them reckoned it impiety to submit to heathen laws and rulers. In the same light they viewed the paying of taxes for the support of heathen governments, Matthew 22:17. In short, the zealots of that nation laid it down as a principle, that they would obey God alone as their king and governor, in opposition to Cesar and all kings whatever, who were not of their religion, and who did not govern them by the laws of Moses.” And it is probable, as Locke and Macknight further observe, that some of the Jews who embraced the gospel, did not immediately lay aside this turbulent disposition, and that even of the believing Gentiles there were a few, who, on pretence that they had a sufficient rule of conduct in the spiritual gifts with which they were endowed, thought that they were under no obligation to obey ordinances imposed by idolaters, nor to pay taxes for the support of idolatrous governments. That some Christians were involved in this error, or at least were in danger of being involved in it, appears also from the caution which Peter gives the believers to whom he wrote, (first epistle, chap. 2.,) not to use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness or misbehaviour. Now, as these principles and practices, if they should prevail, must, of necessity, cause the gospel to be evil spoken of, the apostle judged it necessary, in this letter to the Romans, to show that they had no countenance from the Christian doctrine, by inculcating the duties which subjects owe to magistrates, and by testifying that the disciples of Christ were not exempt from obedience to the wholesome laws, even of the heathen countries where they lived, nor from contributing to the support of the government by which they were protected, although it was administered by idolaters. For there is no power but of God — “There is no legal authority but may, in one sense or another, be said to be from God, the origin of all power. It is his will that there should be magistrates to guard the peace of societies; and the hand of his providence, in directing to the persons of particular governors, ought to be seriously considered and revered.” The powers that be — The authorities that exist, under one form or another; are ordained of God — “Are, in their different places, ranged, disposed, and established by God, the original and universal governor.” So Dr. Doddridge renders the word τεταγμεναι, here used, thinking the English word ordained rather too strong. Compare Acts 13:48. “Divine Providence,” says he, “ranges, and in fact establishes the various governments of the world; they are, therefore, under the character of governments, in the general, to be revered: but this cannot make what is wrong and pernicious, in any particular forms, sacred, divine, and immutable, any more than the hand of God in a famine or pestilence is an argument against seeking proper means to remove it.” But the expression, υπο θεου τεταγμεναι εισιν, might be rendered, are subordinate to, or orderly disposed under God; implying that they are God’s deputies, or vicegerents, and consequently their authority, being in effect his, demands our conscientious obedience. “In other passages,” says Macknight, “ εξουσιαι, powers, by a common figure, signifies persons possessed of power or authority. But here, αι εξουσιαι υπερεχουσαι, the higher powers, being distinguished from οι αρχοντες, the rulers, Romans 13:3, must signify, not the persons who possess the supreme authority, but the supreme authority itself, whereby the state is governed, whether that authority be vested in the people or in the nobles, or in a single person, or be shared among these three orders: in short, the higher powers denote that form of government which is established in any country, whatever it may be. This remark deserves attention, because the apostle’s reasoning, while it holds good concerning the form of government established in a country, is not true concerning the persons who possess the supreme power, that there is no power but from God; and that he who resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For, if the person who possesses the supreme power in any state, exercises it in destroying the fundamental laws, and to the ruin of the people, such a ruler is not from God, is not authorized by him, and ought to be resisted.” The declaration, there is no power but of God, he thinks, “was written to correct the pride of the Jews, who valued themselves exceedingly because they had received a form of government from God. The government of every state, whether it be monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, or mixed, is as really of divine appointment as the government of the Jews was, though none but the Jewish form was of divine legislation. For God having designed mankind to live in society, he has, by the frame of their nature, and by the reason of things, authorized government to be exercised in every country. At the same time, having appointed no particular form to any nation but to the Jews, nor named any particular person or family to exercise the power of government, he has left it to the people to choose what form is most agreeable to themselves, and to commit the exercise of the supreme power to what persons they think fit. And therefore, whatever form of government hath been chosen, or is established in any country, hath the divine sanction; and the persons who by choice, or even by the peaceable submission of the governed, have the reins of government in their hands, are the lawful sovereigns of that country, and have all the rights and prerogatives belonging to the sovereignty vested in their persons.” The sum appears to be, the office of civil government is instituted by him, and the persons who exercise it are invested therewith by the appointment or permission of his providence.


Verse 2

Romans 13:2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power — Or the authority, of which the magistrate is possessed; resisteth the ordinance of God — God’s appointment for the preservation of order and of the public peace. And they that resist — Who withstand so wise and beneficial an institution; shall receive to themselves damnation — Or condemnation and punishment, not only from the civil powers they injure, but from the supreme sovereign, whose laws they break, and whose order they endeavour to reverse. “As the precept in the foregoing verse, and the declarations in this, are general, they must be interpreted according to the nature of the subjects to which they are applied. Wherefore, since the power of which the apostle speaks in both verses is the form of government, and not the rulers of the country, the subjection enjoined in the first verse is not an unlimited passive obedience to rulers in things sinful, but an obedience to the wholesome laws, enacted for the good of the community by common consent, or by those who, according to the constitution of the state, have the power of enacting laws. To these good laws the people are to give obedience, without examining by what title the magistrates, who execute these laws, hold their power; and even without considering whether the religion professed by the magistrates be true or false. For the same reason the opposition to, and resistance of the power, forbidden in Romans 13:2, is an opposition to, and resistance of the established government, by disobeying the wholesome laws of the state; or by attempting to overturn the government from a factious disposition, or from ill-will to the persons in power, or from an ambitious desire to possess the government ourselves. These precepts, therefore, do not enjoin obedience to the magistrates in things sinful, but in things not sinful; and more especially in things morally good, and which tend to the welfare of the state; besides, as in the following verses, the apostle hath shown, from the nature and end of their office, that the duty of rulers is to promote the happiness of the people, it is plain from the apostle himself, that they who refuse to do things sinful, or even things inconsistent with the fundamental laws of the state, do not resist the ordinance of God, although these things should be commanded by a lawful magistrate, because in commanding them he exceeds his power. And opposition to a ruler who endeavours utterly to subvert the constitution, or to enslave a free people, is warranted not only by right reason, but by the gospel, which teaches that rulers are the servants of God for good to the people, and are supported by God only in the just execution of their office.”


Verses 3-5

Romans 13:3-5. For rulers — In general, notwithstanding some particular exceptions; are not a terror to good works — Were not ordained, and do not use to punish those that do well, and conform to good laws; but to the evil — From which they deter people by punishing those who do them. Wilt thou — Wouldest thou then; not be afraid of the power — Of the high authority with which they are invested? Do that which is good — Carefully perform the good actions which they enjoin, and, according to the general course of administration, thou shalt have — Not only protection, but praise and respect from it. There is one fear that precedes evil actions, and deters from them: this should always remain. There is another which follows evil actions: they who do well are free from this. For he is — According to the original appointment, to be considered as elevated above his fellow-men, not for his own indulgence, dominion, and advantage, but that he might be to thee, and to all the rest of his subjects, as the minister of God for good — By maintaining all in their just possessions, and protecting them from all injury and violence. But if thou do that which is evil — And so makest thyself the enemy of that society of which he is the guardian; be afraid — Thou hast reason to be so. For he beareth not the sword in vain — Namely, the sword of justice, the instrument of capital punishment, which God hath put into his hands, and hath authorized him to use against malefactors. A revenger to execute wrath — Not his own personal resentment, but the wrath of a righteous Providence; upon him that doeth evil — In instances wherein it would be highly improper to leave that avenging power in the hands of private injured persons. Therefore a sense of duty to God, as well as prudence and human virtue, will teach you, that you must needs be subject, not only for fear of wrath — That is, punishment from man; but for conscience’ sake — Out of obedience to God. It must be well observed, that “the apostle did not mean that they were to be subject to the sinful laws of the countries where they lived, otherwise he made it necessary for the Roman brethren to join in the worship of idols, contrary to the superior obligation they were under of obeying God rather than man. Besides, by telling them they were to be subject on account of conscience, he intimated that the subjection which he enjoined did not extend to things sinful.”


Verse 6

Romans 13:6. For this cause pay ye tribute also — Not only in token of the duty and subjection you owe them, but because they are the ministers (officers) of God — For the public good; attending continually on this very thing — Giving the whole of their time, care, and labour to it. “The phrase, λειτουργοι θεου, rendered ministers of God, signifies ministers appointed by God in behalf of the people. The thing to which the magistrates attend, or ought to attend continually, is the good of the people; which they should promote by restraining evil-doers, distributing justice, and repelling the attacks of foreign enemies. Now these things they cannot do, unless taxes are paid to them.”


Verse 7

Romans 13:7. Render, therefore, to all — Magistrates, whether supreme or subordinate; their dues — What by law, or by the appointment of God, belongs to them, even though you may have opportunities of defrauding them of it, to your own immediate and temporal advantage. In this precept the apostle follows the Lord Jesus, who ordered the Jews to render to Cesar the things which were Cesar’s, though Cesar was neither of the Jewish nation, nor of their religion. Tribute — Taxes on your persons or estates; custom — For goods exported or imported. “By using the general expression, to whom tribute is due, the apostle leaves it to the laws and constitution of every state, and to the people in these states, to determine who are their lawful magistrates, and what the tributes and customs are which are due to their governors; but by no means allows individuals to determine these points, because that would open the door to rebellion.” — Macknight. Fear — Obedience; honour — Reverence: all these are due to the higher powers.


Verses 8-10

Romans 13:8-10. Here, from our duty to magistrates, he passes on to general duties. Owe no man any thing — Endeavour to manage your affairs with that economy and prudent attention that you may, as soon as possible, balance accounts with all who have any demands upon you, except it be with respect to that debt, which, while you pay, you will nevertheless still owe, namely, to love one another; an eternal debt, which can never be sufficiently discharged. But yet, if this be rightly performed, it, in a sense, discharges all the rest. For he that loveth another — As he ought; hath fulfilled the law — Of the second table. The word ετερον, another, here used, is a more general word than πλησιον, neighbour, in the next verse, and comprehends our very enemies; according to the sublime morality enjoined by Christ. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, &c. — All these precepts, prohibiting sins frequently committed, comprehend also the contrary duties, due to our fellow-creatures; and if there be any other more particular commandment — Respecting them, as there are many in the law; it is briefly comprehended — ανακεφαλαιουται, it is summed up in this saying — In this one general and most excellent precept, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself — Thou shalt learn to put thyself, as it were, in his place, and to act toward him as, in a supposed change of circumstances, thou wouldest reasonably desire him to act toward thee. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour — Nay, wherever that noble principle governs the heart, it will put men upon doing all they can for the good of others. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law — For the same love which restrains a man from doing evil to any, will incite him, as he has ability and opportunity, to do good to all.


Verse 11-12

Romans 13:11-12. And that — That is, do this to which I exhort you; fulfil the law of love in all the instances above mentioned; knowing the time — Greek, τον καιρον, the season, that it is the morning of the day of the gospel, a season of increasing light and grace, but hasting away: that now it is high time to awake out of sleep — Out of that sleep into which you had fallen during the darkness of heathenism, or before your illumination by divine truth and grace; that state of insensibility of, and unconcern about, things spiritual and eternal in general, and your own salvation in particular; to awake to a sense of the infinite importance of the truths and duties revealed to you in the gospel, and of the near approach of death and judgment, which will put a period to your state of trial, and fix you in a state of final and eternal retribution. It is therefore high time that you should labour, to the utmost of your power, to improve every opportunity of receiving and doing good, and of prosecuting the great business of life) which is to secure the favour of God, a conformity to his image, and your own everlasting happiness. For now is our final salvation — Our eternal glory; nearer than when we at first believed — It is continually advancing, flying forward upon the swiftest wings of time, and that which remains between the present hour and eternity is, comparatively speaking, but a moment. The night is far spent — The night of heathenish ignorance and error; the day — Of gospel light and grace; is at hand — Greek, ηγγικεν, hath approached, hath dawned: the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to us who sat in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. The night, also, of the present life is far spent, during which we often confound truth and error, duty and sin, and the day of eternity is at hand, is drawing near, even that day which will show every thing in its proper colours and forms. Let us therefore cast off the works, only suitable to, or excusable in, a state of darkness — That is, let us abandon all manner of wickedness which is wont to be practised in the night, or in a state of ignorance, error, and folly; and let us put on the armour of light — For, being soldiers, it is our duty to arm and prepare for fight, inasmuch as we are encompassed about with so many enemies. In other words, let us be clothed with all Christian graces, which, like burnished and beautiful armour, will be at once an ornament and a defence to us, and which will reflect the bright beams that are so gloriously rising upon us.


Verse 13

Romans 13:13. Let us walk honestly — Greek, ευσχημονως, decently, or in a manner becoming those to whom the glorious light of the gospel has appeared: as in the day — Namely, of gospel light, already shining about us, which requires that we conduct ourselves with great wisdom, and exemplary holiness; not in rioting — Greek, κωμοις, a word derived from Comos, the god of feasting and revelling; that is, feasting with lascivious songs, accompanied with music. “These revellings among the heathen were performed in honour of Bacchus, the god of wine, who, on that account, was named κωμαστης, Comastes, and were acted in the night-time, for the most part without arms. However, the actors in these revellings were sometimes armed, and insulted those whom they happened to meet. The youth among the heathen, especially in cities, when they were enamoured, used, after they had got themselves drunk, to run about the streets by night, having crowns made of the branches and leaves of trees upon their heads, and torches in their hands, with musical instruments of various kinds, upon which some of them played soft airs, while others accompanied them with their voice, and danced in the most lascivious manner. These indecencies they acted commonly before the house in which their mistress lived, then knocked at the door, and sometimes brake in. Hence, in the book of Wisdom, they are called, chap. Romans 14:23, εμμανεις κωμους, mad revellings.” From all this it appears with what propriety the apostle joins μεθαι, drunkenness, and the other vices here mentioned, together, and opposes τα οπλα του φωτος, the instruments, or weapons of light, to these nocturnal dresses and revellings. See Macknight. Not in chambering — In fornication, adultery, and fleshly lusts. The original expression, κοιταις, is interpreted by Leigh, of lying long in bed. “I will not defend that sense of the word,” says Dr. Doddridge; “but I will here record the observation which I have found of great use to myself, and to which, I may say, that the production of this work, and most of my other writings, is owing; namely, that the difference between rising at five and at seven o’clock in the morning, for the space of forty years, supposing a man to go to bed at the same hour of the night, is nearly equivalent to the addition of ten years to a man’s life; of which, (supposing the two hours in question to be so spent,) eight hours every day should be employed in study and devotion.” And wantonness ασελγειαις, lasciviousness, any kind of uncleanness, or lewd practices. In vices, alas! such as those here censured by the apostle, many, even professing Christians, are wasting and polluting the hours which nature has destined to necessary repose. Not in strife and envying — In contention about riches, or honours, or opinions; or envying the prosperity of others.


Verse 14

Romans 13:14. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ — A strong and beautiful expression for the most intimate union with him, and the being clothed with all the graces which were in him; including the receiving, in faith and love, every part of his doctrine; obeying his precepts, imitating his example, and adorning ourselves therewith as with a splendid robe, not to be put off; because it is the garb intended for that eternal day, which is never to be followed by night. The apostle does not say, “Put on purity and sobriety, peacefulness and benevolence;” but he says all this, and a thousand times more, at once, in saying, Put on Christ. And make not provision for the flesh — To raise foolish and sinful desires in your hearts, or, when they are raised already, to devise means to gratify them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 13:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/romans-13.html. 1857.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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