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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Romans 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-10

Chapter 27

CHRISTIAN DUTY IN CIVIL LIFE AND OTHERWISE:

Romans 13:1-10

A NEW topic now emerges, distinct, yet in close and natural connection. We have been listening to precepts for personal and social life, all rooted in that inmost characteristic of Christian morals, self-surrender, self-submission to God. Loyalty to others in the Lord has been the theme. In the circles of home, of friendship, of the Church; in the open field of intercourse with men in general, whose personal enmity or religious persecution was so likely to cross the path-in all these regions the Christian was to act on the principle of supernatural submission, as the sure way to spiritual victory.

The same principle is now carried into his relations with the State. As a Christian, he does not cease to be a citizen, to be a subject. His deliverance from the death sentence of the Law of God only binds him, in his Lord’s name, to a loyal fidelity to human statute; limited only by the case where such statute may really contradict the supreme divine law. The disciple of Christ, as such, while his whole being has received an emancipation unknown elsewhere, is to be the faithful subject of the Emperor, the orderly inhabitant of his quarter in the City, the punctual taxpayer, the ready giver of not a servile yet a genuine deference to the representatives and ministers of human authority.

This is he to do for reasons both general and special. In general, it is his Christian duty rather to submit than otherwise, where conscience toward God is not in the question. Not weakly, but meekly, he is to yield rather than resist in all his intercourse purely personal, with men; and therefore with the officials of order, as men. But in particular also, he is to understand that civil order is not only a desirable thing, but divine; it is the will of God for the social Race made in His Image. In the abstract, this is absolutely so; civil order is a God-given law, as truly as the most explicit precepts of the Decalogue, in whose Second Table it is so plainly implied all along. And in the concrete, the civil order under which the Christian finds himself to be is to be regarded as a real instance of this great principle. It is quite sure to be imperfect, because it is necessarily mediated through human minds and wills. Very possibly it may be gravely distorted into a system seriously oppressive of the individual life. As a fact, the supreme magistrate for the Roman Christians in the year 58 was a dissolute young man, intoxicated by the discovery that he might do almost entirely as he pleased with the lives around him; by no defect, however, in the idea and purpose of Roman law, but by fault of the degenerate world of the day. Yet civil authority, even with a Nero at its head, was still in principle a thing divine. And the Christian’s attitude to it was to be always that of a willingness, a purpose, to obey; an absence of the resistance whose motive lies in self-assertion. Most assuredly his attitude was not to be that of the revolutionist, who looks upon the State as a sort of belligerent power, against which he, alone or in company, openly or in the dark, is free to carry on a campaign. Under even heavy pressure the Christian is still to remember that civil government is, in its principle, "of God." He is to reverence the Institution in its idea. He is to regard its actual officers, whatever their personal faults, as so far dignified by the Institution that their governing work is to be considered always first in the light of the Institution. The most imperfect, even the most erring, administration of civil order is still a thing to be respected before it is criticised. In its principle, it is a "terror not to good works, but to the evil."

It hardly needs elaborate remark to show that such a precept, little as it may accord with many popular political cries of our time, means anything in the Christian but a political servility, or an indifference on his part to political wrong in the actual course of government. The religion which invites every man to stand face to face with God in Christ. to go straight to the Eternal, knowing no intermediary but His Son, and no ultimate authority but His Scripture, for the certainties of the soul, for peace of conscience, for dominion over evil in himself and in the world, and for more than deliverance from the fear of death, is no friend to the tyrants of mankind. We have seen how, by enthroning Christ in the heart, it inculcates a noble inward submissiveness. But from another point of view it equally, and mightily, develops the noblest sort of individualism. It lifts man to a sublime independence of his surroundings, by joining him direct to God in Christ, by making him the Friend of God. No wonder then that, in the course of history, Christianity, that is to say the Christianity of the Apostles, of the Scriptures, has been the invincible ally of personal conscience and political liberty, the liberty which is the opposite alike of license and of tyranny. It is Christianity which has taught men calmly to die, in face of a persecuting Empire, or of whatever other giant human force, rather than do wrong at its bidding. It is Christianity which has lifted innumerable souls to stand upright in solitary protest for truth and against falsehood, when every form of governmental authority has been against them. It was the student of St. Paul who, alone before the great Diet, uttering no denunciation, temperate and respectful in his whole bearing, was yet found immovable by Pope and Emperor: "I can not otherwise: so help me God." We may be sure that if the world shuts the Bible it will only the sooner revert, under whatever type of government, to essential despotism, whether it be the despotism of the master, or that of the man. The "individual" indeed will "wither." The Autocrat will find no purely independent spirits in his path. And what then shall call itself, however loudly, "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality," will be found at last, where the Bible is unknown, to be the remorseless despot of the personality, and of the home.

It is Christianity which has peacefully and securely freed the slave, and has restored woman to her true place by the side of man. But then, Christianity has done all this in a way of its own. It has never flattered the oppressed, nor inflamed them. It has told impartial truth to them, and to their oppressors. One of the least hopeful phenomena of present political life is the adulation (it cannot be called by another name) too frequently offered to the working classes by their leaders, or by those who ask their suffrages. A flattery as gross as any ever accepted by complacent monarchs is almost all that is now heard about themselves by the new master section of the State. This is not Christianity, but its parody. The Gospel tells uncompromising truth to the rich, but also to the poor. Even in the presence of pagan slavery it laid the law of duty on the slave, as well as on his master. It. bade the slave consider his obligations rather than his rights; while it said the same, precisely, and more at length, and more urgently, to his lord. So it at once avoided revolution and sowed the living seed of immense, and salutary, and ever-developing reforms. The doctrine of spiritual equality, and spiritual connection, secured in Christ, came into the world as the guarantee for the whole social and political system of the truest ultimate political liberty. For it equally chastened and developed the individual, in relation to the life around him.

Serious questions for practical casuistry may be raised, of course, from this passage. Is resistance to a cruel despotism never permissible to the Christian? In a time of revolution, when power wrestles with power, which power is the Christian to regard as "ordained of God"? It may be sufficient to reply to the former question that, almost self-evidently, the absolute principles of a passage like this take for granted some balance and modification by concurrent principles. Read without any such reserve, St. Paul leaves here no alternative, under any circumstances, to submission. But he certainly did not mean to say that the Christian must submit to an imperial order to sacrifice to the Roman gods. It seems to follow that the letter of the precept does not pronounce it inconceivable that a Christian, under circumstances which leave his action unselfish, truthful, the issue not of impatience, but of conviction, might be justified in positive resistance; such resistance as was offered to oppression by the Huguenots of the Cevennes, and by the Alpine Vaudois before them. But history adds its witness to the warnings of St. Paul, and of his Master, that almost inevitably it goes ill in the highest respects with saints who "take the sword," and that the purest victories for freedom are won by those who "endure grief, suffering wrongfully," while they witness for right and Christ before their oppressors. The Protestant pastors of Southern France won a nobler victory than any won by Jean Cavalier in the field of battle when, at the risk of their lives, they met in the woods to draw up a solemn document of loyalty to Louis XV informing him that their injunction to their flocks always was, and always would be, "Fear God, honour the King."

Meanwhile Godet, in some admirable notes on this passage, remarks that it leaves the Christian not only not bound to aid an oppressive government by active cooperation, but amply free to witness aloud against its wrong; and that his "submissive but firm conduct is itself a homage to the inviolability of authority. Experience proves that it is in this way all tyrannies have been morally broken, and all true progress in the history of humanity effected."

What the servant of God should do with his allegiance at a revolutionary crisis is a grave question for any whom it may unhappily concern. Thomas Scott, in a useful note on our passage, remarks, that perhaps nothing involves greater difficulties, in very many instances, than to ascertain to whom the authority justly belongs Submission in all things lawful to the existing authorities’ is our duty at all times and in all cases; though in civil convulsions there may frequently be a difficulty in determining which are "the existing authorities." In such cases "the Christian," says Godet, "will submit to the new power as soon as the resistance of the old shall have ceased. In the actual state of matters he will recognise the manifestation of God’s will, and will take no part in any reactionary plot."

As regards the problem of forms or types of government, it seems clear that the Apostle lays no bond of conscience on the Christian. Both in the Old Testament and in the New a just monarchy appears to be the ideal. But our Epistle says that "there is no power but of God." In St. Paul’s time the Roman Empire was in theory, as much as ever, a republic, and in fact a personal monarchy. In this question, as in so many others of the outward framework of human life, the Gospel is liberal in its applications, while it is, in the noblest sense, conservative in principle.

We close our preparatory comments, and proceed to the text, with the general recollection that in this brief paragraph we see and touch as it were the cornerstone of civil order. One side of the angle is the indefeasible duty, for the Christian citizen, of reverence for law, of remembrance of the religious aspect of even secular government. The other side is the memento to the ruler, to the authority, that God throws His shield over the claims of the State only because authority was instituted not for selfish, but for social ends, so that it belies itself if it is not used for the good of man.

Let every soul, every person, who has "presented his body a living sacrifice," be submissive to the ruling authorities; manifestly, from the context, the authorities of the state. For there is no authority except by God; but the existing authorities have been appointed by God. That is, the imperium of the King Eternal is absolutely reserved; an authority not sanctioned by Him is nothing; man is no independent source of power and law. But then, it has pleased God so to order human life and history, that His will in this matter is expressed, from time to time, in and through the actual constitution of the state. So that the opponent of the authority withstands the ordinance of God, not merely that of man; but the withstanders will on themselves bring sentence of judgment; not only the human crime of treason, but the charge, in the court of God, of rebellion against His will. This is founded on the idea of law and order, which means by its nature the restraint of public mischief and the promotion, or at least protection, of public good. "Authority," even under its worst distortions, still so far keeps that aim that no human civic power, as a fact, punishes good as good, and rewards evil as evil; and thus for the common run of lives the worst settled authority is infinitely better than real anarchy. For rulers, as a class, are not a terror to the good deed, but to the evil; such is always the fact in principle, and such, taking human life as a whole, is the tendency, even at the worst, in practice, where the authority in any degree deserves its name. Now do you wish not to be afraid of the authority? do what is good, and you shall have praise from it; the "praise," at least, of being unmolested and protected. For God’s agent he is to you, for what is good; through his function God, in providence, carries out His purposes of order. But if you are doing what is evil, be afraid; for not for nothing, not without warrant, nor without purpose, does he wear his sword, symbol of the ultimate power of life and death; for God’s agent is he, an avenger, unto wrath, for the practiser of the evil. Wherefore, because God is in the matter, it is a necessity to submit, not only because of the wrath, the ruler’s wrath in the case supposed, but because of the conscience too; because you know, as a Christian, that God speaks through the state and through its minister, and that anarchy is therefore disloyalty to Him. For on this account too you pay taxes; the same commission which gives the state the right to restrain and punish gives it the right to demand subsidy from its members, in order to its operations; for God’s ministers are they, His λειτουργοί, a word so frequently used in sacerdotal connections that it well may suggest them here; as if the civil ruler were, in his province, an almost religious instrument of divine order; God’s ministers, to this very end persevering in their task; working on in the toils of administration, for the execution, consciously or not, of the divine plan of social peace.

This is a noble point of view, alike for governed and for governors, from which to consider the prosaic problems and necessities of public finance. Thus understood, the tax is paid not with a cold and compulsory assent to a mechanical exaction, but as an act in the line of the plan of God. And the tax is devised and demanded, not merely as an expedient to adjust a budget, but as a thing which God’s law can sanction, in the interests of God’s social plan. Discharge therefore to all men, to all men in authority, primarily, but not only, their dues; the tax, to whom you owe the tax, on person and property; the toll, to whom the toll, on merchandise; the fear, to whom the fear, as to the ordained punisher of wrong; the honour, to whom the honour, as to the rightful claimant in general of loyal deference.

Such were the political principles of the new Faith, of the mysterious Society, which was so soon to perplex the Roman statesman, as well as to supply convenient victims to the Roman despot. A Nero was shortly to burn Christians in his gardens as a substitute for lamps, on the charge that they were guilty of secret and horrible orgies. Later, a Trajan, grave and anxious, was to order their execution as members of a secret community dangerous to imperial order. But here is a private missive sent to this people by their leader, reminding them of their principles, and prescribing their line of action. He puts them in immediate spiritual contact, every man and woman of them, with the Eternal Sovereign, and so he inspires them with the strongest possible independence, as regards "the fear of man." He bids them know for a certainty, that the Almighty One regards them, each and all, as accepted in His Beloved, and fills them with His great Presence, and promises them a coming heaven from which no earthly power or terror can for a moment shut them out. But in the same message, and in the same Name, he commands them to pay their taxes to the pagan State, and to do so, not with the contemptuous indifference of the fanatic, who thinks that human life in its temporal order is God-forsaken, but in the spirit of cordial loyalty and ungrudging deference, as to an authority representing in its sphere none other than their Lord and Father.

It has been suggested that the first serious antagonism of the state towards these mysterious Christians was occasioned by the inevitable interference of the claims of Christ with the stern and rigid order of the Roman Family. A power which could assert the right, the duty, of a son to reject his father’s religious worship was taken to be a power which meant the destruction of all social order as such; a nihilism indeed. This was a tremendous misunderstanding to encounter. How was it to be met? Not by tumultuary resistance, not even by passionate protests and invectives. The answer was to be that of love, practical and loyal, to God and man, in life and, when occasion came, in death. Upon the line of that path lay at least the possibility of martyrdom, with its lions and its funeral piles; but the end of it was the peaceful vindication of the glory of God and of the Name of Jesus, and the achievement of the best security for the liberties of man.

Congenially then the Apostle closes these precepts of civil order with the universal command to love. Owe nothing to anyone; avoid absolutely the social disloyalty of debt; pay every creditor in full, with watchful care; except the loving one another. Love is to be a perpetual and inexhaustible debt, not as if repudiated or neglected, but as always due and always paying; a debt, not as a forgotten account is owing to the seller, but as interest on capital is continuously owing to the lender. And this, not only because of the fair beauty of love, but because of the legal duty of it: For the lover of his fellow ( τόν έτερον, "the other man," be he who he may, with whom the man has to do) has fulfilled the law, the law of the Second Table, the code of man’s duty to man, which is in question here.

He "has fulfilled" it; as having at once entered, in principle and will, into its whole requirement; so that all he now needs is not a better attitude, but developed information. For the, "Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet," and whatever other commandment there is, all is summed up in this utterance. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." [Leviticus 19:18] Love works the neighbour no ill; therefore love is the Law’s fulfilment.

Is it a mere negative precept then? Is the life of love to be only an abstinence from doing harm, which may shun thefts, but may also shun personal sacrifices? Is it a cold and inoperative "harmlessness," which leaves all things as they are? We see the answer in part in those words, "as thyself." Man "loves himself" (in the sense of nature, not of sin), with a love which instinctively avoids indeed what is repulsive and noxious, but does so because it positively likes and desires the opposite. The man who "loves his neighbour as himself" will be as considerate of his neighbour’s feelings as of his own, in respect of abstinence from injury and annoyance. But he will be more; he will be actively desirous of his neighbour’s good. "Working him no evil," he will reckon it as much "evil" to be indifferent to his positive true interests as he would reckon it unnatural to be apathetic about his own. Working him no evil, as one who loves him as himself, he will care, and seek, to work him good.

"Love," says Leibnitz, in reference to the great controversy on Pure Love agitated by Fenelon and Bossuet, "is that which finds its felicity in another’s good." Such an agent can never terminate its action in a mere cautious abstinence from wrong.

The true divine commentary on this brief paragraph is the nearly contemporary passage written by the same author, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. There, as we saw above, the description of the sacred thing, love, like that of the heavenly state in the Revelation, is given largely in negatives. Yet who fails to feel the wonderful positive of the effect? That is no merely negative innocence which is greater than mysteries, and knowledge, and the use of an angel tongue; greater than self-inflicted poverty, and the endurance of the martyr’s flame; "chief grace below, and all in all above." Its blessed negatives are but a form of unselfish action. It forgets itself, and remembers others, and refrains from the least needless wounding of them, not because it wants merely "to live and let live," but because it loves them, finding its felicity in their good.

It has been said that "love is holiness, spelt short." Thoughtfully interpreted and applied, the saying is true. The holy man in human life is the man who, with the Scriptures open before him as his informant and his guide, while the Lord Christ dwells in his heart by faith as his Reason and his Power, forgets himself in a work for others which is kept at once gentle, wise, and persistent to the end, by the love which, whatever else it does, knows how to sympathise and to serve.


Verses 11-14

Chapter 28

CHRISTIAN DUTY IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD’S RETURN AND IN

THE POWER OF HIS PRESENCE

Romans 13:11-14

THE great teacher has led us long upon the path of duty, in its patient details, all summed up in the duty and joy of love. We have heard him explaining to his disciples how to live as members together of the Body of Christ, and as members also of human society at large, and as citizens of the state. We have been busy latterly with thoughts of taxes, and tolls, and private debts, and the obligation of scrupulous rightfulness in all such things. Everything has had relation to the seen and the temporal. The teaching has not strayed into a land of dreams, nor into a desert and a cell: it has had at least as much to do with the market, and the shop, and the secular official, as if the writer had been moralist whose horizon was altogether of this life, and who for the future was "without hope."

Yet all the while the teacher and the taught were penetrated and vivified by a certainty of the future perfectly supernatural, and commanding the wonder and glad response of their whole being. They carried about with them the promise of their Risen Master that He would personally return again in heavenly glory, to their infinite joy, gathering them forever around Him in immortality, bringing heaven with Him, and transfiguring them into His own celestial Image.

Across all possible complications and obstacles of the human world around them they beheld "that blissful hope". [Titus 2:13] The smoke of Rome could not becloud it, nor her noise drown the music of its promise, nor her splendour of possessions make its golden vista less beautiful and less entrancing to their souls. Their Lord, once crucified, but now alive for evermore, was greater than the world; greater in His calm triumphant authority over man and nature, greater in the wonder and joy of Himself, His Person and His Salvation. It was enough that He had said He would come again, and that it would be to their eternal happiness. He had promised; therefore it would surely be.

How the promise would take place, and when, was a secondary question. Some things were revealed and certain, as to the manner; "This same Jesus, in like manner as ye saw Him going into heaven". [Acts 1:11] But vastly more was unrevealed and even unconjectured. As to the time, His words had left them, as they still leave us, suspended in a reverent sense of mystery, between intimations which seem almost equally to promise both speed and delay. "Watch therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh"; [Mark 13:35] "After a long time the Lord of the servants cometh, and reckoneth with them". [Matthew 25:19] The Apostle himself follows his Redeemer’s example in the matter. Here and there he seems to indicate an Advent at the doors, as when he speaks of "us who are alive and remain". [1 Thessalonians 4:15] But again, in this very Epistle, in his discourse on the future of Israel, he appears to contemplate great developments of time and event yet to come; and very definitely, for his own part, in many places, he records his expectation of death, not of a deathless transfiguration at the Coming. Many at least among his converts looked with an eagerness which was sometimes restless and unwholesome, as at Thessalonica, for the coming King, and it may have been thus with some of the Roman saints. But St. Paul at once warned the Thessalonians of their mistake; and certainly this Epistle suggests no such upheaval of expectation at Rome.

Our work in these pages is not to discuss "the times and the seasons" which now, as much as then, lie in the Father’s "power". [Acts 1:7] It is rather to call attention to the fact that in all ages of the Church this mysterious but definite Promise has, with a silent force, made itself as it were present and contemporary to the believing and watching soul. How at last it shall be seen that "I come quickly," and "The day of Christ is not at [Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20, 2 Thessalonians 2:2] were both divinely and harmoniously truthful, it does not yet fully appear." But it is certain that both are so; and that in every generation of the now "long time the Hope," as if it were at the doors indeed, has been calculated for mighty effects on the Christian’s will and work.

So we come to this great Advent oracle, to read it for our own age. Now first let us remember its wonderful illustration of that phenomenon which we have remarked already, the concurrence in Christianity of a faith full of eternity, with a life full of common duty. Here is a community of men called to live under an almost opened heaven; almost to see, as they look around them, the descending Lord of glory coming to bring in the eternal day, making Himself present in this visible scene "with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God," waking His buried saints from the dust, calling the living and the risen to meet Him in the air. How can they adjust such an expectation to the demands of "the daily round"? Will they not fly from the City to the solitude, to the hilltops and forests of the Apennines, to wait with awful joy the great lightning flash of glory? Not so. They somehow, while "looking for the Saviour from the heavens," [Philippians 3:20] attend to their service and their business, pay their debts and their taxes, offer sympathy to their neighbours in their human sadnesses and joys, and yield honest loyalty to the magistrate and the Prince. They are the most stable of all elements in the civic life of the hour, if "the powers that be" would but understand them; while yet, all the while, they are the only people in the City whose home, consciously, is the eternal heavens. What can explain the paradox? Nothing but the Fact, the Person, the Character of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not an enthusiasm, however powerful, which governs them, but a Person. And He is at once the Lord of immortality and the Ruler of every detail of His servant’s life. He is no author of fanaticism, but the divine-human King of truth and order. To know Him is to find the secret alike of a life eternal and of a patient faithfulness in the life that now is.

What was true of Him is true for evermore. His servant now, in this restless close of the nineteenth age, is to find in Him this wonderful double secret still. He is to be, in Christ, by the very nature of his faith, the most practical and the most willing of the servants’ of his fellow men, in their mortal as well as immortal interests; while also disengaged internally from a bondage to the seen and temporal by his mysterious union with the Son of God, and by his firm expectation of His Return. And this, this law of love and duty, let us remember, let us follow, knowing the season, the occasion, the growing crisis; that it is already the hour for our awaking out of sleep, the sleep of moral inattention, as if the eternal Master were not near. For nearer now is our salvation, in that last glorious sense of the word "salvation" which means the immortal issue of the whole saving process, nearer now than when we believed, and so by faith entered on our union with the Saviour. (See how he delights to associate himself with his disciples in the blessed unity of remembered conversion; "when we believed.") The night, with its murky silence, its "poring dark," the night of trial, of temptation, of the absence of our Christ, is far spent, but the day has drawn near; it has been a long night, but that means a near dawn; the everlasting sunrise of the longed for Parousia, with its glory, gladness, and unveiling. Let us put off, therefore, as if they were a foul and entangling night robe, the works of the darkness, the habits and acts of the moral night, things which we can throw off in the Name of Christ; but let us put on the weapons of the light, arming ourselves, for defence, and for holy aggression on the realm of evil, with faith, love, and the heavenly hope. So to the Thessalonians five years before, [1 Thessalonians 5:8] and to the Ephesians four years later, [Ephesians 6:11-17] he wrote of the holy Panoply, rapidly sketching it in the one place, giving the rich finished picture in the other; suggesting to the saints always the thought of a warfare first and mainly defensive, and then aggressive with the drawn sword, and indicating as their true armour not their reason, their emotions, or their will, taken in themselves, but the eternal facts of their revealed salvation in Christ, grasped and used by faith. As by day, for it is already dawn, in the Lord, let us walk decorously, becomingly, as we are the hallowed soldiers of our Leader; let our life not only be right in fact; let it show to all men the open "decorum" of truth, purity, peace, and love; not in revels and drunken bouts; not in chamberings, the sins of the secret couch, and profligacies, not-to name evils which cling often to the otherwise reputable Christian-in strife and envy, things which are pollutions, in the sight of the Holy One, as real as lust itself. No; 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; and for the flesh take no forethought lust-ward. As if, in euphemism, he would say, "Take all possible forethought against the life of self ( σάρξ), with its lustful, self-willed gravitation away from God. And let that forethought be, to arm yourselves, as if never armed before, with Christ."

How solemnly explicit he is, how plainspoken, about the temptations of the Roman Christian’s life! The men who were capable of the appeals and revelations of the first eight chapters yet needed to be told not to drink to intoxication, not to go near the house of ill fame, not to quarrel, not to grudge. But every modern missionary in heathendom will tell us that the like stern plainness is needed now among the new-converted faithful. And is it not needed among those who have professed the Pauline faith much longer, in the congregations of our older Christendom?

It remains for our time, as truly as ever, a fact of religious life-this necessity to press it home upon the religious, as the religious, that they are called to a practical and detailed holiness; and that they are never to ignore the possibility of even the worst falls. So mysteriously can the subtle "flesh," in the believing receiver of the Gospel, becloud or distort the holy import of the thing received. So fatally easy it is "to corrupt the best into the worst," using the very depth and richness of spiritual truth as if it could be a substitute for patient practice, instead of its mighty stimulus.

But glorious is the method illustrated here for triumphant resistance to that tendency. What is it? It is not to retreat from spiritual principle upon a cold naturalistic programme of activity and probity. It is to penetrate through the spiritual principle to the Crucified and Living Lord who is its heart and power; it is to bury self in Him, and to arm the will with Him. It is to look for Him as Coming, but also, and yet more urgently, to use Him as Present. In the great Roman Epic, on the verge of the decisive conflict, the goddess-mother laid the invulnerable panoply at the feet of her Aeneas; and the astonished Champion straightway, first pondering every part of the heaven-sent armament, then "put it on," and was prepared. As it were at our feet is laid the Lord Jesus Christ, in all He is, in all He has done, in His indissoluble union with us in it all, as we are one with Him by the Holy Ghost. It is for us to see in Him our power and victory, and to "put Him on," in a personal act which, while all by grace, is yet in itself our own. And how is this done? It is by the "committal of the keeping of our souls unto Him," [1 Peter 4:19] not vaguely, but definitely and with purpose, in view of each and every temptation. It is by "living our fife in the flesh by faith in the Son of God"; [Galatians 2:20] that is to say, in effect, by perpetually making use of the Crucified and Living Saviour, One with us by the Holy Spirit, by using Him as our living Deliverer, our Peace and Power, amidst all that the dark hosts of evil can do against us.

Oh, wonderful and all-adequate secret; "Christ, which is the Secret of God!" [Colossians 2:2] Oh, divine simplicity of its depth.

"Heaven’s easy, artless, unencumber’d plan"!

Not that its "ease" means our indolence. No; if we would indeed "arm ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ" we must awake and be astir to "know whom we have trusted". [2 Timothy 1:12] We must explore His Word about Himself. We must ponder it, above all, in the prayer which converses with Him over His promises, till they live to us in His light. We must watch and pray, that we may be alert to employ our armament. The Christian who steps out into life "light heartedly," thinking superficially of his weakness, and of his foes, is only too likely also to think of his Lord superficially, and to find of even this heavenly armour that "he cannot go with it, for he hath not proved it". [1 Samuel 17:39] But all this leaves absolutely untouched the divine simplicity of the matter. It leaves it wonderfully true that the decisive, the satisfying, the thorough, moral victory and deliverance comes to the Christian man not by trampling about with his own resolves, but by committing himself to his Saviour and Keeper, who has conquered him, that now He may conquer "his strong Enemy" for him.

"Heaven’s unencumbered plan" of "victory and triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh," is no daydream of romance. It lives, it works in the most open hour of the common world of sin and sorrow. We have seen this "putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ" victoriously successful where the most fierce, or the most subtle, forms of temptation were to be dealt with. We have seen it preserving, with beautiful persistency, a lifelong sufferer from the terrible solicitations of pain, and of still less endurable helplessness - every limb fixed literally immovable by paralysis on the ill-furnished bed; we have seen the man cheerful, restful, always ready for wise word and sympathetic thought, and affirming that his Lord, present to his soul, was infinitely enough to "keep him." We have seen the overwhelmed toiler for God, while every step through the day was clogged by "thronging duties," such duties as most wear and drain the spirit, yet maintained in an equable cheerfulness and as it were inward leisure by this same always adequate secret, "the Lord Jesus Christ put on." We have known the missionary who had, in sober earnest, hazarded his life for the blessed Name, yet ready to bear quiet witness to the repose and readiness to be found in meeting disappointment, solitude, danger, not so much by a stern resistance as by the use, then and there, confidingly, and in surrender, of the Crucified and Living Lord. Shall we dare to add with the humiliating avowal that only a too partial proof has been made of this glorious open Secret, that we know by experiment that the weakest of the servants of our King, "putting on Him," find victory and deliverance, where there was defeat before?

Let us, writer and reader, address ourselves afresh in practice to this wonderful secret. Let us, as if we had never done it before, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." Vain is our interpretation of the holy Word, which not only "abideth, but liveth forever," [1 Peter 1:23] if it does not somehow come home. For that Word was written on purpose to come home; to touch and move the conscience and the will, in the realities of our inmost, and also of our most outward, life. Never for one moment do we stand as merely interested students and spectators, outside the field of temptation. Never for one moment therefore can we dispense with the great Secret of victory and safety.

Full in face of the realities of sin-of Roman sin, in Nero’s days; but let us just now forget Rome and Nero; they were only dark accidents of a darker essence-St. Paul here writes down, across them all, these words, 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. Here is the more than Antithesis to it all. Here is that by which you can be "more than conqueror." Take your iniquities at the worst; this can subdue them. Take your surroundings at the worst; this car, emancipate you from their power. It is "the Lord Jesus Christ," and the "putting on" of Him.

Let us remember, as if it were a new thing, that He, the Christ of Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles, is a Fact. Sure as the existence now of His universal Church, as the observance of the historic Sacrament of His Death, as the impossibility of Galilean or Pharisaic imagination having composed, instead of photographed, the portrait of the Incarnate Son, the Immaculate Lamb; sure as is the glad verification in ten thousand blessed lives today of all, of all, that the Christ of Scripture undertakes to be to the soul that will take Him at His. own terms-so sure, across all oldest and all newest doubts, across all gnosis and all agnosia, lies the present Fact of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then let us remember that it is a fact that man, in the mercy of God, can "put Him on." He is not far off. He presents Himself to our touch, our possession. He says to us, "Come to Me." He unveils Himself as literal partaker of our nature; as our Sacrifice; our Righteousness, "through faith in His blood"; as the Head and Lifespring, in an indescribable union, of a deep calm tide of life spiritual and eternal, ready to circulate through our being. He invites Himself to "make His abode with us"; [John 14:23] yea, more, "I will come in to him; I will dwell in his heart by faith." [Revelation 3:20, Ephesians 3:17] In that ungovernable heart of ours, that interminably self-deceptive: heart, [Jeremiah 17:9] He engages to reside, to be permanent Occupant, the Master always at home. He is prepared thus to take, with regard to our will, a place of power nearer than all circumstances, and deep in the midst of all possible inward traitors; to keep His eye on their plots, His foot, not ours, upon their necks. Yes, He invites us thus to embrace Him into a full contact; to "put Him on."

May we not say of Him what the great Poet says of Duty, and glorify the verse by a yet nobler application?-

"Thou who art victory and law When empty terrors overawe, From vain temptations dost set free, And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!"

Yes, we can "put Him on" as our "Panoply of Light." We can put Him on as "the 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". [Matthew 1:21] We can put Him, on as "Christ," our Head, anointed without measure by the Eternal Spirit, and now 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.

Such are the armour and the arms. St. Jerome, commenting on a kindred passage, [Ephesians 6:13] says that "it most clearly results that by ‘the weapons of God’ the Lord our Saviour is to be understood."

We may recollect that this text is memorable in connection with the Conversion of St. Augustine. In his "Confessions" (8:12) he records how, in the garden at Milan, at a time of great moral conflict, he was strangely attracted by a voice, perhaps the cry of children playing: "Take and read, take and read." He fetched and opened again a copy of the Epistles ("codicem Apostoli"), which he had lately laid down. "I read in silence the first place on which my eyes fell; ‘Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.’ I neither cared, nor needed, to read further. At the close of the sentence, as if a ray of certainty were poured into my heart, the clouds of hesitation fled at once." His will was in the will of God.

Alas, there falls one shadow over that fair scene. In the belief of Augustine’s time, to decide fully for Christ meant, or very nearly meant, so to accept the ascetic idea as to renounce the Christian home. But the Lord read His servant’s heart aright through the error, and filled it with His peace. To us, in a surrounding religious light far clearer, in many things, than that which shone even upon Ambrose and Augustine; to us who quite recognise that in the paths of homeliest duty and commonest temptation lies the line along which the blessed power of the Saviour may best overshadow His disciple; the Spirit’s voice shall say of this same text "Take and read, take and read." We will "put on," never to put off. Then we shall step out upon the old path in a strength new, and to be renewed forever, armed against evil, armed for the will of God, with Jesus Christ our Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 13:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-13.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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