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Barnes' Notes on the New Testament

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ROMANS Chapter 13

Verse 1. Let every soul. Every person. In the first seven verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government; a subject which is extremely important, and at the same time exceedingly difficult. There is no doubt that he had express reference to the peculiar situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a general bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following:

(1.) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. Yet it contemplated the rearing of a kingdom amid other kingdoms, an empire amid other empires. Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their Lawgiver, their Sovereign, their Judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, what kind of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates.

(2.) The kingdoms of the world were then pagan Kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of heathenism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, and blood, and oppression. Many Of the monarchs were blood-stained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in their private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms, and of such men, was a serious question, and one which could not but occur very early. It would occur also very soon, in circumstances that would be very affecting and trying. Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry.

(3.) Many of the early Christians were composed of Jewish converts. Yet the Jews had long been under Roman oppression, and had borne the foreign yoke with great uneasiness. The whole heathen magistracy they regarded as founded in a system of idolatry; as opposed to God and his kingdom; and as abomination in his sight. With these feelings they had become christians; and it was natural that their former sentiments should exert an influence on them after their conversion. How far they should submit, if at all, to heathen magistrates, was a question of deep interest; and there was danger that the Jewish converts might prove to be disorderly and rebellious citizens of the empire.

(4.) Nor was the case much different with the Gentile converts. They would naturally look with abhorrence on the system of idolatry which they had just forsaken. They would regard all as opposed to God. They would denounce the religion of the pagans as abomination; and as that religion was interwoven with the civil institutions, there was danger also that they might denounce the government altogether, and be regarded as opposed to the laws of the land.

(5.) There were cases where it was right to resist the laws. This the Christian religion clearly taught; and, in cases like these, it was indispensable for Christians to take a stand. When the laws interfered with the rights of conscience; when they commanded the worship of idols, or any moral wrong, then it was their duty to refuse submission. Yet, in what cases this was to be done, where the line was to be drawn, was a question of deep importance, and one which was not easily settled. It is quite probable, however, that the main danger was, that the early Christians would err in refusing submission, even when it was proper, rather than in undue conformity to idolatrous rites and ceremonies.

(6.) In the changes which were to occur in human governments, it would be an inquiry of deep interest, what part Christians should take, and what submission they should yield to the various laws which might spring up among the nations. The principles on which Christians should act are settled in this chapter. Be subject. Submit. The word denotes that kind of submission which soldiers render to their officers. It implies subordination; a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority of those over us. The word used here does not designate the extent of the submission, but merely enjoins it in general. The general principle will be seen to be, that we are to obey in all things which are not contrary to the law of God.

The higher powers. The magistracy; the supreme government. It undoubtedly here refers to the Roman magistracy, and has relation not so much to the rulers as to the supreme authority which was established as the constitution of government. Comp. Matthew 10:1; Matthew 28:18.

For. The apostle gives a reason why Christians should be subject; and that reason is, that magistrates have received their appointment from God. As Christians, therefore, are to be subject to God, so they are to honour God by honouring the arrangement which he has instituted for the government of mankind. Doubtless, he here intends also to repress the vain curiosity and agitation with which men are prone to inquire into the titles of their rulers; to guard them from the agitations and conflicts of party, and of contentions to establish a favourite on the throne. It might be, that those in power had not a proper title to their office; that they had secured it, not according to justice, but by oppression; but into that question Christians were not to enter. The government was established, and they were not to seek to overturn it.

No power. No office; no magistracy; no civil rule.

But of God. By God's permission, or appointment; by the arrangements of his providence, by which those in office had obtained their power. God often claims and asserts that He sets up one, and puts down another, Psalms 75:7; Daniel 2:21; 4:17,26,34,35.

The powers that be. That is, all the civil magistracies that exist; those who have the rule over nations, by whatever means they may have obtained it. This is equally true at all times, that the powers that exist, exist by the permission and providence of God.

Are ordained of God. This word ordained denotes the ordering or arrangement which subsists in a military company or army. God sets them in order, assigns them their location, changes and directs them as he pleases. This does not mean that he originates or causes the evil dispositions of rulers, but that he directs and controls their appointment. By this we are not to infer,

(1.) that he approves their conduct; nor,

(2,) that what they do is always right; nor,

(3.) that it is our duty always to submit to them. Their requirements may be opposed to the law of God, and then we are to obey God rather than man, Acts 4:19; 5:29. But it is meant that the power is entrusted to them by God; and that he has the authority to remove them when he pleases. If they abuse their power, however, they do it at their peril; and when so abused, the obligation to obey them ceases. That this is the case is apparent, further, from the nature of the question which would be likely to arise among the early Christians. It could not be and never was a question, whether they should obey a magistrate when he commanded a thing that was plainly contrary to the law of God. But the question was, whether they should obey a heathen magistrate at all. This question the apostle answers in the affirmative, because God had made government necessary, and because it was arranged and ordered by his providence. Probably, also, the apostle had another object in view. At the time in which he wrote this epistle, the Roman empire was agitated with civil dissensions. One emperor followed another in rapid succession. The throne was often seized, not by right, but by crime. Different claimants would rise, and their claims would excite controversy. The object of the apostle was to prevent Christians from entering into those disputes, and from taking an active part in a political controversy. Besides, the throne had been usurped by the reigning emperors, and there was a prevalent disposition to rebel against a tyrannical government. Claudius had been put to death by poison; Caligula in a violent manner; Nero was a tyrant; and, amidst these agitations, and crimes, and revolutions, the apostle wished to guard Christians from taking an active part in political affairs.

{v} "For there is no power" Daniel 2:21
{1} "Ordained" or, "ordered"

Verse 2. Whosoever therefore resisteth, etc. That is, they who rise up against government itself; who seek anarchy and confusion; and who oppose the regular execution of the laws. It is implied, however, that those laws shah not be such as to violate the rights of conscience, or oppose the laws of God.

Resisteth the ordinance of God. What God has ordained, or appointed. This means, clearly, that we are to regard government as instituted by God, and as agreeable to his will. When established, we are not to be agitated about the titles of the rulers; not to enter into angry contentions, or to refuse to submit to them, because we are apprehensive of a defect in their title, or because they may have obtained it by oppression. If the government is established, and if its decisions are not a manifest violation of the laws of God, we are to submit to them.

Shall receive to themselves damnation. The word damnation we apply now exclusively to the punishment of hell; to future torments. But this is not necessarily the meaning of the word which is here used, (\~krima\~). It often simply denotes punishment, Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 11:29; Galatians 5:10. In this place the word implies guilt or criminality in resisting the ordinance of God, and affirms that the man that does it shall be punished. Whether the apostle means that he shall be punished by God, or by the magistrate, is not quite clear. Probably the latter, however, is intended. Comp. Romans 13:4. It is also true, that such resistance shall be attended with the displeasure of God, and be punished by him.

Verse 3. For rulers. The apostle here speaks of rulers in general. It may not be universally true that they are not a terror to good works, for many of them have persecuted the good; but it is generally true that they who are virtuous have nothing to fear from the laws. It is universally true, that the design of their appointment by God was not to injure and oppress the good, but to detect and punish the evil. Magistrates, as such, are not a terror to good works.

Are not a terror, etc. Are not appointed to punish the good. Their appointment is not to inspire terror in those who are virtuous and peaceable citizens. Comp. 1 Timothy 1:9.

But to the evil. Appointed to detect and punish evil-doers; and therefore an object of terror to them. The design of the apostle here is, evidently, to reconcile Christians to submission to the government, from its utility. It is appointed to protect the good against the evil; to restrain oppression, injustice, and fraud; to bring offenders to justice, and thus promote the peace and harmony of the community. As it is designed to promote order and happiness, it should be submitted to; and so long as this object is pursued, and obtained, government should receive the countenance and support of Christians. But if it departs from this principle, and becomes the protector of the evil and the oppressor of the good, the case is reversed, and the obligation to its support must cease.

Wilt thou not, etc. If you do evil by resisting the laws, and in any other manner, will you not fear the power of the government? Fear is one of the means by which men are restrained from crime in a community. On many minds it operates with much more power than any other motive. And it is one which a magistrate must make use of to restrain men from evil.

Do that which is good. Be a virtuous and peaceable citizen; abstain from crime, and yield obedience to all the just laws of the land.

And thou shalt have praise of the same. Comp. 1 Peter 2:14,15. You shall be unmolested and uninjured, and shall receive the commendation of being peaceable and upright citizens. The prospect of that protection, and even of that reputation, is not an unworthy motive to yield obedience to the laws. Every Christian should desire the reputation of being a man seeking the welfare of his country, and the just execution of the laws.

{w} "do that which is good" 1 Peter 2:14

Verse 4. The minister of God. The servant of God. He is appointed by God to do his will, and to execute his purposes.

To thee. For your benefit.

For good. That is, to protect you in your rights; to vindicate your name, person, or property; and to guard your liberty, and secure to you the rewards of your industry. The magistrate is not appointed directly to reward men, but they practically furnish a reward by protecting and defending them, and securing to them the interests of justice.

If thou do that, etc. That is, if any citizen should do evil. Be afraid. Fear the just vengeance of the laws.

For he beareth not the sword in vain. The sword is an instrument of punishment, as well as an emblem of war. Princes were accustomed to wear a sword as an emblem of their authority; and the sword was often used for the purpose of beheading, or otherwise punishing the guilty. The meaning of the apostle is, that he does not wear this badge of authority as an unmeaning show, but that it will be used to execute the lairs. As this is the design of the power entrusted to him, and as he will exercise his authority, men should be influenced by fear to keep the law, even if there were no better motive.

A revenger, etc. In Romans 12:19, vengeance is said to belong to God. Yet he executes his vengeance by means of subordinate agents. It belongs to him to take vengeance by direct judgments, by the plague, famine, sickness, or earthquakes; by the appointment of magistrates; or by letting loose the passions of men to prey upon each other. When a magistrate inflicts punishment on the guilty, it is to be regarded as the act of God taking vengeance by him; and on this principle only is it right for a judge to condemn a man to death. It is not because one man has by nature any right over the life of another, or because society has any right collectively which it has not as individuals; but because God gave life, and because he has chosen to take it away when crime is committed, by the appointment of magistrates, and not by coming forth himself visibly to execute the laws. Where human laws fail, however, he often takes vengeance into his own hands; and by the plague, or some signal judgments, sweeps the guilty into eternity.

To execute wrath. For an explanation of the word wrath, See Barnes "Romans 1:18". It denotes here punishment, or the just execution of the laws. It may be remarked that this verse is an incidental proof of the propriety of capital punishment. The sword was undoubtedly an instrument for this purpose, and the apostle mentions its use without any remark of disapprobation. He enjoins subjection to those who wear the sword, that is, to those who execute the laws by that; and evidently intends to speak of the magistrate with the sword, or in inflicting capital punishment, as having received the appointment of God. The tendency of society now is not to too sanguinary laws. It is rather to forget that God has doomed the murderer to death; and though humanity should be consulted in the execution of the laws, yet there is no humanity in suffering the murderer to live to infest society, and endanger many lives, in the place of his own, which was forfeited to justice. Far better that one murderer should die, than that he should be suffered to live, to imbrue his hands perhaps in the blood of many who are innocent. But the authority of God has settled this question, (Genesis 9:5,6) and it is neither right nor safe for a community to disregard his solemn decisions. See Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. iv. p. 8, [9. ]

Verse 5. Wherefore, (\~dio\~). The reasons why we should be subject, which the apostle had given, were two:

(1.) That government was appointed by God.

(2.) That violation of the laws would necessarily expose to punishment.

Ye must needs be. It is necessary (\~anagkh\~) to be. This is a word stronger than that which implies mere fitness or propriety. It means, that it is a matter of high obligation and of necessity to be subject to the civil ruler.

Not only for wrath. Not only on account of the fear of punishment; or the fact that wrath will be executed on evil doers.

For conscience' sake. As a matter of conscience, or of duty to God, because he has appointed it, and made it necessary and proper. A good citizen yields obedience because it is the will of God; and a Christian makes it a part of his religion to maintain and obey the just laws of the land. See Matthew 22:21. Comp. Ecclesiastes 8:2, "I counsel them to keep the king's commandments, and that in regard of the oath of God."

{y} "ye must needs be subject" Exodus 8:2

Verse 6. For this cause. Because they are appointed by God; for the sake of conscience, and in order to secure the execution of the laws. As they are appointed by God, the tribute which is needful for their support becomes an act of homage to God, an act performed in obedience to his will, and acceptable to him.

Tribute also. Not only be subject, (Romans 12:5,) but pay what may be necessary to support the government. Tribute properly denotes the tax, or annual compensation, which was paid by one province or nation to a superior, as the price of protection, or as an acknowledgment of subjection. The Romans made all conquered provinces pay this tribute; and it would become a question whether it was right to acknowledge this claim, and submit to it. Especially would this question be agitated by the Jews and by Jewish Christians. But on the principle which the apostle had laid down, Romans 12:1,20 it was right to do it, and was demanded by the very purposes of government. In a larger sense, the word tribute means any tax paid on land or personal estate for the support of the government.

For they are God's ministers. His servants; or they are appointed by him. As the government is his appointment, we should contribute to its support as a matter of conscience, because we thus do honour to the arrangement of God. It may be observed here, also, that the fact that civil rulers are the ministers of God, invests their character with great sacredness, and should impress upon them the duty of seeking to do his will, as well as on others the duty of submitting to them.

Attending continually. As they attend to this, and devote their time and talents to it, it is proper that they should receive a suitable support. It becomes, then, a duty for the people to contribute cheerfully to the necessary expenses of the government. If those taxes should be unjust and oppressive, yet, like other evils, they are to be submitted to, until a remedy can be found in a proper way.

Verse 7. Render therefore, etc. This injunction is often repeated in the Bible. See Barnes "Matthew 22:21". See also Matthew 17:25-27; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Proverbs 24:21. It is one of the most lovely and obvious of the duties of religion. Christianity is not designed to break in upon the proper order of society, but rather to establish and confirm that order. It does not rudely assail existing institutions; but it comes to put them on a proper footing, to diffuse a mild and pure influence over all, and to secure such an influence in all the relations of life as shall tend best to promote the happiness of man and the welfare of the community.

Is due. To whom it properly belongs by the law of the land, and according to the ordinance of God. It is represented here as a matter of debt, as something which is due to the ruler; a fair compensation to him for the service which he renders us by devoting his time and talents to advance our interests, and the welfare of the community. As taxes are a debt, a matter of strict and just obligation, they should be paid as conscientiously and as cheerfully as any other just debts, however contracted.

Custom, (\~telov\~). The word rendered tribute means, as has been remarked, the tax which is paid by a tributary prince or dependent people; also the tax imposed on land or real estate. The word here translated custom means, properly, the revenue which is collected on merchandise, either imported or exported.

Fear. See Romans 13:4. We should stand in awe of those who wear the sword, and who are appointed to execute the laws of the land. As the execution of their office is fitted to excite fear, we should render to them that reverence which is appropriate to the execution of their office. It means, a solicitous anxiety lest we do anything to offend them.

Honour. The difference between this and fear is, that this rather denotes reverence, veneration, respect for their names, offices, rank, etc. The former is the fear which arises from the dread of punishment. Religion gives to men all their just titles, recognizes their rank and office, and seeks to promote due subordination in a community. It was no part of the work of our Saviour, or of his apostles, to quarrel with the mere titles of men, or to withhold from them the customary tribute of respect and homage. Comp. Acts 24:3; 26:25; Luke 1:3; 1 Peter 2:17. In this verse there is summed up the duty which is owed to magistrates. It consists in rendering to them proper honour; contributing cheerfully and conscientiously to the necessary expenses of the government, and in yielding obedience to the laws. These are made a part of the duty which we owe to God, and should be considered as enjoined by our religion.

On the subject discussed in these seven verses, the following principles seem to be settled by the authority of the Bible, and are now understood:

(1.) That government is essential; and its necessity is recognized by God, and it is arranged by his Providence. God has never been the patron of anarchy and disorder.

(2.) Civil rulers are dependent on God. He has the entire control over them, and can set them up or put them down when he pleases.

(3.) The authority of God is superior to that of civil rulers. They have no right to make enactments which interfere with his authority.

(4.) It is not the business of civil rulers to regulate or control religion. That is a distinct department, with which they have no concern, except to protect it.

(5.) The rights of all men are to be preserved. Men are to be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and to be protected in those rights, provided they do not violate the peace and order of the community

(6.) Civil rulers have no right to persecute Christians, or to attempt to secure conformity to their views by force. The conscience can not be compelled; and in the affairs of religion man must be free. In view of this subject we may remark,

(1,) that the doctrines respecting the rights of civil rulers, and the line which is to be drawn between their powers and the rights of conscience, have been slow to be understood. The struggle has been long; and a thousand persecutions have shown the anxiety of the magistrate to rule the conscience, and to control religion. In pagan countries it has been conceded that the civil ruler had a right to control the religion of the people: church and state there have been one. The same thing was attempted under Christianity. The magistrate still claimed this right, and attempted to enforce it. Christianity resisted the claim, and asserted the independent and original rights of conscience. A conflict ensued, of course, and the magistrate resorted to persecutions, to subdue by force the claims of the new religion, and the rights of conscience. Hence the ten fiery and bloody persecutions of the primitive church. The blood of the early Christians flowed like water; thousands and tens of thousands went to the stake, until Christianity triumphed, and the right of religion to a free exercise was acknowledged throughout the empire.

(2.) It is matter of devout thanksgiving that the subject is now settled, and the principle is now understood. In our own land there exists the happy and bright illustration of the true principle on this great subject. The rights of conscience are regarded, and the laws peacefully obeyed. The civil ruler understands his province; and Christians yield a cheerful and cordial obedience to the laws. The church and state move on in their own spheres, united only in the purpose to make men happy and good; and divided only as they relate to different departments; and contemplate, the one, the rights of civil society--the other, the interests of eternity. Here, every man worships God according to his own views of duty; and, at the same time, here is rendered the most cordial and peaceful obedience to the laws of the land. Thanks should be rendered without ceasing to the God of our fathers for the wondrous train of events by which this contest has been conducted to its issue; and for the clear and full understanding which we now have of the different departments pertaining to the church and the state.

{y} "all their dues" Matthew 22:21

Verse 8. Owe no man any thing. Be not in debt to any one. In the previous verse the apostle had been discoursing of the duty which we owe to magistrates, he had particularly enjoined on Christians to pay to them their just dues. From this command to discharge fully this obligation, the transition was natural to the subject of debts in general, and to an injunction not to be indebted to any one. This law is enjoined in this place,

(1.) because it is a part of our duty as good citizens; and

(2.) because it is a part of that law which teaches us to love our neighbour, and to do no injury to him, Romans 13:10. The interpretation of this command is to be taken with this limitation, that we are not to be indebted to him so as to injure him, or to work ill to him.

This rule, together with the other rules of Christianity, would propose a remedy for all the evils of bad debts in the following manner:

(1.) It would teach men to be industrious, and this would commonly prevent the necessity of contracting debts.

(2.) It would make them frugal, economical, and humble in their views and manner of life.

(3.) It would teach them to bring up their families in habits of industry. The Bible often enjoins that. See Barnes "Romans 12:11", comp. Philippians 4:8; Proverbs 24:30-34; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Ephesians 4:28;

(4.) Religion would produce sober, chastened views of the end of life, of the great design of living; and would take off the affections from the splendour, gaiety, and extravagances which lead often to the contraction of debts, 1 Thessalonians 5:6,8; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 3:3,5; 1 Timothy 2:9.

(5.) Religion would put a period to the vices and unlawful desires which now prompt men to contract debts.

(6.) It would make them honest in paying them. It would make them conscientious, prompt, friends of truth, and disposed to keep their promises.

But to love one another. Love is a debt which can, never be discharged. We should feel that we owe this to all men; and though by acts of kindness we may be constantly discharging it, yet we should feel that it can never be fully met while there is opportunity to do good.

For he that loveth, etc. In what way this is done is stated in Romans 13:10. The law in relation to our neighbour is there said to be simply that we do no ill to him. Love to him would prompt to no injury. It would seek to do him good, and would thus fulfil all the purposes of justice and truth which we owe to him. In order to illustrate this, the apostle, in the next verse, runs over the laws of the ten commandments in relation to our neighbour, and shows that all those laws proceed on the principle that we are to love him, and that love would prompt to them all.

{z} "for he that loveth" James 2:8

Verse 9. For this. This which follows is the sum of the laws. This is to regulate us in our conduct towards our neighbour. The word this here stands opposed to "that" in Romans 13:11. This law of love would prompt us to seek our neighbour's good; that fact, that our salvation is near, would prompt us to be active and faithful in the discharge of all the duties we owe to him.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. All the commands which follow are designed as an illustration of the duty of loving our neighbour. See these commands considered in the Notes on Matthew 19:18,19. The apostle has not enumerated all the commands of the second table. He has shown generally what they required. The command to honour our parents he has omitted. The reason might have been, that it was not so immediately to his purpose when discoursing of love to a neighbor --a word which does not immediately suggest the idea of near relatives. The expression, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," is rejected by the best critics as of doubtful authority, but it does not materially affect the spirit of the passage. It is wanting in many Mss., and in the Syriac version.

If there be any other commandment. The law respecting parents; or if there be any duty which does not seem to be specified by these laws, it is implied in the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.

It is briefly comprehended. Greek, It may be reduced to this head; or it is summed up in this.

In this saying. This word, or command.

Thou shalt love, etc. This is found in Leviticus 19:18. See Barnes "Matthew 19:19". If this command were fulfilled, it would prevent all fraud, injustice, oppression, falsehood, adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness. It is the same as our Saviour's golden rule. And if every man would do to others as he would wish them to do to him, all the design of the law would be at once fulfilled.

{a} "Thou shalt not commit adultery" Exodus 20:13
{b} "Namely, Thou shalt love" Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39,40

Verse 10. Love worketh no ill, etc. Love would seek to do him good; of course it would prevent all dishonesty and crime towards others. It would prompt to justice, truth, and benevolence. If this law were engraven on every man's heart, and practised in his life, what a change would it immediately produce in society. If all men would at once abandon that which is fitted to work ill to others, what an influence would it have on the business and commercial affairs of men. How many plans of fraud and dishonesty would it at once arrest! How many schemes would it crush! It would silence the voice of the slanderer; it would stay the plans of the seducer and the adulterer; it would put an end to cheating, and fraud, and all schemes of dishonest gain. The gambler desires the property of his neighbour without any compensation, and thus works ill to him. The dealer in lotteries desires property for which he has never toiled, and which must be obtained at the expense and loss of others. And there are many employments all whose tendency is to work ill to a neighbour. This is pre-eminently true of the traffic in ardent spirits. It cannot do him good, and the almost uniform result is to deprive him of his property, health, reputation, peace, and domestic comfort. He that sells his neighbour liquid fire, knowing what must be the result of it, is not pursuing a business which works no ill to him; and love to that neighbour would prompt him to abandon the traffic. See Habakkuk 2:15, "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that putteth thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness."

Therefore, etc. Because love does no harm to another, it is therefore the fulfilling of the law: implying that all that the law requires is to love others.

Is the fulfilling. Is the completion, or meets the requirements of the law. The law of God on this head, or in regard to our duty to our neighbour, requires us to do justice towards him, to observe truth, etc. All this will be met by love; and if men truly loved others, all the demands of the law would be satisfied.

Of the law. Of the law of Moses, but particularly the ten commandments.

Verse 11. And that. The word "that" in this place, is connected in signification with the word "this" in Romans 13:9. The meaning may be thus expressed: All the requirements of the law towards our neighbour may be met by two things: one is Romans 13:9,10 by love; the other is Romans 13:11-14 by remembering that we are near to eternity; keeping a deep sense of this truth before the mind. This will prompt to a life of honesty, truth, and peace, and contentment, Romans 13:13. The doctrine in these verses Romans 13:11-14 therefore is, that a deep conviction of the nearness of eternity will prompt to an upright life in the intercourse of man with man.

Knowing the time. Taking a proper estimate of the time. Taking just views of the shortness and the value of time; of the design for which it was given, and of the fact that it is, in regard to us, rapidly coming to a close. And still further considering, that the time in which you live is the time of the gospel, a period of light and truth, when you are particularly called on to lead holy lives, and thus to do justly to all. The previous time had been a period of ignorance and darkness, when oppression, and falsehood, and sin abounded. This, the time of the gospel, when God had made known to men his will that they should be pure.

High time. Greek, "the hour."

To awake, etc. This is a beautiful figure. The dawn of day, the approaching light of the morning, is the time to arouse from slumber. In the darkness of night men sleep. So says the apostle. The world has been sunk in the night of heathenism and sin. At that time it was to be expected that they would sleep the sleep of spiritual death. But now the morning light of the gospel dawns. The Sun of righteousness has arisen. It is time, therefore, for men to cast off the deeds of darkness, and rise to life, and purity, and action. Comp. Acts 17:30,31. The same idea is beautifully presented in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8. The meaning is, "Hitherto we have walked in darkness and in sin. Now we walk in the light of the gospel. We know our duty. We are sure that the God of light is around us, and is a witness of all we do. We are going soon to meet him, and it becomes us to rouse, and to do those deeds, and those only, which will bear the bright shining of the light of truth, and the scrutiny of him who is 'light, and in whom is no darkness at all,'" 1 John 1:5.

Sleep. Inactivity; insensibility to the doctrines and duties of religion. Men, by nature, are active only in deeds of wickedness. In regard to religion they are insensible, and the slumbers of night are on their eyelids. Sleep is "the kinsman of death," and it is the emblem of the insensibility and stupidity of sinners. The deeper the ignorance and sin, the greater is this insensibility to spiritual things: and to the duties which we owe to God and man.

For now is our salvation, The word salvation has been here variously interpreted. Some suppose that by it the apostle refers to the personal reign of Christ on the earth. (Tholuck, and the Germans generally.) Others suppose it refers to deliverance from persecutions. Others, to increased light and knowledge of the gospel, so that they could more dearly discern their duty than when they became believers. (Rosenmuller.) It probably, however, has its usual meaning here, denoting that deliverance from sin and danger which awaits Christians in heaven; and is thus equivalent to the expression, "You are advancing nearer to heaven. You are hastening to the world of glory. Daily we are approaching the kingdom of light; and in prospect of that state, we ought to lay aside every sin, and live more and more in preparation for a world of light and glory."

Than when we believed. Than when we began to believe. Every day brings us nearer to a world of perfect light.

{c} "awake out of sleep" 1 Thessalonians 4:5-8

Verse 12. The night. The word night, in the New Testament, is used to denote night literally, (Matthew 2:14, etc.;) the starry heavens, (Revelation 8:12;) and then it denotes a state of ignorance and crime, and is synonymous with the word darkness, as such deeds are committed commonly in the night, 1 Thessalonians 5:5. In this place it seems to denote our present imperfect and obscure condition in this world as contrasted with the pure light of heaven. The night, the time of comparative security and sin in which we live even under the gospel, is far gone in relation to us, and the pure splendours of heaven are at hand.

Is far spent. Literally, "is cut off." It is becoming short; it is hastening to a close.

The day. The full splendours and glory of redemption in heaven. Heaven is often thus represented as a place of pure and splendid day, Revelation 21:23,25; 22:5. The times of the gospel are represented as times of light, (Isaiah 60:1,2,19,20, etc.;) but the reference here seems to be rather to the still brighter glory and splendour of heaven, as the place of pure, unclouded, and eternal day.

Is at hand. Is near; or is drawing near. This is true respecting all Christians. The day is near, or the time when they shall be admitted to heaven is not remote. This is the uniform representation of the New Testament, Hebrews 10:25; 1 Peter 4:7; James 5:8; Revelation 22:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6; Philippians 4:5. That the apostle did not mean, however, that the end of the world was near, or that the day of judgment would come soon, is clear from his own explanations. See 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6. Comp. 2 Thessalonians 2.

Let us therefore. As we are about to enter on the glories of that eternal day, we should be pure and holy. The expectation of it will teach us to seek purity; and a pure life alone will fit us to enter there, Hebrews 12:14.

Cast off. Lay aside, or put away.

The works of darkness. Dark, wicked deeds, such as are specified in the next verse. They are called works of darkness, because darkness in the Scriptures is an emblem of crime, as well as of ignorance, and because such deeds are commonly committed in the night. 1 Thessalonians 5:7, "They that be drunken, are drunken in the night." Comp. John 3:20; Ephesians 5:11-13.

Let us put on. Let us clothe ourselves with.

The armour of light. The word armour--(\~opla\~)--properly means arms, or instruments of war, including the helmet, sword, shield, etc., Ephesians 6:11-17. It is used in the New Testament to denote the aids which the Christian has, or the means of defence in his warfare, where he is represented as a soldier contending with his foes, and includes truth, righteousness, faith, hope, etc., as the instruments by which he is to gain his victories. In 2 Corinthians 6:7, it is called "the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." It is called armour of light, because it is not to accomplish any deeds of darkness or of crime; it is appropriate to one who is pure, and who is seeking a pure and noble object. Christians are represented as the children of light, 1 Thessalonians 5:5. Note, Luke 16:8. By the armour of light, therefore, the apostle means those graces which stand opposed to the deeds of darkness, (Romans 13:13;) those graces of faith, hope, humility, etc., which shall be appropriate to those who are the children of the day, and which shall be their defence in their struggles with their spiritual foes. See the description in full in Ephesians 6:11-17.

{d} "therefore cast off" Ephesians 5:11
{e} "put on the armour of light" Ephesians 6:13

Verse 13. Let us walk. To walk is an expression denoting to live; let us live, or conduct, etc.

Honestly. The word here used means, rather, in a decent or becoming manner; in a manner appropriate to those who are the children of light.

As in the day. As if all our actions were seen and known. Men by day, or in open light, live decently; their foul and wicked deeds are done in the night. The apostle exhorts Christians to live as if all their conduct were seen, and they had nothing which they wished to conceal.

In rioting. Revelling; denoting the licentious conduct, the noisy and obstreperous mirth, the scenes of disorder and sensuality, which attend luxurious living.

Drunkenness. Rioting and drunkenness constitute the first class of sins from which he would keep them. It is scarcely necessary to add, that these were common crimes among the heathen.

In chambering. "Lewd, immodest behaviour." (Webster.) The Greek word includes illicit indulgences of all kinds, adultery, etc. The words chambering and wantonness constitute the second class of crimes from which the apostle exhorts Christians to abstain. That these were common crimes among the heathen it is not necessary to say. See Barnes on Romans chapter 1; also See Barnes "Ephesians 5:12". It is not possible, nor would it be proper, to describe the scenes of licentious indulgence of which all pagans are guilty. As Christians were to be a peculiar people, therefore, the apostle enjoins on them purity and holiness of life.

Not in strife. Strife and envying are the third class of sins from which the apostle exhorts them. The word strife means contention, disputes, litigations. The exhortation is, that they should live in peace.

Envying. Greek, Zeal. It denotes any intense, vehement, fervid passion. It is not improperly rendered here by envying. These vices are properly introduced in connexion with the others. They usually accompany each other. Quarrels and contentions come out of scenes of drunkenness and debauchery. But for such scenes there would be little contention, and the world would be comparatively at peace.

{e} "walk honestly" or, "decently"
{f} "not in rioting" Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 2:12
{g} "and drunkenness" 1 Peter 4:3
{h} "chambering and wantonness" 1 Corinthians 6:9,10

Verse 14. But put ye on. Comp. Galatians 3:27. The word rendered "put ye on" is the same as used in Romans 13:12, and is commonly employed in references to clothing or apparel. The phrase to put on a person, which seems a harsh expression in our language, was one not unfrequently used by Greek writers; and means, to imbibe his principles, to imitate his example, to copy his spirit, to become like him. Thus in Dionysius Halicarnassus the expression occurs, "having put on or clothed themselves with Tarquin;" i.e. they imitated the example and morals of Tarquin. So Lucian says, "having put on Pythagoras;" having received him as a teacher and guide. So the Greek writers speak of putting on Plato, Socrates, etc., meaning to take them as instructers, to follow them as disciples. (See Schleusner.) Thus, to put on the Lord Jesus means, to take him as a pattern and guide, to imitate his example, to obey his precepts, to become like him, etc. In all respects the Lord Jesus was unlike what had been specified in the previous verse. He was temperate, chaste, pure, peaceable, and meek; and to put him on was to imitate him in these respects. Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; Isaiah 53:9; 1 John 3:5.

And make not provision. The word provision here is that which is used to denote provident care, or preparation for future wants. It means, that we should not make it an object to gratify our lusts, or study to do this by laying up anything beforehand with reference to this design.

For the flesh. The word flesh is used here evidently to denote the corrupt propensities of the body, or those which he had specified in Romans 13:13.

To fulfil the lusts thereof. With reference to its corrupt desires. The gratification of the flesh was the main object among the Romans. Living in luxury and licentiousness, they made it their great object of study to multiply and prolong the means of licentious indulgence. In respect to this, Christians were to be a separate people, and to show that they were influenced by a higher and purer desire than this grovelling propensity to minister to sensual gratification. It is right, it is a Christian duty, to labour to make provision for all the real wants of life. But the real wants are few; and, with a heart disposed to be pure and temperate, the necessary wants of life are easily satisfied, and the mind may be devoted to higher and purer purposes.

{i} "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" Galatians 3:27
{k} "not provision for the flesh" Galatians 5:16

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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 13". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". <>.  


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