John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. St. Paul, writing to the Romans, whose city was the seat of the empire, speaks largely of obedience to magistrates: and this was also, in effect, a public apology for the Christian religion. Let every soul be subject to the supreme powers - An admonition peculiarly needful for the Jews. Power, in the singular number, is the supreme authority; powers are they who are invested with it. That is more readily acknowledged to be from God than these. The apostle affirms it of both. They are all from God, who constituted all in general, and permits each in particular by his providence. The powers that be are appointed by God - It 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.
Verse 2. Whosoever resisteth the power - In any other manner than the laws of the community direct. Shall receive condemnation - Not only from the magistrate, but from God also.
Verse 3. For rulers are - In the general, notwithstanding some particular exceptions. A terror to evil works - Only. Wouldest thou then not be afraid - There is one fear which precedes evil actions, and deters from them: this should always remain. There is another fear which follows evil actions: they who do well are free from this.
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Verse 4. The sword - The instrument of capital punishment, which God authorizes him to inflict.
Verse 5. Not only for fear of wrath - That is, punishment from man. But for conscience' sake - Out of obedience to God.
Verse 6. For this cause - Because they are the ministers (officers) of God for the public good. This very thing - The public good.
Verse 7. To all - Magistrates. Tribute - Taxes on your persons or estates. Custom - For goods exported or imported. Fear - Obedience. Honour - Reverence. All these are due to the supreme power.
Verse 8. From our duty to magistrates he passes on to general duties. To love one another - An eternal debt, which can never be sufficiently discharged; but yet if this be rightly performed, it discharges all the rest. For he that loveth another - As he ought. Hath fulfilled the whole law - Toward his neighbour.
Verse 9. If there be any other - More particular. Commandment - Toward our neighbour; as there are many in the law. It is summed up in this - So that if you was not thinking of it, yet if your heart was full of love, you would fulfil it.
Verse 10. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law - For the same love which restrains from all evil, incites us to all good.
Verse 11. And do this - Fulfil the law of love in all the instances above mentioned. Knowing the season - Full of grace, but hasting away. That it is high time to awake out of sleep - How beautifully is the metaphor carried on! This life, a night; the resurrection, the day; the gospel shining on the heart, the dawn of this day; we are to awake out of sleep; to rise up and throw away our night-clothes, fit only for darkness, and put on new; and, being soldiers, we are to arm, and prepare for fight, who are encompassed with so many enemies. The day dawns when we receive faith, and then sleep gives place. Then it is time to rise, to arm, to walk, to work, lest sleep steal upon us again. Final salvation, glory, is nearer to us now, than when we 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 but a moment.
Verse 13. Banqueting - Luxurious, elegant feasts.
Verse 14. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ - Herein is contained the whole of our salvation. It is a strong and beautiful expression for the most intimate union with him, and being clothed with all the graces which were in him. 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 - To raise foolish desires, or, when they are raised already, to satisfy them.