Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Let every soul - Every person. In the seven first 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 special 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 paganism. 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 pagan 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; compare 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 honor "God" by honoring 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 agitation and conflicts of party, and of contentions to establish a favorite 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; Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21; Daniel 4:17, Daniel 4:25, Daniel 4:34-35.
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; Acts 5:29. But it is meant that the power is intrusted 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 pagan 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.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.Whosoever therefore resisteth ... - 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 shall 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 used here κρίμα 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; compare Romans 13:4. It is also true that such resistance shall be attended with the displeasure of God, and be punished by him.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: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 ... - Are not appointed to "punish the good." Their appointment is not to inspire terror in those who are virtuous and peaceable citizens; compare 1 Timothy 1:9.
But to the evil - Appointed to detect and punish evildoers; 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 ... - 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 - Compare 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.
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.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 results of your industry. The magistrate is not appointed directly to "reward" people, but they "practically" furnish a reward by protecting and defending them, and securing to them the interests of justice.
If thou do that ... - 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 unmeaningful show, but that it will be used to execute the laws. As this is the design of the power intrusted to him, and as he will "exercise" his authority, people should be influenced "by fear" to keep the law, even if there were no better motive.
A revenger ... - 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 people 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 the notes at 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.)
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.Wherefore - διό 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" ἀναγκή anagkē to be. This is a word stronger than what 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; compare Ecclesiastes 8:2, "I counsel them to keep the king's commandments, and "that in regard of the oath of God."
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.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 13:5, 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 13:1-2, 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 honor 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.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.Render therefore ... - This injunction is often repeated in the Bible; see the notes at 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 - τέλος telos. 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. Since the execution of their office is suited to excite "fear," we should render to them that reverence which is appropriate to the execution of their function. 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 people all their just titles, recognizes their rank and function, 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 people, or to withhold from them the customary tribute of respect and homage; compare Acts 24:3; Acts 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 honor 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 recognised 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 people are to be preserved. People 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 cannot 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 (America) 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.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.Owe no man anything - Be not "in debt" to anyone. 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 neighbor, 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 people 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 the note at Romans 12:11; compare Philippians 4:8; Proverbs 24:30-34; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Ephesians 4:25.
(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 splendor, gaiety, and extravagances which lead often to the contraction of debts; 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7; Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Peter 3:5; 1 Timothy 2:9.
(5) Religion would put a period to the "vices" and unlawful desires which now prompt people 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 people, 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 ... - In what way this is done is stated in Romans 13:10. The law in relation to our neighbor 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 neighbor, and shows that all those laws proceed on the principle that we are to "love" him, and that love would prompt to them all.
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.For this - "This" which follows is the sum of the laws. "This" is to regulate us in our conduct toward our neighbor. The word "this" here stands opposed to "that" in Romans 13:11. This law of love would prompt us to seek our neighbor'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 neighbor; see these commands considered in the notes at 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 honor 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 missing in many manuscripts 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 neighbor 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 ... - This is found in Leviticus 19:18. See it considered in the notes at 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.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.Love worketh no ill ... - Love would seek to do him good; of course it would prevent all dishonesty and crime toward others. It would prompt to justice, truth, and benevolence. If this law were engraved on every man's heart, and practiced in his life, what a change would it immediately produce in society! If all people would at once "abandon" what is suited to "work ill" to others, what an influence would it have on the business and commercial affairs of people. 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 neighbor 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 neighbor. 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 neighbor 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 neighbor would prompt him to abandon the traffic; see Habakkuk 2:15, "Wo unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that putteth thy bottle to him, and makest him drink also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness."
Therefore ... - "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 neighbor, requires us to do justice toward him, to observe truth, etc. "All" this will be met by "love;" and if people 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.
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.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 toward our neighbor 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 contact 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 people his will that they should be pure.
High time - Greek, "the hour."
To awake ... - 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, people sleep. So says the apostle. The world has been sunk in the "night" of paganism 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 people to cast off the deeds of darkness, and rise to life, and purity, and action; compare 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. People, 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 clearly 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.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.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 obscurity and sin in which we live even under the gospel, is far gone in relation to us, and the pure splendors 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 splendors and glory of redemption in heaven. Heaven is often thus represented as a place of pure and splendid day; Revelation 21:23, Revelation 21:25; Revelation 22:5. The times of the "gospel" are represented as times of "light" (Isaiah 60:1-2; Isaiah 60:19-20, etc.); but the reference here seems to be rather to the still brighter glory and splendor 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 22:10; 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; compare 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;" compare John 3:20; Ephesians 5:11-13.
Let us put on - Let us clothe ourselves with.
The armour of light - The word "armor" ὅπλα hopla 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 defense" 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 armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." It is called armor 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 armor 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 defense in their struggles with their spiritual foes. see the description in full in Ephesians 4:11-17.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.Let us walk - To "walk" is an expression denoting "to live;" let us "live," or "conduct," etc.
Honestly - The word used here 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. People 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 pagan.
In chambering - "Lewd, immodest behavior." (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 pagan, it is not necessary to say; see the Romans 1 notes; also Ephesians 5:12 note. It is not possible, nor would it be proper, to describe the scenes of licentious indulgence of which all pagans are guilty. Since Christians were to be a special 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 connection 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.
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.But put ye on - Compare Galatians 3:17. The word rendered "put ye on" is the same used in Romans 13:12, and is commonly employed in reference to "clothing" or "apparel." The phrase to "put on" a person, which seems a harsh expression in our language, was one not infrequently 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 instructors, 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; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; Isaiah 53:9; 1 John 3:5.
And make not provision - The word "provision" here is what is used to denote "provident care," or preparation for future needs. 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 labor to make provision for all the real needs 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.