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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Romans 13

 

 

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Verse 1

ROMANS CHAPTER 13

Romans 13:1-6 Subjection to magistrates enforced.

Romans 13:7 We must render to all their dues,

Romans 13:8-10 only love is a debt we must always owe, and virtually

containeth the whole law.

Romans 13:11-14 Rioting, drunkenness, and other works of darkness

must be put away, as much out of season under the gospel.

The former chapter is called by some St. Paul’s ethics, and this his politics. He having said, in the latter end of the foregoing chapter, that Christians must not avenge themselves, but refer all to God, who says, that vengeance is his, and he will repay it; some might infer from hence, that it was not lawful for magistrates to right the wronged, and avenge them of their adversaries; or for Christians to make use of them to such a purpose; therefore, to set us right in this matter, he falls into the following discourse. Others think, that the apostle having spoken in several places concerning Christians’ liberty, lest what he had said should be misconstrued, as if he meant that Christians were freed from subjection to the powers that were over them, he seasonably insists upon the doctrine and duty of obedience to authority; which point is more fully handled in this context than in any other place besides.

Let every soul; i.e. every person. In the first verse of the foregoing chapter the body was put for the whole man; here, the soul; and when he says every person, it is plain that ecclesiastical persons are not exempted.

Be subject: he doth not say, be obedient, but be subject; which is a general word, (as some have noted), comprehending all other duties and services. This subjection must be limited only to lawful things; otherwise, we must answer as they did, Acts 4:19: or as Polycarpus did; when he was required to blaspheme Christ, and swear by the fortune of Caesar, he peremptorily refused, and said: We are taught to give honour to princes and potentates, but such honour as is not contrary to true religion.

Unto the higher powers: though he speaks of things, he means persons; and he calls them rulers in Romans 13:3, whom he calls powers in this verse. So in Luke 12:11, Christ tells his disciples, they should be brought before magistrates and powers; it is the same word, and it is plain he means persons in power. Chrysostom notes, that he rather speaks of our subjection to powers, than persons in power; because, that howsoever their power be abused, their authority must be acknowledged and obeyed. He speaks of powers, in the plural number, because there are divers sorts and kinds thereof, as monarchy, aristocracy, democracy: under which soever of these we live, we must be subject thereunto. By higher powers, he means the supreme powers; so the word is rendered, 1 Peter 2:13. To them, and to those that are authorized by them, we must submit, for that is all one as if we did it to themselves, 1 Timothy 2:2 1 Peter 2:14. There are other inferior powers, which are also of God, as parents, masters, &c.; but of these he doth not speak in this place.

For there is no power but of God: this is a reason of the foregoing injunction: q.d. That which hath God for its author, is to be acknowledged and submitted to; but magistracy hath God for its author: ergo. He speaketh not here of the person, nor of the abuse, nor of the manner of getting into power, but of the thing itself, viz. magistracy and authority: and he says, it is of God; he instituted the office, and he appointeth or permitteth the person that executes it. This clause is attested and illustrated by Proverbs 8:15 Daniel 4:32 John 19:11.

The powers that be are ordained of God: this passage is an exemplification of the former. Erasmus thinks it was inserted by some interpreter, by way of explanation; but it is found in all ancient copies, therefore that conceit of his is without foundation. The emphasis of this sentence seems to lie in the word ordained; power and civil authority is not simply from God, as all other things are, but it is ordained by him. This word (as one observes) implieth two things; invention, and ratification. God invented and devised this order, that some should rule, and others obey; and he maintaineth and upholdeth it.


Verse 2

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: these words are, either an argument to enforce the subjection enjoined in the former part of the foregoing verse; q. d. You may not resist; therefore, you must be subject: or else, they are an inference from the latter part of it; q.d. Seeing the civil power is of God, and of his ordination; therefore, it must not be resisted or opposed. To resist authority, is to wage war against God himself.

Damnation; the word properly signifieth judgment, and it is applied in Scripture, either to human and temporal punishment, as Luke 23:40 1 Corinthians 6:7 1 Peter 4:17; or else to Divine and eternal punishment, as Luke 20:47 Hebrews 6:2 2 Peter 2:3. Accordingly, it may be understood of eternal punishment, that the resister of authority shall receive from God; or of temporal punishment, that he shall receive from the magistrate.


Verse 3

This verse contains a further argument for subjection to the higher powers, and it is taken from the benefit thereof, or from the end of magistracy, which is for the punishment of evil, and the encouragement of good works: see 1 Peter 2:14. When he says, that

rulers are not a terror to good works, he means, they are not so ordinarily; or they were not ordained for that end, but the contrary. Or else, by are not understand they ought not, so to be.

Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good,

and thou shalt have praise of the same: q.d. Wouldst thou be free from fear of being punished by the magistrate? Do that which is good, and thou shalt not only be free from fear, but sure of praise and reward: see Proverbs 14:35 16:13.

By good he means, not that which is so theologically. but morally: q. d. Live honestly, hurt no man in word or deed, give to every man his due, &c. This is good in the sight of all men, of heathens themselves.


Verse 4

For he is the minister of God to thee for good: q.d. That is the end of his office, and for this reason God hath invested him with his authority. The Scripture applieth the same title to him that preacheth the word, and to him that beareth the sword; both are God’s ministers, and there is one common end of their ministry, which is the good and welfare of mankind.

But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: this is the reason why he that trangresseth the moral law of God, or the wholesome laws of the country where he lives, should be afraid of the magistrate, because

he beareth not the sword in vain. The sword is figuratively put for power and authority: he alludes to the custom of princes, who had certain officers going before them, bearing the ensigns of their authority: q.d. The magistrate hath not his authority for nothing, or for no purpose; but that he may punish the evil, as well as defend the good.

For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil: here is another reason why evil-doers (as before) should be afraid of the magistrate; or rather, the same reason in other and plainer words; because he is God’s officer to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil; he is in God’s room upon earth, and doth the work which primarily belongeth unto him: see Romans 12:19. By wrath, here, understand punishment: so in Luke 21:23 Romans 2:8. The word execute is not in the text, but aptly enough supplied by our translators.


Verse 5

q.d. Seeing things are so as I have said; that magistracy is of God, that it is his ordinance, that it is for the benefit of mankind, and that it is armed with the sword; therefore there is a necessity of subjection, and that for a double reason: first, from fear of wrath, or punishment from the magistrate. Secondly, and more especially, from the obligation of conscience, because God hath so commanded; and to err in this particular, is to offend God, and to wound our own consciences: see 1 Samuel 24:5 Ecclesiastes 8:2 1 Peter 2:13.


Verse 6

For this cause, i.e. in token, or in testimony, of that subjection you owe to magistracy,

pay ye tribute: the word is plural in the original, and thereby is intended all taxes and burdens, which are legally and customarily imposed.

For they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing: this is a reason why tribute should be paid to rulers; but it is for the support of their authority, and a due recompence for their great care and industry. When he says, they attend

continually upon this very thing, the meaning is not, they attend always upon the receiving of tribute; but it is to be understood of the duty of magistrates, which is, to be continually promoting the good and welfare of their subjects; to encourage the good, and punish the evil-doer, which is the very thing he had been before speaking of.


Verse 7

This verse concludes his discourse about the civil powers. When he saith:

Render to all their dues, he doth not mean all men, but all magistrates, whatever they be for quality, either good or bad; or whatever they be for degree, either supreme or subordinate. Render to them their dues; i.e. whatever of right belongs to them: see Matthew 22:21. There are two things that more especially belong to rulers, and are due from those that are under them: the one is maintenance; the other is reverence. The first is expressed here by tribute and custom; if these two differ, then the former is a tax laid upon the substance, the latter upon the person. The second, by fear and honour; fear notes inward, and honour outward, reverence and respect.

Fear is the magistrate’s due by reason of his authority;

honour, by reason of his dignity.


Verse 8

Having treated of special duties belonging to superiors, he now comes to that which is more general, and belongs to all.

Owe no man any thing; neither your superiors, nor your equals and inferiors; render and pay to every person what is due to him, let his rank and quality be what it will.

But to love one another: q.d. Only there is one debt that yon can never fully discharge; that you must be ever paying, yet ever owing; and that is love.

For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law: this is a reason why we should love one another, and be still paying that debt; and it is taken from the excellency of love:

he that loveth another (i.e. he that doth it in deed and in truth) hath fullfilled the law; he means, the second table of the law, as the next verse showeth; he hath done what is required therein.


Verse 9

This verse proves that love is the fulfilling of the law. It is done by an induction or enumeration of the particular precepts of the second table. The fifth is not mentioned, because the Jews made that commandment a part of the first table; so some: or because he had treated before of duty to the higher powers and superiors, under which parents are comprehended; so others. It may be, he would only mention the negative precepts, as being most contrary to love. But, why doth he mention the seventh commandment before the sixth? Because of the commonness of adultery amongst the Romans; so some: because of the odiousness of it; so others. Hence

adultery is first named amongst the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:19. Possibly it is, because the Seventy, in Exodus, rehearse the commandments in this very order. The tenth commandment is summed up in one word:

Thou shalt not covet; it seems, then, it is but one commandment, and their opinion is ridiculous who divide it into two. When he says, if there be any

other commandment? He means a commandment of the same nature, requiring us to pay what we owe one to another; ergo, to honour our parents; or he means, any other in the Scripture, though not expressed in the decalogue. All commandments respecting our neighbour are summed up in this one:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: see Matthew 22:39 Galatians 5:14 1 Timothy 1:5.


Verse 10

This verse is an argument to prove what was proposed, Romans 13:8. It may thus be formed: That which worketh no ill, or doth no hurt to our neighbour, fulfilleth the law: but

love worketh no ill to his neighbour; ergo. That this is the property of love, see 1 Corinthians 13:4,5. When he saith, Love doth no hurt, this is implied, that it doth good to his neighbour. Where only negatives are mentioned, the affirmative also is included; and the negative only is set down in this place, that it may the better correspond with the foregoing verse.


Verse 11

And that; or, moreover; the speech is elliptical, something must be understood, as, I say, or add: q. d. Unto this exhortation to Christian love, I further add what follows.

Knowing the time; i.e. considering it is a time of great trial, or time of gospel light.

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; i.e. to shake off slothfulness, security, and all former sinful courses. See the like, 1 Corinthians 15:34 Ephesians 5:14 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8. q.d. Consider, now it is the hour or season to awake or rise up, to lay aside your night clothes, as it is in the following verse.

Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed; or, salvation is nearer to us than when we first began to believe. Some would understand it of temporal salvation, and deliverance from those persecutions which befell the Christians in the infancy of the church; from these they were saved and delivered by the destruction of the Jews their persecutors. This was foretold by Christ, and expected by the Christians; and it was nigher at hand than when they first embraced the Christian faith. But most understand it of eternal salvation, which he says was nearer than when they first believed. In which words is couched another argument to awaken or stir up the believing Romans; the first was taken from the consideration of the time or season; the second, from the nearness of the word. Therefore it should be with them as with those that run in a race; the nearer they come to the goal, the faster they run, lest others should get before them.


Verse 12

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: some, by night and day, do understand the night of Jewish persecution and the day of deliverance and salvation; see Hebrews 10:25. Others, by night, understand the time of ignorance and infidelity; this, he says, is far spent, or for the greatest part it is past and gone: darkness is not perfectly done away in this life amongst believers themselves, 1 Corinthians 13:9,10. By day, they understand the time of gospel light and saving knowledge: so in the next verse, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:5. This, he says, is at hand, or is come nigh; it was dawning upon the world, and would shine brighter and brighter, till it were perfect day.

Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness; i.e. all our former sins, which are called works of darkness, here, and in Ephesians 5:11. They are so called, because they are usually committed by those that are in ignorance and darkness; and because some sins, such as he speaks of in the next verse, were wont to be committed in the darkness of the night, men being ashamed of them in the day time: see Job 24:15 1 Thessalonians 5:7. These he exhorts the believing Romans to cast off: the word implieth, haste and hatred, Isaiah 30:22 31:7.

And let us put on the armour of light; i.e. all Christian graces, which are bright and shining in the eyes of the world, Matthew 5:16; and which will be as so much Christian armour, to defend us against sin, and all the assaults of Satan.


Verse 13

Let its walk honestly, as in the day: q.d. Let us behave ourselves decently, and with a holy shamefacedness, as becomes those to whom the grace of God, and the glorious light of the gospel, hath appeared. This honest walking is expressed by three adverbs in Titus 2:12; i.e. soberly, righteously, godly. He enumerates divers vices, which are contrary to this honest walking, and he sets them down by pairs. He makes three pairs of them: the first is

rioting and drunkenness; by which he means intemperance, or excess in eating and drinking: see Luke 21:34. The second is

chambering and wantonness; by which he means actual uncleanness, and all lustful and lascivious dalliances: see Galatians 5:19 Ephesians 5:3 Colossians 3:5 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5,7 1 Peter 4:3. The third pair is

strife and envying. All these vices are twisted and connected: intemperance causeth uncleanness, and both cause contention and emulation, Proverbs 23:29,30. The famous St. Augustine confesseth, that he was converted by reading and pondering this text.


Verse 14

Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ; he exhorted, Romans 13:12, to put on the armour of light; now, to put on Jesus Christ. This is necessary, for though grace may help to defend, yet it is Christ and his righteousness only that can cover us (as a garment doth our nakedness) in the sight of God. To put on Christ, is to receive him and rest upon him by faith; as also to profess and imitate him. You have the same phrase, Galatians 3:27.

Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof: by flesh, here, some understand the corrupt nature; others, the body. When he says,

make not provision for the flesh, he doth not mean, that they should not provide things necessary for the body; this is allowed, Ephesians 5:29 1 Timothy 5:23; we are no where commanded to neglect or macerate our bodies; but he means, that we should not gratify it in its sinful lusts or lustings: see 1 Corinthians 11:27. Sustain it we may, but pamper it we may not: we must not care, cater, or make projects for the flesh, to fulfil its inordinacics and cravings.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Romans 13:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/romans-13.html. 1685.

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