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Sermon Bible Commentary

Romans 13

 

 

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Verse 1

Romans 13:1

The Principles and Method of Christian Civilisation.

I. It may not be certain that this Epistle was written at one of the worst moments of Roman tyranny. It may possibly belong to that short interval of promise which preceded the full outburst of Nero's natural atrocity. But the character which the empire had assumed must have been perfectly well known to St. Paul. It could have been no surprise to him that within a few years the Christians whom he was addressing should be called to expiate the emperor's own crime by frightful tortures, or that he himself should be one of the victims. He wrote to prepare them for such events. And yet he says, "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for they are ordained of God."

II. We lose, it seems to me, much of the Apostle's meaning, and pervert it to a purpose the most opposite to that which he contemplated, while, at the same time, we weaken the obligation which is laid upon us, if we do not perceive that these words contain the most strong and effectual protest ever made against the tyranny which they command Christian men patiently to endure. The very reason upon which St. Paul rests his exhortation to the Roman Christians is the reason which proves all such oppression as the Roman emperors were guilty of to be a false and hateful thing, a contradiction so gross and monstrous, that it can last only for a short time. "There is no power but of God." If the powers that be are ordained of men, they may be used according to the pleasure of men. It is merely a conflict between this form of self-will and that; between a despotism that exists and a despotism that is struggling to exist. If the powers that be are ordained of God, they must be designed to accomplish the good pleasure of God, all self-will must be at strife with a perfect will which is working continually for good. All efforts at absolute dominion must be a daring outrage upon Him who alone is absolute, and such struggles and such outrages, though they may be permitted a while for the fuller manifestation of that purpose which shall be accomplished in spite of them, have a lying root, and must at last come to nought.

F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 393.


I. This text is a good illustration of the manner in which Christian doctrine is ever made by the apostles the ground of Christian duty. They do not often teach us new duties—in fact, there are very few duties in any part of the New Testament which were not either recognised in the Old, or else perceived to be duties by the light which is naturally in the human mind; but the great feature of the New Testament teaching is this, that all duties whatever are put upon a higher ground than they occupied before. What Christ has done for us is made the measure of what we should do and the argument why we should do it; and Christians are regarded not so much in the character of men who know more than their fellows, as in the character of men who feel themselves bound by the mercies of God and the love of Christ to offer themselves up a living sacrifice.

II. Note two or three reasons why we might have expected that the teaching of Christ's disciples would not omit to lay stress upon the duty of honouring and submitting to the Queen. (1) In the first place, the general spirit of gentleness and longsuffering which belonged to all the teaching of Christ would suggest that quiet submission to authority was the right course for Christians. (2) Again, it is not to be forgotten that Christ Himself was declared to be a King, and that all Christians become by their profession subjects of this new kingdom. And in this kingdom submission was to be unlimited and obedience complete; the very lesson which all Christians had to learn was that they were bound to give themselves up with all their power and all their might to be a living sacrifice to Him who redeemed them, and to do His will with all their soul and strength. Hence, to a Christian the name of King was sanctified by its having been assumed by Christ, and the relation of people to king was hallowed. (3) Once more, the example of our Lord Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh would have a great effect in enforcing such duties as those which the text contains. He who would not allow Himself to be made the means of insurrection when the people would take Him by force and make Him a King, and who paid the tribute to avoid giving offence, and who permitted Himself to be given up to the rulers and to be tried and condemned, would certainly have given His sanction to the doctrine of the text.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. iv., p. 227.


References: Romans 13:1.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 88; C. Kingsley, National Sermons, p. 32. Romans 13:1-7.—Homilist, new series, vol. i., p. 141.


Verse 4

Romans 13:4

I. In the chapter from which my text is taken St. Paul speaks of civil rulers as ministers of God. He does not limit or soften his language to suit the circumstances of his own time. Nero's will might be devilish; every power which he wielded was Divine. He had been appointed to rule the world which he tormented by Him who loved the world. He was the steward of His treasures even by, if he spent them in making those miserable whom they were intended to bless.

II. But St. Paul says further—"He is a minister of God to thee." A strange assertion. The emperor's existence was a testimony to the poor Christian that he belonged to the great Roman world, that he was concerned, whether he was citizen or slave, in its welfare and its misery. That was a great step in his education, in his moral and spiritual education.

III. "He is a minister of God to thee for good." St. Paul writes this to men who might, in a short time, be lighting the city as torches to cover the guilt of him who set it on fire. Well! and was he not a minister of God to them for good if he was the instrument of inflicting that torture? The Apostle could venture the daring sentiment. He knew that by some means God would prove it to be true, for that generation and for all generations. And it will be known, some day, to how many men governments the most hypocritical and accursed have been ministers of good, by leading them from trifling to earnestness, by changing them from reckless plotters into self-denying patriots, by turning their atheism or devil-worship into a grounded faith in the God of truth. As Paul believed Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the King of men, he could not help believing that all human society was organised according to the law which He expressed in words, which He embodied in His incarnation and death—"The chief of all is the servant of all." He could not doubt that every Christian ought to maintain the truth which Nero set at naught, and that if he did, it would prove itself in his case—Nero would be a minister of God for good to him.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 81.


Reference: Romans 13:4, Romans 13:5.—W. F. Fremantle, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 91.



Verse 7

Romans 13:7

The Doctrine of Obedience. Note:—

I. As suggested by the passage generally, the breadth and largeness of the gospel precepts. The broad principle is stated: obedience to lawful power. The application of it is left to reason, to conscience, to the inward guidance of the Holy Spirit.

II. The wholesomeness of the gospel teaching. There is nothing morbid in the Bible. Every one of Christ's precepts, this one most of all, tends to make earth a scene of order and tranquillity in the very same degree in which it teaches men to regard earth as a small and insignificant portion of the whole of their space and the whole of their time.

III. Notice a few practical suggestions upon the principle here laid down. (1) Among these I must place foremost the charge to carry it out consistently in all departments of life. (2) If it is the duty of one to obey reverently, it must be the duty of another to rule well. Whatever be our position, however humble it may be in some aspects, yet so far as it is one of authority, if it be but over a few servants, each one of us is, in the sense here designed, "a minister of God," an "officer of God." (3) We must act upon the charge before us in small details. Such as (a) cheerfulness in bearing the burdens imposed on us for the state-service; (b) respectful language at all times about those in authority. (4) Once more, we are bound at all times to cherish, and from time to time more earnestly to express, a spirit of thankfulness to God Himself for His gift to us of government. (5) We should take a more lively interest than is, I fear, common amongst us, in those parts of our public worship which have a direct reference to the persons of our rulers and to the deliberations of our legislature.

C. J. Vaughan, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, p. 39.



Verse 10

Romans 13:10

I. The law being an expression of the mind and will of God, we have only to study the character of God more closely to interpret more correctly the spirit and intention of the law. The character of God is known to us by His works, His providences, His revelations of Himself by prophets and saints, to whom He has made Himself known. Now, the confluence of all these streams of knowledge, derived from what He has said and done, issues in the revelation of a God of love. To begin with, the act of creation is a work of Almighty love. So it has been said with reason that if a man should realise his existence as a creature, he would be urged by his own consciousness to live a perfect life of love. But to come nearer than creation, to come to our personal contact with God, what is it that we find? The life we now enjoy rises in an ascending scale from peace and friendship and fellowship in work with God, to hope and promises beyond, from a seedtime of manifold experiences here to a harvest of immortality hereafter.

II. Consider some of the features of love. (1) In its aspect towards God, love has this note of encouragement, namely, that every movement of your love towards Him, though it be shortlived, intermittent and frail under temptation, is yet a witness to a certain congeniality and conformity of your nature to the nature of God. (2) Again, love is a motive which leads to imitation; you desire to grow like the one you love. (3) It is love that gives unity of design to the whole mechanism of the Catholic Church—its creeds, its sacraments, its ritual, its seasons, its festivals, its fasts, its penitences, and its joys. Just as the master-mind and the genius of one architect give order and harmony to the almost infinite details and creations of a Gothic church, so does love give system and symphony to the infinite varieties of the Christian life.

C. W. Furse, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 129.


Reference: Romans 13:10.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 28.



Verse 11

Romans 13:11

The Sleep of the Church.

There are many thoughts crowded together here, but each is necessary to the other. They will not bear to be separated, but we must disentangle them by considering how each of them bears on our own life and practice.

I. It is clear that the sleep or torpor which the Apostle speaks of is not one into which Jews or heathens had fallen. He was not writing to them. He was writing to a society of men confessing the faith of Jesus Christ, declaring Him to be the Image of God and the head of men. How could the Apostle think that such a society should fall into sleep? Because he knew what the temptation to it was in himself. He knew that he, who had been called by Christ Himself, who had had visions and revelations, who had been in the third heaven, might sink into indifference and listlessness.

II. A society is sleeping a death-sleep when its love becomes stagnant, when it is not a vigorous operative power. Now, St. Paul knew that no circumstances imparted this love to him; that if he depended on circumstances it perished. From personal experience he could testify that love to man might be as much killed by frosts as by suns; that if it is not kindled from within, everything from without may be fatal to it.

III. And how does he ward off the danger from himself? What contrivance does he use to wake them out of their slumbers? He reminded them that this indifference, lovelessness, this contention, self-seeking, was the accursed state out of which Christ came to redeem them. It was this hell into which He found His creatures sinking. It was to rescue them from this hell that He took flesh and dwelt among them and died on the cross and rose again and ascended on high. They had received the first pledges of this Redemption, of this Salvation. They had been enabled to feel and suffer for others, to desire their good, to love them as themselves. It was but a beginning; the glimpse of a Paradise; a first taste of the Tree of Life. They had a natural gravitation to self-indulgence, a preference for self-will, a desire for self-glory. These tendencies were always threatening to become supreme. Therefore St. Paul bids them think of the salvation which Christ had promised as something yet to come, as a blessing yet to be attained. This salvation from all which clogged their progress and hindered them from seeing things as they were—this salvation from lies, from hatred, from indifference—was all contained in the promise that He in whom is light and no darkness at all should be fully manifested. Every day and every hour was hastening on this manifestation, and therefore this salvation.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v., p. 15.


Self-denial the Test of Religious Earnestness.

I. By "sleep" in this passage St. Paul means a state of insensibility to things as they really are in God's sight. When we are asleep we are absent from this world's action as if we were no longer concerned in it. It goes on without us, and if our rest be broken and we have some slight notion of people and occurrences about us, if we hear a voice or a sentence and see a face, yet we are unable to catch these external objects justly and truly; we make them part of our dreams, and pervert them till they have scarcely a resemblance to what they really are: and such is the state of men as regards religious truth. Many live altogether as though the day shone not on them, but the shadows still endured; and far the greater part of them are but very faintly sensible of the great truths preached around them. They see and hear as people in a dream; they mix up the Holy Word of God with their own idle imaginings; if startled for a moment, still they soon relapse into slumber; they refuse to be awakened, and think their happiness consists in continuing as they are.

II. If a person asks how he is to know whether he is dreaming on in the world's slumber, or is really awake and alive unto God, let him first fix his mind upon some one or other of his besetting infirmities. Many men have more than one, all of us have some one or other, and in resisting and overcoming such self-denial has its first employment. Be not content with a warmth of faith carrying you over many obstacles even in your obedience, forcing you past the fear of men and the usages of society and the persuasions of interest; exult not in your experience of God's past mercies, and your assurance of what He has already done for your soul, if you are conscious you have neglected the one thing needful,—daily self-denial.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 57.


I. The text tells us what we are. St. Paul is addressing Christians, yet even they are asleep. Sleep is a torpor of the powers. The more complete the suspension of the energies, whether of brain or muscle or limb, the deeper, the sounder, the more thorough is the sleep. If the Christian man is spoken of as sleeping, it must be with reference to the inactivity, to the torpor, of his characteristic activities. St. Paul does not say that we sleepers may not be dreamers, may not be imaginers, may not be somnambulists. This would be just his idea of the Christian sleeper. The children of light, living like children of the world,—what are we, while this is true of us, but sleeping men, haunted by phantoms, disquieted by night's illusions, and traversing (candle in hand) the chambers and halls and gardens of earth, with eyes closed and sealed to the light of an immortal day?

II. To awake out of sleep—what is it? There are acts of the soul as well as of the life. There are critical moments and there are decisive actions in the history of man's spirit. St. Paul knew this—knew it in himself. A moment changed him from an enemy to a friend. He never looked back. It has been thus in ten thousand lives. St. Paul seems to recommend this kind of transaction—a transaction between a man and his soul, between a man and his life—in the short sharp watchword of the text.

III. The text adds a motive. "It is high time to awake." The nearness of the Advent is the motive for the awaking. It is a gratuitous supposition that St. Paul positively expected the Advent within the lifetime of the then living. St. Paul knew who had said, "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man," and yet had coupled with it the warning, "Therefore, be ye always ready." Each generation—the first not least—each successively until the latest—should live in the expectation, gilding the darkness of death by the brightness of the coming. Happy they to whom it can be said, Christians, awake, for your salvation draweth nigh. This is the motive of the text.

C. J. Vaughan, Sundays in the Temple, p. 1.


References: Romans 13:11.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 373; H. J. Wilmot Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 1; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 1st series, p. 1; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 286; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 282; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 481; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2893. Romans 13:11, Romans 13:12.—G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 1; Homilist, new series, vol. ii., p. 456.


Verse 12

Romans 13:12

Inducements to Holiness.

I. The argument which is drawn from the greater nearness of death (for this is evidently the argument here employed) is not of the same urgency when applied to the believer as to the unbeliever. If I ply the unbeliever with the fact that he is approaching nearer and nearer destruction, I just tell him that he has less time in which to escape and therefore less likelihood of obtaining deliverance. He must do it before daybreak, and the night is far spent. But when I turn with a like argument to the believer, and bid him cast off the works of darkness because the day is at hand, there is by no means the same appearance of force in the motive. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed"; and if a man be secure of salvation, so that his attainment of it does not depend on his striving for the rest of his life, to tell him that the end is at hand does not look like plying him with a proof of the necessity of exertion. But it is no Scriptural, and therefore no legitimate, feeling of security which can engender or excuse sluggishness. The only Scriptural certainty that a man will be saved is the certainty that he will struggle. Struggling is incipient salvation. Christ died to save us from our sins, and therefore the more striving there is against sin the more proportion is there of salvation. The Christian's life is emphatically a life of labour. Ought not then this well-ascertained principle—the principle that the consciousness of the greater nearness of the end of a task generates fresh strength for the working it out—ought not this thoroughly to convince us that to remind a man of there being less time for toil should urge him to toil with more energy?

II. And if this suffice not to explain why the day being at hand should animate the Christian to the casting off of the works of darkness, we have two other reasons to advance—reasons why the consciousness of having less time to live should urge a man who feels sure of salvation to strive to be increasingly earnest in all Christian duties. The first reason is, because there is less time in which to strive for a high place in the kingdom of God; the second, because there is less time in which to glorify the Creator and Redeemer. Let these reasons be well considered and pondered, and they will, we think, show that there is full motive to "the casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light" in the announced fact that the "night is far spent, the day is at hand."

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2286.

The Day of the Lord.

It is more than eighteen hundred years since the Apostle uttered this exulting cry. We cannot repeat it today when once more we come to our Advent time without some sense of hopelessness. For what has come of it? we ask; is the night gone, is the day at hand? Century after century, with the indestructible aspiration of the heart, has this note of joy been taken up. and the aspiration has been disappointed and the joy unreached. The drama of mankind has been charged with so much action, apparently wasted, and so much suffering, apparently squandered, on the ground of this incessant hope, and yet the great end seems no nearer. On and on, stumbling in the night with bleeding feet and wearied brain, the great world has struggled forward, hoping for the dawn. "There is no radiance," it mutters, "on the mountains yet. I hope for ever, that is my doom; but the night is deep, and the day delays. Would God I could see the morning glow!"

I. St. Paul was wrong when he expected the final close in his own time; but he was right in this—that a new day was near at hand. We are wrong when we think we are near to the last great hour of time; but we are right when our heart tells us that God is coming to bring light to our own souls, to awaken our nation out of wrong into right, to set on foot new thoughts which will renew the life of mankind, for that is His continuous and Divine work. The reason, then, denies the nearness of the time when God will close this era of the world, and denies it on account of the slowness of God's work. In reality God's work is never slow or fast; it always marches at a constant pace; but to our sixty or seventy years it seems of an infinite tardiness. We live and grasp our results so hurriedly, and we have so short a time in which to work, that we naturally find ourselves becoming impatient with God. To work quickly seems to us to work well. But we forget how, even in our little life, we lose the perfection of results by too great rapidity. We seclude no hours of wise quiet, and our thought is not matured. God never makes these mistakes, the mistakes of haste. He never forgets to let a man, a nation, the whole of mankind rest at times, that they may each assimilate the results of an era of activity.

II. But though that great day is far away, the heart asserts, and truly, that when there is deepest night over nations and the world and men, a day of the Lord is at hand; that a dawn is coming—not the last day, not the final dawn, but the uprising of Christ in light, deliverance, knowledge, and love. The belief is born not only out of our natural hatred of evil and suffering and the desire to be freed, but out of actual experience. Again and again have these days of the Lord come, has the night vanished and the sunlight burst on the world, not only in religion, but in the regeneration of societies, in the revolutions of nations, in the rush of great and creative thoughts over the whole of the civilised world. Men sunk in misery, ignorance, and oppression cried to the watchers, and the prophets answered, "The night is far spent," we see the coming day. And never has their answer been left unfulfilled.

S. A. Brooke, The Spirit of the Christian Life, p. 262.


References: Romans 13:12.—H. J. Wilmot Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 1; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 271; A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 219. Romans 13:12-14.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 1. Romans 13:14.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vii., p. 96; Archbishop Maclagan, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 273; F. W. Farrar, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 286; H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 371. Romans 13:14.—J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 46.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 13:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/romans-13.html.

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