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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 13 - Verse 1


ROMANS Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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