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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 13 - Verse 7

Verse 7. Render therefore, etc. This injunction is often repeated in the Bible. See Barnes "Mt 22:21".

See also Mt 17:25-27; 1 Pe 2:13-17; Pr 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, (telov). 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 Ro 13:4. We should stand in awe of those who wear the sword, and who are appointed to execute the laws of the land. As the execution of their office is fitted to excite fear, we should render to them that reverence which is appropriate to the execution of their office. 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 men all their just titles, recognizes their rank and office, 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 men, or to withhold from them the customary tribute of respect and homage. Comp. Ac 24:3; 26:25; Lu 1:3; 1 Pe 2:17.

In this verse there is summed up the duty which is owed to magistrates. It consists in rendering to them proper honour; 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 recognized 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 men are to be preserved. Men 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 can not 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 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.

{y} "all their dues" Mt 22:21

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