The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown

Chapter 13



In such a state of things as existed at Rome when the apostle wrote, the Christians there must often have been perplexed as to the estimate they were


Chapter XIII

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are

2 ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall

3 receive to themselves damnation. 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

4 praise of the same: 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,

5 a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore^ must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for

6 conscience' sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this

7 very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

8 Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he

9 that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 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

10 neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than

12 when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let

13 us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering

14 and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

to form, and the duties they owed, to "the power "that so tyrannically and degradingly ruled there; especially as the whole fabric of Roman society heaved with the elements of insubordination and insurrection, and as the Jews in particular had, in the days of Claudius, been banished the capital for their restless and insurrectionary tendencies (Acts xviii. 2). It was natural, therefore, to pass from the social to the political duties of believers; and this accordingly occupies the chief portion of the present chapter.

1-7. The Christian' s relation to the civil magistrate.

1. Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers—' the authorities that are over him.' for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be ('the existing authorities,' whatever they are) are ordained of God. 2. Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God; and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment—not from the magistrate (for that may or may not be), but from God, whose authority is therein resisted. 3. For rulers—according to the true intent of their office, are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldst thou have no fear of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. Doubtless this was written before Nero had stretched forth his hands against the Christians; for though that would not have affected the principles here laid down, it would probably have modified the way of expressing them. 4. For he is a 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 a minister of God, an avenger for wrath (to execute wrath) to him that doeth evil. 5. Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath—for fear of the magistrate's vengeance, but also for conscience' sake—from conscientious reverence for God's authority.

Note.—It is hardly necessary to say that it is of magistracy in general, considered as a Divine ordinance, that this is spoken: and the statement applies equally to all forms of government, from an unchecked despotism—such as flourished when this was written, under the Emperor Nero—to a pure democracy. The inalienable right of all subjects to endeavour to alter or improve the form of government under which they live is left untouched here. But since Christians were constantly charged with turning the world upside down, and since there certainly were elements enough in Christianity of moral and social revolution to give plausibility to the charge, and tempt noble spirits, crushed under misgovernment, to take redress into their own hands, it was of special importance that the pacific, submissive, loyal spirit of those Christians who resided at the great seat of political power should furnish a visible refutation of this charge.

6. For for this cause ye pay tribute also:—'For this is the reason why ye pay the contributions requisite for maintaining the civil government.' for they are ministers of God's service (such is the meaning of the Greek word), attending continually upon this very thing.

From magistrates proper the apostle now passes to other officials. 7. Bender1 to all their dues: tribute—the poll and the land tax (see Matt. xvii. 25) to whom tribute is due; custom—export and import duty, to whom custom; fear (reverence for superiors) to whom fear; honour—the respect due to rank or distinction, to whom honour.

8-10. The all-comprehensive relative duty—love.

8. Owe no man anything, save to love one another—'for love is the only debt which can never be paid off, for it is always due: 'for he that loveth another—or 'his neighbour' (see Luke x. 29, 36), Gr. 'the other,' in relation to himself, hath fulfilled the law—for what is the law itself, but an injunction to manifest love in all relationships and in all circumstances? 9. For this (commandment). Thou shalt not commit adultery, (and this) Thou shalt not kill, (and this) Thou shalt not steal,2 (and this) Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment (that is, 'and whatever other commandment there is;' for the apostle did not mean to express any doubt of there being other commandments, but to excuse himself, for the reason about to be given, for not quoting more): it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The apostle here confines himself to the second table of the law, because it is relative duties he is treating of. 10. Love worketh no ill to his (or 'one's ') neighbour; love therefore is the fulfilling of the law. As love, from its very nature, studies and delights to please its object, its very existence is an effectual security against our wilfully injuring him.

11-14. General motives to the faithful discharge of all these duties.

11. And this (ye should do), knowing the time (or 'season')—"these last days" (Heb. i. 2), "the end of the world" (Heb. ix. 26), that is, this final economy of grace, before the second coming of Christ, that now it is high time (Gr. 'the hour ') for you to awake out of sleep—stupid, fatal indifference to eternal things: for now is salvation (in the sense of chap. v. 9, 10, viii. 24) nearer to us than when we first believed. This is in the line of all our Lord's teaching, which represents the decisive day of Christ's second appearing as at hand, to keep believers ever in the attitude of wakeful expectancy, but without reference to the chronological nearness or distance of that event. 12. The night (of evil) is far spent, and the day (of consummated triumph over it) is at hand: let us therefore cast off (as a worn-out dress) the works of darkness—all works holding of the kingdom and period of darkness, with which, as followers of the risen Savior, our connexion has been dissolved: and let us put on the armour of light—the armour which befits "the children of light," armour which is described at large in Eph. vi. 11-18; see also 1 Thess. v. 8. 13. Let us walk honestly—'becomingly,' 'decorously,' as in the day. 'Men choose the night for their revels, but our night is past, for we are all the children of the light and of the day (1 Thess. v. 5): let us therefore only do what is fit to be exposed to the light of such a day.' not in revelling and drunkenness—varied forms of intemperance, not in chambering and wantonness—varied forms of impurity; the one pointing to definite acts, the other more general: not in strife and jealousy—varied forms of that venomous feeling between man and man which reverses the law of love. 14. But—to sum up all in one word, put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ—in such wise that Christ only may be seen in you (see 2 Cor. iii. 3; Gal. iii. 27; Eph. iv. 24); and make not provision—'take not forethought,' to fulfil the lusts thereof—' Direct none of your attention to the cravings of your corrupt nature, how you may provide for their gratification.'

Notes.—Looking back upon this chapter, one cannot but remark (1) how gloriously adapted Christianity is for human society in all conditions. As it makes war directly against no specific forms of government, so it directly recommends none. While its holy and benign principles secure the ultimate abolition of all iniquitous government, the reverence which it teaches for magistracy, under whatever form, as a Divine institution, secures the loyalty and peaceableness of its disciples, amid all the turbulence and distractions of civil society, and makes it the highest interest of all States to welcome it within their pale; especially it is the grand specific for the purification and elevation of all the social relations—inspiring a readiness to discharge all obligations, and, most of all, implanting in its disciples that love which secures all men against injury from others, inasmuch as it is the fulfilling of the law. Christianity will yet prove itself, on a scale never yet known, to be "the salt of the earth, the light of the world." And (2) the rapid march of the kingdom of God, the advanced stage of it at which we have arrived, and the ever-nearing approach of the perfect day—nearer to every believer the longer he lives—may well quicken all the children of light to redeem the time, and, seeing that they look for such things, to be diligent that they may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless (2 Pet. iii. 14).


1) "Therefore," of the received text, seems not genuine.

2) The next clause, in the received text—"Thou shalt not bear false witness"—to complete the supposed intention of the apostle to quote the four last precepts of the Decalogue—has but slight external support; and as to internal evidence, it was much more likely to creep into the genuine text than to fall out of it.