The Book of Romans, chapter 13
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1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Mt. 23:2; Lk. 2:51; 3:14; Jn. 19:11; Titus 3:1; 1Pet 2:13,14; Prov 8:15; Dan 4:32; 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Deut. 7:8-13; 3 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 praise of the same: 4 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, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil. 1Pet 2:14; 5 Wherefore [ye] must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Matt 17:24-27; 22:21; 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Gal 5:14; 1Tim 1:5; 9 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 neighbour as thyself. Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17; Lev 19:18; Matt 19:18; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8; 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law. Matt 22:40;
11 And that, knowing the time, that now [it is] high time to awake out of sleep: for now [is] our salvation nearer than when we believed. Eph 5:14; 1Thess 5:6; 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Matt 6:22,23; Jn. 3:19-21; Eph. 6:11-13; 1Thess 5:5; Col 3:8; 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. Luke 21:34; Phil 4:8; 1Thess 4:12; 1Thess 5:6; 1Cor 6:10; Eph 5:5; Jas 3:14; 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to [fulfil] the lusts [thereof]. Matt 6:24,33; Gal 3:27; 1Pet 2:11; TOC
Commentary: Romans 13 - Subjection to civil governors inculcated, from the consideration that civil government is according to the ordinance of God; and that those who resist the lawfully constituted authorities shall receive condemnation, Rom 13:1, Rom 13:2. And those who are obedient shall receive praise, Rom 13:3. The character of a lawful civil governor, Rom 13:4. The necessity of subjection, Rom 13:5. The propriety of paying lawful tribute, Rom 13:6, Rom 13:7. Christians should love one another, Rom 13:8-10. The necessity of immediate conversion to God proved from the shortness and uncertainty of time, Rom 13:11, Rom 13:12. How the Gentiles should walk so as to please God, and put on Christ Jesus in order to their salvation, Rom 13:13, Rom 13:14.
To see with what propriety the apostle introduces the important subjects which he handles in this chapter, it is necessary to make a few remarks on the circumstances in which the Church of God then was.
It is generally allowed that this epistle was written about the year of our Lord 58, four or five years after the edict of the Emperor Claudius, by which all the Jews were banished from Rome. And as in those early times the Christians were generally confounded with the Jews, it is likely that both were included in this decree.
For what reason this edict was issued does not satisfactorily appear. Suetonius tells us that it was because the Jews were making continual disturbances under their leader Christus. (See the note on Acts 18:2.) That the Jews were in general an uneasy and seditious people is clear enough from every part of their own history. They had the most rooted aversion to the heathen government; and it was a maxim with them that the world was given to the Israelites; that they should have supreme rule every where, and that the Gentiles should be their vassals. With such political notions, grounded on their native restlessness, it is no wonder if in several instances they gave cause of suspicion to the Roman government, who would be glad of an opportunity to expel from the city persons whom they considered dangerous to its peace and security; nor is it unreasonable on this account to suppose, with Dr. Taylor, that the Christians, under a notion of being the peculiar people of God, and the subjects of his kingdom alone, might be in danger of being infected with those unruly and rebellious sentiments: therefore the apostle shows them that they were, notwithstanding their honors and privileges as Christians, bound by the strongest obligations of conscience to be subject to the civil government. The judicious commentator adds: “I cannot forbear observing the admirable skill and dexterity with which the apostle has handled the subject. His views in writing are always comprehensive on every point; and he takes into his thoughts and instructions all parties that might probably reap any benefit by them. As Christianity was then growing, and the powers of the world began to take notice of it, it was not unlikely that this letter might fall into the hands of the Roman magistrates. And whenever that happened it was right, not only that they should see that Christianity was no favourer of sedition, but likewise that they should have an opportunity of reading their own duty and obligations. But as they were too proud and insolent to permit themselves to be instructed in a plain, direct way, therefore the apostle with a masterly hand, delineates and strongly inculcates the magistrate’s duty; while he is pleading his cause with the subject, and establishing his duty on the most sure and solid ground, he dexterously sides with the magistrate, and vindicates his power against any subject who might have imbibed seditious principles, or might be inclined to give the government any disturbance; and under this advantage he reads the magistrate a fine and close lecture upon the nature and ends of civil government. A way of conveyance so ingenious and unexceptionable that even Nero himself, had this epistle fallen into his hands, could not fail of seeing his duty clearly stated, without finding any thing servile or flattering on the one hand, or offensive or disgusting on the other.
“The attentive reader will be pleased to see with what dexterity, truth, and gravity the apostle, in a small compass, affirms and explains the foundation, nature, ends, and just limits of the magistrate’s authority, while he is pleading his cause, and teaching the subject the duty and obedience he owes to the civil government.” - Dr. Taylor’s Notes, page 352. — Clarke
Romans 13 - There are three good lessons taught us in this chapter, where the apostle enlarges more upon his precepts than he had done in the foregoing chapter, finding them more needful to be fully pressed. I. A lesson of subjection to lawful authority (Rom 13:1-6). II. A lesson of justice and love to our brethren (Rom 13:7-10). III. A lesson of sobriety and godliness in ourselves (Rom 13:11 to the end). — Henry
Rm. 13:1-7: Paul here establishes that authority is established by God, as they “are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well,” (1Pt. 2:14) and which all such powers basically do. And in contrast to anarchism, including so-called “Christian anarchists,” and in contrast to a rebellious or contentious nature, Christians are to be obedient to rulers, as unto God, “that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1Pt. 2:15). But conditionally so, as Paul himself exampled, because obedience to man is always conditional upon obedience to God above all, (Mt. 22:21) and thus principled disobedience is actually required in instances wherein to obey man would be clearly disobeying God, (Acts 4:19; 5:17-20; 2Cor. 11:22,23) such to preach the gospel, and contrary to a good conscience. This does not sanction disobedience simply because it infringes upon one's Christian liberty, as in Matt 17:24-27 — Christian testimony having the priority — but can include judiciously invoking civil laws such as protect rights to worship and reasonably express our faith, Acts 22:25-29; 25:11) and to expose injustice as regards that. (Acts 16:22-24,35-37) But in this day and age wherein a rebellious nature against authority is common and celebrated, we must take heed to seek that our manner of spirit is of Christ. Meekness, which Moses (and Jesus above all) overall exampled, is power under control.
The grace of the gospel teaches us submission and quiet, where pride and the carnal mind only see causes for murmuring and discontent. Whatever the persons in authority over us themselves may be, yet the just power they have, must be submitted to and obeyed. In the general course of human affairs, rulers are not a terror to honest, quiet, and good subjects, but to evil-doers. Such is the power of sin and corruption, that many will be kept back from crimes only by the fear of punishment. Thou hast the benefit of the government, therefore do what thou canst to preserve it, and nothing to disturb it. This directs private persons to behave quietly and peaceably where God has set them, 1Ti 2:1, 1Ti 2:2. Christians must not use any trick or fraud. All smuggling, dealing in contraband goods, withholding or evading duties, is rebellion against the express command of God. Thus honest neighbours are robbed, who will have to pay the more; and the crimes of smugglers, and others who join with them, are abetted. It is painful that some professors of the gospel should countenance such dishonest practices. The lesson here taught it becomes all Christians to learn and practise, that the godly in the land will always be found the quiet and the peaceable in the land, whatever others are.
Christians must avoid useless expense, and be careful not to contract any debts they have not the power to discharge. They are also to stand aloof from all venturesome speculations and rash engagements, and whatever may expose them to the danger of not rendering to all their due. Do not keep in any one's debt. Give every one his own. Do not spend that on yourselves, which you owe to others. But many who are very sensible of the trouble, think little of the sin, of being in debt. Love to others includes all the duties of the second table. The last five of the ten commandments are all summed up in this royal law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; with the same sincerity that thou lovest thyself, though not in the same measure and degree. He that loves his neighbour as himself, will desire the welfare of his neighbour. On this is built that golden rule, of doing as we would be done by. Love is a living, active principle of obedience to the whole law. Let us not only avoid injuries to the persons, connexions, property, and characters of men; but do no kind or degree of evil to any man, and study to be useful in every station of life.
Four things are here taught, as a Christian's directory for his day's work. When to awake; Now; and to awake out of the sleep of carnal security, sloth, and negligence; out of the sleep of spiritual death, and out of the sleep of spiritual deadness. Considering the time; a busy time; a perilous time. Also the salvation nigh at hand. Let us mind our way, and mend our pace, we are nearer our journey's end. Also to make ourselves ready. The night is far spent, the day is at hand; therefore it is time to dress ourselves. Observe what we must put off; clothes worn in the night. Cast off the sinful works of darkness. Observe what we must put on; how we should dress our souls. Put on the armour of light. A Christian must reckon himself undressed, if unarmed. The graces of the Spirit are this armour, to secure the soul from Satan's temptations, and the assaults of this present evil world. Put on Christ; that includes all. Put on righteousness of Christ, for justification. Put on the Spirit and grace of Christ, for sanctification. The Lord Jesus Christ must be put on as Lord to rule you as Jesus to save you; and in both, as Christ anointed and appointed by the Father to this ruling, saving work. And how to walk. When we are up and ready, we are not to sit still, but to appear abroad; let us walk. Christianity teaches us how to walk so as to please God, who ever sees us. Walk honestly as in the day; avoiding the works of darkness. Where there are riot and drunkenness, there usually are chambering and wantonness, and strife and envy. Solomon puts these all together, Prov. 23:29-35. See what provision to make. Our great care must be to provide for our souls: but must we take no care about our bodies? Yes; but two things are forbidden. Perplexing ourselves with anxious, encumbering care; and indulging ourselves in irregular desires. Natural wants are to be answered, but evil appetites must be checked and denied. To ask meat for our necessities, is our duty, we are taught to pray for daily bread; but to ask meat for our lusts, is provoking God, Psa 78:18. — MHCC
We are here taught how to conduct ourselves towards magistrates, and those that are in authority over us, called here the higher powers, intimating their authority (they are powers), and their dignity (they are higher powers), including not only the king as supreme, but all inferior magistrates under him: and yet it is expressed, not by the persons that are in that power, but the place of power itself, in which they are. However the persons themselves may be wicked, and of those vile persons whom the citizen of Zion contemneth (Psa 15:4), yet the just power which they have must be submitted to and obeyed. The apostle had taught us, in the foregoing chapter, not to avenge ourselves, nor to recompense evil for evil; but, lest it should seem as if this did cancel the ordinance of a civil magistracy among Christians, he takes occasion to assert the necessity of it, and of the due infliction of punishment upon evil doers, however it may look like recompensing evil for evil. Observe,
I. The duty enjoined: Let every soul be subject. Every soul - every person, one as well as another, not excluding the clergy, who call themselves spiritual persons, however the church of Rome may not only exempt such from subjection to the civil powers, but place them in authority above them, making the greatest princes subject to the pope, who thus exalteth himself above all that is called God. - Every soul. Not that our consciences are to be subjected to the will of any man. It is God's prerogative to make laws immediately to bind conscience, and we must render to God the things that are God's. But it intimates that our subjection must be free and voluntary, sincere and hearty. Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought, Eccl. 10:20. To compass and imagine are treason begun. The subjection of soul here required includes inward honour (1Pe 2:17) and outward reverence and respect, both in speaking to them and in speaking of them - obedience to their commands in things lawful and honest, and in other things a patient subjection to the penalty without resistance - a conformity in every thing to the place and duty of subjects, bringing our minds to the relation and condition, and the inferiority and subordination of it. “They are higher powers; be content they should be so, and submit to them accordingly.” Now there was good reason for the pressing of this duty of subjection to civil magistrates, 1. Because of the reproach which the Christian religion lay under in the world, as an enemy to public peace, order, and government, as a sect that turned the world upside down, and the embracers of it as enemies to Caesar, and the more because the leaders were Galileans - an old slander. Jerusalem was represented as a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, Ezr 4:15, Ezr 4:16. Our Lord Jesus was so reproached, though he told them his kingdom was not of this world: no marvel, then, if his followers have been loaded in all ages with the like calumnies, called factious, seditious, and turbulent, and looked upon as the troublers of the land, their enemies having found such representations needful for the justifying of their barbarous rage against them. The apostle therefore, for the obviating of this reproach and the clearing of Christianity from it, shows that obedience to civil magistrates is one of the laws of Christ, whose religion helps to make people good subjects; and it was very unjust to charge upon Christianity that faction and rebellion to which its principles and rules are so directly contrary. 2. Because of the temptation which the Christians lay under to be otherwise affected to civil magistrates, some of them being originally Jews, and so leavened with a principle that it was unmeet for any of the seed of Abraham to be subject to one of another nation - their king must be of their brethren, Dt. 17:15. Besides, Paul had taught them that they were not under the law, they were made free by Christ. Lest this liberty should be turned into licentiousness, and misconstrued to countenance faction and rebellion, the apostle enjoins obedience to civil government, which was the more necessary to be pressed now because the magistrates were heathens and unbelievers, which yet did not destroy their civil power and authority. Besides, the civil powers were persecuting powers; the body of the law was against them.
II. The reasons to enforce this duty. Why must we be subject?
1. For wrath's sake. Because of the danger we run ourselves into by resistance. Magistrates bear the sword, and to oppose them is to hazard all that is dear to us in this world; for it is to no purpose to contend with him that bears the sword. The Christians were then in those persecuting times obnoxious to the sword of the magistrate for their religion, and they needed not make themselves more obnoxious by their rebellion. The least show of resistance or sedition in a Christian would soon be aggravated and improved, and would be very prejudicial to the whole society; and therefore they had more need than others to be exact in their subjection, that those who had so much occasion against them in the matter of their God might have no other occasion. To this head must that argument be referred (Rom 13:2), Those that resist shall receive to themselves damnation: krima lēpsontai, they shall be called to an account for it. God will reckon with them for it, because the resistance reflects upon him. The magistrates will reckon with them for it. They will come under the lash of the law, and will find the higher powers too high to be trampled upon, all civil governments being justly strict and severe against treason and rebellion; so it follows (Rom 13:3), Rulers are a terror. This is a good argument, but it is low for a Christian.
2. We must be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience' sake; not so much formidine poenae - from the fear of punishment, as virtutis amore - from the love of virtue. This makes common civil offices acceptable to God, when they are done for conscience' sake, with an eye to God, to his providence putting us into such relations, and to his precept making subjection the duty of those relations. Thus the same thing may be done from a very different principle. Now to oblige conscience to this subjection he argues, Rom 13:1-4, Rom 13:6,
(1.) From the institution of magistracy: There is no power but of God. God as the ruler and governor of the world hath appointed the ordinance of magistracy, so that all civil power is derived from him as from its original, and he hath by his providence put the administration into those hands, whatever they are that have it. By him kings reign, Prov. 8:15. The usurpation of power and the abuse of power are not of God, for he is not the author of sin; but the power itself is. As our natural powers, though often abused and made instruments of sin, are from God's creating power, so civil powers are from God's governing power. The most unjust and oppressive princes in the world have no power but what is given them from above (Jn. 19:11), the divine providence being in a special manner conversant about those changes and revolutions of governments which have such an influence upon states and kingdoms, and such a multitude of particular persons and smaller communities. Or, it may be meant of government in general: it is an instance of God's wisdom, power, and goodness, in the management of mankind, that he has disposed them into such a state as distinguishes between governors and governed, and has not left them like the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less. He did herein consult the benefit of his creatures. - The powers that be: whatever the particular form and method of government are - whether by monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy - wherever the governing power is lodged, it is an ordinance of God, and it is to be received and submitted to accordingly; though immediately an ordinance of man (1Pe 2:13), yet originally an ordinance of God. - Ordained of God - tetagmenai, a military word, signifying not only the ordination of magistrates, but the subordination of inferior magistrates to the supreme, as in an army; for among magistrates there is a diversity of gifts, and trusts, and services. Hence it follows (Rom 13:2) that whosoever resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. There are other things from God that are the greatest calamities; but magistracy is from God as an ordinance, that is, it is a great law, and it is a great blessing: so that the children of Belial, that will not endure the yoke of government, will be found breaking a law and despising a blessing. Magistrates are therefore called gods (Psa 82:6), because they bear the image of God's authority. And those who spurn at their power reflect upon God himself. This is not at all applicable to the particular rights of kings and kingdoms, and the branches of their constitution; nor can any certain rule be fetched from this for the modelling of the original contracts between the governors and governed; but it is intended for direction to private persons in their private capacity, to behave themselves quietly and peaceably in the sphere in which God has set them, with a due regard to the civil powers which God in his providence has set over them, 1Ti 2:1, 1Ti 2:2. Magistrates are here again and again called God's ministers. he is the minister of God, Rom 13:4, Rom 13:6. Magistrates are in a more peculiar manner God's servants; the dignity they have calls for duty. Though they are lords to us, they are servants to God, have work to do for him, and an account to render to him. In the administration of public justice, the determining of quarrels, the protecting of the innocent, the righting of the wronged, the punishing of offenders, and the preserving of national peace and order, that every man may not do what is right in his own eyes - in these things it is that magistrates act as God's ministers. As the killing of an inferior magistrate, while he is actually doing his duty, is accounted treason against the prince, so the resisting of any magistrates in the discharge of these duties of their place is the resisting of an ordinance of God.
(2.) From the intention of magistracy: Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil, etc. Magistracy was designed to be,
[1.] A terror to evil works and evil workers. They bear the sword; not only the sword of war, but the sword of justice. They are heirs of restraint, to put offenders to shame; Laish wanted such, Jdg 18:7. Such is the power of sin and corruption that many will not be restrained from the greatest enormities, and such as are most pernicious to human society, by any regard to the law of God and nature or the wrath to come; but only by the fear of temporal punishments, which the wilfulness and perverseness of degenerate mankind have made necessary. Hence it appears that laws with penalties for the lawless and disobedient (1Ti 1:9) must be constituted in Christian nations, and are agreeable with, and not contradictory to, the gospel. When men are become such beasts, such ravenous beasts, one to another, they must be dealt with accordingly, taken and destroyed in terrorem - to deter others. The horse and the mule must thus be held in with bit and bridle. In this work the magistrate is the minister of God, Rom 13:4. He acts as God's agent, to whom vengeance belongs; and therefore must take heed of infusing into his judgments any private personal resentments of his own. - To execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. In this the judicial processes of the most vigilant faithful magistrates, though some faint resemblance and prelude of the judgments of the great day, yet come far short of the judgment of God: they reach only to the evil act, can execute wrath only on him that doeth evil: but God's judgment extends to the evil thought, and is a discerner of the intents of the heart. - He beareth not the sword in vain. It is not for nothing that God hath put such a power into the magistrate's hand; but it is intended for the restraining and suppressing of disorders. And therefore, “If thou do that which is evil, which falls under the cognizance and censure of the civil magistrate, be afraid; for civil powers have quick eyes and long arms.” It is a good thing when the punishment of malefactors is managed as an ordinance of God, instituted and appointed by him. First, As a holy God, that hates sin, against which, as it appears and puts up its head, a public testimony is thus borne. Secondly, As King of nations, and the God of peace and order, which are hereby preserved. Thirdly, As the protector of the good, whose persons, families, estates, and names, are by this means hedged about. Fourthly, As one that desires not the eternal ruin of sinners, but by the punishment of some would terrify others, and so prevent the like wickedness, that others may hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. Nay, it is intended for a kindness to those that are punished, that by the destruction of the flesh the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
[2.] A praise to those that do well. Those that keep in the way of their duty shall have the commendation and protection of the civil powers, to their credit and comfort. “Do that which is good (Rom 13:3), and thou needest not be afraid of the power, which, though terrible, reaches none but those that by their own sin make themselves obnoxious to it; the fire burns only that which is combustible: nay, thou shalt have praise of it.” This is the intention of magistracy, and therefore we must, for conscience' sake, be subject to it, as a constitution designed for the public good, to which all private interests must give way. But pity it is that ever this gracious intention should be perverted, and that those who bear the sword, while they countenance and connive at sin, should be a terror to those who do well. But so it is, when the vilest men are exalted (Psa 12:1, Psa 12:8); and yet even then the blessing and benefit of a common protection, and a face of government and order, are such that it is our duty in that case rather to submit to persecution for well-doing, and to take it patiently, than by any irregular and disorderly practices to attempt a redress. Never did sovereign prince pervert the ends of government as Nero did, and yet to him Paul appealed, and under him had the protection of the law and the inferior magistrates more than once. Better a bad government than none at all.
(3.) From our interest in it: “He is the minister of God to thee for good. Thou hast the benefit and advantage of the government, and therefore must do what thou canst to preserve it, and nothing to disturb it.” Protection draws allegiance. If we have protection from the government, we owe subjection to it; by upholding the government, we keep up our own hedge. This subjection is likewise consented to by the tribute we pay (Rom 13:6): “For this cause pay you tribute, as a testimony of your submission, and an acknowledgment that in conscience you think it to be due. You do by paying taxes contribute your share to the support of the power; if therefore you be not subject, you do but pull down with one hand what you support with the other; and is that conscience?” “By your paying tribute you not only own the magistrate's authority, but the blessing of that authority to yourselves, a sense of which you thereby testify, giving him that as a recompence for the great pains he takes in the government; for honour is a burden: and, if he do as he ought, he is attending continually upon this very thing, for it is enough to take up all a man's thoughts and time, in consideration of which fatigue, we pay tribute, and must be subject.” - Pay you tribute, phorous teleite. He does not say, “You give it as an alms,” but, “You pay it as a just debt, or lend it to be repaid in all the blessings and advantages of public government, of which you reap the benefit.” This is the lesson the apostle teaches, and it becomes all Christians to learn and practise it, that the godly in the land may be found (whatever others are) the quiet and the peaceable in the land.
We are here taught a lesson of sobriety and godliness in ourselves. Our main care must be to look to ourselves. Four things we are here taught, as a Christian's directory for his day's work: when to awake, how to dress ourselves, how to walk, and what provision to make.
I. When to awake: Now it is high time to awake (Rom 13:11), to awake out of the sleep of sin (for a sinful condition is a sleeping condition), out of the sleep of carnal security, sloth and negligence, out of the sleep of spiritual death, and out of the sleep of spiritual deadness; both the wise and foolish virgins slumbered and slept, Mat 25:5. We have need to be often excited and stirred up to awake. The word of command to all Christ's disciples is, Watch. “Awake - be concerned about your souls and your eternal interest; take heed of sin, be ready to, and serious in, that which is good, and live in a constant expectation of the coming of our Lord. Considering,” 1. “The time we are cast into: Knowing the time. Consider what time of day it is with us, and you will see it is high time to awake. It is gospel time, it is the accepted time, it is working time; it is a time when more is expected than was in the times of that ignorance which God winked at, when people sat in darkness. It is high time to awake; for the sun has been up a great while, and shines in our faces. Have we this light to sleep in? See 1Th 5:5, 1Th 5:6. It is high time to awake; for others are awake and up about us. Know the time to be a busy time; we have a great deal of work to do, and our Master is calling us to it again and again. Know the time to be a perilous time. We are in the midst of enemies and snares. It is high time to awake, for the Philistines are upon us; our neighbour's house is on fire, and our own in danger. It is time to awake, for we have slept enough (1Pe 4:3), high time indeed, for behold the bridegroom cometh.” 2. “The salvation we are upon the brink of: Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed - than when we first believed, and so took upon us the profession of Christianity. The eternal happiness we chose for our portion is now nearer to us than it was when we became Christians. Let us mind our way and mend our pace, for we are now nearer our journey's end than we were when we had our first love. The nearer we are to our centre the quicker should our motion be. Is there but a step between us and heaven, and shall we be so very slow and dull in our Christian course, and move so heavily? The more the days are shortened, and the more grace is increased, the nearer is our salvation, and the more quick and vigorous we should be in our spiritual motions.”
II. How to dress ourselves. This is the next care, when we are awake and up: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand; therefore it is time to dress ourselves. Clearer discoveries will be quickly made of gospel grace than have been yet made, as light gets ground. The night of Jewish rage and cruelty is just at an end; their persecuting power is near a period; the day of our deliverance from them is at hand, that day of redemption which Christ promised, Luk 21:28. And the day of our complete salvation, in the heavenly glory, is at hand. Observe then,”
1. “What we must put off; put off our night-clothes, which it is a shame to appear abroad in: Cast off the works of darkness.” Sinful works are works of darkness; they come from the darkness of ignorance and mistake, they covet the darkness of privacy and concealment, and they end in the darkness of hell and destruction. “Let us therefore, who are of the day, cast them off; not only cease from the practice of them, but detest and abhor them, and have no more to do with them. Because eternity is just at the door, let us take heed lest we be found doing that which will then make against us,” 2Pe 3:11, 2Pe 3:14.
2. “What we must put on.” Our care must be wherewithal we shall be clothed, how shall we dress our souls? (1.) Put on the armour of light. Christians are soldiers in the midst of enemies, and their life a warfare, therefore their array must be armour, that they may stand upon their defence - the armour of God, to which we are directed, Eph 6:13, etc. A Christian may reckon himself undressed if he be unarmed. The graces of the Spirit are this armour, to secure the soul from Satan's temptations and the assaults of this present evil world. This is called the armour of light, some think alluding to the bright glittering armour which the Roman soldiers used to wear; or such armour as it becomes us to wear in the day-light. The graces of the Spirit are suitable splendid ornaments, are in the sight of God of great price. (2.) Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 13:14. This stands in opposition to a great many base lusts, mentioned Rom 13:13. Rioting and drunkenness must be cast off: one would think it should follows, but, “Put on sobriety, temperance, chastity,” the opposite virtues: no, “Put on Christ, this includes all. Put on the righteousness of Christ for justification; be found in him (Phi 3:9) as a man is found in his clothes; put on the priestly garments of the elder brother, that in them you may obtain the blessing. Put on the spirit and grace of Christ for sanctification; put on the new man (Eph 4:24); get the habit of grace confirmed, the acts of it quickened.” Jesus Christ is the best clothing for Christians to adorn themselves with, to arm themselves with; it is decent, distinguishing, dignifying, and defending. Without Christ, we are naked, deformed; all other things are filthy rages, fig-leaves, a sorry shelter. God has provided us coats of skins - large, strong, warm, and durable. By baptism we have in profession put on Christ, Gal 3:27. Let us do it in truth and sincerity. The Lord Jesus Christ. “Put him on as Lord to rule you, as Jesus to save you, and in both as Christ, anointed and appointed by the Father to this ruling saving work.”
III. How to walk. When we are up and dressed, we are not to sit still in an affected closeness and privacy, as monks and hermits. What have we good clothes for, but to appear abroad in them? - Let us walk. Christianity teaches us how to walk so as to please God, whose eye is upon us: 1Th 4:1, Walk honestly as in the day. Compare Eph 5:8, Walk as children of light. Our conversation must be as becomes the gospel. Walk honestly; euschēmonōs - decently and becomingly, so as to credit your profession, and to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, and recommend religion in its beauty to others. Christians should be in a special manner careful to conduct themselves well in those things wherein men have an eye upon them, and to study that which is lovely and of good report. Particularly, here are three pairs of sins we are cautioned against: - 1. We must not walk in rioting and drunkenness; we must abstain from all excess in eating and drinking. We must not give the least countenance to revelling, nor indulge our sensual appetite in any private excesses. Christians must not overcharge their hearts with surfeiting and drunkenness, Luk 21:34. This is not walking as in the day; for those that are drunk are drunk in the night, 1Th 5:7. 2. Not in chambering and wantonness; not in any of those lusts of the flesh, those works of darkness, which are forbidden in the seventh commandment. Downright adultery and fornication are the chambering forbidden. Lascivious thoughts and affections, lascivious looks, words, books, sons, gestures, dances, dalliances, which lead to, and are degrees of, that uncleanness, are the wantonness here forbidden - whatsoever transgresseth the pure and sacred law of chastity and modesty. 3. Not in strife and envying. These are also works of darkness; for, though the acts and instances of strife and envy are very common, yet none are willing to own the principles, or to acknowledge themselves envious and contentious. it may be the lot of the best saints to be envied and striven with; but to strive and to envy ill becomes the disciples and followers of the peaceable and humble Jesus. Where there are riot and drunkenness, there usually are chambering and wantonness, and strife and envy. Solomon puts them all together, Prov. 23:29, etc. Those that tarry long at the wine (Prov. 23:30) have contentions and wounds without cause (Prov. 23:29) and their eyes behold strange women, Prov. 23:33.
IV. What provision to make (Prov. 23:14): “Make not provision for the flesh. Be not careful about the body.” Our great care must be to provide for our souls; but must we take no care about our bodies? Must we not provide for them, when they need it? Yes, but two things are here forbidden: - 1. Perplexing ourselves with an inordinate care, intimated in these words, pronoian mē poieisthe. “Be not solicitous in forecasting for the body; do not stretch your wits, nor set your thoughts upon the tenter-hooks, in making this provision; be not careful and cumbered about it; do not take thought,” Mat 6:31. It forbids an anxious encumbering care. 2. Indulging ourselves in an irregular desire. We are not forbidden barely to provide for the body (it is a lamp that must be supplied with oil), but we are forbidden to fulfil the lusts thereof. The necessities of the body must be considered, but the lusts of it must not be gratified. Natural desires must be answered, but wanton appetites must be checked and denied. To ask meat for our necessities is duty: we are taught to pray for daily bread; but to ask meat for our lusts is provoking, Psa 78:18. Those who profess to walk in the spirit must not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, Gal 5:16. — Henry TOC
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
See New Testament Table of Contents, and read the Introductory Notes here.