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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 13:5-7

5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

5. Itaque necesse est subjici, non modo propter iram, sed etiam propter conscientiam.

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

6. Propterea enim tributa quoque solutis; ministri enim Dei sunt, in hoc incumbentes.

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.

7. Reddite ergo omnibus quod debetur; cui tributum, tributum; cui vectigal, vectigal; cui timorem, timorem; cui honorem, honorem.

5. It is therefore necessary, etc. What he had at first commanded as to the rendering of obedience to magistrates, he now briefly repeats, but with some addition, and that is, -- that we ought to obey them, not only on the ground of necessity arising from man, but that we thereby obey God; for by wrath he means the punishment which the magistrates inflict for the contempt of their dignity; as though he had said, |We must not only obey, because we cannot with impunity resist the powerful and those armed with authority, as injuries are wont to be borne with which cannot be repelled; but we ought to obey willingly, as conscience through God's word thus binds us.| Though then the magistrate were disarmed, so that we could with impunity provoke and despise him, yet such a thing ought to be no more attempted than if we were to see punishment suspended over us; for it belongs not to a private individual to take away authority from him whom the Lord has in power set over us. This whole discourse is concerning civil government; it is therefore to no purpose that they who would exercise dominion over consciences do hence attempt to establish their sacrilegious tyranny.

6. For this reason also, etc. He takes occasion to introduce the subject of tributes, the reason for which he deduces from the office of magistrates; for if it be their duty to defend and safely preserve the peace of the good, and to resist the mischievous attempts of the wicked, this they cannot do unless they are aided by sufficient force. Tributes then are justly paid to support such necessary expenses. But respecting the proportion of taxes or tributes, this is not the place to discuss the subject; nor does it belong to us either to prescribe to princes how much they ought to expend in every affair, or to call them to an account. It yet behooves them to remember, that whatever they receive from the people, is as it were public property, and not to be spent in the gratification of private indulgence. For we see the use for which Paul appoints these tributes which are to be paid -- even that kings may be furnished with means to defend their subjects.

7. Render then to all what is due, etc. The Apostle seems here summarily to include the particulars in which the duties of subjects towards magistrates consist, -- that they are to hold them in esteem and honor, that they are to obey their edicts, laws, and judgments, -- that they are to pay tributes and customs. By the word fear, he means obedience; by customs and tributes, not only imposts and taxes, but also other revenues.

Now this passage confirms what I have already said, -- that we ought to obey kings and governors, whoever they may be, not because we are constrained, but because it is a service acceptable to God; for he will have them not only to be feared, but also honored by a voluntary respect.

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