The general rule of a Christian conversation is this, it must be honest, which it cannot be if there be not a conscientious discharge of all relative duties. The apostle here particularly treats of these distinctly.
I. The case of subjects. Christians were not only reputed innovators in religion, but disturbers of the state; it was highly necessary, therefore, that the apostle should settle the rules and measures of obedience to the civil magistrate, which he does here, where,
. The duty required is submission, which comprises loyalty and reverence to their persons, obedience to their just laws and commands, and subjection to legal penalties.
. The persons or objects to whom this submission is due are described,
(1.) More generally: Every ordinance of man. Magistracy is certainly of divine right; but the particular form of government, the power of the magistrate, and the persons who are to execute this power, are of human institution, and are governed by the laws and constitutions of each particular country; and this is a general rule, binding in all nations, let the established form of be what it will.
(2.) Particularly: To the king, as supreme, first in dignity and most eminent in degree; the king is a legal person, not a tyrant: or unto governors, deputies, proconsuls, rulers of provinces, who are sent by him, that is, commissioned by him to govern.
. The reasons to enforce this duty are,
(1.) For the Lord's sake, who had ordained magistracy for the good of mankind, who has required obedience and submission (Rom. 13), and whose honour is concerned in the dutiful behavior of subjects to their sovereigns.
(2.) from the end and use of the magistrate's office, which are, to punish evil-doers, and to praise and encourage all those that do well. They were appointed for the good of societies; and, where this end is not pursued, the fault is not in their institution but their practice.
[1.] true religion is the best support of civil government; it requires submission for the Lord's sake, and for conscience' sake.
[2.] all the punishments, and all the magistrates in the world, cannot hinder but there will be evil-doers in it.
[3.] the best way the magistrate can take to discharge his own duty, and to amend the world, is to punish well and reward well.
(3.) another reason why Christians should submit to the evil magistrate is because it is the will of God, and consequently their duty; and because it is the way to put to silence the malicious slanders of ignorant and foolish men, v. 15. Learn,
[1.] The will of God is, to a good man, the strongest reason for any duty.
[2.] obedience to magistrates is a considerable branch of a Christian's duty: So is the will of God.
[3.] a Christian must endeavour, in all relations, to behave himself so as to put to silence the unreasonable reproaches of the most ignorant and foolish men.
[4.] those who speak against religion and religious people are ignorant and foolish.
(4.) he reminds them of the spiritual nature of Christian liberty. The Jews, from <Deut. 17:15>, concluded that they were bound to obey no sovereign but one taken from their own brethren; and the converted Jews thought they were free from subjection by their relation to Christ. To prevent their mistakes, the apostle tells the Christians that they were free, but from what? Not from duty or obedience to God's law, which requires subjection to the civil magistrate. They were free spiritually from the bondage of sin and Satan, and the ceremonial law; but they must not make their Christian liberty a cloak or covering for any wickedness, or for the neglect of any duty towards God or towards their superiors, but must still remember they were the servants of God. Learn,
[1.] All the servants of Christ are free men <Jn. 8:36>; they are free from Satans' dominion, the law's condemnation, the wrath of God, the uneasiness of duty, and the terrors of death.
[2.] the servants of Jesus Christ ought to be very careful not to abuse their Christian liberty; they must not make it a cover or cloak for any wickedness against God or disobedience to superiors.
. The apostle concludes his discourse concerning the duty of subjects with four admirable precepts:--
(1.) Honour all men. A due respect is to be given to all men; the poor are not to be despised <Prov. 17:5>; the wicked must be honoured, not for their wickedness, but for any other qualities, such as wit, prudence, courage, eminency of employment, or the hoary head. Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, the prophets, and the apostles, never scrupled to give due honour to bad men.
(2.) love the brotherhood. All Christians are a fraternity, united to Christ the head, alike disposed and qualified, nearly related in the same interest, having communion one with another, and going to the same home; they should therefore love one another with an especial affection.
(3.) fear God with the highest reverence, duty, and submission; if this be wanting, none of the other three duties can be performed as they ought.
(4.) honour the king with that highest honour that is peculiarly due to him above other men.
(from Matthew Henry's Commentary)
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