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ROMANS, CHAP. XIII.-VERSE 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.
We have, in this and the following verses, the duty which subjects owe to their temporal governors, both taught and maintained by several reasons and arguments : the sense and propriety of which arguments clearly to understand, it will be necessary for us to consider the circumstances of the time, and place, and persons here concerned.
There is no appearance in the gospel that our Saviour intended to make any alterations in the civil governments of the world. He came on another errand, of quite a different nature : he never purposely enters on the subject of government, that being no necessary part of his doctrine; but treats of it only as he was led by particular occasions.
In the twenty-second chapter of St. Matthew, we find a captious question put to him by the Pharisees, whether it were lawful to pay tribute to the Roman emperor or not? The question arose from hence: there was at that time a sect among the Jews, who held it to be unlawful to pay any tribute to the Roman emperor, or to yield any obedience to his laws. The author of this opinion was Judas of Galilee; who, when the Roman emperor ordered the nation to be taxed, raised on that account a great rebellion ; persuaded the people to stand by their liberties, and not to submit to such a mark of slavery as paying of tribute. The fate of this man is related fully by Josephus ; and is mentioned likewise by Gamaliel, in Acts v. 37. ^ After this man rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him : he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.' But though they were for the present dispersed, yet by degrees they gathered strength, and were the authors of many troubles ; and in the reign of Claudius were strong enough to ravage and destroy many places in Samaria. Their pretence for freedom was, as we learn from St. Chrysostom, that they were the servants of the Lord, and therefore owed no subjection to any human creature; that they were the freemen of God, and ought not therefore to be the slaves or the subjects of men. This sect went by the name of Galileans; the author of it being of that country, as likewise many of his followers.
Now it is well known that this was a name by which the Christians went in the first ages: they are mentioned under this name by several heathen writers; and that it was in use among all who spoke contemptuously of Christ and his religion, even so late as in Julian's time, we learn from his writings still remaining, where he often speaks of the Christians under the name of Galileans. And hence it came to pass that the Christians going by the name of Galileans were generally thought by the heathens to entertain the same opinions with the sect of that name; that is, they were taken to be men of seditious principles, who refused obedience to earthly princes, and were for setting up an independent government of their own. Thus when Tertullus the orator accuses St. Paul, he charges him with being “a pestilent fellow, a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarines :' Acts xxiv. 5. Of this calumny we find the unbelieving Jews also making their advantage against the Christians; for thus they accuse them to the magistrates of Thessalonica, “ These who have turned the world upside down are come hither also : Acts xvii. 6.
On this ground then it was that the Pharisees put that insidious question to our Saviour, ' Is it lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar ?' hoping, no doubt, to have found something whereof to have impeached him before the Roman governor. The collectors of tax seem likewise to have had the same jealousy concerning our Saviour, when, in the seventeenth of St. Matthew, they inquire of St. Peter whether his Master would pay tribute or no? for it is probable by their question that
they took our Lord for one of the new teachers, who set up
in defiance of the Roman emperor : to which St. Peter answers, Yes. And our Saviour, though he intimates that he ought to have been exempted from paying tribute, yet, knowing what suspicions there were concerning him, and what use would have been made of his refusal, orders St. Peter to go to the sea, and cast a hook, and take the fish that should come up, and
open his mouth, where he should find a piece of money : That take, says he, and give them as tribute for me and yourself, 'lest we should offend them.'
Now, though our Saviour's business was not either to limit or to enlarge the civil governments of the world, yet this scandal which he and his disciples lay under, urged both him and them to vindicate themselves, and to teach their followers such obedience and submission to the higher powers, as might leave no pretence for such an accusation : accordingly our Saviour having drawn a confession from the Pharisees that the tributemoney belonged to Cæsar, answers, that they should render to Cæsar the things which were Cæsar's.'
That the Apostles likewise had reference to the same scandal in pressing obedience of all kinds on their disciples, whe. ther considered as subjects, or servants, or wives, or children, is evident from hence, that they almost always close their instructions of this sort with this argument, ' That the word of God be not blasphemed' or evil spoken of:' an argument which in its own nature has no nearer relation to civil obedience than to any other good work; and it is as proper to exhort men to temperance and sobriety, to charity, and other the like virtues, that no scandal may be brought on the gospel, as it is to exhort them to obedience to their superiors. This motive therefore being almost ever urged in the case of obedience, shows plainly that the Christians were liable to reproach in this case more than any other. Our Lord bids St. Peter pay the tribute, - lest,' says he,' we should offend them;' and thus St. Paul, in his Epistle to Titus, ch. ii. ver. 5. orders Titus to admonish' wives to be obedient to their own husbands, that that the word of God be not blasphemed ;' and, ver. 10. to exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters, and to please them well in all things, that they may adorn the doc. trine of God our Saviour in all things:' so likewise in the first Epistle to Timothy, ch. vi. ver. 1. the Apostle gives this exhortation, • Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor;' and then he repeats the forementioned reason, “that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed :' thus likewise St. Peter, pressing obedience to governors, gives this reason for it, ' For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men :' 1 Peter ii. 15. that is, of such men as scandalise the doctrine of the gospel, as if it taught us to claim a freedom inconsistent with the obedience that subjects, and servants, and children, owed to their respective superiors : and with regard to this abused notion of Christian freedom, the Apostle adds, in the very next verse, "As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.' Besides these reasons, drawn from the Apostle's own writings, to show with what view they so frequently insisted on and inculcated obedience of all kinds, we have to the same purpose the express authority of St. Jerome and St. Chrysostom. St. Jerome, in his comment on the Epistle-to Titus, at these words, ' put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers,' gives this reason why the Apostle there, and elsewhere, insists on the obligations which Christians were under to obey their rulers: quia Judæ Galilæi per illud tempus dogma adhuc vigebat, et habebat plurimos sectatores— Because the doctrine of Judas of Galilee yet prevailed at that time, and had many followers.' St. Chrysostom, in his comment on the thirteenth of the Romans, teaches us the same thing : Και γάρ πολύς περιεφέρετο λόγος τότε, επί στάσει και καινοτομία διαβάλλων τους αποστόλους, και ως επ' άνατροπή των κοινών νόμων, άπαντα και ποιούνται και λέγονται.-• For there was at that time a strong report that the Apostles. were seditious and innovators, and that their principles and practices tended to the subversion of the common laws.'
From this account it is easy to see what made the Apostles so frequently, so earnestly press their new converts to show a more than ordinary obedience to their masters and governors : the honor of Christ and the gospel was nearly concerned in their behavior, which ought to be dearer to them than their
lives, and to outweigh all other considerations whatever ; and therefore they ought to bear every thing rather than give any umbrage to the enemies of the gospel, by pretending on any account, how plausible soever, to withstand the commands of their lawful governors. And for this reason St. - Paul more especially labors the point, when he writes to the Christians at Rome, which was the ordinary residence of the emperor, and where any
the least disorder would be the soonest taken notice of, and most improved to the prejudice of the gospel. And if you examine what St. Paul has taught concerning obedience and subjection to the higher powers, you will find it answer exactly to these circumstances now set before you, and to be built on reasons purposely adapted to confute the error of the Galileans and some Judaizing Christians, and to require such an exact and scrupulous obedience, as might clear the gospel and its professors from the scandal thrown on them by the heathen world.
· Let every soul,' says he, be subject unto the higher powers.' This is the doctrine laid down in opposition to such as taught that there were no higher powers who had any claim to their obedience, but that they were under the immediate government of God, and therefore owed no subjection to man. The Apostle supports his doctrine with arguments peculiarly adapted to combat the error he opposes, as you will perceive in the following words : · For there is no power,' says he, ' but of God: the
powers that he are ordained of God.' As if he had said, You argue
that you ought to be subject to God only, and to acknowlege no other power or authority but his. What you say is true : but so far is this reason from exempting you from the subjection to temporal power, that, well considered, it will prove just the contrary : for the power of the magistrate is a power delegated from God, and therefore more especially to be regarded by those who pretend in a peculiar manner to be the servants of God. It was obvious, to object against this reasoning, that the powers then in being could not be the powers ordained by God, because they so evidently thwarted all his purposes : they had put to death the Lord of life; they persecuted his followers; they were the supporters of superstition and idolatry, and the main obstacle in the way of the gospel :