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Romans XIII.1-5.

Database

Romans XIII.1-5.

James Dodson

by

Andrew Melville.

[These comments are a literal translation, by James M. Willson, from Andrew Melville’s "Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans."]


"This precept concerning obedience to magistrates, in which, in consequence of the mutual relation of subjects towards magistrates, and magistrates towards subjects, every civil duty is contained, is a universal precept, (verse 1), no man of any class being excepted. Subjection (ὑποταγη) is enjoined to the supereminent (ὑπερεχουσαις) authorities: in which the word is tacitly presumed an argument for subjection; that is, in the antithesis between the prepositions ὑπερ and ὑπο: if rulers are placed in the higher grade, subjection is due to them from inferiors. A second argument is, that a legitimate magistracy is from God, whose authority Paul calls εξουσιαν—lawful, not without law, or an unrestrained license. As Melancthon said, ‘The authority is to be distinguished from the person; for Paul loved civil organization and authority, but Nero and Caligula he execrated as monsters of nature, instruments of the devil, and pests of the human race.’ A third argument is derived from the fact that it is an order divinely constituted, under God, for the glory of God. For so I interpret, ὑπο του θεου τεταγμεναι, as meaning, not so much ‘by God,’ which had already been said, as ‘powers ordained’ under God [Melville here adduces a number of instances from classical writers confirming his interpretation]: which he calls, with the article, τας ουσας εξουσιας, as if he would say τας οντος εξουσιας—powers that are really such, and deserve the name. Hence an impious and unjust tyranny, which is neither from God, as such, nor at all according to the divine ordination, he excludes as illegitimate from this legitimate obedience, unless at any time it may seem good to God to impose even upon his own people a tyrannical government as a paternal rod for their chastisement,—for then, indeed, they should obey it, provided it enjoin nothing impious towards God, or unjust towards others—for in such cases its authority is to be disregarded."[Footnote 1]

"In verse 2 he concludes, from the second and third arguments, that they who resist God and the ordinance of God, resist divine power, and consequently bring upon themselves judgment—that is, condemnation and ruin: which itself constitutes a fourth argument—the uselessness and hurtfulness of disobedience. In verse 3 he renders a reason why those authorities which are not to be resisted are from God and ordained of God: adding a fifth argument for obedience—‘Magistrates are not a terror to good works, but to the evil;’ therefore they are of God, and are his ordinance, and are to be obeyed; for the magistrates of whom we speak are not unreasonable tyrants, but kind and just princes, by whom punishments have been appointed for the wicked, and rewards for the good. This he proves (verse 4) from the fact that the magistrate is the minister of God for the good of the church and the good of men, nor less of vengeance upon the wicked by inflicting punishment upon them. Hence he concludes (verse 5) that subjection is necessary for a twofold reason—to escape this vengeance, and for the preservation of a good conscience, and more for conscience’ sake, than through fear of suffering." [A few sentences omitted here]. "Therefore it is good princes and legitimate magistrates, of whom the apostle here treats and so graphically describes, to whom all legitimate obedience is due."


Footnote:

[1] It is plain that Melville had in his eye such a case as that of the Jews under the Babylonish government, and that the obedience to which he refers is a mere submission to a painful infliction. In a word, a submission to God’s hand laid upon them in providence. [J.M. Willson].