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Commentary on Romans
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Romans 12:17-19

17. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

17. Nemini malum pro malo rependentes, providentes bona coram omnibus hominibus.

18. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

18. Si fieri potest, quantum est in vobis, cum omnibus hominibus pacem habentes;

19. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

19. Non vosmetipsos ulciscentes, dilecti; sed date locum irae; scriptum est enim, Mihi vindictam, et ego rependam, dicit Dominus.

17. Repaying to no one, etc. This differs but little from what shortly after follows, except that revenge is more than the kind of repaying of which he speaks here; for we render evil for evil sometimes, even when we exact not the requiting of an injury, as when we treat unkindly those who do us no good. We are indeed wont to form an estimate of the deserts of each, or of what they merit at our hands, so that we may confer our benefits on those, by whom we have been already obliged, or from whom we expect something: and again, when any one denies help to us when we need it, we, by returning like for like, as they say, do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us. There are also other instances of the same kind, in which evil is rendered for evil, when there is no open revenge.

Providing good things, etc. I no not disapprove of the rendering of Erasmus, “Providently preparing,” (Provide parantes;) but I prefer a literal rendering. As every one is more than justly devoted to his own advantage, and provident in avoiding losses, Paul seems to require a care and an attention of another kind. What is meant is, that we ought diligently to labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected: for since it is meet that God should be glorified by our good deeds, even so much is wanting to his glory, as there is a deficiency of what is praiseworthy in us; and not only the glory of God is thus obscured, but he is branded with reproach; for whatever sin we commit, the ignorant employ it for the purpose of calumniating the gospel.

But when we are bidden to prepare good things before men, 396396     “Providentes bona;” προνοούμενοι καλὰ; “procurantes honesta — providing honest things,” Beza; “providing things reputable,” Doddridge; “premeditating things comely,” Macknight. The participle means to mind beforehand, to prepare, to provide, and also to take care of or to attend to a thing. “Attending to things honorable” may be the rendering here. The adjective καλὸς, means fair, good; and good in conduct as here is not “comely,” but just, right, or reputable, as Doddridge renders it. The word “honest” does not now retain its original idea of honorable. — Ed. we must at the same time notice for what purpose: it is not indeed that men may admire and praise us, as this is a desire which Christ carefully forbids us to indulge, since he bids us to admit God alone as the witness of our good deeds, to the exclusion of all men; but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to the practice of righteousness, that they may, in a word, perceive the good and the sweet odor of our life, by which they may be allured to the love of God. But if we are evil spoken of for the name of Christ, we are by no means to neglect to provide good things before men: for fulfilled then shall be that saying, that we are counted as false, and are yet true. (2 Corinthians 6:8.)

18. If it be possible, etc. Peaceableness and a life so ordered as to render us beloved by all, is no common gift in a Christian. If we desire to attain this, we must not only be endued with perfect uprightness, but also with very courteous and kind manners, which may not only conciliate the just and the good, but produce also a favorable impression on the hearts of the ungodly.

But here two cautions must be stated: We are not to seek to be in such esteem as to refuse to undergo the hatred of any for Christ, whenever it may be necessary. And indeed we see that there are some who, though they render themselves amicable to all by the sweetness of their manners and peaceableness of their minds, are yet hated even by their nearest connections on account of the gospel. The second caution is, — that courteousness should not degenerate into compliance, so as to lead us to flatter the vices of men for the sake of preserving peace. Since then it cannot always be, that we can have peace with all men, he has annexed two particulars by way of exception, If it be possible, and, as far as you can. But we are to conclude from what piety and love require, that we are not to violate peace, except when constrained by either of these two things. For we ought, for the sake of cherishing peace, to bear many things, to pardon offenses, and kindly to remit the full rigor of the law; and yet in such a way, that we may be prepared, whenever necessity requires, to fight courageously: for it is impossible that the soldiers of Christ should have perpetual peace with the world, whose prince is Satan.

19. Avenge not yourselves, etc. The evil which he corrects here, as we have reminded you, is more grievous than the preceding, which he has just stated; and yet both of them arise from the same fountain, even from an inordinate love of self and innate pride, which makes us very indulgent to our own faults and inexorable to those of others. As then this disease begets almost in all men a furious passion for revenge, whenever they are in the least degree touched, he commands here, that however grievously we may be injured, we are not to seek revenge, but to commit it to the Lord. And inasmuch as they do not easily admit the bridle, who are once seized with this wild passion, he lays, as it were, his hand upon us to restrain us, by kindly addressing us as beloved

The precept; then is, — that we are not to revenge nor seek to revenge injuries done to us. The manner is added, a place is to be given to wrath. To give place to wrath, is to commit to the Lord the right of judging, which they take away from him who attempt revenge. Hence, as it is not lawful to usurp the office of God, it is not lawful to revenge; for we thus anticipate the judgment of God, who will have this office reserved for himself. He at the same time intimates, that they shall have God as their defender, who patiently wait for his help; but that those who anticipate him leave no place for the help of God. 397397     Many have been the advocates of this exposition, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Luther, Beza, Hammond, Macknight, Stuart, etc. But there is no instance of the expression, “to give place,” having this meaning. In the two places where it occurs, it means to give way, to yield. See Luke 14:9; Ephesians 4:27. Then to give place to wrath, is to yield to and patiently to endure the wrath of the man who does the wrong. Some have maintained that the meaning is, that the injured man is to give place to his own wrath, that is, allow it time to cool: but this view comports not with the passage. The subject is, that a Christian is not to retaliate, or to return wrath for wrath, but to endure the wrath of his enemy, and to leave the matter in the hand of God. With this sense the quotation accords as much as with that given by Calvin. Not a few have taken this view, Basil, Ambrose, Drusius, Mede, Doddridge, Scott, etc. — Ed.

But he prohibits here, not only that we are not to execute revenge with our own hands, but that our hearts also are not to be influenced by a desire of this kind: it is therefore superfluous to make a distinction here between public and private revenge; for he who, with a malevolent mind and desirous of revenge, seeks the help of a magistrate, has no more excuse than when he devises means for self-revenge. Nay, revenge, as we shall presently see, is not indeed at all times to be sought from God: for if our petitions arise from a private feeling, and not from pure zeal produced by the Spirit, we do not make God so much our judge as the executioner of our depraved passion.

Hence, we do not otherwise give place to wrath, than when with quiet minds we wait for the seasonable time of deliverance, praying at the same time, that they who are now our adversaries, may by repentance become our friends.

For it is written, etc. He brings proof, taken from the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:35, where the Lord declares that he will be the avenger of his enemies; and God’s enemies are all who without cause oppress his servants. “He who touches you,” he says, “touches the pupil of mine eye.” With this consolation then we ought to be content, — that they shall not escape unpunished who undeservedly oppress us, — and that we, by enduring, shall not make ourselves more subject or open to the injuries of the wicked, but, on the contrary, shall give place to the Lord, who is our only judge and deliverer, to bring us help.

Though it be not indeed lawful for us to pray to God for vengeance on our enemies, but to pray for their conversion, that they may become friends; yet if they proceed in their impiety, what is to happen to the despisers of God will happen to them. But Paul quoted not this testimony to show that it is right for us to be as it were on fire as soon as we are injured, and according to the impulse of our flesh, to ask in our prayers that God may become the avenger of our injuries; but he first teaches us that it belongs not to us to revenge, except we would assume to ourselves the office of God; and secondly, he intimates, that we are not to fear that the wicked will more furiously rage when they see us bearing patiently; for God does not in vain take upon himself the office of executing vengeance.


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