Romans 13:8

We here pass from public to private relations. Still in the civic sphere, viewing men as men, not as Christian brethren. And reminded by thought just advanced, the thought of tribute, custom, etc., as being "due" to those in power, that there are dues also which we owe each one to his neighbour. And it is of the very essence of justice that we "render to all their dues;" or, in the words of the eighth verse, that we "owe no man anything." Here, then, we may consider the justice which binds together human society; and the love by which the justice is fulfilled.

I. JUSTICE. Justice is the bond of human society. To do to others as we may reasonably expect them to do to us is indeed the golden rule which conserves all security and peace among men. To be just towards them is to respect their rights, And what are the rights of man? God has set them forth strongly, in their essentials, in that Decalogue which was the Divine code of justice for a barbarous nation. Think of them - rights without which life amongst others would be intolerable.

1. The right of life. "Thou shalt not kill." Sacredness of existence; but frailty. So precious, and yet so easily destroyed. And in wantonness, or in malice, man may destroy his brother-man. But the "Thou shalt not kill" sounds in his ears, a spoken law of God: the right of life must be conserved.

2. The right of sacred relationship, dearer than the right of life. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Organic union of men. Relationships interwoven into human nature husband and wife, parent and child, brother and brother. The conjugal relation the foundation of the rest. Any tampering with this relation is, in its degree, adultery, and loosens the whole relational fabric; any violation of the sacrament of this relation, "They twain shall be one flesh," is in the highest degree adultery, and goes far to destroy the whole relational fabric. But the "Thou shalt not commit adultery" sounds in our ears, a spoken law of God: the rights of sacred relationship must be conserved.

3. The right of property. "Thou shalt not steal." An instinctive acquisitiveness in man; he lords it over the world. This acquisitiveness sanctioned by God: "have dominion." Same acquisitiveness, perverted from its proper use, may lead us to acquire that to which we have no right, to "steal" the property of our brother. But the "Thou shalt not steal" sounds in our ears: God utters his sanction of the sacredness of property.

4. Fundamental to all these main rights of man is the right to be secure from even the unlawful desire of a brother. "Thou shalt not covet." For "out of the heart proceed," etc. (Matthew 15:19). So to covet another's life, or wife, or property, even in the first faint beginning of desire, is to allow the lust from which all evil flows; and, as against "sin in its beginning," the "Thou shalt not covet" of God is uttered with solemn emphasis as the last commandment.

II. LOVE. The last commandment? Nay, for Christ has said, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another." We have seen how this is the bond of the new brotherhood in Christ; it is set forth here as the Christian's own safeguard of the rights of man. As a man amongst men you must respect the rights of men, i.e. you must fulfil the law; as a Christian amongst men you must love them for the Lord's sake, and so you assure your respect for all their rights, for "love is the fulfilment of the Law." Need this be proved? Law says sternly, "No ill to one's neighbour;" love says, "Give all good." Ah! here is a yet Diviner impulse, and covering a broader ground. And the Christian will be content with nothing less than this Diviner impulse and broader ground. But if there be the higher impulse, the lower shall be secure; if there be the wider range, the narrower shall be covered. Yes; love men, and you will work no ill. The importance of justice amongst men demands that, as good citizens, we see to it that justice is everywhere advanced; hence our parliaments, our courts. But that justice may be advanced, to say nothing of yet higher ends, let us, as Christians, cherish this principle which constitutes the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." - T.F.L.

Owe no man anything.
This precept may signify either to leave not our debts unpaid, or never get into debt. It may be looked to as a repetition of "Render unto all their dues" (debitum, debt). Be in no man's books. If he be an individual with whom you are dealing, pay when you buy. Or if it be the government, pay the tax when it becomes due. The injunction in this latter or more rigorous meaning of it is far from being generally adhered to. Perhaps it may not at all times suit the conveniences or even the possibilities of business, that each single transaction should be a ready-money transaction. Perhaps even in the matters of family expenditure it might save trouble to pay at certain terms. There can be no doubt, however, that in the first interpretation of it, it is a matter of absolute and universal obligation. Though we cannot just say that a man should never get into debt, we can feel no hesitation in saying that, once in, he should labour most strenuously to get out of it. For —

1. In the world of trade one cannot be insensible to the dire mischief that ensues from the spirit of unwarrantable speculation. The adventurer who trades beyond his means is often actuated by a passion as intense and as criminal as the gamester. But it is not the injury alone which is done to his own character that is to be deprecated, nor the ruin that bankruptcy brings upon his own family. Over and above these evils there is a far heavier disaster to the working classes, gathered in hundreds around the mushroom establishment, and then thrown adrift in utter destitution on society. This frenzy of men hasting to be rich, like fever in the body natural, is a truly sore distemper in the body politic.

2. If they who trade beyond their means thus fall to be denounced, they who spend beyond their means, and so run themselves into debt, merit the same condemnation. We can imagine nothing more glaringly unprincipled and selfish than the conduct of those who, to uphold their place in the fashionable world, build or adorn or entertain at the expense of tradesmen, whom they hurry on to beggary with themselves.

3. But there is another and more interesting application of this precept, one which, if fully carried out, would tell more beneficially than any other on the greatest happiness of the greatest number, viz., that men in humble life should learn to find their way from the pawn office to the savings bank — so that, instead of debtors to the one, they should become depositors in the other. That it is not so is far more due to the want of management than to the want of means; and it needs but the kindness and trouble of a few benevolent attentions to put many on the way of it.

(T. Chalmers, D.D.)


1. It robs the creditor of his right, and often involves him in serious perplexity and trouble.

2. It robs the debtor of his independence, and not unfrequently of his moral principle.


1. A defective morality.

2. A want of love to our neighbour.

3. A blinded conscience.


1. By living within our income.

2. By cutting off all unnecessary expenses.

3. By incurring no liabilities which we have not a reasonable prospect of meeting.

4. By the utmost economy.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)


1. To be in debt will expose us to defraud others of their just due.

2. Is injurious to the general interests of society.

3. Involves whole families in suffering.

4. Subjects us to great sacrifices.

5. Is prejudicial to our improvement in useful knowledge.

6. Is unfavourable to religion.

7. Is in direct opposition to God's command.


1. Debt, however long foreborne, will one day be required.

2. Remember the worth of time.

3. Avoid luxury.

4. Never exceed your income.

5. Never despise honest labour.

6. Avoid depending on speculation and artifice.

7. Never neglect the duties of religion.

(J. W. Cannon, M.A.)


1. The first mean is diligence in business. Make no unnecessary delay, nor set about it with a slack or unskilful hand.

2. The second mean is frugality, or the avoiding of expense whenever it can properly be avoided.

3. A third mean is exactness. "Put all in writing," says the son of Sirac, "that thou givest out or receivest in." Punctual payment is material. The last effect of exactness is to ensure the payment of what we owe at death. It is the concluding evidence of an honest man to leave his affairs in order.


1. One must sometimes bear the reproach of selfishness in order to pay debt or keep out of it.

2. Fashion must often be quitted for the sake of justice. In order to perceive and obey this call, consult your own understanding. What is the consequence of being unfashionable? I am censured, and ridiculed, and despised. But what is the consequence of being unjust? My own heart condemns me.

3. Vainglory must be checked for the sake of justice. The pleasure in sumptuous possessions is slight, "beholding them with the eye." If they be unpaid, looking at them calls up the painful remembrance.

4. Generosity must be checked when it would encroach on justice. The parting with money inconsiderately, so far from being approved, is become a proverbial folly. Some make a flash of affected generosity who are not very scrupulous in paying what they owe, nor about fraudulent courses provided they be gainful.

5. Compassion must be bounded by justice. We are required to do justly and to love mercy. Let the love of mercy be cherished, and, when justice permits, let its dictates be obeyed. Still it is the part of a wise man to examine the claims that are made on his compassion. By rejecting false ones he can indulge compassion with more effect, and it partakes more of the nature of virtue.

6. Friendship may prompt a man to involve himself by loan or suretyship.

7. The dictates of natural affection must be checked when they encroach on justice. Let a man reveal to his family his real circumstances, and establish an order conformed to them.

8. Pleasures innocent in themselves may prove too costly. From that moment they cease to be innocent.

9. An immoderate desire of wealth leads to injustice. What is the consequence, for example, of adventuring in trade beyond what your capital admits of and justifies?

10. Sloth must be conquered. It is fatal to justice as well as to every other virtue. "The slothful is brother to him that is a great waster." He is equally exposed to poverty, and to all the temptations the poor are under, to be unjust.

11. False shame must be combated.

12. Restitution is the last sacrifice to be made to justice. There are two cases, the case of things found, and of things acquired unjustly.

III. Such are the sacrifices to be made to justice. They are costly; but THE BLESSINGS ARE IN PROPORTION GREAT.

1. To be out of debt is accounted a part of happiness.

2. Peace at the latter end is the portion of the upright. The pleasures of iniquity are but for a moment. The splendour of extravagance fades. To live and die an honest man is a worthy object of ambition.

(S. Charters.)

Owe no man anything. Keep out of debt. Avoid it as you would avoid war, pestilence, and famine. Hate it with a perfect hatred. Dig potatoes, break stones, peddle in tinwares, do anything that is honest and useful, rather than run into debt. As you value comfort, quiet, and independence, keep out of debt. As you value good digestion, a healthy appetite, a placid temper, a smooth pillow, pleasant dreams and happy wakings, keep out of debt. Debt is the hardest of all taskmasters; the most cruel of all oppressors. It is as a millstone about the neck. It is an incumbus on the heart. It spreads a cloud over the whole firmament of man's being. It eclipses the sun; it blots out the stars; it dims and defaces the beautiful blue sky. It breaks the harmony of nature, and turns to dissonance all the voices of its melody. Ii furrows the forehead with premature wrinkles; it plucks the eye of its light. It drags the nobleness and kindness out of the port and bearing of a man; it takes the soul out of his laugh, and all stateliness and freedom from his walk. Come not, then, under its crushing dominion. But to love one another.

I. HONESTY gives every one his due.

II. LOVE does more, it gives itself, and thus fulfils the whole law.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

These two things are closer together than we are wont to imagine. Said a foremost physician not long ago, when asked how far the facility with which American constitutions break down was occasioned by overwork, "It is not overwork either on the part of the people who work with their brains, or with their hands. The most fruitful source of physical derangement and mental and nervous disorders are pecuniary embarrassments and family dissensions." The two things lie close together. The father, crowded beyond endurance by the strain to maintain a scale of living long ago pitched too high, the mother consciously degraded by the domestic dishonesty that draws money for marketing and spends it for dress; the sons and daughters taught prodigality by example, and upbraided for it in speech — what can come to such a home but embittered feeling? How can love reign in a household where mutual confidence and sacrifices, where the traits that inspire respect and kindle affection are wanting? Not to pay one's debts is as sure and as short a road as can be found to the extinction of confidence, the destruction of respect, and the death of love. Where now shall we look for a corrective? I answer, in a higher ideal of the true wealth and welfare of the nation, and so of the individuals who severally compose it. It was Epictetus who said, long ago, "You will confer the greatest benefit upon your city, not by raising the roofs, but by exalting the souls of your fellow-citizens, for it is better that great souls should live in small habitations than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses." Let us then pay every debt but the debt which we can never wholly pay, whether to God or our neighbour, which is the debt of love. But let us gladly own that debt, and be busy every day of our lives in making at least some small payment in account. As we gather about the family board let us remember the homeless and unbefriended, and be sure that we have done something to make sunshine in their hearts, no matter what gloom may reign without.

(Bp.H. C. Potter.)

I. THE AFFECTIONATE EXHORTATION. This calls upon us to endeavour to be always out of debt, while always in debt. Some, indeed, read the text as a doctrinal statement. "Ye owe no man anything but to love one another"; all that I would inculcate is reducible to this: obey the law of love to others, in all its branches, and then you will "render to all their dues." But there is sufficient reason to interpret our text according to our present translation. Thus interpreted —

1. It does not mean — Ye sin if ye ever contract debt, or do not discharge it the moment it is contracted. On this principle, commerce would be almost annihilated; many a conscience would be continually fettered; and the precept itself would be found impracticable. But it insists on the punctual and conscientious payment of all lawful debts, which indeed is required by common honesty. "The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again." "Woe unto him,... that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work."

2. But it means more. Ye owe duties to every one, and these you are to fulfil. In every relationship of life you have dues to render, and all your various duties to man result from your supreme duty to God. You are a debtor first and above all to God Himself, owing Him ten thousand talents and more, and having nothing wherewith to pay. That debt Christ has paid for you. Believe ye this? Then God, for Christ's sake, has freely forgiven you. From being His debtors as to guilt, ye become His debtors as to gratitude, and this debt He would have you pay in charity to all mankind. Would ye, then, be honest in the full Christian sense? "Owe no man anything." Be ever discharging the obligations under which God has graciously laid you, to love Him, and to love your brother also.

3. And yet ye must ever be in debt. We can never do enough in serving God and benefiting man. When all pecuniary debts are paid, this debt of love to one another remains, and is still binding.

4. But whence our means of paying this great debt of love? By having the love of God continually shed abroad in the heart. The more we receive, the more we are in debt to God; and hence the more we do, the more we may do in carrying out love to God and man, in all the relationships of life.

II. THE COMPREHENSIVE MOTIVE. "For he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law." "But we are not under the law, but under grace." True, but for what object? "That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." Thus is the believer not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. All whom the Spirit leads to Christ for pardon, He forgives freely, and then consigns them back to the training of the Holy Spirit, who writes the law of God upon the heart, and enables them to write it out in the life. And that law is love; "love is the fulfilling of the law." None obey the law of God as those who look to Christ as "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

(J. Hambleton, M.A.)

I. THIS IS A DEBT WHICH EVERY MAN OWES. There are relations in which men seem slow to recognise dues and obligations. They recognise the relation between the ordinary creditor and debtor, master and servant, as well as the obligations founded upon it. They forget that the very existence of certain relations involves a corresponding obligation, whether we have voluntarily assumed them or not. The child enters into relations with its parents without any act of its own; and yet the child is bound to render filial honour, obedience, and love. The highest relation man can have is to God. This exists before the act of any recognition on the part of the creature; but it imposes certain obligations which the creature is bound to meet. In the preceding verses Paul speaks of the relation of the subject to the ruler; the citizen to the state. Our birth introduces us to the rights of citizenship, but we are born to duties just as much as to rights; and as long as we remain under the protection of the State, we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, just as we are bound to render unto God the things that are God's; and that, as Paul informs us, "for conscience' sake." The debts we owe the State are just as binding as any debts we voluntarily contract. And these dues (ver. 7) lead Paul to speak of that greatest debt, loving one another. Although you may say with a feeling of independence and superiority, "I do not owe a dollar to any man,"here is a debt you owe to every man. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God"; and the same spirit spoke through Cain — "Am I my brother's keeper?" The atheist denies his relation to God and the obligation which it involves; the spirit of selfishness refuses to recognise its relation to its neighbour; but the Spirit of Christ teaches a different lesson. It is not left to my choice or caprices — it is a debt. I owe it not to a select number of men, but to every man, for every man is my neighbour. According to Paul this debt is love (Matthew 22:36-38).


1. We must pay this debt as every other. The Lord is not satisfied with our recognition of the duty, for He says, "Thou shalt love." We must pay it —(1) By scrupulously abstaining from doing any evil to our neighbour, for "love worketh no ill to his neighbour."(2) By doing all the positive good to him we can.

2. And yet this is the one great debt which we are always to owe. Love is the inexhaustible fountain out of which all words and deeds of kindness flow. That fountain must ever remain open and full. Without such a fountain all the streamlets would fail. Let a man love, and he will strive to render unto all their dues, and to owe no man anything. The absence of love makes cruel creditors and unprincipled debtors. Love is indeed "the fulfilment of the law," and the unfulfilled law everywhere reveals the absence of love. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and of this great sin, too, that we owe this great debt of love, and have become great debtors by not paying it. But the law is also "our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." We shall never be able to pay this greatest of all debts until we have become the pardoned debtors of our Heavenly Father. The love of God begets our love. He alone can enable us to be diligent in paying a debt that can never be entirely paid off.

(G. F. Krotel, D.D.)

1. As private persons, in your mutual traffic with one another, it will necessarily happen that, whatever your stations in life are, you must incur debts, and stand accountable to one another for certain goods and commodities received, for labour done, or for money borrowed. When St. Paul therefore directs you to owe no man anything, he only means that you are not to incur debts wantonly, nor keep in debt needlessly. But there is one debt which, he says, you can never discharge. This debt is the debt of Christian love.

2. Examine into the reasons on which it is founded, and why this exertion of Christian love is a debt of that kind, which can never be paid so fully as to absolve us from any further payment of it.(1) The first reason is founded on the relation in which we stand to Almighty God. The innumerable benefits which we daily and hourly receive at His hands demand the constant tribute of love and gratitude; but we have no way of expressing this affection so effectually as by acts of kindness to our fellowcreatures.(2) The force of the next reason depends on the frame and constitution of human nature, which is so replete with wants and weaknesses, consisting indeed of various kinds, yet distributed in pretty equal proportion among the species, that it is, morally speaking, impossible for us to be independent one of another.(3) The last reason consists in the very nature of the principle itself, and of those intrinsic properties, without which it ceases to be the thing which we mean by the terms we use to define it. Now, were benevolence a passive principle that contented itself with being, what the word imports, only a well-wishing, not a well-doing quality, it might not be required to be in constant use and exertion. But when used to denote Christian love and charity, and to have the same meaning with these terms, it implies a strenuous and unwearied exercise of one of the most active faculties of the human soul, which is better, perhaps, expressed by the term beneficence. Our charity must therefore be commensurate with our life; it must act so long as we act, for if it ever faileth it ceaseth to be charity, because we see that the apostle tells us it is one of its essential properties never to fail or cease from acting.

3. On these three reasons we build this conclusion that the debt of charity or benevolence to our neighbour is a debt which we must take all opportunities of paying him, and of which we must only close the payment when death closes our eyes. May we not assure ourselves that a soul actuated by so Divine a principle here on earth, must, of all other things, be best prepared to participate the joys of heaven?

(W. Mason, M.A.)

I. THE NATURE OF LOVE. There are two kinds of affection that have this title. One is an approbation and affection for a character that pleases us; the other is an ardent good-will towards beings capable of happiness. Both of these affections are exercises of the Divine mind. And both of them are enjoined upon man. God and angels and all holy beings we are obligated to look upon with complacency, and towards all men we are bound to exercise good-will. We may wish well to all men, and still be willing to see the convict imprisoned and executed. This the good of the civil community demands, and this benevolence assents to, nay, even requires.

II. HOW THIS AFFECTION WILL OPERATE. Here the path of our thoughts is plain. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour. It will neither kill, nor steal, nor covet, nor defraud, nor witness falsely. It will lead to the discharge of every debt but one, and that one the debt of love; it will delight to owe and pay, and still owe for ever. Those whom we love we wish happy; and in proportion to the strength of that affection will be the energy exerted to accomplish that object. If to be calm and content will render them happy, we shall be reluctant to ruffle their temper or move their envy. If to be rich, and respected, and wise will make them happy, we shall wish their success in business, their increased respectability, and their advance in knowledge. If health, and ease, and long life, and domestic friendship will add to their enjoyments, we shall wish them all these; and what we wish for them we shall be willing, if in our power, to do for them. But if only the grace of God can make them blessed, it will be our strongest wish and our most ardent prayer that God would sanctify them.

III. THE DUTY OF BENEVOLENCE. And here I would premise that the good-will which I urge is to be exercised toward friend and foe. It is a pure and disinterested affection, hence is the offspring of a heavenly temper. I would urge it upon myself and my fellow-men —

1. By the example of God. How constant and how varied are the operations of the Divine benevolence! Life and health, and food and raiment are His gifts, and are bestowed on His friends and His foes. Now the whole Bible just urges upon every man this same expanded benevolence. You are required to be a worker together with God.

2. We are urged to the same duty by the command of God. God does not exhibit His example before us, and leave it to our option whether we will do like Him. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And the Scriptures teach us what the effect of this love will be. It will lead to an affectionate deportment and a readiness to serve each other. It begets a spirit of forbearance, of truth, of unanimity, of self-denial, of meekness, and forgiveness.

3. Benevolence affords its possessor a permanent and high enjoyment. It is, in its nature, a sweet and calm affection, has its origin in heaven, and exerts a sanctifying influence upon every other exercise of the soul. If I know that I love my fellow-men, I am conscious that I feel as God does, and as He commands me to feel. I see, in that case, the image of my Creator in my heart. Hence it begets joy and hope. But this is not all; a benevolent heart makes all the happiness it sees its own, and thus widens, indefinitely, the sphere of its enjoyment. It has a real pleasure in another's joy, and still does not diminish the good on which it feeds and thrives.

IV. THE HAPPINESS IT COMMUNICATES TO OTHERS. I would then urge all the believers and the unbelievers to love their fellow-men, from the fact that by putting forth this affection you can create a world of happiness. In the first place, look about you and see what need there is of more happiness than at present exists, what abundant opportunity there is for your exertion. You cannot be ignorant that you live in a ruined world, where, if you are disposed to be kind, you can find abundant employment. You can find misery in almost every shape and shade. Would it not be desirable to apply a remedy if you might to this complicated malady? Be willing, then, to practise the benevolence required, and the remedy is applied and the cure effected. Can you quit the world peaceably till what you can do has been done, to fertilise the moral waste over which you expect so soon to cast a lingering, dying look?

V. THE DYING LOVE OF CHRIST. It was in the cure of this very same distress that He came in the flesh and died on the tree. Enter, then, upon the work of making your fellow-men happy, and you are in the very vineyard where the Lord Jesus laboured. He has already rescued from the ruins of the apostasy a great multitude that no man can number. The work is going on, and He invites your co-operation. Remarks:

1. In the want of this benevolence, how strong is the proof we have that men are wholly depraved!

2. We see the necessity that men should be renewed. Place selfish hearts in heaven and they would there be as fruitful as elsewhere in misery.

3. How pleasant is the prospect of a millennium! Then the benevolence we contemplate will become general. Men will be employed in rendering each other happy.

(D. A. Clark.)


1. The creditors are so many.

2. Its liabilities are so numerous.

3. It can never be fully discharged.


1. Not lightly incurred.

2. It helps us to discharge all others.

3. It harmonises with God's love.

4. Every attempt to discharge it is a source of plea-sure.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)


1. As due to so many — all men.

2. Requiring so much to pay it — sometimes our life (1 John 3:16).

II. A LASTING DEBT. Though always being paid, yet never discharged. The more that is paid the more is felt to be due. The principle is deepened and made more active by the practice.

III. A PLEASANT DEBT (Philippians 2:1). Every payment of it gladdens and enlarges the heart.


1. Necessary to our moral nature.

2. It makes us Godlike and Christlike (Ephesians 4:32; Ephesians 5:1, 2; 1 John 4:8).

(T. Robinson, D.D.)

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