NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Lesson XV)
Robert Haldane gives his explanation of this darkness. For him, if Paul meant heathen ignorance and darkness, that was already past and the day of understanding and knowledge about God was being spread among them. And as to the night of Gentile ignorance being nearly at an end, this is still far from over. Nearly nineteen centuries have passed since this Epistle was written and the night of godlessness, so far from being at an end, still broods over the greater part of the world. So Paul’s reference to the night must be the time of the believers’ life here on earth. In their human state, even with all its light of the Gospel, it is still dark compared to the light of heaven. The day which was at hand was not the day of judgment, but the day of their departure to await the resurection.1
Charles Hodge sees it differently. As far as he’s concerned, the meaning of this verse is very obvious. Night or darkness is the common emblem of sin and sorrow; day or light, that of holiness and happiness. The meaning of the first clause, therefore is, that the time of sin and sorrow is nearly over, that of holiness and happiness is at hand. However, if we adopt this understanding it will depend on the interpretation we give to the preceding verse. If that verse refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, then Paul means to say, that the night of persecution was nearly gone, and the day of peace and prosperity to the Gentile churches was at hand. But if verse 11 refers to our final salvation, then this verse means that the sins and sorrows of this life will soon be over and the day of eternal blessedness is about to dawn. The latter view is the one Hodge prefers.2
Then Hodge goes on to note that Paul continues this beautiful figure throughout the verse. That’s why Paul admonishes the believers in Rome, and us, to get rid of those things done that we don’t want others to see and put on the armor of light so we can do everything out in the open. This armor of light means those virtues and ethics which people are not ashamed of because they will be seen by all. Paul probably used the word armor, instead of works, because these virtues constitute the offensive and defensive weapons with which we are to use when we contend against sin and evil.3 The Greek verbs apotithēmi “cast off”4 and endyō “put on”5 suggest the idea of bodily covering. We are to throw off what we are wearing and put on something different. The garments which belong to the night are to be laid aside, and we are to array ourselves in those suited to the day.6 We must also add, that such clothing and armor are figures of speech for our appearance to this world – the way people see us act, talk, and live.
Albert Barnes focuses on the armor each Christian should be equipped with. He notes that the word armor properly means arms, or instruments of war, including the helmet, sword, shield, etc.7 It is used in the Last Covenant to denote the “instruments” which the Christian has, or the “means of defense” in their battle where they are represented as soldiers contending with their foes and includes truth, righteousness, faith, hope, etc., as the instruments by which they are to gain their victories. When he wrote the Corinthians, Paul called it “the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”8 It is also called “armor of light” because it is not to accomplish any deeds done in darkness or of crime; it is appropriate for those who are upright, who are seeking a pure and noble goal. Elsewhere, Paul says that believers are represented as “children of light.”9 By the armor of light, therefore, the Apostle means those graces which stand opposed to the deeds of darkness; those graces of faith, hope, humility, etc., which are appropriate to those who are the children of the day and which will be their defense in their struggles with their spiritual foes10.11
Charles Spurgeon, preaching on this text, asks: “What, then, is ‘the time‘ which Paul would have us know is close at hand?” Spurgeon wonders if it is the early morning in this life or the dawning of eternal life? The Son, like the sun, has scattered the thick darkness of nature’s intelligence. We are now enjoying His first golden beams – the time that starts the birds to singing – the time of the dew of grace and of the fresh breath of the Spirit. It is not full day yet but, still, the night is fading and the perfect day of our salvation is arriving when body and soul will be delivered from every trace of the work of Satan. That day is “nearer than when we first believed.” The light and heat of day are increasing. The darkness and chill of night are diminishing. We are getting further away from the power of ignorance, sin, and despair. We are getting more and more under the influence of spiritual knowledge, holiness, and hope! The Apostle would have us know for sure that the true light of God now shines, especially that which will grow brighter and brighter unto a perfect day!
Spurgeon continues with his thoughts by asking what is the next thing a believer is supposed to do now that they are awake? Wouldn’t it be natural that they should get rid of their pajamas and get dressed for their day’s work? When you meet your friends in the morning, you don’t see them still wrapped in the sheets which covered them at night. If we did, we might conclude that they are being taken to a mortuary. Our bed-clothes must give way to our work-clothes if we are to get ready for a good day at work. Of course, it goes without saying that first, we must take off one before we can put on the other. Spurgeon says that as simple and plain as this illustration is, it conveys a lesson which we should all try to remember. Sins and worldly living are to be discarded when we put on the garments of the light of God. Spurgeon then tells about a man in his congregation who claimed to be a Christian but all he really did was cover his sinful character with the robes of religion.
Spurgeon goes on the point out that there is more to it than this. Think about it, Christ did not come to save you in your sins but from your sins! Anger and loose-living, and such like, must be gotten rid of! Christ never came that we might christen our anger in the name of being open and honest, and our immoral living in the name of personal freedom! The rags of sin must come off if we are to put on the robe of Christ. The love for sin must die before the love of Christ can take its place! There must be a renouncing of the practices and habits of sin, or else a person cannot be a Christian! It will be an idle attempt to try and wear religion as a sort of sanctified cloak to cover our present sins. As the Scriptures say, the King’s daughter is all glorious within, or she would never have been given her clothing embroidered with gold.12
Also, says Spurgeon, the vision of Zechariah teaches us the way of the Lord – when he saw Joshua [the High Priest] clothed with filthy garments, the Lord did not put upon him a clean, stainless garment over those rags. He first said, “Take away the filthy garments off of him.” And then He added, “See, I am taking your guilt away. I will clothe you in fine robes.”13 Spurgeon then explains you must be cleansed in the blood of Jesus before you can be clothed in the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints!14 In other words, now that we have been awakened from being asleep in a backslidden condition we must take off our contaminated clothing in which we served our sinful tendencies, Until we do so, we cannot put on the pure robes of sanctification that are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb of God.
Spurgeon finishes by summarizing that up until now he has been describing believers getting up from their sleep of inactivity and getting rid of their worldly clothing. But now it is time to put the garments of a sanctified, awake Christian. They should go into their dressing room and get themselves dressed and ready for the day. But not just any garment, Paul says that we should put on the armor of light. Wait a minute! Did Paul say “armor.” Why armor? Isn’t the battle with sin over? Hasn’t the lack of awareness of being in such danger now gone? Are we are no longer afraid of those sinful tendencies and temptations which used to come at night because the daylight of God’s Word has come? If so, why then should we put on an armor? Here’s why. Because it makes sense to put on an armor when you know that while one battle has been won, the war is not over.
Brothers and sisters, says Spurgeon, you might as well get ready for conflict for it is sure to come. So it only makes sense to be ready from the start. Arm yourself according to the dangers you will meet with during the day. Your journey is not finished yet, the land of peace and joy is yet further down the road. Young converts often think that once they are saved that heaven is only a step away, but that is not so. They will get there one day, but the time is not yet. They are in enemy territory. That’s why the armor of light is so necessary. Perhaps, before you finish your breakfast an arrow of criticism will be shot at you by your detractors. Or you may come downstairs after your morning prayers feeling as safe as if you were among the angels, but must not forget there are fallen angels awaiting you with their stories meant to tempt you. That means, all of your foes may not be waiting for you out in the world but can be found in your own household and they may wound you at your own table!15 This may sound disingenuous to some of us, but it is all too true for some.
One Jewish scholar sees what Paul says here reflected in a number of verses in the First Covenant where God is said to be clothed in garments of strength and justice: (All quotes are from the Complete Jewish Bible).
Psalm 93:1 – Adonai is king, robed in majesty; Adonai is robed, girded with strength; The world is well established; it cannot be moved.
Isaiah 59:17 – He put on righteousness as his breastplate, salvation as a helmet on his head; he clothed himself with garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in a mantle of zeal.
Isaiah 63:1,2 – Who is this, coming from Edom, from Botzrah with clothing stained crimson, so magnificently dressed, so stately in his great strength? “It is I, who speak victoriously, I, well able to save.” Why is your apparel red, your clothes like someone treading a winepress?
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 590
2 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 639
3 See Ephesians 6:11
4 See Hebrews 12:1
5 See Matthew 27:31
6 Charles Hodge: ibid., pp. 639-640
7 Ephesians 6:11-17.
8 2 Corinthians 6:7
9 1 Thessalonians 5:5. Note Luke 16:8
10 See the full description in Ephesians 4:11-17
11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Psalm 45:13
13 Zechariah 3:3–4 – Complete Jewish Bible
14 Revelation 19:8
15 Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Dressing in the Morning, #1614 Vol. 27, pp. 1-3