Dearly beloved - This expression of tenderness was especially appropriate in an exhortation to peace. It reminded them of the affection and friendship which ought to subsist among them as brethren.
Avenge not yourselves - To "avenge" is to take satisfaction for an injury by inflicting punishment on the offender. To take such satisfaction for injuries done to society, is lawful and proper for a magistrate; Romans 13:4. And to take satisfaction for injuries done by sin to the universe, is the province of God. But the apostle here is addressing private individual Christians. And the command is, to avoid a spirit and purpose of revenge. But this command is not to be so understood that we may not seek for "justice" in a regular and proper way before civil tribunals. If our character is assaulted, if we are robbed and plundered, if we are oppressed contrary to the law of the land, religion does not require us to submit to such oppression and injury without seeking our rights in an orderly and regular manner. If it did, it would be to give a premium to iniquity, to countenance wickedness, and require a man, by becoming a Christian, to abandon his rights.
Besides, the magistrate is appointed for the praise of those who do well, and to punish evil-doers; I Peter 2:14. Further, our Lord Jesus did not surrender his rights John 18:23; and Paul demanded that he himself should be treated according to the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen; Acts 16:37. The command here "not to avenge ourselves" means, that we are not to take it out of the hands of God, or the hands of the law, and to inflict it ourselves. It is well known that where there are no laws, the business of vengeance is pursued by individuals in a barbarous and unrelenting manner. In a state of savage society, vengeance is "immediately taken," if possible, or it is pursued for years, and the offended man is never satisfied until he has imbrued his hands in the blood of the offender. Such was eminently the case among the Indians of this country (America). But Christianity seeks the ascendancy of the laws; and in cases which do not admit or require the interference of the laws, in private assaults and quarrels, it demands that we bear injury with patience, and commit our cause unto God; see Leviticus 19:18.
But rather give place unto wrath - This expression has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Its obvious design is to induce us not to attempt to avenge ourselves, but to leave it with God. To "give place," then, is to leave it for God to come in and execute wrath or vengeance on the enemy. Do not execute wrath; leave it to God; commit all to him; leave yourself and your enemy in his hands, assured that he will vindicate you and punish him.
For it is written - Deuteronomy 32:35.
Vengeance is mine - That is, it belongs to me to inflict revenge. This expression implies that it is "improper" for people to interfere with that which properly belongs to God. When we are angry, and attempt to avenge ourselves, we should remember, therefore, that we are infringing on the prerogatives of the Almighty.
I will repay ... - This is said in substance, though not in so many words, in Deuteronomy 32:35-36. Its design is to assure us that those who deserve to be punished, shall be; and that, therefore, the business of revenge may be safely left in the bands of God. Though "we" should not do it, yet if it ought to be done, it will be done. This assurance will sustain as, not in the "desire" that our enemy shall be punished, but in the belief that "God" will take the matter into his own hands; that he can administer it better than we can; and that if our enemy "ought" to be punished, he will be. "We," therefore, should leave it all with God. That God will vindicate his people, is clearly and abundantly proved in II Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 6:9-11; Deuteronomy 32:40-43.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Romans 12:19:
1 Corinthians 6:7
1 Thessalonians 4:6
1 Thessalonians 5:15
2 Thessalonians 1:8
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