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Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ
A pathetic commencement
St.Paul does not give himself the title of “apostle” in this place. The very first word in which he speaks of himself is pathetic. He refers to his chains no less than five times in this short letter (Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:9-10; Philemon 1:13; Philemon 1:23). He feels it glorious to suffer shame for his Lord’s sake, and blessed to inherit the beatitude of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). He literally fulfils the exhortation of St. Peter (1 Peter 4:14-16). (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
A lofty title
To me it seems a loftier thing that he should style himself “prisoner of Jesus Christ” than “apostle.” The apostles gloried because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name (Acts 5:41); but the authority of bonds is irresistible. He who is about to plead for Onesimus feels that he should plead in such a form that he could not be refused. (Jerome.)
The bondman seen to advantage
We dwell on the circumstances of his imprisonment--we fondly recall his vexatious position--because the whole “surroundings” of this letter lend additional effect to its inherent grace. It is when the fragrant herb is pressed that it gives forth the richest odour; and it is when Paul’s heart is being tried that it breathes out the tenderest sympathy. Himself a bondman, “with gyves upon his wrist,” he pleads the cause of that other bondman, whose story is the burden of the letter. It is when he is a much wronged captive that he begs forgiveness for a wrongdoer, and when society is making war upon himself he plays the part of peacemaker with others. As dewdrops are seen to best advantage on the blades of grass from which they hang, or gems sparkle brightest in their appropriate settings, so may we regard Paul’s imprisonment as the best foil to the design of this letter. Wrongs and oppressive suffering may drive even wise men mad; but here it only seems to evoke Paul’s tenderest feelings, and open wide the sluices of his affectionate sympathies. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Christ the Christian’s supreme motive
“Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” The one point in this clause that we have to do with now is that wherever Paul was and whatever he was doing, the place he was in and the work he was about were always coloured by reminiscences and considerations of the relation in which he stood to his Divine Lord, Jesus Christ. If it was any kind of service he was rendering, why, he writes himself “the servant of Jesus Christ.” If he viewed himself in the character of a message bearer, why, then, always it was from Christ he received the message; and he writes himself “the apostle of Jesus Christ.” That relation of his to his Lord underlay every other relation: it was the fundamental fact in his experience, and determined everything that pertained to him, inwardly and outwardly. And now in this letter to Philemon it is “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” This means not simply that it was Christ that had imprisoned him, or that his imprisonment came about in consequence of his having preached Christ’s gospel; he means all of this, perhaps, but he means, besides, that in whatever place he is, in whatever relation he stands, he is Christ’s in that place and relation; Christ was the Greenwich from which he counted longitude, the Equator from which be reckoned latitude. If he was out of doors and at liberty, why then he was the Lord’s freeman; if he was in prison and fettered, then he was the Lord’s prisoner. This same determining influence comes out in the fourteenth chapter of his Roman letter, when he says, “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” This explains the compactness of Paul’s life--the gathering in of all the loose ends--the unity of it. Wherever you touch him, after his conversion, you find him the same man all through. At the same time, nobody finds in the devotedness to Christ of this man Paul anything unwholesome. That is one of the startling and instructive features of his case. We are constantly encountering people who have a great deal of piety, but who take piety in a hard way. They are what we are going to call cranks--holy cranks. Not impostors, but holiness that has passed the line that divides between health and fever. Paul’s letters make good reading for any one who suspects that there is any inherent antagonism between ordinary sense and a mind all alive unto the Lord. The more reason a man has, the more opportunity there is for faith; and the greater his faith, the more need of reason to foster, sustain, and guarantee it. If what are known as very holy people are sometimes intellectually out of joint with the good sense of the people about them, it is due to some other cause than the whole heartedness of their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Abnormal specimens of piety ought not to be taken as indices of the true quality and import of piety, any more than deranged minds should be accepted as fair exponents of what intelligence is and can do, or than a man with an excess of fingers, or two heads, or a club foot, should be counted a just exponent of human anatomy. It is rather surprising, and betrays lack of honesty, that in matters of religion objectors pick for the most unlucky examples, and insist on estimating religion by them, but in other matters grade their judgments by the best obtainable exponents. Because buildings sometimes fall beneath their own weight, we do not give up our faith in architecture; and when we go into a new town to live, the first thing we seek for is a house to live in. Do not, then, be repelled from this matter of whole hearted commitment to Jesus Christ because you know of some people who have made very hard and awkward and morbid work of being holy. Select the most winning specimens, not the most repellent, you know of, and take from the best the law of your estimate. In that way only can you be just to yourselves and just to the truth. Besides this, in insisting upon the unifying of our nature--this bending of it all to one end, in order to the largest attainments in Christian character and living--we are only commending that same policy of whole heartedness which prevails in secular matters, and which, unfortunately, asserts itself there with a good deal more constancy and strenuousness than it does in affairs distinctively personal and Christian. Other things being equal, the amount that we attain in any department will be according to the intensity with which we concentrate ourselves upon the one object that we are in pursuit of. No one understands this better than the business men and the money makers that are here this morning. Concentration pays. Incompatible motives weaken results. I only want it should be realised what a practical thing this whole heartedness is, and how full of effect it is. All of this points one way. It means that you must gather yourself in upon a purpose if you are going to succeed in it. It is just as true in art, law, medicine, literature, as in money making. Attainments are according to the degree in which we make ourselves solid in their pursuit. There is, then, nothing absurd or impracticable in the matter of concentration. When, therefore, we ask a man to become solid for Christ, we are only asking him to bend himself beneath the sweep of one imperial motive, and to aim at Christian results along the only way by which in any field of acquisition the largest results are attainable. This matter goes by supreme motive. And it is not hard to find out the supreme motive. We have occasional warm days in winter, but there is no difficulty deciding whether it is January or July. If you fall in with a man who has devoted himself in any generous, cordial way to art, you never have difficulty in saying whether he is an artist or an engineer. His conversation will carry the flavour of art; his library or studio will exhibit the literature and tokens of art. His whole style, taste, choices, phrases, haunts, will be redolent with his aesthetic engrossments. These matters are not brought in review by way of criticism. A man can do nothing well while working counter to the grain of his impulses. A man’s hands will not do good work, his thoughts will not do good work, unless heart goes with them. If a man who is engrossedly an artist brings everything to the arbitrament of beauty, then a man who is engrossedly a Christian brings everything to the arbitrament of Christ; and wherever he is, the conscious or unconscious sense of what Christ is to him will shape his thoughts, mould his affections, determine his purposes, and engender his activities. I hope it is not necessary to say that this does not stand in the way of men’s having other aims and ends. Christianity has never embarrassed wholesome art, or science, or literature, or trade, or commerce; rather has she been the foster mother of all these. Because the moon goes around the sun does not hinder its going around the earth every day on its way round. Christ is the Christian’s sun. Whatever other orbits he describes--and there will be a good many of them, according to the various relations in life in which he is naturally and properly and necessarily placed--whatever other orbits he describes, they will only be fluctuations this side and that of the one continuous circuit about the solar centre. To any one, then, who asks what it is to be a Christian, and who wants a definite answer, here is a definite answer. Take that man whose character and life are delineated in the evangelists; familiarise yourself with that delineation; walk by faith with the unique person it depicts--call it, to begin with, what you please, but walk with it; let it show itself to you and tell its best story to you, and let it, so fast as it becomes revealed to you, decide for you what you shall be and what you shall do. You perceive we are saying nothing about doctrines; we are talking about a life. We are not urging you to accept something that you find yourself mentally incapacitated from believing. Let the unique figure delineated in the gospels grow upon you, if it will, and it probably will, if you lend yourself to it; and then so fast as it does become a personal fact and a real presence to you, let it settle for you the questions of daily living in the order in which they come up to be settled, making it the final court of appeal, and saying in each perplexity, What does the light of such a life as that show that I ought to do in this exigency? I am distressed by the dilettanteism that is in our Christian communities, by which I mean the numbers, even inside of the Church, who have taken up Christianity simply as polite pastime; men and women who are not supremely motived by Christ, and who gain a little smattering in the matter because it is rather a nice thing to do, or take it up on occasion when there is nothing else pressing; men and women who are worldly in all their heart experiences and ambitions, and to whom Christianity--what they have of it--is only a wash or a veneer. The initial act in becoming a Christian is to subordinate everything to Jesus Christ, and then the question as to field and occupation comes in for adjustment afterwards. (C. H. Parkhurst.)
The blot wiped out
The title of a prisoner, in the eyes of the world, is full of reproach; but when it is for Christ’s sake the blot is wiped out. (W. Attersoll.)
A prisoner for Christ
The apostle testifieth he was a prisoner for Christ and the gospel, not for his own sins and offences. It is not our suffering barely considered can honour us with the reward of glory and the crown of martyrdom, but the cause in which we die and the quarrel in which we suffer. True it is, afflictions are common to the godly and ungodly, they are imprisoned alike; but albeit the afflictions be one and the same, yet the cause is not one and the same for which they are afflicted. The ungodly are punished for their sins; the godly are afflicted for a good conscience. Abel is murdered of his brother; Cain is cursed and condemned to be a fugitive upon the earth. Both of them are afflicted, but the cause is diverse. Abel is killed for his godliness; Cain is punished for his wickedness. Christ had His feet and His hands nailed on the Cross, so had the two thieves; they suffered all one punishment, but how contrary were the causes of Him and them, seeing He suffered without cause, but they justly had the sentence of death executed upon them, as one of them confessed (Luk 33:5). Let us not, therefore, only fasten our eyes and look upon the bare punishment, but consider what the cause is, and, according to the cause, esteem both of the person and of the punishment. Some are prisoners of men, others are prisoners of the devil, of whom they are holden captive, and both of them for their wickedness; but if we will be martyrs of Christ we must be the prisoners of Christ. (W. Attersoll.)
I. This epistle came out of the prison. The Spirit, therefore, was Paul’s companion in the prison, and so is He to all God’s children that are prisoners of Jesus Christ, and in more special sort communicating Himself unto them, whereby it cometh to pass that at such times, and in such estates, they are more fit for holy duties than in any other. Then pray they more feelingly and fervently (Romans 8:1-39), then also as here we see writ, they exhort more powerfully and passionately, as me thinketh, in those Epistles which Paul wrote in the prison, there seemeth a greater measure of holy zeal and fervent affections than in any other.
II. But now Paul, writing this Epistle in the prison, as many others also, herein further appeareth the good providence of God.
1. In that even in the time of this his restraint, he had yet liberty of pen, will, and paper, yea, and of a scribe too, sometimes, and those which did minister unto him.
2. God’s providence also herein did show itself that would not suffer Paul, so skilful a workman, to be idle and do nothing in the business of the Lord, but would have a supply of his apostolical preaching made by his writing.
III. Again, it is to be observed that St. Paul doth not simply call himself prisoner, but with this condition, of Jesus Christ. The title of a prisoner in itself is ignominious; but when he addeth “of Jesus Christ” all stain of ignominy is clean wiped away.
IV. But here is not all that we must look to in our sufferings, that our cause be good, but also that we suffer for a good cause, in a good manner. The which point is further commended unto us in Paul’s example, who was not only a prisoner of Jesus Christ, but also a cheerful and courageous prisoner of Jesus Christ; for so far was he from being ashamed of his chain, wherewithal for the hope of Israel’s sake he was bound, that he even glorieth in it, accounting it far more honour able than a chain of gold about his neck.
V. Lastly, we are to observe in Paul’s example the duty of all the ministers, namely, to make good their preaching by the prison, if need be, their sayings by their sufferings. Oh, base is that liberty, yea, baser than the basest bondage, which is got by flinching from that truth, which we have preached and professed. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
A prisoner of Christ
Samuel Rutherford, in prison, used to date his letters, “Christ’s Palace, Aberdeen.” He wrote to a friend: “The Lord is with me; I care not what man can do. I burden no man. I want nothing. No king is better provided than I am. Sweet, sweet, and easy is the cross of my Lord. All men I look in the face, of whatsoever rank, nobles and poor. Acquaintance and strangers are friendly to me. My Well-beloved is kinder and more warm than ordinary, and cometh and visiteth my soul. My chains are over-gilded with gold. No pen, no words, no engine, can express to you the loveliness of my only Lord Jesus. Thus in haste I make for my palace at Aberdeen.”
The Lord’s prisoner
When Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, in 1695, she not only sang but wrote songs of praise to her God. “It sometimes seemed to me,” she said, “as if I were a little bird whom the Lord had placed in a cage, and that I had nothing now to do but sing. The joy of my heart gave a brightness to the objects around me. The stones of my prison looked in my eyes like rubies. I esteemed them more than all the gaudy brilliancies of a vain world. My heart was full of that joy which Thou givest to them that love Thee in the midst of their greatest crosses.”
And Timothy our brother--
Paul and Timothy--the old and the young
I. In the text we see age and youth together. Not separate, not looking ashamed at each other, not divided by incompatibilities or jealousies, but in union. The young often flee from the old. The old are often impatient with the young. Here is an instance of union. The advantages are obvious.
1. The old will contribute the wisdom of experience.
2. The young will quicken the animation of hope. No doubt temporary difficulties will arise.
II. Though age and youth are together, yet age takes precedence of youth. It is Paul and Timothy, not Timothy and Paul. A principle of right settles all questions of priority. It is not beautiful, because it is not right, that youth should take precedence of age. There are many ways of taking virtual precedence.
III. Though age takes precedence of youth, yet both age and youth are engaged in common service. Paul and Timothy are both servants, it is not Paul the master and Timothy the servant, they are both included under one name. See how one great relationship determines all minor conditions and attitudes; as between themselves, Paul was father, and Timothy was son; Paul was renowned, and Timothy was obscure; Paul was senior, and Timothy was junior; but looked at as before Christ the one Lord, they were both servants. Many reflections arise out of this regulating power of one absorbing relationship or union. The Alps and Apennines are great mountains in themselves; yet they are less than pimples when looked at in their relation to the whole world. The earth itself is a “great globe” to its own inhabitants; it is a mere speck of light to the nearest star. A man who is a very important tradesman in a small town, may not have been so much as heard of in the great city. Through and through life we see how relationships supremely important as between themselves, are modified by one great bond. The right way to take our proper measure, and to chasten our ambition, is to look at the highest relationships of all. The great citizen dwindles into his right proportions when he looks at the Creator; the mighty potentate, when he looks at the King of kings; the philanthropist, when he looks at the Saviour. The noisy, rushing, furious train seems to be going fast; let it look at the flying stars, and be humble! Compared with them it is a lame insect toiling in the dust. Life should never be looked at as merely between one man and another. Look at it as between the finite and the infinite--between the momentary and the eternal--between the ignorant and the omniscient. It will thus be elevated. No man will then think of himself more highly than he ought to think. The Alps will not scorn the molehills. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Brotherhood in Christ
In the Church of Christ all are brethren. They have “one heavenly Father; one first-born brother, Christ; one seed of regeneration, the Divine Word; one inheritance of eternal life.” Mutual love is the basis of true Church fellowship. “As natural relationship produces natural affection, so spiritual relationship produces spiritual affection.” It will be--
1. An unfeigned love (1 Peter 1:22). Not the profession of the lip, which may fail if put to a practical test.
2. A pure love. In sympathy with whatever is godlike in fellow believers. Grace in the heart seeking and fostering its kindred grace in others. There is need of clearer evidence that the love which is of God has place in hearts on earth.
3. A fervent love. A fire burning up natural selfishness. An habitual consideration of the things of others rather than our own.
4. A lasting love. It has come from God, the eternal source of light, and it bears us on to Him again. (A. W. Johnson.)
I. The humility of Paul, who, though an apostle in the highest degree of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28), yet disdaineth not to yoke himself, not only with the Evangelist Timothy, an inferior degree, but even with an ordinary pastor, Philemon, who was yet of a lower place than Timothy. Art thou a pastor? Speak and do as a pastor to thy fellow pastors, and not as though thou wert an apostle or evangelist.
II. I observe the cause of Paul’s love to Philemon by the conjunction of these two things together, beloved and fellow worker. The latter is the cause of the former, therefore was Philemon beloved of Paul, because his fellow worker in the ministry. Those that are joined together in the same calling ought in this regard more dearly to love one another. True it is that the general calling of a Christian should be a sufficient bond to knit together in true love the hearts of all Christians. But when to this bond there cometh a second of our special callings, our hearts should be more firmly knit together, that so it might appear that when our hearts shall be linked together by the bond of nature, or Christian and special calling, that a three-fold cord is not easily broken. But where shall we find this sweet conjunction of beloved and fellow worker? In the most men the proverb is verified. One potter envies another. But far be this envy from all Christians of what calling soever, specially of the ministry. The ministers must love together as brethren, and with one heart and hand give themselves to the Lord’s business. Far be from them the mind of the monopolists, that they should go about to engross the Word of God to themselves; nay, rather with Moses let them wish that all God’s people were prophets. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Two better than one
Paul joineth Timothy with him in this suit, because howsoever he were in great credit with Philemon, and able to obtain a great matter at his hands, yet he knew he should prevail better by the help of another than he could do himself alone, seeing two may prevail more than one. He honoureth him also with the name of a dear brother, whom oftentimes, because he had converted him, he calleth a natural son, that his gifts and graces may be considered with his person, and carry the greater weight in his suit, and so Philemon sooner yield his consent and grant this request, being requested, and as it were set upon by so many. From this practice of the apostle we learn that what good thing soever we take in hand we shall better effect it with others than alone by ourselves. The joining unto us the hand and help of others is profitable and necessary to all things belonging unto us for the better performing and accomplishing of them. Two are better than one. Abimelech, being directed by God to stir up Abraham, obtaineth by his means, who prayed for him, that which he could not compass and accomplish alone by himself. Absalom not being able to purchase and procure of himself the goodwill of his father, moved Joab to deal for him, Joab useth the help of the subtle woman of Tekoah, whereby he is reconciled to his father. Hereby it cometh to pass that Paul so often requesteth the prayers of the Church that utterance may be given unto him, that he may open his mouth boldly to publish the secrets of the gospel. All those places of Scripture prove plainly and directly unto us, that what matter of weight and importance soever we enterprise and go about, it is good for us to take to ourselves the help of others to further us therein. (W. Attersoll.)
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer--
A Christian household
The names of the receivers of the letter bring before us a picture seen, as by one glimmering light across the centuries, of a Christian household in that Phrygian valley. The head of it, Philemon, appears to have been a native of, or at all events a resident in, Colosse, for Onesimus his slave, is spoken of in the Epistle to the Church there as “one of you.” He was a person of some standing and wealth, for he had a house large enough to admit of a “church” assembling in it, and to accommodate the apostle and his travelling companions if he should visit Colosse. He had apparently the means for large pecuniary help to poor brethren, and willingness to use them, for we read of the refreshment which his kindly deeds had imparted. He had been one of Paul’s converts, and owed his own self to him. He is called “our fellow labourer.” The designation may imply some actual cooperation at a former time. But more probably the phrase is but Paul’s gracefully affectionate way of lifting his humbler work out of its narrowness, by associating it with his own. All who toil for furtherance of Christ’s kingdom, however widely they may be parted by time or distance, are fellow workers. The first man who dug a shovelful of earth for the foundation of Cologne Cathedral, and he who fixed the last stone on the topmost spire a thousand years after, are fellow workers. However small may be our capacity or sphere, or however solitary we may feel, we may summon up before the eyes of our faith a mighty multitude of apostles, martyrs, toilers in every land and age as our--even our--work fellows. The field stretches far beyond our vision, and many are toiling in it for Him whose work never comes near ours. There are differences of service, but the same Lord, and all who have the same master are companions in labour. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
They that put to their helping hand any kind of way, for the furtherance of the gospel, are the minister’s fellow labourers, that edify their brethren in the most holy faith, that exhort one another while it is called today, that comfort one another, that are as bells to toll others to Christ, are the preacher’s fellow labourers. So was the woman of Samaria that called the whole city to Christ, those women that ministered to Christ of their own substance, also Priscilla and Aquila, who expounded to Apollos the way of God more perfectly. Let us all thus be fellow labourers, and our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. (W. Jones, D. D.)
He addresses himself unto Philemon as his dearly beloved and fellow labourer. Now if he was so dearly beloved by Paul he could not but love one by whom he was so much beloved; and if he had that love for Paul, which Paul’s love for him challenged as a suitable return of gratitude, he would give him a testimony of his affection by gratifying him in his request. It was a great honour to Philemon to be beloved by so eminent an apostle as St. Paul. It was still a greater honour to be numbered amongst his dearest friends. He could not doubt of the sincerity of St. Paul, when he made these large professions of love and kindness to him. It was not agreeable with the character of the apostle to use these expressions, as empty forms, words of course, and idle compliments; but they came from his heart as well as from his pen. Philemon had found real and undoubted proofs of St. Paul’s love to him in the pains he had taken in his conversion to Christ. He had received from him the greatest instances of kindness that one man could receive from another. He had been turned by him from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, and owed to him the means of grace and the hopes of glory. If, therefore, he had any sense of gratitude, any sparks of generosity in him, he must be very desirous to find out some opportunity of making his acknowledgments to one to whom he was so deeply indebted. He could not but with great greediness embrace an opportunity which was put into his hands of obliging one to whom he was so highly obliged, He could now no longer be at a loss how he might in some measure requite St. Paul for the great and inestimable benefits he had received from him, since he could not doubt but what was so earnestly asked by the apostle would be in a peculiar manner acceptable to him. And as the apostle thus strongly enforces his request, by applying to Philemon as his dearly beloved, so doth he give it yet farther advantage by addressing to him under the notice of his fellow labourer. For if Philemon was an assistant of St. Paul in ministering unto him in the execution of his apostolical office, he would not complain of the absence of Onesimus, who did in his place and stead minister to the apostle. He would be pleased that he tarried with St. Paul to supply his absence and to do his work. He would not think himself deprived of the service of Onesimus whilst he was employed in that work in which he himself was a labourer. This his servant would be even then looked upon as doing his master’s business, whilst he was subservient to the apostle, whose minister his master was. (Bp. Smalridge.)
St. Paul’s relations with Philemon
During his three years’ stay at Ephesus he had come across trader from Colosse, who carried on in that city the business of a cloth weaver and a dyer, for which the three cities of the valley of the Lycus--Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse itself--were all alike famous, and who had come to the city of Artemis probably during the month of May, which was sacred to the goddess, to seek a market for his goods. The work of making up the bales of cloth into curtains, hangings, and the like, was one which fell in with St. Paul’s calling as a tent maker, and as Aquila and Priscilla had left Ephesus to return to Rome (Romans 16:3), he was glad to be able to carry out his rule of maintaining himself by the labour of his own hands, by entering into partnership with one in whose character there was so much to esteem and love (Philemon 1:17). When they first became acquainted with each other, Philemon was as one of those not far from the kingdom of God, a Gentile who, like the centurion at Capernaum and Cornelius at Caesarea, had come to be a worshipper of the God of Israel, and to share the hope of the children of Abraham in the manifestation of His kingdom. To him the apostle had pointed out the more excellent way of faith in Christ crucified, risen, ascended, as the Head of that kingdom; and he was accordingly baptised with his wife Apphia, and his son Archippus. The master of a warehouse, well to do and benevolent, with many slaves and hired labourers working under him, was naturally an important personage. His employes themselves were a congregation. His house became the meeting place of an “ecclesia,” which included friends and neighbours as well. St. Paul was a frequent guest there, spoke as a teacher, and took part in the Eucharistic meal on the first day of the week. As elsewhere (Galatians 4:14-15), he gained the affection and goodwill even of those who were as yet outside the faith. The very slaves learnt to love one who never lost his temper, never gave a harsh command, who found in all men, as such, that which was a ground of brotherhood. They would run errands for him, wait upon his wants, nurse him when he was ill. The partnership was, however, interrupted by St. Paul’s plans for his work as an apostle. He left Ephesus, and if he contemplated any return to it at all, it was not likely, to be till after the lapse of some years. Then came the journeys to Macedonia, and Achaia, and Jerusalem, the two years’ imprisonment at Caesarea, the voyage to Italy, the shipwreck at Melita, the two years’ residence at Rome. And now the apostle had at last heard some tidings of his former friends. (Dean Plumptre.)
Inferences from the subject matter of this Epistle
1. We should not despise any persons by reason of the meanness of their outward condition; we should love and esteem men, not so much by the rank and place they bear in the world as by the inward qualities and graces of their souls; we should not treat even servants with an air of haughtiness and insolence, as if they were creatures of another kind from us, and of a species below us, but should show them all that humanity, which is due to them as men, who are partakers of the same nature, and with all that love and affection which are due to them as Christians, partakers of the same grace with ourselves.
2. We should use that interest we have with men of power and authority for the advantage of those who stand in need of our patronage and help.
3. We should not despair of the reclaiming of any sinners, be they at present never so wicked.
4. When sinners are reclaimed from their vicious courses, we should not upbraid them with their past faults.
5. Those who have ministered to others in spiritual things should not from thence assume over them a right of commanding and influencing them in temporal affairs.
6. We should not look upon the first preachers of the gospel as men of no skill, no learning, no address. We have a convincing proof to the contrary in this Epistle.
7. If this part of Scripture, which hath been generally looked upon as the most dry, and barren, and unedifying, is thus fruitful of wholesome, and practical, and useful truths, we should have an high esteem and reverence of these Divine oracles, which are so well fraught with wisdom and knowledge. (Bp. Smalridge.)
1. It is not without its use to observe the persons to whom the Epistle is addressed--the father, the mother, the son, and the Church at the house. How widely contrasted were they, but all were Christians, sending a voice of encouragement to persons of all classes and through all time!
2. While we contemplate with admiration the separate individuals of this group of early believers, our attention is turned to the fact that they were assembled with others of like spirit, and along with them formed, according to the apostle’s language, an ecclesia or Church. Happy those who possess the faith that gives admission to this Church; the truth that commends its spirit directs its worship and secures its permanence and promotes its peace; and the holiness that prepares for its full approaching glory!
3. The Church, or the company of the out-called and separated, who received the apostle’s greetings, and who were “at the house” of Philemon, consist, in the first instance, of the various members of his household. When converted himself, he would naturally strengthen his brethren. A man who has learned that faith in the Son of God is essential to his own happiness, and “deliverance from the wrath to come,” is no more able to keep the discovery to himself than he would withhold the knowledge of a medicine of sovereign value from the sufferers he saw dying around him in the wards of a fever hospital. Religion, accordingly, begins at home. (R. Nisbet, D. D.)
Our beloved Apphia
It seems in the highest degree probable that Apphia was Philemon’s wife; probable, but in a lower degree, that Archippus was their son.
The mention of a woman between two such men, one the apostle’s “fellow labourer,” the other his “fellow soldier,” is a noble example of the spirit of the gospel (Galatians 3:28). It is an unobtrusive yet real hint of the elevation of woman, as the whole letter is of the release of the other victim of classical civilisation, the slave. “Thus, supported on both sides, she seems to have the place not of her own sex, but of her worth.” (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
A new reading
The reading “the sister” seems preferable to “the beloved.” It is superior in uncial authority. It is of course conceivable that “beloved” might have been exchanged for “sister” from motives of false delicacy. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
On the other hand, the adjective applied to Philemon might readily have suggested the same prefix to Apphia. The reading “beloved” seems scarcely grave enough for the dignified reserve which St. Paul never forgets in his tenderest moments. Above all, the word “sister” distinctly adds to the meaning. For it shows that Apphia had embraced the gospel, and was a baptised member of the Church, and thus preserves the line of thought in the sentiments balancing the epithets “fellow worker,” “fellow soldier,” applied to Philemon and Archippus. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Addressed to both
Her friendly reception of the runaway would be quite as important as Philemon’s, and it is therefore most natural that the letter bespeaking it should be addressed to both. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Archippus our fellow soldier--
He was perhaps Philemon’s son; or a family friend; or the minister of the family; the former hypothesis being perhaps the most probable, as the letter concerns a family matter. (Dean Alford.)
was a Christian pastor at Colosse (Colossians 4:7), and a fellow soldier of St. Paul, in fighting the good fight of faith against the enemies of the gospel. (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)
The notion of the spiritual life--more especially as connected with definite ministerial functions--being a warfare, a campaign, a soldier’s life, passed into New Testament from Old Testament (cf. Numbers 4:23; Numbers 8:24; 1 Samuel 2:22; 1 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:4)
. The “gospel campaigns” in which Archippus was St. Paul’s comrade in arms may have been those during the apostle’s sojourn at Ephesus (A.D. 54-57). Those who hold that St. Paul had a personal connection with Colosse will also point to Acts 18:23. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Soldier instead of worker
The variation of “soldier” for “worker” probably is due to the fact of Archippus being the bishop of the Laodicean church. In any case, it is very beautiful that the grizzled veteran officer should thus, as it were, clasp the hand of this young recruit, and call him his comrade. How it would go to the heart of Archippus! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A stern message
A somewhat stern message is sent to Archippus in the Colossian letter. Why did not Paul send it quietly in this, instead of letting a whole church know of it? It seems at first sight as if he had chosen the harshest way; but perhaps further consideration may suggest that the reason was an instinctive unwillingness to introduce a jarring note into the joyous friendship and confidence which sounds through this Epistle, nor would he bring public matters into this private letter. The warning would come with more effect from the church, and this cordial message of goodwill and confidence would prepare Archippus to receive the other, as rain showers make the ground soft for the good seed. The private affection would mitigate the public exhortation, with whatever rebuke may have been in it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
He calleth him a fellow soldier because they of the ministry (if they be faithful) are in continual warfare, not only against the continual engines and assaults of Satan, who withstandeth their ministry, but against false teachers, and against many other unreasonable men, as also against the sins and corruptions that reign or arise in their several charges. We see how men destitute of faith make continual war against them one way or other. (W. Attersoll.)
Ministers are soldiers
I. In the field.
(1) With Satan’s temptations.
(2) With persecutions (Timothy 2:3).
(3) With the perverse understanding, will, and affections of sinful man (2 Corinthians 10:4).
2. In victory.
(1) Over the elect, who are taken captive and made willingly to submit themselves to Jesus Christ, against whom formerly they fought under Satan’s banner.
(2) Over the reprobate, who are quite killed with the spiritual sword, and because they will not bend, are broken to pieces.
II. In the garrison. Though returned home glorious in victory, yet he must not sit down and rest, as though all were now despatched, but on with his defensive weapons, that he may be able to maintain his own. And herein first of all consisteth the second part of the minister’s soldiership at home, namely, in having a wakeful eye to discern even the clouds of danger even arising afar off, and thereupon to give warning. Secondly, having so done, which is the half-arming of his people, according to the proverb, “Forewarned, forearmed,” he must fortify and make them strong against the power of the adversaries. First, by instructing them how to carry themselves, how both to wear and how to use that complete harness of the Christian soldier. Thus like a good captain doth he train his soldiers, teaching their hands to fight and fitting their fingers for the battle. Secondly, by praying for them; wherein he playeth the valiant soldier indeed, combating and conflicting with the Lord God Himself. This is called standing in the gap, and making up of the hedge (Ezekiel 22:30). Look as the wife and provident martiallist will see where the city is weakest when the walls are anything decayed, and will bend his forces most of all to fortify that place, knowing the enemy will be sure to take advantage of that place for his more easy entering upon them, so likewise doth the faithful minister consider with himself where the sins of the people have most weakened them, and made any breaches in their walls, any gaps in their fence for God’s judgments to run in upon them, and there doth he make up the breach and stand up in the gap by earnest praying and calling upon the name of the Lord, as Aaron (Numbers 16:47). (D. Dyke, B. D.)
The warfare of work
Paul, indeed, loves to think of himself as a soldier; for in all earnest work there is verily something of war. Real labour itself is but a war against sloth and self-indulgent idleness. Agricultural labour is war on the weeds and the stubbornness of the soil. And so shall all work that kindles into the white heat of earnestness burst often into a war flame. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Fulfilling the true soldiership
We look past the lounging mercenary at his wrist. Not he, but Paul, is fulfilling the true soldiership of the world. We see the apostle’s work, by its intensity, rising into warfare; and as we hear him in his prayers, the warfare rises into worship before the Lord. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Christians are fellow soldiers
Those who speak of the Christian warfare, as I have observed, almost always limit it to the narrow path in which one treads alone. That was the idea so grandly wrought out by Bunyan in his “Pilgrim’s Progress.” But that sort of warfare belonged to the days of knight errantry. The modern soldiers of the Cross, like other soldiers, are massed in armies. No doubt each Christian has many a fight single-handed with the adversary. But those thrilling appeals in the Epistle to the Ephesians, concerning taking the whole armour of God, were addressed to the Church collectively. Individualism has its perils. Christians are fellow soldiers. We need to build a common barrier against the common foe. Side by side we need to charge on the enemy’s works. And then, in the final day of triumph, we shall join with “thousands of thousands, and ten times ten thousand,” in shouting the glad chorus of victory. (J. Hovey.)
The church in thy house--
Early Christian churches
As vast buildings, publicly consecrated and set apart, were impossible from the nature of the case in the earliest years of Christianity, houses of considerable size were employed for worship--like those of Aquila at Rome, of Nymphas or Philemon at Colosse--and the name of “church” seems to have been transferred at an early period from the collection of living souls to the building in which they met. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
An act of zeal
This was one way in which Philemon might be said to have “refreshed the bowels of the saints” (Philemon 1:7), and to have shown his Christian faith and love to his poorer brethren. Here probably it was that St. Paul preached when at Colosse. This concession of some apartment in their own houses for the purposes of the public worship of the Christian Church, “a sect everywhere spoken against” in those days, was an act of zeal and courage on the part of the wealthier members of the Christian community, and seems to have elicited special expressions of notice, approval, and affection from St. Paul and the other apostles (Romans 16:5; Romans 16:23; Colossians 4:15; cf. 2 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:19; 3 John 1:6-7). (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)
A comprehensive salutation
He did not omit the slaves here; for he knew that the words of slaves can often change a master’s purpose, and especially when they plead for a fellow servant. Some of them perhaps had stirred up Philemon against Onesimus. He does not permit them there to have any feeling of grudge, as he addresses them with the family. Nor does he give the master just reason for anger. If he had addressed the slaves by name, Philemon probably would have been displeased. See, then, how prudently he deals. For the word “Church” does not permit masters to be angry, if they are numbered with slaves. For the Church knows not the distinction of master and slave (Galatians 3:28). (Chrysostom.)
Meyer remarks the tact of the apostle in associating with Philemon those connected with his house, but not going beyond the limits of the house. (Dean Alford.)
The domestic church
1. A Christian’s household a church of Christ.
2. Means and influences suited to make it such.
3. Pleasures and secular habits which tend to prevent it;
(1) by quenching the religious spirit;
(2) by interfering with domestic worship and training;
(3) by placing godliness in a secondary position.
4. Motives which should urge the Christian to utmost effort to secure it.
(1) Salvation of children and servants greatly dependent on him;
(2) God holds him responsible;
(3) world needs well-trained workers. (A. D. Johnson.)
A Church in a house
1. In this pious household there had been one graceless member. Onesimus must often have witnessed the holy engagements of this “Church!” listened to reproofs and appeals of God’s Word; seen the joyfulness of Christian faith and life. This aggravated the wrong he had done, and his sin against God and conscience.
2. Yet the holy influence was not lost. It prepared his heart for the apostle’s doctrine.
3. Apphia’s share in this influence may be safely reckoned upon. There is no power in a home like that of a mother or mistress. Women’s work may seem the slowest, but it is the surest. (A. D. Johnson.)
The family church
Christians families should be little churches. How may a family come to deserve this title? For this purpose many things are required, whereof some are common to all in the family, others proper to some. Common to all are these two points--
1. If we would have our families churches then we that are members in families must labour to become true members of the Church. For a company of profane men is not the house of God, but a den and dungeon of thieves, adulterers, atheists, conspiring together against God. The which yet is not so to be understood, as if the name of a church could not be attributed to a family in which there are some not members of the Church, for even in the Church itself there are some in it that are not of it. Let therefore everyone of a family be desirous the house he dwells in should be Bethel--God’s house--bring one stone to the making of this spiritual house that so he may be able to say, This house is a holy edifice and I am one of the living stones that help to the making of it so.
2. That a family may obtain the commendation of being a Church, this is another thing that we require generally of all in the family, namely, that look what kind of men they are, or at least would seem to be, in the Church and public congregation, the same they would show themselves to be in the family and private conversement one with another. These be things common to all; now follow those peculiar to some--first to the chief, secondly the inferior. Those things which respect the chief are specially these--first, as much as in them lies, let them entertain none into their family whom God hath not first entertained into His. The Church doth not indifferently receive all and admit into her society by the sacrament of baptism the children of Turks and cannibals, strangers from the covenant, but only such ordinarily as are of a holy seed, the offspring of religious parents. So likewise must our families, if we would have them like churches, be something dainty who they receive. David’s example is to be imitated (Psalm cf.), whose “eyes were unto the faithful of the land,” that he might pick even the choicest of them for his service, and that so much the rather because far more easily may we keep out than cast such guests out of our houses. Secondly, the chief in the family must resemble the chief in the Church, namely, the pastors, etc., thereof; and that not only in those things which concern God’s service, but outward discipline also. For the first. There are two special duties of the pastor respecting God’s service, preaching and praying. In both these, in some measure, should the governors of the family be like to the pastors of the Church. First, therefore, they must instruct the whole family in that doctrine which is according to godliness. This they must do, first, in words; which Paul commandeth (Ephesians 6:1-24), and which God Himself commendeth in Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33). Here, then, is censured that government of the family which is only civil, not religious. Assuredly, if the Word of God found not in thy house as in the Church it is unworthy the name of a church? Secondly, they must teach likewise by example. With David, walking in the uprightness of their hearts in the midst of their house; for the eye of the whole family is upon the governors thereof, as is the eye of the Church upon their pastors. Secondly, as in preaching, so likewise in praying, must they imitate the pastors; for the house of God is called the house of prayer. If, therefore, this principal part of God’s service be wanting in any house, how can it be called God’s house? Thus must they be like the pastors in things concerning God’s service. Secondly, they must resemble them in their discipline, causing their household discipline to be answerable to the Church discipline. First, that which is the ground of all good discipline, they must have a very watchful and attentive eye over every soul in the family, so that they may know the several natures, conditions, and dispositions of all, and so proportion their government accordingly. This is rightly to play the bishop, who hath that name from his careful overseeing of the flock (Acts 20:20). Secondly, after that the eye hath laid these foundations the hand must build thereon. First, as soon as it hath received warning from the eye of some evil that is in brewing, in stretching forth itself and arming itself to hinder it, and keep the authors thereof within their bounds. For this purpose both admonitions and threatenings must be used, but especially wholesome laws must be enacted for the prohibiting and preventing of things unlawful. Secondly, the same hand which made the sword of good laws for the prevention of evil to come must draw it out for the punishment of evil past, and not suffer it to lie rusting in the sheath. If, then, any shall break those good laws which the governors of the families have made, let the punishments threatened be inflicted, that so those who would not obey the precepts of the law may perforce be constrained to obey the threatenings thereof. Now herein must there be an imitation of Church discipline. Look, then, as in the Church the offender is first admonished divers times, and at length, not profiting by those admonitions, is excommunicated and dis-synagogued, so likewise in thy family, finding wicked and ungodly ones, first must thou deal with them by admonition, reprehension, castigation; and if, for all these means, they still remain incorrigible, then cast them out of thy house, and think their room better than their company. If the king were to come to thy house, and there were some in it he could not abide, wouldest thou not discharge them thine house, if so be thou wert desirous of the king’s presence? And entertaining traitors in thy house, traitors against God, thinkest thou that He will come and pitch His tent and take up His lodging with thee? These be the things proper to the chief. Now follow those which belong to the inferiors, in the which, as in the former, their governors resembled the pastors of the Church, they must resembled the rest of the body of the Church. First, in matter of doctrine. As the Church acknowledgeth those that are over her, in the Lord, and obeyeth them (1 Thessalonians 5:1-28; Hebrews 13:1-25), so must those that are under government carry themselves reverently and respectively towards their governors, cheerfully and conscionably obeying, as all other of their lawful commands, so especially those which concern God’s worship. And as by the example of the pastors, the rest of the Church are stirred up to godliness (Philippians 4:9), so must the inferiors in the family be encouraged and inflamed to virtue, when they shall see their superiors going before them. Secondly, they must resemble the Church in matters of discipline. First, enduring those chastisements, either verbal or real, which for their deserts are inflicted, and freely acknowledging the equity of them. Secondly, if at any time they see any of their fellows misbehaving himself, first let them try what they can do themselves by admonition; but if that way they prevail not, then according to the example of the ecclesiastical discipline (Matthew 18:1-35), let them acquaint their governors therewithal. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
A Christian household
We have here shown to us, by one stray beam of twinkling light, for a moment, a very sweet picture of the domestic life of that Christian household in their remote valley. It shines still to us across the centuries which have swallowed up so much that seemed more permanent, and silenced so much that made far more noise in its day. The picture may well set us asking ourselves the question whether we, with all our boasted advancement, have been able to realise the true ideal of Christian family life as these three did. The husband and wife dwelling as heirs together of the grace of life, their child beside them, sharing their faith and service, their household ordered in the ways of the Lord, their friends Christ’s friends, and their social joys hallowed and serene--what nobler form of family life can be conceived than that? What a rebuke and satire on many a so-called Christian household! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Robert Hall’s words on this subject are as beautiful as they are true. “Family worship,” he says, “serves as edge or border to prevent the web of life from unravelling.”
Influence of personal contact
Said General Havelock, in reply to a remark of a friend as to his influence over the men of his regiment, “I keep close to them--have personal contact with each man and know each man’s name.” (Preacher’s Lantern.)
Refreshment in the Church
The bee cannot gather honey on the wing. No more can Christ’s disciples gain refreshment and sustenance in the midst of the world’s bustle, save by habitually alighting and drawing on the resources of Christ’s presence and grace afforded in the assemblies of the saints. Not as though the “Church” were only a convalescent home for recruiting spiritual energies--it is no less a field for their exercise and development. It is the seat and centre of witnessing for Christ and of working for Him. His disciples need not think to carry dark lanterns. Loyalty to Him will not be ashamed to confess His name before men. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The mission of the Church
For as the lowly bush receives the dew of heaven, not to absorb it on itself, but to distil a portion on the yet lowlier plant that may grow at its root, so must “the Church in the house” learn “to do good and distribute,” as a steward for Christ of that gospel which is committed to it in trust for others. Even the lordly mountain catches the first outpourings of the skies, not to treasure them up in its own bosom, but to send them down in limpid and refreshing streams along the valleys and meadows below. And so it is the mission of the Church of Christ at large to fulfil such offices of gospel mercy as shall make “the wilderness and solitary place be glad for them, and the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose,” and to be the instrument of Christian enterprise and effort to the ends of the earth. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Grace to you, and peace
A touching prayer
The word “grace” would be peculiarly touching to Philemon in connection with the plea for Onesimus.
The speech to us of “grace” is to remind us of our sins and of their forgiveness by an infinite compassion. “Think,” he seems to say, “how much God hath forgiven thee, how thou art saved by grace. Imitate thy God.” (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
A loving wish
The two main points to be observed are the comprehensiveness of the apostle’s loving wish, and the source to which he looks for its fulfilment. It is perhaps accidental that we have here the union of the Greek and of the Eastern forms of salutation. Just as the regal title of the King, whose throne was the Cross, was written in the languages of culture, of law, and of religion, as an unconscious prophecy of His universal reign; so, with like unintentional felicity, we have blended here the ideals of good which the East and the West have framed for those to whom they wish good, in token that Christ is able to slake all the thirsts of the soul, and that whatsoever things any races of men have dreamed as the chiefest blessing, these are all to be reached through Him, and Him only. But the deeper lesson here is to be found by observing that “grace” refers to the action of the Divine heart, and “peace” to the result thereof in man’s experience. “Grace” is free, undeserved, unmotived, self-springing love. It is love which stoops, forgives, communicates. Hence it comes to mean, not only the deep fountain in the Divine nature, and that property in His love by which, like some strong spring, it leaps up and gushes forth by an inward impulse, in neglect of all motives drawn from the lovableness of its objects, such as determine our poor human loves, but also the results of that bestowing love in men’s characters, or, as we say, the” graces” of the Christian soul. “Whatsoever things are lovely and of good report,” all nobilities, tendernesses, exquisite beauties, and steadfast strengths of mind and heart, of will and disposition--all are the gifts of God’s undeserved and open-handed love. The fruit of such grace received is peace. That old Eastern salutation “peace” recalls a state of society when every stranger might be a foe; but it touches a chord which vibrates in all hearts. We have little fear of war, but we are all weighed upon with sore unrest, and repose sometimes seems to us the one thing needful. All the discords of nature and circumstances can be harmonised by that grace which is ready to flow into our hearts. Peace with God, with ourselves, with our fellows, repose in the midst of change, calm in conflict, may be ours. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The apostle’s prayer
1. The matter of his prayer, what it is. He asketh not the favour of men, but of God; he craveth not earthly and worldly peace, but spiritual and heavenly. True it is, the favour of God and goodwill of men, the outward peace and tranquillity one with another, are excellent gifts, but the free and fatherly favour of God, together with peace with God the Father, being reconciled unto us in His dear Son, are much to be preferred in our desires.
2. As we learn chiefly to ask spiritual blessings, so we see what blessings among such as are spiritual are the principal and predominant--to wit, the favour of God and peace of conscience. He that is possessed of these two, hath a hidden mine of treasures, with which all the riches of the world are not to be compared. For these blessings are heavenly, spiritual, eternal; whereas all the substance of this world is temporal, transitory, corruptible.
3. The apostle in some of his Epistles useth three words--grace, mercy, and peace. Here he contenteth himself with naming two--grace and peace, wherein there is no contrariety, forasmuch as mercy is included under peace. For by mercy is understood our justification, which consisteth partly in the forgiveness of our sins, and partly in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which do bring true peace with them.
4. We see from whom he asketh all these--first from God the Father, to teach that he is the author of every good and perfect gift. If then we stand in need of them we can receive none but of Him.
5. We see that to God the Father he joineth Jesus Christ; for all blessings are bestowed through Christ, the Mediator of the New Testament. God the Father is the fountain, Christ is the pipe or conduit, by whom they are conveyed unto us. He that hath not Him hath not the Father. He that is not in Him, remaineth in death. He that believeth in the Son, hath everlasting life, and he that obeyeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.
6. The title given unto Him: He is called the Lord of His Church; it is a kingdom, whereof He is the Prince; it is a city, whereof He is the governor; it is a house, whereof He is the master or owner; it is a body, whereof He is the head. So then, all obedience is due to Him, and all men must acknowledge His worship over them. Lastly, in that he craveth grace and peace from Christ our Lord, as well as from God the Father, it confirmeth our faith in a fundamental point of Christian religion, touching the Deity of Christ, Who is God equal with the Father. (W. Attersoll.)
I. From hence let us observe the chiefest cause of God’s favour to us, namely, His own free will and gracious disposition to favour us. The use of this doctrine is to humble us in ourselves, as having not the least spark of goodness in ourselves, and to make us ascribe all glory in everything to God, whose grace is the fountain and foundation of all good things whatsoever.
II. In the example of Paul, in all his salutations wishing first of all grace, that is, the favour of God, we learn what it is that we should chiefly desire, either for ourselves or for others, our children, wives, kindred, fathers and mothers, acquaintance, etc., viz., the grace of St. Paul.
1. God’s favour is the ground of all other mercies whatsoever; it is the main and mother blessing, the very seed of all other mercies whatsoever--so that in desiring it, we desire all other, and getting it, we get other.
2. God’s grace is instead of all other blessings, in case they be wanting.
III. Since whatsoever we desire, we are likewise to seek it, is the use of the means. Paul in his example commending unto us the desire of God’s favour withal further showeth us that we must use means for the attainment of it.
1. Taking thorough notice of that disgrace and displeasure thou art in with God, and that most deservedly for thy sins, thou must first of all come as Benhadad’s servants came to Ahab, even with a halter about thy neck, creeping and crouching before the throne of grace, abasing and abjecting thyself at His footstool, in the humble and penitent confession of thy sins.
2. Thou must shroud thyself under Christ’s wings. Clothe thyself with His righteousness, that so thou mayest appear lovely in the eyes of the Lord, for in Christ only is the Father well pleased; and so if thou wouldst have Him well pleased with thee, thou must become a member of Him, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. This thou doest when by faith thou takest hold upon Christ’s righteousness, and gripest the promises of the gospel.
3. By faith having clad thyself with the robes of Christ’s imputed righteousness, thou must be clothed upon with the garment of thy own righteousness and obedience, which howsoever being in itself a menstruous cloth as it comes from us yet being of the Spirit’s own weaving, in that regard is acceptable to God, and causeth Him to take a further delight in us. (Proverbs 3:3.) (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Grace to be used
Grace is always a gift, and not to be enjoyed only but to be used. For it is use that makes all things bright in creation, that keeps the diamond from accretions, and the fine gold from being tarnished. The great lesson of the universe is the blessedness of use. The purest atmosphere obeys the law of circulation, and the most crystal river is always sending up clouds of blessing from its living waters. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
Varieties of grace
Ever in each individual Christian life there is seen a manifold grace--grace of forgiveness, grace of new life and peace, grace of birth at the Cross, grace of growth by the Holy Spirit, growth in power and purity and in likeness to God. How many varieties of life Nature has! We are struck with her grace and beauty in her myriad forms. She never seems to exhaust the variety of her wardrobe, as in garments of light, now of subdued colour, now of effulgent beauty, she proclaims the majesty and glory of God. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
I do willingly assent to those who by peace understand all prosperity and felicity, both earthly and heavenly, in this life, and that to come.
1. First, the inward peace of conscience with God, which springeth out of the grace and favour of God (Romans 5:1). A man’s conscience will never be at quiet within him till it feels this grace.
2. The peace of charity among ourselves. This also is an effect of God’s grace, which as it maketh a man at peace with himself and God, so with his brethren. The love of God shed into our hearts will make us love our brethren also.
3. The peace of amity, and a holy kind of league with all God’s creatures. This also is an effect of grace; for when we have His favour, who is the Lord, we have the good will also of His servants the creatures.
4. Outward prosperity and good success in our ways; so it is commonly taken in all their salutations (1 Chronicles 12:18). Now, the reason why outward prosperity is signified by this name of peace is--first, because to the godly they are pledges of that sweet peace they have with God. Secondly, they are notable maintainers of the peace and quietness of our affections; for in the want of outward things how are we disquieted. But peace, in this fourth signification, is so taken for outward prosperity, that which all this outward prosperity hath security annexed unto it, and is a forerunner of that eternal prosperity and felicity in God’s kingdom; for both these things are understood by the name of peace.
I. From hence observe, that as we may lawfully desire for ourselves and others outward prosperity and the blessing of this life, so how and in what manner we must desire them.
1. Having desired grace in the first place “First seek the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:1-34); and then in the second place we may seek temporal things; but now men are all for peace, “Who will shew us any good?” few or none for grace; peaceable men, as I may call them, enough, very few gracious men that do first of all seek God’s grace, and then in the second place peace.
2. In desiring of outward things we must moderate our desires, that they go not beyond their bounds, to desire abundance and superfluity of them; for we desire them by the name of peace: therefore no more must we desire, but that which will serve us, to attend the works of our calling with free and quiet minds, without disturbance or distraction.
II. Paul first desiring grace and then peace, showeth us that peace, namely, outward prosperity, is a fruit of grace, and so, that the nearest and most compendious way to get peace, is first to get grace and favour with God. Joseph and David had wonderful success in all their ways, and the reason the Holy Ghost yieldeth thereof is this, “The Lord was with them” (Genesis 39:1-23; 1 Samuel 18:1-30). Grace is the only means to draw on peace. When we have got Christ’s righteousness, it is that grace which makes us graceful to God (Matthew 6:1-34). Then outward things come voluntarily, as it were, without our seeking or desiring; no marvel then if oftentimes things go cross with us, we by our sins having drawn down the curse of God upon all our enterprises. This is the reason why God’s children live better, even with greater credit and reputation in the world with a little, than many times the wicked do, which have far more. God’s blessing sets forward the one, and his curse blows upon the other. But we oftentimes see those that are not in greatest favour with God abounding with these earthly blessings. And on the contrary, those that have greatest store of grace, to have a very small pittance of peace.
1. For the godly, who, having their part in grace, have always in some measure their portion in peace also; for--
(1) The end of all his afflictions, whereto they are disposed, is peace.
(2) He hath the peace of security in his greatest distresses (Psalms 3:6; Psa 4:9).
(3) He hath the peace of contentation, grace supplying and sweetening the want of peace, and turning very war itself into peace, darkness into light to the godly, his heart is at rest and at peace within itself. There is no warring of the affections against God, whatsoever his outward estate is.
2. For the wicked. It is far otherwise with them in their peace, which being a graceless peace, is in truth a peaceless peace, for in the midst of their peace they want the peace of security, their hearts tremble like an aspen leaf, in fear of change; or if they have security, it is a presumptuous and false security; for when they cry, “Peace, peace,” then is their destruction at hand (1 Thessalonians 5:3). And let their peace be never so flourishing, yet still want they the peace of contentation. They think all too little; if they had the whole world, with Alexander, they would grieve there were no more for them to get. Again, as the end of the godly man’s warfare is peace, so the end of the wicked man’s peace is warfare, even an eternal warfare, and wrestling with the anger of God in hell. Therefore a sound and safe peace ariseth only from the grace of God. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
From God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ--
The unity of the Divine Father and Son
The placing of both names under the government of one preposition implies the mysterious unity of the Father with the Son; while conversely St. John, in a parallel passage (2 John 1:8), by employing two prepositions, brings out the distinction between the Father, who is the fontal source, and the Son, who is the flowing stream. But both forms of the expression demand for their honest explanation, the recognition of the divinity of Jesus Christ. How dare a man, who thought of Him as other than Divine, put His name thus by the side of God’s, as associated with the Father in the bestowal of grace?…The double source is one source, for in the Son is the whole fulness of the Godhead: and the grace of God, bringing with it the peace of God, is poured into that spirit which bows humbly before Jesus Christ, and trusts Him when He says, with love in His eyes and comfort in His tones, “My grace is sufficient for thee; My peace give I unto you.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God our Father
Dr. Pentecost said that he once gave some Bible readings at Wellesley College, in America, where about three hundred young ladies were being educated. The principal of the College asked him to give them to two of the students who were confined to their room by sickness. On being introduced to them, he inquired if they were Christians. One replied, “I hope so”; the other answered, “Sometimes I think I am, and sometimes I think I am not.” Mr. Pentecost said: “If I met your father in Boston and told him that I had met a young lady at Wellesley who said that she thought that you were her father, what would he think?” The tears streamed over her cheeks as she replied, “Do you mean to say that it is our privilege to call God our Father in the same way as our earthly father?” This circumstance was the means of leading her to Christ.
Grace from God
We may conceive of “grace and peace” being connected with “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” as we conceive of the water with which a town is supplied in relation to the reservoir of storage on the one hand, and the channel of communication and distribution on the other. We may think of God our Father as the exhaustless fount of these perennial blessings--He is “the God of all grace,” and the “very God of peace.” Yet all this grace and peace are not gathered up in Him like water in some lake from which there is no outlet, but, like reservoir supplies, these unspeakable mercies are meant to be communicated and enjoyed through the channel and conduit of the Lord Jesus Christ. And while the whole appliances are regulated and managed by the continual operation of the Holy Ghost, there is nothing derogatory to that Divine Spirit, although in this salutation no specific mention is made, in so many words, of His work and offices, because the greater function includes all the separate distributions for individual use and benefit. Grace, therefore, is peace prepared for us, and peace is grace enjoyed by us. For grace is simply that free favour that spontaneously emanates from love--the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ being the self-moved and self-moving operations of Divine love to sinful men. Such kindness is called “grace,” because the inherent goodness of the Divine disposition alone can account for it--“grace” being the word that brings into special prominence the Divine motive in redemption as unbought, unsought, and unconstrained by principles from without, just as “mercy” has reference particularly to the unworthy character of its objects. A many-sided word like grace is best explained by analogies suggested by some similar many-sided word, such as “life,” “vegetation,” and the like. Grace, like life, may be regarded as a great and blessed gift from without, or a Divine power working mercifully towards us, and ultimately working in us; bringing salvation for us, and securing its mightiest triumph when it secures a lodgment of itself within us. And just as life receives various names from the various blessings it includes--feeling, moving, seeing, hearing, which are but varieties of the one great privilege of living--so grace is the comprehensive term including the supply of all favours and privileges needful for our fallen and undeserving condition as sinners to be saved. It is enlightenment for darkness, pardon for transgression, comfort for trial, hope for despondency, strength for weakness, and all help for all need. And just as life brought into play as a power within us will be sight if it operate through the eye, speech if through the tongue, hearing if through the ear; so with grace--if it work upon our convictions of sin, it will be the grace of repentance; if on God’s testimony, it is the grace of faith; if on God’s commandments, it is the grace of obedience--and so on through the whole range of Christian excellence. We thus use “grace” with the varied applications attachable to any kindred word, like “vegetation”; as when we say “Vegetation is at work,” we mean the hidden power or influence which produces the buds, leaves, fruits, and all the riches and beauty of the face of nature; or when, on the other hand, we say, “Vegetation is looking lovely,” we refer to the effects themselves of the hidden power as they strike and delight the eye. So grace is the Divine agency or quickening power which, when it takes hold of us, produces all good thoughts, all holy desires, and all heavenly life, while it is no less the name for those thoughts, desires, and graces themselves, considered as its fruits. If, further, it be viewed as dealing with Divine truth and promise, with God’s gospel message of mercy, with Christ and His work, with the Holy Spirit’s aid, with the heavenly inheritance, and the like, under the aspect of blessings appropriated and enjoyed, then grace becomes peace. When, in short, we think of spiritual and saving benefits as connected with the Divine nature, and as communicated through our Lord Jesus Christ, we call them all grace; and, on the other hand, we call them all peace when we think of them with special relation to our own good--when we think of their precious value for us, and their tranquillising and enjoyable effects upon us. Oh! if our peace were not of grace, we should be doomed to perish for want of it, like a population whose whole water supply depended on two or three trickling streams, that might dry up and fail when most needed. If we are to live beyond the fear of our peace getting exhausted, it must be by drawing on the perennial resources of heavenly grace, ever full and ever flowing among the everlasting hills--the free, the sovereign, self-moving and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What an appeal there is to Philemon in such a salutation! As if the apostle would say, “This is sufficient to enable you to do all I am to ask at your hands. And as you would find grace and favour with the Lord yourself, or enjoy peace in your own soul, you may not be inexorable or ungracious towards Onesimus, but must seek peace and pursue it, by sealing its comforts on the penitent’s heart.” (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
I thank my God
A thankful commendation
Paul has the habit of beginning all his letters with thankful commendations, and assurances of a place in his prayers.
The exceptions are 2 Corinthians, where he writes under strong and painful emotion, and Galatians, where a vehement accusation of fickleness takes the place of the usual greeting. But these exceptions make the habit more conspicuous. But though this is a habit, it is not a form, but is the perfectly simple and natural expression of the moment’s feelings. He begins his letters so, not in order to please and to say smooth things, but because he feels lovingly, and his heart fills with a pure joy which speaks most fitly in prayer. To recognise good is the way to make good better. Teachers must love if their teaching is to help. The best way to secure the doing of any signal act of Christian generosity, such as Paul wished of Philemon, is to show absolute confidence that it will be done, because it is in accordance with what we know of the doer’s character. “It’s a shame to tell Arnold a lie; he always trusts us,” the Rugby boys used to say. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A thankful interest in God
God cannot be possessed except as a personal good; and yet cannot be possessed and enjoyed as a personal good only, any more than sunshine can be held as mere private property. The more of such blessings a neighbour enjoys, there is the more for any one else to use and enjoy. So there is that in vital personal interest in God which at once guarantees a thankful spirit in the possessor, and acts as a safeguard against the spirit of self-worship. The law of the solar system is that “the more quickly a planet revolves round the sun, the more slowly it turns round its own axis”; and the very principle which regulates its speed makes it sway to and fro from its own centre towards neighbouring orbs, while keeping it balanced in its course round the central one of all. No wonder there exhales from Paul’s heart the incense of pure thanks to God for all the evidences of Philemon’s goodness and grace, as inwrought by saving mercy, and as working outwardly in acts of love and kindness unto others! Far from the expression of his self-interest, “My God” being self-confined, his very thanks are absorbed with the good in another. The more a fire shoots its flame and heat towards heaven, the farther out from itself will it shoot its warmth. So the more vehemently the soul can possess itself of God and be possessed by Him, the more ardently will it be carried upward with its thanks and outward with its intense desires for the good of others. Thoughts of God’s mercies will ever be found lying very close to thoughts of others’ needs. To be able to thank God sincerely for the good we see in others, is the best security for our feeling intensely solicitous for their further good. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
I. His prayerful thanksgiving.
1. The mingling of thanks with intercession is true prayer--the discovery of a reason in blessings bestowed for craving and expecting more (Psalms 115:12).
2. Thanksgiving insures further grace by fostering a spirit of dependence.
3. Gratitude for the good in others is a spiritual grace. Disinterested love--the prime feature of heavenliness--Christ-likeness.
II. The occasion of his gratitude. Two leading characteristics of Christianity are specified as being possessed by Philemon.
1. Faith fixed on Christ. This is--
(1) The absolute source of salvation.
(2) The principle of the saved life.
(3) The spring of beneficent activity.
2. Love of the brethren proving the faith. Such affection--
(3) Active. A grace of the heart first, the force of life afterward.
III. The object of his petition. Twofold: Increase--
1. In practical godliness. “Be ye enlarged” is the Divine mandate in the natural and spiritual realm. Paul “prays for that very thing for which he ‘gives thanks.’ The most perfect need prayers for their perseverance and progress.”
2. In the number of believers. The eloquence of good deeds cannot be resisted. “Everything in us that is good makes known our faith” and impels us to make “acknowledgment” of our relation to Christ. His reflected light in us will attract men to seek Him for themselves.
IV. The greatness of his joy. Great heart he who could be glad for others’ sakes under such conditions!
1. His triumph in adversity. Thinks little of his own troubles. Mentions them only to appeal to his friend’s heart in the interests of another.
2. His unselfishness. “The hearts of the saints are refreshed.” This was the fountain of his pleasure. “Singular love to feel so much joy on account of the benefit received by others.”
1. To cultivate sympathy.
2. To master circumstances.
3. To commend the gospel.
4. To advance in every good. (A. W. Johnson.)
Praises and prayers
I. The object. “I thank my God,” etc.
1. God is the Author of all good (Hosea 14:8).
2. To him, therefore, is all praise due (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).
3. It is the privilege of good men to approach Him as their God.
4. Our prayers and praises should be for others as well as for ourselves.
II. The circumstance. “Always,” etc.
III. The matter.
1. Of his praises, on account of Philemon--
(1) Love for Christ.
(2) Faith in Christ.
(3) Love to saints.
2. Of his prayers.
(1) That fruits may abound.
(2) That others may be won.
(3) That God may be glorified.
IV. The reason. (M. Henry, D. D.)
The growth of graces
We learn from hence that all Christians (especially teachers) are greatly to rejoice and praise God when they see that professors grow forward in heavenly graces. It is a matter of great joy and comfort to see men grow in graces as they do in years, and to increase in heavenly things as they multiply their days.
1. It serveth exceedingly to advance the glory of God that men grow in godliness, which ought to be an effectual reason to move us to rejoice; for what is there that should more cheer us, than when God’s name is magnified, and His truth extolled among the sons of men.
2. The forwardness of one is a notable means to draw forward another. For as one wicked man maketh another, and he that is seduced is an instrument to seduce another; so he that is truly converted will not rest in the quiet fruit and inward comfort of his own conversion, but labour to convert others, and so make them partakers of that comfort which they have found.
3. It is a great comfort to the pastors and teachers of the Church, when such as are taught do grow in grace and prosper by those means that are brought and offered unto them. The apostle calleth the Philippians his brethren, beloved and longed for, his joy and his crown; wherein he accounteth their growth, his honour; their increasing, his rejoicing; their faith, his hope; their flourishing, his felicity. It is a great comfort to the husbandman after his toiling and tilling, after his planting and ploughing, to see the fruits of his labours, and to behold the increase of the earth. So it fareth with the spiritual husbandman, whose labour is greater and oftener, enduring all the year long, whose patience is greater in waiting for the early and latter rain, whose gain and profit is less in tilling a dry and barren soil, that yieldeth little or no increase, but a crop of cares, a bundle of briars and bushes, and an harvest of thorns and thistles, that are reserved for the fire.
4. The graces of God, and the growing in these graces, are fruits of their election, and seals of their salvation, so that the angels in heaven rejoice at the conversion of a sinner. (W. Attersoll.)
I. For his gratulation, or rejoicing with Philemon in his graces, it is set down in the form of thanksgiving, “I thank.”
1. Where observe, the manner of true Christian congratulating and rejoicing with our friends, for any good thing they have; namely, to rejoice in the Lord; giving Him first of all His due, the praise of all that good they have. The rejoicing of the world is carnal and profane. God is never so much as thought upon. The parties whom we congratulate, they are dignified and almost deified. “Oh, I admire your wisdom, eloquence, learning,” etc., will the flatterer, or the inordinate lover of his friend, say. But Paul would say, “I admire the goodness and mercy of God towards you, in enriching you with these gifts, I thank God for your wisdom,” etc.; so all the praise is given wholly to God, whereas before it was wholly derived from God to man, and so God was defrauded and defeated of His right. Not that it is unlawful to praise men endued with the graces and gifts of God’s Spirit; nay, it is a duty we owe unto them; but it must be performed in that wise sort, that God in the first place be praised; for by this means we shall both in ourselves take away suspicion of flattery, and in our brother commended, suspicion of pride.
2. The title that Paul giveth God in this his thanksgiving, “My God.”
(1) The privilege of every true Christian. He hath a peculiarity and special propriety in God, that look as a man may say of his inheritance, his house and lands, “These be mine,” so he may as truly say of God, “God is mine;” I am righted and interested in Him. This privilege is conferred upon us in the covenant of grace which runs in this tenor, “I will be thy God, and thou shalt be one of My people.”
(2) The nature of true justifying faith, which is, to apply God in special to the believer. True faith doth not only believe that God is the God of His elect in general, but that He is his God in special, as Paul here saith, “My God.”
II. The second effect whereby Paul declareth his love towards them, is his daily praying for them. “Making mention of you always in my prayers.”
1. Even in our private and solitary prayers, we must be mindful of our brethren.
2. Observe, that Paul did pray even for those for whom he gave thanks; from whence it followeth, that there is no man so perfect that he hath need only to give thanks for that good he hath received, and not to ask some good thing he wanteth. Unto thanksgiving, there fore, for ourselves or others, petition must be annexed both for the continuance and increase of that good we give thanks for.
III. We may observe, that Philemon was such an one as ministered to Paul just occasion, as of prayer, so likewise of thanksgiving. We must labour herein to be like him, that others, specially God’s ministers, who either see us, or hear of us, may have cause not only to pray for us, but also to praise God for us. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Making mention of thee always in my prayers--
Good men need our prayers
The best men, cumulated with the greatest graces of the Spirit, had need be prayed for. St. Paul was rapt up into the third heaven, where he saw secrets not to be uttered, yet he desires the Ephesians’ prayers. St. Peter was a stout champion; yet Christ prays that his faith should not fail. Philemon abounded in all good gifts, of knowledge, faith and love, yet St. Paul ceased not to pray for him.
1. The best of all know but in part, love in part; therefore we had need to pray for them, that their defects may be supplied, that they may increase daily more and more.
2. Here we are wayfaring men, we are not come to our journey’s end; therefore we had need to be prayed for, that we may persevere to the end, and have the crown of life. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Happy in being prayed for
Alexander counted Achilles happy, that he had such a trumpeter of his praises as Homer was. Philemon might count himself happy, that he had such a worthy man to pray for him as St. Paul. (W. Jones, D. D.)
A large prayer list
What a list of persons for whom he daily entreated God must St. Paul have had! If he thus prayed especially for this convert in the comparatively small city of Colosse, what numbers must he have mentioned in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Philippi, in Thessalonica? And notice how in these supplications for private persons he mentions thanksgivings. He remembers not only their wants, but the blessings already bestowed upon them. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
The benefit we may confer on others by praying for them
When we are poor and can do our brethren no other good, yet may we benefit them by our prayers. When we see our brethren in necessity, in danger, in affliction, in persecution, in sickness, and in great misery; when we have no hand to help them, no power to deliver them, no means to succour them, no favour to speak for them; yet, we have hearts to lift up for them to God, the Father of all mercies, and the God of all consolation, and by praying unto Him for them, we shall do them much good, give them much comfort, minister unto them much help, and procure unto them speedy deliverance. This shall be more available and profitable unto them than all other means of help and succour used for their safety without this. Let such as are of the greatest gifts earnestly crave and call for the prayers of those that have lesser and smaller gifts. This reproveth such as never regard them, nor require them, that think they have no need of them, nor know the necessity of them. It is all one to these men, whether they be prayed for or not; whom God no doubt doth oftentimes cross in the works of their hands, that they do not prosper, because they make no account of the Church’s prayers. It reproveth such also as regard not the public assemblies of the faithful, and the meeting of the congregation of Christ in one place, where prayers are made for the Church, where praises are sung, and thanks are rendered for the blessings of God; yea, heaven and earth are made to ring and rebound with sounding out His glory, as it were with the voice of one man. All our churches, for the most part on the Lord’s day, assemble at one hour, we come together at one time, a blessed hour, a blessed time; the best hour, the best time in the whole week. Oh, how should we love it, how should we desire it, how should we delight in it? Then do we pray for the Church, then the Church prayeth for us; then are we mindful of our brethren, then are our brethren likewise mindful of us; then is God mindful of us all. (W. Attersoll.)
Intercessory prayer a means for diffusing good
It is matter of thank fulness that the privilege of intercession is the property of all Christians. While perishable good--such as friends, health, riches--are denied to thousands, there is not one so poor or so powerless as may not be a benefactor, not to individuals merely, but to the Church and to mankind, through the common privilege of prayer. It enables the weakest and most lonely to direct the arm of Omnipotence, and to help the objects of their affection from afar. It gives power to bless those who are separated from our presence by half the globe, and secures to the absent child the comfort of a parent’s presence, whom he shall never meet except in heaven. “Surely some good Christian is praying for us tonight.” has been heard from the lips of a pious seaman, when the tempest that was driving them in resistless fury towards destruction suddenly veered round, and saved them from the rocks on which they expected to be dashed the next moment; and God only, and the good angels whom He sends to minister to His children, can tell what good thoughts have been inspired, what temptations have been averted, what peace has been communicated, through the power of some absent believer’s prayers. Let it be our care to make use of this practicable and powerful instrument of diffusing good. The poorest can obtain it; the humblest believer is already in possession of it. Say not thou canst do nothing for men if thou canst give them thy love, thy Christian example, and thy prayers. (R. Nisbet, D. D.)
Prayer and attainment
Prayer is based on a supreme contentedness with Divine gifts and blessings but also on a sublime uncontentedness with human attainments in them. It therefore catches up thankfulness and petition into a happy unity, as the railway train holds its passengers at rest and yet in motion at the same moment. True prayer is free alike from querulous discontent and from cloddish self-content. The very satisfaction of the traveller at the well with the water it affords, bids him draw more largely on its supply for himself and others. And so Paul is thankful for all that God is and does, for all He has and offers, as manifested in the evangelic faith and love of Philemon; but he cannot think of either Philemon or himself resting satisfied where so much more remains to be possessed. To have nothing further to ask and yearn after were to have the mainspring of activity and improvement utterly broken. To pray is therefore a privilege and a relief. To pray for others is especially so to a loving and benevolent heart. We might have been permitted to pray only for ourselves; but amid the separations and scatterings of earth, God has been pleased to put intercession for one another as an instrument of mutual interest and blessing into the hands of all who would promote each other’s good. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Hearing of thy love and faith
A true human love
Some translators in ancient times, and many in later days, would at once accept M.
Renan’s version, as an equivalent, and, indeed, as a judicious correction--“De ta foi au Seigneur, de ta charite pour tous les saints.” Yet those who reverence Scripture may justly maintain that St. Paul’s own arrangement of the words has a higher rhetoric, under the guidance of a better wisdom. Let us suppose a writer to have before him two propositions, one of which is of special importance for his immediate purpose. He might be able to bring out that purpose most effectively by beginning and ending his sentence with the motive to which he wished to give prominence. From this point of view, it is instructive to compare the two contemporary letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. In those more elaborate and dogmatic pieces the idea of faith is of principal significance, and in one or other of its aspects is the leading subject of consideration. But in the Epistle to Philemon the writer’s great object is to appeal to the principle of Christian humanity, to that true human love which flows from the constraining power of Divine love, believed in and accepted. “Love toward the saints,” and therefore to the brother for whom he pleaded, is consequently placed in the forefront. It is the first note of the whole strain. Let us conceive the epistle presented to Philemon, when the delegates first arrive, and the returned fugitive anxiously awaits his master’s decision. The letter is received with reverential joy. Philemon listens, or reads, in breathless expectation, and the very first word which falls upon his ear, or meets his eye, after the salutation, is love. It has a force in this place which no other word could supply. St. Paul, therefore, places love first; but as he never can forget faith, and Christ as the central object of faith, he puts love first, the object of the love last, faith towards Christ in the middle between the extremes. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Love is put before faith. The significance of this sequence comes out by contrast with similar expressions in Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4. The reason for the change here is probably that Onesimus and Epaphras, from whom Paul would be likely to hear of Philemon, would enlarge upon his practical benevolence, and would naturally say less about the root than about the sweet and visible fruit. The arrangement then is an echo of the talks which had gladdened the apostle. Possibly, too, love is put first because the object of the whole letter is to secure its exercise towards the fugitive slave; and seeing that the apostle would listen with that purpose in view, each story which was told of Philemon’s kindness to others made the deeper impression on Paul. The order here is the order of analysis, digging down from manifestation to cause; the order in the parallel passages quoted is the order of production, ascending from root to flower. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Love and faith, the principal points of salvation
1. He reduceth the principal points of salvation to two heads--faith and love. In these standeth the happiness of the godly. By these, a Christian man perfected, for they are the chief graces of the Holy Ghost.
2. He beginneth with love, and placeth it before faith; deed is more precious, but it is inward and hidden in the heart, and in name and order goeth before love. But he first nameth love because it is better known to us, better seen of us, and is as the touchstone to try our faith. For though the cause be more worthy than the effect, yet the effect is more conspicuous and manifest. So faith, being the cause of works, is more excellent, and love as an effect is more evident.
3. We see, that albeit faith be set in the last place, for the reason rendered before, yet faith is first defined, and so the order somewhat inverted. Now, it is described and declared by his object, that it respecteth Christ Jesus. (W. Attersoll.)
Faith and love in the Christian life
This faith embodies the theoretic principles of Christian life, while this love for saints embodies these principles on their practical side. Like heart and lungs in the body, each has its own functions; and, though separate, the one never acts apart from the other--life being the combined play of both. Faith binds to all Christian verities, translating them into personal convictions; while love binds to all Christian motives, translating these into personal activities--love being well called the daughter of faith and the mother of virtue and good works. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Faith and love acceptable to God
I. The reasons follow to confirm this doctrine.
1. They give us good acceptance with God and man, because they are evident marks and notable testimonies of our election and perseverance, They are as two earmarks, to know and discern whose sheep we are.
2. God hath given praise and glory as an inseparable companion of godliness and goodness; and on the other side, He hath allotted shame to follow sin. He hath joined these together, to wit, glory with piety, and shame with iniquity. These draw together, as it were, in one yoke, so that one cannot be without the other. The apostle speaking of the ungodly, faith, their glory shall be to their shame. Seeing, therefore, the graces of God’s spirit are testimonies of election, and companions of praise and glory, we must from hence conclude that the good gifts of God that are found in us make us accepted of God and man.
II. The uses follow to be considered and learned of us.
1. Seeing faith in Christ, and love toward the saints give us a good report in the Church, and lay up a good foundation for us in heaven, we see that only godly men have a good name, and evil men shall leave the blots of an evil name behind them. The memorial of the just shall be blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot. This overthroweth three sorts of men that offend, and esteem not of men according to their faith and profession.
(1) Such as slander the godly, and bring up an evil report of the faithful people of God, and seek to take away their good name from them, which is a jewel more precious than silver and gold. But we shall less esteem what they speak, if we consider who they are that speak. For the witness of an enemy is by no law to be taken, but always to be suspected.
(2) Such as magnify and advance the ungodly, give them the praise of the world, speak well of them, as of the only honest men that deserve to be commended. But so long as they live in sin, their own wickedness doth testify to their faces, and their ungodly hearts proclaim their own shame, and shall bring upon them utter confusion. Let this be written and engraven in our minds, that ungodliness will leave a reproach behind it.
(3) It convinceth such as are civil men, and can say they are not drunkards, they are not adulterers, they are not thieves, they lead an honest life, they pay all men their own. These men have a good liking of themselves, and are accounted the only men among others. But a man may do all this, and be a Pharisee, yea, no better in the sight of God than a Turk and Infidel. He may carry the countenance and have the report of such a liver, and yet smell strongly, and savour rankly in the nostrils of God, of ignorance, of unbelief, of pride, and of self-love. If we would deserve true praise indeed, we must not rest in these outward practices and in this moral civility, we must plant religion in our hearts, we must have a sound faith in Christ, we must know the doctrine of the gospel, we must worship God aright.
2. Seeing faith and love give us a good commendation and report, let us by these and such like graces of God’s Spirit, seek after a good name, let us not hunt after the praise of men, but that which is of God. The other is a blast of wind; this is certain and never fadeth. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Love and faith not separated
1. Seeing these two gifts are coupled together one with another, it followeth that they must never be separated in a Christian man. He that is joined with the head, must also be joined with the members; and he that hath his part in the communion of saints, hath his fellowship with Christ.
2. Seeing faith and love go together, and dwell together, we are put in mind of a notable duty, and are thereby directed to prove our faith by our love, and our love by our faith, and to make one of them serve to assure the other. The cause will prove the effect, and the effect will manifest the cause. We may prove fire by the heat, and the heat by the fire; a good tree by his fruit, and the fruit by his tree. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Thankful for the graces of others
I. See in Paul’s example, what is the effect that the good report which the godly hear of their brethren, useth to work in their minds. Commonly men suck in their own praises with very greedy ears, but they cannot with patience endure the praises of others, thinking that the praises of others is a close kind of dispraising themselves, and that so much is taken from them as is given unto another. Hence it is that the speech of those that are much in the commendations of others is so troublesome to us, in that thereby we feel ourselves stirred up to wrath, fretting, envy, and such like distemper of corrupt affections. But it is far otherwise with the children of God, who have the circumcised ears of Paul, that not only with patience, but with great joy, can hear the commendations of their brethren, and upon the hearing of them break forth not into fretting and fuming, but into a holy lauding of the Name of the Lord.
II. Observe, that thanks are due to God, not only for those benefits which He bestoweth on us ourselves, but on our brethren also. And therefore if we pay him not this debt, he may justly charge us with ingratitude. For shall we confess it our duty to pray for our brethren, that they may be enriched with these graces; and shall we not think ourselves equally bound to give thanks to God, when He hath heard our prayers?
III. If in Paul’s example others are bound to give thanks for our graces, then it is our part, who through God’s mercies are possessed of any of His graces so to use them that we may minister just cause to our brethren to give thanks for them.
IV. Paul saying that he heard of the faith and love of Philemon, plainly showeth, that there were some that related and reported them to him. By whose example we must learn to have a special respect of the good name of our brother, being always ready, as occasion shall serve, to speak of those good things that are in others.
V. Observe God’s providence, recompensing faith with fame and good name. When faith shall open our hearts and mouths to extol God’s name, God will open our brethren’s, yea, sometimes our enemies’ mouths, to extol ours (Hebrews 11:13). “By this” (namely faith) “our elders obtained a good report.” This was the means whereby they became so famous. What marvel, then, if thou hast an ill name, when thou hast an ill conscience? Naughty faith and fame, cracked credit and conscience, commonly go together. (D. Dyke, D. D.)
Faith and love
By faith understand justifying faith, which only is able to bring forth true love, either to God or man. And by love, as the apostle showeth, not only love to God, but also to man. Here observe--
I. The distinction of these graces of faith and love. They are named distinctly as two virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).
II. The conjunction of these two graces, for howsoever they are to be distinguished, yet not to be divided. Wheresoever true faith is, there necessarily love, both to God and our brethren, will follow. For though faith be alone in justification, yet not in the justified. As the eye, though alone in seeing, yet not in him that seeth, but joined with the ears, nose, and many other members of the body. Faith therefore is a fruitful mother of many daughters, and love is the firstborn of them. Faith, though it be in regard of God a beggar, always holding out the hand to receive, and crying, “Give, give,” yet in regard of those in whom it dwelleth, it is like a sovereign lord and king, and hath as a king his officers under him, and among the rest, love, his almoner, to distribute and disperse those treasures which itself hath received from the Lord.
1. Our love towards God proceedeth from faith, which, apprehending God’s love to us, enflameth our affections again with the love of God. The beams of God’s love lightning upon our hearts reflect back upon God Himself by the virtue of our faith. “The love of Christ,” saith the apostle--namely, being apprehended by our faith--“constraineth us.” An example whereof we have in Mary Magdalen, whose faith, believing that much was forgiven her, caused and constrained her to love much.
(1) This plainly convinceth the faith of many to be nothing but vain presumption, because their love to God is so lukewarm.
(2) But as this doctrine is terrible to the hypocrite, whom it unmasketh of his vain vizard of faith, so it is no less comfortable to the true Christian. For what dost thou feel thy soul panting in the earnestness of desire after God? Dost thou find thyself grieved when thou missest of thy desire? Doth thou find thy heart to arise when thou seest God’s Name dishonoured, etc.? Surely, these things as they are arguments of sincere love, so likewise of faith not feigned. If thou canst with David (Psalms 18:1) say “I love the Lord,” thou mayest as truly use the words following, and say, “The Lord is my Rock.”
(3) This doctrine of love flowing from faith, confuteth those that teach, our election dependeth upon our foreseen obedience. By that which hath been delivered it appeareth that our love of God is caused and stirred up in us by His love, to us apprehended by our faith.
2. Our love of our brethren springeth likewise from faith, for the apostle speaketh here of both loves. This will appear, if either we consider those duties of love, which we owe generally to all, or in special to some.
(1) For the first this is a duty which we owe to all indifferently, to be ready to forgive one another, being offended. Now what is that which will make a revengeful nature yield to this, but faith, which, when once it hath apprehended God’s love, forthwith reasoneth, as the Master in the parable with His servant (Matthew 19:1-30). The Lord hath freely forgiven me my whole debt, ought not I then to show the like compassion to my fellow servant? Therefore the Lord enjoining the duty of forgiveness; the apostles pray, Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:4-5).
(2) Other duties there are which we owe specially to some.
(a) As first, to those that are yet unconverted, the desiring of, and by all means possible labouring after their conversion. Now, it is faith only which will make a man do this. For, when by faith we have felt the sweetness of God’s love ourselves, we cannot but call upon others, and with the prophet David invite them to the eating of the same dainties with ourselves (Psalms 34:1-22.). “Come, and see, and taste how good,” etc.
(b) But yet a more special love, which therefore hath a special name of brotherly love, is due unto those which are already effectually called, and so made members of Christ. This love also cometh from faith, which, causing us to love God, must needs also force us to love all those in whom we shall see the very face and lively image of God Himself so clearly shining.
1. Uses: by this then once again we may try our faith. A working faith hath laborious love even to our brethren annexed (1 Thessalonians 1:3). If then thou art of a hard nature, of a memory lastly retaining injuries of affections vindicative, which the Scripture calls feet swift to shed blood, this shows thou hast no part in the blood of Christ by faith. The like is to be thought of those which are moved with no compassion towards the soul of their brethren sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, but can suffer them to pine and perish away in their sins, and never reach forth the hand to pull them out of the ditch.
2. This doctrine serveth not only for the trial of our faith, but also of our love to our brethren. For as that faith, which is without this love, is an idle, and imaginary faith, so that love of our neighbour, which cometh not from faith, is blind and foolish, and in the end will prove a deceitful and unfaithful love. Natural men, that seem to love very dearly today, tomorrow are at deadly feud. The reason hereof is because their love comes not from faith.
3. It maybe asked, How could others declare to Paul the love and faith of Philemon, which are secret and hidden virtues, that be in the innermost corners of the heart, far from the sight of the eye? They saw not Philemon’s faith, but his outward works, and by them they judged, and so did Paul too of his faith, discerning the tree by the fruit. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Toward the Lord Jesus--
Faith toward Christ
Sometimes faith is spoken of as “in” Christ, sometimes as “unto” or “upon” Him; here it is “toward” Him. The idea is that of aspiration and movement of yearning after an unattained good. And that is one part of the true office of faith. There is fruition and contact in it. We rest “in” Christ by faith. It incorporates us into His mystical body, and brings about a mutual indwelling. We lean “on” Christ by faith, and by it build the fabric of our loves, and repose the weight of our confidence upon Him, as on the sure foundation. We reach “unto,” and, in deepest truth, pass “into” Christ by faith. But there is also in faith an element of aspiration, as of the soaring eagle to the sun, or the climbing tendrils to the summit of the supporting stem. In Christ there is always something beyond, which discloses itself the more clearly, the fuller is our present possession of Him. Faith builds upon and rests in the Christ possessed and experienced, and just therefore will it, if it be true, yearn towards the Christ unpossessed. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Faith towards Christ
For faith is just like the coupling chain of a railway carriage--everything depends on where its fastenings are ultimately attached. The carriage moves only if its coupling chain communicate with the moving power. And faith saves only as it takes hold of the Saviour for itself, and terminates in Him as its object. This precious faith is a bond of attachment. It cannot be a single isolated act, but an abiding attitude of confidence towards the Lord Jesus. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Love to Christ
A gentleman when visiting in a hospital in London sat beside the cot of a little girl. Wishing to win her confidence, he said, “My child, do you love your mother?” With a very serious look she replied, “Yes, I do indeed.” “But why do you answer so gravely; what is that you are thinking about, my dear?” Then she replied with great earnestness, “Because I can never love my mother anything as she loves me.” Can any of you say of Jesus as the little girl said of her mother, “Yes, I love Him indeed, but I can never love Him in any way as He loves me?” Toward all saints--Clearly their relation to Jesus Christ puts all Christians into relation with one another. This was an astounding thought in Philemon’s days, when such high walls separated race from race, the slave from the free, woman from man; but the new faith leaped all barriers, and put a sense of brotherhood into every heart that learned God’s fatherhood in Jesus … The love which is here commended is not a mere feeling, nor does it go off in gushes, however fervid, of eloquent emotion. Clearly Philemon was a benefactor of the brotherhood, and his love did not spend only the paper money of words and promises to pay, but the solid coin of kindly deeds. Practical charity is plainly included in that love of which it had cheered Paul in his imprisonment to hear. Its mention, then, is one step nearer to the object of the letter. Paul conducts his siege of Philemon’s heart skilfully, and opens here a fresh parellel, and creeps a yard or two closer up. “Surely you are not going to shut out one of your own household from that wide reaching kindness.” So much is most delicately hinted, or rather left to Philemon to infer, by this recognition of his brotherly love. A hint lies in it that there may be a danger of cherishing a cheap and easy charity that reverses the law of gravity, and increases as the square of the distance, having tenderness and smiles for people and churches which are well out of our road, and frowns for some nearer home. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Love extending to the saints
Philemon’s love extended itself to the saints, as is here avouched of him; yet it was not cooped up within the pen of the saints: the saints must have the prime place in our love, but not the whole. “Do good to all men, chiefly to them of the household of faith”: chiefly, but not wholly. Aristotle gave an alms to an unworthy man: one reproved him for it. Says he, I gave it to the nature of the man, not to the man; the nature is God’s, and must be sustained: the vice is his own and the devil’s, and must be reformed. (W. Jones, D. D.)
The saintly household
1. This teacheth that there ought to be among all the faithful a communion of saints; they are as a family or household among themselves. They have a near fellowship, they are near brethren, they are fellow members of one body, they are knit together by one spirit, they are called under one hope, they are made Christ’s by one faith, they are made one by one baptism, they have one bread to feed upon, they have one cup to drink of, they have one table to meet at, they have one God that they worship, they have one salvation that they aim at (Ephesians 4:2-3). We are charged to have a care of all mankind, but as it is fit and convenient that they which are of the same family should be helpful one to another rather than to such as are of another family, which are not so nearly joined unto them (Philippians 2:1-2). The gifts of God to be imparted to our brethren are of two sorts. For as we consist of two parts, the soul and the body, so the gifts are of two kinds--spiritual graces, and temporal blessings. We must bestow upon them spiritual gifts, procuring their good by example, exhortation, comfort, prayer, reproof. Touching temporal blessings, we must be ready and content to bestow such goods as God hath bestowed upon us, for the good of our fellow members. If we have this world’s goods we must not hide our compassion from them, for then we cannot assure ourselves that the love of God dwelleth in us.
2. Seeing we are charged to provide for the godly poor, and not to see them want, it teacheth that we are all the Lord’s stewards, to dispense and dispose His blessings to others. For properly we are not lords, but tenants; not owners, but stewards; not possessors, but borrowers; and whatsoever we enjoy, it is not ours only, but ours and the poor’s--they have their share and portion with us. A Christian man, though he be the freest man upon the earth, yet he is a servant to all, especially to the Church of God. This condemneth--
(1) Such as seek for nothing but to settle themselves and maintain their own estates, to enrich themselves that they may live in ease and wealth, like the rich man mentioned in the gospel: these make no conscience of swearing, forswearing, lying, dissembling, oppressing, and such like unfruitful works of the flesh. These men may allege and plead for themselves what they will, but in truth they never yet knew what the communion of saints meaneth.
(2) It reproveth such a waste and consume the good creatures of God in riotousness, in drunkenness, and in all excess, and when they are in brotherly love and Christian compassion admonished, do answer, “What have you to do with my spending? I spend nothing but mine own, I spend none of yours.” Yes, thou spendest that which is thy wife’s, thy children’s, thy family’s, the poor’s, the Church’s, yea even that which is God’s, for which thou shalt give an account at the great and dreadful day of judgment.
(3) Seeing we are debtors to all men, but specially to the faithful, it reproveth such as show the chiefest fruit of their love and charity upon the ungodly and profane, whom it were many times more charity to see punished than relieved: and corrected than maintained. (W. Attersoll.)
Why believers are called saints
1. Because they are thereunto called and chosen in Christ, they are thereunto justified and redeemed by Christ. For we are chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1Th 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; Luke 1:68; Luke 1:74-75).
2. The servants of God must be saints, to the end there may be a conformity and likeness unto Him that hath had mercy upon us. It is requisite that there should be a resemblance between God and His people. God is holy, it is one of His names, He is called the Holy One; Christ is Holy, and He is called the Holy One of God; the Spirit is holy, and therefore is called the Holy Spirit. The Son beareth the image of His Father, and thereby is easily known whose Son He is. If we be the sons of God we must express His image in holiness and true righteousness (Leviticus 11:45; 1 Peter 1:14-15).
3. The faithful are called by the name of saints, that there might be a difference between that which we have of ourselves, and that which we receive from God: between the old man and the new man; between our first birth and our second birth; between nature and grace. No man is a saint by nature, we have no holiness from ourselves, but we are strangers to it, and that is a stranger to us; nay, we are enemies to holiness who love nothing else but profaneness, and desire to be anything else than to be saints and holy. (W. Attersoll.)
Love of Christ a bond of brotherhood
An unknown man one day dropped dead in New York. He seemed to have been very poor, for in the pockets of his shabby clothes there was not a cent. His description was published in the newspapers, and among other details, mention was made of a tattoo mark on his right arm. It represents a tomb overhung by the branches of a weeping willow. Below was the inscription, “In memory of my mother.” Nothing was known of him; but one thing was clear--he had once had a mother whom he loved. The body was sent to a station house, and the next day would have been buried in Potter’s Field at the expense of the city, if a merchant had not interposed. He asked permission to pay the cost of a decent funeral in a cemetery for the man. He did not know him, but he, too, had lost his mother, and the memory of her had been enshrined in his heart for many years. He felt a brotherhood with the man whose love of his dead mother was displayed in the tattoo marks, and desired to do a brother’s part to him. If every Christian felt that the love of Christ, common to him with other Christians, constituted a bond of brotherhood with its claims upon him, how much hardship and pain would be relieved!
Love to saints
The magnetised needle turns to the invisible North Pole whenever it turns to any visible object that lies due north of itself; and so, love to saints, as saints, is love to Christ Himself personally, because it is love to whatever of Christ is manifest in them. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The communication of thy faith
There is some doubt respecting the allusion in the word “communication.
” It is translated “fellowship” in Acts 2:42, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and “communion” in 1 Corinthians 10:16. It may mean that the imparting to others of their faith (when they see the fruits of it) may be effectual, etc.; or “communication” may be taken as meaning distribution. If Philemon loved the saints he would distribute liberally to their needs. Both senses are true: faith “may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing.” In the eyes of St. Paul it was needful, not only that there should be secret good in a man, but that it should be acknowledged on all hands as good springing from the grace of God and Christ, somewhat analogous to “Let your light so shine,” etc. (M. E. Sadler, M. A.)
Christian beneficence a means of spiritual growth
Philemon’s “communication of faith” will help him to the knowledge of the fulness of Christ. The reaction of conduct on character and growth in holiness is a familiar idea with Paul, especially in the prison epistles (see Colossians 1:10). The faithful carrying out in life of what we already know is not the least important condition of increasing knowledge. If a man does not live up to his religion, his religion shrinks to the level of his life. Unoccupied territory lapses. We hold our spiritual gifts on the term of using them. The practice of convictions deepens convictions; not that the exercise of Christian graces will make theologians, but it will put in larger possession of the knowledge which is life. While this general principle is abundantly enforced in Scripture and confirmed by experience, the specific form of it here is that the right administration of wealth is a direct means of increasing a Christian’s possession of the large store treasured in Christ. Every loving thought towards the sorrowful and needy, every touch of sympathy yielded to, and every kindly Christlike deed flowing from these, thins away some film of the barriers between the believing soul and a full possession of God, makes it more capable of beholding Him and of rising to communion with Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A communion of gifts
As there is a communion of saints, so there must be a communion of gifts. A good thing, the more common it is, the better it is. The sun communicates his light to the world, and shines the brighter for that; the springs and fountains communicate their water, and are the fuller for that; a nurse or mother communicates her milk to the infant, and her breasts are replenished still: the communication of faith, of knowledge, and other gifts, is not a diminution, but an augmentation of them. Let us joyfully communicate that which we have, one to another. (W. Jones, D. D.)
The gifts and blessings of God
I. It is the duty of all men earnestly to desire and procure the good of others, and to stir up ourselves and others to increase in the graces of God’s spirit. The growing and proceeding of our brethren in the best things should be sought for of us. Reasons:
1. Christian profession is a way in which men must not stand still; they must not stay in one estate, but be always stirring forward.
2. Christians are compared to children. Children are always growing in age, increasing in stature, going forward in knowledge. So must we grow in grace, until we come to a perfect aged man in Christ.
3. We must so walk in our way and hasten to our journey’s end, that we may obtain the prize. He that overcometh and holdeth out to the latter end only shall be saved. He that giveth over is a faint soldier, a weak workman, a slow runner, a feeble wrestler.
(1) We learn that God hath a just action and suit to commence against all idle and unprofitable drones, that be truants and no proficients in the school of Christ.
(2) We are bound to use the means that may further these gifts in us, that is, the ministry of the Word, which being reverently used hath a promise of blessings.
(3) Seeing we should desire our own profit and others, it condemneth three sorts of men: first, such as stand at a stay; secondly, such as go backward; thirdly, such as envy the good and growth of others in the best things.
(4) Seeing we should all seek to profit ourselves and others in godliness, we must know that it is our duty to stir up the gifts of God in us, that we do not bury them as in a grave; we must exercise the gifts that we have by continual practice. Use maketh men prompt and ready, want of use maketh men untoward.
II. The gifts and blessings of God, whether temporal or eternal, bestowed upon any, must not lie hid or dead, but be used and employed to the good of others, and so yield a fellowship and communion to others. Reasons:
1. We are servants unto all, to do them good and to further their salvation.
2. We are members of the same body, and therefore in this respect should profit one another. We see it is so in every part of our body: the eye seeth not for itself, the head inventeth not for itself, the hand worketh not for itself, the foot walketh not for itself, but they do these duties for the whole body. Thus it ought to be among all the faithful; if Christ Jesus be our head, we must be affected as mutual members one to another.
3. We are all of us stewards and disposers of the manifold graces of God. God committed His goods to us, and made us stewards of His family, to minister in season to all in the household, and He will take an account how we use them. Uses:
(1) This teaches us to remember the benefit and good of others, and not only to desire, but to effect the same as much as we can, especially their eternal good. It is a good thing to do good unto the bodies of our brethren, but the chiefest good is to do good to their souls.
(2) Such are reproved as have gifts and yet use them not but hide them, and so diminish them by idleness and want of conscience.
(3) Seeing we must employ that which we have received to the benefit of others, it serveth greatly to comfort such as have been careful to communicate to others those things that they have received, and to make them partakers of the same comfort that they have reaped by them.
III. IT is the duty of everyone to manifest and show forth, yea, to spread abroad and to speak of the gifts of God bestowed upon themselves and others. When God is good towards us, and distributes His graces among us, we must be ready to acknowledge them, when we feel them in ourselves, or see them in others. Reasons:
1. To the end that God’s graces being seen and known He may he glorified and blessed for them, who is the author and giver of them. It ought to be our chiefest desire and study that God may have His praise and glory among us.
2. Because the more they be known and farther they are spread, the larger praise and more abundant thanksgiving may be given unto God and yielded to His name by many.
3. In respect of others, because the more the goodness and graces of God are spoken of, and the more largely they are dispersed, the more by that means may be stirred up to an imitation of their example. Uses:
(1) We see there may be sometimes a foolish modesty in concealing those good things which should be uttered and published, if they may further the cause of religion, or provoke others to godliness, or bring glory to God. God is not ashamed of us to be called our God, and to do us good; let us not, therefore, be ashamed to acknowledge Him to be good unto us, and confess His goodness to the sons of men.
(2) Seeing it is our duty, when God hath been good unto us or others, to make known His goodness. We learn hereby how the saints of God may be rightly and religiously honoured of us, and remembered to their everlasting praise. It is our duty to give thanks to God who hath blessed them with His graces and governed them by His Holy Spirit, and to pray unto Him so to direct us and dispose of our ways that we may follow their godliness and walk in their steps wherein they have gone before us.
(3) We must beware that vainglory be not the end which we seek for. We are to give the glory to the author, not to the instrument; to God, not to man; to the Creator, not to the creature. (W. Attersoll.)
The efficacy of faith
I. That efficacy of faith which here Paul desireth for Philemon was two. First, in regard to Philemon himself, that it might work effectually in him; secondly, in regard of others, that it might be exemplary to them, and so might be effectual in provoking them to the like. And that the apostle had some reference, even to this latter kind of efficacy, the words following seem to import--that whatsoever good thing is in you may be known: for when the light of our faith shineth to others, it very effectually stirreth them up to the glorifying of God’s name. Hence observe--
1. That true faith may sometimes faint, and be, as it were, raked up under the ashes. A kind of sleepiness may sometimes seize upon it, and disable it for spiritual exercises. As we see in the disciples, who being oppressed with carnal grief for the departure of Christ now at hand, were not able to attend the exercise of prayer, no, not one hour, with our Saviour. So likewise in Philippians 4:10. Of whom, when the apostle says, that they were revived, or, as the word signifies, waxen green or fresh again, in their love and liberality towards Him; thereby he declareth that for a time they were like trees, that in the winter are in their widowhood, having lost their leaves, and appearing outwardly as dead, all their sap being in the root within.
2. Observe how faith, being by Satan’s craft cast into this deep sleep, may be awakened, and how it may shake off this spiritual laziness, viz., by this spiritual exercise of prayer.
3. Paul here plainly teaches us that true faith in his own nature is effectual, lively, full of vigour and spirits (1 Thessalonians 1:3). I discern the picture of a man, though never so lively, to be no true man, because it stands still and stirs not. Therefore, though it have show of eyes, mouth, feet, etc., yet when I see it neither goes, sees, nor speaks, I know it is no man. So, when I look upon thy faith, and find, for all the colours of outward profession, that it is idle, I conclude forthwith that it is an idol, a shadow, void of truth and substance.
II. Wherein this efficacy of faith here prayed for consists; first, in communication; secondly, in the knowledge of every good thing.
1. For the first, observe, that faith is no sparing niggard, but of a very bountiful and liberal disposition. It hoardeth not, it hideth not those treasures which she receiveth of God, but communicateth them to others.
2. The second thing, wherein this efficacy of faith consisteth, is the knowledge of all that good. That faith then is effectual which hath all other graces at command; so that when it says to one, Go, it goeth; to another, Come, it comes; to all of them I would have you known of others, they forthwith come forth into the open light, and by practice make themselves known to all. If a king command and be not obeyed, it shows his power is not great--that he is not as yet thoroughly confirmed in his authority. So it is an argument that faith as yet is but weak and of small force when it commands not with a kingly and imperial majesty and authority, so that without further delay his commands are obeyed. “That thy faith may be effectual.” But how? In the knowledge of every good thing that is in you. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
By the acknowledging of every good thing--
The acknowledgment of good in others
We must acknowledge the good things that are in others. The Queen of Sheba extolled the good things that were in Solomon, and blessed God for them. The elders of the Jews acknowledged the good things that were in the centurion. God set the good things that were in Job, as on a stage, and the devil himself could not but acknowledge them, though maliciously he depraved them. Christ, though He was the giver of them, acknowledged the good things that were in Nathaniel. St. Peter acknowledges the good things that were in St. Paul. Augustin acknowledged the good things that were in Jerome, and Jerome also the good things that were in Augustin, as appears by their epistles one to another. We are injurious to God if we do not acknowledge them. No painter but would have his picture acknowledged: every good man is the beautiful picture of God Almighty; they be envious persons that will not acknowledge them. (W. Jones, D. D.)
We have great joy and consolation in thy love
The far-reaching consequences of good deeds
No man can ever tell how far the blessing of his small acts of kindness, or other pieces of Christian conduct, may travel.
They may benefit one in material fashion, but the fragrance may reach far beyond. Philemon little dreamed that his small charity to some suffering brother in Colosse would find its way across the sea and bring a waft of coolness and refreshing in the hot prison house. Neither Paul nor Philemon dreamed that, made immortal by the word of the former, the same transient act would find its way across the centuries, and would “smell sweet and blossom in the dust” today. Men know not who are their audiences or who may be spectators of their works; for they are all bound so mystically and closely together, that none can tell how far the vibrations which he sets in motion will thrill. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Moors, five hundred years ago, occupied Granada in Spain, and if you go there today you may find traces of that occupation. But where will you find them? Their empire has fallen. Their creed has passed away. Their palaces have crumbled into dust. But you will find traces of them in the irrigating rivulets which they were the means of calling into existence. The traveller who may pass under the heights of Granada today hears the murmuring music of those beautiful streams. The men who dug them have gone; but there are these streams telling their own story and doing their own work. So let us cut channels through which God’s blessing may flow. It is hard work. We have to remove the rock and the soil, but by and by others will come, and as they stoop down and drink of these beneficent streams, they will look up and say, “Thank God for the workers who have gone before!”
Spiritual blessings bestowed on others give occasion of joy to the saints
It is our duty greatly to rejoice, when we see spiritual blessings in heavenly things given to the children of God (see Luke 15:5-6; Luke 15:9-10; Luke 15:32). David rejoiced with great joy when he saw that the people offered willingly unto the Lord with a perfect heart, and he blessed the Lord God of Israel. When the Jews heard of the conversion of the Gentiles, and that the Holy Ghost fell upon them, as upon themselves at the beginning, they held their peace and glorified God, saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” When the apostle perceived the notable zeal of the Thessalonians, in receiving and entertaining the gospel, not as the word of man but as it is indeed the Word of God, he witnesseth that they were his hope and his joy, his crown and his glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming. Likewise the apostle John rejoiced greatly when the brethren testified of the truth that was in Gaius, and how he walked therein. He had no greater joy than this, to hear that his sons walked in the verity. Reasons:
1. The glory, and praise of God is much increased, which should comfort the hearts and rejoice the spirits of the saints. The more we abound with spiritual blessings the more God is honoured and His name glorified.
2. The general good of the Church must lead us to this duty and cause us to rejoice, which next unto God should be dearest to us. Who can have such hearts of flint or of iron as not to be moved with joy, beholding the enlarging of the kingdom of Christ?
3. The ordinances and laws of God are observed, and so His blessings procured and obtained. Now, when God is obeyed, men should rejoice and be glad; and when His laws are broken, they should be much grieved and troubled.
1. First of all, seeing God’s graces upon others must work joy in ourselves, we learn the truth of that article of our faith, which all profess to believe, but many do not understand, to wit, the communion of saints. There is a double communion, one which we have with Christ; the other, which the Church hath among themselves, and the former is the cause of the latter. Our communion among ourselves consisteth in three things--
(1) In the affection of the heart.
(2) In the gifts of the Spirit.
(3) In the use of temporal riches.
2. We learn to desire the best gifts, that we may rejoice and comfort the godly. For when we profit in good things, we cheer the hearts and minds of the faithful. Every living thing hath his prospering and proceeding, and is known to have life in it by increasing from one degree of perfection to another. The grass springeth, the plant shouteth, the corn flourisheth, the tree groweth. If we have any life in us of God’s Spirit, and be not as grass that is withered, as plants that are dead, as corn that is blasted, and as trees that are plucked up by the roots, we must go forward from one measure of grace to another, from a lesser to a greater.
3. It is our duty to seek the good and prosperity of the Church by all good means, and to draw them and move them, to embrace the ways of salvation. This duty hath many branches growing from it. For, seeing God’s graces bestowed give occasion of great joy, it ought to teach us to exhort one another, to comfort them that are comfortless, to reprove them that go astray, to pray for our brethren, to seek to gain and win them to the faith; and when they are gained and won, to rejoice unfeignedly at their conversion, and if we see any hope of their repentance and turning to God, to converse with them, and not to be ashamed of their company. (W. Attersoll.)
Thankfulness for love
I. The reason or cause that moved Paul to give thanks for Philemon’s love.
1. His joy, which Philemon’s love ministered to him, and that no small or slender joy, but great joy.
2. His comfort, which he received by the same love, and this latter is an amplification of the former: for Paul hereby signifieth that the joy he took in Philemon’s love was not a simple joy but a comfortable joy, such a joy as did countervail and swallow up all the grief of his present afflictions.
1. That whatsoever breeds joy is a just matter of thanksgiving; for this is the reason of Paul’s thanksgiving for Philemon--“For we have great joy in thy love.”
2. That joy is a singular and wonderful blessing of God, for which special thanks are due unto him.
3. Observe what that is which must stir us up to thanksgiving, and cause us to perform it in due manner, namely, the feeling of joy in the benefit bestowed upon us.
4. Mark that Paul did not only take joy but comfort in Philemon’s love; comfort presupposeth grief as a medicine, a disease. Therefore Paul gives us to understand that Philemon’s love was a kind of counter poison to the grief which his imprisonment and other afflictions wrought him. Whereby we may learn what is that which will bring ease and comfort to the minds of God’s children in their troubles, namely, the virtue and good carriage of those whom they love and respect. As this will be the comfort of good ministers in their afflictions, if their flocks stand fast in that truth which they have preached.
5. Observe what that is, wherefore we are to take joy in another, viz., his grace. “We have great joy in thy love.” This is that which may justly cause parents to rejoice in their children, one friend and kinsman in another.
II. The confirmation of this reason.
1. Here observe that Paul doth not say he hath joy in his love because his own bowels were refreshed by him, but because the saints’ bowels were refreshed. Many will rejoice in that love which is profitable to themselves; but where is he that will as well rejoice in that love which is profitable only to others?
2. Mark that then as a most seasonable time of rejoicing when we see the bowels of God’s saints refreshed--the Church and people of God relieved in their distresses.
3. In Philemon’s example we are all, according to our power, taught to refresh the bowels of God’s poor distressed saints, if we will show ourselves to have that love which we profess.
1. In speeches of comfort (Psalms 41:1).
2. In commending and remembering their afflicted estate to God in prayer.
3. In the works of liberality, as the need of the afflicted shall require, and our own ability give us leave.
Let us imitate Philemon in refreshing the bowels of the saints, knowing--
1. That God Himself hath pronounced such blessed (Psalms 41:1-13; Matthew 5:1-48).
2. That herein we imitate the Spirit of God (Romans 8:26), whose office it is to comfort the hearts of the afflicted saints.
3. That by the same means we refresh the bowels, not only of the afflicted but also of others, who long to bear the afflictions of their brethren.
4. Yea, not only so, but we shall refresh the bowels of Christ Himself.
5. That hereby we shall enlarge the spirit, not only of the afflicted but of all other good men besides, to whom our love is known, in praying to God for us.
6. That if we reap not this benefit of our love from men who may prove ungrateful and unmindful, yet God is not unjust, that He should forget the about of our love which we have showed towards His name, ministering to the saints (Hebrews 6:1-20). Nay, He will cause it to be as seed, that shall bring us a plentiful harvest of many temporal blessings in this life, and of eternal life itself at the resurrection of the just. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Delight in love manifested by others
He will never want for supplies of joy and consolation who finds a great delight in love manifested by others or enjoyed by them; who, free from envy, takes an exalted pleasure in the gifts and graces of others, and who, ever on the outlook for occasions to be thankful, is willing to regard as mercies to himself what are blessings to others. The vulgar joy of earth would snatch at everything for itself; but the divinely beautiful disposition of being happy in the diffusion of happiness, grows radiant with a sunshine akin to the Divine blessedness itself. If any one go after his own personal joy and comfort with an all-consuming and self-seeking eagerness, he may as well think to get the rainbow by chasing it. To be absorbed in our own private comfort, and pursue it for itself, is to fare like the man who in his foolish over anxiety to catch a delicate creature alive, suddenly puts his foot on it, and finds it just dying when he gets it in his hands. “I had much joy in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother,” as the apostle very touchingly adds, in token of his kindly and fraternal feeling to Philemon, in recalling his acts of benevolence. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee--
Almsgiving--alms, or a work of mercy, is a singular work above others
1. It makes men like God. A bountiful man is the image of God.
2. It is a fair broom that makes all clean (Luke 11:41). As the first fruits in the time of the law did sanctify the rest of the fruit, so alms in the time of the gospel sanctify all unto us; all that we possess are unclean without them.
3. It is an usury approved by God, more gainful than any other usury. “He that hath mercy on the poor lendeth to the Lord,” etc.
4. It is an harbinger that goes before to provide thee a place in heaven (Acts 10:4; 1 Timothy 6:18). Therefore let us refresh the bowels of the saints here, that we may enter into the place of eternal refreshing hereafter. We are too straitlaced; we make this mammon of unrighteousness our enemy, whereas we should make him our friend. Nazianzen’s mother carried such a bountiful mind to the poor, that a sea of wealth could scarce have sufficed her. She was contrary to Solomon’s horse leech, that cried, “Give, give,” namely, to me; she cried, “Give, give, to the poor.” He heard her often say that she and her children should want before the poor should want: we are all for ourselves, our wives and children; nothing for the poor. Amadeus, Duke of Sabandia, being asked whether he kept hounds or not? Yes, says he; come tomorrow, and you shall see them. They being come, he opens a window into his hall, where a great multitude of poor people were dining: these are my dogs, said he, and with them I hope to get eternal life. (W. Jones, D. D.)
I. The proper office of love. Should be exercised towards all, even enemies; but is due in especial manner to “the saints” (Galatians 6:10). Not on any party principle. Due to them--
1. Because dearer to God than others. (Chosen, Ephesians 1:4-6; called, Romans 8:30; begotten, 1 Peter 1:3; heirs, Romans 8:16-17. Hence, 1 John 5:1).
2. Because Christ is more deeply interested in them. Have sought Him, hope in Him, one with Him (Ephesians 5:30; 1 Corinthians 6:17).
3. Because more nearly related to ourselves. Naturally alike, spiritually different (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Corinthians 12:27).
4. Because they are themselves of superior worth (Proverbs 12:26; 2 Peter 1:4; John 14:23). The Lord’s property.
II. Its excellence, when so employed. Paul had a high idea of its excellency, because he felt--
1. How preeminently God was honoured by it. He commands it; it displays His care for saints, and His character; it excites praise to Him (2 Corinthians 9:12-13).
2. How greatly the gospel also was recommended and adorned. Love, in all practical forms, the spirit of the gospel.
3. What extensive benefits accrued from it to the Church.
4. What an evidence it gave of substantial piety in him who possessed it. An evidence to himself (1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:18-19); to others (John 13:35). (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The duty of looking after and relieving the poor
I. It is not enough for us to give good words, or to utter from our mouths good wishes, but we must, in our several places and particular callings, do our utmost endeavour that relief may even be sealed to our poor. It is not enough to give to those that ask and crave the fruit of our liberality, but we must learn to inquire of the wants of the saints, and to search what is their condition. It belongeth unto us, not only to have ears prepared to hear but to have mouths opened, to ask of the welfare of those that are in necessity. We would desire to be so dealt withal ourselves; and therefore let us be so minded toward our brethren. This we see in Abraham: he stayed not till those strangers came into his house, till they desired to be received and have lodging; but be went out of his tent of his own accord, to see whom he could espy, that he might bring them to his house. So did Lot, so dealt all the fathers. Thus did Nehemiah, when he saw some of his brethren that were come from Jerusalem; he asked then concerning the state of the Church, and of the residue of the captivity. We must not always wait till we be entreated and urged to show mercy, but offer it to ourselves to testify the willingness of our hearts. As Christ hath loved us, so let us love one another. There have ever been poor that make not their wants openly known, and are so dejected and rejected of many, that they are ashamed to show their necessity.
II. It reproveth those that do not rightly consider what poor the apostle meaneth, and setteth before us as objects of our compassion. He doth not understand the idle beggar, or sturdy rogue, or vagrant companion, who, not applying himself in any lawful calling, maketh a profession of beggary, and liveth altogether upon the spoil of other men’s goods. Neither doth he mean such manner of persons as are continual haunters of ale houses, spend-alls, carders, dicers. These are excluded and wiped out of the register of the poor saints spoken of in this place, being worse than infidels, and denying the faith. But the apostle pointeth out such unto us, to be holpen and comforted, as it hath pleased God not to bestow so great a portion of worldly blessings upon them, as upon others, as the artificer, the handicraftsman, and day labourer, yet labour diligently.
III. It reproveth such as never open their mouths to know the estate of the poor saints, or to inquire how they fare. Alas! how should they offer their help of their own accord, and open the bowels of pity before they be entreated, that will depart from nothing, but urged and constrained by force of law, or taxation of others? Or how should they extend their compassion to the poor that are absent? It is noted to the great commendation of David, that after the death of Saul, his enemy, he sought not revenge upon his issue and posterity, but did good to his children’s children, and said--“Is there any left of the house of Saul, that I may shew mercy for Jonathan’s sake?” So ought we to seek out the servants of God, and to find out the poor, and to inquire after the distressed saints, and say, Is there any of the poor yet left, to whom we may show mercy for the Lord’s sake? (W. Attersoll.)
Commendation of Philemon’s liberality
How high a commendation is this of Philemon’s bounty, that it afforded joy, not only to those who were relieved by it but also to the apostle who heard of it; that not only the indigent were supported by it in their necessities, but St. Paul also comforted by it in his imprisonment; that the tidings of it were so welcome to the apostle, that they made his chains fit easier upon him, and gave him consolation in his distress; that as the bowels of the saints were refreshed, so also the spirits of the apostle were revived, by the diffusive charity of this his proselyte, whom he might style his son, as having begotten him in Christ Jesus through the gospel, but whom he here styles his brother, that he might not seem to affect a superiority over him, but might place himself on the same level with him. How apt an introduction is this applause, given by St. Paul to Philemon, to that request, which he was now to usher in? Had he been so universally kind to all the faithful, and would not the same good disposition incline him to be kind to St. Paul? Had be by his charity towards the saints gained so great a reputation, and would he forfeit his character by an unkind repulse of the apostle’s request? Had the apostle found so much joy and consolation from the report of his charity towards those who were strangers to St. Paul, and would he not contribute to his pleasure and comfort, by being merciful and kind to Onesimus, for whom the apostle was so nearly and affectionately concerned. (Bp. Smalridge.)
Though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee
Mingled command and entreaty
The balance and propriety of St.
Paul’s language in this place is not always understood. He does not say “I have no right at all to command you,” but “authority I have to command your obedience--not, indeed, of earthly rank, but in the sphere of Christ.” This mingled tone of command and entreaty is the exact reflex of the mingled respect and affection which, in his earliest Epistle, he claims for the ministerial office (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). There are two spirits which have prevailed in the Christian ministry at different times and in different circumstances--the spirit of the heirarch and the spirit of the religious demagogue. St. Paul’s tone here shows that he was too humble for the first, too full of gentle dignity for the second. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Authoritative in Christ
He has no authority in himself, but he has in Christ. His own personality gives him none, but his relation to his Master does. It is a distinct assertion of right to command, and an equally distinct repudiation of any such right, except as derived from his union with Jesus. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Ministers may be bold in the execution of their office.
1. God commands it (Jeremiah 1:17).
2. It is that which they themselves beg by earnest prayers at the hand of God (Acts 4:29-30; Ephesians 6:18-19).
3. The dignity of their office requires it (2 Corinthians 5:20).
4. God’s protection may encourage unto it (Jeremiah 1:18).
5. It procures admiration even with the very enemies (Acts 4:13). (W. Jones, D. D.)
The ministerial office is one of power and authority
1. If we consider the names that are given unto them, and the honourable titles whereby they are called, we shall be moved to confess their calling to be accompanied with power under Christ. If, then, the true ministers of Christ be fathers, shepherds, ambassadors, and captains under Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, their office cannot be without jurisdiction and authority over the people of God committed to their charge.
2. If we consider the fruits and effects that are ascribed in the Word to the ministers of the Word, we shall see that their ministry is joined with authority. They are the means to bring us to the knowledge of Christ, to the bosom of the Church, and to the kingdom of heaven. Their office is to convert sinners and to save souls.
3. There is a cooperation of God and the minister’s office together, and an admirable sympathy between them. If, then, God and the minister do work together, he may lawfully enjoin men to do their duties.
1. (1) It condemneth those that think the ministers proud and presumptuous, and accuse them as saucy and malapert when they command us from the Lord as His ambassadors, and arrest us for our sins as His sergeants. It is their duty not only to teach and admonish, go exhort, and to comfort, but to convince and reprove, to threaten, and to denounce judgments from God against the obstinate and impenitent.
(2) It reproveth those that account the ministers their vassals and slaves, whereas the case of a pastor is not to be made an underling or a block for everyone to insult and tread.
(3) The high excellency of this calling reproveth those that account the office too base and low for them and for their children. Many there are that live by the gospel that are ashamed to preach the gospel.
(4) If it be a calling of such dignity, it reproveth those that run before they be sent, and wait not a lawful calling from God, that they may discharge it afterward with peace of heart and comfort of conscience.
(5) It reproveth such as regard not the censures of the Church inflicted upon evil doers.
2. Seeing boldness to command under Christ belongeth to the office of minister, it teacheth us and putteth us in mind of many good duties; as--
(1) To ask this gift of God, and crave of Him to endue us with the zeal of His glory and other graces of His spirit, that we may speak the Word boldly, as we ought to speak.
(2) It teacheth the ministers not to lose their authority, and so to shame their calling, and their Master that hath put them in their calling, bringing themselves and their ministry under the subjection and slavery of others.
(3) It teacheth the ministers to take heed they abuse not their authority and turn it into tyranny, but employ it unto edification, not to the destruction of the Church, or any member thereof.
(4) It serveth for instruction of the people, that they despise not the ministry of the Word, but alway be ready to hear it with reverence. For wheresoever there is authority in the speaker there should be fear and reverence in the hearer. (W. Attersoll.)
Wise ministerial exhortation
I. Observe, first, in the example of the apostle, that ministers must deal in the mildest and gentlest manner that may be with their hearers, entreating, persuading, exhorting, beseeching, even then when they may lawfully command.
II. Observe, further, in Paul’s example, that sometimes we are to yield of our right, neither always may we do those things which of themselves are lawful and indifferent. Here, then, is condemned the tenacity and temerity of some in the use of that liberty which the Word hath granted them in things indifferent. Their tenacity, that they hold their own stiffly, and will not let go the least part of their right, though the glory of God and good of their brethren do earnestly crave it at their hands. Their temerity, not only that they themselves rush venturously upon all things that in themselves are lawful, not considering whether in regard of some circumstances it may not be unlawful for them, what inconvenience may ensue, what hurt may also arise to the gospel, but also censure and condemn others, who, kept back by Christian wisdom and charity, dare not run with them to the same excessive use of their liberty. Let them remember that Paul, in this place, having much liberty of commanding, yet chose rather to entreat.
III. Observe, thirdly, what it is that will make a Christian abridge himself sometimes of the use of his liberty; namely, the love of God and our brethren. For love’s sake I rather beseech thee. For this is reckoned among the properties of love by the apostle; that it seeketh not her own, but His, whom it loveth. If God’s glory and the Church’s good be dear unto us, we will not use our liberty to the full in those things which may hinder and hurt both. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee
A beautiful specimen of Christian humility and genuine pathos
I might be bold to command thee in Christ’s name, by which I am strong; but thou dost not need any argument derived from my strength: and for love’s sake I rather beseech thee by my own weakness, by my years, and by my chains.
Such language--the language of entreaty--best befits me now in my prison and in my old age. (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)
The entreaty of love
Love naturally beseeches, and does not command. The harsh voice of command is simply the imposition of another’s will, and it belongs to relationships in which the heart has no share. But wherever love is the bond, grace is poured into the lips, and “I order” becomes “I pray.” So that even where the outward form of authority is still kept, as in a parent to young children, there will ever be some endearing word to swathe the harsh imperative in tenderness, like a sword blade wrapped about with wool, lest it should wound. Love tends to obliterate the hard distinction of superior and inferior, which finds its expression in laconic orders and silent obedience. It seeks not for mere compliance with commands, but for oneness of will. Its entreaties are more powerful than imperatives. The lightest wish breathed by loved lips is stronger than all stern injunctions--often, alas I than all laws of duty. The heart is so tuned as only to vibrate to that one tone. The rocking stones, which all the storms of winter may howl round and not move, can be set swinging by a light touch. Una leads the lion in a silken leash. Love controls the wildest nature. Authority is the weapon of a weak man, who is afraid of his own power to get himself obeyed; or of a selfish one, who seeks for mechanical submission rather than for the fealty of willing hearts. Love is the weapon of a strong man, who can cast aside the trappings of superiority, and is never loftier than when he descends, nor more absolute than when he abjures authority and appeals with love to love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Gentle means of persuading men to be used rather than severe
1. We are bound to use those means and to take that course which is most forcible and effectual. But to deal with love, and to handle our brethren kindly and meekly, is most likely to prevail with most men. Therefore the apostle requireth that the Servant of God must not strive, but must be gentle toward all men, apt to teach, suffering the evil, instructing them with meekness that are contrary minded. There is no way so available to bring evil men out of the dangers wherein they stand, who are, as it were, made bondslaves to do the devil’s will, than to allure them by gentleness, to draw them by long suffering, and to overcome them by patience.
2. This course, well and duly observed, serveth to persuade them with whom we deal of our love and tender affection towards them. For loving and friendly dealing argueth loving and affectionate minds, and the ready way to bend and incline him unto that which is good, and to turn him from that which is evil, when his persuasions are perceived to tend to the profit and benefit of him whom we would persuade.
3. We are to imitate our Head and Master, Christ Jesus; He used not His authority and power that was in Him; He dealt not roughly and severely with His enemies, but meekly and mercifully, and most compassionately; lie was meek, and as a lamb before the shearer.
1. We learn that mercy and compassion--yea, all tokens and testimonies of love--are to he showed toward malefactors, even when justice is to be executed and punishment inflicted.
2. Seeing we are to win men rather by gentleness and love, we must acknowledge that great wisdom and discretion is required in the ministry, to divide the Word of God aright, and to be able to apply himself to every degree and calling of men. When the people of God went out to war, the Lord commanded them to offer conditions of peace to that city; if it refuse to make peace, they should besiege it, smite it, and destroy it. So should we, when we execute our office, first offer peace before we proclaim war; first allure by gentleness before we thunder out judgments; first exhort before we threaten. In the material building, all the stones that are to be fitted to the building are not of one nature; some are soft and easy to be fitted and hammered; others more hard and of a flintier marble disposition--they require sharp tools, strong blows, before they can be brought into form, or be squared for that place which they are to hold. So it is with the lively stones of the spiritual temple of God: some have soft hearts of flesh, and are of humble and contrite spirits, like the bruised reed or the smoking flax; others have hearts hard as the adamant, and cannot easily be brought to feel the strokes of the Word of God. These are not to be dealt withal and handled alike, but after a divers manner. This is the counsel of the apostle Jude, “Have compassion of some in putting difference, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, and hate even that garment which is spotted by the flesh.” This serveth to reprove, first, such as use unseasonable lenity when godly severity is required. Some diseases require sharp medicines. Secondly, it reproveth such as are too sharp and vigorous against offenders, and forget all rules of charity toward them. True it is, the pastors and ministers are to rebuke such as are fallen; but when they see sorrow for sin, and repentance from dead works wrought in them, they should begin to raise them up again and comfort them with the precious promises of the gospel, lest they should be overwhelmed with despair and he swallowed up with over-much heaviness.
3. And, last of all, we learn for our obedience, that whensoever entreating, gentle, or loving dealing is used to call men home to God and to themselves, it is their duty to yield themselves and to embrace earnestly the mercies of God offered unto them. The sin of contempt and contumacy is fearful, when the bountifulness of God is despised, His mercies loathed, His patience and long suffering abused. If we will not hear when He crieth to us, we shall cry also in the days of our misery, and He will not hear us in our trouble, but mock at our affliction. (W. Attersoll.)
Love more effective than severity
One winter morning, as the Wind set out on his day’s work, he found the trees loaded with ice. Every tiny twig was bending under an armour many times its weight. The little white lady birches had drooped until their heads touched the ground. A great groan to be delivered went up from all the trees. “This will never do!” cried the Wind; and straightway he went to work with all his might. The branches of the giant elms swung and creaked. The brown, curled leaves still clinging to the oaks were snatched away and went whirling through the air. There was a great rustling in all the wood. But the ice did not move. Still harder the wind blew. And now whole branches came crashing down, until they lay thick on the ground in their glittering winding sheets. But still the ice did not move. At last the Spirit of the Woods came forth, frowning. “Do you call this helping?” cried she. “You are ruining my trees. To get rid of the ice, forsooth, you are breaking off the boughs. Get you gone!” The Wind retired to his cave, and was melancholy all day. He had had a sincere desire to do good, but now he saw that he had only done harm. He shuddered as he thought of the wrecks he had made in his untempered zeal. “What is the use of nay trying to do anything?” he sighed. Many an eager soul has known such hours, when it had thought to add its note of praise to the great chorus, and has only succeeded in making a discord. The next morning the Sun knocked at the door of the cave, and cried, in genial tones, “Come on, friend! I want your help. The trees must be rid of their load. I will shine on them, and then do you gently wave their branches and shake off the loosened ice.” They went forth together, and the Sun shone on the forest. An hour passed. The only visible result was here and there a drop of water from the icy boughs. “We shall never get through at this rate!” panted the Wind. “Gently, friend, gently! All in good time!” replied the Sun. “The ice was a day and a night in forming. Could you hope to get rid of it by one fierce gust? When I get higher in the sky, I can strike the trees more directly with my beams.” After another hour of silent shining, the Sun whispered, “Now, friend, with your wings! But not too violently. See, now, some pieces are falling. Two or three hours of work like this, and our task is done. There is another piece loose.” So the Sun shone on, and the wind from time to time shook down the loosened pieces of ice, and what did not rattle down dissolved in fast-flowing tears under the gentle yet burning eye of the Sun. The birches gradually lifted their pliant forms. The Spirit of the Woods came out with her blessing for the two workers. And that night the Wind returned to his cave humbled but joyous, because he had found the “more excellent way.”
Paul the aged--
The aged Christian
I. In Paul’s circumstances the occupations of the aged Christian.
1. He preaches and teaches.
2. He is full of care for distant Churches.
3. He is tenderly interested in individuals near him.
II. In Paul’s recollections the memories of the aged Christian.
III. In Paul’s anticipations the hopes of the aged Christian.
1. Hope of renewed service on earth.
2. Hope of the victory of the truth on earth.
3. Hope of blessedness in heaven. (U. R. Thomas.)
Paul the aged
We are accustomed to think of Paul the persecutor, the Christian, the missionary, the apostle, the inspired scribe, the sufferer for Christ. Here another and unexpected epithet pictures him to us as “Paul the aged.” The word is from his own pen. Perhaps now he is learning for the first time that his days of mature vigour are past. Manifold labours, perils, trials, have broken him in premature age.
I. Paul wears old age as a crown (see Proverbs 16:31). There is a pleasant story told of Frederick the Great. At a parade of the guard in the King’s apartments at Berlin, Frederick’s quick eye picked out among the splendid crowd the brave old Ziethen, who, though turned eighty-five years, had come to pay his duty to his monarch. Greeting the veteran with a cry of joy, the King called for a chair. Objections were in vain. “Sit down, good father,” said the King. “I will have it so, or I must instantly leave the room.” The old soldier yielded, and Frederick the Great continued standing before him, the centre of the illustrious circle that had gathered around, and so “honoured the face of the old man.” The aged Christian has his peculiar infirmities, but he also has his peculiar joys. To the aged saint come the fullest revelations of God, the most comfortable words of Christ, the sweetest visitations of the Spirit.
II. Paul’s old age had its duties and labours. He does not excuse himself from duty on the ground of age. He will do what he can for Onesimus. He writes for him with a delicacy, a tact, a tenderness, an urgency, such as he himself never surpassed. The aged Christian is still a unit in the host of society, still kindred to some and neighbour and friend to others. And still, however much may be lost, duty remains--duty to himself, to others, and in all to God. Life is lengthened that it may labour for Christ. And is not the old the best workman? The young may attract more attention, but it is the experienced hand that does the most and best.
III. Paul used his age as a plea of love. Where we may command, it is wise to request. Love wins love. Gentleness calls out gentleness.
IV. Paul is “Paul the aged” no more. He has escaped, through death, from all earthly prisons, and is op pressed by old age no longer. He is “with Christ, which is far better.” (G. T. Coster.)
Reverence due to old age
Old men are to be reverenced--
1. For their very age, because they draw nearest to the Ancient of Days (Leviticus 19:32).
2. For their wisdom.
3. For their experience.
4. For their piety (Proverbs 16:31). (W. Jones, D. D.)
The aged minister
I. Review his past history.
1. His character; and how, during this long period, he has conducted himself: what reputation he has spent so many years in building up, and in what estimate he is now held when grey hairs are upon him.
2. His labours. True, his toils are chiefly mental; but who knows not that, on this account, they are the more exhausting and wearing?
3. His usefulness. How many have been impressed by his example, enriched by his beneficence, blessed by his prayers, and instructed by his principles.
4. His trials. Ah, you know a minister’s joys far better than you know his sorrows. You see his sails, but not his ballast. You follow him in his public walks of labour, but not in his Gethsemane retreat, where he goes to pray and agonise alone. He calls you to share his felicities, but he carries his perplexities and his griefs to his closet and his God. Look, then, at the hoary man over whom the clouds of fifty years have rolled. How many storms have burst upon that aged tree, tearing off its branches, stripping off its leaves, and dismantling it in some cases, till little else but the mere trunk and a few boughs remain of all that once umbrageous top. Still, however, the venerable trunk does remain, and there is life in it to the last. How much of Divine power and faithfulness and grace we associate with that sacred antique.
5. His temptations. A minister is the chief mark for Satan’s arrows.
II. Estimate his present claims.
1. He is entitled, if a holy and faithful man, and in proportion to his sanctity and fidelity, to respect and veneration.
2. He is entitled to affection. It is not claimed for what he is in himself, but what he is to his people as their friend and counsellor; in fact, the instrument of their salvation and the promoter of their progressive sanctification.
3. He has a right to expect gratitude.
4. I next mention candour and forbearance as virtues which an aged minister is entitled to expect, and of which, in some cases, by the gathering infirmities of declining years, he will stand in need.
5. And has he not a claim upon your attendance upon his ministry? To desert him when he is old is a poor reward for the more effective services of younger and stronger days.
III. Anticipate his future destiny. Growth, decline, and death, are the law of all life on earth, from which there is no exemption on behalf of the minister of the gospel. The weary, worn out labourer goes to his rest and to his reward; goes to be associated with those who were his hope and joy on earth, and now are to be his crown of rejoicing in the presence of Christ; goes to meet his Maker, and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” (J. A. James.)
A review of life and a glimpse of glory
1. Supposes childhood and the scenes of life already past.
2. Suggests a review of the events of individual life.
3. Reminds us of the infirmities which years witness.
4. Shows Paul to us as an old disciple--not only a man, but a “new man,” a man in Christ.
5. Contains a touching plea.
6. Suggests that the aged Christian has nearly finished his course. (J. S. Pearsall.)
The standard of age
He was, perhaps, sixty, perhaps a few years more. Labour, sorrow, the storms of ocean and the fires of thought, possible sickliness--the sad and solemn maturity which is the portion upon earth of men who believe intensely--had done their work. Roger Bacon wrote “me senem” at fifty-two or fifty-three, and Sir Walter Scott at fifty-five calls himself sadly “an old grey man and aged.” In truth, the standard by which old age is measured is pretty much subjective. At an age about fifteen years earlier than that of St. Paul at this time, Chateaubriand writes, “Deja je n’appartenais plus a ces matins qui se consolent eux-memes--je touchais a ces heures du soir qui ont besoin d’etre consolees.” A different periods of life we adopt a different standard. It was said by Victor Hugo that forty is the old age of youth, and fifty the youth of old age. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Anxieties tell on age
Such a multitude of anxieties and endurances as are recounted in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 must have told upon him and exhausted his manly vigour. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
Christian old age
No more beautiful picture of the bright energy and freshness still possible to the old was ever painted than may be gathered from the apostle’s unconscious sketch of himself. He delighted in having fresh young life about him--Timothy, Titus, Mark, and others--boys in comparison with himself, whom yet he admitted to close intimacy, as some old general might the youths of his staff, warming his old age at the genial flame of their growing energies and unworn hopes. His was a joyful old age, too, notwithstanding many burdens of anxiety and sorrow. We hear the clear song of his gladness ringing through the epistle of joy--that to the Philippians--which, like this, dates from his Roman captivity. A Christian old age should be joyful, and it only will be; for the joys of the natural life burn low when the fuel that fed them is nearly exhausted, and withered hands ave held in vain over the dying embers. But Christ’s joy “remains,” and a Christian old age maybe like the polar midsummer days, when the sun shines till midnight, and dips but for an imperceptible interval ere it rises for the unending day of heaven. Paul the aged was full of interest in the things of the day--no mere “praiser of time none by,” but a strenuous worker, cherishing a quick sympathy and an eager interest, which kept him young to the end. And over his cheery, sympathetic, busy old age there is thrown the light of a great hope, which kindles desire and onward looks in his dim eyes, and parts “such a one as Paul the aged” by a whole universe from the old whose future is dark and their past dreary, whose hope is a phantom and their memory a pang. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ--
Duty enforced by personal consideration
He holds up his fettered wrist, and in effect says, “Surely you will not refuse anything that you can do to wrap a silken softness round the cold, hard iron, especially when you remember for whose sake and by whose will I am bound with this chain.” He thus brings personal motives to reinforce duty which is binding from other and higher considerations. Christ does thus with His servants. He does not simply hold up before us a cold law of duty, but warms it by introducing our personal relation to Him as the main motive for keeping it. Apart from Him, morality can only point to the tables of stone and say, “There! that is what you ought to do. Do it, or face the consequences.” But Christ says, “I have given Myself for you. My will is your law. Will you do it for My sake?” Instead of the chilling, statuesque ideal, as pure as marble and as cold, a Brother stands before us with a heart that beats, a smile on His face, a hand outstretched to help; and His word is, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus
Softened by the entreaty of a friend
This and the previous verse taken together seem to contain two references to the Roman law.
“For the love’s sake I rather beseech--being such an one as Paul, an old man, and, as it is, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, I beseech thee for my son, Onesimus.” We have here a twofold reference--a plea for legal pardon, a hint at emancipation.
1. I beseech--I beseech thee--puts Paul in the position of a formal precator. The law gave the Roman slave one real right. It relented with humane inconsistency upon one point, and one only. For the slave in the Roman Empire the right of asylum did not exist. His only conceivable resource was that he might, in his despair, fly to a friend of his master, not for the purpose of concealment, but of intercession. The owner, who was absolute as far as any formal tribunal was concerned, might be softened by the entreaties of the friend who took upon himself the office of intercessor. The Roman jurisprudence formally declared that the slave in fly ing to a friend of his proprietor with this intention did not incur the enormous guilt of becoming fugitivus. St. Paul, indeed, was unable to appear with Onesimus. But in the emphatic and repeated “beseech,” he seems to declare himself the legal precator.
2. The hint at the emancipation is contained in the recognition of Onesimus by St. Paul as a son of the various forms of manumissio justa, the adoptive stands in the first rank. With the title of son, the rights of domestic and civil life flow in upon the slave, new born into the common family of humanity. May there be a yet further allusion? St. Paul, indeed, hopes to see Philemon again (Philemon 1:22). Yet he may die. In these literally precativa verba (“I beseech,” “I beseech thee,” Philemon 1:9-10), in what may be his last will and testament, he lays upon Philemon, as if his heir, the duty, not only of pardoning, but of giving manumission to the penitent slave. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
The compassion of the gospel
I. How compassionate the Gospel makes a man toward his suffering fellow men. Though the greatest man then alive--far greater than the Emperor of Rome himself--Paul, illustrious in the estimation of all the angels, is trying to do good to a poor runaway slave, whom the pagan Romans looked upon as a mere dog, the like of whom many a Roman master had flogged to death, and then flung into the pond to feed the fish. He acts towards Onesimus as a father; calls him his “son converted in his bonds.” Then notice the prudence and tact with which Paul writes. When a prudent person wishes to convey a piece of painful news to another, he tries to prepare the mind of the hearer for the tidings. For example, when the messenger conveyed to Achilles the news of the death of his beloved friend Patroelus, he used a word which means both to be dead and to be asleep. So if we wanted successfully to plead the cause of a son who had grievously offended his father, we should keep out of sight as long as we could the faults of the son, and mention all we could in his favour. So Paul acts in pleading the cause of Onesimus. In order to induce Philemon to take back Onesimus, he first calls him “his child”; and of course Philemon would respect any one Paul called by so tender a name. He then calls him “his convert”; and of course Philemon would treat with affection any convert of Paul. He then speaks of his conversion during his imprisonment; and then--last--comes his name, “Onesimus.”
II. How mysteriously God often works in the conversion of sinful men. Onesimus was probably born at Colosse, in Asia Minor. There he was in the service of Philemon, and, having robbed his master, he travelled hundreds of miles to Rome, to hide himself from pursuit. Yet there the Lord met him. Perhaps it was the result of the merest accident that he was induced to enter Paul’s humble abode. Perhaps he was in the deepest poverty, and meditated drowning himself in the Tiber, when some Christian person saw him, pitied him, and induced him to listen to that gospel he had often heard and slighted at Colosse. We lately heard of a young man who robbed his master of £10, and from fear of detection escaped to India, The preaching of a missionary was the means of his conversion, and, as soon as possible, he sent to his master threefold the amount stolen, with a full and contrite confession of his guilt.
III. The afflictions of God’s servants need be no barrier to their spiritual usefulness. Paul was a prisoner in Rome when the conversion of Onesimus took place. Martin Luther was called to endure a long and dreary confinement, but during it he produced his marvellous translation of the Bible. Richard Baxter wrote some of his most beautiful works in prison, or at seasons of bodily affliction; and if John Bunyan had not been in Bedford jail, most likely the “Pilgrim’s Progress” would never have been written. Persecutors have tried to trample under foot the piety of the people of God, but, like the aromatic herb, the more it was pressed, the more sweet odours it sent forth. If we have the will we have the power to serve God and benefit our fellow creatures. In health, in sickness, in death, we can alike glorify God and honour Christ.
IV. A faint emblem of the compassion of Christ for human souls. Says Martin Luther, “To my way of thinking, we are all like poor Onesimus, and Christ has come down from heaven to restore us to our Divine Friend and Father.” (Homilist.)
Brotherly regard in the Church
I. We learn from this love appearing in the apostle that the basest person in the Church, truly converted and brought unto Christ, should not be condemned, but most lovingly, tenderly, and brotherly regarded. The least and lowest member that belongeth to God ought not to be rejected and debased, but highly for Christ’s sake to be honoured and respected. Reasons:
1. Those that are least esteemed, and are of lowest condition, were bought with as great and high a price as any others.
2. There is no respect of persons with God.
3. They shall receive with others the same recompense of reward.
1. Seeing we are bound to love the lowest in the Church that belong to Christ, we learn that our affections must be carried most earnestly, and in the greatest measure to those that have the greatest measure of heavenly graces, not regarding riches, or kindred, or outward respects before the other.
2. Seeing every member of Christ must be much esteemed, be he never so mean, it teacheth us not to have the religion of God and the faith of Christ in acceptation of persons.
3. This giveth comfort and contentment to the meanest and smallest of God’s saints, and putteth them in remembrance not to be discomforted and out of heart for their mean calling or for their low estate, for they are nothing the less regarded of God, or to be esteemed of His Church.
II. We learn from this name given unto Onesimus converted to the faith that there ought to be the same affection between the pastor and the people, which is between the Father and the Son. Uses:--
1. Seeing the minister and people ought to love as father and son, it teacheth both of them to cut off all occasions of discord and division and to nourish love and mutual concord one with another. It may be many occasions may arise, which if by wisdom they be not smothered and suppressed in the beginning, they are as little sparks that quickly break out into a flame, and the flame suffered to continue consumeth all things that are near unto it. We must show ourselves ready to bring water to quench this fire. It is a deceitful snare, and wonderful subtilty of Satan to cast matters of dissension between the minister and people that so though the Word be among them, yet that it may by that means be with less fruit and profit with them.
2. These most loving titles applied to the minister and people show the duties required of pastors toward their charge, and teach them to love them as their children, to tender their good, to exhort them to lay up for themselves spiritual riches. Great is the love of parents towards their children., If the child be sick or wayward, they do not cast him out of doors or withdraw their affection from him. Hence it is that Christ when He saw the people scattered abroad, and dispersed here and there as sheep without a Shepherd, “He had compassion upon them, and showed great love toward them.” We see how Christ applieth this to the conscience of Peter, and willeth him to try his love toward Him by feeding His sheep and lambs, thereby assuring him that if he persuaded himself to love Christ Jesus, and yet was not careful to teach His people, he deceived himself and lied to the Holy Ghost, who would find him out in his sin. Seeing the minister and people ought to be as father and son, this showeth the duty of the people that are under their ministry that they regard their ministers as their parents, honouring them, yielding them due recompense, esteeming them as workers together with God, to beget them to Christ, to turn them to salvation. Of our parents we have received only to be, of our ministers we have received to be well. Of our parents we have taken our first birth, of our ministers we have obtained our second birth. Of our parents we have been brought into the world by generation, of our ministers we have been brought into the Church by regeneration. Our first begetting was to death, our second or new life is to life and salvation. By the first birth we are heirs of wrath, by the second we are made the sons of God. (W. Attersoll.)
1. The love which St. Paul felt towards his convert, the yearning desire with which he longed for his good. He overlooked all distinc tions of rank; all that was swallowed up by a deeper bond of sympathy, namely, that St. Paul had been the means of bringing him out of darkness, and of teaching him the gospel of Christ Jesus. I believe there is no union more lasting and true than the spiritual union which exists between those who have done and those who have received good. It is what every clergyman longs for, that he may know that his ministrations have been a blessing to those among whom he ministers. No encouragement, no praise, will compare for a moment with the joy of feeling that he has souls for his hire. No grief is so heavy as the fear of an unblessed ministry, of souls not drawn towards himself, because not drawn by him to Christ Jesus.
2. St. Paul quite foresaw that it might be hard for Philemon to receive back his slave in a forgiving spirit, and to look on him as a brother through faith in Christ, and as an equal in the sight of God. And is not that same difficulty of daily occurrence among us? People always like to keep up the notion of their own superiority over others that they are above, and others below them. And we stand on our rights, and we resent an injury, and we remember a wrong that has been done us, and we should be as likely as Philemon was to speak in disparagement of the change which is said to be wrought in any one who once has done us harm. And here comes up the evidence of a truly Christian spirit. To forgive those who have injured us; to care not for our own, but for another’s wealth; to do to others as we would be done by; to think no evil, to bear no malice, to rejoice in any one’s conversion to Christ; here are the signs of a heart renewed and sanctified by the grace of the Holy Ghost.
3. The words of St. Paul may remind us how careful we ought to be, how much of pains and thought we ought to take about those who are closely connected with us in the affairs of our daily life. Just think of the relations which should exist between masters and servants, between employers and employed. As a matter of fact, how little there is for the most part of mutual interest in each other’s welfare beyond the mere giving and receiving of wages, and the good-natured liking which may exist between the one and the other. How seldom the matter is looked on from a Christian point of view. How seldom the master cares for more than to prevent dishonesty and vice, and to avoid scandal in his house, Is he really anxious about the spiritual welfare of his dependents? Or take the opposite side. For those who go out to service, how little thought is given to any part of the engagement beyond the amount of wages, or the lightness of the work, or the pleasantness of the place. Whether the household be one where God is really served is a less common question. Everything seems to be remembered but the one chief thing of all, the care of the soul. And the same thought may be applied to other relations of life, to parents and children, to acquaintances and neighbours and friends. God allows us to have such relations one to another, but God requires that He should stand first in everything. We cannot be serving God in sincerity and truth; we cannot be fulfilling the charge which God has committed to us, unless we be anxious for others as well as for ourselves, unless we would depart with them from evil, and increase with them in good. And when we heartily desire and pray that others, as well as ourselves, may have God’s highest blessing, we shall find how wonderfully the Lord answers that wish. How strange that the running away of Onesimus from his master should have led to his conversion, and so to his return. But not one whit more strange than are the great results which have come to us all from what seemed the smallest and most unimportant events. A word will change the current of a man’s life, will lead to the awakening of conscience, to the searching for and finding salvation. (H. R. Nevill.)
The courtesy of the gospel
I. The gentle courtesy of the apostle. No Christian ought to be rude or harsh. This letter is a model of true politeness--“a charming and masterly example of Christian love.”
II. The electing love of God. Philemon was a Christian; a Christian minister too; yet the heart of Onesimus, his servant, remains hardened. No doubt his master had given him up. But the Lord had not. The Lord willed not that he should perish.
III. The power of the Gospel. The Holy Ghost brought it home with power to the heart of Onesimus. He saw the evil of sin, the love of Jesus, the worth of his soul.
IV. The value of a Christian servant (Philemon 1:11). Now Onesimus is really a changed man, he will be “profitable” to Philemon. A truly Christian servant will serve his earthly master well, because he serves a Master in heaven. He will work with a good conscience, and prove himself faithful and true.
V. The ground on which St. Paul urges his request (Philemon 1:19). Those who are God’s instruments in bringing others to Jesus ought to get gratitude from their spiritual children. Strange to say, this is almost rare. We warmly thank friends who help us in regard to this world, while spiritual blessings are too often forgotten. (F. Harper, M. A.)
Calvin’s three children all died in infancy. Of the last he wrote to a friend: “The Lord gave me another son, and the Lord hath taken him away; but have I not thousands of children in the faith of Christ?” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
The afterlife of Onesimus
Ignatius mentions an Onesimus as Bishop of Ephesus at the time of his journey to his martyrdom at Rome, and though we must allow an interval of forty-four years between that time and the date of this Epistle, it is at least possible that the converted slave may have risen to that high position. It is suggestive that Ignatius speaks of him in the highest terms as a man of “inexpressible love,” and exhorts all the members of the church to love and honour him, and that he reproduces St. Paul’s allusion to the meaning of his name. “May I,” he says, after naming Onesimus, “have joy or profit of you, if indeed I be worthy of it.” Another Onesimus appears half a century later, as writing to Melito, bishop of Sardis, to urge on him the compilation of a volume of extracts from the Scriptures; and it may, perhaps, be inferred from its occurrence there and elsewhere, in the regions of Asia Minor, that the memory of the Colossian slave had invested the name with a special popularity. (Dean Plumptre.)
Whom I have begotten in my bonds--
Spiritual parentage better than natural
St. Paul, then, was Onesimus’s father--not natural but spiritual; and we are more beholden to our spiritual than to our natural fathers.
1. They beget us of a woman; these of the Church which is the spouse of Christ.
2. They beget us of mortal seed, therefore we die; these of the immortal seed of the Word of God, whereby we live forever.
3. They beget us to a temporal life; these to an eternal.
4. They to the miseries of the world; these to the joys of the world to come. Therefore let us love them, let us have them in singular love for their works’ sake. As Alexander professed he was more beholden to Aristotle than Philip; the one gave him esse, being, the other bene esse, his well-being. Yet this is little considered of. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Eager for usefulness
I. That ministers may love their sons with an unequal love, they may love some more than others, as Christ did John above the rest of the disciples; namely, those in whom they behold a more lively image of Christ, and in the begetting of whom they had greater experience of God’s power and mercy than in others.
II. That the Spirit of God and the Word of God is not bound together with the bodies of the ministers, for both these, namely, the Spirit and Word of God, were now effectual in the prison for Onesimus’s conver sion. The adversaries then must not think that the restraining of the ministers and of the gospel will prove one work. The Earl of Derby’s accusation in the Parliament House against M. Bradford was that he did more hurt (so he spake, calling good evil) by letters and conferences in prison than ever he did when he was abroad by preaching.
III. Paul saying that he begot him in his bonds, hence it is easy to gather that after, by speech had to and fro with him in the prison, he understood in what case he was, he presently wrought upon him, to bring him to a sight of his sin, and so to a godly sorrow for it. By which example ministers must learn that it is their duty, not only in their public meetings to seek men’s conversion by their general preaching to all, but if at any time, by God’s providence, they shall light upon any whom they see miserably to stray out of the ways of God, though it be in private places and companies, as Philip and the Eunuch in journeying, they are by all means possible, no just cause detaining them, to endeavour the conversion even of such, and to do the part of a good Samaritan towards them, whom they find so dangerously wounded by Satan.
IV. But as all ministers are greedily to catch those occasions which God offers for furthering the salvation of their brethren, so especially those who, being imprisoned, are restrained from their public preaching, that so by this means the want of their public sermons may in some measure be supplied. Now, how goodly a thing it is for ministers, even then when they are poorest, to make others rich (2 Corinthians 6:10), and when they are bound and captive, to make others free! (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Preaching in chains
The following incident is related by one of the leading Christians of Russia:--“One of our converts was wrongfully accused of blasphemy for breaking his images. He was sentenced to transportation to Siberia. This involved trudging on foot one thousand miles in chains through the snow. A fellow convert went to see him depart, and to cheer him up as he left his friends and home behind. To his astonishment he found the prisoner full of peace and joy. ‘Thank God,’ said the exiled one, ‘for the privilege of preaching Christ in chains to my fellow prisoners?’ A nobler example of Christian fortitude than this it would be difficult to find in any religious movement.” The effect of persecution generally has been to spread the gospel, and it appears that Russia will be no exception.
Now profitable to thee and to me
A new leaf turned over
The apostle has had but short experience of his convert, but he is quite sure that he is a Christian; and, that being the case, he is as sure that all the bad, black past is buried, and that the new leaf now turned over will be covered with fair writing, not in the least like the blots that were on the former page, and have now been dissolved from off it by the touch of Christ’s blood.
It is a typical instance of the miracles which the gospel wrought as everyday events in its transforming career. Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases. It professes its ability to take the most crooked stick and bring it straight, to flash a new power into the blackest carbon, which will turn it into a diamond. Every duty will be done better by a man if he have the love and grace of Jesus Christ in his heart. New motives are brought into play, new powers are given, new standards of duty are set up. The small tasks become great, and the unwelcome sweet, and the difficult easy, when done for and by Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
St. Paul does not commend Onesimus for being profitable to himself, but to him and Philemon. He that is not good for himself is good for nobody: there our goodness must begin, but it must not stay there; do good to all, so be profitable to all. (W. Jones, D. D.)
The hurtful made profitable by conversion
Philemon might object, “I have found him hurtful; why, then, should I receive into my house as a member of my family that servant which will cause more harm than bring profit? I have had experience of the damage that he hath done me; what homage he will do me I know not.” To this the apostle maketh a double answer--first, by granting, then by correcting that which he hath granted, and both ways by comparing the time past with the time present--the time before he embraced religion with the time of his conversion; as if he should say: “True it is, and I grant he was once unprofitable to thee, for while he was unfaithful to God he could do no faithful service unto thee; but why dost thou urge the time of his ignorance? And why dost thou consider so much what he bath been? For now he has become a new man; he has tasted of the true religion; he hath learned to know God, to know himself, to know thee, and to know me--to know God, his merciful Creator; to know himself, a wretched sinner; to know thee, his loving master; to know me, his spiritual father; whereas in former times he was ignorant of all these. As he regarded not to know God, so he could not regard thy good, but now thou shalt receive a new Onesimus, a new servant, a new man, the same in substance, but renewed in quality, and altered from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. He was not before so profitable, but now thou shalt find him as profitable unto thee as I have found him both diligent and dutiful unto me in my bonds and imprisonment.” (W. Attersoll.)
Altered by conversion
Before he was Onesimus in name, now he is so indeed; before he held the title, now he hath the truth; before thou sawest the shadow, now thou shalt see the substance; thou hast had experience of his unprofitableness, now shalt thou have the benefit of the profit that he bringeth with him; being made a new creature in Christ Jesus. We learn from hence that Christian faith or religion of a man unprofitable maketh him profitable, and of one unfit maketh him fit to every good work. The conversion of men to the true faith worketh the greatest change and alteration that can be, and maketh them good, profitable, and helpful unto others that have been before unjust, injurious, cruel, and hurtful. (W. Attersoll.)
Conversion of heart produces alteration in the life
Where is a right conversion of the heart there is also a true alteration of the life, and where there is an embracing of the true Christian religion there is a change of our conversation.
I. The reasons of this doctrine are evident, and shine as clearly as the sun at noonday.
1. If we consider our natural estate and condition, what we were before our conversion, we shall easily be brought to acknowledge both where and what and whence the change is; for naturally we hate the truth and the professors of the truth.
2. When men are truly converted they will make conscience of hurting; they will abstain from wrongs and injuries; they will be ready to do good to others, to profit others, to walk in all the duties of their callings, and to keep a good conscience toward God and man.
3. True conversion worketh in us the love of God and men, and so maketh us fruitful in all good works; it suffereth us not to be barren and unfruitful, and it subdueth the rage and corruption of our sinful nature.
II. Now let us come to the consideration of the uses, and to the application of the doctrine to ourselves.
1. We see hereby that they are greatly deceived that think true godliness to be unprofitable, and no gain at all to return to the practiser of it. Great is the benefit of true religion, and much is the profit of our conversion. When once we are truly converted we have gotten Christ; He has become ours; we have Him dwelling in us--Him, I say, in whom dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily, who is the Head of the Church, whom to know is eternal life. By Him our bondage is turned into freedom, our beggary into riches, our thraldom into liberty, our death into life. Who is it, then, can be so simple or ignorant to affirm that profession to be without gain and profit that bringeth Christ Jesus with it, in whom all treasures are hid and had?
2. Seeing Christian religion, planted in the heart of a man, maketh him good and helpful to others, who before was unjust and unprofitable, let everyone prove his effectual calling and true conversion by earnest seeking after the good of others, and by a careful abstaining from hurting, troubling, and wronging of others. It is to be chosen as a better thing to suffer than to offer wrong, to receive than to require, to take than to give.
3. Seeing it is the turning of us to God that turneth us to the good of men, it serveth as a notable direction unto us, to teach us that whosoever desireth that such as belong unto him should be profitable and faithful unto him, let him labour to plant godliness in their hearts and to sow the seeds of eternal life in their minds. (W. Attersoll.)
Religion makes us profitable
To render us profitable is the design of religion, and it is easy to see that it must be the effect of it. Religion is social and diffusive. According to our Saviour’s language the possessors of Divine grace are the salt of the earth to keep it from corruption. They are the lights of the world to keep it from darkness; and this light is not to be concealed “under a bushel,” but to be fixed “on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house.” The blessings they enjoy they are to communicate. Divine grace never leaves us as it finds, us. It produces a change the most wonderful and glorious and beneficial. Divine grace destroys those vices by which we are injurious to others. For the best charity I can exercise towards my fellow creatures, says a good man, is to leave off sinning myself. Every company and neighbourhood is the better for us: we are as “a dew from the Lord.” And thus the promise is fulfilled in every child of Abraham by faith: “I will bless thee, and thou shalt be blessing.” Finally, we remark that our being useful does not depend upon our abilities and station. See Onesimus, a slave, profitable even to such men as Philemon and Paul--profitable to “thee and me.” It is with the community as it is with the body (1 Corinthians 12:14-21). Thus we behold, in the world and in the Church, difference of rank, of office, of talents; but there is a connection between the whole, and a dependence arising from it. And from this none are exempted; even “the king is served by the labour of the field.” Every man, whatever be his condition and circumstances, is of some importance in society, and we should labour to impress our minds with this reflection, especially in three cases. Let us remember it when we are in danger of pride and disdain with regard to any of our fellow creatures. Perhaps he is more necessary to you than you are to him. Let us remember it when discouraged from exertion. He that is “not faithful in little” has no reason to believe that he would be “faithful in much.” We should also remember it when we are tempted to do good in unlawful ways. What I mean is this: some suppose that they can only be useful in such a particular station or office, and hence they are ready to leave their present condition to rush into it. But, says the apostle, “Let every man abide in the calling in which he is called of God.” Things are so constituted that if any man wishes to do good he may do it in the circumstances in which he is placed; he has some influence. Let us conclude with two reflections. First, if religion renders people, in all situations, valuable and useful, how deserving is it of encouragement! Let, therefore, all unite to promote it. Secondly, if religion be profitable to others, it is much more so to ourselves. It sanctifies all our mercies. It sweetens all our trials. It teaches us “in whatever state we are therewith to be content.” (W. Jay.)
Being supplied with religious principle and animated with ennobling motives, his life will be pervaded by a new and improved spirit. The man was raised. His service will rise with him. Paul had found it so. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Whom I have sent again
Christianity and slavery
Not many years ago the conscience of England was stirred because the Government of the day sent out a circular instructing captains of men-of-war, on the decks of which fugitive slaves sought asylum, to restore them to their “owners.
” Here an apostle does the same thing--seems to side with the oppressor, and to drive the oppressed from the sole refuge left him, the horns of the very altars. More extraordinary still, here is the fugitive voluntarily going back, travelling all the weary way from Rome to Colosse in order to put his neck once more beneath the yoke. Both men were acting from Christian motives, and thought they were doing a piece of plain Christian duty. Then does Christianity sanction slavery? Certainly not; its principles cut it up by the roots. Historically it is true that as Christianity has grown slavery has withered. But the New Testament never directly condemns it, and by regulating the conduct of Christian masters, and recognising the obligations of Christian slaves, seems to contemplate its continuance, and to be deaf to the sighing of the captives. This attitude was probably not a piece of policy or a matter of calculated wisdom on the part of the apostle. He no doubt saw that the gospel brought a great unity in which all distinctions were merged, and rejoiced in thinking that “in Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free”; but whether he expected the distinction ever to disappear from actual life is less certain. The attitude of the New Testament to slavery is the same as to other unchristian institutions. It brings the leaven and lets it work. That attitude is determined by three great principles. First, the message of Christianity is primarily to individuals, and only secondarily to society. It leaves the units whom it has influenced to influence the mass. Second, it acts on spiritual and moral sentiment, and only afterwards, and consequently on deeds or institutions. Third, it hates violence, and trusts wholly to enlightened conscience. So it meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind. If an evil needs force for its removal, it is not ready for removal. If it has to be pulled up by violence, a bit of the root will certainly be left, and will grow again. The only true way is by slow degrees to create a state of feeling which shall instinctively abhor and cast off the evil. There will be no hubbub and no waste, and the thing once done will be done forever. So has it been with slavery; so will it be with war, and intemperance, and impurity, and the miserable anomalies of our present civilisation. Coming centuries will look back on the obtuseness of the moral perceptions of nineteenth-century Christians in regard to matters of Christian duty which, hidden from us, are sun clear to them, with the same half-amused, half-tragic wonder with which we look back to Jamaica planters or South Carolina rice growers who defended slavery as a missionary institution, and saw no contradiction between their religion and their practice. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Thou therefore receive him--
I. The duty of forgiveness.
1. An imperative gospel demand (Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:21-22; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36; Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; James 2:13). To fail in this is to seek judgment for ourselves.
2. Culture essential to its discharge. This virtue results from experience, trial, exercise. More natural for men to consider themselves ingenious as they are able to detect an injury, and manly as they promptly and energetically resent it. The vengeful spirit among the earliest revelations of childhood. A Child hurts himself in his efforts to walk; incipient revenge on table or chair. Parents often show how little they apprehend the virtue of forgiveness. The spirit of retaliation lives long within us. “Revenge is sweet” has become a hideous proverb. Louis XII said: “Nothing smells so sweet as the dead body of an enemy.” We are supposed to have got beyond that. Yet what is the measure of grace within us?
3. Christian faith is equal to the demand. Intimate fellowship with Christ will “transform by the renewing of the mind.” “Learn of Me,” says Jesus; and “He that doeth His will shall know” (Colossians 3:12-16).
II. The prayer for forgiveness. A model for imitation, whether God or man be approached. Contains--
1. Humble confession. Apostle, for Onesimus, assumes becoming attitude of an offender. But deals more tenderly with the offence than the guilty one himself could do. Apostle shows the part of the wrong-doer as well as of the wronged. On the one hand acknowledgment, which is a manly because a severe duty, as first steps towards moral elevation; on the other pardon, complete and absolute, as proof of sympathy with Christ, and in imitation of His example. Intention of Epistle missed if both obligations be not recognised. Only by confession can it be known that pardon is desired or deserved. Honest avowal to one who knows the Lord will--
(1) Insure success of suit. The spirit that would reprove will be disarmed.
(2) Restrain from future error. Memory of struggle to tell of sin and shame will strengthen in seasons of weakness and peril.
2. Implicit expectation (Philemon 1:21). The whole spirit of the gospel warrants the expectation that wrong frankly confessed will, by him who is subject to the gospel, be freely forgiven. Vindictiveness alien to kingdom of Christ, as darkness to light. Christianity God’s own protest against revenge.
III. The law of forgiveness. The special instance of generous love solicited by apostle was claimed--
1. On the ground of friendship. A true fellowship gives right of mediation.
2. On the stronger ground of Christian relationship. Friendship had sprung from highest and holiest source, and was thereby intensified and glorified. Still more, Paul was the agent in Philemon’s salvation.
3. On the strongest ground of Christ’s will. “In the Lord,” “In Christ Jesus,” appear throughout.
IV. The policy of forgiveness.
1. Each needs it himself. “Who is he that doeth good, and sinneth not?” Our necessity of Divine forbearance prohibits resentment.
2. Our wrong is against God. Customary to measure guilt by the rank of the person injured. Consequences of insolence and wrong not so serious when offered to a private person as when committed against a magistrate. Penalty greater still when the sin is against king. Act may be the same, but punishment gauged by dignity of offended person. How great the grace we claim when we pray “forgive”!
3. Aggravations of sin increase our need. Careful in reference to men, while unrestrained before God, whom we cannot see. These we fear, Him despise! His love despised, His Word, Son, Spirit. As, therefore, forgiveness is desired, forgive. (A. W. Johnson.)
The sinner’s Substitute
I. Generous conduct of the apostle--he pleads for a fugitive.
II. Interesting parallel to this example--our salvation by Christ.
III. Practical remarks.
1. How abundant is the comfort against sin provided for believers in Christ.
2. How much it concerns every soul to be a partaker of Christ’s mercy.
3. How binding is the example of Paul, and the greater example of Christ, upon the Church, to welcome penitents of every class. (Biblical Museum.)
Forgiveness--connection between forgiveness and readiness to forgive
1. Forgiveness makes us ready to forgive.
2. Readiness to forgive inspires us with courage to seek forgiveness.
3. The spirit of forgiveness ever joins the two more closely together. (J. P. Lange.)
He who cannot forgive man cannot find forgiveness with God
1. Because he will not believe in forgiving love.
2. Because he will not act upon its directions. (J. P. Lange.)
In what sense is it true that he who forgives shall be forgiven?
1. His forgiving is not the ground, but the evidence of his forgiveness.
2. His forgiving is an evidence that the forgiveness of God preserves him.
3. His forgiving shows the truth of his testimony, that there is forgiveness. (J. P. Lange.)
The duty of reconciliation
There must be a reconciliation between Christians: all offences must be buried (Colossians 3:12).
1. God offers reconciliation to us; and shall we be so hard-hearted as not to be reconciled one to another?
2. All we do is abominable in the sight of God without it (Matthew 5:23-24). God should be first served, yet He will have His own service to stay till thou be reconciled to thy brother.
3. We can have no assurance of our reconciliation to God without it (Matthew 18:35).
4. We have no certainty of our lives. This night may our souls be taken from us. Jovinian the emperor supped plentifully, and went to bed merrily, yet was taken up dead in the morning; and if death take us before we take another by the hand, as a token of hearty reconciliation, what shall become of us? (Ephesians 4:26). Johannes Eleemosynarius, Archbishop of Alexandria, being angry in the day with Nicetus, a senator, towards night sends this message to him: “My honourable brother, the sun is setting; let there be a setting of our anger, too.” If we do it not within the compass of a day and night, yet let us do it within the compass of our lives; let not our anger be like the fire of the temple, that went not out day nor night. Let our anger be the sting of a bee, that is soon gone; not the sting of a serpent, that tarries long, and sometimes proves fatal. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Count Enzenberg, who was formerly Resident Minister of Hesse in Paris, has in his album of autographs three entries on the subject of forgiveness. M. Guizot has written: “In the course of my long life I have learnt two wise rules: the first to forgive much, the second never to forget.” M. Thiers follows this with: “A little of forgetfulness would not injure the sincerity of the forgiveness.” Below these Prince Bismarck penned the striking words: “I have learnt in my life to forget much, and to make myself much forgiven.”
Forgiveness of others
He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven. (Lord Herbert.)
Reconciliation of brothers
The reconciliation of two brothers, gentlemen of position in Liverpool, was effected by the late Rev. Dr. McNeile as follows:--Although, on account of an unhappy feud which was publicly known, they scarcely recognised each other, yet they both attended Dr. McNeile’s church. He therefore preached on one Communion Sunday on the duty of brotherly reconciliation, taking his text from Matthew 5:23-24. The blessed effect upon the alienated brothers was simultaneous. They remained as if by consent to communicate, and as they advanced from their respective pews towards the Communion table the pastor motioned them into juxtaposition at the rails, and as they knelt side by side he, in silent but expressive action, joined their hands together in the mutual grasp of restored fraternal affection, continuing till they sealed their reconciliation over the memorials of their Lord’s dying love. Their widowed mother rejoiced as only a fond Christian mother could over the reunion of her children.
Mine own bowels--
Paul’s affection for Onesimus
Of course “mine own bowels” is simply the Hebrew way of saying “mine own heart.” We think the one phrase graceful and sentimental, and the other coarse. A Jew did not think so, and it might be difficult to say why he should. It is a mere question of difference in localising certain emotions. Onesimus was a piece of Paul’s very heart, part of himself; the unprofitable slave had wound himself round his affections, and become so dear that to part with him was like cutting his heart out of his bosom. Perhaps some of the virtues, which the servile condition helps to develop in undue proportion, such as docility, light heartedness, serviceableness, had made him a soothing and helpful companion. What a plea that would be with one who loved Paul as well as Philemon did! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christian love for converts
We learn from hence that the love which Christians ought to bear to all the saints, especially to those whom they have been the means to convert, ought to be entire, hearty, earnest, most faithful, and most fervent. It is our duty to love all men, more especially the saints, but most especially such as have been gained to the faith by us. The reasons that may be rendered to uphold this doctrine are many and infallible.
1. For, first, there is great labour employed, long time spent, many means used, and continual care bestowed to convert a soul to God. It is no idle work; it is not brought to pass without much ado.
2. Secondly, by testifying of our love and showing forth the fruits thereof we gather great assurance that we are of the company of the faithful, of the communion of saints, and of the society of them that belong to the truth, when we love unfeignedly those that are of the truth.
3. Lastly, it is the sum of the whole law, and a token and testimony that we make conscience to walk in the ways and commandments of God.
1. This, then, being a virtue so necessary that everyone which belongeth to the Lord Jesus Christ must yield their obedience, even to love the brethren, and show himself a true Christian by showing charity to his neighbour, let us consider the nature and properties of this love, that we may have right and true use of this doctrine.
(1) First, therefore, let us know what brotherly love is. It is a work of God’s Spirit, whereby a man is moved to affect his brother for God’s sake, and to show forth the fruits of this affection.
(2) Secondly, we are to consider the property of this love, how it is to be performed; for, as we have seen the parties who are to be loved, even all, so we must mark the manner how they are to be loved--that is, fervently and earnestly.
(3) Thirdly, we must know the form and manner how we are to love our brethren; to wit, even as ourselves.
2. Seeing this is the love that must be found in us towards the saints, it serveth to meet with many enormities, and to reprove many sins that reign in the world, and are as the forerunners of the full and final ruin thereof.
(1) Our love to others is a cold love; frozen, without heat; dead, without life; barren, without fruit; such as our Saviour speaketh of in the gospel: “Because iniquity shall be increased, the love of many shall be cold.” But our love is hot toward ourselves; we have abundance of self-love, which overfloweth in us, and overcometh true love. This is almost, or for the most part the only love that remaineth in the world in these days, which is the corruption, nay, the bane and poison of true love.
(2) As we see self-love checked and controlled, so they are condemned that place brotherly love in fair words and gentle speeches (and yet many fail in these, and cannot afford them, as if every word of the mouth were worth gold), whereas in such is no sound religion, but a vizor only of holiness. True love must be shown in the fruits, in sustaining, helping, pitying, and relieving those that crave our release and are in necessity.
(3) It reproveth such as give themselves to fraud and deceit, to cruelty and oppression, to subtlety and circumventing their brethren, to lying and using false weights and measures; for if this should be the rule of our love, that it ought to be fervent, we should examine our own hearts whether we would have another man to deceive and oppress us by forgery and falsehood.
3. Seeing all are to be loved, but especially such as have been converted by us, it teacheth us to further their salvation that have been brought into the way by us, and never to forsake them until we have brought them to their journey’s end; for what a vain thing were it to find a man wandering out of his way and going astray from the right path, and when we have brought him back to leave him without further direction? or what an unnatural part were it for a mother to bring forth her child into the world and then to take no more care of it, neither to wash it in water nor to wrap it in swaddling clothes, nor to have any compassion upon it, but to cast it out into the open field. (W. Attersoll.)
In thy stead he might have ministered unto me
What is this ministering
No doubt it is aiding Paul in his ministerial work, or he would not have said, “In thy stead.
” It is scarcely to be supposed that Philemon would have ministered to St. Paul in the capacity of a domestic servant; and if Onesimus was to have ministered to the apostle, it was to supply the absence of Philemon in being St. Paul’s deacon. There must have been something peculiarly thorough in the conversion of Onesimus, that the apostle should so desire him to be near him. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
A ministering friend
There is no need to enlarge on the winning courtesy of these words, so fall of happy confidence in the friend’s disposition, that they could not but evoke the love to which they trusted so completely. Nor need I do more than point their force for the purpose of the whole letter, the procuring a cordial reception for the returning fugitive. So dear had he become, that Paul would like to have kept him. He goes back with a kind of halo round him, now that he is not only a good-for-nothing runaway, but Paul’s friend, and so much prized by him. It would be impossible to do anything but welcome him, bringing such credentials; and yet all this is done with scarcely a word of direct praise, which might have provoked contradiction. One does not know whether the confidence in Onesimus or in Philemon is the dominant note in the harmony, in the preceding clause, he was spoken of as, in some sense, part of the apostle’s very self. In this he is regarded as, in some sense, part of Philemon. So he is a link between them. Paul would have taken his service as if it had been his master’s. Can the master fail to take him as if he were Paul? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The gospel is the common cause, that concerns us all: if any suffer for it, we are bound from the highest to the lowest to assist them with our purses, prayers, and personal presence too if conveniently it may be; yea, though we be never so great personages. Our Saviour Himself washed His disciples’ feet. St. Cyprian writes to the priests and deacons, to provide all things necessary for them that were in prison, wishing that he himself were present with them, readily and willingly he would perform all obsequious duties of love unto them. Helena, the mother of Constantine, when at Jerusalem herself served meat to the virgins there. Placilla, the wife of Theodosius the Emperor, ministered to the poor in her own person; and Philemon himself should have ministered unto St. Paul. The angels minister to us, yea, when we be in prison, as to St. Peter; and shall we scorn, be we never so wealthy, worshipful, honourable, to minister to them that are in bonds for the gospel? Let us count it an honour to us. In ministering to them we minister to Christ, and He will reward it. (W. Jones, D. D.)
A welcome service
I. The apostle intimateth his desire to have retained Onesimus with him, and that he was loath to suffer him to depart from him: which declareth that the presence of those that are dear unto us in Christ is welcome, pleasant, comfortable, and much set by, and we greatly desire to keep them continually with us. For as love is the knot of conjunction that bindeth us together, though we be absent and far severed one from another, so it craveth and requireth the bodily presence of those whom we entirely love, which howsoever we cannot obtain in this life, forasmuch as our earthly affairs will not suffer it, yet we shall be sure to enjoy it perpetually and without end in the life to come, when we shall have the greatest joy and comfort one in another that can be wished or desired; such as the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.
II. Note with me the end why he desired to retain Onesimus with him, that the servant might do service to him in the master’s stead. The end, then, is the ministry and attendance which Paul might of duty require of Philemon himself. If then the master be bound to do his service, and wait upon the apostle, much more the servant! Whereby we may note how great right and jurisdiction he that hath gained a man in Christ hath over him whom he hath gained, so that he may challenge not only one of his servants, but himself to minister unto him, and to help him in temporal and transitory things. For he that hath received spiritual blessings cannot without great unthankfulness deny corporal benefits, so that it cannot be expressed how well he hath deserved of that person whom he hath won by the Word of God. “And delivered him by his ministry from the power of darkness, and translated him into the kingdom of His dear Son.”
III. We may observe in the apostle’s correcting of his former grant, that as he is commended that doth his duty that is required of him, freely and willingly, so he is worthy to be praised and commended, that doth not go about to wring and wrest a benefit against a man’s will, though it be due debt and a bounden duty, but laboureth by all means, that it may be voluntary, and not upon necessity; for hereby it cometh to pass oftentimes, that he not only getteth a benefit, but winneth his heart and good will that giveth it, and many times it falleth out that the mind of the giver is more to be respected than the gift itself, as we see in the poor widow mentioned in the gospel, who casting into the treasury two mites, is said to have given of her penury more than all the rich men that bestowed of their superfluity. (W. Attersoll.)
Ministering to the saints
I. Whatever gifts are bestowed upon us, to this end they are bestowed to profit withal, to help one another, and to edify that body whereof we are members.
II. It is our duty to follow the example of our Lord and Master Christ Jesus, He came to serve, not to he served: to minister, not to he ministered unto: to redeem, not to rule.
III. True religion consisteth in ministering to the saints, in helping and succouring of the poor, in employing himself to the good of others, as a candle that spendeth and wasteth itself to give light to them that are in the house. It consisteth not in bare knowledge, but in practice; not in an idle faith, but in the fruits of love. Uses:
1. This serveth to reprove those that have forgotten all true service to the faithful. Many there are that have no feeling of the troubles that fall upon the servants of God. Their eyes are closed, and their hearts are hardened; they have no bowels of compassion to minister unto them, they have no hands open to relieve them. The rich of our Churches, who have this world’s goods given unto them, are either in their unsatiable desires poor, wrongfully getting, miserably keeping, unconscionably scraping, and unjustly pulling from others without mean or measure; or else they spend their wealth and consume their substance, some in sumptuous apparel, others in excessive feastings, others in worse uses, all being unnecessary and fruitless things, unprofitable for the Church or commonwealth, so that little can be spared for the poor saints, and that which is spared is as hardly drawn from them as a piece of flesh out of their sides. These men never think of doing service to others, but of serving their own turns and commodities, which ought not so to be among them that profess Christ Jesus, who served not Himself.
2. Seeing we are servants to all, to help them by all the means we can, by comfort or counsel, by word or deed, by our wealth or authority, or whatsoever God shall enable us; from hence ariseth a great comfort unto a man’s conscience, and an assurance of his peace and acceptation with God, to pray unto Him with comfort for His graces, not doubting to obtain them, if we have been serviceable and comfortable unto others, especially to the servants of God, that are as dear to Him as the apple of His eye. It is a means of excellent joy and peace to a man, to consider that he hath employed all the good things he hath to the use of God’s house and His household servants, for when any common danger shall fall, or he find anguish and affliction of conscience for sin, he may be assured of comfort, seeing God hath wrought this sincerity, and set it as a seal of His mercy in his heart.
3. Seeing God requireth of all true Christians, of what condition soever they be, according to the means afforded unto them, to use their gifts, their power, their possessions, and whatsoever benefits they have received, to use them to the comfort and service of God’s saints, it kindleth the affections of God’s people to bless and praise God for them, to speak well of them, to pray unto God for them, and to obtain greater blessings for them than they have bestowed. Thus they that do good to the Church do good to themselves; they that give much unto them do receive more themselves, and such as have been helpful and serviceable to God’s people, shall find them as their remembrancers to God, who will not forget the labour of their love, and the duty of their service.
4. Seeing God requireth service to His Church at our hands to do all good to them by all good means, it is our duty to inquire and learn the estate of the distressed Church, that we may know and be informed where and when and how it is afflicted. This is one misery of the faithful, that men do not regard them when they are in misery. The Lord hath determined that there shall be always some objects offered unto us and set before us to exercise the fruits of our faith and love. (W. Attersoll.)
Without thy mind would I do nothing--This final resolution was, no doubt, the result of several motives.
1. To harbour and detain a slave, who applied to him to become a precator, beyond a limited period, would have been distinctly to violate the Roman law.
2. The apostle might have seemed to inflict a pecuniary loss upon Philemon by depriving him of a “chattel personal,” and morally constraining him to put up with the loss by imposing a severe strain upon the bonds of friendship.
3. Onesimus, in the depth and reality of his repentance, saw the duty of returning. What truer piece of restitution was ever made?
4. St. Paul was peculiarly “sensitive” as to the scandal which the Church might occasion, if slaves received encouragement to become fugitives. See Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Servants not to be detained from their masters
Servants must not be detained without their masters’ liking. Eustathius, Bishop of Armenia, was deposed from his see because under a colour of piety he had taken servants from their masters. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Jerome from this passage justly deduces as a conclusion that St. Paul held the principle that nothing in moral action is good which is not voluntary. He applies it to the solution of the question which has been so often asked--“Why God did not make men absolutely good?” God might have made man good without man’s will. But, had He done so, the good would not have been voluntary, but necessary. But what is necessarily good is not good in the highest sense, and is even relatively and in another point of view evil. Therefore, in leaving us to our own free will, He made us more truly after His image and likeness.
Freedom essential to virtue
Freedom is essential to virtue. If a man “could not help it” there is neither praise nor blame due. That freedom Christianity honours and respects. So in reference to the offer of the gospel blessings, men are not forced to accept them, but appealed to, and can turn deaf ears to the pleading voice, “Why will ye die?” Sorrows and sins and miseries without end continue, and the gospel is rejected, and lives of wretched godlessness lived, and a dark future pulled down on the rejecters’ heads, and all because God knows that these things are better than that men should be forced into goodness, which indeed would cease to be goodness if they were. For nothing is good but the free turning of the will to goodness, and nothing bad but its aversion therefrom. The same solemn regard for the freedom of the individual and low estimate of the worth of constrained service influence the whole aspect of Christian ethics. Christ wants no pressed men in His army. “Must” is not in the Christian vocabulary, except as expressing the sweet constraint which bows the will of him who loves to harmony, which is joy, with the will of Him who is loved. Christ takes no offerings which the giver is not glad to render. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
It is a received axiom--That which is good of necessity, is not good, yet this is to be understood of a coacted necessity, not of a voluntary. God is necessarily, yet willingly, good. Death comes necessarily upon all; yet some die willingly. But the good which is done upon a constrained necessity, loses the name of good: patience perforce is no patience. A willing mind in a good action is all in all. If Solomon had not willingly built the temple, it had not been pleasing to God; if the centurion had not willingly set up the synagogue, God would not have respected it; if the woman of Shunem had not willingly entertained the prophet, it had been no good work in the sight of God; if Dorcas had not made the coats willingly, they had not been acceptable to God. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Spontaneity in goodness
I. A preference with respect to goodness. Paul was anxious not simply about the pardon of Onesimus, but as to--
1. The moral quality of the action of Philemon. Spontaneousness is an element of the highest goodness. The necessity which dictates to the Christian should be from within rather than from without.
2. The principle it was to illustrate. That Christianity is not a mere adjustment of external relations, but a spirit which interpenetrates and transfigures all.
3. Its spiritual effect upon the age. It has a greater effect upon the receiver, and upon onlookers, when a good deed is perceived to be spon taneous and not due to the influence of another.
II. A spirit of consideration for the freedom and individual responsibility of a fellow Christian. St. Paul’s behaviour throughout this episode is an example to us all of the courtesies that ought to soften and dignify the general relations of life; but of greater value is its suggestiveness in the spiritual sphere. It teaches us--
1. To do justice to the spiritual life of others.
2. To respect the diverse operation of the One Spirit.
3. To maintain a confident faith in the promptings of Christian principle. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
Willinghood in service
1. Seeing no man must perform any holy duty to God or man upon compulsion, or against his will, but with all his mind and might, we learn that every action or duty is accounted of by God, not according to the greatness of the worker, or outward show of the work, but according to the will and affection of the doer; it is the manner of doing that God more accepteth than the action or deed itself. A child in his obedience to his father is esteemed for his reverent, loving, obedient, and dutiful heart, and not for the greatness or worthiness of his work. For what can he do when he hath endeavoured to the utmost to pleasure his father? So it is with us, when we have done all that we can, we must confess we have been unprofitable servants, and therefore God more respecteth the intention than the action, the workman than the work, the affection than the effect.
2. Seeing only that duty which is done freely and not by compulsion deserveth due commendation, this reproveth all those things that are done upon wrong grounds and evil foundations. It is not enough to do a good thing, but we must do it well; it is not sufficient to do those things that are godly, but we must do them in a godly manner.
3. This confuteth those who ascribe all to the work done, and regard nothing at all either the mind of the doer or the manner of doing. Outward observations of religion will deceive us if we rest upon them and put our trust in them. If we perform a worship to God without the heart, we dishonour God, we deceive our own souls, and we increase our condemnation. We must make the house of God a paradise, or place of pleasure; we must make His word our meat and drink, and our continual hearing must be a daily refreshing unto our souls.
4. Seeing all Christian duties must be performed of us willingly, we are hereby guided and directed in our obedience, that we are not to hinder the necessary duties of Christianity belonging unto us by objecting fleshly reasons, as it were laying stumbling blocks in our own ways, to keep us back from a willing, free, and cheerful going forward in the works of our calling, and in the parts of God’s worship. (W. Attersoll.)
The word is used to express every degree of contingency from the faintest possibility to the highest probability.
Two reasons may underlie the peculiar timidity and hesitation implied.
1. This “departure” might have been allowed with a view to a higher good. This case might have been like Joseph’s (Genesis 45:5). Certainly a beginning which appeared so unpromising looked like the very path that had led to happiness. Had not Onesimus fled from Philemon, he would not have arrived in Rome, nor have found St. Paul. Had not Paul been imprisoned, Onesimus would never have believed, or been baptized, or become a minister of Christ--perhaps a bishop and martyr. Taking the two extreme points of the story, add connecting them together, it might be said, Onesimus became a minister of the gospel, because he fled from his master. St. Paul softens the sentence by the words, “it may be,” because the judgments of God are hidden, and it is culpably rash to pronounce certainly on that which must be doubtful for creatures like ourselves.
2. If he had not so qualified his statement, slaves might have appealed with too much readiness to the example of Onesimus. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Paul will not be too sure of what God means by such and such a thing, as some of us are wont to be, as if we had been sworn of God’s privy council. “Perhaps,” is one of the hardest words for minds of a certain class to say; but in regard to all such subjects, and to many more, it is the motto of the wise man, and the shibboleth which sifts out the patient, modest lovers of truth from rash theorists and precipitate dogmatisers. Impatience of uncertainty is a moral fault which mars many an intellectual process; and its evil effects are nowhere more visible than in the field of theology. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Uncertainties. God often allows us no more than a “perhaps”; and for a time does not give us the slightest indication in any direction of what good turn our trial is to take. And it is wonderful of what use this “perhaps,” with its uncertainty, is to the believer. While he is saying “perhaps this,” or “perhaps that,” his mind wanders away far afield, seeing how a blessing may come from this unlikely quarter or from that, and how his trouble may link in with one thing and another, until he gets up from his thoughts full of wonder at what God’s resources are, and full of happiness at the thought that he is within such reach of blessing, and that it can travel to him by such hundreds of hitherto unknown ways. The very uncertainty which is so harassing to the natural man is educational to the believer; he is taught to look out for God in all possible directions; the very uncertainty prevents his trying to fix God to this mode of action, or to that. The “perhaps” of the believer never dies; when it sees one door plainly closed, it immediately opens another; that is its very nature.
1. Separations are to be traced farther back than what we call the accidental circumstances which apparently have caused them. It is soul teaching, and soul strengthening, when we discern that things are “of the Lord.”
2. We have God deep in the background of trial for good, if we by our waywardness hinder Him not. The loss for a season to Philemon of the services of Onesimus was great; but it was to be met by a greater gain. The bringing of good out of evil is the prerogative of God. He permits the evil, to produce the good.
3. Here there seems to meet us, also, a working of what might almost be said to be a law of God’s dealing with us in our present fallen state, viz., that loss must precede gain; that seed corn must die, before harvest corn can be reaped.
III. Restorations. If we could but introduce those words “forever” in their deep meaning into our trials--into the decision as to the course of action we would pursue--into the results which naturally belong to them, how differently would things be often done from the way in which they are now. Let us apply the “forever” to earth’s great things to make them small, and to Christ’s small things to make them great. The tears which at the most we can shed are but few--the watercourse of a cheek is short; but who can tell the depth of the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal; or, whither flows that stream, concerning which all that we are told is this--“that it proceedeth out of the throne of the Lamb.” It is through temporary losses that we, if we yield ourselves to their teaching and power, pass to eternal gains. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
The runaway slave sent back
I. “Perhaps he therefore departed,” etc. Wonderful dealings of God in providence--ordering all, overruling even faults. Onesimus had done wrong; yet God, instead of giving him up to the consequences, in mercy overruled all for good; led him to Rome; brought under Paul’s teaching, where converted. Doubtless he had suffered hardships and want. Humbled thus perhaps. Thus often. Chastisement, suffering; yet good at last. Even faults often overruled. Some in prison for crime have there learnt the way of salvation. Wild young man enlists, sent abroad, there learns “the way.” Boy goes to sea, endures hardship, brought to repentance. The “therefore” runs through all.
II. Observe how confidently Paul asks Philemon to forgive. Could he have done so, unless Philemon had been a Christian? No. Little hope of mercy otherwise. Nothing would have been thought too heavy punishment for dishonest runaway slave. What change the gospel makes! Thankful for it even in this view. Thankful to be born and live under it. Paul, we may be sure, appealed not in vain. Onesimus forgiven and restored. All past forgotten. Of all the fruits of the gospel, none more striking or peculiar than forgiveness of injuries.
III. But more than forgiveness was expected of him, and doubtless not in vain. He and Onesimus now, not merely master and servant, but fellow Christians, brethren. Surely he would be a slave no more!
1. This is such forgiveness as we receive, returning and confessing. Not bare pardon, but rich and full blessing too. Made free; made happy. Servants, yet children too. All in Christ
2. Such also the forgiveness we should practise. Not grudging, but bountiful, generous. And every Christian we should treat as a brother. (F. Bourdillon, M. A.)
Departed for a season--
Sin not to be exaggerated
He does not say, “Perhaps he therefore ran away”; he uses a word of better report: he “departed,” was separated from thee, by the permissive hand of God’s providence. After men have repented of their sins, we must not aggravate, but in some measure extenuate them. Not “Noah’s drunkenness,” but “Noah’s unadvised drinking”; Not “David’s adultery,” but “the matter of Uriah”; not “Peter’s apostasy,” but “Peter’s denial”; not “Onesimus’ running away,” but “departing.” Before they be humbled, we must be as trumpeters to waken them out of their sins; after that, we must be as nurses to cherish them: before corazives, after lenitives: before, we must come with the law as a schoolmaster to whip them; after, with the gospel to comfort them; before, we must be Boanerges, sons of thunder; after, Barnabases, sons of consolation. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Philemon and Onesimus
I. What sort of results St. Paul expected to flow from the reconciling and combining power of the Christian faith. Certainly slavery was repugnant to the spirit of Christianity, to the spirit of Him who had vindicated the rights of our human nature, and who had indefinitely enhanced its dignity by taking that nature upon Him at His incarnation. But the business of the apostles was of a higher and of a Diviner sort then that of inaugurating a violent social revolution. The revolt of Sparticus with all that had followed was still fresh in the memory of the world, and the apostles addressed themselves to the practical task of lodging the Christian faith and life in the minds and hearts of masters and slaves alike, confident that in time that faith would act as a powerful solvent upon the institution, by eating out its very spirit. The Christian master would feel that the slave was certainly as a man his equal, and possibly in the kingdom of the Redeemer his superior, and that he too, the while, had a Master in heaven. And the Christian slave would feel that the circumstances of this life mattered little if, through the Divine redemption, he were secure for the next; and he would see in his master’s will, wherever he could, nothing less than the will of God. The apostles, then, would not anticipate the slow but certain action of the Christian principles upon society, the infiltration of the Christian spirit into the Imperial codes; the gradual legislation of the great Catholic councils; the work which, too long delayed, is associated in our latter days with the honoured names of Wilberforce and Clarkson. When Philemon received Onesimus, a great Christian enterprise of reconciling classes had indeed begun. What are we doing to further it?
II. How entirely, for the time being, St. Paul’s interest is concentrated on a single soul. He writes just as though there was no person in the world to think about except Onesimus, add relatively to Onesimus his master Philemon. Now, here is a lesson which is much needed, it seems, in our day. Our fashion is to think and speak of religion as an abstract influence, to forget that to be worth anything it must be a power reigning in the individual life. We talk grandly and vaguely about the tendencies of the age, about the dangers of the age, about the modern spirit, about a number of fine abstract phrases and conceptions, which just slightly, each one of them, stimulate the imagination, and which exact no sacrifice whatever from the will. We utter or we listen to these imposing abstractions at a public meeting, and we forget that they mean nothing--nothing whatever--apart from the life and experience of each separate soul. They are creations of our own thought; but souls, they are independent realities. The soul is there, whether we think about it or not. All the real good that is to be done in the Church or in the world must begin with individual characters, with single souls. Phrases die away upon the breeze--souls remain. They remain in their ignorance, in their perplexity, in their sorrows. They remain awaiting death, awaiting eternity. Many a teacher of two or three children, of a few pupils, who seem dull and irresponsive, and little likely to do their instructor credit--many a teacher is often tempted to wish that he had what is called a larger sphere of action, where he might control great issues, and become a leader or a fashioner of the thought of the lime. If any such one hears me, let him think of Paul, the aged apostle of the nations, working away as the dreary hours passed, working away on the dull brain and on the sluggish affections of the slave Onesimus. The world, it has been well said, is not saved by abstract ideas, however brilliant. The world is saved by the courageous individualising efforts of Christian love.
III. How a Christian should look at the events of life, at the commonplace and trivial events, as well as those which appear to be striking and important. Every such event has a purpose, whether we can trace it or not. It is a purpose which will be made plain in the eternal world, in the mysterious state of existence which awaits every one of us when we have passed the gate of death. To St. Paul, the future life was just as certain as the shining of the sun in the heavens, and therefore he writes quite naturally to Philemon: “Perhaps Onesimus was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou mightest receive him forever.” And yet observe the “perhaps”! St. Paul will not encourage us in a rash and presumptuous confidence when we endeavour to interpret in detail God’s providences in this life by the light of the next. We may conjecture that such and such an event is permitted for such and such an end, which will be agreeable to the known will and attributes of God; we cannot know that it is so. Some well-meaning, but unthinking people, undertake to interpret a human life, just as they undertake the Revelation of St. John, with an easy reliance on their own insight, which nothing but ignorance of the real difficulties of the subject can possibly explain. St. Paul saw as far as most men into the purposes of God, and yet, when he would interpret God’s purpose in respect of a given human life, he reverently adds “Perhaps”--“Perhaps he therefore was parted from thee for a season, that thou mightest receive him forever.” St. Paul describes what took place, but in his own religious language. Onesimus had robbed Philemon and had fled from justice: St. Paul says, “He was parted from thee for a time.” St. Paul sees a higher hand in what seemed to be only the act of Onesimus. If Onesimus robbed and fled from his master, God permitted him to do so, and this permission we are told was probably given in order to bring about the conversion of Onesimus to the Christian faith and his reunion with his master Philemon, first in this life at Colosse, and then forever in the life everlasting. Now, what is here remarkable is that even the misconduct of Onesimus seems to have been, according to St. Paul, permitted for a purpose which would be made plain in the future life. God knew what he was doing in permitting the misconduct of Onesimus. It was for Philemon to forget the petty and personal aspects of the case, to recognise God’s hand and mind in it; to throw his thought upward and forward from the present to the future; upward from the lower world of sense and time, to the mighty world, with its immense proportions, of eternity. Observe this is a rule of thought. It is not for us men a rule of action. Never are we authorised to do evil that good may come, though we are bound to extract all the good we can out of the evil that may be done by others; and to trace God’s hand in bringing good out of evil which He permits His creatures to work. (Canon Liddon.)
The story of a runaway slave
I. Look at Onesimus as an instance of Divine grace.
1. In his election. Were there no free men, that God must elect a slave? Were there no faithful servants, that He must choose one who had embezzled his master’s money? Were there none of the educated and polite, that He must needs look upon a barbarian? Were there none among the moral and the excellent, that infinite love should fix itself upon this degraded being, who was now mixed up with the very scum of society? “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” rolls like thunder alike from the cross of Calvary and from the mount of Sinai. The Lord is a Sovereign, and doeth as He pleases. Let us admire that marvellous electing love which selected such a one as Onesimus!
2. In his conversion. Look at him! How unlikely he appears to become convert. He is an Asiatic slave of about the same grade as an ordinary Lascar, or heathen Chinee. He was, however, worse than the ordinary Lascar, who is certainly free, and probably an honest man, if he is nothing else. This man had been dishonest, and he was daring withal, for after taking his master’s property he was bold enough to make a long journey, from Colosse to Rome. Some of us, I have no doubt, are quite as wonderful instances of Divine election and effectual calling as Onesimus was. Let us, therefore, record the lovingkindness of the Lord, and let us say to ourselves, “Christ shall have the glory of it. The Lord hath done it; and unto the Lord be honour, world without end.”
3. The grace of God was conspicuous in the character which it wrought in Onesimus upon his conversion, for he appears to have been helpful, useful, and profitable. So Paul says. What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they are rightly bottomed, we wish good success; for whatever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed. But mark this word--the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a renewed nature. The lowest strata of society will never be brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by Jesus Christ and His gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. A very interesting instance of sin overruled. The Lord must have Onesimus in Rome to hear Paul, and the sin of Onesimus, though perfectly voluntary on his part, so that God had no hand in it, is yet overruled by a mysterious providence to bring him where the gospel shall be blest to his soul. Now, I want to speak to some of you Christian people about this matter. Have you a son who has left home? Is he a wilful, wayward young man, who has gone away because he could not bear the restraints of a Christian family? It is a sad thing it should be so, but do not despond. You do not know where he is, but God does; and you cannot follow him, but the Spirit of God can. Many a sailor boy has been wild, reckless, Godless, Christless, and at last has got into a foreign hospital. Ah, if his mother knew that he was down with the yellow fever, how sad her mind would be, for she would conclude that her dear son will die away at Havannah or somewhere, and never come home again. But it is just in that hospital that God means to meet with him. A sailor writes to me something like that. He says, “My mother asked me to read a chapter every day, but I never did. I got into the hospital at Havannah, and, when I lay there, there was a man near to me who was dying, and he died one night; but before he died he said to me, ‘Mate, could you come here? I want to speak to you. I have got something that is very precious to me here. I was a wild fellow, but reading this packet of sermons has brought me to the Saviour, and I am dying with a good hope through grace. Now, when I am dead and gone, will you take these sermons and read them, and may God bless them to you. And will you write a letter to the man that preached and printed those sermons, to tell him that God blessed them to my conversion, and that I hope He will bless them to yourself?’” It was a packet of my sermons, and God did bless them to that young man who, I have no doubt whatever, went to that hospital because there a man who had been brought to Christ would hand to him the words which God had blessed to himself and would bless to his friend. You do not know, dear mother, you do not know. The worst thing that can happen to a young man is sometimes the best thing that can happen to him.
III. Our text may be viewed as an example of relations improved. “He therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever; not now as a servant, but a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee?” You know we are a long while learning great truths. Perhaps Philemon had not quite found out that it was wrong for him to have a slave. Some men who were very good in their time did not know it. John Newton did not know that he was doing wrong in the slave trade, and George Whitfield, when he left slaves to the orphanage at Savannah, which had been willed to him, did not think for a moment that he was doing anything more than if he had been dealing with horses, or gold and silver. Public sentiment was not enlightened, although the gospel has always struck at the very root of slavery. The essence of the gospel is that we are to do to others as we would that others should do to us, and nobody would wish to be another man’s slave, and therefore he has no right to have another man as his slave. Perhaps, when Onesimus ran away and came back again, this letter of Paul may have opened Philemon’s eyes a little as to his own position. No doubt he may have been an excellent master, and have trusted his servant, and not treated him as a slave at all, but perhaps he had not regarded him as a brother; and now Onesimus has come back he will be a better servant, but Philemon will be a better master, and a slave holder no longer. He will regard his former servant as a brother in Christ. Now, this is what the grace of God does when it comes into a family. It does not alter the relations; it does not give the child a right to be pert, and forget that he is to be obedient to his parents; it does not give the father a right to lord it over his children without wisdom and love, for it tells him that he is not to provoke his children to anger, lest they be discouraged; it does not give the servant the right to be a master, neither does it take away from the master his position, or allow him to exaggerate his authority, but all round it softens and sweetens. Rowland Hill used to say that he would not give a halfpenny for a man’s piety if his dog and his cat were not better off after he was converted. There was much weight in that remark. Everything in the house goes better when grace oils the wheels. The mistress is, perhaps, rather sharp, quick, tart; well, she gets a little sugar into her constitution when she receives the grace of God. The servant may be apt to loiter, be late up of a morning, very slovenly, fond of a gossip at the door; but, if she is truly converted, all that kind of thing ends. She is conscientious, and attends to her duty as she ought. The master, perhaps--well, he is the master, and you know it. But when he is a truly Christian man--he has a gentleness, a suavity, a considerateness about him. The husband is the head of the wife, but when renewed by grace he is not at all the head of the wife as some husbands are. The wife also keeps her place, and seeks, by all gentleness and wisdom to make the house as happy as she can. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A runaway converted
Some years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he found what he wanted. At last he brought out a letter that was well nigh worn to pieces, and he said, “God Almighty bless you! God Almighty bless you!” And I said, “Friend, what is it?” He said, “I had a son. I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell where he went, only he said he was going to America. He took a ticket to sail for America from the London docks, but he did not go on the particular day that he expected.” This aged minister bade me read the letter, and I read it, and it was like this: Father, I am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God, I have found the Saviour. I have joined the Church of God here, and hope to spend my life in God’s service. It happened thus: I did not sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle to see what it was like, and God met with me. Mr. Spurgeon said, ‘Perhaps there is a runaway son here. The Lord call him by His grace.’ And he did.” “Now,” said he, as he folded up the letter and put it into his pocket, “that son of mine is dead, and he is in heaven, and I love you, and I shall do so as long as I live, because you were the means of bringing him to Christ.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The providence of God in human life
The great idea underlying the present turn of thought is, that in every event of life, good or bad, God has not only an interest, but a meaning or purpose through it, all His own. There is not merely a general superintendence of Providence over the affairs of men, but a Providential agency at work in the very midst of them. Very different, no doubt, is the Divine agency from the human, with which it mysteriously mingles. Not more distinct is the Lord of all from the works of His own hands, than is His providential government distinct from what it regulates; yet moving freely in the midst of His creation, He no less freely interlaces human agencies with His own. Man’s history, in short, is not the mere sum of his own thoughts and doings, any more than the well-compacted web is the mere sum of the weft threads shot across its range--there are the slowly unrolling warp threads as well; and not less surely is there the unfold ing of a providential agency to bind into one the crossing, and recrossing lines of human activity. Hence we continually see results issuing from trivial matters which the actors in them never contemplated. But the special feature in Divine Providence on which the apostle’s argument proceeds is the fact that God brings good out of man’s evil. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The providence of God in the life of man
I. An encouraging view of the providence of God.
1. The minuteness of its operation.
2. The beneficence of its operation. “Why did God permit evil in the world?”
(1) To bind man more closely, lastingly, lovingly to Himself.
(2) To awaken nobler developments of human character.
(3) To manifest more conspicuously His own character and glory.
(4) To increase human joy. The joy of gratitude for redemption, of deliverance from direst perils, of victory over subtlest, strongest foes, etc.
II. A view of the preeminence of spiritual relationships.
1. Christianity does not weaken any of the bonds of our civil or other earthly relationships.
2. Personal Christianity exalts and ennobles all other relationships.
3. Spiritual relationships are preeminently over all others.
(1) They are independent of differences of rank and condition.
(2) They are perpetual in their duration.
(3) They centre and subsist in Jesus Christ. (W. Jones.)
More than a servant
1. Mark that the apostle entitleth the shameful running away of Onesimus, the servant of Philemon, by the name of a departure. If we will speak properly, a departing is one thing, a running away is another thing. For albeit everyone that runneth away departeth; yet everyone that departeth runneth not away from his master, because he may depart by consent either having leave and licence, or that the time of his service is expired. So a little before (Philemon 1:11), he called him “unprofitable,” whereas he might lawfully have given him a harder title. This was not done in regard of the offence because it was small, but in regard of his repentance because it was great.
2. In the apostle’s answer to Philemon’s objection we may mark that we are bound to forgive and forget injuries and offences done unto us, when once God hath forgiven and covered the sins committed against Him and received the sinner that repenteth to mercy; when God maketh all things turn to our good that love Him and thereby recompenseth by a double benefit the loss and damage that we have sustained.
3. We may observe that Christian religion doth more strongly bind all persons to their particular callings and maketh the knot greater than it was. For that which he speaketh here of a Christian servant, even a brother, is true of all callings in the family and commonwealth. For as a faithful servant is more than a bare servant, so a Christian king is more than a king; a Christian master is more than a master; a Christian father is more than a father; a Christian husband is more than a husband; so on the other side a Christian wife is more than a wife; a Christian subject is more than a subject; and so of all the rest.
4. The apostle notwithstanding the great account he maketh of this servant doth not deny subjection to his master nor exempt him from the condition of a servant, but he addeth “More than a servant.” He saith not, he is no more a servant, but he is more than a servant; so that our Christian calling doth not abolish policy and politic constitutions and domestic government; but rather doth strengthen and sanctify them. He that is called to the truth being a servant, must not be discouraged and discontented, but rejoice in this that he is the Lord’s freeman.
5. When he styleth him “A brother” he doth after a sort signify he is equal unto him. For albeit in the commonwealth and private family it be necessary that some should be superiors and other inferiors; and that this disparity and inequality among men be the ordinance of God; yet in the kingdom of God and in Christ Jesus there is no distinction.
6. We may observe that he joineth love with Christian brotherhood, and calleth Onesimus “A beloved brother,” not only a servant, not only a brother, but a brother dear and beloved; signifying thereby that where a Christian calling is found, there charity and love is as a due debt required. (W. Attersoll.)
A brother forever
There may probably be here an allusion to that which is written in the Hebrew law about the slavery of “the children of the strangers that sojourned among the Israelites” (Leviticus 25:46). Onesimus was to be his master’s property--his to have and hold, to enjoy as his possession--“forever,” as the old law said of the slave in permanent servitude. But in how much a deeper and truer sense! To be with him not only for time, but in eternity, in the eternal communion of saints. The time of the absence of Onesimus, during which he was “parted” from Philemon, might have entailed some little discomfort upon his master. What of that? Why count up the weeks and months? They were but as the slave’s “little hour” of holiday compared with the gain of a brother “forever.” (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Since he left Onesimus had obtained eternal life, and eternal life involves eternal interchange of friendship. His services to his old master were no longer barred by the gates of death. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
All things, even sin itself, are turboed by God’s providence to the good of the elect
I. The reasons of this doctrine are apparent, to settle our hearts and consciences therein.
1. The infinite wisdom and unsearchable power of God, who, as the apostle teacheth, bringeth light out of darkness, and worketh by contrary means, such as men count foolishness, as to save men by the foolish preaching of the gospel, that is, which is esteemed among the wise men of the world no better than foolishness.
2. It is the pleasure of God to confound the wisdom of man that cannot attain to great matters but by great means (1 Corinthians 1:27). God disposeth of all things as pleaseth Him, and oftentimes crosseth the devices of men. They intend one thing, but God bringeth to pass another, they purpose one end, but He will have another come forth to teach man’s wisdom to be but foolishness.
3. He expresseth His wonderful love, making all things that fall out in the world to serve His Church.
II. This doctrine serveth for reproof, for comfort and for obedience.
1. For it serveth to reprove and convince sundry persons, that either know not or knowing do abuse this providence of God whereby He taketh care of all things that are in the world and directeth them to a right end.
(1) And first of all, we set against it and oppose unto it the dreams of atheists, epicures, libertines, who either deny wholly there is a God, or make Him sit as idle in heaven as themselves are upon the earth: so that albeit He know and see all things yet He worketh or ordereth not the special actions of men that fall out. These are they that pull God out of His kingdom and set up chance and fortune as an idol and make it their God. We must all learn and confess that the Lord, that is the Creator of heaven and earth, is also the Ruler and Governor of all creatures. The whole world, from the highest heaven to the centre of the earth, is subject to His providence.
(2) It reproveth such as from hence take encouragement to commit sin, to break out into sundry outrages, or to live securely because God can turn it to our good and maketh it serve to set forth His mercy. This is that presumption and sin of rebellion touched by the apostle, “Why do we not evil that good may come thereof, whose damnation is just.” So in another place. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue still in sin that grace may abound? How shall we that are dead in sin live yet therein?” We confess, indeed, that God is the sovereign cause of all events that are brought to pass, and whatsoever the enemies of the Church intend and enterprise, whether the sons of men, or the devil and his angels, He stayeth and hindreth or represseth and disappointeth, and always disposeth it to the good and salvation of His children. Nevertheless, this doth not excuse or free the instruments that He useth from fault. They do the will of God blindly and ignorantly, but they do cross His will openly and purposely, so that His providence doth not exempt the wicked from their evil doing.
2. This doctrine serveth greatly to comfort us both in prosperity and adversity, and that for the time to come we should repose our whole hope in God. For seeing all things come to pass by the providence of God so that not so much as sin itself is committed without His will, it is a great comfort many ways to God’s Church and chosen children. We know that He can moderate and will moderate the rage of the devil and the malice of wicked men that they shall not hurt or hinder their salvation. For the devil is the Lord’s servant or slave to work His will, albeit he do it unwillingly and by compulsion.
3. This providence of God in everything teacheth contentment of mind in every estate; yea, in adversity when we lie under the cross, so that all things go against us; forasmuch as God’s providence hath appointed us our lot and portion.
4. This should be a very strong reason unto us not to be unmeasurably dismayed when offences and great evils break out among us as oftentimes it falleth out, whereby many are ready to shrink back, and others are much disquieted to see the Church of God so troubled. We are not to think it strange or to forsake the faith through these scandals, for God would not suffer any evil to come to pass unless out of that evil He were able to bring good, and out of that sin to bring forth righteous ness to the glory of His great name, and for the salvation of His dear Church.
5. Seeing God’s providence extendeth to everything that is, and disposeth it according to His own pleasure, it directeth us in our obedience and putteth us in mind of a Christian duty, namely, to be patient in all adversity. This will keep us that we do not rage against second causes, that we do not mutter and murmur against God, that we seek not revenge against our enemies. We are ready in sickness to complain, in poverty to repine, in injuries and oppressions to retail and return like for like, and in all troubles to be impatient and to use unlawful means to deliver ourselves, not attending the Lord’s leisure; and the reason is because the providence of God is not learned of us we cannot depend upon Him, we know not that He hath all things in His power to employ them to His glory and to use them to our good. (W. Attersoll.)
God’s power to bring good out of evil
This must not make us do evil that good may come of it, which we are forbidden (Romans 3:1-31), for God only hath this skill, by reason of His infinite wisdom and power, to work good out of evil, to draw light out of darkness. He only hath the philosopher’s stone to turn dross into gold. In vain, therefore, is it for us to assay any such thing. The right use of this doctrine is for us to comfort ourselves when we see wicked men plotting and practising mischief against God’s poor Church. Their heads and hands work not so fast but God works as fast. When they go and strive one way He sets them a work another way; as the sun going in his own proper motion one way is every day, by the violent circumvolution of the heavens, turned another way: nay, He makes their striving against His glory and His Church’s good to be the means of furthering both. As in a boat, when the rowers go with their faces striving towards the east, they set the boat going apace towards the west. Onesimus in running away from his master’s house, the Church of God, did as much as in him lay, strive against his own conversion, and yet it is made a means of conversion. Joseph’s brethren in selling him thought to have frustrated his dreams and to have made him sure forever having dominion over them; and yet their selling of him was the special means of accomplishing his dreams. Satan, in Christ’s death, thought to have wounded the Church to the death; and yet thereby we were healed of his deadly wounds. This is the work of the Lord, who knoweth how to catch the wise in their own wiles, and it must be marvellous in our eyes. Let not, then, the power and policy of all the Achitophels and Machiavels in the world, combining themselves against the gospel, dismay us; for God hath His oar in their boat, He hath a special stroke in all actions whatsoever, and can easily overreach and make stark fools of the wisest by making their own counsels and endeavours like Chushais, to overthrow those intentions which they seem to support. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
A brother beloved
As has been well said, “In the flesh, Philemon has the brother for his slave; in the Lord, Philemon has the slave for his brother.
” He is to treat him as his brother, therefore, both in the common relationships of everyday life and in the acts of religious worship. That is a pregnant word! True, there is no gulf between Christian people nowadays, like that which in the old times parted owner and slave; but, as society becomes more and more differentiated, as the diversities of wealth become more extreme in our commercial communities, as education comes to make the educated man’s whole way of looking at life differ more and more from that of the less cultured classes, the injunction implied in our text encounters enemies quite as formidable as slavery ever was. The highly educated man is apt to be very oblivious of the brotherhood of the ignorant Christian, and he, on his part, finds the recognition just as bad. The rich mill owner has not much sympathy with the poor brother who works at his spinning jennies. It is often difficult for the Christian mistress to remember that her cook is her sister in Christ. There is quite as much sin against fraternity on the side of the poor Christians who are servants and illiterate, as on the side of the rich who are masters or cultured. But the principle that Christian brotherhood is to reach across the wall of class distinctions is as binding today as it was on Philemon and Onesimus. That brotherhood is not to be confined to acts and times of Christian communion, but is to be shown and to shape conduct in common life. “Both in the flesh and in the Lord” may be put into plain English thus--a rich man and a poor one belong to the same Church; they unite in the same worship; they are “partakers of the one bread,” and therefore, Paul thinks, “are one bread.” They go outside the church door. Do they ever dream of speaking to one another outside? “A brother beloved in the Lord” on Sundays, and during worship, and in Church matters--is often a stranger “in the flesh” on Mondays in the street, and in common life. Some good people seem to keep their brotherly love in the same wardrobe with their Sunday clothes. Philemon was bid, and all are bid, to wear it all the week, at market as well as church. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Regard for those in whom grace is found
Here we see the apostle reasoneth for Onesimus; to have him received and respected above an ordinary servant because he was truly converted, and had in him a good measure of grace, and was become a true and sound Christian. We learn from hence that the more grace appeareth in any, the more should they be tended and regarded of us, whether they be servants, children, neighbours, pastors, people, wife, kinsfolk, or acquaintance. In whomsoever the greatest store of heavenly things is to be found, such are most of all to be loved and regarded, tendered, and respected.
I. The reasons hereof are plain to inform us.
1. Where grace is, it bringeth blessedness to that society, kingdom, congregation, family, and person, as appeareth by the confession of Joseph’s master (Genesis 39:2-3), whom he served. Now, who are more to be regarded, or better to be thought of, than such as are blessed, and cause blessedness to others?
2. We see that God is most gracious to such as have most grace in their hearts; He tendereth them as the apple of His eye, and loveth them as His own sons. Indeed, He loveth all the works of His hands as they are His creatures: He maketh His sun to shine, His rain to fall, His fruitful seasons to refresh them: He had not left Himself without witness among the infidels, that He might make them without excuse. He giveth to beasts and to beastly men their food; their corners and garners are full, and abounding with divers sorts; but God is specially known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. He showeth His Word and His statutes among them; He hath not dealt so with every nation, neither have they known His judgments.
3. The more grace appeareth in any, the nearer he doth resemble God, the more evidently doth the image of God show itself in him. The image of God standeth and consisteth, especially in holiness and true righteousness.
II. Let us gather the uses that arise from this doctrine.
1. This ought to stir us all up to labour to grow in grace and in the gifts of the Spirit, that thereby we may procure and deserve the love of men. They that grow in grace are truly to be reputed and accounted gracious.
2. Seeing it is our duty to respect everyone of the faithful, according to the grace of God measured out unto him, it is required of all men to look always to the best things in the choice of the companions of their life.
3. Seeing it belongeth as a special duty unto us, to show our greatest affection to such as have in their hearts most religion; it serveth as a comfort and encouragement to all callings, even the lowest that are amongst men, to labour after good things, and to seek to serve and fear the Lord, seeing such as are the meanest, and of basest reckoning with many, are respected and recompensed of Him. (W. Attersoll.)
Brethren in Christ
1. Seeing that in Christ, who is the Elder Brother of the house, we are all made brethren and sisters together, having one Father, which is God; one mother, which is the Church; one inheritance, which is heaven. It is our duty, being nearly joined by so strong bands, and in so fast and firm a society, to love one another, to seek the good one of another, and to cut off all occasions of discord and division that may arise among us. For, shall such as are members of one body be divided one against another?
2. Seeing the gospel of Christ teacheth us to account ourselves as brethren, albeit, it take not away the degrees of persons and the differences of callings; it serveth as a good instruction to all superiors, to use all mildness and moderation, patience and meekness towards those that are their inferiors, and placed under them, and to teach them not to contemn and abhor them, not to despise and disdain them. For howsoever there be one way a great inequality between them in matters of this world, and in the things of this life, inasmuch as God set superiors above us in an higher place, and requireth subjection, reverence, and obedience of those that are beneath, yet in another respect they are matches and equals, having a like portion in Christ, and a like interest in the means of salvation.
3. This title of brethren communicated to all the faithful, serveth as a comfort and consolation to all inferiors, and to teach them this duty, that they ought not to grudge, or to be grieved that they are placed in a low estate, as though they were therefore less esteemed and regarded of God.
4. Seeing God respecteth all alike, and hath made all as one, and as brethren that are in Christ, it serveth as a reproof, and threatening, and terror, to all drowsy and secure persons that think they shall escape the judgments of God for their high places. There is no difference with God, there is no inequality with Christ, to them that are in Christ; high and low are all alike with Him. None are saved for their highness; none are condemned for their lowness. Christ Jesus accepteth no man for his glory; He rejecteth no man for his ignominy. Let us, therefore, not bear ourselves bold and confident upon our outward excellency, but stand in fear of His judgments, and prepare ourselves with all reverence and diligence, that we may be found worthy to stand before the great God in that great day of account. (W. Attersoll.)
I. Here note the spiritual kindred that is betwixt true Christians. They are all brethren--brethren by the Father’s side, having one Father, God the Father of spirits; brethren by the mother’s side, lying in the same womb of the Church, having one and the self-same elder brother, Christ Jesus, begotten with the same spiritual seed; fed at the same table with the same nourishment. This brotherhood must far exceed the natural, even as God’s fatherhood towards us far exceedeth the natural fatherhood among men. Look, then, what nature tieth natural brethren to, that doth grace much more the spiritual unto, as--
1. Amity and unity (Psalms 133:1-2). How, then, do they show themselves brethren that do bite, yea, and devour those that are of the same holy profession with themselves? Even as in the sea, the greater fishes swallow up the lesser.
2. It is the part of brethren to take one another’s part, to cleave one to another, taking that which is done to their brother as done to themselves.
3. It is the property of a brother, though at other times he have been something more unkind to his brother; yet in his affliction and extremity, then to feel nature working in him, and to show and express his affection by doing his best (Proverbs 17:17). If we then will show ourselves true and natural sons of God, and so brethren to His children, when we see His honour ready to be trod under foot, when we see His children evil intreated, then is it high time for us to manifest our affection.
II. Observe that this spiritual brotherhood is betwixt all Christians indifferently, whatsoever difference there be amongst them in outward civil respects, yet they are nothing prejudicial to this spiritual fraternity in Christ: for here Philemon and Onesimus, the master and the servant, are made these kind of brethren. This doctrine is of special use, both for comfort to inferiors and for humiliation and moderation of mind to superiors, inasmuch as the servant is Christ’s free man, and the master is Christ’s servant. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Christianity and slavery
Christianity entered on no superficial and obvious contest with this ancient, consolidated, and haughty iniquity, so general in the world and so intricately involved with the customs of the rude, the laws of the advanced, with barbarian ferocities, Grecian philosophies, Roman power. It sent no formal challenge to the system, to which it was as fatally hostile as it was to idolatry. But it smote it with blows more destroying than of arms, and caused it to vanish as summer skies and melting currents consume the glacier, which we call an iceberg, which has drifted down from Arctic coasts. The Sermon on the Mount, God’s affectionate and watchful Fatherhood of all, the brotherhood of disciples, the mutual duty and the common immortality of poor and rich--these were the forces before which slavery inevitably fell. Where philosophies had utterly failed and eloquence had been wanting, and the progress of arts, cities or states, had only clenched tighter the manacles of the bondman, He who taught on the narrow Galilee beach overwhelmed, by the mystic energy of His words, the consummate oppression. It fell before Him as the warrior falls, more surely than by bullets, by famine and thirst; as the giant’s strength fades in fatal atmospheres. “Not now a slave, but above a slave, as a brother beloved, so receive him”; it was the voice not of one apostle only, though he were the chiefest, but of the whole Church, to the master who was himself in Christ. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” before that announcement slavery could not stand, any more than flax before shrivelling fires. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Care for servants
The celebrated Earl of Chesterfield left, by his will legacies to all his menial servants, equal to two years’ wages each, considering them “as his unfortunate friends, equal by birth, and only inferior by fortune.” John Claude when on his dying bed, thus addressed his son, who, with an old servant, was kneeling before him--“Be mindful of this domestic; as you value my blessing, take care that she wants nothing as long as she lives.”
Mutual obligations of Christian masters and servants
Onesimus might remain a slave; there might be no change in their relative positions; but then as the slave went about his ordinary duties; duties in which there was nothing degrading--for duty cannot be degrading; if it is actually God to whom it is rendered; and, I might, therefore, dare to say that it must be honourable--as the slave then went about his ordinary duties, the master was to regard him as the free man of Jehovah, the heir, with himself, of an incorruptible inheritance. The slave was to regard his master as possessing authority from God, to whom he was bound to yield a devoted obedience; but at the same time, as a fellow traveller with himself to a city where each should be judged according to his works. And what but a holy and close brotherhood could subsist between the master and the slave when each thought of the other as he appeared in God’s sight, and each being himself accountable to that God for every word and every work? Would that rich and poor would both keep more in mind these which are the only levelling principles of the Christian religion. It would do more towards cementing together the several classes of society, now, alas, so much disjoined! than all the well meant endeavours of statesmen and economists. It is a grievous thing for a country, more grievous than foreign invasion, when there is little or nothing of kindly feeling between the several ranks, but jealousy and envy separate them even more than titles and property. The rich and the poor filling their respective places in a well-ordered community, each class dependent on the other, and neither able to subsist by itself, ought to present the same spectacle as the members of the body; their offices different, but their concord so great, that the whole framework is sensitive to the least injury done to the least part. And we know of nothing but the diffused influence of Christianity which can either produce this scare, or restore it when impaired. This, however, can, and that, too, on the simple principle that while it puts a sort of sacredness around civil institutions, and thus is a better upholder of the rights of the rich than despotism with its armies, or legislation with its statutes; it puts also a dignity round poverty, and lifts it to at least equality with wealth, by merging all human distinction in the being sons of God, and heirs of God. Let the rich feel this, and where is pride? Let the poor feel this, and where is discontent? Oh, the beauty of the spectacle which might be presented if the brotherhood which Christianity recognises and enforces were practically instituted throughout a community! There is little else needed for the making that millennium on which prophecy has poured its most gorgeous colouring. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord--
Reasons for the increase of mutual love
Hereby there is offered to our considerations this lesson to be learned, that the more bands and reasons are given unto us of God to care for any, the more we are bound to care for Him, and to respect Him. A professor of the gospel is more to be regarded than he that is without. One of the same nation, more than a stranger; one of our own kindred, more than another farther from us; a neighbour, more than one that dwelleth many miles from us; one of a man’s house, more than him that is out of his house; a kinsman converted to the faith, and become a true and perfect Christian, more than a kinsman not converted; a child that hath the sparks of grace in him, more than a child void of them; a servant fearing God, more than a servant in the same family that doth not fear God, nor regard His Word, nor make conscience of the means of his salvation. The reasons being wisely considered will make this plainly to appear unto us.
1. It is a general sentence delivered by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, and a threefold cord is not easily broken.” Wheresoever there are stronger cords to tie us, and no bands to join us together, our love ought to be the greater one towards another. Many sticks make the greater fire, and many strings the better music.
2. It is a thing very well pleasing in the sight of God, to consider what means He hath afforded to increase mutual love and society one with another. This is the reason urged by the apostle to persuade the children and nephews of poor widows to take care for their parents according to their ability, because that is an honest thing, and acceptable before God. Now we are bound unto them by many effectual reasons, as it were with bars of iron, and bands of brass, to nourish those that have nourished us, that have fed us, that have clothed us, that have begotten us, and brought us into the world, so that we must acknowledge it both right and reasonable.
3. Such as break these bands and cast away these cords from them, do set themselves against the doctrine of Christ, and may be sent to school to the infidels; nay, to the brute beasts, which are not void of a certain natural affection. This the apostle teacheth, “If there be any that provideth not for his own, and specially for them of his household, he denieth the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” For howsoever they profess the faith in words, yet in deed and in truth they deny it. But God is delighted with our works, not with our words, and looketh upon the substance, not the show of our religion. (W. Attersoll.)
Very dear was Onesimus to the apostle; dear as being a spiritual son, whom, as he expresses it, he had “begotten in his bonds.” But dearer still must he be to Philemon who had not succeeded in the endeavour to turn him from the error of his ways. It may be, and it should be, a deep gladness to the minister of Christ if God employ him in inducing the prodigal to return to his home. But even this gladness is nothing to that of a parent or guardian who receives back the wanderer, and views in his conversion the fruit and the recompense of his prayers and his tears. The parent seems to have laboured in vain when another is employed where all his efforts have failed. But oh, think not on this account that the joy is transferred from the parent to the minister--“A brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee.” I have not robbed thee of thy rapture through taking from thee the office wherein thou didst so devotedly toil. I have gained indeed a rich delight for myself; but there is a richer--richer as succeeding to fear, and watching, and anxiety--richer as thou now dost receive back a beloved one, of whom thou thoughtest that thou hadst lost him forever. Surely, the apostle seems here to imply that ties of earthly relationship and family, though they will not subsist hereafter in anything of their present selfishness and contraction, shall nevertheless not wholly disappear from our future and everlasting condition. He speaks, you observe, of Philemon as having received Onesimus forever; and of Onesimus as dearer to Philemon than even to himself who had turned him to the Lord. If it was forever that Onesimus was received; and if he have reason to be dearer to his master than to any one beside, we can hardly avoid the inference, that in a higher and better state of being there will be something corresponding to human friendships and associations--that parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, will be more to each other than parties, who have been wholly strangers on earth; that although in that lofty and ethereal condition, “they neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” still it will be in the purifying and refining rather than in the actual destruction of earthly relationships that the future shall be distinguished from the present. All of you, we believe, admit that those who have known each other on earth shall know each other in heaven. This seems to follow on our preserving our identity; on our remaining, and on our feeling ourselves the same persons hereafter as here. You all, moreover, admit that the saints in heaven shall constitute but one vast family, every member of which shall be bound to every other by intimate as well as indissoluble ties. But it seems necessary in order to there being any worth in the first part--that of our knowing each other in heaven, that this should not interfere with the second part--that all the redeemed shall constitute one family above, that we suppose human associations so far to remain that Philemon should single out Onesimus and regard him as with a special affection. There is perhaps but very little that is cheering in the prospect of a reunion with friends whom we have long lost, if they are to be nothing to us through eternity but what others will be whom we never saw. It will hardly help to dry the tears of the mother as She weeps over her child, to tell her that she shall see that child again, but see it only where it shall be to her nothing more than what a thousand others are. There must be some place, some play for human affections, else shall we so spiritualise the future as to strip it of all influence on such beings as ourselves. And there is place, and there is play for human affections. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
If thou count me therefore a partner
A partner, not a prelate
He does not say, If thou count me a prelate, a ruler of the Church, but a partner; he is content to be one of them, not above them.
The angels count us partners (Revelation 19:10); Christ counts us partners (Hebrews 2:14); and shall we disdain to call one another partners? There are partners in nature, so are we all; partners of the same air, water, fruits of earth, misery, death; there are partners in office, as churchwardens, and constables; there are also partners in grace--partakers of the Divine nature, of one Christ, of one heaven. Such a partner did St. Paul desire to be accounted; and happy are they that are in this partnership. (W. Jones, D. D.)
Philemon and the apostle had been at one time associated as partners in their secular calling. The latter accordingly now falls back upon the language which business men who are so connected use in writing to each other. “If thou count me a partner, receive him as myself. Let the runaway slave stand on the footing of my agent, and be treated as the agent of a partner ought to be.” But then there came the fact which, both for the sake of justice and of the penitent himself, St. Paul had no wish to gloss over, that there had been a wrong committed. Onesimus had stolen or embezzled. How was that to be dealt with? Here also he falls into the business language of partners. “If he hath wronged thee,” etc. He was ready to debit himself with that responsibility. (Dean Plumptre.)
The words in this verse are not many, but the observations are not few that might be concluded and collected out of the same.
1. First of all, many may marvel that the apostle is so earnest, importunate for a servant, and especially for such a servant. Surely, fear of hard and severe dealing might have moved Onesimus to distrust and despair, and therefore he useth all means to hold him up, to cherish his faith, and to further the good work begun in him, being as yet a young plant, a new convert, as a joint newly restored, and having yet, as may be thought, a tender conscience; whereby he provoketh us and all others, to seek tenderly the upholding, maintaining, confirming, and comforting, such as have given witness of their true repentance, not to quench the smoking flax, nor to break the bruised reed. For seeing we are with all mildness to receive unto us such as are weak in the faith; woe unto them that stay them that are coming forward, and lay stumbling blocks in their way to bring them back, and to cause them to return to their vomit with the dog, and to the wallowing in the mire like the sow that was washed. And seeing the sinner is thus to be helped, which hath approved his conversion unto us, that we are to make intercession unto others, to obtain pardon for the penitent; we are admonished, that they are much more favourably to be handled, and carefully to be received, and gently to be remitted by ourselves.
2. We see that to the old request he added a new reason; for we shall never find in this epistle his petition barely and nakedly propounded. He hath used diverse arguments before to persuade Philemon, yet here we have another annexed, to move him to grant it without denial or resistance. This giveth instruction to the ministers of the gospel, to teach the truth soundly and substantially, as that the consciences of the people may be well grounded and thoroughly settled therein. When matters of weight and importance are in question they must not deal rawly, they must not use weak proofs and unsufficient reasons, whereby men may be rather hardened in their errors than helped out of their errors.
3. The apostle doth not simply say: If our things be common (as he might have done), but if thou account them common, and us to have a communion between ourselves, declaring thereby that it is not enough to know a truth, unless we also yield unto it as unto a truth. It is one thing to know what is good in our judgments, and another thing to embrace it in our practices. It is one thing to know what is evil in our minds, and another to refuse it in our actions. We must labour not only to have our thoughts cleared, our understanding and our judgments rectified, to see the truth, but to have our hearts and affections sanctified to follow it. It behoveth therefore not to rest ourselves satisfied with general notions, but so to ensue after them, as that we make special application of them. David in general knew that adultery was evil; Noah knew that drunkenness was beastly; Peter knew that denying of his Master was fearful, yet in the brunt of temptation, though the mind had knowledge of it, the affections would not refuse it, but yielded as a city besieged by an enemy.
4. The apostle putteth Philemon in mind, that seeing there was so near a conjunction between them twain, that they were become as it were one man, and had one mind in two bodies; it followeth that whosoever was joined to one of them ought of necessity to be joined to the other. Whereby we see that such as are our friends ought to be also the friends of our friends, that is, of those that are joined unto us. Philemon was the friend of Paul, and therefore if Onesimus were the friend of one he must needs be the friend of the other. Paul and Philemon were as two brethren; if then Onesimus were the brother of Paul he ought also to be accounted the brother of Philemon, and therefore he would have him received as himself. It is no true friendship when one maketh profession to love another man, and yet hateth him which is his chiefest and dearest friend; for if indeed we loved him we would for his sake love the other that loveth him. This we see in the covenant made with Abraham, who is called the friend of God, whereby it appeareth that the Lord promised to be a friend to his friends, and an enemy to his enemies.
5. In the amplification of the conclusion he addeth (as myself), thereby showing that he would have him regarded no otherwise than himself. Whereby we learn that our love to the brethren ought not to be in word, or in tongue, or in show, but in deed, in truth, and in heart. This is Christian love, this was in Christ towards us, and this should be in all of us one toward another (1 John 3:18; Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 4:8). (W. Attersoll.)
If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought
The form only is hypothetical.
The case is put as one which is absolutely unquestionable. No doubt Onesimus robbed his master when he ran away. The consequence of this is a debt at present unpaid. He wronged Philemon once for all, and consequently is in debt. Flight and theft were instinctively associated in the minds of Romans as the kindred offences of slaves. It will be observed that St Paul’s teaching was not socialistic. Not private property, but the abstraction of it, was theft in his estimation. (Bp. W. Alexander.)
Ownership of goods
We learn from hence that the communion which is among the faithful saints doth not take away the private possession, dominion, distinction, and interest, in the things of this life. Albeit the things belonging to this temporal life be in some respect common, yet in another respect they are private. They are common touching use, they are private touching possession.
I. This truth will yet further and better appear unto us, if we enter into the considerations of the reasons that serve to strengthen it.
1. It is confirmed by the Commandments of God, and by the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Eighth Commandment forbiddeth us to steal away our neighbour’s goods, and to do him the least hurt therein. The Tenth Commandment restraineth the inward lusts and motions that arise in our minds, and condemneth the coveting of his house, of his wife, of his servant, of his ox, and his ass, or of anything that belongeth unto him. If then God commandeth the preservation of every man’s goods, and forbiddeth all injuries to be offered unto them, it standeth us upon to acknowledge a right and interest that everyone hath in earthly things given unto him. Likewise our Saviour Christ teacheth us daily to ask our daily bread, so that no man ought to desire that which is another’s bread, but everyone to know his own, what God hath given him, and what he hath given to others. If then there be bread that is ours, then also there is bread that is not ours. And if somewhat be ours and somewhat not ours it followeth that everyone hath an interest in his own goods, and cannot lay hold of another man’s.
2. The invading of other men’s inheritances, and the encroaching upon their private possessions, is the fruit either of a confused anarchy, or of a loose government; and both of them are contrary to that ordinance which God establisheth, and the order that He requireth.
3. Everyone hath a proper and peculiar possession, his own servants to order, his own ground to till, his own fields to husband, his own family to govern, and his own domestical affairs to manage, that he may provide things honest in the sight of God, that he may rejoice in the labour of his own hands, and be thankful to the Father and giver of all good things. It is a rule taught by nature, approved by experience, strengthened by customs, and established by the founders of cities and kingdoms, that whatsoever is cared for of all is cared for of none as it ought to be, but is neglected of all.
II. As we have seen the reasons that confirm this doctrine, so let us see the uses that instruct us in many profitable points tending to edification.
1. This confuteth and convinceth the detestable sect who deny to men any property in anything, but would have all things common.
2. Seeing every man hath a state in his own goods, it teacheth us this duty, that we ought to be content with the portion which we have, be it more or less, be it a simple or a worthy portion, and to be by all means thankful for it; considering with ourselves that the difference of places, lands, possessions, with the properties thereof, be of God, and are to be acknowledged as His gift.
3. We learn from this doctrine to take good heed that we do not abuse our property and dominion of those gifts that God hath given us, bestowing them only to our private use, and withholding the comfort of them from others, to whom they ought of right to be imparted and employed. For albeit the possession of them be ours, yet there is a use of them belonging to the saints; the property of goods and the communion of saints standing together. Whensoever we have these outward things we must not withhold them, when they may profit the Church and refresh the saints. (W. Attersoll.)
Put that on mine account--
Taking the slave’s debt
The verb used here for “put to the account of” is a very rare word; and perhaps the singular phrase may be chosen to let another great Christian truth shine through. Was Paul’s love the only one that we know of which took the slave’s debts on itself? Did anybody else ever say, “Put that on mine account”? We have been taught to ask for the forgiveness of our sins as “debts,” and we have been taught that there is One on whom God has made to meet the iniquities of us all. Christ takes on Himself all Paul’s debt, all Philemon’s, all ours. He has paid the ransom for all, and He so identifies men with Himself that they are “received as Himself.” It is His great example that Paul is trying to copy here. Forgiven all that great debt, he dare not rise from his knees to take his brother by the throat, but goes forth to shew to his fellow the mercy he has found, and to model his life after the pattern of that miracle of love in which is his trust. It is Christ’s own voice which echoes in “put that on mine account.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
From this offer that Paul maketh, which is, to satisfy another man’s debt, we learn that it is a lawful thing for one man to become surety for another, and to engage himself for his sure and faithful friend, of whom he is well persuaded. Howsoever suretyship be to some very hurtful, and to all dangerous, yet it is to none in itself, and of its own nature, unlawful or sinful, when the merciless creditor shall take his debtor by the throat and say, “pay me that thou owest.”
I. And if we require better grounds to satisfy us in this truth, let us enter into the strength of reason to assure us, without any wavering herein.
1. Weigh with me the example of Christ, an excellent pattern and president of the practice of this, an example far beyond all exception, an example that overshadoweth, and dazzleth, and darkeneth, all that cloud of witnesses produced by the apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews; He became surety for His Church unto His Father, to pay the debt of our sins, and to satisfy His justice.
2. It is a fruit of love and brotherly kindness, even this way to relieve and help such as are like to suffer damage and detriment by want of outward things. There is no man so rich but may become poor; no man so high but may be brought low; as there is no full sea but hath his ebbing. Now humane society and Christian piety requireth that one should sustain and succour another in their necessity. We are commanded to help up our enemy’s ox that is fallen, or his ass that is sunk down under his burden; how much more ought we to show pity and compassion to our brother himself, vexed with the creditor, terrified with the prison, oppressed with the debt, and dismayed and discouraged with the payment at hand that is to be made? So then, whether we do consider that Christ Jesus is made our surety, and that suretyship is a fruit of Christian love one toward another, in both respects we see that in itself it is not to be disallowed or condemned.
II. The uses of this doctrine are diligently to be considered of us.
1. If it be lawful to become surety one for another, it convinceth and confuteth those that hold it to be evil and unlawful, to give their word, or offer their hand, or tender their promise, for their brethren. Love is a debt that we owe to all men, as the apostle testifieth (Romans 13:8), and therefore we ought not to fail in the performance thereof.
2. Seeing we have showed it to be lawful to enter into suretyship (for if it had been simply and altogether forbidden Paul would never have proffered himself to be surety unto Philemon for Onesimus), this serveth divers ways for our instruction. For hereby we are directed to be careful to use it lawfully. It is good and lawful if a man use it well and lawfully. But if we use it and enter into it rashly, not rightly, ordinarily, not warily, foolishly, not wisely, desperately, not discreetly; if we entangle ourselves with it without much deliberation, without good circumspection, and without due consideration, it becometh unlawful unto us. Wherefore that this giving of assurance to others, and for others, either by our word or hand, may be performed lawfully to the good of others, and not the hurt of ourselves, we must mark and practise two points:--
(1) Consider the persons of others for whom it is done.
(2) Our own persons that do it; and these two are caveats for all sureties.
Touching those persons for whom we become sureties, we must know that we are not to engage ourselves and our credit, for everyone that will crave it at our hands, and enter into bands for them, and promise us fair to see us discharged; but in such men, who oftentimes have a greater feeling of their own wants and necessities than of freeing them out of woe that have pledged themselves for them, we are to observe three things.
(a) That they be well known.
(b) That they be honest and godly.
(c) That they be sufficient to pay that which they would have us bound unto another, to assure him that they will pay.
3. Touching our own persons, before we are to enter into band or suretyship for others we must mark and meditate upon two things.
(1) What is the sum for which we shall be obliged.
(2) The means how we maybe discharged. It standeth us greatly upon to bethink ourselves both what is the quantity, and what is our ability to answer it. It is a moral precept and wise saying, worthy to be written in our hearts, “be not surety above thy power; for if thou be surety, think to pay it.” Let every man therefore well weigh his own strength. It were foolish pity for the saving of another man’s life to lose our own. It were a merciless kind of mercy to leap into the water and drown ourselves while we seek to deliver another. We are commanded to bear the burden one of another, but it were more than foolish pity to break our own shoulders, by sustaining the weight and hearing the burden of another man. Again, as we are to mark our own strength, so we are to consider our own discharge, how we may be secured and set at liberty. For, before we pass our word, or give our band and hand for the payment of other men’s debts and duties, we must know how we shall be assured to be delivered from that burthen and bondage that we have undertaken. We ought indeed to bear good will to all men, but our good will should not be a loser. It is no charity to receive a blow upon our own heads to keep the stroke from another. Know what kind of man he is for whom thou becomest a surety. If he be a stranger to thee meddle not with him; if he have broken his credit with any before, suspect him; if he be a shifting companion, discard him; if he be unsufficient to pay his own debt, deny him; if the sum be great and thy ability little so that it may hinder thee and thy calling, if thou be driven to pay it, enter not into it; and if thou cannot see which way thou mayest be freed from the peril and danger that hangeth over thy head, fly away from it as from a serpent that will sting thee, as from a canker that will consume thee, as from a gulf that is ready to swallow thee.
4. Seeing it is not unlawful or forbidden to bind a man’s self by band or otherwise to another, it ought to teach all creditors and lenders not to be rough and rigorous over a surety. No cruelty toward any is lawful. (W. Attersoll.)
The atonement--an illustration
Suppose, then, that Philemon had demanded the repayment of what he had lost to the uttermost farthing; suppose that for many months St. Paul had had to work very hard, and to live very sparely, in order to earn the required sum, and that at last he had actually paid it to the rich Philemon, in order that Onesimus might be got out of his debt: would that have been wrong and base? wrong of St. Paul, I mean. Would you, would any man, have blamed him for it? Would you not, rather, have been moved to an enthusiastic admiration of the man who was capable of so singular and so signal an act of self-forgetting generosity and compassion? And what would you have thought of Philemon if he had taken the money? Surely you would have been as quick to condemn him as to admire Paul. “Which things may be allegorised.” Let us, then, for our instruction in righteousness, turn this story into an allegory or parable. Let Philemon, the just and kind master, stand for God, our Father and Lord. Let St. Paul, the generous debt-assuming apostle, stand for Christ, our Saviour. Let Onesimus, the fraudulent and runaway slave, stand for man, the sinner. And then, sinful man, fleeing from the God he has wronged, falls into the hands of Christ, and comes to know and hate his sins. Christ goes to the Father saying, “If he [i.e., man] hath wronged Thee, or oweth Thee ought, put that to My account; I will repay it.” And, according to one theory of the Atonement at least, God takes the money; He demands that Christ should exhaust Himself with toil and suffering in order that man’s debt may be paid, and then blots out the debt from his account. Assuming for a moment this theory of the Atonement to be a true theory, what are we to think of Christ? Was it wrong, was it blameworthy of Him, to take the sinner’s place, to pay the sinner’s debt, to atone the sinner’s offence? If we hold to our parallel, so far from thinking it wrong, we can only pronounce it an unparalleled act of generous and self-forgetting love: so far from blaming Him for it, we can but honour and admire Him for it with all our hearts. But if God took the money--if He would not release man from his debt till some one, no matter who, had paid the debt--what are we to think of Him? Had Philemon taken St. Paul’s money, we agreed that in him it would have been an action almost incredibly mean and base; we agreed that we should have felt nothing for him but contempt. Are we to lower our standard, and alter our verdict, because it is God, and not man, who is called in question--God, from whom we expect, and have a right to expect, so much more than from man? No, we cannot, we dare not, either lower our standard or alter our verdict. What would have been wrong in man would have been at least equally wrong in God. And as God can do no wrong, either our parallel does not hold good, or this theory of the Atonement must be radically misleading and incomplete. Is the parallel at fault, then? Look at it again. Philemon was a just and kind master. And does not God Himself claim to hold a similar relation to us? Onesinms was an “unprofitable” servant--running away from a master he had robbed. And have not we again and again robbed God of His due, and left His service to walk after our own lusts? St. Paul loved Onesimus “as his own heart,” “as himself” (Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:17); and, in his love, he even put himself in the place of Onesimus, assumed his debt, interceded for him with his justly offended master, and raised him from the status of a slave to that of a “brother beloved.” Are there any words, even in the Bible itself, which more accurately and happily describe Christ’s relation to us? The parallel holds good then. We may take Philemon as setting forth God’s relation to us, Onesimus as setting forth our relation to God, and St. Paul as setting forth Christ’s relation both to God and man. But as the parallel does hold good, must not that theory of the Atonement to which I have referred be radically misleading and incomplete? No doubt any theory of the Atonement must be incomplete, for the Atonement is the reconciliation of man to God; and which of us fully comprehends either God or man? How, then, can we comprehend and express that Divine act or process, “that miracle of time,” by which the relations of God with man and of man with God were or are being drawn into an eternal concord? No theory of the Atonement conceived by the human mind, and expressed in human words, can possibly be perfect and entire, lacking nothing. The great “mystery of godliness” must ever remain a deep “in which all our thoughts are drowned.” And any man who assumes that he can comprehend it, and crush it into some narrow and portable formula, does but prove that he pertains to that well-known category or class which presumes to “rush in where angels fear to tread.” Still we may refuse to hold any theory of the Atonement which is obviously untenable. We may know, we may learn from Scripture at least enough of the Atonement for faith to grasp, and for the salvation that comes by faith. And, surely, it is impossible to deny that in sundry places Scripture does teach what is known as the vicarious or substitutionary theory of the Atonement; that it speaks of Christ as taking our place, paying our debt, suffering in our stead. Whether we like it or not, there it is: the writings of St. Paul are full of it. Whatever the moral effect of it were, candour would compel us to confess that this aspect of Christ’s work and ministry of reconciliation is set forth in the Scriptures of the apostles--not as the only aspect, only, indeed, as one of three or four, but still as a true aspect, as demanding our acceptance. Nevertheless, I confess that I for one should hesitate to accept it, were I unable to see and to show that the proper moral effect of it is not evil, but good; that it does not tend to weaken our hatred of sin, or to relax our struggle against it, but tends rather to strengthen our hatred of it, and to brace us for new endeavours to overcome it. And I value this story of Onesimus very highly because it suggests a reasonable and a complete answer to this common difficulty and objection. For, consider: Was St. Paul’s offer to pay the debt of Onesimus in the very least degree likely to confirm Onesimus in his knavery? Suppose the offer accepted; suppose he had seen the busy and weary apostle toiling night and day, suffering many additional hardships, in order to clear him of his debt--would Onesimus, after having thus seen what his crime had cost, have been the more likely to rob Philemon again? Would that have been the natural and proper effect on his mind of the apostle’s generous and self-sacrificing love for him? We know very well that it would not. We know very well that Onesimus, touched and melted by the love St. Paul had shown him, would rather have starved than show himself wholly unworthy of it. Why, then, if we believe that Christ Jesus, in the greatness of His love, took our place, paid our debt, toiled and suffered for our sins, and so reconciled us to the God we had wronged--why should that have a bad moral effect upon us? If Christ so loved us as to give Himself for us, the just for the unjust; if we clearly and honestly believe that, surely its proper moral effect on us will be that we shall love Him who so loved us: and how can we love Him, and yet not hate the evil that caused Him so much pain? But here we come back to a still graver difficulty. As St. Paul, to Philemon, for Onesimus, so Christ says, to God, for us, “If they have wronged Thee, or owe Thee ought, put that to My account; I will repay it.” Let it be granted, as I have tried to show, that this assumption of our place and debt by Christ Jesus was an act most noble and generous and Divine. Let it be granted, as I have also tried to show, that by our faith in His great love we are incited to more strenuous efforts after moral purity and righteousness, instead of being degraded and demoralised by it. Grant both these points: and, then, what are we to think of God if He took from Christ the money which paid our debt? All that series of Scriptural figures which represents our sins as debts, and the Father Almighty as keeping a book in which they are entered, and as blotting them from that book when they are paid, may be necessary, and may once have been still more necessary than it is now, to set forth certain aspects of spiritual truth. But we need not conceive of God’s book as though it were a ledger, nor of God Himself as a keen, hard-eyed merchant, still less as a peddling huckster, indifferent where his money comes from so that he gets it, and gets enough of it. All this is not in the Bible, though it may be in certain creeds and systems of divinity which, although they “have had their day,” have not even yet altogether “ceased to be.” And even the mercantile and forensic metaphors which are in the Bible are but metaphors after all; i.e., they are but human forms of Divine truth adapted to the weakness and grossness of our perceptions. Nor do they stand alone. Lest we should misinterpret them, they stand side by side with figures and words which set forth other aspects of the self-same truth in forms we cannot easily mistake. Recall and consider, for example, such sayings as these:--“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might have eternal life”; and again, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself”; and again, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Are not these words sufficiently simple and clear and direct? Are they not instinct--charged and surcharged--with a Divine tenderness? But if these sacred and tender words be true; if God was in Christ, if He against whom we had sinned Himself took our debt upon Him that He might frankly forgive us all, is there any lack of love and kindness in Him then? “It was noble in St. Paul,” you admit, “to take the debt of Onesimus upon him; but it would have been ignoble of Philemon to let the apostle pay it.” Granted. But suppose--for even impossibilities are supposable--that St. Paul had been both himself and Philemon. Suppose that when, in the form of Philemon, he had been robbed at Colosse, he forthwith posted to Rome in order that, in the form of St. Paul, he might bring Onesimus to repentance, in order that, at any cost of toil and suffering to himself, he might wipe out his debt and atone his wrong. Would not that have been nobler still? And if God, the very God whom we had defrauded, from whom we have fled, Himself came down into our low and miserable estate, to toil and suffer with us and for us, in order that He might bring us back to our better selves and to Him, in order that He might wipe out the debt we had contracted, convince us that He had remitted it, and raise us to a new life of service and favour and peace--what was that but a love so pure, so generous, so Divine, that the mere thought of it should melt and purify our hearts? We are to think of God, then, not simply as taking the money offered Him by Christ on our behalf, but also as paying it; not as exacting His due to the uttermost farthing, but rather as Himself discharging a debt we could never have paid. In the terms of our parable, He is Paul as well as Philemon--not only the Master we have wronged, but also the Friend who takes the wrong upon Himself. And we owe to Him both whatever service and duty the forgiven Onesimus owed to Philemon, and whatever gratitude and love he felt for St. Paul. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Reparation to God
And what a light is shed on the gospel idea of making reparation to God by means of a substitute, according to this earthly analogy! How finely the apostle here follows in the footsteps of Him who, on a higher plane, offered Himself as pledge or pawn for us who had failed to render the service that was due! Sin is no doubt much more than debt, but it is debt in so far as human defalcations stand in the account with God. Through melancholy faithlessness and dereliction and apostasy toward Him, what debts have been accumulating beyond all human power to liquidate! Neither regrets nor promises can here avail. Debts must be paid, if they would creditably be written off. The grace of the Lord Jesus admits of Him being debited. To the trusting soul He says: “I am your written and covenant surety”; and so far as sin is a load of debt to God, it is His alone to say: “Put this down to My account. I will repay.” Not as if there were any transference of moral qualities, or confusion of merit. Human guilt or blameworthiness can never be transferred to Christ, only imputed or reckoned to His account. What is actually transferred is the liability. And so must Christ’s merit be ever His own--its benefits only can be transferred, when it itself is imputed or put to any human account. In this sense Christ is ever holding Himself forth as able and ready to bear away the burden of human debt, and cancel sin, in the account of any soul with God. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Written it with mine own hand--St.
Paul may have written the whole of this letter with his own hand, contrary to his usual practice. (Jerome.)
A precious relic
What a precious relic, in that case, for Philemon and his family! (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
A signed bond
It does not follow from this sentence that the whole Epistle was written with the apostle’s own hand; rather it would seem that he made this engagement of repayment to be more emphatic and significant by distinguishing it from the rest of the Epistle, and by taking the pen from the hand of his secretary, and by inditing that particular clause with his own autograph, well known to Philemon. (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)
A Christian’s word should be enough
If we did live as becometh Christians, there should need no greater bond than the word of a Christian. The saying is, “By the word of a king”; who would not take a king’s word, so royal are they in their performances? Christ has made us all kings, to God His Father; therefore we should have a singular care of any of our bare words; though the witnesses die, yet God who heard our word lives forever. But we are fallen into such an age that many men’s bonds are of no validity. Samson broke the cords; and some break the seals of green wax at their pleasure; they make no account of paper or parchment bonds till they be cast into iron bonds. Some put their hands and seals to a writing, that make no conscience of the accomplishment of that which they have written. They are content to go so far with Pilate as to acknowledge their handwriting--“What I have written, I have written”; but they will not say, “What I have written I will perform.” St. Paul was of another mind; as he gave him his hand for the payment, so he gives him his heart and faithful promise to pay it. (W. Jones, D. D.)
We learn from hence, that civil instruments and covenants in writing, together with other assurances that may be asked and granted, are good and lawful, even amongst the best and greatest friends. I say, when debts are owing, when bargains are made, when money is lent, when lands are sold, and when there are mutual contracts between man and man, between friend and friend, between kinsman and kinsman, assurance in writing with hand and seal may be interchangeably given and received. And if we would enter into a further consideration of this truth we shall see a plain confirmation of it by sundry reasons.
1. It is a common proverb among us, fast bind, last find. That which is loosely bound is lightly lost; but a three-fold cord, well tied and twisted by word, by writing, by seal, is not easily broken. A word affirmeth, a writing confirmeth, a seal assureth, and everyone of them bindeth to confirm our promise. We see by daily experience that men are both mortal and mutable, and words prove oftentimes but wind, albeit ratified with the greatest solemnity. True it is, our word ought to be as good as a thousand obligations, but deceit is bred naturally in our hearts, so that we cannot ground upon the bare word of men to find good dealing. Otherwise, the Lord would never have given so many laws to restrain wrong and injustice, fraud, and oppression. All these, or at least a great part of them, are prevented by setting down our covenants and agreements in writing under our hands and seals.
2. It is needful to have this manner of dealing among us, to the end that equity and upright dealing might be observed among us, and that all occasions of wrangling and wresting of words and bargains might be cut off as with the sword of justice.
3. That all occasion of controversy and cousenage might be taken away. For if there were no writing to show (the memories of men being frail, and their practices being unfaithful) the world would be full of all loose dealings, and concord would be banished from among men.
4. Good assurance is to be allowed and received, to the end we may safely dispose of such things that are in our power and possession, either to our posterity or otherwise. Hence hath been in all ages, the laudable and commendable use of making wills and testaments, which the word of God approveth by delivering divers rules belonging to that profession. The law of God and of nature hath taught: that the will and testament of the dead ought not to be abrogated or altered; and that no will is of force until the testator be dead. Now we know not whether the gifts that we give, and the legacies that we bequeath, be of our own proper goods or the goods of other men, except we have beforehand a sufficient assurance of them made unto us. Seeing, therefore, where there is a fast knot, there is a sure keeping; seeing upright dealings is to be observed; seeing occasions of quarrels and contentions are to be stopped; and seeing the goods that God hath given unto us are rightly to be bestowed: it followeth that everyone is to provide for the security and quietness of his estate by all lawful means, not only by word of mouth, but by assurance in writing, that thereby he may foresee the danger that may come upon him and be wary and circumspect in all his doings, according to the saying of Christ, the Teacher and Author of true wisdom, “Be ye wise as serpents and innocent as doves. For if wisdom do season all our affairs, then also our contracts that are common in this life.” (W. Attersoll.)
Man’s debt remitted by Christ
Of what has not man robbed God? He has assailed His government, His laws, His honour, He has stolen and prostituted His gifts, time, health, mind, influence, to the service of sin, and striven to dethrone Him in the very world which He made, and in the heart whose every pulsation is at His will. Who shall atone for the great wrong? Only a surety, and He a Divine one, who is willing to draw upon His own head the punishment, and submit to “be wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities,” and to do and suffer whatever the claims and honour of Divine love required, till He could say, “It is finished,” and depart in peace, the Author of an eternal salvation to all that believe on His name. Graciously has God made earthly relations between man and man the representatives and explainers of higher things, and Paul’s generously undertaking the debt of the guilty Onesimus sets vividly before us that Saviour whom it was his whole life to preach and his brightest hope to enjoy. (R. Nisbet, D. D.)
Thou owest unto me even thine own self besides--
Man restored to himself
Very pregnant words indeed. He that accepts the gospel of Christ is made the true possessor of himself. Before this his soul was enslaved to evil, so that, humanly speaking, it would have been better for him if he had not been born. Now his true being is restored to him, so that by God’s grace he can fulfil that purpose for which he was created and redeemed--the glorifying of God in his whole self--in his body and in his spirit, which are God’s. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
We owe ourselves to Christ
Does not Christ speak to us in the same language? We owe ourselves to Him, as Lazarus did, for He raises us from the death of sin to a share in His own new, undying life. As a sick man owes his life to the doctor who has cured him, as a drowning man owes his to his rescuer who dragged him from the water and breathed into his lungs till they began to work of themselves, as a child owes its life to its parents, so we owe ourselves to Christ. But He does not insist upon the debt; He gently reminds us of it, as making His commandment sweeter and easier to obey. Every heart that is really touched with gratitude will feel that the less the giver insists upon his gifts, the more do they impel to affectionate services. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
What do you owe
Have not all of us received benefits? Have we paid our gratitude? I do not mean how much you owe to the grocer, baker, and landlord; but how much do you owe to yourself, to humanity, to God.
I. God is our Father who cares for us, and we therefore owe submission to His will when crosses and tribulation come. Tribulations borne with resignation shall mellow our nature, and be as a mould to fashion our character like unto Christ.
II. Do you not owe to yourself and to your fellow men the doing of duty? As the men who built Jerusalem, each repaired the wall before his door, so let us each do the duty that lies next us. We are not like the spectators in a theatre. We are the tragedians; we are the actors; daily life is our stage; Christ, and the angels, and our fellow men, are the spectators. Let us do our duty manfully, as Christ did. Do it because it is right; and remember that duty well done will honour us at the judgment day.
III. Pay your debt of religion to the world. When passing Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, if I have a quarter of an hour to spare, I always enter the sacred building and walk reverently over the graves of the good men of the past, and while looking on their partly obliterated names, I am inspired by their example to pray that my life may also be beneficial to my fellow men. What can be grander than a life which exhibits true Christian religion! Cannot you make yours such a life? Is it not a debt you owe to your neighbour? Pay the debt by embodying in your life the eternal truth which Christ has given to the world. (W. Birch.)
Reverence and love due to ministers
From hence we learn that such as have gained us to God, or preserved us in the state of salvation by the preaching of the gospel, ought to be most dear unto us, we owing unto them even ourselves, and whatsoever we have besides to do them good. The benefits bestowed upon us by the ministry of the Word can never be sufficiently esteemed, nor worthily enough prized, nor aboundantly enough be recompensed and rewarded with our love and the fruits of our love. Neither should this seem strange unto us.
1. They are most of all to be loved and highly esteemed of us that do us most good; we are most deeply indebted unto them that labour most for our benefit.
2. Again, they are unto us instead of Christ. They are His officers that He hath appointed in His Church, who, when He ascended into heaven, gave gifts unto men and ordained those that should teach His people unto the end of the world.
3. They are the ministers by whom we believe, and consequently by whom we are saved. They are our fathers in Christ, by whom we are begotten to eternal life. The uses arising from hence are of divers sorts.
(1) It directeth us to other necessary truths to be learned of us, It is noted by the apostle to be one general use of the Scripture, that it serveth and sufficeth to teach all truth needful to salvation, so the former point being received will help us to find out and conclude other truths. First we learn that, wheresoever there is a true profession, a sound feeling, a true taste of religion, or joy of salvation, there will be a reverent account and joyful entertainment of the teachers and publishers of the gospel. On the other side, a light and slender account of the ministers argueth a light account of the word of Christ, of the doctrine of salvation, and of the trueness of religion. Thus then we see how we may prove ourselves whether we be in the faith or not, even by the good estimation that we have of such as are the bringers of it. Secondly, we may gather from hence that the greatest part of the world lieth deeply and dangerously in condemnation, because such hath been the unthankfulness thereof toward the ministers and messengers of salvation, that it never respected them or gave them any reverence.
(2) As this doctrine serveth to teach, so it is profitable to reprove divers sorts of men; but I will only touch these three. First, it maketh against such as make a bad and base account of the ministers of God, and think they owe no duty to their pastors, but reckon them as their vassals and servants; suppose that they are bound to please them and follow their humours, and account their teachers beholden unto them for vouchsafing to hear them as crediting their ministry by their presence. If a man abuse an ambassador of a prince and set him at nought, it is reputed and revenged as a disgrace and dishonour done to the prince himself; so, if we shall abase and disgrace the ministers of the gospel, which are the messengers of God, we shall never escape without punishment, but bring upon ourselves swift damnation. Is not he a godless and ungracious child that mocketh and despiseth his father, after the example of cursed Shem, who tasted of God’s wrath for his contempt? Lastly, it reproveth such as refuse to give them sufficient maintenance, and do bar them of that competent and convenient portion that God hath allotted unto them in His word. For, if such as have spent their strength to bring us unto God, ought above all others to be regarded of us and have a worthy recompense of their labours; surely they deserve to be checked and controlled that deal niggardly toward them, who have kept back nothing from them, but revealed unto them the whole counsel of God. Thirdly, seeing the benefits brought unto us, both upon our bodies and souls, by the means of the ministry, can never be worthily esteemed and sufficiently expressed; it serveth to instruct us in the necessary duties of our obedience, even to testify our love to the truth by reverencing and respecting them that are the Lord’s messengers to bring the truth unto our doors. Lastly, seeing they by whose ministry we are gained to God and preserved in the state of salvation being gained, ought to be most dear unto us, we owing unto them our own selves; this must teach the ministers of God a necessary duty and lesson to be marked of them, to wit, to endeavour by their daily diligence and continual preaching of the gospel, to make the people indebted unto them. For how do the people come so much in their debt but that they receive heavenly doctrine by their ministry as from the mouth of God? All men are not to be handled after one manner, but one after one manner, and another after another. He were a bad and mad physician that would use all his patients to one receipt. Some have gross humours in them, and stand in need to be purged; some more strongly, others more gently, according to their condition and constitution. Others have more need to have nature restored than purged, such must have cordials and restoratives ministered unto them. So it is with such as need physic for the soul. (W. Attersoll.)
Ourselves received from and given to Christ
I venture to take these words as spoken to each Christian soul by a higher and greater voice than Paul’s. “I will repay it; albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto Me even thine own self besides.”
I. Our transcendent debt. The Christian teacher may say to the soul which by his ministrations has been brought back to God and to peace in a very real sense: “Thou owest thyself to me.” But I pass from that altogether to the consideration of the loftier thought that is here. It is a literal fact that all of you Christian people, if you are Christians in any real sense, do owe your whole selves to Jesus Christ. Does a child owe itself to its parent? And has not Jesus Christ, if you are His, breathed into you, by supernatural and real communication, a better life and a better self, so that you have to say, “I live, yet not I, but Jesus Christ liveth in me.” And if that be so, is not your spiritual being, your Christian self, purely and distinctly a gift from Him? Does a man that is lying wrestling with mortal disease, and who is raised up by the skill and tenderness of his physician, owe his life to the doctor? Does a man that is drowning, and is dragged out of the river by some strong hand, owe himself to his rescuer? And is it not true that you and I were struggling with a disease which in its present form was mortal, and would very quickly end in death? Is it not true that all souls separated from God, howsoever they may secrete be living, are dead; and have not you been dragged from that living death by this dear Lord, so as that, if you have not perished, you owe yourselves to Him? Does a mad man who has been restored to self-control and sanity owe himself to the sedulous care of him that has healed him? And is it not true, paradox as it sounds, that the more a man lives to himself the less he possesses himself; and that you have been delivered, if you are Christian men and women, from the tyranny of lust and passions, and from the abject servitude to the lower parts of your nature, and to all the shabby tyrants, in time and circumstance, that rob a man of himself; and have been set free and made sane and sober, and your own masters and your own owners, by Jesus Christ? To live to self is to lose self, and when we come to ourselves we depart from ourselves; and He that has enabled us to rule our own mutinous and anarchic nature, and to put will above passions, and tastes, and flesh, and conscience above will, and Christ above conscience, has given us the gift which we never had before of an assured possession of our own selves.
II. The all-comprehending obligation based upon this. If it be true that by the sacrifice of Himself Christ has given us ourselves, what then? Why, then, the only adequate response to that gill made ours at such cost to the giver, is to give ourselves back wholly to Him who gave Himself wholly to us. Christ can only buy me at the cost of Himself. Christ only wants myself when He gives Himself. In the sweet commerce of that reciprocal love which is the foundation of all blessedness, the only equivalent for a heart is a heart. As in our daily life, and in our sweet human affections, husband and wife, and parent and children, have nothing that they can barter the one with the other except mutual interchange of self; so Jesus Christ’s great gift to me can only be acknowledged, adequately responded to, when I give myself to Him. And if I might for a moment dwell upon the definite particulars into which such an answer will expand itself, I might say this entire surrender of self will be manifested by the occupation of all our nature with Jesus Christ. He is meant to be the food of my mind as truth; He is meant to be the food of my heart as love; He is meant to be the Lord of my will as supreme Commander. Tastes, inclinations, faculties, hopes, memories, desires, aspirations, they are all meant as so many tendrils by which my many fingered spirit can twine itself round Him, and draw from Him nourishment and peace. Again, this entire surrender will manifest itself in the devotion of our whole being to His name and glory. Words easily spoken! words which, if they were truly transmuted into life by any of us, would revolutionise our whole nature and conduct! And further, this entire surrender of self will manifest itself in regard not only of our being and our acting, but of our having. I do not want to dwell upon this point at any length, but let me remind you, that a slave has no possessions of his own. And you and I, if we are our own owners, are so only because we are Christ’s slaves. Therefore we have nothing. In the old bad days the slave’s cottage, his little bits of chattels, the patch of garden ground with its vegetables, and the few coins that he might have saved by selling these, they all belonged to his master because he belonged to his master. And that is true about you and me, and our balance at our bankers’, and our houses and our possessions of all sorts. We say we believe that; do we administer these possessions as if we did believe it?
III. The repayment. Jesus Christ stops in no man’s debt. There is an old story in one of the historical books of the Old Testament about people who, in the middle of a doubtful negotiation, were smitten by conscience and drew back from it. But one of them, with commercial shrewdness, remembered that a portion of their capital was already invested, and he says, “What shall we do for the thousand talents that we have given, and are now sacrificing at the bidding of conscience?” And the answer was: “The Lord is able to give thee much more than these.” That is true of all sacrifices for Him. He has given us abundant wages beforehand. What we give is His before it was ours. It remains His when it is called ours. We but give Him back His own. There is really nothing to repay, yet He repays in a hundred ways. He does so by giving us a keen joy in the act of surrender. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Christ bestows ourselves upon ourselves that we may have some portion of that joy. And with it come other gladnesses. There is not only the joy of surrender and the enhanced possession of all which is surrendered, but there is the larger possession of Himself which comes always as the issue of a surrender of ourselves to Him. When we thus yield He comes into our souls. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Let me have joy of thee in the lord--In that thou doest what thou doest through the grace of Christ, through His dwelling in thee, and particularly thou imitatest Him in the breaking of bonds and freeing the captive.
(M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
Christ the true sphere of action
If Philemon receives his slave for Christ’s sake and in the strength of that communion with Christ which fits for all virtue, and so for this good deed a deed which is of too high and rare a strain of goodness for his unaided nature then “in Christ” he will be helpful to the apostle. In that case, the phrase expresses the element or sphere in which the act is done. But it may apply rather, or even also, to Paul, and then it expresses the element or sphere in which he is helped and refreshed. In communion with Jesus, taught and inspired by Him, the apostle is brought to such true and tender sympathy with the runaway that his heart is refreshed, as by a cup of cold water, by kindness shown to him. Such keen sympathy is as much beyond the reach of nature as Philemon’s kindness would be. Both are “in Christ.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Provoked to virtue by a good example
Let me have profit of thee. There is here a play on the slave’s name, and the words are equivalent to, “Be thou to me an Onesimus.” He would extinguish the rising feeling of conscious merit and of boasting Philemon might entertain in compliance, and reminds him that by such compliance he would still be less helpful to him than had been Onesimus. He had Paul’s messenger, servant, fellow worshipper, and friend, and all he would have Philemon do was so to act as not to allow one of so despised a class to surpass him in generosity. It is good for men that are provoked to emulation by the Christian virtues of those around them. Their presence slays pride and inflames zeal, and invites to effort and to prayer, and makes it matter for shame even should slender abilities and advantages cast superior endowments into shade, should a Philemon be surpassed in Christian feeling and usefulness by an Onesimus. (R. Nisbet, D. D.)
Having confidence in thy obedience
A good opinion of others
In these words the apostle excuseth that he hath hitherto been so earnest with Philemon, declaring, that notwithstanding his exact and effectual manner of handling the matter, he doubted not of his receiving of him into his favour again.
So then his drift is to show his good opinion of him, that he would not stick to forgive him but yield readily to every honest and reasonable request. He knew not certainly what Philemon would do, he knew what wrongs he had received and what losses he had sustained at his servant’s hands; yet we see how, grounding himself upon the former trial of his faith and obedience, he hopeth the best, he doubteth not the worst; he trusteth in his obedience, he feareth not his denial.
I. From hence we learn that it is our duty always to hope well and to think the best, not to suspect the worst, of our brethren.
1. It is a property of love to be charitably affected, as the apostle testifieth in his description of it, “Love thinketh not evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7). Again, he saith, “It suffereth all things, it believeth all things, it hopeth all things, it endureth all things.” The wise man also teacheth “that love covereth a multitude of sins.” So then, where Christian love and brotherly kindness is, there is the best opinion and judgment one of another.
2. It is a fruit of a righteous man to hope the best and to judge charitably of his brother. The best man doth hardly suspect others to be bad. It is a common proverb, “A man doth muse as he doth use”; as himself useth to do so he imagineth of another. He that judgeth lewdly of another by mere suspicion or supposition is commonly lewd himself. For such as are wicked do think others as wicked as themselves; and such as are hypocrites themselves are most forward to tax others of hypocrisy. Seeing therefore to be charitably minded is both a property of love and a fruit of righteousness, it followeth that we ought to hope the best of all our brethren.
II. The uses remain to be considered.
1. This serveth to reprove sundry abuses that are crept in among us and are too common in our practice, and are directly condemned in the Ninth Commandment, which tend to the hurt of our brother’s good name, as all hard conceits and evil surmises, all uncharitable opinions and suspicions against them. The good name of a man is very precious, better than silver; yet it hath many enemies. If then we be charged to conceive the best in doubtful cases one of another, the capital sin of calumniation or slander is hereby condemned as the chief opposite to a man’s estimation and credit. This hath many branches that are breaches of the law: all of one kind and kindred, and all enemies unto the good names of our brethren. In this number are arranged these three as companions one of another: the tale-breeder, the tale-bearer, the tale-believer.
2. It is our duty to expound and interpret all doubtful things in the best part before the truth do plainly and clearly appear unto us, and labour what we may to cover their infirmities. We must not be suspicious without great cause or good ground, but to give all uncertain and wandering reports of our brethren the best interpretation, according to the rule before remembered, “Love believeth all things, it hopeth all things.’”
3. Albeit we are to hope the best of others and to judge charitably of them, yet we must know that it is our duty to admonish one another and seek to convert one another from going astray. Hereby we shall save a soul, clear their good name, and cover a multitude of sins. For it is most certain, we can never conceive a good opinion of them, nor have them in any estimation, nor entertain a charitable judgment of their doings, unless we show ourselves forward to exhort and admonish them when we see they walk not with a right foot nor tread in the steps that lead unto eternal life.
4. Lastly, seeing it is our duty to hope and esteem the best of one another, let this be acknowledged and confessed of us, that we must judge of no man before the time; we must take heed of rash judgment. We must despair of no man’s salvation but hope the best of them, that God will give them repentance to come out of the snares and subtleties of the devil whereby they are holden captives to do his will.
III. This offereth unto us these meditations.
1. It is a comfort to those that at the last are brought to repentance. No man is excluded from grace in this life, and from glory in the world to come, that turneth unto God with all his heart. Let none despair through the greatness, heinousness, and multitude of his sins, hat rather make haste and delay not the time to put off from day to day, considering how ready the Lord is to embrace him, to receive him, to forgive him.
2. Albeit the gate of mercy be set wide open for all penitent persons, yet this ought not to harden men’s hearts in carelessness and security. For the ungodly that continue in their sins have no defence for themselves and their presumption in God’s mercy, by the example of those that were called at the last hour of the day. Mark, that so soon as the thief and labourers were called, by and by they repented: the reason why they turned from their sins no sooner was because grace was no sooner offered unto them: but when God spake, they beard His voice with joy; when God called, they answered without delay: whereas these impenitent persons have had the means oftentimes offered unto them, and yet refuse the calling of the Lord.
3. We are to hope the best of our brethren, to commend them unto God, to pray for their conversion. There cannot be a greater injury done unto them than to pass the sentence of condemnation upon them, and as much as lieth in us to blot them out of the book of life. Hence it is that the apostle saith (1 Corinthians 4:5). (W. Attersoll.)
Earnest confidence in others
I. Paul’s confidence abates not his earnestness. Even where there is greatest hope of speed, it is no error to put to our best strength. Even the most forward may be quickened. Assurance of speed should not cool our fervor in our suits for God. God loves not only obedience but a cheerful spirit therein. Though we be assured of men’s obedience, yet who knows what oppositions, reluctations, and discouragements may come from Satan, and a man’s own corrupt heart? How seasonable then in such cases may some motives be! and how may our warmth heat another! It is no absurdity in this case to put spurs to a running horse.
II. Mark what hath all this while made Paul so earnest with Philemon, “having confidence of thine obedience.” Never hath a man a better heart to speak than where he hath an hope to speed. Surely people’s zeal kindles ministers’, the forwarder they are to hear the forwarder are they to speak. Philemon’s obedience puts heat and life into Paul and makes him earnest. A man hath but little heart to speak where he hath but little hope to speed. When a man fears he shall have but a cold suit of it, it chills his affections and makes him a cold suitor. Examine therefore thine own heart, and try if thou find not She cause of thy minister’s defects in thyself. Many a minister would be better if he had a better people, and a good people makes a good minister as well as a good minister makes a good people.
III. See the credit, yea the honour, that conscience and obedience puts upon a man. Paul makes no question but to prevail with Philemon, because he knew him even before to make a conscience of yielding obedience.
IV. The property of a gracious and an enlarged heart. It is not so illiberally and niggardly disposed as to give God no more than His just dues in extremity, but enlarges itself so as to go further than it is tied by express commandment. (D. Dyke, B. D.)
Thou wilt also do more than I say--
What was the something which lay outside of, beyond, and over, the wide range of all that St. Paul bad claimed--forgiveness of two great offences on the part of Onesimus--deletion of his debt, his exaltation and ennoblement into a brother? There were overwhelming reasons why St. Paul should not demand the manumission of Onesimus. The slave would thus have been forced by St. Paul’s action into a position in which he would have derived an enormous gain from gross wrong-doing. Philemon, besides, would have been a pecuniary loser without a free and hearty consent. Yet there has been a very general feeling that the word “liberty” fills St. Paul’s heart, hangs upon his lips though unuttered, and hovers over his pen though unwritten. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
If St. Paul had thought Philemon a churlish, hard man, he would not have written such a letter, but he knew him to be a kind, considerate man, and so he would be ready, not only to comply, but to go beyond the expressed desire of the apostle. Notice the word “obedience.” It is the only one in the letter which implies apostolic authority, but it is in the letter, and justly reminds Philemon that it was no ordinary servant of Christ who was making the request. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
More hinted than stated
Was he hinting at emancipation, which he would rather have to come from Philemon’s own sense of what was due to the slave who was now a brother, than be granted, perhaps hesitatingly, in deference to his request? Possibly, but more probably, he had no definite thing in his mind, but only desired to express his loving confidence in his friend’s willingness to please him. Commands given in such a tone, where authority audibly trusts the subordinate, are far more likely to be obeyed than if they were shouted with the hoarse voice of a drill sergeant. Men will do much to fulfil generous expectations. Christ’s commands follow, or rather set, this pattern. He trusts His servants, and speaks to them in a voice softened and confiding. He tells them His wish, and commits Himself and His cause to His disciples’ love. Obedience beyond the strict limits of command will always be given by love. It is a poor, grudging service which weighs obedience as a chemist does some precious medicine, and is careful that not the hundredth part of a grain more than the prescribed amount shall be doled out. A hired workman will fling down his lifted trowel full of mortar at the first stroke of the clock, though it would be easier to lay it on the bricks; but where affection moves the hand, it is delight to add something over and above to bare duty. The artist who loves his work will put many a touch on it beyond the minimum which will fulfil his contract. Those who adequately feel the power of Christian motives will not be anxious to find the least that they durst, but the most that they can do. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The doctrine arising from hence is this, that righteous men being moved to honest, charitable, just, and necessary duties, will yield more than men can well request and require them to do.
1. The obedience of the faithful will super-abound because they set before them the example of God and delight to come near unto Him. They have experience of His bountiful dealing toward them, He is ready to grant not only what they ask but more than they ask.
2. The children of God have a free and willing mind, and seek to walk before Him with a perfect heart. And what will not a willing heart do? Will it not strive to attain to perfection?
3. Their joyfulness in the works of righteousness and godliness do exceed the trial of necessity. Though the Lord try His people with manifold afflictions, yet they are so far from quailing and cooling their willing readiness and ready willingness to do according to that they are required, nay, above that they are required, that they make the same much more excellent and famous.
4. They acknowledge all things to be from God and to be His; and therefore they will yield freely where He requireth and what He requireth and as far as He enableth them to their uttermost strength. The uses remain to he handled.
1. From hence we learn this point, that forwardness and zeal in good things is greatly to be commended. We cannot yield more than is looked for at our hands, unless we be earnest and fervent in the Spirit as men that are led by the Spirit. True it is there is no warrant to walk without our warrant or to run too fast without any guide. Hence it is that Solomon saith (Ecclesiastes 7:18-19). Meaning thereby that as we should not suffer sin to reign in our mortal bodies (though we cannot wholly drive it away), so we should not seek a righteousness beyond the law. So then we must understand that albeit we are to be ready to yield more than can be required of us, yet we must not think to do more than God requires of us. If we speak of the duties that God commandeth, we come far short when we have done what we can, and we must confess we are unprofitable servants; but when we speak of good and Christian duties which our ministers or brethren crave of us and desire us to practise, we should willingly perform more than they ask at our hands. Let us therefore be fervent and zealous in all lawful and honest things. It is good always to be earnest in a good thing.
2. This doctrine is a comfort to ourselves and to other the servants of God, and an occasion of great joy when as we ourselves or others are forward and cheerful beyond expectation in good things. A notable example of both is offered to our consideration in the provision that was made and the furniture that was provided for the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:9). Where we see that when David himself having a great zeal and delight in the house of his God gave of his own gold and silver, and the people and princes following his example spared no cost and expenses, it is said, “The people rejoiced when they offered willingly, for they offered willingly to the Lord, with a perfect heart: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy.” Again, there is great occasion offered unto us to glorify God and to praise His Name, whensoever He worketh this willingness in the hearts of His children, and when we see their zeal to abound and their readiness to go beyond any request that we can make unto them. Lastly, it is the duty of every man to labour to be answerable at the least to the expectation that the Church hath had of him, and to endeavour to be as good as he hath made show of, performing therein the practice of his profession, not deceiving any of the servants of God therein this requireth of us a careful observation and marking of the manners of men, both of their beginnings and proceedings, and not to stand, as idle beholders, gazing in the air; that we may understand the time, the means, the forwardness, the knowledge, the show that hath been in many; all which have promised much and caused us to expect good things at their hands, and yet oftentimes in vain. (W. Attersoll.)
Philemon’s willing heartedness
There are labourers whose hammers or spades move more or less briskly according as the foreman is near at hand or away. They need both an overseer and a stint of work. There are also those whose work is turned off changeably as to quantity, according to the terms of agreement signifying “by the day” or “by the job.” Selfishness is not easily laid aside always when, hired to perform work for another, one lays off the coat to set about it. That under garment still remains, fitting more closely than tailor ever cut; Nessus-like, cleaving to the very skin. But an unselfish workman, even though but hired, is more like a partner in the firm. What interest he manifests in the successful issue! With hearty love for the end to be accomplished, making the work his own apparently, see how the better motive keeps every muscle up to its full tension! Not easily does he tire. Stint him, and, if possible, he will overdo the stint. No danger but that in a full day he will accomplish a full day’s work--without any overseer. There are such Christian workmen. Paul regarded Philemon as one of this sort. Some one has suggested that that accounts for Philemon’s Epistle having but one chapter. Writing to him, Paul needed not to spin out directions and exhortations page after page. Twenty-five verses were sufficient. No more than that to Philemon--whose heart was in the work! Possibly certain congregations, clamorous for short sermons, in these days might take a hint from the brevity of Philemon’s Epistle. At least shorter sermons might find more appropriate place if Philemon’s spirit was more generally diffused throughout the Churches. As it is, may they not already be disproportionately brief, especially as we consider the half heartedness for the Christian task with which so many of us go to our work? We deserve watching. We deserve stinting. We deserve long epistles, like overseer’s lash, laid over us. It is the boy who hates work to whom his father must address himself with ever-wearying particulars of direction each morning. “Before you go off to play today, you must saw twenty-five sticks at the woodpile, or help mother about the house two hours and a half. That’s your stint.” Such a boy one must be particular with, or, likely as not, he’ll do nothing. You know very well he will do no more than he has been directed to do. But the boy Philemon--when his father is leaving home, and must give directions to the hired servant for the management of affairs about the place during his absence, will he need directing also? Is his father anxious about him? “What will he be about while I am away so long?” Oh, no! Philemon has a son’s interest in the work to be carried forward. “I’ve told him a few things to be remembered; but he is as much interested in affairs as I am, and he will do much more than I have said. I can trust Philemon!” Philemon-Christians, too, require but short sermons. To the Corinthians, however, chapter after chapter! Specific information how to conduct themselves: Not to vex their brethren, going to law with them; not to defile themselves shamelessly; not to eat meats offered to idols, nor cover their heads in prayer, nor profane the Lord’s Supper by over drinking. Finally, Paul had even to add that, notwithstanding all his instructions, he feared, when he should come again to them, lest there should be “debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, swellings, and tumults”--enough to require some more very long sermons, just such as Paul could preach on occasions, as at Troas, where one poor man got asleep under it and fell out of the window. But Philemon--a whole church full of such Corinthians as he would have required very simple directions by epistles or sermons--in fact, would have constituted a model Church, no less than one easy to preach to in these hot days of summer. Somehow, a minister rather longs for Philemons in the pews, with hearts so much in the work they need little but leading; never pushing, never stinting, never overseeing, never long sermons. (G. G. Phipps.)
Prepare me also a lodging
If St. Paul’s direction here arose from a real anxiety upon the subject of the “lodging” itself, we shall not be likely to suppose that he required much comfort or preparation for an ample retinue. The lodgings, as Jerome happily says, “were for the apostles rather than for Paul. He anticipated a large concourse of hearers. This would involve a situation convenient of access; large enough to hold a number of people; in a locality of good report, and undisturbed by a troublesome neighbourhood.”
2. St. Paul had evidently changed his plans since writing Romans 15:24-28. With this verse cf. Philippians 2:24.
3. Rhetorically, this request would tell doubly--
(1) “Prepare me a lodging, or arrange for me at an inn. Nay, surely he will be the honoured and beloved guest of Philemon and Apphia. Will not Onesimus be there? And in what position?
(2) St. Paul wrote to a true and devoted friend. This simple direction would excite hope and joy, the passions which beyond all others make the human heart unable to refuse anything to those whom it loves. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
A hope of liberty
A thought concerning himself, introduced here not for the sake of himself, but because, as he adds, they prayed to God that his presence might be vouchsafed to them, not only for their personal gratification, but that he might impart to them some spiritual gift as an apostle (Romans 1:11; cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24), where a similar hope of liberation is expressed. (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)
St. Paul coming to Philemon
Whereas, therefore, Philemon might have thought with himself, and thus reasoned touching Paul’s suit. “It skilleth not whether I grant it or not, he hath been a most lewd servant unto me, and Paul liveth far off from me, he is held in prison at Rome; either he will not hear what becometh of Onesimus, or if he does hear, peradventure he shall never be delivered out of prison, but remain a prisoner all the days of his life; and therefore I will deal with Onesimus as seemeth good to myself.” These and such like imaginations the apostle putteth out of his head, and telleth him he should shortly look for his coming unto him, whereby he should know what account he made of his words, and what obedience he would yield to his request. Hence it is that for this cause Paul craveth to have lodging prepared for him rather by Philemon than any other citizen at Colosse; not that he required much provision and preparation to be made for his entertainment, who had taught others, and learned himself to be content with a little, but because by this commandment, as by a sharp sword, he would pierce the bowels of Philemon, and as by a strong engine, batter the fort and bulwark of his heart, and thoroughly persuade him and prevail with him to receive Onesimus, both into his house and into his favour. (W. Attersoll.)
I. Its dependence (Philemon 1:22).
1. On God. His restoration would be an act of Divine grace.
2. On each other. Mutual dependence a privilege as well as necessity. Includes--
II. Its reciprocation (Philemon 1:23-24).
1. Of faith and feeling. As a thousand particles of iron are held together by invisible magnetic current, so the hearts of men by unseen force of faith in Jesus and love for Him.
2. Of labour and endurance. The first named in the salutation is more than a fellow worker. He had joined the apostle in combat with the powers of darkness, and now shared his captivity.
III. Its benediction. (Philemon 1:25).
1. Testimony concerning Christ. Main teachings of the gospel concerning Him concentrated here.
(1) That He is alive and a Divine Benefactor.
(2) Anointed “Lord.” Appellative of Jehovah in Old Testament. So in Colossians 1:16; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2. Equal with God, whose grace alone can sustain the spirit of men.
(3) Faith in Him the origin and power of all worthy life (verse 5, 6). No good done without His grace. All and in all.
2. Teaching for followers of Christ. Grace of Christ the supreme fount of goodness and blessing. The Alpha and Omega of joyfulness and power. Thence comes--
(1) Forgiveness (Matthew 1:21; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9).
(2) Renovation. Onesimus a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
(3) Sanctification (2 Corinthians 5:21).
(4) Wisdom (1Co 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3; Ephesians 1:8).
(5) Hope (Romans 5:2; 1 Peter 1:3-8).
(6) Consolation (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 4:15). All we need and can wish. (A. W. Johnson.)
I. This duty is urged upon us by divers examples in the Holy Scriptures.
1. It is to be practised of us because it is the commandment of God that we should love and lodge strangers, and show all pity and compassion toward them, to succour them in their necessity. This it is which Moses saith, “Love ye the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:1-22). Hereunto cometh the rule of the apostle, “Distribute to the necessities of the saints, give yourselves to hospitality” (Romans 12:1-21). This is the precept of the apostle Peter, “Be ye harbourers one towards another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9). Seeing, therefore, God commandeth, it is our part to obey, and submit ourselves to His will and pleasure.
2. As God requireth this duty of us, so we have His own example to teach it unto us. It is a property of God to love strangers, and therefore to be imitated and followed of all that belong unto Him. This reason is expressed in Deuteronomy 10:18.
3. God doth greatly honour such as honour strangers. They have been so far honoured by God as that angels have entered into their houses, been entertained by them, and have blessed them.
II. The doctrine being thus cleared, the uses remain to be showed.
1. This declareth that hospitality is a commendable virtue, and a worthy fruit of love; yea, an excellent ornament in the children of God, whereby they receive good report of the Church.
2. Secondly, this doctrine serveth for reproof. Of all, of such as think that hospitality consisteth in feasting and keepeth great cheer, and bidding the rich to their tables; whereas the Scripture understandeth by it a courteous entertainment of such poor Christians as are banished out of their countries.
2. This meeteth with the corruption of our times, we cannot abide those that are strangers, but are enemies to the very name when we hear of it. But all neglect of them and injurious dealing towards them is a great sin, and such as are haters of strangers are grievous sinners.
3. It is our duty to take the opportunity offered unto us of God; nay, it is required of us to seek the opportunity to express our obedience to God, and our love to our people, in doing all good to such as stand in need.
4. Lastly, it is a great comfort and peace to a man’s conscience that God will in His Son Christ regard him, when with a single heart he hath been careful to testify his love toward distressed strangers for the truth’s sake. Let us rejoice in this consolation, that we shall be assured that God will pity us when we have thus pitied others. (W. Attersoll.)
Letters do not blush
It is a known observation that letters do not blush. What men would be ashamed to ask in person, that they are bold enough to ask by letter; and it is as true that the readers of letters do not blush; they are hardy enough to deny that to their absent friends, which they could not refuse them if present. The apostle therefore intimates to Philemon his intention to visit him shortly, who must for that reason be the more inclined to gratify him as not being able to look him in the face and to bear his presence, if he should deny him this small, this reasonable, this importunate request. (Bp. Smalridge.)
I trust that through your prayers--
Prayer for temporal blessings
The limits of Paul’s expectation as to the power of his brethren’s prayers for temporal blessings are worth noting. He does believe that these good people in Colosse could help him by prayer for his liberation, but he does not believe that their prayer will certainly be heard. In some circles much is said now about “the prayer of faith”--a phrase which,, singularly enough, is in such cases almost confined to prayers for external blessing,--and about its power to bring money for work, which the person praying believes to be desirable, or to send away diseases. But surely there can be no “faith” without a definite Divine word to lay hold of. Faith and God’s promise are correlative; and unless a man has God’s plain promise that A.B. will be cured by his prayer, the belief that he will is not faith but something deserving a much less noble name. The prayer of faith is not forcing our wills on God, but bending our will to God’s. The prayer which Christ has taught in regard to all outward things is, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” and “May Thy will become mine” That is the prayer of faith, which is always answered. The Church prayed for Peter, and he was delivered. The Church, no doubt, prayed for Stephen, and he was stoned. Was, then, the prayer for him refused? Not so, but if it were prayer at all, the inmost meaning of it was, “Be it as Thou wilt”; and that was accepted and answered. Petitions for outward blessings, whether for the petitioner or for others, are to be presented with submission; and the highest confidence which can be entertained concerning them is that which Paul here expresses: “I hope that through your prayers I shall be set free.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The duty of praying for ministers
1. In regard of the love, which is due from people to minister. People are bound to love their pastors. Now love seeks not her own things. He that prays not for his minister, loves him not.
2. In regard of their great charge wherewithal they are betrusted. A charge of greater worth than all the world--the soul of their people. The greater the charge the greater the gifts required to discharge it. The more graces they need the more earnest should our prayers be to procure the same.
3. In regard of their danger as in the former point. They are in danger of Satan’s malice, he knows if he can but with his tail cause these stars to fall from heaven, that he shall cause the greater darkness and the greater scandal; their corruption in life or doctrine will be exemplary and infectious. They are also in danger of unreasonable men (2 Thessalonians 3:2). The greater reason that they should be holpen with our prayers.
4. Pray for your ministers, because in praying for them you pray for yourselves, and procuring their good you procure your own. The better ministers are, the better is it for people. Many people complain of the insufficiency of their teachers, and as many ministers may complain of the negligence of their people. For if they were more diligent in prayer their ministers would be more able to preach if they would pray more for them, then should they be able to preach better unto them. What be the things we should beg for them? Paul specifies some particulars, wherein he would be remembered. As--
(1) Free and bold utterance of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3-4).
(2) Free passage of his ministry (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
(3) Deliverance from wicked men (Romans 15:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3).
(4) Other particulars are mentioned (Romans 15:31). (D. Dyke, B. D.)
I shall be given unto you--
Answered prayer unmerited
The meaning of the apostle is thus much in effect. The prayers of the saints shall prevail with God, and being offered up for my deliverance, shall not return to them without comfort, nor ascend to Him without effect, nor concern me without profit. Notwithstanding, albeit, they shall not go empty away, but have their full force and power, yet it is to be acknowledged and learned that they so obtain, as that my deliverance is to be wrought out by the free gift of His grace, not by the merit and desert of your prayers. If we would know the causes and reasons why the graces of God are freely bestowed upon us, and nothing given for our deserts.
1. Let us consider that all matter of boasting is taken from us, and God will have the glory of His own work, and the praise of His mercy.
2. There are no such properties in any man’s works as that they can merit, or proceed from any other fountain than grace. Let us therefore see what properties are necessarily required in works to make them meritorious.
(1) They must be done of a man of himself, and by himself; but we have nothing of our own to give Him, but are most poor men and mere beggars, and can but pay God with His own. Without Him, therefore, we can do nothing; it is He that must work in us the will and the deed.
(2) They must be such works as are not due unto Him, they must not be due debt, they must come from our own free will, they must be such as God cannot justly challenge at our hands. We are miserable bankrupts, we have nothing, we have less than nothing to pay.
(3) The work must be done to the benefit and profit of Him, from whom we look to be repayed. But our goodness and well doing reacheth not to the Lord (Psalms 16:1-11). We may benefit men, but we cannot benefit our Maker, from whom we have received soul and body. Now they that cannot give anything to God can deserve nothing from Him.
(4) Whatsoever is imperfect cannot stand in the presence of the most just and perfect God. We must bring nothing before Him but that which is absolute and able to bear and sustain His wrath. But all that we do offer, or can offer, unto God is maimed and imperfect. Lastly, the work and the reward must be in proportion equal, for if the reward be more than the work it is not a reward of desert, but a gift of good will. For grace and glory are unmatchable, no price can purchase them, no merits can match them. This doctrine being thoroughly strengthened, let us see what uses may be grounded from thence.
(1) We learn from thence that seeing God giveth not by desert, but of His mercy; that whatsoever we have obtained and received by any prayer, or other means from the hand of God, we must ascribe all to the glory and praise of His name, and acknowledge Him to be the Author and Giver.
(2) As by the free bestowing of the graces of God we are taught to give Him all possible praise, so it taketh away all opinion of the merits of works wherein proud flesh is ready to trust. Lastly, seeing all God’s gifts come from Him to us of grace and mercy, it is our duty, above all things, to desire mercy, and to crave the free gifts of God. (W. Attersoll.)
There salute thee--
The salutations which the apostle delivered in such numbers and so earnestly--
Rest on faith and a confession of the one true Church of the Lord.
2. Are an expression of the feeling of our communion, of our higher, heavenly relationship in the family of God.
3. Furnish significant proofs of Christian love. (Nitzsch.)
I. We see the apostle setteth down A salutation proceeding from others which teacheth that salutations are an ordinary means ordained of God to nourish and cherish mutual love, and that union and conjunction which the members of Christ’s body have one with another.
II. Albeit the apostle were a prisoner for the faith’s sake, yet God doth not leave him alone. Thus we see the endless mercy of God towards His afflicted and distressed servants, He raiseth them up some comfort, verifying the promise made to His Church, “If I depart, I will send the Comforter unto you.” He knoweth our infirmities, He seeth how ready we are to yield and slide back, and therefore as He strengtheneth us by others, so He maketh us means to strengthen others.
III. He calleth Epaphras a prisoner of Christ, as he also had called himself before in the beginning of this Epistle. The reason is, because he had preached Christ. There might haply be others in the same prison who might suffer as malefactors, and justly deserve the restraint of the prison, but such were none of Paul’s fellow prisoners. Hereby we learn that persecutions often follow the sincere preaching of the gospel, not that it is the property of the gospel, but the cause is the malice of such as will not receive the gospel, and therefore they hate and persecute those that believe in Christ and give entertainment to the gospel. This is it our Savior teacheth (Matthew 10:34-35). So, then, let us not think it a strange thing when we see such tumults arise, but arm ourselves with patience. Learn to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and condemn those that are the authors and beginners of those broils and contentions.
IV. Observe the titles that he giveth unto our Lord and Saviour--he describeth Him by two names, First he calleth Him Christ, then he calleth Him Jesus. Christ signifieth as much as anointed. Under the Law the priests were anointed (Exodus 30:30); so were the kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13); and the prophets (1 Kings 19:16). Christ is the true anointed Priest, King, and Prophet of His Church (Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38), and the only person that had all these offices, and therefore is said to be anointed with the oil of gladness above all His fellows (Psalms 45:7; Hebrews 1:9; John 3:34). From this title it is that we are called Christians (Acts 11:26; Psalms 105:15). Jesus importeth as much as a Saviour, who was so called because He sayeth His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). From whence observe that Christ is the King, the Prophet, and the Priest of His Church, to govern us, to teach us, to redeem us, to save us. This is His office, for these ends and uses He was anointed of the Father with the Spirit of God itself. This serveth to our great good, and the benefit of it is communicated unto us; He maketh us kings and priests to God His Father (Revelation 1:6). He armeth us with power and strength against sin, the flesh, the world, the devil, and maketh us able to overcome them. Through Him we have access to the Father, and may boldly appear in His sight, and offer up our prayers with assurance. Yea, He enableth us to offer up ourselves, our souls, and bodies, an holy, lively, and acceptable sacrifice unto Him, which is our reasonable serving of Him. He doth instruct us in the will of His Father, enlighten us in the knowledge of the truth, and maketh us, as it were, His household disciples and scholars to reveal unto us all things needful for our salvation. Let us therefore confess Him to be the only Son of God, perfect God and perfect Man, the sole Mediator between God and man.
V. Observe that speaking of Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, he calleth them his fellow helpers; whereby he putteth the ministers of the gospel and all the children of God in mind to be helpers to the truth, and to further the preaching and propagation of the gospel by all possible means that God hath enabled them. This reproveth those that employ their wits and bestow their strength to hinder the truth and the professors thereof. These have no part nor fellowship in the ministration, nor in the sound profession of the gospel, but are professed enemies to the faith of Christ. Moreover, this shall minister unspeakable comfort unto us to consider that we have been helpers to the truth and furtherers of the faith which is in Christ Jesus, we shall leave a good name behind us, and receive an incorruptible crown of eternal glory. (W. Attersoll.)
Courteous speeches are becoming to Christians
I. Our well wishing one to another is a fruit of our love, and a means to maintain and continue love among us. If we would maintain love, we must wisely and carefully entertain such helps as may further us in the performance of that duty, whereof this that now we speak of is one, so that we are to express our inward love by outward tokens, to the end that it may be seen and appear unto others.
II. Our salutations are remembrances of our care and good affections toward those whom we greet well. It is a sign that we are not forgetful of them, but do greatly regard and respect them.
III. To desire the good of others from the heart is both a fruit of the Spirit and a good sign and testimony to our own selves that we are chosen of God to eternal life.
1. We learn that courtesy with civil, gentle, friendly, and soft speeches are to be entertained of the servants of God. A fire is soonest quenched by water, and anger is soonest appeased by gentleness. Let us plant this in the garden of our hearts, and learn to give good speeches one to another, and show a friendly countenance, even to them that wrong us and abuse us, without any purpose or desire to revenge. This is a virtue hard to be found in these days among tile sons of men, they cannot speak well one of another. This gentleness that teacheth us to deal courteously toward each other is thinly sown in the furrows of our hearts. Wherefore, we must know that humanity and courteous dealing are not, as some imagine, excluded from Christians, as if nothing should be in them but rigour and austerity. Indeed they are to deal roughly and rigorously with wilful and wicked men that are offensive and unruly, but we must be gentle, meek, and lowly toward such as are willing to be instructed. Let us therefore accustom our tongues to civility, to blessing, and wishing all good one to another. This becometh our profession, and witnesseth to all the world that we are of pure conversation.
2. This doctrine serveth for reproof of divers and sundry abuses that are too rife and common among us. It seemeth a light and ridiculous thing to many to salute and to be saluted, but it is of great force, and availeth much to the obtaining and getting of good will. It is a point of courtesy and humanity to salute others and to pray for them. Let no man say these are very small matters to be spoken of and stood upon. We must acknowledge that our obedience is to be showed even in the least, and not in the greatest matters only. And a true Christian is to be seen and known when he will yield in the practise of lesser points and such as are not of greatest importance.
3. Seeing we are taught to use all gentle and courteous communication, and all loving salutations and well-wishing one toward another, this teacheth us that we must all diligently study and practise the government of the tongue, to order it aright and in due manner. This is a worthy study, it is a hard study, it is a profitable study (Psalms 34:12-13; Psalms 39:1). To this purpose the apostle teacheth us to be slow to speak and swift to hear. This virtue appeared notably in Elihu (Job 32:1-22), who waited till Job had spoken, for they were more ancient in years than he. In our speaking we must be careful that our words be gracious, and seasoned with wisdom, truth, reverence, modesty, meekness, and sobriety, as it were with salt, which are contrary to the foolish, rotten, and graceless talk that aboundeth in our days, wherein men are grown to be very beasts (Romans 3:13-14). (W. Attersoll.)
Courtesy is not confined to rank, or wealth, or station. Nature’s noblemen, without lineage, or heraldry, or fame, may be found sitting in the cottage, working in the fields, toiling with their hands. Though unlettered and untrained, their instincts are the instincts of gentlemen. They speak restrainedly, they would not wrong another for any gain; they would put themselves to any trouble for another’s sake. Courtesy is not mere manners; neither does it spring from mere amiable meekness. True courtesy is wedded to true pride and a fearless self-respect. The strong man is courteous because he is strong. The vacillating man is uncivil because he is weak. True courtesy shines most brightly in the sphere of home. The stripling, who is all grace to outside young ladies, and neglects his mother; the girl who is radiant as a butterfly at a ball, and surly as a wasp at home; the apprentice who addresses his employer as “Sir,” and talks of his father as “the old boy,” may possess the polish, but have not the principle, of courtesy. Courtesy shows itself not only upon great occasions, but also in little things. In a drawing room it will listen to playing or singing which may not be very brilliant, for the performer’s sake. True courtesy is kind to inferiors and servants. It knocks at the cottage door just as it rings at the mansion’s hall. It is chivalrous to woman, not because she is rich, or young, or handsome, or gifted, but because she is woman. It is kind to old age: the grey head is venerable in the eyes of courtesy. The same fine feeling which is called courtesy in secular conduct leads to reverence in sacred things. Irreverence is a coarse form of rudeness. Courtesy makes us bow to our fellows: reverence makes us kneel before God. What would be bad conduct in a drawing room is worse than bad conduct in church. Courtesy of heart overflows in courtesy of action. By imitating the gentleness of Christ, Christians become Christ’s gentlemen. (J. W. Diggle.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Grace the gift of Christ
At the beginning of the Epistle Paul invoked grace upon the household “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now he conceives of it as Christ’s gift. In Him all the stooping, bestowing love of God is gathered, that from Him it may be poured on the world. That grace is not diffused like stellar light through some nebulous heaven, but concentrated in the Sun of righteousness, who is the light of men. That fire is piled on a hearth that, from it, warmth may ray out to all that are in the house.
2. That grace has man’s spirit for the field of its highest operation. Thither it can enter, and there it can abide, in union more close and communion more real and blessed than aught else can attain. The spirit which has the grace of Christ with it can never be utterly solitary or desolate.
3. The grace of Christ is the best bond of family life. Here it is prayed for on behalf of all the group, the husband, wife, child, and the friends in their home--church. Like grains of sweet incense cast on an altar flame, and making fragrant what was already holy, that grace sprinkled on the household fire will give it an odour of a Sweet smell, grateful to men and acceptable to God.
4. That wish is the purest expression of Christian friendship, of which the whole letter is so exquisite an example. Written as it is about a common, everyday matter, which could have been settled without a single religious reference, it is saturated with Christian thought and feeling. So it becomes an example of how to blend Christian sentiment with ordinary affairs, and to carry a Christian atmosphere everywhere. Every Christian ought by his life to be, as it were, floating the grace of God to others sinking for want of it to lay hold of, and all his speech should be of a piece with this benediction. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Grace to be most desired
I. First of all, we see here, that as in the entrance of the Epistle, and, as it were, at their first meeting, he wished unto him the Grace of Christ, so he doth in the farewell and departing, hereby teaching that nothing is better or more to be desired than His grace; that all our salutations and farewells should be grounded in His grace; this must be the beginning and the ending of all our talk and communication; and as he began with prayer, so he endeth with prayer. Thus ought our actions to be, that whatsoever we do in word or in deed, we should do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). This bringeth good success to our works, and maketh that which we do to prosper.
II. When the Son of God is called Jesus, we observe again that He is a perfect and absolute Saviour; the alone Saviour, inasmuch as the work of our salvation and redemption is wholly and only wrought out by Him, and no part left unfinished and reserved for any creature in heaven or in earth.
III. The Son of God is called Christ, which signifieth as much as anointed.
IV. Let us consider the third title given to the Son of God. He is called our Lord; which teacheth us to acknowledge Him to be the Ruler and Governor of His Church, and of every particular member thereof. And if He be the Governor and Guide, woe unto them that will not be ruled and governed by Him.
V. Observe that the grace here asked for Philemon and others to whom the apostle wrote, is called the grace of Jesus Christ, to teach us that God’s graces and benefits come upon us through Him, and as nothing was made without Him that was made, so nothing is given without Him that is given. If, then, we would have right and interest in any of the blessings of God, we must labour to be in Christ and to have assurance that we are in Christ. (W. Attersoll.)
The apostolic benediction
1. Some explanation of the words of the text, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. What we may learn from it.
(1) The grand foundation of a sinner’s hope.
(2) How to make a practical use of Christian doctrines.
(3) The simplicity of the faith and the fervency of the love of the primitive Church--the Church of the apostle’s time. (R. Cecil, M. A.)
The Christian’s prayer for his brethren in Christ
1. Breathes family affection--affection to all who love Christ--affection to them as brethren, for--
(1) They are born of the same Father.
(2) They are taught by the same preceptor.
(3) They are severed from the world and dedicated to God, body, soul, and spirit.
2. Invokes a family blessing--grace--the grace of Christ.
3. Describes family experience. If we have realised the text in our experience, then we have attained the climax of Christian attainments. (J. Dillon, D. D.)
1. The sum of all other blessings.
2. Obtained through Christ.
3. The greatest happiness we can desire for others. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Its source.
2. Its fulness.
3. Its flow.
4. Its power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Is needed by all.
2. Is provided for all.
3. Is offered to all.
4. Is supplicated for all.
5. May be enjoyed by all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
Very powerful was the impression which Lady Fanny Shirley on her sick bed made upon the surrounding attendants. Once, as a reigning beauty at Court, Chesterfield had addressed to her some of his most famous epigrams; since then she chose that better part which could never be taken from her. “I am quite at a loss to explain how Lady Fanny is enabled to bear such a severity of suffering with so much tranquillity and so few symptoms of restlessness and murmuring,” said her physician to Mr. Venn. “Can you account for it, sir?” “Sir,” answered Venn, “that lady happily possesses what you and I ought daily to pray for, the grace of her Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.”
With a prayer for this grace Paul had opened the Epistle, and with a prayer for this grace he now will close. It is the most all-inclusive wish for good he can indite in so few words--the free and saving favour of the Lord, with all its holy and happy influences for soul and body, for time and for eternity. This grace sanctifies earth’s fellowships, and protects them from degeneracy and social corruption. It raises life above the entanglements of ennui and chagrin, of cynicism and despair. It weans the heart from the world, without permitting it to be soured. It lends dignity to suffering, and gilds the gloom of sorrow with radiant hope. To the apostle had been often verified the soul-sustaining words, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” As the day grows, the warmth increases and the shadows flee away; so, as grace is realised, the heart basks and suns itself in the glow of heaven’s love, and everything gets bathed in heaven’s own light. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
This is set down in a word, and yet it containeth more than the prayer itself. For in prayer we testify our desire, by this we witness our faith. By this we observe that unto our requests and petitions in prayer must be joined faith and belief that God will grant the things craved. To pray without faith is not to pray at all. And to say amen in the end of our prayers, and yet to pray with doubting, and without believing, is to make a lie and to teach our tongues to deceive our hearts. For this is a great jar and discord when infidelity is in the heart and faith in the tongue; when inwardly we waver, and outwardly the mouth uttereth amen. Moreover, so often as we use public prayers they must be pronounced and delivered with that plainness, feeling, and zeal, as that the people, being thereby moved, and their faith and affections going with that which is delivered and prayed for, may answer amen unto that which is desired. This is it which the apostle teacheth (1 Corinthians 14:1-40).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Philemon 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26