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hand, and to taste his love, in every mercy they received; and, consequently, it stirred them up to glorify him, as the true source of all their blessings. This is spoken of by the Apostle as a very distinguished excellence of this love, that "it not only supplies the want of the saints (which is, in comparison, a very trifling consideration), but that it causeth thanksgiving to God; whilst by the experience of it many are made to glorify God for the grace so exercised, and " for the subjection which persons under its influence manifest to the Gospel of Christ."]
2. How greatly the Gospel also was recommended and adorned
[This love is the fruit of the Gospel, and of the Gospel alone. Not an atom of it is found in the whole world, except as it is produced by the Gospel of Christ. There may be generosity and humanity exercised on natural and carnal principles: but love to the saints as saints, for Christ's sake, and a special endeavour to relieve Christ himself in them, are feelings to which an unconverted man is an utter stranger. In truth, it is from the Gospel that all the great works of benevolence chiefly flow. Look at Bible-societies, Mission-societies, Benevolent-societies, and all which have religion for their end, and you will find them all set on foot by persons professing the Gospel of Christ. I say not but that other persons may be brought in to contribute to their support: but I do say, that they almost universally originate with the followers of Christ and it is a fact, that in one single church where the Gospel is preached in simplicity, more societies of this kind. are established and upheld, than in a dozen, I had almost said an hundred, other parishes of equal population, and equal wealth?" In fact, what is the Gospel, but "faith working by love?" When, therefore, its real tendency is thus strongly marked, it cannot but rejoice every soul, that either tastes the sweetness of the Gospel, or desires its advancement in the world.]
3. What extensive benefits accrued to it from the Church
[Though, as we have said, the benefit of individual saints is a small matter in comparison of the honour that accrues to God; yet, if viewed in its full extent, it is of no light moment. We have spoken of love as being exercised in a way to refresh the souls of the saints. And let me ask, whether, if at any time we have visited a person in deep affliction, and mingled our tears with his, and laboured with tender and self-denying
z 2 Cor. ix. 12, 13.
services for his good, we have not seen, as it were, a load taken off his mind, and his sorrow turned into joy? Have not persons so comforted looked up to God with grateful adoration for the blessings bestowed? Have not their friends and attendants, too, been often filled with admiration of the persons manifesting these dispositions; and been constrained to cry out, "Behold, how these Christians love one another!" There is no knowing where the benefit arising from these efforts stops, or to how many one single exercise of love may reach. In this view, then, this blessed principle commends itself to us, and should fill with joy and comfort every one who beholds it in active operation.]
4. What an evidence it gave of substantial piety in him who possessed it
[Almsgiving affords no criterion for piety; nor do the common offices of love. But love to the saints for Christ's sake, is both to the person himself, and to all who behold him, a decided evidence that he is born of God. To himself, I say, it is an evidence: for it is said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren"." And again, "Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth: and hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." Nor is it a less clear evidence to others: for our Lord has said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Say then, was there not occasion for joy in the Apostle's mind, when the piety of his friend stood so confessed, that it was impossible for any one to entertain a doubt of it? Yes: and wherever we behold similar fruits of faith, we do, and will, rejoice.]
Let me now IMPROVE the subject,
1. In a way of thankful acknowledgment-
[I bless God that the commendation given to Philemon is justly applicable to many of you: to you especially, who are engaged in visiting the sick, instructing the ignorant, comforting the afflicted, and relieving the necessitous. I can bear witness that your efforts have been crowned with success, not only in refreshing the bowels of the saints, but in awakening also and saving the souls of sinners. Yes, brother; yes, sister; I have much joy and consolation in the grace exercised by thee, and in the good effected by thee. May God recompense it into thy bosom an hundred-fold! To you, also,
a 1 John iii. 14. b 1 John iii. 18, 19. c John xiii. 35. This is adapted to a Visiting or Benevolent Society. Of course, this part of the subject must be made to suit the particular occasion.
who have contributed to aid the society with your funds, an acknowledgment is justly due: and I trust that your liberality on the present occasion will afford me fresh ground for joy and gratitude. Yet, I must not let my gratitude terminate altogether on you; but must rather view God himself in you; and give glory to Him, "from whom alone cometh every good and perfect gift."']
2. In a way of affectionate exhortation—
[Let none of you rest in any attainment. The Apostle commended his Thessalonian converts, because "their faith and love grew exceedinglye." Let me have similar ground of joy in you. You have received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, and have " made your profiting to appear:" but 66 we beseech you, brethren, to abound more and more." Endeavour to honour God more; to adorn the Gospel more; to diffuse richer benefits among the saints; and to give more abundant evidence of your piety to all around you. So shall you be approved of your God, both now and in the eternal world: for "he is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed towards his name, in that ye have ministered unto the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end."]
e 2 Thess. i. 3, 4.
f 1 Thess. iv. 1. g Heb. vi. 10, 11.
THE EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL.
Philem. 10, 11. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me.
THE inspired volume certainly differs in many respects from what we might have expected. We should have supposed, that it would contain only such things as could not be known except by revelation. But, behold, here is a letter, written to a single individual, on a subject which might occur at any time or place; a letter, containing no particular point of doctrine, but simply requesting a master to receive with kindness an offending, but repentant, slave. It should seem strange, I say, that such an epistle should be dictated by inspiration, and be
preserved for the edification of the Church to the end of time. But so it is: and an attentive consideration of its contents will soon convince us, that it is worthy of its Divine Author. We must never forget, that the Word of God is intended to regulate our spirit and conduct in every situation and relation of life: and, in this view, the epistle before us possesses a transcendent excellency: for, though it does not state particularly any of the doctrines of the Gospel, it does shew us in a very impressive manner,
I. The spirit which it breathes, where its influence is complete
"I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." Let us here mark, 1. The interest which the Apostle took in the welfare of Onesimus
[Onesimus was a slave belonging to Philemon, who was a person of eminence, perhaps a minister in the Church at Colosse". He had fled from his master, having, it should seem, first robbed him; and had come, many hundred miles off, to Rome; where he conceived he should be perfectly out of the reach of his master's inquiries. It happened that at that time Paul was a prisoner at Rome; yet, though a prisoner, was permitted to see, and to instruct, all who came to him. Onesimus, probably from curiosity, went to see and hear this famous servant of Christ; and, through the special grace of God, was converted under his ministry. He soon made himself known to Paul; and, approving himself a sincere convert to the faith of Christ, ingratiated himself into the favour of the Apostle, who received and loved him as a son. In truth, he was now, in a spiritual sense, his son; since, by the ministry of the Word, the Apostle, as it is expressed, had " begotten him in his bonds." The Apostle now desired to restore him to the favour and protection of that master whom he had so greatly injured and for that end he wrote this epistle to Philemon, and sent it by the hands of Onesimus himself: for he judged, that no man can be a true penitent without making restitution to all whom he has wronged, and asking pardon of all whom in any great degree he has offended. He judged this to be necessary, as well for the peace and comfort of Onesimus, as for the honour of God and his Gospel: and therefore, notwithstanding the loss of his kind attentions would be severely felt
a ver. 1, 2.
by the Apostle, he would on no account retain him at Rome, but sent him back to his master, Philemon, at Colosse.]
2. The exquisite delicacy with which he pleaded his cause
[In point of delicacy of feeling and sentiment, this epistle has not perhaps its equal in the world. Some of its leading features we will proceed to notice.
The Apostle's object was, so to break the matter to Philemon, as not to shock his feelings; and so plead the cause of Onesimus, as to procure for him a favourable reception. Hence arose a necessity for touching every point with tenderness and delicacy; which the Apostle proceeded to do, not by rules of art, (though the most consummate wisdom could not have devised any plan more appropriate than that which is here pursued,) but by the simple dictates of love.
He begins with acknowledging Philemon's eminence both in faith and love; and with declaring, what exquisite joy he felt, both in the accounts which he had heard of him, and in remembering him before God in his daily supplications". This had a tendency to disarm Philemon, if he felt any bitter resentment against Onesimus: for he could not well indulge hatred, when he himself experienced so much love.
The Apostle then proceeds, in the language of meek entreaty, to request Philemon's pardon in behalf of this returning slave. He reminds Philemon, that, as he himself, no less than Onesimus, had received the truth by means of his ministry, he might well assume the authority of a father, and require, rather than request, the performance of so plain a duty: but he chose rather to entreat as a favour, as a favour to him who was now grown old" in the service of his Lord, and was a prisoner too for the truth's sake," that he would be reconciled to Onesimus, whom the Apostle himself regarded as a son. How could such a request as this, a request from such a person, under such circumstances, be refused? Methinks, it was not possible for Philemon, however indignant against Onesimus, to reject a petition offered by his own spiritual father, in such terms as these.
He goes on to remind Philemon, that Onesimus, who had hitherto but ill deserved that name, since he had been so unprofitable, would henceforth act a more worthy part, and be indeed profitable, in whatever capacity he should be employed. This consideration would not be without its influence; more especially as the Apostle speaks of himself as having been
d Onesimus means profitable: and it is in reference to the import of his name that the Apostle speaks.