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materially benefited by the services of Onesimus, as Philemon himself would in all probability be in future.
He then suggests a thought, which must of necessity produce a great effect upon Philemon's mind. Philemon, being himself an eminent servant of Christ, could not but know that God has formed his purposes from all eternity; and that, if any be converted to the faith of Christ, it is in consequence of God's electing love, who has ordained the time, the means, the manner, and every thing respecting his conversion, from all eternity. Now, says Paul, who can tell? Perhaps all that Onesimus did, and whereby he so justly provoked thy displeasure, was, in the counsel of God, ordained to be the means whereby he should be converted to the faith of Christ; and, though not in his own intention, yet in the intention of an unerring God," he therefore departed for a season, that thou mightest receive him for ever, not now a servant, but above a servant, a brother belovedf?" This would in no respect excuse the wickedness of Onesimus, any more than God's intention to redeem the world would excuse the murderers of the Lord Jesus. Onesimus was a free agent in all that he did: but perhaps God had seen fit to leave him to the wickedness of his own heart, in order that he might thus be brought under the ministry of Paul, and have the grace of God the more abundantly magnified in his conversion, and in the whole of his future life. How effectually would such a thought as this engage a pious mind, like that of Philemon's, to co-operate with God, and to advance to the uttermost the purposes of his grace!
Lest the recollection of the losses sustained by means of Onesimus should rankle in Philemon's mind, the Apostle further adds, that whatever Onesimus might owe him, he (Paul) would most gladly undertake to pay; though he did not much expect that such a demand of pecuniary compensation would be made upon him, by one who owed to him what was of more value than the whole world, even his own soul.
Finally, as though he were pleading for his own life, and all his happiness were bound up in the obtaining of this request, he entreats: "If thou count me a partner, (a partaker of the same salvation with thyself,) receive him as myself"." "Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord;" for they are all in commotion whilst his acceptance with thee is in suspense; and nothing but thy compliance with my request can give them resti.
Now the point which I wish to be noticed here, is, not the line of argument merely, but the delicacy of the sentiment, and
the exquisite address with which the Apostle seeks to attain his end. This, if it had been the effect of art, would have gained our admiration: but, as the effect of Christian principle, and Christian love, it is edifying in the highest degree, inasmuch as it shews what a spirit the Gospel breathes, and what genuine Christianity will universally inspire.]
From the account which the Apostle gives of Onesimus, we are led to notice,
II. The change which it operates where its influence is begun
Onesimus," says the Apostle, "was in time past unprofitable, but now will be profitable both to thee and me." The state of every man previous to his conversion may be said to be unprofitable, because he does not answer the true ends of his creation: he does nothing for God, nothing for the Church, nothing for his own soul. But no sooner will divine grace reach his heart, than he will endeavour to be serviceable,
1. To the Church of God generally
[Onesimus, having received the truth in the love of it, instantly set himself to work, if by any means he might render service to the Apostle in his confinement. Doubtless such a servant, at such a juncture, was an unspeakable comfort to the Apostle, and would greatly alleviate the pains and sorrows of his imprisonment. And, no doubt, whatever Onesimus was able to do, he did with great delight, not shrinking back from the horrors of a prison, nor intimidated by the sufferings inflicted on St. Paul, but rejoiced to have an opportunity of testifying his love to one, who had been such an instrument of good to his own soul.
Now here we see, what every true convert will do. He will begin to inquire, How can I co-operate with my minister in his labours of love? How can I strengthen his hands? How can I encourage his heart? What can I do, either to shew my love to him, or to impart to others the benefits which I myself have received? Can I assist in any way in visiting the sick, in instructing the ignorant, in relieving the needy, in teaching the rising generation? Whether my talents be more or less, I am determined that they shall not be wrapped in a napkin, but be diligently improved for my God. Freely I have received;
k Observations might have been made also on ver. 21, 22. But enough is here said to illustrate the point in hand.
and I will freely give.' Yes, beloved brethren, how unprofitable soever a man may have been in times past, he will not willingly be so any longer, but will be profitable to his minister, and to the Church of Christ, as far as his ability will admit.]
2. To those who have a more immediate claim upon him
[Onesimus would henceforth be "profitable to his master Philemon." O! in what a different spirit would he serve his master now! We apprehend indeed that Philemon instantly gave him his liberty; and that he immediately became an assistant in the Church of Colosse, to whom St. Paul gave him a most satisfactory testimonial': but, if he had continued in the service of Philemon, we can have no doubt but that he would have justified the character given of him by St. Paul, and proved truly profitable to his master. And herein divine grace will be sure to shew itself: it will lead us to fill up our station in life, whatever that station be, with the utmost care and diligence. Are we servants? we shall regard our master as placed over us by the Lord himself, and shall do him service as unto the Lord. Were we even slaves, we should fulfil our duties as unto God himself, who has appointed us our lot, and who requires that we execute with fidelity the work he has assigned us. It is often made a matter of complaint indeed against religious servants, that they are idle, and impatient of reproof. And glad should I be, if there were not too much reason for this complaint. But let not this evil be imputed to religion for religion condemns it utterly: the Gospel gives no sanction to such conduct, nor any occasion for it. It requires that servants demean themselves with modesty and humility; and not towards kind masters only, but towards such as are harsh and severem: and it especially enjoins, that they fulfil all their duties, "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as unto God, doing the will of God from their hearts"." Let it be remembered then, that the true and proper tendency of the Gospel is, to improve us in every station and relation of life: and that, if it operate not this change in our hearts and lives, we have never received it as we ought°.]
LEARN then from hence,
1. To abound in all acts and offices of love
[Who does not admire the character given of Philemon, whose love was such as to attract the notice of all, and constrain them to acknowledge the abundance of the grace bestowed upon him, whilst, by his kindness and liberality, "the
bowels of the saints were so greatly refreshed??" And who does not admire the interest which the Apostle took in the welfare of a poor slave who had run away from his master? Such, beloved, are the offices in which we should delight. None on earth are so low or abandoned, but they deserve notice from us, and should be objects of our pity and compassion. I call upon you then, if there be any, whom by your instructions you may restore to God, or by your kind offices you may reconcile to man, to engage in the good work with all your heart, and to labour to the uttermost to diffuse the blessings which are the sure result of faith and love.]
2. To bring men, if possible, under the sound of the Gospel
[See the effects produced on this worthless character. Worse than unprofitable had Onesimus been: but, by the hearing of the Gospel, he was turned to God. Of whom then. will you despair? Who will not lay down the weapons of his rebellion, when God speaks with power to his soul? It may be that a person is hardened under the Gospel, even as Onesimus was: for we cannot doubt but that the pious Philemon had endeavoured to watch over his domestics: but in vain had all his instructions been. Not so the instructions of the Apostle Paul, when accompanied with a divine power to his soul: then he became a new creature; and, though a slave of man, was made a freeman of the Lord: so may it be with those whom you may bring to attend where Christ is preached. God may meet them, as he did Onesimus. Many who, like Zaccheus, have thought of nothing but gratifying a foolish curiosity, have been made to obey the voice of Christ, and have found salvation come unto their souls. If one such instance occur through your instrumentality, you will have "saved a soul from death, and hid a multitude of sins"."]
3. To bear in mind your own obligations to your great Advocate and Intercessor, Jesus Christ
[Doubtless Onesimus would long remember his obligations to St. Paul. But what were they in comparison with what you owe to the Lord Jesus Christ? Think how you have cast off the yoke of Almighty God, and robbed him of all the service to which he was entitled, and gone to a distance from him, that you might live as "without God in the world." Think how the Lord Jesus Christ has instructed you, and brought you to the knowledge of salvation, and restored you to the favour of your offended God. Think how he has not merely offered to pay your debt, but has actually discharged it. Yes;
P ver. 6, 7.
q Jam. v. 19, 20.
"of him it was exacted," says the prophet," and he was made answerable":" and he "laid down his own life a ransom for you." To his continual intercession too are you indebted for all that peace which is maintained between God and your souls. Will you not then be thankful to him? or rather, shall there be any bounds to your gratitude? Bless him then, and adore and magnify him, and call upon all that is within you to bless his holy name. And now endeavour to be "profitable to him." Consecrate to him all your faculties, and all your powers. Live for him: die for him, if need be: and begin now the song, in which you shall, ere long, join all the choirs of heaven: "To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen."]
Isai. liii. 7. The marginal translation.
s Rev. i. 5, 6.