2 Timothy 1:16
The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:
Onesiphorus comes into view as a ship appears upon the ocean when she crosses the pathway of the moon. Very little is known of his life before or after this brief contact with the life of Paul. The radiance which the apostle casts upon the page of history makes Onesiphorus visible. In this light the beauty of a noble character, whose gentle ministrations were the solace of one of God's servants, is evident. The moon discovers the model of a ship, and also her course; and an acquaintance is formed with a stranger of the ancient time because he stands near to, and sympathises with, a notable man. So true is it that life depends for its efficiency and its estimate upon the relations which it sustains, and that obscurity and fame are determined by the perspective. The apostle was a prisoner in a Roman dungeon. The comforts of "his own hired house" were no longer his. Nero was the Emperor. Christianity had been charged with political designs. The sword of the persecutor was red with blood. There was little hope of a favourable verdict at the bar of Caesar. One companion after another had found it convenient to leave Paul. "Only Luke is with me," was the sad announcement which Timothy read when he opened the last letter of his honoured friend. It was not safe to visit such a prisoner. He was a marked man. The caprice of the Emperor was ready to seize upon any protest. His spies filled the city. A single word from his lips meant instant death. He had determined to hold Christianity responsible for a great disaster which befell Rome upon the 19th of July, in the year 64. For then a fire broke out in a valley between the Palatine and Caelian Hills, and marched steadily on its downward course for six days and seven nights. Some one must be punished, and Nero selected the Christians as the victims of his wrath. While Christianity was thus enduring persecution, Onesiphorus, an Ephesian, who had befriended Paul in his own city, reached Rome. He learned that the apostle, aged now and infirm, was in prison and in chains. He determined to go to his relief. His courage was equal to his sympathy. As we read these few sentences of Paul's letter to Timothy, we are impressed with the unfailing courtesy of the apostle. He appreciates the attentions of his friends, and he never fails to acknowledge them with great delicacy. His letters are models of correspondence, so dignified, so sincere, so frank, so affectionate! They are filled with personal allusions, which exhibit the social character of this eminent man. "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day!" How heart-felt! How genuine! How delicate! This sturdy soldier of the cross, whose valour has been displayed upon many a battlefield, commends the truth of the gospel by his courtesy. He does not repel men, but wins them. One of the wise sayings of Hillel, the distinguished Jewish Rabbin, was this: "Be thou of Aaron's disciples, loving peace and seeking for peace, loving the creatures and attracting them to the Law!" Hillel himself was a beautiful illustration of his own teaching. His gentleness of manner was associated with firmness of principle and strength of conviction. Paul, as a Pharisee, must have been familiar with the many traditions which were current among the Jews concerning the renowned teacher, and his own character must have been somewhat affected by his admiration for one whose virtues were praised in the schools of Jerusalem. "Let a man be always gentle like Hillel, and not hasty like Shammai," was an oft-repeated injunction. Gamaliel, the teacher of Saul of Tarsus, was the grandson of Hillel, and the school which the future apostle entered was pervaded with aa atmosphere of courtesy. Then, when our Lord taught that zealous Pharisee, and led him to realise the sinfulness of his mistaken zeal which had made him a persecutor, and gave him a new appreciation of the excellence of humble service and gentle ministrations, he advanced to a new recognition of the duty and the opportunity of courtesy. I regard courtesy as one of the efficient graces of the Christian life. It is the polished mirror which reflects the most light. Bluntness, coarseness. rudeness, are not evidences of strength. The courtesy of Lord Chesterfield is not the courtesy of Paul. For Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, exhibits his lack of sincerity, his want of principle. His courtesy is only a thin veneer, which has received constant rubbing until it is worn out. Paul's courtesy is the real wood, which is solid down to the heart. The Christian heart is always ready to sustain the Christian manner; and the Christian manner is Christ's manner. He commended truth by his address. Can you wonder that such courtesy as his secured him many friends among the poor and suffering? Does it seem strange that a similar courtesy has led mankind as with magnetic power? And yet we carry too little of it with us into the practical work of daily life. There is many a man whose business hours never hear a single kind word — A "thank you," an "if you please." Service becomes drudgery. The rich and the poor draw apart. Hostile camps are organised. Men who should be friends look angrily at one another. There is a better way for the home, the shop, and the counting-room. It is Christ's way, and Paul's way, and the way of all who manifest with them the true spirit of love. There is something very fine about this conduct of the large-hearted Ephesian. He was evidently a man of substance, for he had the means at his command which enabled him to help Paul in Ephesus and in Rome. Yet, when he visited the imperial city, where a money value was placed upon almost everything, he went about through the streets and among the prisons to find a despised Jew — one Saul of Tarsus — whose name had become a by-word and a reproach. Social life needs an illustration such as this. We are apt to forget — alas! we are apt to despise — the poor. Yet but for the poor — God's own poor — social life would perish in its corruption. It is well for us to appreciate the intimacy of this dependence which it obtains. Spiritual treasures are to be regarded as wealth. We must traffic more. Gold and silver must be exchanged for sympathy and prayer. The material blessings of this life are to be distributed just as the spiritual blessings are. The rich are to live for the poor, and the poor are to live for the rich. The man whose talents qualify him to command armies is to be the protector of the weak, aim the man whose appreciation is sensitive is to be the teacher of the ignorant; the man who has this world's goods is to supply his brothel's need, and the man who can prevail with God is to realise his responsibility in prayer. The ministrations of Onesiphorus exhibit the watchfulness of God, which is exercised through His servants. The poor saints understand this better than the rich saints can. Their poverty affords many occasions for the manifestation of special providences. And in their lives these special providences are very numerous. God feeds them, as He did Elijah by the brook Cherith. There is a wonderful adaptation of supply and demand. Nor should we fail to discover the dignity which is ours when we are selected by God as His messengers. Subjects always appreciate the preference of a sovereign. God honours us if He makes us His almoners. Let us appreciate the honour, and let us seek to discharge such duties with considerate love. "Blessed," says the Psalmist, "is he that considereth the poor." This is something more than giving; for it includes the manner of the giving. England has forgotten many of the leaders of fashion who were in favour thirty years ago, but she will never forget that cultured woman who went as nurse to the soldiers of the Crimea. Florence Nightingale once wrote that "the strong, the healthy wills in any life must determine to pursue the common good at any personal cost, at daily sacrifice. And we must not think that any fit of enthusiasm will carry us through such a life as this. Nothing but the feeling that it is God's work more than ours — that we are seeking His success, and not our success — and that we have trained and fitted ourselves by every means which He has granted us to carry oat His work, will enable us to go on." Christianity waits for such service. When Onesiphorus came into helpful contact with the life of Paul, he secured an unconscious immortality. His is not a principal figure in the Scriptures. He is of secondary rank or importance. But he has secured a grand immortality, while other men, greater, wiser, more conspicuous then than he, are forgotten; and this immortality was secured by self-forgetfulness on the part of Onesiphorus. If we cannot work unless we are sure of a recognition, we shall have no part in the sweet charities which make life tolerable. We must learn of the coral insect, whose instinct teaches it to build until it dies, and which, by building, slowly lifts an island out of the seas, upon which flowers may bloom, and trees may wave, and man may find a home. This, my friends, is our immortality, sure and blessed. "We are labourers together with God." It may be that we can do but little. Never mind. We will do what we can.
(H. M. Booth, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: