Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh…
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?