Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
"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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,