Greet them that love us in the faith
Hence note that religion bindeth man to man in the straightest bond; for —
1. The Spirit is the tier of it; and hence is it called the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; and indeed it must be a wonderful bond that can reconcile such deadly enemies as men are before they come into the kingdom of Christ (Isaiah 11:6).
2. God's image, wheresoever it is, is exceeding beautiful, and a great binder, especially where renewed and repaired; which being once espied, let the outward condition be what it can be, a religious heart seeth sufficient matter of love, and will knit the soul unto the soul of such a one.
3. It addeth strength and firmness to all other bonds of nature, affinity, desert, etc., and maketh them more natural. What a true friend was Jonathan to David! Because he saw that God was with him his soul clave unto him; though the kingdom was to be rent from him for it, yet could he not rend his heart from David. If Joseph had not had more than nature, he could not but have revenged such infinite wrongs upon his brethren; whereas the grace of his heart made him say, "It was not you, my brethren, but God sent me before you." Consider also of the example beyond all imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to the death for us when we were yet His enemies.
4. This love must needs be most lasting; for being love in the truth for the truth's sake, it shall continue so long as the truth doth; but the truth abideth with us, and shall abide with us forever; and this is the cause, that whereas the love of nature dieth with it, and the love of wicked men dieth with their persons, this love liveth in death, yea, when it goeth to heaven with a man, and getteth strength and perfection thee faith ceaseth, and hope vanisheth away.Use
1. Whence we are taught most familiarly to embrace them that love us in the faith, and to make most account of their love. Many love in the face, many in the flesh, many in nature, only the love of Christians is a fruit of faith, a work of the Spirit, and therefore a surer bond than they all. Well knew the apostle that none was in comparison worth having but this; he calleth for no other, he careth for no other, he mentioneth no other.
2. Such as set into any society with others, if he would have it comfortable unto him, let him strengthen all other natural or civil bonds by this bond of religion; let him labour to begin his love in the faith, or, if he have begun elsewhere already, let him reform the same hereby if he look for any sound comfort in his estate; for this is the cause that men often have so little return of love from their wives, so little obedience from their children, so little duty from their servants, so slender respect from their equals, because they begin their love and duties at a wrong end, and have for other respects affected those with whom they live, but the least, if at all, for grace and religion, which of all is the soundest, most profitable, and most comfortable.
Shake hands with somebody as you go out of church. The more of it the better, if it is expressive of real interest and feeling. There may be a great deal of the spirit of the gospel put into a hearty shake of the hand. Think of St. Paul's four times repeated request — "Greet one another" — after the custom then in common use, and one which is expressive of even warmer feeling than our common one of handshaking. Why not give your neighbours the benefit of the warm Christian feeling that fills you to your finger tips, and receive the like from them in return? You will both be benefited by it; and the stranger will go away feeling that the Church is not, after all, so cold as he had thought it to be.
A lady and her little daughter, passing out of church, the child bade goodbye to a poorly dressed little girl. "How did you know her?" inquired the mother. "Why, you see, mamma, she came into our Sabbath School alone, and I made a place for her on my seat, and I smiled and she smiled, and then we were acquainted."
Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ
St. Paul does not give himself the title of "apostle" in this place. The very first word in which he speaks of himself is pathetic. He refers to his chains no less than five times in this short letter (vers. 1, 9, 10, 13, 23). He feels it glorious to suffer shame for his Lord's sake, and blessed to inherit the beatitude of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matthew 5:10
). He literally fulfils the exhortation of St. Peter (1 Peter 4:14-16
To me it seems a loftier thing that he should style himself "prisoner of Jesus Christ" than "apostle." The apostles gloried because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name (Acts 5:41
); but the authority of bonds is irresistible. He who is about to plead for Onesimus feels that he should plead in such a form that he could not be refused.
We dwell on the circumstances of his imprisonment — we fondly recall his vexatious position — because the whole "surroundings" of this letter lend additional effect to its inherent grace. It is when the fragrant herb is pressed that it gives forth the richest odour; and it is when Paul's heart is being tried that it breathes out the tenderest sympathy. Himself a bondman, "with gyves upon his wrist," he pleads the cause of that other bondman, whose story is the burden of the letter. It is when he is a much wronged captive that he begs forgiveness for a wrongdoer, and when society is making war upon himself he plays the part of peacemaker with others. As dewdrops are seen to best advantage on the blades of grass from which they hang, or gems sparkle brightest in their appropriate settings, so may we regard Paul's imprisonment as the best foil to the design of this letter. Wrongs and oppressive suffering may drive even wise men mad; but here it only seems to evoke Paul's tenderest feelings, and open wide the sluices of his affectionate sympathies.
"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.
The title of a prisoner, in the eyes of the world, is full of reproach; but when it is for Christ's sake the blot is wiped out.
The apostle testifieth he was a prisoner for Christ and the gospel, not for his own sins and offences. It is not our suffering barely considered can honour us with the reward of glory and the crown of martyrdom, but the cause in which we die and the quarrel in which we suffer. True it is, afflictions are common to the godly and ungodly, they are imprisoned alike; but albeit the afflictions be one and the same, yet the cause is not one and the same for which they are afflicted. The ungodly are punished for their sins; the godly are afflicted for a good conscience. Abel is murdered of his brother; Cain is cursed and condemned to be a fugitive upon the earth. Both of them are afflicted, but the cause is diverse. Abel is killed for his godliness; Cain is punished for his wickedness. Christ had His feet and His hands nailed on the Cross, so had the two thieves; they suffered all one punishment, but how contrary were the causes of Him and them, seeing He suffered without cause, but they justly had the sentence of death executed upon them, as one of them confessed (Luke 33:5). Let us not, therefore, only fasten our eyes and look upon the bare punishment, but consider what the cause is, and, according to the cause, esteem both of the person and of the punishment. Some are prisoners of men, others are prisoners of the devil, of whom they are holden captive, and both of them for their wickedness; but if we will be martyrs of Christ we must be the prisoners of Christ.
THIS EPISTLE CAME OUT OF THE PRISON. The Spirit, therefore, was Paul's companion in the prison, and so is He to all God's children that are prisoners of Jesus Christ, and in more special sort communicating Himself unto them, whereby it cometh to pass that at such times, and in such estates, they are more fit for holy duties than in any other. Then pray they more feelingly and fervently (Romans 8
), then also as here we see writ, they exhort more powerfully and passionately, as me thinketh, in those Epistles which Paul wrote in the prison, there seemeth a greater measure of holy zeal and fervent affections than in any other.
II. But now Paul, writing this Epistle in the prison, as many others also, HEREIN FURTHER APPEARETH THE GOOD PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
1. In that even in the time of this his restraint, he had yet liberty of pen, will, and paper, yea, and of a scribe too, sometimes, and those which did minister unto him.
2. God's providence also herein did show itself that would not suffer Paul, so skilful a workman, to be idle and do nothing in the business of the Lord, but would have a supply of his apostolical preaching made by his writing.
III. Again, it is to be observed that St. Paul doth not simply call himself prisoner, BUT WITH THIS CONDITION, OF JESUS CHRIST. The title of a prisoner in itself is ignominious; but when he addeth "of Jesus Christ" all stain of ignominy is clean wiped away.
IV. But here is not all that we must look to in our sufferings, that our cause be good, BUT ALSO THAT WE SUFFER FOR A GOOD CAUSE, IN A GOOD MANNER. The which point is further commended unto us in Paul's example, who was not only a prisoner of Jesus Christ, but also a cheerful and courageous prisoner of Jesus Christ; for so far was he from being ashamed of his chain, wherewithal for the hope of Israel's sake he was bound, that he even glorieth in it, accounting it far more honour able than a chain of gold about his neck.
V. Lastly, we are to observe in Paul's example the duty of all the ministers, namely, TO MAKE GOOD THEIR PREACHING BY THE PRISON, IF NEED BE, THEIR SAYINGS BY THEIR SUFFERINGS. Oh, base is that liberty, yea, baser than the basest bondage, which is got by flinching from that truth, which we have preached and professed.
Samuel Rutherford, in prison, used to date his letters, "Christ's Palace, Aberdeen." He wrote to a friend: "The Lord is with me; I care not what man can do. I burden no man. I want nothing. No king is better provided than I am. Sweet, sweet, and easy is the cross of my Lord. All men I look in the face, of whatsoever rank, nobles and poor. Acquaintance and strangers are friendly to me. My Well-beloved is kinder and more warm than ordinary, and cometh and visiteth my soul. My chains are over-gilded with gold. No pen, no words, no engine, can express to you the loveliness of my only Lord Jesus. Thus in haste I make for my palace at Aberdeen."
When Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, in 1695, she not only sang but wrote songs of praise to her God. "It sometimes seemed to me," she said, "as if I were a little bird whom the Lord had placed in a cage, and that I had nothing now to do but sing. The joy of my heart gave a brightness to the objects around me. The stones of my prison looked in my eyes like rubies. I esteemed them more than all the gaudy brilliancies of a vain world. My heart was full of that joy which Thou givest to them that love Thee in the midst of their greatest crosses."
And Timothy our brotherI.
In the text we see AGE AND YOUTH TOGETHER. Not separate, not looking ashamed at each other, not divided by incompatibilities or jealousies, but in union. The young often flee from the old. The old are often impatient with the young. Here is an instance of union. The advantages are obvious.
1. The old will contribute the wisdom of experience.
2. The young will quicken the animation of hope. No doubt temporary difficulties will arise.
II. Though age and youth are together, yet AGE TAKES PRECEDENCE OF YOUTH. It is Paul and Timothy, not Timothy and Paul. A principle of right settles all questions of priority. It is not beautiful, because it is not right, that youth should take precedence of age. There are many ways of taking virtual precedence.
III. Though age takes precedence of youth, yet both age and youth are ENGAGED IN COMMON SERVICE. Paul and Timothy are both servants, it is not Paul the master and Timothy the servant, they are both included under one name. See how one great relationship determines all minor conditions and attitudes; as between themselves, Paul was father, and Timothy was son; Paul was renowned, and Timothy was obscure; Paul was senior, and Timothy was junior; but looked at as before Christ the one Lord, they were both servants. Many reflections arise out of this regulating power of one absorbing relationship or union. The Alps and Apennines are great mountains in themselves; yet they are less than pimples when looked at in their relation to the whole world. The earth itself is a "great globe" to its own inhabitants; it is a mere speck of light to the nearest star. A man who is a very important tradesman in a small town, may not have been so much as heard of in the great city. Through and through life we see how relationships supremely important as between themselves, are modified by one great bond. The right way to take our proper measure, and to chasten our ambition, is to look at the highest relationships of all. The great citizen dwindles into his right proportions when he looks at the Creator; the mighty potentate, when he looks at the King of kings; the philanthropist, when he looks at the Saviour. The noisy, rushing, furious train seems to be going fast; let it look at the flying stars, and be humble! Compared with them it is a lame insect toiling in the dust. Life should never be looked at as merely between one man and another. Look at it as between the finite and the infinite — between the momentary and the eternal — between the ignorant and the omniscient. It will thus be elevated. No man will then think of himself more highly than he ought to think. The Alps will not scorn the molehills.
In the Church of Christ all are brethren. They have "one heavenly Father; one first-born brother, Christ; one seed of regeneration, the Divine Word; one inheritance of eternal life." Mutual love is the basis of true Church fellowship. "As natural relationship produces natural affection, so spiritual relationship produces spiritual affection." It will be —
1. An unfeigned love (1 Peter 1:32). Not the profession of the lip, which may fail if put to a practical test.
2. A pure love. In sympathy with whatever is godlike in fellow believers. Grace in the heart seeking and fostering its kindred grace in others. There is need of clearer evidence that the love which is of God has place in hearts on earth.
3. A fervent love. A fire burning up natural selfishness. An habitual consideration of the things of others rather than our own.
4. A lasting love. It has come from God, the eternal source of light, and it bears us on to Him again.
THE HUMILITY OF PAUL, who, though an apostle in the highest degree of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11
; 1 Corinthians 12:28
), yet disdaineth not to yoke himself, not only with the Evangelist Timothy, an inferior degree, but even with an ordinary pastor, Philemon, who was yet of a lower place than Timothy. Art thou a pastor? Speak and do as a pastor to thy fellow pastors, and not as though thou wert an apostle or evangelist.
II. I observe THE CAUSE OF PAUL'S LOVE TO PHILEMON by the conjunction of these two things together, BELOVED AND FELLOW WORKER. The latter is the cause of the former, therefore was Philemon beloved of Paul, because his fellow worker in the ministry. Those that are joined together in the same calling ought in this regard more dearly to love one another. True it is that the general calling of a Christian should be a sufficient bond to knit together in true love the hearts of all Christians. But when to this bond there cometh a second of our special callings, our hearts should be more firmly knit together, that so it might appear that when our hearts shall be linked together by the bond of nature, or Christian and special calling, that a three-fold cord is not easily broken. But where shall we find this sweet conjunction of beloved and fellow worker? In the most men the proverb is verified. One potter envies another. But far be this envy from all Christians of what calling soever, specially of the ministry. The ministers must love together as brethren, and with one heart and hand give themselves to the Lord's business. Far be from them the mind of the monopolists, that they should go about to engross the Word of God to themselves; nay, rather with Moses let them wish that all God's people were prophets.
Paul joineth Timothy with him in this suit, because howsoever he were in great credit with Philemon, and able to obtain a great matter at his hands, yet he knew he should prevail better by the help of another than he could do himself alone, seeing two may prevail more than one. He honoureth him also with the name of a dear brother, whom oftentimes, because he had converted him, he calleth a natural son, that his gifts and graces may be considered with his person, and carry the greater weight in his suit, and so Philemon sooner yield his consent and grant this request, being requested, and as it were set upon by so many. From this practice of the apostle we learn that what good thing soever we take in hand we shall better effect it with others than alone by ourselves. The joining unto us the hand and help of others is profitable and necessary to all things belonging unto us for the better performing and accomplishing of them. Two are better than one. Abimelech, being directed by God to stir up Abraham, obtaineth by his means, who prayed for him, that which he could not compass and accomplish alone by himself. Absalom not being able to purchase and procure of himself the goodwill of his father, moved Joab to deal for him, Joab useth the help of the subtle woman of Tekoah, whereby he is reconciled to his father. Hereby it cometh to pass that Paul so often requesteth the prayers of the Church that utterance may be given unto him, that he may open his mouth boldly to publish the secrets of the gospel. All those places of Scripture prove plainly and directly unto us, that what matter of weight and importance soever we enterprise and go about, it is good for us to take to ourselves the help of others to further us therein.
Unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer
The names of the receivers of the letter bring before us a picture seen, as by one glimmering light across the centuries, of a Christian household in that Phrygian valley. The head of it, Philemon, appears to have been a native of, or at all events a resident in, Colosse, for Onesimus his slave, is spoken of in the Epistle to the Church there as "one of you
." He was a person of some standing and wealth, for he had a house large enough to admit of a "church" assembling in it, and to accommodate the apostle and his travelling companions if he should visit Colosse. He had apparently the means for large pecuniary help to poor brethren, and willingness to use them, for we read of the refreshment which his kindly deeds had imparted. He had been one of Paul's converts, and owed his own self to him. He is called "our fellow labourer." The designation may imply some actual cooperation at a former time. But more probably the phrase is but Paul's gracefully affectionate way of lifting his humbler work out of its narrowness, by associating it with his own. All who toil for furtherance of Christ's kingdom, however widely they may be parted by time or distance, are fellow workers. The first man who dug a shovelful of earth for the foundation of Cologne Cathedral, and he who fixed the last stone on the topmost spire a thousand years after, are fellow workers. However small may be our capacity or sphere, or however solitary we may feel, we may summon up before the eyes of our faith a mighty multitude of apostles, martyrs, toilers in every land and age as our — even our — work fellows. The field stretches far beyond our vision, and many are toiling in it for Him whose work never comes near ours. There are differences of service, but the same Lord, and all who have the same master are companions in labour.
They that put to their helping hand any kind of way, for the furtherance of the gospel, are the minister's fellow labourers, that edify their brethren in the most holy faith, that exhort one another while it is called today, that comfort one another, that are as bells to toll others to Christ, are the preacher's fellow labourers. So was the woman of Samaria that called the whole city to Christ, those women that ministered to Christ of their own substance, also Priscilla and Aquila, who expounded to Apollos the way of God more perfectly. Let us all thus be fellow labourers, and our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.
He addresses himself unto Philemon as his dearly beloved and fellow labourer. Now if he was so dearly beloved by Paul he could not but love one by whom he was so much beloved; and if he had that love for Paul, which Paul's love for him challenged as a suitable return of gratitude, he would give him a testimony of his affection by gratifying him in his request. It was a great honour to Philemon to be beloved by so eminent an apostle as St. Paul. It was still a greater honour to be numbered amongst his dearest friends. He could not doubt of the sincerity of St. Paul, when he made these large professions of love and kindness to him. It was not agreeable with the character of the apostle to use these expressions, as empty forms, words of course, and idle compliments; but they came from his heart as well as from his pen. Philemon had found real and undoubted proofs of St. Paul's love to him in the pains he had taken in his conversion to Christ. He had received from him the greatest instances of kindness that one man could receive from another. He had been turned by him from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, and owed to him the means of grace and the hopes of glory. If, therefore, he had any sense of gratitude, any sparks of generosity in him, he must be very desirous to find out some opportunity of making his acknowledgments to one to whom he was so deeply indebted. He could not but with great greediness embrace an opportunity which was put into his hands of obliging one to whom he was so highly obliged, He could now no longer be at a loss how he might in some measure requite St. Paul for the great and inestimable benefits he had received from him, since he could not doubt but what was so earnestly asked by the apostle would be in a peculiar manner acceptable to him. And as the apostle thus strongly enforces his request, by applying to Philemon as his dearly beloved, so doth he give it yet farther advantage by addressing to him under the notice of his fellow labourer. For if Philemon was an assistant of St. Paul in ministering unto him in the execution of his apostolical office, he would not complain of the absence of Onesimus, who did in his place and stead minister to the apostle. He would be pleased that he tarried with St. Paul to supply his absence and to do his work. He would not think himself deprived of the service of Onesimus whilst he was employed in that work in which he himself was a labourer. This his servant would be even then looked upon as doing his master's business, whilst he was subservient to the apostle, whose minister his master was.
During his three years' stay at Ephesus he had come across trader from Colosse, who carried on in that city the business of a cloth weaver and a dyer, for which the three cities of the valley of the Lycus — Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse itself — were all alike famous, and who had come to the city of Artemis probably during the month of May, which was sacred to the goddess, to seek a market for his goods. The work of making up the bales of cloth into curtains, hangings, and the like, was one which fell in with St. Paul's calling as a tent maker, and as Aquila and Priscilla had left Ephesus to return to Rome (Romans 16:3
), he was glad to be able to carry out his rule of maintaining himself by the labour of his own hands, by entering into partnership with one in whose character there was so much to esteem and love (ver. 17). When they first became acquainted with each other, Philemon was as one of those not far from the kingdom of God, a Gentile who, like the centurion at Capernaum and Cornelius at Caesarea, had come to be a worshipper of the God of Israel, and to share the hope of the children of Abraham in the manifestation of His kingdom. To him the apostle had pointed out the more excellent way of faith in Christ crucified, risen, ascended, as the Head of that kingdom; and he was accordingly baptised with his wife Apphia, and his son Archippus. The master of a warehouse, well to do and benevolent, with many slaves and hired labourers working under him, was naturally an important personage. His employes themselves were a congregation. His house became the meeting place of an "ecclesia," which included friends and neighbours as well. St. Paul was a frequent guest there, spoke as a teacher, and took part in the Eucharistic meal on the first day of the week. As elsewhere (Galatians 4:14, 15
), he gained the affection and goodwill even of those who were as yet outside the faith. The very slaves learnt to love one who never lost his temper, never gave a harsh command, who found in all men, as such, that which was a ground of brotherhood. They would run errands for him, wait upon his wants, nurse him when he was ill. The partnership was, however, interrupted by St. Paul's plans for his work as an apostle. He left Ephesus, and if he contemplated any return to it at all, it was not likely, to be till after the lapse of some years. Then came the journeys to Macedonia, and Achaia, and Jerusalem, the two years' imprisonment at Caesarea, the voyage to Italy, the shipwreck at Melita, the two years' residence at Rome. And now the apostle had at last heard some tidings of his former friends.
We should not despise any persons by reason of the meanness of their outward condition; we should love and esteem men, not so much by the rank and place they bear in the world as by the inward qualities and graces of their souls; we should not treat even servants with an air of haughtiness and insolence, as if they were creatures of another kind from us, and of a species below us, but should show them all that humanity, which is due to them as men, who are partakers of the same nature, and with all that love and affection which are due to them as Christians, partakers of the same grace with ourselves.
2. We should use that interest we have with men of power and authority for the advantage of those who stand in need of our patronage and help.
3. We should not despair of the reclaiming of any sinners, be they at present never so wicked.
4. When sinners are reclaimed from their vicious courses, we should not upbraid them with their past faults.
5. Those who have ministered to others in spiritual things should not from thence assume over them a right of commanding and influencing them in temporal affairs.
6. We should not look upon the first preachers of the gospel as men of no skill, no learning, no address. We have a convincing proof to the contrary in this Epistle.
7. If this part of Scripture, which hath been generally looked upon as the most dry, and barren, and unedifying, is thus fruitful of wholesome, and practical, and useful truths, we should have an high esteem and reverence of these Divine oracles, which are so well fraught with wisdom and knowledge.
It is not without its use to observe the persons to whom the Epistle is addressed — the father, the mother, the son, and the Church at the house. How widely contrasted were they, but all were Christians, sending a voice of encouragement to persons of all classes and through all time!
2. While we contemplate with admiration the separate individuals of this group of early believers, our attention is turned to the fact that they were assembled with others of like spirit, and along with them formed, according to the apostle's language, an ecclesia or Church. Happy those who possess the faith that gives admission to this Church; the truth that commends its spirit directs its worship and secures its permanence and promotes its peace; and the holiness that prepares for its full approaching glory!
3. The Church, or the company of the out-called and separated, who received the apostle's greetings, and who were "at the house" of Philemon, consist, in the first instance, of the various members of his household. When converted himself, he would naturally strengthen his brethren. A man who has learned that faith in the Son of God is essential to his own happiness, and "deliverance from the wrath to come," is no more able to keep the discovery to himself than he would withhold the knowledge of a medicine of sovereign value from the sufferers he saw dying around him in the wards of a fever hospital. Religion, accordingly, begins at home.
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