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and address, insomuch that it is preferred to a letter of a similar kind, written by the learned Pliny, who was so famous for epistolary writing. A letter from such a man as the holy and venerable apostle Paul, whose heart was so full of christian piety, may be expected, though written on a temporal affair, to contain evangelical sentiments of the most useful kind; and accordingly we find in it much matter of the most edifying nature. We shall, in the consideration of it, attend to two things.
The character of Onesimus before his conversion; and
The great change that was wrought in him by the grace of God, with the evidences thereof.
Let us first consider the character of Onesimus before his conversion.
It appears from this epistle that he was a slavea servant of the lowest description, one who was bought with money, and entirely at the disposal of his master. This was allowed by the law of Moses; and we here see a good man having a servant of this description in his house. No doubt he was treated, not with rigour and severity, but with christian kindness and compassion; nevertheless slavery seems to be incompatible with the genius of the gospel of Christ; and does not accord with that excellent rule, commonly called "The golden rule”
"Whatever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even the same to them." Being converted to God, the apostle requests Philemon to receive him again into his family and service.
But Onesimus had not only been a servant, but "an unprofitable servant; in times past unprofitable" that is, a worthless and injurious fellow, alluding to his name Onesimus, which signifies profitable: but the apostle intimates how inconsistent his
character had been with his name; and, indeed, there is too often a sad disagreement between a person's name and character. How many are called by the honourable appellation of Christians, who are really a disgrace to their profession: which reminds us of what was once said by Alexander the Great, to a private soldier in his army, who was a worthless man and a coward: he ordered him either to change his name, or become a better soldier: and thus it might be said to many who are called Christians. It is doubtless the duty of servants to endeavour to render themselves profitable to their employers. This man, in his unconverted state, was unprofitable; but now he had become a profitable man. All servants should endeavour, by honesty, frugality, and diligence, to seek the welfare of the family in which they live; and surely this man was under double obligations to have done so, for he had a very good master; the apostle speaks very highly of him; he calls him, in the first verse, "Our dearly beloved and fellow-labourer;" he speaks in the second verse of his having "a church in his house"-that is, the little society of the faithful, who lived at Colosse, assembled for worship in his habitation; and probably the first Christian churches used to assemble in like manner in private houses. And in the sixth and seventh verses we find there were many good things in him to be acknowledged, and particularly" that the bowels of the saints were refreshed by him; so that he appears to have been a man of eminent piety; and was it not a great privilege for Onesimus to live in such a family as this? But alas! he had neglected and abused these privileges: and let it be observed that the faults of bad servants are double faults when they live in good families; it makes their guilt so much the greater; for how inconsistent is their vicious conduct with the order of a pious house, in which the scriptures are daily read, and prayers and praises offered up to God. O let servants in pious
families reflect upon the privileges they enjoy, and remember they must one day give an account to God how they have improved or abused them. Gladly attend, if you live in a pious house, gladly attend to the worship of God, and do not think it a hardship; do not indulge sleep, when the scriptures are read or prayer is presented to God. And let not servants think themselves excused from private prayer, because they join, at least in appearance, in family prayer; rather let it be the means of teaching them how to pray, and of stirring them up to pray in private for themselves.
Further, It appears that Onesimus was a dishonest servant; probably he had acted the part of the thief. The apostle says in the eighth verse, "if he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that to my account." There is little doubt, though it is thus mildly expressed, that he had been a dishonest man, and had fled from justice: but "if he oweth thee ought," says the apostle, "put it to my account" -"impute it to me" (which, by the way, gives us a just notion of the meaning of the phrase "imputed righteousness"-for it is the same word that is used in Rom. iv. 16. "As David also describeth both the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works," and in other verses to the same import.) Alas! how much dishonesty is committed in the common concerns of life; in the conduct of trade and business; in the behaviour of masters and servants! As to the latter, how few make conscience of wasting their master's property, neglecting his business, idling away their time, which is a real theft, though not usually punished by human laws, but which will not escape the righteous judgment of God. But Christian servants are charged to conduct themselves in a very different manner, and especially "not as eye-servants," who do nothing well but when they are watched; but performing every branch of their duty" as to the Lord, and not as unto men."
Further, This man was a fugitive, a run-away
servant; he deserts the business and house of his master, which was itself a robbery, for he was not at his own disposal, his person being the property of Philemon: but guilt generally excites fear. So our first parents, when they sinned against God, strove to hide themselves from his presence among the trees of the garden: but who can flee from God?"whither shall we go from his presence ?" "There is no darkness, neither shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves." Besides, "God will bring every secret thing into judgment; whether it be good or whether it be bad." Then, if not before, will that scripture be verified, "Be sure your sin will find you out." Onesimus, in his rambles, comes to Rome, which was a very great city; and like great cities in general, the very sink of iniquity. Great offenders often flee to similar places, to hide themselves amidst the multitude in a populous city. Or, having lost character and employment, he might have gone thither for the purpose of committing further depredations. And here, we might have expected him to have become worse and worse; but, "God's thoughts are not as our thoughts!" God was pleased to over-rule his crime, and his coming thither, as the means of his being converted to God. And this is the second thing we are to consider.
Let us now attend to the great change that was wrought by the grace of God on the heart of Onesimus, and the evidences that were given of that change.
The apostle Paul was then a prisoner in Rome. Having appealed to Cæsar, from the Jews, he was brought, after very great perils and difficulties, to that immense city; and there, the Lord so interposed in his favour, that he continued two whole years, and was permitted to preach in his own hired house, to all those who chose to repair to it: and there, though he was prevented from going on
with his beloved work of spreading the gospel in new places, and travelling from one country to another for that purpose, yet he was permitted to write those admirable epistles to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians and others; so that though there were some hundred sermons pre. vented by his imprisonment, yet there have been millions edified by his writings. There is not a sabbath-day passes-there is hardly a sermon that is preached throughout the Christian world-there is hardly a congregation convened at any time, that does not derive great advantage from the writings of that holy man of God. We have reason to admire the grace of God thus overruling the wickedness of men. Nor was he useless in that great city; he was not useless in preaching; there were Christians in Rome, to be sure, before Paul went there; but probably they were greatly revived, and multiplied too by his preaching; for he says, in the close of one of his epistles," All the saints salute you, chiefly those that are of Cæsar's household."-Into the house of Nero, the cruel tyrant, the grace of God found its way, and had its due effect upon those who were living in the midst of wickedness. Onesimus came to hear him. What could induce such a man as Onesimus to go to Paul's house to hear him? Perhaps curiosity. Curiosity has brought many a man to hear the gospel; and though it be a poor unworthy motive, God has over-ruled it for good. So Zaccheus climbed the sycamore tree, for no better purpose than to see what sort of a person Jesus was; but the Lord, that very day, brought salvątion to his house and to his heart. Thus it was with Onesimus. Perhaps some acquaintance might have invited him to go to hear-one who had met with profit under Paul's preaching; and it is very commendable for persons who have found benefit from the word, to invite their friends to come and hear it also. Many have been converted to God