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by this means. It is not improbable that Onesimus might have heard the Apostle Paul preach at his master's house ; he had perhaps heard his doctrine and witnessed his behaviour, he had probably listened to his conversation ; and there is something so attractive in the truth, in holiness, and in zeal for God, that some persons, though wicked, cannot help feeling a reverence for it; yea, there is something in the preaching of the Gospel so much superior to any other preaching, that some who do not understand or believe it, feel an attachment to it, and hear it almost against their will. May it please God to visit such with its power! This is the case with many servants who have attended the Gospel because their masters or mistresses did so, and could scarcely forsake it afterwards, though they knew not why.
This man, however, was “born of God;" the Apostle says of him, ver. 10. “whom I have begotten in my bonds ;" he also calls him his Son, “my son Onesimus,”--this mode of expression is common in scripture. It is said in James, i. 18, “ God of his own will, begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures ;” and the Apostle Paul says the same to the Corinthians, “ In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the the Gospel.” In all ages God has employed the preaching of his Gospel as the principal, though not the only means of the conversion of sinners; the preaching of the cross is.“ the
power of God to salvation.” The weapons of our warfare, says the Apostle, are not carnal, but they are mighty through God, to the pulling down of the strong holds of the devil.” Now, this man renounces the hidden things of dishonesty, and he shews, by sufficient and satisfactory evidence, that he has become a new creature. Let us enquire a little into this evidence.
Paul, we see, had the fullest satisfaction in him ; he speaks with the greatest certainty concerning him; and scruples not to recommend him in the warmest manner. In the first place, as an evidence that he was really changed, we mention his confes. sion of his former wickedness : for doubtless he did make confession of it ; or how did the Apostle come to know it? He knew nothing of this man; he had 'never seen him in this great city ; but grace always humbles the subject of it ; it always leads him to an acknowledgment of sin. It is likely that this man had come forward and made himself known to the Apostle. Methinks I see him, with a bashful countenance, approaching this man of God, saying, “Perhaps, Sir, you do not know me; but I remember you when you was at Colosse, at my master's house. I had a good master, Sir, Onesimus, your friend ; but I have been a bad servant. I have wronged him, and fled hither: but by the grace of God, through your preaching, I have been brought to repentance ; and have come to break my mind to you, and to take your advice."--My brethren, it would be a great consolation to the ministers of the Gospel, if persons who have received benefit from their preaching, would make it known to them ; it would render them more happy and more useful, if they knew in what manner their preaching had been blessed.
Another evidence of his conversion was his wil. lingness to return to his master, for no doubt he was perfectly willing to do so, and Paul did not write to this effect without his consent; he was willing to go back, and humble himself before his master, whom he knew, being a good man, would be glad to receive him, if he had evidence of his being changed, which evidence he would have by this admirable letter of the Apostle Paul. No doubt, true penitence is always accompanied with a desire to make restitution. If a man has wronged another, true penitence will make him wish to undo the evil he has done, as much as possible : and in matters of dishonesty, I should think little of any man's religion, or pretended repentance, who did not find some means to make restitution. This
is doubtless the duty of every man, and if the party wronged is deceased, then to his family: or if that be not possible, then it should be made to God and the
poor. But the Apostle says he had been “unprofitable, but now he is profitable both to thee and to me.” Pious servants will make themselves profitable ; and let that pretended piety be deemed good for nothing, and mere hypocrisy, that does not lead servants to be good servants, in the family where they live-honest, obliging, industrious ; then they will be profitable : for a good servant is a great blessing to a family, and a bad servant is a real curse. Now also he had become profitable to the Apostle ; perhaps his love to the servant of Christ, from whom he had derived so great a benefit, induced him to offer his service to this poor prisoner of the Lord, to
do his errands, and serve him in every possible way ; '. and Christians will esteem it their privilege to shew
respect and affection to those ministers from whom they have derived spiritual advantage.
Further. Observe the Apostle's great regard for this man. He calls him his "Son,"—he calls him his “ Brother beloved,”—he calls him his " Bowels." All these epithets are expressions of Christian love and kindness to a child of God. This shews us, likewise, that in spiritual concerns, God is no respecter of persons. “In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, bond nor free,”-there were great distinctions of this sort under the Old Testament dispensation, but not now; Christ is “all and in all,” nor was the humble condition or poverty of this man any reason for the Apostle's thinking the less of him, “ Hearken, says St. James, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?"-Oh how valuable is the acquisition of one immortal soul ! What is Onesimus? A slave!- dishonest slave ! a runaway slave !—but no sooner is he a partaker of
the grace of God, than he is "a brother beloved ;" yea, the Apostle speaks of him as his own bowels,” !--so tender is the regard he feels for this man. Hence the conversion of one soul, of whatever de. gree the person is the conversion of one soul is an event of great importance, in the eye of faith, to the man who looks forward to an eternity of existence in aven-the conversion of one soul is a matter of much greater importance than the revolution of a kingdom or an of an empire !
And see how the grace of God obliterates, and blots out former offences! Paul seems almost to have forgotten what the man was—he looks at what he is,-a brother beloved in Christ Jesus; and this is agreeable to the genius of the Gospel. "What think ye? says Christ, if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray ? and, is there not joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth? and if there be joy in heaven, shall there not also be joy on earth ?"--God, of his infinite mercy, passes by and forgets all the offences of those who believe in his dear Son; it is a branch of the covenant of grace, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more ;” and as it is expressed in one of the Prophets, in Ezekiel, xviii. 21, "If the wicked turn from all the sins that he hath committed, and keep my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall not die ; he shall surely live, all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned to him.” And here also Paul gives us a striking example of brotherly love. Dearly as he loved Onesimus, now a converted man, and very useful to him, he will not retain him; he is the property of Philemon, and therefore he parts with himn; and not only so, but he sends a letter, containing all the arguments that ingenuity could devise, in order to serve this man, and to secure for him a kind reception. He restores him to his master, assured that by the grace of God he will become a truly valuable servant.
Now to conclude. Let us, in the first place, ad mire the wise providence of God, in over-ruling all human events, and sometimes even the sins and follies of men, for their everlasting advantage. God permitted this man Onesimus to do what he did ; he permitted him to run away to Rome, and there the grace
of God found him out-s0 Joseph was sold into Egypt; it was a vile transaction ; but after many remarkable events, when Joseph made himself known to his brethren, and when they were troubled at his presence, Joseph said to them, “Come near to me, I pray you: and they came near him, and he said, 'I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt ! Now, therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God sent me before you to preserve life, to preserve your posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance; so now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God :' O what benefits did they ultimately derive from this act to their brother; and thus it often happens, in the mysterious proceedings of divine Providence, causing the wrath and even the guilt of man to praise him.
But again, Let us adore the riches of sovereign and almighty grace, as manifested in this man. Surely it must be admitted that here was a man “ saved by grace." By what else could he be saved ? and it might truly be said of him that. “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Ohow remarkable is the event, when you reflect both on the preacher and the convert. Who was the preacher ? Once a persecutor of the saints; and who was the convert? A converted - thief!
See also the genuine effects of true grace! This man, who had been unprofitable, yea, more than unprofitable, this man, who had been extremely