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"Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels;
"Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:
"But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.
"For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
"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." (Phil. 12-16.)
NO1ES AND OBSERVATIONS.
I CAN easily figure to myself the reception of Onesimus by Philemon; backed with such endearments and persuasiveness of language; and especially, from the predisposing grace the Lord had put in the heart of. Philemon, to receive him; the run-away servant was come back, no longer unprofitable and dishonest; but with a new heart and mind, to make amends for all the past, and to repay with affection the kindness which he had before requited with contumely and unpardonable neglect. Philemon knew what it was to refresh the bowels of the saints, from the refreshment of the Lord Jesus, in his own bowels; and it is not straining the subject too far to suppose, that if the heart of Onesimus was bursting with all those finer feelings, such a situation as his, through grace, would occasion; how much more the holy joy of Philemon, in his restoration and recovery! Like the father in the parable, his language no doubt was similar; "for this [my servant] my son was dead, and is alive again, he was lost, and is found." (Luke xv. 32.)
The reception of the graceless by godly parents
and masters, when the Lord hath changed their hearts, reminds us of the Lord's overwhelming goodness to his backsliding and wandering children. But how infinitely short do all representations of forgiveness among men appear, to what the Scriptures of God set forth of the Lord's taking back his people. The Holy Ghost, by Jeremiah, hath given a lovely example of the kind, in one of his chapters, in the history of Ephraim. The Lord speaks first; for, in all the return of sinners, grace begins with the Lord. And thus the Lord speaks: "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned I repented; and after that I was instructed I smote upon my thigh. I was ashamed; yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth." Here, like another Onesimus, we behold all those meltings of soul which, when grace hath entered the heart, and turned the tide of the affections into another channel, will follow; and blessedly testify the work of divine sovereignty, in regeneration. The convinced sinner bemoans himself. He calls to mind the afflictions the Lord hath sent after him. He hears the rod, and who hath appointed it. And though at the beginning, when under chastisement, he rid stubborn and restive, as a bullock, when brought first into the yoke for drawing burdens, kicks and doth all he can to break his chain; yet, when the Lord adds to the rod the sweet cords of love to turn; and makes himself known to the sinner, as "the Lord his God;" thus being turned, he repents; and thus being instructed to profit, he smites upon his thigh, to testify, (as was the custom of the Eastern manners, when humbled) his submission; and takes
shame and confusion of face, in the recollection of all his former sin and folly.
And what saith the Lord, to all this? "Is Ephraim, (saith the Lord) my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." (Jer. xxxi. 18-20.) Can any thing be more beautiful in the illustration of divine grace? Here is Ephraim falling down at the footstool of the mercy seat; and the Lord stooping down to. raise him up. I am a worthless sinner, cries Ephraim. Thou art a dear child, saith the Lord. My soul is troubled, saith Ephraim, in looking back to what I have done. My bowels feel for thee, saith the Lord. I will surely have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord! Are there any run-away servants, like Onesimus, that can read this dry-eyed? Doth God indeed lean over the bosom of every returning sinner; and while the sinner is melted in tears, and is blushing with shame at the past, doth God fall upon his neck, melt in mercy and compassion, and say, I have put away thy sins?
It will not be a difficult matter for the reader, (if so be the Lord hath interested his heart to take part in this history) to form, in idea, the reception of Onesimus, on this occasion. Methinks, I see, not only the godly master, but the whole family gathering around the poor wanderer; and all welcoming his return, with features bespeaking the general joy, And if, as we are taught, angels, who can know nothing in a way of fellow feeling to our nature, rejoice over the recovery of one sinner that repenteth; what may be supposed the delight of those of the same nature and family, when at any time the Lord brings back his strayed ones, from sin to sal
Say what men will, there is a certain somewhat from our relationship to Christ, which his redeemed ones have with each other by virtue of their union with him, their glorious Head; which forms a cement of the strongest and most interesting nature. I cannot, I confess, define it; yet, though undescribable, it is not the less certain, neither the less delightful. It is that kind of feeling which instinctively draws the heart to take interest in all that concerns them. Grace works in the soul, to induce an harmony of affection; which, like musical instruments strung to the same key, when one is touched, the other vibrates. Hence, in reading the sweet scriptural history of this run-away servant, brought back by sovereign grace to the participation in the privileges of a godly family, which once he despised; we take part in the felicity of the house. And though so many generations have passed away since this event took place, we bring it back to our apprehension, as though the scene was immediately before us, and mingle in the throng, as belonging to the family. And this is what the apostle means, when he saith: "Rejoice with them that do rejoice; and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things; but condescend to them of low estate." (Rom. xii. 15, 16)
We must not overlook, among the other persuasive arguments of the apostle, which he makes use of to induce Philemon to take back again his run-away; that he pleads for his reception in somewhat an higher character than that of a servant. For though still, in fact, a servant; and with cheerfulness he now returned to labour as such, in obedience to all the lawful commands of his master; yet, at the same time, being now brought into a participation, with Philemon, of all the blessings in Christ; he is not simply a servant, and no more, but above a servant-a brother, beloved.
There is somewhat truly interesting in this statement. And the more so, if we consider the condition of servitude in those dark ages of the world. For the greater part were simply not servants, by voluntary offer of themselves, but slaves, by purchase. And yet to such, when grace had brought them into a nearer and tenderer tie, the apostle urged the love of a brother. Hence we find these important precepts blended: "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ." In like manner masters are commanded on their part: « Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a master in heaven." And in both cases, the obligation will be more or less felt and acknowledged, as a sense of divine favour is more or less known and enjoyed.
"If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.
"I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it; albeit I do not say to thee, how thou owest unto me even thine ownself besides.
"Yea brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.
Having confidence in thy obedience, I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say."