« PreviousContinue »
by the law or custom of Phrygia, was due to a fugitive slave, and which, as Grotius says, he could inflict without applying to any magistrate, he besought the apostle to write to Philemon, requesting him to forgive and receive him again into his fa. mily. The apostle, always ready to do good offices, very wil. lingly complied with Onesimus's desire, and wrote this letter to Philemon, in which, with the greatest softness of expression, warmth of affection, and delicacy of address, he not only interceded for Onesimus's pardon, but urged Philemon toʻesteem him, and put confidence in him as a sincere Christian. And because restitution, by repairing the injury that hath been done, restores the person who did the injury to the character which he had lost, the apostle, to enable Onesimus to appear in Philemon's family with some degree of reputation, bound himself in this epistle by his hand-writing, not only to repay all that Onesimus owed to Philemon, but to make full reparation also for whatever injury he had done to him by running away from him.
To account for the solicitude which the apostle shewed in this affair, we must not, with some, suppose that Philemon was keen and obstinate in his resentments. But rather, that having a number of slaves, on whom the pardoning of Onesimus too easily might have had a bad effect, he might judge some punishment necessary, for a warning to the rest. At least the apostle could not have considered the pardoning of Onesimus, as a matter which merited so much earnest entreaty, with a person of Philemon's piety, benevolence, and gratitude, unless he had sus. pected him to have entertained some such apprehension.
Many are of opinion, that Onesimus robbed his master before he ran off. But of this there is no evidence ; unless we think the expression, ver. 18. If he hath injured thee any thing, contains an insinuation of that sort. But the apostle might mean, injured thee by the loss of his service. The words will fairly bear that interpretation. Why then, as Lardner observes, impute crimes to men without proof?—What the apostle wrote to Philemon on this occasion, is highly worthy of our notice: Namely, that although he had great need of an affectionate honest servant to minister to him in his bonds, such as Onesimus was, who had expressed a great inclination to stay with him ; and although, if Onesimus had remained with him, he would only have discharged the duty which Philemon himself owed to his spiritual father; yet the apostle would by no means detain Onesimus without Philemon's leave ; because it belonged to
him to dispose of his own slave in the way he thought proper. Such was the apostle's regard to justice, and to the rights of mankind !
Whether Philemon pardoned Onesimus, or punished him, is not known. Only, from the earnestness with which the apostle solicited his pardon, and from the generosity and goodness of Philemon's disposition, we may conjecture that he actually pardoned Onesimus; and even gave him his freedom, in compliance with the apostle's insinuation, as it is interpreted by some, that he would do more than he had asked. For it was no uncommon thing, in ancient times, to bestow freedom on-such slaves, as had obtained the esteem and good will of their masters, by their faithful services.
Of the Authenticity and Use of St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon.
Jerome, in his Preface to this epistle, says. Volunt aut epistolam non esse Pauli ; aut etiam si Pauli sit, nihil habere quod nos edificare possit. Et a plerisque veteribus repudiatam, dum commendandi tantum scribebatur officio, non docendi. But Chrysostom in his Preface, hath shewed several excellent uses which may be made of this epistle; two of which, as they are of great importance, I shall mention.—The first is, In this epistle the apos. tle hath left to churchmen an excellent example of charity, in endeavouring to mitigate the resentment of one in a superior station, towards his inferior, who had injured him; and in endeavouring to restore the inferior to the favour of the other, which he had lost through his unfaithfulness: and that, not only by arguments drawn from reason, but by generously binding himself to repay all the loss which the superior had sustained by the injury of the inferior.-The second use which may be made of this epistle is equally excellent. It sets before churchmen of the highest dignity, a proper example of attention to the people under their care, and of affectionate concern for their welfare, which, if it were imitated, would not fail to recommend them to the esteem and love of their people ; consequently would give them a greater capacity of doing them good.-I add some other uses; namely, that, although no article of faith be professedly handled in this epistle, and no precepts for the regulation of our conduct be directly delivered in it, yet the allusions to the doctrines and precepts of the gospel found in it, may be improved in various re
spects for regulating our conduct. For, it is therein insinuated, 1. That all Christians are on a level. Onesimus the slave, on becoming a Christian, is the apostle's son, and Philemon's brother.—2. That Christianity makes no alteration in men's political state. Onesimus the slave, did not become a freeman by embracing Christianity, but was still obliged to be Phileinon's slave for ever, unless his master gave him his freedom.-3. That slaves should not be taken nor detained from their masters, without their masters' consent, ver. 13, 14.-4. That we should not contemn persons of low estate, nor disdain to help the meanest, when it is in our power to assist them, but should love and do good to all men.-5. That where an injury hath been done, restitution is due, unless the injured party gives up his claim.6. That we should forgive sinners who are penitent, and be heartily reconciled to them.—7. That we should never despair of reclaiming the wicked, but do every thing in our power to convert them.
The anxiety which the apostle shewed for the welfare of Onesimus, in return for his affectionate services, could not fail to cherish good dispositions in the breast of Philemon. Nor is it possible even at this day, so long after Philemon and his slave are both gone, to read this letter without experiencing, in some measure, the same happy effect.
In the mean time, if this epistle had served no other purpose, but to shew the world what sort of man the apostle Paul was in private life, it would justly have merited a place in the canon of scripture. For, in it the writer hath displayed qualities which by men are held in the greatest estimation ; such as, an high spirit arising from a consciousness of his own dignity, consummate prudence, uncommon generosity, the warmest friendship, the most skilful address, and the greatest politeness as well as purity of manners : Qualities not to be found, either in an enthusiast, or in an impostor.-Doddridge, observes, “That this epis“ tle, considered as a mere human composition, is a master-piece 6 of its kind. For, if it is compared with an epistle of Pliny,
supposed to have been written on a similar occasion, Lib. ix. « epist. 21. that epistle, though penned by one who was reckoned “ to excel in the epistolary style, and though it has undoubtedly
many beauties, will be found by persons of taste, much inferior “ to this animated composition of the apostle Paul."
Of the Time and Place of writing the Epistle to Philemon. That this epistle was written from Rome, about the time the epistle to the Colossians was written, may be gathered from the following circumstances.-Like the epistle to the Colossians, this was written when the apostle was in bonds, ver. 1. 10. 13. 23. and when he had good hopes of obtaining his liberty, ver. 22.-Timothy joined Paul in both epistles.-Epaphroditus, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke joined in the salutations in both. Lastly, Onesimus, the bearer of this, was one of the messengers by whom the epistle to the Colossians was sent, Col. iv. 9.-But if the epistle to Philemon was written about the time the epistle to the Colossians was sent, it must have been written ạt Rome, in the end of A. D. 61, or in the beginning of 62.
Onesimus, in the apostle's letter to the Colossians, having been particularly recommended to their notice, Col. iv. 9. it cannot be doubted that they cheerfully received him into their church.-In the apostolical Constitutions, Lib. vịii. c. 4. 6. Onesimus is said to have been bishop of Bercea. But that writing, is of little authority.When Ignatius wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, their bishop's name was Onesimus ; and Grotius thought he was the person for whom St. Paul interceded. But, as Lardner observes, that is not certain. Mill has mentioned a copy, in which, at the conclusion, it is said, That Onesimus died a martyr at Rome, by having his legs broken.
GREEK TEXT. CHAP. I. 1 Paul, a pri- 1 Παυλος, δεσμιος Χριςου Soner of Jesus Christ, and Iησου, και Τιμοθεος ο αδελTimothy our brother, unto φος, Φιλημονι το αγαπητώ Philemon our dearly be
και συνεργω ημων, loved, and fellow-labourer,
2 και Απφια τη αγαπη2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus τη, και Αρχιπσω τω συςραour fellow-soldier, and tο τιωτη ημων, και τη κατ’ οιthe church in thy house:
κον σου εκκλησια 3 Grace to you, and
3 Χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη peace, from God our Fa- απο Θεου σατρος ημων, και ther, and the Lord Jesus Κυριου Ιησου Χριςου. Christ.
4 I thank my God, mak- 4 Ευχαριςω τω Θεω μου ing mention of thee al- σαντοτε, μνείαν σου
ωοιουways in my prayers, ,
μου, 5 Hearing of thy love ακουων σου την αγαand faith, which thou hast σην και την σιςιν, ην εχεις toward the Lord Jesus, προς τον Κυριον Ιησουν και and toward all saints;
εις παντας τους αγιους
Ver. 1.-1. Combined with a chain for Christ jesus. Δεσμιος Χριστε. This is the genitive of the object, Ess. iv. 24.-Or it may be the genitive of pos. session ; and be translated, a prisoner belonging to Christ Jesus. But as the word prisoner, does not convey a just idea of Paul's state at that time, δεσ. pulos is more properly translated, confined with a chain.-For an account of the manner in which the apostle was confined at Rome, see Eph. vi. 20. note.-In writing to Philemon Paul did not call himself an apostle, because he wrote only in the character of a friend, to request a favour, rather than to enjoin what was fit, ver. 8, 9.
2. And Timothy. In the preface to St. Paul's epistle to the Colossians, Sect. 1. it was shewed, that the Colossians were converted by Paul. Wherefore, if Timothy assisted him in that work, being known to Phile. mon, he very properly joined Paul in this letter, to signify that he joined him in his request, as well as in his testimony concerning the good disposition of Onesimus.
3. Our brother. So the apostle called Timothy, to add dignity to his character.
4. And our fellow-labourer. This sheweth that Paul and Philemon were personally known to each other.