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CHA P. XII.
Onefimus, the servant of Philemon-robbed his master fied to Rome--- there converted through St. Paul's miniftry--returned to his master with the Apostle's recommendation--was affectionately received by the Church as a brother- and perhaps admitted into the facred
HILE we are considering the characters of men, we ought to perceive and admire the glory and perfections of God in his conduct towards them. The government, which He exercises over our fallen race, exhibits an astonishing view of his love, no less than of his power. Such a view is given us in every inItance of the conversion of a sinner, which is always to be regarded as an event of peculiar magnitude. Therein we discover the exceeding greatness of that grace, which can pardon and fančtify the rebellious; and therefore cases of this nature, as far as they are made known to us, demand our serious attention.
The person, who is here proposed as the subject of our meditations, claims our notice on this ground. The facred volume, indeed, does not contain a large account; but the few circumstances recorded of him, will furnish us with iniportant instruction. He had been placed in a mean situation, and his conduct had been infamous; but, the doctrine of the cross having reached his heart with a mighty energy, he became an honourable and useful member both of society and of the Church of God. The holy Angels rejoiced at the change : may we contemplate it with gratitude
nd' delight, and prove by our future obedience, that: we have obtained the same mercy !
Onefimus was no more than a common slave, but: probably did not feel the hardships, generally attendant on such a condition; and he was favoured with op-portunities of gaining religious knowledge and improvement. His master Philemon professed and adorned the Gospel, and, it should seem, was also a faithful preacher : for St. Paul addresses him as his
dearly beloved and fellow labourer,” distinguished for his « love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and toward all saints,” and having a church in his house * The meanest servant, in such a pious family, doubtless enjoyed peculiar advantages of a spiritual kind. But no external means can change the heart. Onefimus: retained his situation without any apparent benefit from the prayers, instructions; admonitions, or example of his excellent master; and on this account his guilt was more highly aggravated. To continue careless and impenitent, under the constant observation of the efficacious and happy influence of real religion, manifests the deepest depravity; for it implies more than gross ignorance, an avowed contempt and rejection of God and his truth.
O consider, if you are the members of such an houthold, as that of Philemon, What improvement are you making of the valuable opportunities afforded you? Have you not yet to learn the way of righteousness, though you have long been taught? Do you not neglect your fouls, though continually warned of your danger? You are fummoned to the worship of God, both at Church and at home: but do you not
y. ftill remain ftrangers to prayer? What account; then, fhall you be able to give? Should you die in unbelief, your masters and parents, whose exhortations you have despised, will witness again't you and that licil
ation, which might have proved an unspeakable blefilm ing, will eventually be your heaviest curse.
Onefimus was not merely thoughtless, but deftitute of all principles of probity. He betrayed his trust in Philemon's service, and then absconded with the pilfered property. Is the heinousness of dishonesty lufficiently considered? Are you, to whom the concerns of others are committed, strictly attentive to your obligations? Do you hate robbery, even in the smallest degree? And are all your transactions such, as you could bear to produce to the public view? O remember, there is a God in heaven, who narrowly inspects your private dealings and will expose every fraudulent practice, at the day of judgment: Will not this be to your unspeakable confusion? Determine, then, to suffer any difficulties, rather than waste or embezzle what is deposited with you. Let “no m
no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, becaufe the Lord is the avenger of all such*.”
From this view of Onesimus's state and conduct we fould have apprehended every thing bad : and had he received the just recompense of his iniquity, or been left to follow, without restraint, the devices of his own heart, the consequence must have been fatal. But a different scene opens upon us; and we turn from the profligacy of the finner, to behold the rich and fovereign grace of our God in Jesus Chrift.
Onefimus, having basely deserted his master, probably became a wanderer and a vagabond. In that ftate, under the controlling influence of divine Providence, his steps were directed to Rome; and there, by fome means or other, he was brought under the ministry of St. Paul, who, though a prisoner, was permitted to preach the Gospel in his own house. What were Onclimus's motives for attending the Apostle, we know not; but the event was blessed. The wretched rambler was suddenly arrested ; an arrow of conviction
i Thefi. iv. 6.
from the Lord pierced his heart; he confessed his guilt, and obtained inercy through that Saviour, of whom he then heard. A total renovation took place within him ; in consequence of which, he renounced the hidden things of dishonesty," and desired to serve God in righteousness and true holiness. He was more than reformed; he was made “a new creature.” This, said Paul, is “ my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds,”
Here, then, is a striking instance, and undeniable proof, of the extensiveneis and power of that grace, which God has exhibited in the Gospel. He can save those, whose cases in our view appear desperate. He can pardon the most aggravated fins, and wash away ftains of the deepest die. He can turn the most oba durate rebel into a faithful subject. Accumulated offences, and confirmed habits of wickedness, are no obstruction to the exercise of his mercy and the efficacious influence of his Spirit, towards those, whom He is pleased to visit with his falvation. On this ground, we may be encouraged to entertain a pleasing hope for others, and to offer importunate supplications for ourselves.
Some are disposed to ask, Why does the Lord permit the objects of his choice to proceed fo far and continue so long in their evil courses? Why does he not prevent the mischief, which they bring upon themfelves and their connections? But instead of giving way to curious enquiries and presumptuous cavillings concerning his dispensations, we should rather bow before him with unfeigned humility, and confess that we have no right to question his proceedings. Many of his reasons, probably, are concealed from us; but that part of his conduct, which he has submitted to our view, demands our admiration, love, and praise ; and even when his appointments appear to us strange and unaccountable, we should reit assured, that He doeth all things well, and wait for an explanation till the last day 4
We grant that He suffers men, for whom he has « thoughts of peace and not of evil,” to gratify their own perverse delires, and make a daring progress in wickedness. Thus he takes occasion to humble them more effectually, after they have given full proof of their depravity by their atrocious conduct. He exhibits in a more conspicuous light the sovereignty of his mercy, while he convinces them by a view of their own experience, that they deserve to perish, even as cthers, and that they are indebted to his Almighty grace for any falutary change produced. It is obfervable, too, that persons of this description, when they have embraced the Gospel, generally possess a Atronger and livelier senfe of the value of redemption, and their obligations to the Saviour, than those who have not run into the fame irregularities. They feel. the more fervent love, as being more deeply impressed with the perfuafion, that they have much forgiven *. Are there not evident marks of the divine wisdom and goodness in this procedure? We confess, that the subject involves difficulties, which we pretend not to explain; and we caution our readers to suspect their own reasonings and conclufions, which are not expressly warranted by the scriptures. While we maintain and rejoice in the full liberty of the Gospel, let us beware of abusing it to the purposes of licentioulness. “ Where fin abounded, grace did much more abound.- What shall we say then? Shall we continue in fin, that grace inay abound? God forbid 7." We. reject such an inference with abhorrence.
It is the high prerogative of Him, “ who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will I," to bring good out of evil, and to glorify himself even by the disobedience of his creatures : yet this does not in any measure palliate their guilt. The wickedness of Joseph's brethren, in confpiring against him and felling him into Egypt, was eventually the means of great
• Lu. vii. 47
+ Rom. 1. 20. vi. 1, 2.
Eph. i. 31.