Philemon 1:15

I. HE DID SEND HIM BACK. "Whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart."

1. Onesimus did not return of his own accord. He might, perhaps, have had some not unnatural misgivings as to the character of the reception he would meet with as a returned slave who had acted a dishonest part, and might have been ashamed besides to appear again in a community where his misdeeds had been made known.

2. The apostle recognized Philemon's right to the restored services of his fugitive slave. The gospel does not abolish civil rights. The conversion of Onesimus did not secure his manumission. Yet the gospel planted principles in society which in due time abolished slavery everywhere. "Wast thou called being bond-servant? Care not for it: but if thou canst become free, use it rather" (1 Corinthians 7:21).

3. He did not even wait till he had received an answer from Philemon as to the terms in which Onesimus would be received back into the Colossian household. He sent Onesimus at once in charge of his two letters, namely, that to the Colossian saints and that to Philemon himself.

4. Yet the apostle acted in the whole matter with the deepest affection for the poor bond-servant. He speaks of him as "his own heart." What account Christianity makes of the meanest classes of society!


1. His first feeling was to retain Onesimus about his person to do him the service that Philemon himself would have gladly done. He had now. become profitable, according to the happy significance of his name. But it was not for the apostle to interfere with another man's servant.

2. The true cause of his sending Onesimus was that he would do nothing without the consent of his master. "But without thy mind would I do nothing." But the motive that prompted this determination was that "thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will." If the apostle had kept Onesimus for the sake of the benefit to be derived, from his personal ministration, the whole transaction would have worn a semblance of constraint. We have no right to extort benefits from our friends against their will.

3. The providential aspect of the matter. "For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him forever."

(1) Nothing in this statement extenuates the misdeeds of Onesimus, which God overruled for good.

(2) The acts of the meanest individual in society are included in the sphere of Divine providence.

(3) God makes up for the losses of his saints in his own time and way. Philemon has his once unfaithful servant restored to him on an entirely new footing of advantage.

(4) The restoration of the fugitive slave is to an eternal relationship. The earthly tie is sundered by death, but grace gives an eternity to the holy relationships of earth.

4. The new relation established between master and servant. "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, most of all by me, but more than most of all by thee, in the flesh and in the Lord." The apostle does not say, "not a servant," but "not as a servant;" for grace did not abrogate the old tie of master and servant.

(1) The brotherhood of saints is common to all the relationships of life. Philemon and Onesimus are now brethren beloved.

(2) Pious servants are to be more regarded, as they are more faithful, than servants without religion.

(3) There are none dearer to ministers than their converts.

(4) There was a double obligation to duty on Philemon's part corresponding to the double tie - that of the flesh and that of the Spirit - by which he was now connected with Onesimus. - T.C.

The word is used to express every degree of contingency from the faintest possibility to the highest probability. Two reasons may underlie the peculiar timidity and hesitation implied.

1. This "departure" might have been allowed with a view to a higher good. This case might have been like Joseph's (Genesis 45:5). Certainly a beginning which appeared so unpromising looked like the very path that had led to happiness. Had not Onesimus fled from Philemon, he would not have arrived in Rome, nor have found St. Paul. Had not Paul been imprisoned, Onesimus would never have believed, or been baptized, or become a minister of Christ — perhaps a bishop and martyr. Taking the two extreme points of the story, add connecting them together, it might be said, Onesimus became a minister of the gospel, because he fled from his master. St. Paul softens the sentence by the words, "it may be," because the judgments of God are hidden, and it is culpably rash to pronounce certainly on that which must be doubtful for creatures like ourselves.

2. If he had not so qualified his statement, slaves might have appealed with too much readiness to the example of Onesimus.

(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Paul will not be too sure of what God means by such and such a thing, as some of us are wont to be, as if we had been sworn of God's privy council. "Perhaps," is one of the hardest words for minds of a certain class to say; but in regard to all such subjects, and to many more, it is the motto of the wise man, and the shibboleth which sifts out the patient, modest lovers of truth from rash theorists and precipitate dogmatisers. Impatience of uncertainty is a moral fault which mars many an intellectual process; and its evil effects are nowhere more visible than in the field of theology.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

I. UNCERTAINTIES. God often allows us no more than a "perhaps"; and for a time does not give us the slightest indication in any direction of what good turn our trial is to take. And it is wonderful of what use this "perhaps," with its uncertainty, is to the believer. While he is saying "perhaps this," or "perhaps that," his mind wanders away far afield, seeing how a blessing may come from this unlikely quarter or from that, and how his trouble may link in with one thing and another, until he gets up from his thoughts full of wonder at what God's resources are, and full of happiness at the thought that he is within such reach of blessing, and that it can travel to him by such hundreds of hitherto unknown ways. The very uncertainty which is so harassing to the natural man is educational to the believer; he is taught to look out for God in all possible directions; the very uncertainty prevents his trying to fix God to this mode of action, or to that. The "perhaps" of the believer never dies; when it sees one door plainly closed, it immediately opens another; that is its very nature.


1. Separations are to be traced farther back than what we call the accidental circumstances which apparently have caused them. It is soul teaching, and soul strengthening, when we discern that things are "of the Lord."

2. We have God deep in the background of trial for good, if we by our waywardness hinder Him not. The loss for a season to Philemon of the services of Onesimus was great; but it was to be met by a greater gain. The bringing of good out of evil is the prerogative of God. He permits the evil, to produce the good.

3. Here there seems to meet us, also, a working of what might almost be said to be a law of God's dealing with us in our present fallen state, viz., that loss must precede gain; that seed corn must die, before harvest corn can be reaped.

III. RESTORATIONS. If we could but introduce those words "forever" in their deep meaning into our trials — into the decision as to the course of action we would pursue — into the results which naturally belong to them, how differently would things be often done from the way in which they are now. Let us apply the "forever" to earth's great things to make them small, and to Christ's small things to make them great. The tears which at the most we can shed are but few — the watercourse of a cheek is short; but who can tell the depth of the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal; or, whither flows that stream, concerning which all that we are told is this — "that it proceedeth out of the throne of the Lamb." It is through temporary losses that we, if we yield ourselves to their teaching and power, pass to eternal gains.

(P. B. Power, M. A.)

I. "PERHAPS HE THEREFORE DEPARTED," etc. Wonderful dealings of God in providence — ordering all, overruling even faults. Onesimus had done wrong; yet God, instead of giving him up to the consequences, in mercy overruled all for good; led him to Rome; brought under Paul's teaching, where converted. Doubtless he had suffered hardships and want. Humbled thus perhaps. Thus often. Chastisement, suffering; yet good at last. Even faults often overruled. Some in prison for crime have there learnt the way of salvation. Wild young man enlists, sent abroad, there learns "the way." Boy goes to sea, endures hardship, brought to repentance. The "therefore" runs through all.

II. OBSERVE HOW CONFIDENTLY PAUL ASKS PHILEMON TO FORGIVE. Could he have done so, unless Philemon had been a Christian? No. Little hope of mercy otherwise. Nothing would have been thought too heavy punishment for dishonest runaway slave. What change the gospel makes! Thankful for it even in this view. Thankful to be born and live under it. Paul, we may be sure, appealed not in vain. Onesimus forgiven and restored. All past forgotten. Of all the fruits of the gospel, none more striking or peculiar than forgiveness of injuries.

III. BUT MORE THAN FORGIVENESS WAS EXPECTED OF HIM, and doubtless not in vain. He and Onesimus now, not merely master and servant, but fellow Christians, brethren. Surely he would be a slave no more!

1. This is such forgiveness as we receive, returning and confessing. Not bare pardon, but rich and full blessing too. Made free; made happy. Servants, yet children too. All in Christ

2. Such also the forgiveness we should practise. Not grudging, but bountiful, generous. And every Christian we should treat as a brother.

(F. Bourdillon, M. A.)

Departed for a season
He does not say, "Perhaps he therefore ran away"; he uses a word of better report: he "departed," was separated from thee, by the permissive hand of God's providence. After men have repented of their sins, we must not aggravate, but in some measure extenuate them. Not "Noah's drunkenness," but "Noah's unadvised drinking"; Not "David's adultery," but "the matter of Uriah"; not "Peter's apostasy," but "Peter's denial"; not "Onesimus' running away," but "departing." Before they be humbled, we must be as trumpeters to waken them out of their sins; after that, we must be as nurses to cherish them: before corazives, after lenitives: before, we must come with the law as a schoolmaster to whip them; after, with the gospel to comfort them; before, we must be Boanerges, sons of thunder; after, Barnabases, sons of consolation.

(W. Jones, D. D.)

I. WHAT SORT OF RESULTS ST. PAUL EXPECTED TO FLOW FROM THE RECONCILING AND COMBINING POWER OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. Certainly slavery was repugnant to the spirit of Christianity, to the spirit of Him who had vindicated the rights of our human nature, and who had indefinitely enhanced its dignity by taking that nature upon Him at His incarnation. But the business of the apostles was of a higher and of a Diviner sort then that of inaugurating a violent social revolution. The revolt of Sparticus with all that had followed was still fresh in the memory of the world, and the apostles addressed themselves to the practical task of lodging the Christian faith and life in the minds and hearts of masters and slaves alike, confident that in time that faith would act as a powerful solvent upon the institution, by eating out its very spirit. The Christian master would feel that the slave was certainly as a man his equal, and possibly in the kingdom of the Redeemer his superior, and that he too, the while, had a Master in heaven. And the Christian slave would feel that the circumstances of this life mattered little if, through the Divine redemption, he were secure for the next; and he would see in his master's will, wherever he could, nothing less than the will of God. The apostles, then, would not anticipate the slow but certain action of the Christian principles upon society, the infiltration of the Christian spirit into the Imperial codes; the gradual legislation of the great Catholic councils; the work which, too long delayed, is associated in our latter days with the honoured names of Wilberforce and Clarkson. When Philemon received Onesimus, a great Christian enterprise of reconciling classes had indeed begun. What are we doing to further it?

II. HOW ENTIRELY, FOR THE TIME BEING, ST. PAUL'S INTEREST IS CONCENTRATED ON A SINGLE SOUL. He writes just as though there was no person in the world to think about except Onesimus, add relatively to Onesimus his master Philemon. Now, here is a lesson which is much needed, it seems, in our day. Our fashion is to think and speak of religion as an abstract influence, to forget that to be worth anything it must be a power reigning in the individual life. We talk grandly and vaguely about the tendencies of the age, about the dangers of the age, about the modern spirit, about a number of fine abstract phrases and conceptions, which just slightly, each one of them, stimulate the imagination, and which exact no sacrifice whatever from the will. We utter or we listen to these imposing abstractions at a public meeting, and we forget that they mean nothing — nothing whatever — apart from the life and experience of each separate soul. They are creations of our own thought; but souls, they are independent realities. The soul is there, whether we think about it or not. All the real good that is to be done in the Church or in the world must begin with individual characters, with single souls. Phrases die away upon the breeze — souls remain. They remain in their ignorance, in their perplexity, in their sorrows. They remain awaiting death, awaiting eternity. Many a teacher of two or three children, of a few pupils, who seem dull and irresponsive, and little likely to do their instructor credit — many a teacher is often tempted to wish that he had what is called a larger sphere of action, where he might control great issues, and become a leader or a fashioner of the thought of the lime. If any such one hears me, let him think of Paul, the aged apostle of the nations, working away as the dreary hours passed, working away on the dull brain and on the sluggish affections of the slave Onesimus. The world, it has been well said, is not saved by abstract ideas, however brilliant. The world is saved by the courageous individualising efforts of Christian love.

III. HOW A CHRISTIAN SHOULD LOOK AT THE EVENTS OF LIFE, at the commonplace and trivial events, as well as those which appear to be striking and important. Every such event has a purpose, whether we can trace it or not. It is a purpose which will be made plain in the eternal world, in the mysterious state of existence which awaits every one of us when we have passed the gate of death. To St. Paul, the future life was just as certain as the shining of the sun in the heavens, and therefore he writes quite naturally to Philemon: "Perhaps Onesimus was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou mightest receive him forever." And yet observe the "perhaps"! St. Paul will not encourage us in a rash and presumptuous confidence when we endeavour to interpret in detail God's providences in this life by the light of the next. We may conjecture that such and such an event is permitted for such and such an end, which will be agreeable to the known will and attributes of God; we cannot know that it is so. Some well-meaning, but unthinking people, undertake to interpret a human life, just as they undertake the Revelation of St. John, with an easy reliance on their own insight, which nothing but ignorance of the real difficulties of the subject can possibly explain. St. Paul saw as far as most men into the purposes of God, and yet, when he would interpret God's purpose in respect of a given human life, he reverently adds "Perhaps" — "Perhaps he therefore was parted from thee for a season, that thou mightest receive him forever." St. Paul describes what took place, but in his own religious language. Onesimus had robbed Philemon and had fled from justice: St. Paul says, "He was parted from thee for a time." St. Paul sees a higher hand in what seemed to be only the act of Onesimus. If Onesimus robbed and fled from his master, God permitted him to do so, and this permission we are told was probably given in order to bring about the conversion of Onesimus to the Christian faith and his reunion with his master Philemon, first in this life at Colosse, and then forever in the life everlasting. Now, what is here remarkable is that even the misconduct of Onesimus seems to have been, according to St. Paul, permitted for a purpose which would be made plain in the future life. God knew what he was doing in permitting the misconduct of Onesimus. It was for Philemon to forget the petty and personal aspects of the case, to recognise God's hand and mind in it; to throw his thought upward and forward from the present to the future; upward from the lower world of sense and time, to the mighty world, with its immense proportions, of eternity. Observe this is a rule of thought. It is not for us men a rule of action. Never are we authorised to do evil that good may come, though we are bound to extract all the good we can out of the evil that may be done by others; and to trace God's hand in bringing good out of evil which He permits His creatures to work.

(Canon Liddon.)


1. In his election. Were there no free men, that God must elect a slave? Were there no faithful servants, that He must choose one who had embezzled his master's money? Were there none of the educated and polite, that He must needs look upon a barbarian? Were there none among the moral and the excellent, that infinite love should fix itself upon this degraded being, who was now mixed up with the very scum of society? "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion," rolls like thunder alike from the cross of Calvary and from the mount of Sinai. The Lord is a Sovereign, and doeth as He pleases. Let us admire that marvellous electing love which selected such a one as Onesimus!

2. In his conversion. Look at him! How unlikely he appears to become convert. He is an Asiatic slave of about the same grade as an ordinary Lascar, or heathen Chinee. He was, however, worse than the ordinary Lascar, who is certainly free, and probably an honest man, if he is nothing else. This man had been dishonest, and he was daring withal, for after taking his master's property he was bold enough to make a long journey, from Colosse to Rome. Some of us, I have no doubt, are quite as wonderful instances of Divine election and effectual calling as Onesimus was. Let us, therefore, record the lovingkindness of the Lord, and let us say to ourselves, "Christ shall have the glory of it. The Lord hath done it; and unto the Lord be honour, world without end."

3. The grace of God was conspicuous in the character which it wrought in Onesimus upon his conversion, for he appears to have been helpful, useful, and profitable. So Paul says. What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they are rightly bottomed, we wish good success; for whatever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed. But mark this word — the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a renewed nature. The lowest strata of society will never be brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by Jesus Christ and His gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. A very interesting INSTANCE OF SIN OVERRULED. The Lord must have Onesimus in Rome to hear Paul, and the sin of Onesimus, though perfectly voluntary on his part, so that God had no hand in it, is yet overruled by a mysterious providence to bring him where the gospel shall be blest to his soul. Now, I want to speak to some of you Christian people about this matter. Have you a son who has left home? Is he a wilful, wayward young man, who has gone away because he could not bear the restraints of a Christian family? It is a sad thing it should be so, but do not despond. You do not know where he is, but God does; and you cannot follow him, but the Spirit of God can. Many a sailor boy has been wild, reckless, Godless, Christless, and at last has got into a foreign hospital. Ah, if his mother knew that he was down with the yellow fever, how sad her mind would be, for she would conclude that her dear son will die away at Havannah or somewhere, and never come home again. But it is just in that hospital that God means to meet with him. A sailor writes to me something like that. He says, "My mother asked me to read a chapter every day, but I never did. I got into the hospital at Havannah, and, when I lay there, there was a man near to me who was dying, and he died one night; but before he died he said to me, 'Mate, could you come here? I want to speak to you. I have got something that is very precious to me here. I was a wild fellow, but reading this packet of sermons has brought me to the Saviour, and I am dying with a good hope through grace. Now, when I am dead and gone, will you take these sermons and read them, and may God bless them to you. And will you write a letter to the man that preached and printed those sermons, to tell him that God blessed them to my conversion, and that I hope He will bless them to yourself?'" It was a packet of my sermons, and God did bless them to that young man who, I have no doubt whatever, went to that hospital because there a man who had been brought to Christ would hand to him the words which God had blessed to himself and would bless to his friend. You do not know, dear mother, you do not know. The worst thing that can happen to a young man is sometimes the best thing that can happen to him.

III. Our text may be viewed as AN EXAMPLE OF RELATIONS IMPROVED. "He therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever; not now as a servant, but a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee?" You know we are a long while learning great truths. Perhaps Philemon had not quite found out that it was wrong for him to have a slave. Some men who were very good in their time did not know it. John Newton did not know that he was doing wrong in the slave trade, and George Whitfield, when he left slaves to the orphanage at Savannah, which had been willed to him, did not think for a moment that he was doing anything more than if he had been dealing with horses, or gold and silver. Public sentiment was not enlightened, although the gospel has always struck at the very root of slavery. The essence of the gospel is that we are to do to others as we would that others should do to us, and nobody would wish to be another man's slave, and therefore he has no right to have another man as his slave. Perhaps, when Onesimus ran away and came back again, this letter of Paul may have opened Philemon's eyes a little as to his own position. No doubt he may have been an excellent master, and have trusted his servant, and not treated him as a slave at all, but perhaps he had not regarded him as a brother; and now Onesimus has come back he will be a better servant, but Philemon will be a better master, and a slave holder no longer. He will regard his former servant as a brother in Christ. Now, this is what the grace of God does when it comes into a family. It does not alter the relations; it does not give the child a right to be pert, and forget that he is to be obedient to his parents; it does not give the father a right to lord it over his children without wisdom and love, for it tells him that he is not to provoke his children to anger, lest they be discouraged; it does not give the servant the right to be a master, neither does it take away from the master his position, or allow him to exaggerate his authority, but all round it softens and sweetens. Rowland Hill used to say that he would not give a halfpenny for a man's piety if his dog and his cat were not better off after he was converted. There was much weight in that remark. Everything in the house goes better when grace oils the wheels. The mistress is, perhaps, rather sharp, quick, tart; well, she gets a little sugar into her constitution when she receives the grace of God. The servant may be apt to loiter, be late up of a morning, very slovenly, fond of a gossip at the door; but, if she is truly converted, all that kind of thing ends. She is conscientious, and attends to her duty as she ought. The master, perhaps — well, he is the master, and you know it. But when he is a truly Christian man — he has a gentleness, a suavity, a considerateness about him. The husband is the head of the wife, but when renewed by grace he is not at all the head of the wife as some husbands are. The wife also keeps her place, and seeks, by all gentleness and wisdom to make the house as happy as she can.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Some years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he found what he wanted. At last he brought out a letter that was well nigh worn to pieces, and he said, "God Almighty bless you! God Almighty bless you!" And I said, "Friend, what is it?" He said, "I had a son. I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell where he went, only he said he was going to America. He took a ticket to sail for America from the London docks, but he did not go on the particular day that he expected." This aged minister bade me read the letter, and I read it, and it was like this: Father, I am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God, I have found the Saviour. I have joined the Church of God here, and hope to spend my life in God's service. It happened thus: I did not sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle to see what it was like, and God met with me. Mr. Spurgeon said, 'Perhaps there is a runaway son here. The Lord call him by His grace.' And he did." "Now," said he, as he folded up the letter and put it into his pocket, "that son of mine is dead, and he is in heaven, and I love you, and I shall do so as long as I live, because you were the means of bringing him to Christ."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The great idea underlying the present turn of thought is, that in every event of life, good or bad, God has not only an interest, but a meaning or purpose through it, all His own. There is not merely a general superintendence of Providence over the affairs of men, but a Providential agency at work in the very midst of them. Very different, no doubt, is the Divine agency from the human, with which it mysteriously mingles. Not more distinct is the Lord of all from the works of His own hands, than is His providential government distinct from what it regulates; yet moving freely in the midst of His creation, He no less freely interlaces human agencies with His own. Man's history, in short, is not the mere sum of his own thoughts and doings, any more than the well-compacted web is the mere sum of the weft threads shot across its range — there are the slowly unrolling warp threads as well; and not less surely is there the unfold ing of a providential agency to bind into one the crossing, and recrossing lines of human activity. Hence we continually see results issuing from trivial matters which the actors in them never contemplated. But the special feature in Divine Providence on which the apostle's argument proceeds is the fact that God brings good out of man's evil.

(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)


1. The minuteness of its operation.

2. The beneficence of its operation. "Why did God permit evil in the world?"

(1)To bind man more closely, lastingly, lovingly to Himself.

(2)To awaken nobler developments of human character.

(3)To manifest more conspicuously His own character and glory.

(4)To increase human joy. The joy of gratitude for redemption, of deliverance from direst perils, of victory over subtlest, strongest foes, etc.


1. Christianity does not weaken any of the bonds of our civil or other earthly relationships.

2. Personal Christianity exalts and ennobles all other relationships.

3. Spiritual relationships are preeminently over all others.

(1)They are independent of differences of rank and condition.

(2)They are perpetual in their duration.

(3)They centre and subsist in Jesus Christ.

(W. Jones.)

1. Mark that the apostle entitleth the shameful running away of Onesimus, the servant of Philemon, by the name of a departure. If we will speak properly, a departing is one thing, a running away is another thing. For albeit everyone that runneth away departeth; yet everyone that departeth runneth not away from his master, because he may depart by consent either having leave and licence, or that the time of his service is expired. So a little before (ver. 11), he called him "unprofitable," whereas he might lawfully have given him a harder title. This was not done in regard of the offence because it was small, but in regard of his repentance because it was great.

2. In the apostle's answer to Philemon's objection we may mark that we are bound to forgive and forget injuries and offences done unto us, when once God hath forgiven and covered the sins committed against Him and received the sinner that repenteth to mercy; when God maketh all things turn to our good that love Him and thereby recompenseth by a double benefit the loss and damage that we have sustained.

3. We may observe that Christian religion doth more strongly bind all persons to their particular callings and maketh the knot greater than it was. For that which he speaketh here of a Christian servant, even a brother, is true of all callings in the family and commonwealth. For as a faithful servant is more than a bare servant, so a Christian king is more than a king; a Christian master is more than a master; a Christian father is more than a father; a Christian husband is more than a husband; so on the other side a Christian wife is more than a wife; a Christian subject is more than a subject; and so of all the rest.

4. The apostle notwithstanding the great account he maketh of this servant doth not deny subjection to his master nor exempt him from the condition of a servant, but he addeth "More than a servant." He saith not, he is no more a servant, but he is more than a servant; so that our Christian calling doth not abolish policy and politic constitutions and. domestic government; but rather doth strengthen and sanctify them. He that is called to the truth being a servant, must not be discouraged and discontented, but rejoice in this that he is the Lord's freeman.

5. When he styleth him "A brother" he doth after a sort signify he is equal unto him. For albeit in the commonwealth and private family it be necessary that some should be superiors and other inferiors; and that this disparity and inequality among men be the ordinance of God; yet in the kingdom of God and in Christ Jesus there is no distinction.

6. We may observe that he joineth love with Christian brotherhood, and calleth Onesimus "A beloved brother," not only a servant, not only a brother, but a brother dear and beloved; signifying thereby that where a Christian calling is found, there charity and love is as a due debt required.

(W. Attersoll.)

There may probably be here an allusion to that which is written in the Hebrew law about the slavery of "the children of the strangers that sojourned among the Israelites" (Leviticus 25:46). Onesimus was to be his master's property — his to have and hold, to enjoy as his possession — "forever," as the old law said of the slave in permanent servitude. But in how much a deeper and truer sense! To be with him not only for time, but in eternity, in the eternal communion of saints. The time of the absence of Onesimus, during which he was "parted" from Philemon, might have entailed some little discomfort upon his master. What of that? Why count up the weeks and months? They were but as the slave's "little hour" of holiday compared with the gain of a brother "forever."

(Bp. Wm. Alexander.)

Since he left Onesimus had obtained eternal life, and eternal life involves eternal interchange of friendship. His services to his old master were no longer barred by the gates of death.

(Bp. Lightfoot.)


1. The infinite wisdom and unsearchable power of God, who, as the apostle teacheth, bringeth light out of darkness, and worketh by contrary means, such as men count foolishness, as to save men by the foolish preaching of the gospel, that is, which is esteemed among the wise men of the world no better than foolishness.

2. It is the pleasure of God to confound the wisdom of man that cannot attain to great matters but by great means (1 Corinthians 1:27). God disposeth of all things as pleaseth Him, and oftentimes crosseth the devices of men. They intend one thing, but God bringeth to pass another, they purpose one end, but He will have another come forth to teach man's wisdom to be but foolishness.

3. He expresseth His wonderful love, making all things that fall out in the world to serve His Church.


1. For it serveth to reprove and convince sundry persons, that either know not or knowing do abuse this providence of God whereby He taketh care of all things that are in the world and directeth them to a right end.(1) And first of all, we set against it and oppose unto it the dreams of atheists, epicures, libertines, who either deny wholly there is a God, or make Him sit as idle in heaven as themselves are upon the earth: so that albeit He know and see all things yet He worketh or ordereth not the special actions of men that fall out. These are they that pull God out of His kingdom and set up chance and fortune as an idol and make it their God. We must all learn and confess that the Lord, that is the Creator of heaven and earth, is also the Ruler and Governor of all creatures. The whole world, from the highest heaven to the centre of the earth, is subject to His providence.(2) It reproveth such as from hence take encouragement to commit sin, to break out into sundry outrages, or to live securely because God can turn it to our good and maketh it serve to set forth His mercy. This is that presumption and sin of rebellion touched by the apostle, "Why do we not evil that good may come thereof, whose damnation is just." So in another place. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue still in sin that grace may abound? How shall we that are dead in sin live yet therein?" We confess, indeed, that God is the sovereign cause of all events that are brought to pass, and whatsoever the enemies of the Church intend and enterprise, whether the sons of men, or the devil and his angels, He stayeth and hindreth or represseth and disappointeth, and always disposeth it to the good and salvation of His children. Nevertheless, this doth not excuse or free the instruments that He useth from fault. They do the will of God blindly and ignorantly, but they do cross His will openly and purposely, so that His providence doth not exempt the wicked from their evil doing.

2. This doctrine serveth greatly to comfort us both in prosperity and adversity, and that for the time to come we should repose our whole hope in God. For seeing all things come to pass by the providence of God so that not so much as sin itself is committed without His will, it is a great comfort many ways to God's Church and chosen children. We know that He can moderate and will moderate the rage of the devil and the malice of wicked men that they shall not hurt or hinder their salvation. For the devil is the Lord's servant or slave to work His will, albeit he do it unwillingly and by compulsion.

3. This providence of God in everything teacheth contentment of mind in every estate; yea, in adversity when we lie under the cross, so that all things go against us; forasmuch as God's providence hath appointed us our lot and portion.

4. This should be a very strong reason unto us not to be unmeasurably dismayed when offences and great evils break out among us as oftentimes it falleth out, whereby many are ready to shrink back, and others are much disquieted to see the Church of God so troubled. We are not to think it strange or to forsake the faith through these scandals, for God would not suffer any evil to come to pass unless out of that evil He were able to bring good, and out of that sin to bring forth righteous ness to the glory of His great name, and for the salvation of His dear Church.

5. Seeing God's providence extendeth to everything that is, and disposeth it according to His own pleasure, it directeth us in our obedience and putteth us in mind of a Christian duty, namely, to be patient in all adversity. This will keep us that we do not rage against second causes, that we do not mutter and murmur against God, that we seek not revenge against our enemies. We are ready in sickness to complain, in poverty to repine, in injuries and oppressions to retail and return like for like, and in all troubles to be impatient and to use unlawful means to deliver ourselves, not attending the Lord's leisure; and the reason is because the providence of God is not learned of us we cannot depend upon Him, we know not that He hath all things in His power to employ them to His glory and to use them to our good.

(W. Attersoll.)

This must not make us do evil that good may come of it, which we are forbidden (Romans 3), for God only hath this skill, by reason of His infinite wisdom and power, to work good out of evil, to draw light out of darkness. He only hath the philosopher's stone to turn dross into gold. In vain, therefore, is it for us to assay any such thing. The right use of this doctrine is for us to comfort ourselves when we see wicked men plotting and practising mischief against God's poor Church. Their heads and hands work not so fast but God works as fast. When they go and strive one way He sets them a work another way; as the sun going in his own proper motion one way is every day, by the violent circumvolution of the heavens, turned another way: nay, He makes their striving against His glory and His Church's good to be the means of furthering both. As in a boat, when the rowers go with their faces striving towards the east, they set the boat going apace towards the west. Onesimus in running away from his master's house, the Church of God, did as much as in him lay, strive against his own conversion, and yet it is made a means of conversion. Joseph's brethren in selling him thought to have frustrated his dreams and to have made him sure forever having dominion over them; and yet their selling of him was the special means of accomplishing his dreams. Satan, in Christ's death, thought to have wounded the Church to the death; and yet thereby we were healed of his deadly wounds. This is the work of the Lord, who knoweth how to catch the wise in their own wiles, and it must be marvellous in our eyes. Let not, then, the power and policy of all the Achitophels and Machiavels in the world, combining themselves against the gospel, dismay us; for God hath His oar in their boat, He hath a special stroke in all actions whatsoever, and can easily overreach and make stark fools of the wisest by making their own counsels and endeavours like Chushais, to overthrow those intentions which they seem to support.

(D. Dyke, B. D.)

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