The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit - By using the plural, ὑμων, your, the apostle in effect directs or addresses the epistle, not only to Philemon, but to all the Church at his house.
Amen - Is wanting as usual in the best MSS.
The subscriptions are also various, as in preceding cases.
The Epistle to Philemon was written at Rome, and sent by the hand of Onesimus. - Syriac.
Through the help of God the epistle is finished. It was written at Rome by the hand of Onesimus, servant to Philemon. - Arabic.
To the man Philemon. - Aethiopic.
It was written at Rome, and sent by Onesimus. - Coptic.
The Epistle to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus: the end of the Epistle to Philemon and Apphia, the master and mistress of Onesimus; and to Archippus, the deacon of the Church at Colosse: it was written from Rome by Onesimus, a servant. - Philoxesian Syriac.
To Philemon. - To Philemon is finished. - To Philemon, written from Rome by Onesimus - Onesiphorus. - From Paul, by Onesimus, a servant. - From the presence of Paul and Timothy. - The Epistle of Paul the apostle to Philemon. - The common Greek text has, To Philemon, written from Rome by Onesimus, a servant.
As some have thought it strange that a private letter, of a particular business and friendship, should have got a place in the sacred canon, others have been industrious to find out the general uses which may be made of it. The following are those which seem to come most naturally from the text: - In a religious point of view, all genuine Christian converts are on a level; Onesimus, the slave, on his conversion becomes the apostle's beloved son, and Philemon's brother.
Christianity makes no change in men's civil affairs; even a slave did not become a freeman by Christian baptism.
No servant should be either taken or retained from his own master, without the master's consent, Philemon 1:13, Philemon 1:14.
We should do good unto all men, and not be above helping the meanest slave when we have the opportunity.
Restitution is due where an injury has been done, unless the injured party freely forgive, Philemon 1:18.
We should do all in our power to make up quarrels and differences, and reconcile those that are at variance.
We should be grateful to our benefactors, and be ready to compensate one good turn with another.
We should forgive the penitent who have offended us, and rejoice in the opportunity of being reconciled to them.
Authority is not always to be used; a prudent man who is possessed of it will rather use a mild and obliging manner, than have recourse to the authority of his office.
The ministers of the Gospel should learn to know the worth of an immortal soul, and be as ready to use their talents for the conversion of slaves and the ignoble as the great and opulent, and prize the converted slave as highly as the converted lord, showing no sinful respect of persons.
Christianity properly understood, and its doctrines properly applied, become the most powerful means of the melioration of men; the wicked and profligate, when brought under its influence, become useful members of society. It can transform a worthless slave into a pious, amiable, and useful man; and make him, not only happier and better in himself, but also a blessing to the community.
We should never despair of reclaiming the wicked. No man is out of the reach of God's mercy as long as he breathes. Pretending to say that such and such cases are hopeless, is only a colouring for our want of zeal, and a pretense to excuse our slothfulness.
The anxiety which the apostle showed for the welfare of Onesimus, in return for his affectionate services, could not fail to cherish good dispositions in the breast of Philemon. We do a man a great kindness when we even engage him in acts of mercy and benevolence.
From this epistle we learn what sort of man the apostle was in private life. He has here displayed qualities which are in the highest estimation among men; a noble spirit arising from a consciousness of his own dignity, consummate prudence, uncommon generosity, the warmest friendship, the most skillful address, and the greatest politeness, as well as purity of manners; qualities which are never found either in the enthusiast or impostor. See Macknight and Dodd.
There is extant an epistle of Pliny on the very same subject, directed to his friend Sabinianus in behalf of his manumitted slave who had offended him, and was consequently cast out of favor. Dr. Doddridge says that "that epistle, though penned by one who was allowed to excel in the epistolary style, and though it undoubtedly has many beauties, will be found by persons of taste much inferior to this animated composition of the Apostle Paul.
I have already introduced an epistle of Horace on a somewhat similar subject; but that of Pliny is so exactly parallel, and so truly excellent, that I am sure its insertion will gratify every intelligent reader, and I insert it the rather because the works of Pliny are in but few hands, and his epistles are known to very few except the learned.
C. Plinius Sabiniano suo, S.
Libertus tuus, cui succensere te dixeras, venit ad me, advolatusque pedibus meis, tanquam tuis, haesit. Flevit multum, multum rogavit, multum etiam tacuit: in summa, fecit mihi fidem poenitentiae. Vere credo emendatum, quia deliquisse se sentit. Irasceris scio; et irasceris merito, id quoque scio: sed tunc praecipua mansuetudinis laus, cum irae causa justissima est. Amasti hominem; et, spero, amabis: interim sufficit, ut exorari te sinas. Licebit rursus irasci, si meruerit: quod exoratus excusatius facies.
Remitte aliquid adolescentiae ipsius; remitte lachrymis; remitte indulgentiae tuae; ne torseris illum, ne torseris etiam te. Torqueris enim, cum tam lenis irasceris. Vereor, ne videar non rogare, sed cogere, si precibus ejus meas junxero. Jungam tamen tanto plenius et effusius, quanto ipsum acrius severiusque corripui, districte minatus nunquam me postea rogaturum. Hoc illi, quem terreri oportebat; tibi non idem. Nam fortasse iterum rogabo, impetrabo iterum: sit modo tale, ut togare me, ut praestare te deceat. Vale. - Epistolar. Iib. ix., Ep. 21.
"Caius Plinius to Sabinianus his friend, health.
"Thy freed man, with whom thou didst inform me thou wert incensed, came to me and threw himself at my feet, and grasped them as if they had been thine. He wept much, earnestly entreated, and yet said more by his silence. In short, he fully convinced me that he is a penitent. I do verily believe him reformed, because he feels his guilt. Thou art incensed against him I know,, and I know that he has justly merited thy displeasure; but then, clemency has its chief praise when there is the greatest cause for irritation. Thou didst once love the man, and I hope thou wilt love him again. In the meantime permit thyself to be entreated in his behalf. Should he again merit thy displeasure thou wilt have the stronger excuse for indulging it, shouldst thou pardon him now. Consider his youth, consider his tears, consider thy own gentleness of disposition. Do not torment him, do not torment thyself; for, with thy mild disposition, thou must be tormented if thou suffer thyself to be angry. I fear, were I to join my prayers to his, that I should rather seem to compel than to supplicate. Yet I will unite them, and the more largely and earnestly too, as I have sharply and severely reproved him, solemnly threatening, should he offend again, never more to intercede for him. This I said to him, it being necessary that I should alarm him; but I do not say the same to thee, for probably I may entreat thee again, and command thee again, should there be a sufficient reason to induce me to request, and thee to concede. Farewell."
Nothing on the subject can be finer than this; but Paul has the advantage, because he had Christian motives to urge. If the energetic Roman had had these, we should have found it difficult to decide between his Latin and the apostle's Greek. It may be now asked whether St. Paul's application in behalf of Onesimus was successful? We have no direct answer to this question, but we may fairly suppose that such pleading could not be in vain. Philemon was a Christian, and owed too much to his God and Savior, and too much to the apostle, as the instrument of his salvation, not to concede a favor which it is congenial to the very spirit of Christianity to grant. The application of Horace in behalf of Septimius was successful, and both Claudius Nero and Augustus took him into their warmest confidence. But this was only a common case of recommendation, and had no difficulties in the way. But did the heathen Sabinianus yield to the entreaties of his friend, and forgive his slave? He did; and we have the record of it in another very elegant letter, in which Pliny expresses his obligation to his friend for his prompt attention to his request. I will transcribe it, and give a translation for the farther satisfaction of the reader.
C. Plinius Sabiniano suo, S.
Bene fecisti quod libertum aliquando tibi carum, reducentibus epistolis meis, in domum, in animum recepisti. Juvabit hoc te: me certe juvat; primum quod te talem video, ut in ira regi possis: deinde quod tantum mihi tribuis, ut vel auctoritati meae pareas, vel precibus indulgeas. Igitur, et laudo, et gratias ago. Simul in posterum moneo, ut te erroribus tuorum, etsi non fuerit, qui deprecetur, placabilem praestes. Vale - Epistolar. lib. ix., Ep. 24.
"Caius Plinius to his friend Sabinianus, health.
"Thou hast done well, that, in compliance with my letter, thou hast received thy freed man both into thy house and into thy heart. This must be pleasing to thyself, and it is certainly pleasing to me; first, because I find thee to be a person capable of being governed in thy anger; and secondly, because thou showest so much regard for me, as either to yield this to my authority, or concede it to my entreaties. Therefore I both praise and return thee thanks. 'At the same time I admonish thee to be always ready to forgive the errors of thy servants, although there should be no one to intercede in their behalf. Farewell."
These letters contain such excellent lessons of instruction that it will be impossible to read them without profit. They are master pieces in their kind; and no Christian need be ashamed to be indebted to them, whether in regulating his own conduct in respect to forgiveness of injuries, or whether in interceding for them who have fallen under the displeasure of others. Reader, go thou and do likewise.
Finished correcting for a new edition, Dec. 23, 1831.