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Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal.
I. The duty of masters. They are not required to abdicate their mastership, but to exercise it as a service for Christ.
1. Justice has reference to servants as workers. They are to receive fair remuneration. The price of labour is generally regulated by supply and demand. This is a maxim of political economy. Wages cannot be fixed by fancy and philanthropy. If I can get work done for 6s. a day, why should I give 7s.? Still, there is great scope for the exercise of religion. Servants may be ignorant of the market price of labour, and it is unrighteous to take advantage of it. It might be difficult on the grounds of political economy to say that the squire or farmer should give more than 10s. or 12s. a week when he can get abundance of labour at that price, but it is not difficult to see how this would not satisfy a Christian master. It is surely wrong to show more care for the horses which draw the plough than for the man who holds it. The man who has found out the lowest price at which some starving needlewoman will do “slop” work, the mistress who makes a workhouse girl her drudge for a mere pittance, may do what they think is just; but hardly if a Christian.
2. Equal involves equality as well as equity, and has in it the element of reciprocity.
(1) If by the energy and skill of his operatives an employer is greatly benefitted, should all the profits be his? Is it right after a series of successful years, when a reaction sets in, to close a factory and send the hands adrift? Some employers have kept on, and been rewarded with attachment and devotion.
(2) Servants should be treated as having like feelings and sensibilities with their masters. They ought not to be, as in many cases they are, treated as destitute of feeling.
(3) Nor must it be forgotten that they have characters to be cultivated, and much depends on your example and treatment. It is not to be expected that they will give their best efforts for those who are reckless in their habits and indifferent to just claims. “Like master, like man.”
(4) Servants have souls to be saved. A clergyman waited on the principals of a large city house and asked for facilities to attend to the spiritual good of the employees. He was promptly told that the firm had nothing to do with their souls. Happily Christian employers are now waking up to their responsibility (John 13:13-15).
II. The motive by which this is enforced--“Knowing,” etc. The servant is required to serve his master as if he were serving Christ, and the master is to use his authority as if he too were serving Christ. Many masters hold the responsibility of servants, and yet ignore their own. Nothing is more displeasing to God than this (Job 31:13-15). The issues of the great day depend on our conduct towards each other. What we have done to the poorest Christ will regard as having been done to Himself. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Master and man
1. The first step towards righteousness between master and man, mistress and maid, is to respect the relation.
2. Every human being has a right to himself, consistent with the rights of others. When he sells himself, hands or brains, for honourable ends, he is to be respected. The cook makes as respectable sale of her arts in the kitchen as the owner of the real estate in renting a house. Here is safety. The poorest creature you employ never contracted to sell self-respect.
3. The strong, moreover, should bear the infirmities of the weak.
4. You may be conscience to your servants. What are the servants, for the most part? Grown-up children. They ape you; talk large, as you do at times; try to dress like you. You are your servant’s example--the keeper of his conscience. You pray every morning for your wife, your children, your property, clear down to the fence at the rear of the lot behind the stable, but never for Jack in the stable.
5. There should be a reciprocity of interest felt between a Christian master and his man. Nothing in social life has been more admirable than the magnificent loyalty of old servants. Read of it in the armour-bearers of Hebrew kings, the squires of days of chivalry. After faithful years he, the old servant, tried and true, did the honours of the castle, and set the turret pennant for great festivals. He spread the plates, and made the feast ready in oaken halls; he conducted fair and brave to their chambers. On errands of knightly valour, he accompanied his lord; he carried the helmet, the shield, the gauntlets, the armour all, and bore the banner of the house; he gave the battle-cry, and when, borne down, his liege would fall, the old servant bore him from the field; and so he won the right to wear golden spurs--no longer a servant, but a knight of the line. In comparison with this shining loyalty of a barbarous age, how pitiful the frequent bickerings and mutual hurt of Christian times. An old family servant, after ten years, comes to look upon your home as her home--all she has in this world. She has clung to you in five movings, and knew just where everything belonged. She knows your ways, moods, likes and dislikes. She has had her flare-ups, and you forgave and said nothing; in return, she has seen flare-ups above her floor, and said nothing. She’s been sick, and you waited for her recovery--how she thanked you; and that winter you were all sick she paid you back with interest. She prefers you to the savings bank. She has known Master Charley from birth, and has nigh spoiled him; and that other one down in Greenwood she remembers, and surprises you by saying, “This is the 15th of May, the day he died.” God bless you, good creature. She has wept in the doorway at three of your funerals; she has laughed in the doorway at two household marriages; and how she boasts of her cake. You leave everything in her hands and go on long journeys; you return and find all safe, and exclaim, “God bless her; she shall stay with us until she goes on that long, long journey.” All this is possible. But it is only possible to those who carry Christ’s rule everywhere, even the rule of this text. Brethren, let us treat all artizans, serving tradesmen, labourers, and workers as we wish Christ to treat us, till the time when He shall “call us no longer servants, but friends.” (Emory J. Haynes.)
Masters deal unequally many ways
1. When they require inconvenient things; for though the servant must obey, yet the master sins in requiring unequal things.
2. When they impose more work than they have strength to do.
3. When they turn them away when they are sick; for it is equal that as thou hast had their labour when they were well, so thou shouldest keep them when they are sick.
4. When they restrain them of liberty for their souls. If thou have the work of their bodies, it is equal that thou take care for their souls; and if they serve thee six days, it is very equal thou shouldest proclaim liberty to them to do God’s work on the Sabbath day.
5. When they restrain and withhold their meat and wages.
6. When they send them out of their service empty, after many years’ bondage, and not provide that they may have some means to live afterwards.
7. When they hear every word that men say of their servants (Ecclesiastes 7:23).
8. When they bring up their servants delicately (Proverbs 27:23).
9. When they leave the whole care of their earthly business to their servants, and fail to know the state of them for themselves (Proverbs 27:23). (N. Byfield.)
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.
We are here instructed to pray with
I. Earnest perseverance.
1. The word rendered’“ continue” means to apply with ardour and assiduity to any difficult and laborious thing until you shall have brought it to the wished-for end, and obtained the victory. Two things, therefore, are involved
Earnestness, or intention of mind, which is necessary, because
(a) occasions for prayer are such as ought to excite the mind ,seriously and with the whole strength. The magnitude of our intention is wont to correspond with the magnitude of the business in hand. To seek the good things of God perfunctorily. What is this but to mock God?
(b) Dead and sleepy prayers from a mind wandering or benumbed neither reach heaven nor move God to hear. Our prayer is a messenger between God and us; but if the messenger loiters or falls asleep, he will neither reach his destination nor effect his business. “With what effrontery,” says Cyprian, “dost thou require to be heard of God, when thou dost not thyself hear thy own voice.”
(c) The heart inflamed with this spiritual heat grows soft, and is dilated, and becomes more apt and capable for receiving the Divine gifts.
(d) The saints in Scripture thus prayed. Jacob (Genesis 32:28), Moses, the psalmists (James 5:1).
(2) Assiduity or frequency (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Not that we are to be ever on our knees, but that the desire of prayer is never laid aside either by weariness of expectation or despair of obtaining it, and that God should be frequently pleaded with. Inducements to this.
(a) We have constant causes for prayer--the blessings we have, the blessings we want, and the evils we suffer.
(b) Constancy is the most effectual means of obtaining what we seek (Luke 18:1-43.; Matthew 15:1-39.).
(c) This perseverance greatly contributes to the declaring, increasing, and strengthening of cur faith (Psalms 5:3).
(1) Regarding intention.
(a) Whereas we are exhorted to fervour, we must conclude that we are so frigid and torpid as to need a monitor to arouse us (Matthew 26:40).
(b) We need the Spirit of prayer (Romans 8:2).
(c) Prayers that are not understood are of little moment, which condemns those of the Papists in an unknown tongue.
Paul condemns them (1 Corinthians 14:16). Augustine says: “The people ought to understand the prayers of their priests, that they may have their attention fixed upon God by a common feeling.” Even Roman theologians have condemned them. Parisiensis says: “It is reckoned among the follies of that messenger (i.e., prayer)
that he neither cares nor thinks of those concerns except this alone, that he offers a petition to God, and is altogether ignorant of what it contains, and what is sought by it. And these things are manifest in all those praying persons who mutter with their lips alone, understanding nothing whatever of those things which the words of their prayers signify.” And Cajetan confesses “that it is better for the edification of the Church,” and founds it on 1 Corinthians 14:1-40.
(2) Regarding perseverance.
(a) We must take care not to be drawn away from prayer by pleasure, business, etc. For if you cut the nerves you leave the whole body without motion and strength; so if you set aside prayer, the nerve of the soul, you maim the man and deprive him of spiritual motion.
(b) The misery of the ungodly; who, as they are void of faith and love, cannot pray except for form’s sake, and what is more miserable than to be cut off from the fountain of blessedness? Conversely we learn tile blessedness of the godly.
1. Nightly vigils.
(1) The Christians of the apostle’s times, on account of their enemies, were often compelled to nocturnal assemblies (Acts 12:12; Acts 20:7). The custom was continued long after the need of it had ceased; but was subsequently abandoned because of abuses. Hence the sermons of the fathers on the vigils of the Nativity, Easter, the Martyrs, etc.
(2) Besides these public vigils, holy men sometimes spent sleepless nights in private devotion (Psalms 22:2; Psalms 77:6; Acts 16:25; Matthew 26:38-39; 2 Corinthians 6:5).
2. The vigils of the mind. The mind is watchful when no ways asleep in sin and worldly things, but always lively. To this we are called by Christ (Mark 13:35-36; Revelation 3:2; Revelation 16:15); by Paul (1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6); by Peter (1 Peter 5:8).
3. Instructions. Hence is inferred
(1) the sottishness of our age: we sleep at prayers in the open day; our fathers spent whole nights in prayer.
(2) Our impiety and vanity: for vigils among us are scarcely destined to anything but folly or wickedness.
(3) Then he raises his voice to God in vain who sleeps in his life.
(4) The prayers of the ungodly are dreams, recited while the heart is asleep in sin.
1. Petitioners should be grateful for blessings already granted. Aristotle wisely observed: “A return is required to preserve friendship,” but we can return to God nothing but gratitude (Psalms 116:12).
2. Thanks are due for things
(1) deferred: for they are delayed only till a more advantageous time, and that we may esteem them more when bestowed.
(2) Denied; because God knew they would be hurtful, and those useful which we deprecated.
3. Hence we are taught
(1) that men are more prone to ask or complain than to be thankful.
(2) That ungrateful men are not fit to pray.
(3) That good and evil must not be measured by our sense, but left to the judgment of God our Father, who will always send us the best things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). (Bishop Davenant.)
I. Continue. Let not your intercessions be as the morning cloud. How prevalent we are in adversity; but what about prosperity?
1. The duty on the part of
convinced sinners. Pray on till the blessing comes.
(2) Saints--not only for temporal blessings, but for more faith, holiness, usefulness. The more we pray the riper will be our graces.
(3) Churches. Pentecost, as every great revival, was preceded by persevering prayer.
2. This duty need not interfere with others--our business, e.g. Prayer to the neglect of business was sternly condemned by Paul in the case of the Thessalonians. You may not always be in the exercise, but you may always be in the spirit of prayer. If not always shooting your arrows up to heaven, keep your bow well stringed.
3. Reasons for this duty.
(1) God will answer. “Ask, and ye shall receive”--not always at once, but in God’s time; pray till that comes.
(2) The world will be blessed. Continue, then, to pray till Christ become the universal King.
(3) Souls shall be saved.
(4) Satan’s castle shall be destroyed--not with one blow of the battering-ram, however. But batter away till it falls.
1. For you will be drowsy if you watch not. How many men and Churches are asleep in prayer because they do not watch.
2. For as soon as you begin to pray enemies will commence to attack. No one was ever in earnest without finding that the devil was in earnest too.
3. Watch while you pray for propitious events which may help you in the answer to your prayer. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can spread the sails; and when the Spirit comes we may be ready.
4. Watch for fresh arguments for prayer. Heaven’s gate is not to be stormed by one weapon, but by many.
5. Watch for the answers. When you post a letter to your friend you watch for the answer.
III. Give thanks. We should not go to God as mournful beings who plead piteously with a hard master who loves not to give. When you give a penny to a beggar you like to see him smile, and you give at the next application because of previous gratitude. So go to God with a thankful mind. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Some qualities of prayer
With the Scriptures as our guide we cannot question the obligation or value of prayer. The qualities here spoken of are--
I. Steadfastness (RV.)
(Acts 1:14; Acts 12:5). The word means earnest adherence and attention, whether to a person or a thing. How weary we grow of prayer! How glad some formal worshippers are when the benediction is pronounced. This is a word against--
1. Neglectors of God’s worship.
2. Forgetters of private devotion.
II. Watchfulness (Ephesians 6:18).
1. Against wandering thoughts.
2. Against unbelief.
3. Against dulness and heaviness.
III. Thankfulness. St. Paul’s idea of this duty may be gathered from the fact that the word he here employs, although rare elsewhere, is found thirty-seven times in his writings, and is often joined to prayer. To be always asking and never thanking cannot be right. Whenever we pray we must utter thanks. (Family Churchman.)
Continuance in prayer
Anglers, though they have fished many hours and caught nothing, do not therefore break their rod and line, but draw out the hook and look at their bait, which, it may be, was fallen off or not well hung on, and mend it, and then throw it in again. So when thou hast been earnest in thy prayers, and yet received no answer, reflect upon them; consider whether something were not amiss either in thy preparation or thy manner or thy petition. It is possible thou mightest desire stones instead of bread, or forget to deliver thy petition to the only Master of requests, the Lord Jesus, that He might present them to the Father. No wonder, then, thou hast failed. Be diligent to find out the fault, amend it, and then fall to work again with confidence that thou wilt not labour in vain. The archer, if he shoot once, and again, and miss the mark, considereth whether he did not shoot too high or too low, or too much on the right or the left, and then taketh the same arrow again, only reformeth his former error, and winneth the wager. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The necessity of persevering prayer
In the black country of England you who have travelled will have observed fires which never in your recollection have been quenched. I believe there are some which have been kept burning for more than fifty years, both night and day, every day in the year. They are never allowed to go out, because we are informed that the manufacturers would find it amazingly expensive again to get the furnace to its needed red heat. Indeed, the blast furnace, I suppose, would all but ruin the proprietor if it were allowed to go out once every week; he would probably never get it up to its right heat until the time came for letting the fire out again. Now, as with these tremendous furnaces which must burn every day, or else they will be useless, they must be kept burning, or else it will be hard to get them up to the proper heat, so ought it to be in all the Churches of God; they should be as flaming fires both night and day; chaldron after chaldron of the coal of earnestness should be put to the furnace; all the fuel of earnestness which can be gathered from the hearts of men should be east upon the burning pile. The heavens should be always red with the glorious illumination, and then, then might you expect to see the Church prospering in her Divine business, and hard hearts melted before the fire of the Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The value of constant prayer
There should run through all our lives the music of continual prayer, heard beneath all our varying occupations like some prolonged deep bass note, that bears up and gives dignity to the lighter melody that rises and falls and changes above it, like the spray on the crest of a great wave. Our lives will then be noble, and grave, and woven into a harmonious unity, when they are based upon continual communion with, continual desire after, and continual submission to, God. If they are not, they will be worth nothing, and will come to nothing. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The power of constant prayer
Some time ago, on the coast of the Isle of Wight, a woman thought she heard, in the midst of the howling tempest, the voice of a man. She listened; it was repeated; she strained her ear again, and she caught, amid the crack of the blast and the thundering of the winds, another cry for help. She ran at once to the beachmen, who launched their boat, and some three poor mariners who were clinging to the mast were saved. Had that cry been but once, and not again, either she might have doubted as to whether she had heard it at all, or else she would have drawn the melancholy conclusion that they had been swept into the watery waste, and that help would have come too late. So when a man prays but once, either we may think that he cries not at all, or else that his desires are swallowed up in the wild waste of his sins, and he himself is sucked down into the vortex of destruction. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Watchfulness in prayer
Watch thereunto; as a sentinel suspecting the approach of an enemy; as a watchman guarding the city during the darkness of the night; as a physician attending all the symptoms of a disease; as the keeper of a prison watching an insidious and treacherous criminal. Our hearts need all this care; spiritual enemies are near; the darkness of the soul exposes it to danger; the disease of sin requires a watchful treatment; and the unparalleled deceitfulness of the affections can never safely be trusted for a moment. No; we must watch before prayer in order to dismiss the world from our thoughts, to gather up our minds in God, and to implore the Holy Spirit’s help. We must watch during prayer; to guard against distraction, against the incursions of evil thoughts, against wanderings of mind, and decay of fervour in our supplications. We must watch after prayer, in order that we may act consistently with what we have been imploring of Almighty God, wait His time for answering us, and not lose the visitations of grace; for with God are the moments of life, of mercy, of enlargement, and of gracious consolation. (Bishop D. Wilson.)
The need of watchfulness
In riding along the south coast of England you may have noticed the old Martello towers in constant succession very near to each other. They are the result of an old scheme of protecting our coast from our ancient enemies. It was supposed that as soon as ever a French ship was seen in the distance the beacon would be fired at the Martello tower, and then, across old England, wherever her sons dwelt, there would flash the fiery signal news that the enemy was at hand, and every man would seize the weapon that was next to him to dash the invader from the shore. Now, we need that the Church of Christ should be guarded with Martello towers of sacred watchers, who shall day and night look out for the attack of the enemy. For the enemy will come; if he come not when we are prayerless, he will surely come when we are prayerful. He will show the cloven hoof as soon as ever we show the bended knee. If our motto be “Prayer,” his watchword will be “Fierce attack.” Watch, then, while ye continue in prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Every prayer should be blended with gratitude, without the perfume of which, the incense of devotion lacks one element of fragrance. The sense of need, or the consciousness of sin, may evoke “strong crying and tears,” but the completest prayer rises confident from a grateful heart, which weaves memory into hope, and asks much because it has received much. A true recognition of the lovingkindness of the past has much to do with making our communion sweet, our desires believing, our submission cheerful. Thankfulness is the feather that wings the arrow of prayer--the height from which our souls rise most easily to the sky. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A day of thanksgiving
I have heard that in New England, after the Puritans had settled there a long while, they used to have very often a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, till they had so many days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that at last a good senator proposed that they should change it for once, and have a day of thanksgiving. It is of little use to be always fasting; we ought sometimes to give thanks for mercies received. ( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Withal praying also for us that God would open unto us a door of utterance.
The people’s prayer and the minister’s work
I. The persons for whom we must pray. “For us,” Paul, Timothy, etc.
1. Observe in general
That we ought to pray not for ourselves alone, but for others.
(2) That roger a large heart in prayer, and perseverance in its practice, we must endeavour to help others by prayer.
(3) That Christians should desire the prayers of others, as carnal men make use of their friends to get wealth, offices, etc.
2. Learn in particular
(1) That the greatest in the Church need the prayers of the meanest.
(2) That in hearing prayer God is no acceptor of persons. He is as willing to hear the Colossians’ prayers for Paul as Paul’s for the Colossians.
(3) That Churches should pray for their own ministers.
(4) That Christians should pray for all ministers. Paul does not desire their prayers for himself alone. Such a desire in some might evidence spiritual pride and envy.
II. The things to be prayed for.
1. That a door of utterance may be opened.
(1) This comprehends--
(a) Liberty to preach the gospel.
(c) Preaching power.
(d) Courage to rebuke sin, and declare all God’s counsel without fear of any man.
(e) Success: such utterance as will open the door into the heart.
(2) Whence learn what makes a happy pastor: not wealth, popularity, etc., but liberty, etc. This taxes--
(a) Dumb ministers that utter nothing.
(b) Fantastical ministers who preach their own vanities, speaking only pleasing things.
(c) Idle ministers who preach not all God’s counsels in season and out.
(d) Cold ministers.
(3) Note the fact that Paul was in prison, yet he sought not liberty for himself, but for the gospel. Be thankful then for freedom in both senses, and labour to prevent those things which stop the mouths of God’s ministers. These are--
(a) Ignorance and sin in ministers themselves. Polluted lips are no lips for utterance. The lips of preachers should be touched with knowledge, zeal, and mortification.
(b) The sins of the people (Ezekiel 3:24-27).
(c) The violence of persecution (1 Corinthians 16:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:2).
(d) Discouragement and fear (1Co 16:9; 1 Corinthians 16:12; Hebrews 13:17).
(e) Human wisdom which destroys the profit of the hearer and the power of the preacher.
2. That God may open it.
(1) The hearts of the best ministers are shut until God opens them and dispenses the gift.
(2) ‘Tis God only that opens to men the door of utterance. He “creates the fruit of the lips to be peace”: “He opens and no man shuts.” If He gives liberty who can restrain!
III. The end for which the things are asked. That the mystery of Christ may be manifested.
1. The mystery.
(1) To whom is the gospel a mystery?
(a) To the Gentiles: that there should be a Saviour.
(b) To the Jews: that salvation should be in a carpenter’s son.
(c) To the Papists: that He should be the only Saviour.
(d) To heretics: that He should be a Divine human Saviour.
(e) To the carnal man: that He should be a Saviour in particular to him.
(f) To the godly man: that He should be such a Saviour.
(2) How is it a mystery? Because of the hiding of it--
(a) In the breast of God from all eternity.
(b) In the shadows and types of the ceremonial law.
(c) In the treasury of the Scriptures.
(d) In the person, obedience, and passion of Christ.
(e) In the hearts of Christians.
(3) Why is it a mystery to wicked men? Through--
(a) The veil of their ignorance.
(b) Custom in sin and pleasure, etc.
(c) Judicial blindness.
(4) Is it a mystery? Then it should teach us--
(a) To esteem God’s ministers as its dispensers (1 Corinthians 4:2).
(b) To strive by all means to gain the open knowledge of this secret (Ephesians 1:8-9); but because every vessel is not meet to bear this measure we should get a pure conscience to carry this mystery of faith in (1 Timothy 3:9).
(c) To account this the highest blessedness (Matthew 13:11).
2. Its manifestation: clear sound preaching.
(1) It is not enough to preach, we must preach as becometh this mystery.
(a) With power (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
(b) With instance and all watchfulness (2 Timothy 4:2-5),
(c) With patience and constancy (1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 6:4).
(d) With assurance (2 Corinthians 4:13).
(e) With all willingness (1 Corinthians 9:16-17).
(f) With all faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2).
(g) With all zeal, knowing the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).
(h) With all holy behaviour (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
(2) The people must also hear, as becometh the mystery of Christ, with attention, patience, reverence, sincerity, hunger, and fruitfulness. (N. Byfield.)
Ministers dependent on the prayers of the people
There is much criticism bestowed upon preachers, much of canvassing of their doctrines, much readiness in imagining that they are swerving from what is orthodox and sound, much complaining that they are not simple enough or too simple, not profound enough, or not practical enough, or not interesting enough, or not searching enough; but is there much of prayer that God would guide them into the knowledge of truth, and put into their mouths the messages most appropriate to the several classes of hearers? Indeed, we say not this in order to exculpate the minister, as though he were not himself answerable for erroneous or defective ministrations; but, probably, in most cases, the blame is at least to be divided, and as a general rule the parish or district which has derived least good from its pastor, is the parish or district which has offered the least prayer for its pastor. Whilst a congregation is murmuring that its teacher never seems to get beyond the first elements of truth, there is, perhaps, scarcely one of its members who makes it a point of conscience frequently to ask God to open to that teacher the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; whilst the pews are occupied with fears and suspicions that something unsound or even heretical has found way into the pulpit, there is hardly one of the hearers who offers his daily supplications that God would keep the instructor from being carried about by the winds of false doc trine. What marvel, then, if there is but little progress in spiritual things, and the public ministrations of the Word seem instrumental to the converting and confirming but few? The hands even of Moses fell, when not sustained by Aaron and Ur; and even St. Paul leant on converts at Colossae, when hoping to be honoured in making converts at Rome. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Revival through prayer
A once popular minister gradually lost his influence and congregation. The blame was laid entirely upon him. Some of his Church officials went to talk with him on the subject. He replied: “I am quite sensible of all you say, for I feel it to be true; and the reason of it is, I have lost my prayer-book.” He explained: “Once my preaching was acceptable, many were edified by it, and numbers were added to the Church, which was then in a prosperous state. But we were then a praying people. Prayer was restrained, and the present condition of things followed. Let us return to the same means, and the same results may be expected.” They acted upon this suggestion, and, in a short time, the minister was as popular as he had ever been, and the Church was again in a flourishing state. The great apostle felt the necessity of co-operative sympathy and prayer (Romans 15:30; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). (G. Barlow.)
The door of utterance
was a door for the Word to pass through (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12)
. In the rush and press of thought the fettered gospel seems to be identified with the apostle “in bonds.” The Word is a captive with him. They are to pray therefore that God would open before him a door that the imprisoned Word may pass through and speed onward (2 Timothy 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). (Bishop Alexander.)
Doors shut and open
The door of utterance was closed and barred, as it were, upon the apostle by his imprisonment. It had previously remained open for a series of years (Romans 15:19). Now he was an ambassador in bonds. Thus, in every age of the Church, the door is at times shut to the dissemination of the gospel by the obstacles which the world and Satan raise; by the persecution and imprisonment or banishment of the faithful missionary or minister; by strong prejudices excited in men’s minds, as in India years ago, so that they will allow no opening for the gospel; by a prevalent spirit of infidelity, as during the first French revolution; by a failure of means in religious societies; by heresies and tendencies to popery for a time prevailing; and by the rapid deaths of eminent missionaries and ministers. Then again the door is opened from time to time by the mercy of God; as when Paul was liberated from prison and allowed again to prosecute for a few years his evangelical labours; as, in other ages and places, when persecutions cease, and the civil magistrate protects the true religion; when the heathen and Mahommedan nations are placed under the sway, or brought into contact with Protestant Christian powers; when heresies and leanings towards popery are checked; when faithful men are raised up, qualified, and placed in important situations of service; when translations of the Scriptures are made and widely diffused; when kings and princes are touched with grace, and take an active interest in the spread of the gospel, as Frederick the Wise of Saxony, at the period of the Reformation, and when a spirit of inquiry, like that among the noble Berseans, is excited, to “search the Scriptures daily to see whether the things” brought to their knowledge are indeed so. But the door of utterance also includes God’s giving scope to the preaching of the gospel by removing external hindrances; His granting to ministers by His Spirit suitable gifts and graces for discharging their office; and His vouchsafing by the same Spirit efficacy to their word that it may enter the hearts of the hearers. What a vast field of intercessory prayer is here presented! (Bishop D. Wilson.)
For which I am also in bonds.
St. Paul was an ambassador for Christ. According to the law of nations, there is a sacredness about the person of an ambassador, which is never violated unless by the desperate or the barbarous. Let one country send an ambassador to another, with the hope of adjusting points in litigation between the two, and though the proposed terms may be utterly repudiated, and nothing but a war of extermination will satisfy the people to whom the embassage is come, yet is the ambassador commonly treated with every marker respect; his office is a sufficient guarantee for his personal safety, and until he have been honourably dismissed and scrupulously escorted, no steps can be taken against the nation whose representative he is. And if in any case a different course is pursued--if the people ill-use the ambassador, depriving him of liberty, and yet more of life, there is an indignant exclamation throughout the civilized world; a hundred provinces are ready to make common cause with a nation so deeply injured in the person of its representative, and the tribe which has done the wrong is immediately as though placed under sentence of outlawry. Or, to take a more pertinent case. Suppose a revolt to have occurred in one of the provinces of an empire. The king is loth to proceed to extremities, and therefore sends an ambassador with proffers and reims of reconciliation. But the rebels, though they cannot disprove his credentials, nor doubt his authority, not satisfied with contemptuously rejecting his offers, cast him into prison and bind him with chains. Now, tell us, what a feeling of indignation would pervade a whole country, and how like a watchword, in which every class of the community joined, there would pass through the land the cry, “An ambassador in bonds!” “An ambassador in bonds!”--why, this is St. Paul’s account of himself in the text. He is an ambassador of Christ to publish the gospel, “for which,” says he, “I am in bonds.” He gives the description without comment, as though sufficient by itself, and by its strangeness, to arrest the most unthinking. (H. Melvill, D. D.)
Prayer for ministers
The Rev. Solomon Stoddard, the predecessor of the far-famed President Edwards, was engaged by his people on an emergency. They soon found themselves disappointed, for he gave no indications of a renewed and serious mind. In this difficulty their resource was prayer. They agreed to set apart a day for special fasting and prayer, in reference to their pastor. Many of the persons meeting for this purpose had necessarily to pass the door of the minister. Mr. Stoddard hailed a plain man whom he knew, and addressed him, “What is all this? What is doing to-day?” The reply was, “The people, sir, are all meeting to pray for your conversion.” It sank into his heart. He exclaimed to himself, “Then it is time I prayed for myself!” He was not seen that day. He was seeking in solitude what they were asking in company; and, “while they were yet speaking,” they were heard and answered. The pastor gave unquestionable evidence of the change; he laboured amongst a beloved and devoted people for nearly half a century, and was, for that period, deservedly ranked among the most able and useful of Christian ministers.
Walk in wisdom towards them that are without.
The wise conduct of life
The conduct of life is to be regulated--
I. According to the dictates of the highest wisdom.
1. Religion is a life. “Walk.”
2. Religion is a life shaped and controlled by the highest wisdom. “Walk in wisdom.”
3. Religion is a life that should be instructive to the irreligious. “Toward them that are without.”
4. Religion is a life that impels the seizure of every opportunity for good-doing. “Redeeming the time “--buying up the opportunities. Opportunity is the flower of time which blooms for a moment and is gone for ever.
II. By judicious speech.
1. Christian speech should be gracious. “Let your speech be alway with grace.”
2. Christian speech should be piquant. “Seasoned with salt.”
3. Christian speech should be practical. “That ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (G. Barlow.)
Christian worldly wisdom
The Church sojourns for the most part amidst people of another profession. Whole nations have shut the door against Christ. In so-called Christian nations vast multitudes are non-Christian. Even in private families there is this partition. Hence the apostle having regulated the duties of Christians among themselves now points out those toward aliens.
I. Our conversation with those who are without in general.
1. We are to walk wisely; not that we are to walk foolishly amongst ourselves. But as when a soldier is in an enemy’s country he stands much more on his guard, and as we use more ceremony towards strangers than friends; so we are to be more careful before the world than the Church.
The end in view is to win them to Christ, or to prevent, at least, their taking offence at religion when in our accidental encounters or our deliberate designs. In our converse as civil subjects with foreigners it would not be suffered us to attempt to withdraw them from their allegiance, but as subjects of Christ our main duty is to rescue the slaves of Satan the common enemy.
(2) In pursuing this end the diversity of the persons has to be carefully considered, their different conditions and capacities. The same things do not suit all, and all are not averse to religion, and while there are those who are of a furious disposition, there are those who are sweet and tractable. The Master (Matthew 7:6) urges this wise discrimination, and intimates the disastrous consequences of the want of it, which experience also confirms. But we are to love all alike, while we treat them differently (Matthew 5:44).
(3) The choice of means.
(a) Christian wisdom excludes all actions contrary to piety, which are quite contrary to the end in view as well as offensive to God, conscience, and our neighbour, repelling from instead of attracting men to Christ (2 Samuel 12:14; Romans 2:23-24; 1Ti 6:1; 2 Corinthians 6:3; Titus 2:10).
(b) We owe those that are without not only abstinence from evil, but the performance of what is good (Romans 13:7-8). God forbid that we should ever allow the conceit that it is lawful to break promises with them or deceive them. God will not be served with unrighteousness and treachery. Dues must be rendered too, not from fear, but for conscience sake.
(c) But we are not only to yield what they can rightly claim, but humanity, courtesy, assistance, as often as, and even before they ask, and thus imitate Him who blesses both the just and the unjust. Account any one your neighbour, even if a Samaritan or pagan. By this at least you will prevent him calumniating your religion.
(d) We must accommodate ourselves as far as piety will admit; not needlessly opposing them, nay, willingly yielding our rights and conforming ourselves to their wills in things indifferent, that they may see that our piety is not founded on capriciousness (1 Corinthians 9:19-22; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
(e) We must also avoid all actions or speeches likely to annoy.
2. Redeeming the time contains the utility and fruit of this wise demeanour (Daniel 2:8; Ephesians 5:15-16). As a wise mariner when the wind arises, and the waters threaten, and the presages of a tempest appear, hauls in his sails and prepares for the storm, then, accommodating himself to the violence of the waves, lets drive a little, not daring to bear up full against it, all to gain time and redeem himself by such care and conduct out of so sad and angry a season; so Paul would have us use the same industry to ward off the blows which are menaced by the unfavourable disposition towards us of those without.
II. The qualities in particular which our speech ought to have in that converse. “Let your speech,” etc.
1. This is necessary (1 Peter 3:15). This is the most tender part of our converse with men, and should be managed with the greatest exactness. An answer here is capable of amending or impairing the condition of a whole Christian people. Wise and moderate discourse has sometimes averted or stayed persecution; whereas indiscreet, although true, speech has mightily troubled the peace of the Church. How needful, then, that our speech should be with grace.
2. The qualities.
(1) Truth is presupposed (Ephesians 4:25).
(2) Grace is not rhetorical embellishment, but speech without gall, venom, and virulency, and so managed as not to offend.
(3) Well salted, i.e., seasoned with prudence; for as salt dessicates meat and eats out the moisture and putrid humour, leaving a sharpness pleasing to the taste, so Christian prudence works out all that is noxious from speech and tempers it in such a manner that the vigour it leaves pleases the spirit.
3. The use--that it may appear that we know how to answer every one.
(1) Paul’s calling our discourses an answering intimates that we should not speak without judgment and deliberation.
(2) We ought to diversify our speech according to the difference of persons. The dispositions of some require firmness and freedom, those of others tenderness. (J. Daille.)
The wise and winsome walk
Christ’s mission was to outsiders: so was His commission to His disciples. This holds good now. Every one who enters the Church enters not only into a peculiar relation with Christ, but with the world also. “Let your light so shine,” etc. Outsiders watch us sharply, and Christ intended they should. The Christian is the only Bible the great majority ever look at; then we ought to live as to require no commentary to explain us. We are doorkeepers to the way of life not to block the way but to let others in.
I. Walk wisely.
1. So as not to give the lie to our professions. We tell the uncon verted that Christianity will make them cheerful under trials; do we fret under them? We talk about patience; do we lose temper under the first provocation? In the prayer-meeting we pray as though religion were the one thing needful: are social ambition or money-grabbing the chief end of our lives outside? If in walking through an orchard we pick up a fair-looking apple, but on putting our teeth to it find it sour, we fling it away; so we are known by our fruits. Very few are made infidels by pernicious books, but many are by inconsistent Christians. On the other hand, a noble, godly life is the most convincing of sermons.
2. We can never win outsiders by compromising with them. The people of the world do not expect us to live as they do; and when we surrender our principles they are secretly disgusted. To draw men out of a pit we must have a firm, strong foothold or they will draw us in. He who walks closest to Christ will have most converting power.
3. The subject has a vital connection with direct efforts for the conversion of men. “He that is wise winneth souls.” How little common sense many employ in trying to bring their children, scholars, or friends to the Saviour. A father asks people to pray for his boy, and then treats him so as to harden him. Some people badger their children with ill-timed or tempered talk about their souls. And yet nothing requires more tact and gentleness. If we want to water a flower we do not dash a pailful over it, but sprinkle it. God does not send His Spirit as a waterspout, but as rain. Paul was consumed with zeal, yet showed wonderful sagacity in adaptation.
II. Watch for opportunities. “Redeeming the time.” Chances must be sought for putting in the right word, and when God sends it we must make the most of it. We must go on the principle of now or never. This will make us eager to embrace opportunities; and in turn we must urge the undecided to embrace Christ at once. Every act of kindness to the unconverted will help us. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Godly walk in evil company
Though evil men are not to be the subjects of the Christian’s choice, yet he must sometimes fall into their company or go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:10). Civil commerce with them is lawful, though friendship be sinful. Christianity must help us as a glass window to let in the light but keep out the rain. The apostle gives us a special precept for our pious carriage among ungodly men.
I. The qualification of the act--“Walk wisely.” He who walketh according to the rule of the Word is a wise walker (Job 28:28; Psalms 119:1; Galatians 6:16). We must walk by precept, not by pattern: he may be a good courtier but a bad Christian who suits his conduct to his company. If, like musicians, we play no lessons but what the company calls for, our music will be jarring in the ears of God (Galatians 1:10).
II. The specification of the subject. Wicked men are said to be without.
1. Because visible without the Church (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
2. Really without God and Christ (Ephesians 2:12).
3. Eventually without heaven (Revelation 22:15; Luke 13:25).
III. Motives for caution.
1. Evil company is infectious (Psalms 106:35).
2. See that when compelled to mingle with it that thou get good from it: let it show thee the importance of wisdom and watchfulness.
IV. Rules for conduct.
1. Keep thyself unspotted from sin. Wicked men, as dyers and painters, are besmeared themselves and besmear others. The saint should resemble the carbuncle, which being cast in the fire, shines all the brighter. Rust will fret into the hardest steel, but not into the emerald. Thy duty is, as clothes well dyed, to keep thy colour in all weathers; and, as a good constitution, to retain thy health in the most unwholesome vapours.
2. Do not needlessly expose thyself to suffering. Christ did not commit himself to the Jews, because He knew their hearts. Set a watch before thy tongue lest it prove thy sepulchre (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Amos 5:13). Thy care must be always to own Christ, but as thy policy should not eat up thy zeal neither should thy zeal thy wisdom. Zeal to a Christian is like the high wind filling the sails of a ship, which unless it be ballasted with discretion doth but the sooner overturn it.
3. Be sure thou dost not deny Christ and disown thy profession. Though it behoveth thee to walk wisely, because sinners lie in wait to destroy thy life, yet be careful not to walk wickedly, for sin lieth in wait to destroy thy soul. The light of religion ought not to be carried in a dark lantern, and only shown when interest permits (Matthew 10:33; 2 Kings 17:41; Nehemiah 13:24).
4. Labour to get some good by such as are evil. A gracious person may improve the vilest sinner’s company to his own spiritual profit.
(1) Let thy zeal be more inflamed (Psalms 119:39; Psalms 119:127).
(2) Let thy heart be more enlarged in thankfulness that Christ hath saved thee.
(3) Thy care and watchfulness should be increased. The falls of others should be sea-marks for warning to avoid those rocks and shallows if thou wouldest avoid shipwreck (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:16).
5. Endeavour their reformation. Thy duty as a good physician is to loathe the noisome disease, but to pity and strive to recover the patient. Thy Father doth good to all; remember thou are His son and copy Him. Christ never sat at table with sinners but He made better cheer than He found. Be not discouraged at the weakness of thy gifts, but consider that the event depends upon Him who set thee at work, and that it is all one to Him whether thou hast great, small, or no means. A fly may hinder an elephant from sleeping. A little boat may land a man on a large continent. Endeavour to reform them.
(1) By wholesome counsel. There is a special art in baiting the hook aright, so as thou mayest take sinners ere they are aware (2 Corinthians 12:16). When amongst moral men commend morality, yet discover its insufficiency, and so cause them to run to Christ for help (Matthew 5:20). When amongst the profane bring in wisely an instance of God’s judgments. Sometimes conversation on earthly subjects may be turned “by degrees into heavenly. Do they ask, “What news?” After prudent preface say that thou canst tell them good news from a far country--Christ Jesus came to save sinners. Do they ask how such and such do? Acquaint them of their worldly welfare, and, if convenient, of the health of their soul. Do they ask the price of commodities? Raise their heart to the wine and milk to be had without money, etc. This is true alchemy and will turn all to gold. See our Lord’s example (Matthew 15:20; John 4:21; John 6:25-27).
(2) By thy gracious carriage in their company. A Christian is God’s jewel (Malachi 3:17), and should always cast a radiancy before the eyes of others (Philippians 2:15; Titus 2:7-8); 1 Peter 3:15-16). Grace powerfully but silently opposes wickedness, and forces reverence from its bitterest enemies. The righteousness of Noah condemned the old world; the holiness of John gained respect from Herod; the sanctity of the three worthies triumphed in the conscience of Nebuchadnezzar, and the innocence of Daniel in the soul of Darius (1 Peter 2:11-12).
(3) By faithful reprehension; but--
(a) Be sure the thing thou reprovest be a sin. Some show much heat but little holiness in making a great stir about nothing (Joshua 22:16; Samuel 2). It is dangerous to apply medicines on the bare supposition of sickness. Then, again, he that reproves the deed will do more harm than good if he is not able to convince the doer (Titus 1:9; Job 6:25). Mistaken or misapplied arguments seldom reprove any but the arguer, and him they always reprove.
(b) Reprove seriously. Reproof is an edged tool and must not be jested with. Cold reproofs are like the noise of cannons a great way off. He that reproves sin merrily and makes the company laugh will destroy the sinner instead of his sin. Some men shoot their reprehensions, like pellets through a pipe, with no more strength than would kill a sparrow. He that would hit the mark must draw his arrow of reproof home. The hammer of the word breaks not the heart if it be laid lightly on. Be the reproof never so gracious, and the plaster never so good, it will be ineffectual if not applied to the patient himself (2 Samuel 12:7; Acts 2:36-37).
(c) Reprove seasonably. It is not necessary and convenient at all seasons. The best medicine will be thrown away if given at an unfit time. A fool will always be talking, but a wise man will keep a word for afterward (Proverbs 29:1-27.). Small fish are twitched up with the violence of a sudden pull, when the like action would break the line whereon a great one hangs. Fabius conquered by delaying, but Caesar overcame by expedition.
(d) Reprove prudently (Proverbs 25:12). Every mountebank is not fit for this office. Have respect to the quality of the person. Superiors must be amended, by exhortation, equals by friendly admonition, inferiors by gentle reproof. Have respect also to the disposition of the offender. Some in their fainting fits are recovered easily with sprinkling cold water on their faces, others must be rubbed hard. Some men are like briars, and have to be handled gently; others, like nettles, have to be dealt with roughly (Jude 1:22-23). The sturdy oak will not be so easily bent as the gentle willow. Respect also is to be had to faults. Wise physicians will distinguish between a pimple and a plague sore. Who would give so great a blow to kill a fly as to kill an ox?
(e) Reprove compassionately. The iron of Asher’s shoes were dipped in oil. Reproofs should be as ointments gently rubbed in by the warm fire of love. The reprover should have a lion’s stout heart if he would be faithful, and a lady’s soft hand, or he is not likely to be successful. He that would gather fruit must pluck the bough gently towards him; if too hard he may break it.
6. Mourn for the sins thou canst not amend (Psalms 119:135; 2 Peter 2:8). (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The duties of those within to these without
Those who are within are those who have “fled for refuge” to Christ, and are within the fold, the fortress, the ark. Men who sit safe within while the storm howls, may simply think with selfish complacency of those exposed to its fierceness. The phrase may express spiritual pride and even contempt. All close corporations tend to generate dislike and scorn of outsiders, and the Church has had its own share of such feeling; but there is no trace of anything of the sort here. Rather is there pathos and pity in the world, and a recognition that their sad condition gives these outsiders a claim on Christian men, who are bound to go out to their help to bring them in. Precisely because they are “without” do those within owe them a wise walk, that “if any will not hear the Word, they may without the Word be won.” We owe them such a walk as may tend to bring them in, and if our walk does not seem to them very attractive, small wonder if they prefer to remain where they are. Let us take care lest instead of being door-keepers to the house of the Lord, to beckon passers-by and draw them in, we block the doorway, and keep them from seeing the wonders within. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christian deportment towards unbelievers
“Toward them that are without,” whatever their conduct, appearance, profession, we must “walk in wisdom.” They may be within the circle of our acquaintance, and of our own household. While we feel that between us and the fellow Christian who was but yesterday a stranger a bond stronger than death, between us and the object of our warmest human love there is a wall of separation. To such and all “without”--
I. Do your duty--your daily duty, especially in little things, faithfully. Do what is right for you as a man; and what is right for you as a man is doubly right for you as a Christian. And you are doubly in the wrong if you as a Christian man are not scrupulously honest, if you give way to rudeness, irritability, vulgarity, selfishness.
II. Love them--not simply their souls. We do not read of God and Christ loving people’s souls. God loved the world; Christ tasted death for every man. Be human. There is no opposition between manhood and holiness. The Holy One revealed Himself to sinners as the Son of Man, one of themselves: and this was the secret of His power.
III. Be natural--yourselves. Do not have a Christian face and voice taking the place of your own. Speak plainly. Christians are often charged with affectation. Unnaturalness does not come from having too much religion, but from not having enough. What could be more natural than the words and ways of Christ?
IV. Be true--not simply do not tell lies, but be transparent. Let men be able to see through you, to perceive that there is no guile, no hidden motives, that while you profess to love God supremely you are not loving something else more than God.
V. Be humble. Christ was meek and lowly of heart”; and what ought we to be? Be humble under a sense of your sinfulness, and under the weight of God’s mercies. Do not try to impress others with your superiority, or you will make the contrary impression.
VI. Be holy. Avoid the least appearance of evil. Let it be seen from your conduct that your religion is not a matter of theory, emotion, talk, but a matter of fact. Remember what Peter says to wives who have unbelieving husbands. A young man was asked, “Under whose preaching were you converted? Under my aunt’s practice,” was the reply. VII. Be happy. If there is sunshine on your countenances others will believe that the Sun of Righteousness is in your hearts. But if we speak about that Sun and they never see anything but darkness and gloom they will not believe. VIII. Be kind. Do not simply love them; show it in common or rather uncommon kindness. Treat men as Christ treated you. He never put on airs. Remember how he treated Zacchaeus, the woman of Samaria, etc. (A. Monod, D. D.)
The wisdom of kindness as a means of conversion
There was an infidel who was dangerously ill, and a colporteur went to see him. The man would not receive him, and asked him never to come again. The colporteur, after a few words, left the house, but he noticed that the man was very poor. There seemed to be none of the things necessary to health about his home. What did the colporteur do? He did not go and write an address about charity, but he went to the grocer’s and he sent provisions to the man. A little time after, he went again. He was well received. The man said, “If you please, sir, was it you who sent those provisions?” “Well, yes, it was; but do not let us talk about that.” “It was very kind of you. I treated you with so much discourtesy, and you were so good to me! My unbelieving friends, who profess to love me, have not done anything for me, but here you have sent me these provisions. Please read me something out of your Book.” He read to him, and visited him again and again. Before that man died he was brought to a knowledge of Christ. The work had been begun by an act of kindness. Pastor Funcke, of Bremen, went to see a working-man, whom he describes as a tall, strong man, with a red beard, living in a miserable little place, up a flight of rickety stairs. The man would not listen to him at all, but flew into a passion, saying: “I don’t want to hear anything about your God. I don’t believe there is a God.” Then, clenching his fist, he said, “This is my god!” and bringing it down on the table with a thump, he added: “If ever I find you on these premises again, I will put my god into your face!” The pastor went away, but a few days later, hearing that the man was out of employment, he busied himself in finding a situation for him. By-and-by the man heard of this. He went to him and said, “Is it true, sir, that you took the trouble to find me this employment?” “Why, yes, it is true.” “Well,” he said, “all Christians are not hypocrites!” That was, to him, a discovery, it seems. He invited the pastor to his house, and listened to him. “And now,” says Mr. Funeke, “he, his wife, and children, are amongst the best of my church members, and theirs is one of the happiest homes in the parish.” Surely, this was “walking in wisdom toward them that are without.” Now I will give you a fact of another kind, that will, perhaps, meet some of our own difficulties. It was told me by the sister of the young man of whom I am about to speak. He had a pious father. They lived in a large town. One day he asked his father if he might go to the theatre. As he was no longer a mere boy, of course the father could not prevent him from going. “You know I disapprove of these things,” he said; “I think it will do you harm; but, of course, I cannot forbid you to go.” Well, the young man felt rather uncomfortable; however, he went. He came home late (it was a winter night)
, just expecting to grope his way to his room. But he found a lighted lamp, a bright fire, and something warm to eat and drink. His father did not wait for him, and that was also wise; it would have seemed as if he had watched for his return to lecture him. No; but he had made ready a welcome for him. What effect did that have? It had the effect of drawing that son’s heart toward his father more than anything else could have done, and of greatly diminishing, to say the least of it, his taste for the theatre. This much I know, that he became a faithful disciple of Christ, and was about to enter the ministry, when God took him to Himself, several years ago. (A. Monod, D. D.)
Redeeming the time. Take a lesson from--
I. The merchant. How he redeems the time; by wise employment of capital, by sedulous attention to his business, by sagacious plans, watchfulness for openings, and correct balancing of his affairs from time to time. Here is an example for the Christian, who should augment and employ his spiritual capital of gifts and graces, by industry, intelligence, and self-denial, and know exactly how his soul stands with God.
II. The farmer. Nots his knowledge and thrifty management of his stock and crops. How carefully he prepares the ground at the proper season, then sows the seed, then removes all obstructions from the soil, reaps and garners the harvest, and finally seeks the best market to sell it in. Where would the farmer be but for his constant and habitual redemption of time. The Christian should act like him in regard to the Divine seed-wheat in his own mind or that of others (Ecclesiastes 11:6; Isaiah 32:20; Psalms 126:6)
III. The student, philosopher, and statesman. No man ever rose to eminence who did not wisely employ his time. The student economizes every moment and never tires in his researches. The philosopher tests by science and reason the mysteries of nature, omitting no opportunity or detail. And thus the statesman studies the complicated problems of politics and provides for their solution in season and out. And so the Christian student, the eyes of whose understanding are opened, ponders Divine truth. The Christian philosopher here learns the origin, nature, and end of all things. And the Christian, being a statesman, too, feeds on schemes of advancement for the kingdom of God. But in each capacity he needs to redeem the time; and if any day passes without embracing some opportunity for learning new truth, or doing some fresh good, he should feel with that Roman Emperor who said, “I have lost a day.” (J. G. Angley, M. A.)
Redeeming the time
The wheels of nature are not made to roll backward; everything presses on towards eternity; from the birth of time, an impetuous current has set in, which bears all the sons of men towards that interminable ocean. Meanwhile, heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature, is enriching itself by the spoils of earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom whatever is pure, permanent, and Divine, leaving nothing for the last fire to consume but the objects and the slaves of concupiscence; while everything which grace has prepared and beautified shall be gathered, from the ruins of the world, to adorn the eternal city, “which hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God doth enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” Let us obey the voice that calls us thither, let us seek the things that are above, and no longer cleave to a world which must shortly perish, and which we must shortly quit, while we neglect to prepare for that in which we are invited to dwell for ever. (Robert Hall.)
The redemption of time
I. The importance of time. This may be inferred from the names given it in Scripture--“The day of salvation,” “The acceptable year of the Lord,” “An appointed time.” It is the season in which alone the business of religion can be transacted. Those advise badly who say “there is time enough yet,” for who knows what a day may bring forth. It may be longer or shorter, but the day of salvation, like any other, is limited, and must soon come to an end.
II. The rapidity of the flight of time. “Time and tide wait for no man.” The little we have on hand is all we have, and even this short space is hurrying on so fast that to catch it is like dipping your hand in a running stream which glides through the fingers that would detain it. The Egyptians represented it as a serpent creeping on silently and gliding away imperceptibly. And yet there are those who act as though it had no assignable limit.
III. The large portion of our time lost. The season of boyhood--much of which was wasted in indolence; the season of youth--much of which was simply dissipated; the season of riper years--how much of that is being lost in the pursuit of shadows. Some misspend time because they have no proper object to engage their attention. How many fashionable people there are who are quite at a loss what to make of themselves. Others lose much time in mere delays and in expecting what will never come.
IV. The best means of redeeming it.
1. Misspend no more. Treasure up scraps of time. He who is prodigal of a minute spends far above his estate.
2. Rise early.
3. Husband your time well during the day. (T. Watson, B. A.)
The redemption of time
I. What is time?
Measured duration. Hours, days, etc., are measured by periodical revolutions.
(2) Successive duration--past, present, to come.
(3) Limited duration. Time was not, began, will cease.
2. Time is distinguished from eternity--which is absolute duration, without measure, etc.
3. But time in the text is rather special seasons and opportunities.
4. To redeem
(1) in the common notion is to recover by some valuable consideration what has been forfeited--property, liberty, yea, our souls, by the precious blood of Christ. This cannot apply to time, because no consideration can recover the smallest portion of it when once gone.
(2) In a moral sense we may redeem it by a careful, prayerful, religious improvement of what remains. Time ought to be improved because--
I. Its value is inexpressible. We argue the worth of it--
1. From the great business of it.
(1) As regards self. Were man a mere animated piece of flesh and blood he would have some plausibility for saying “Let us eat and drink,” etc. But he is a rational, immortal, and accountable being, and the great business of time is to get ready for eternity. It is not necessary that we should be rich, great, honourable; but it is necessary that we should be saved. “What shall it profit,” etc.
(2) But we are not alone, and therefore our great business is not only to get but to do good; not only to work out our own salvation, but to promote that of others.
2. From the price of time. When man sinned all was lost, time included, but the forfeited blessing comes back through the death of Christ.
3. From the manner in which providence allots us time. Common things may be obtained in large quantities. Not so things that are precious--a grain of gold, e.g. So time is not dealt out in large portions. No man receives a year at once, only a moment. How should that moment, then, be improved.
4. Shall we consult the wise, great, and good on this subject. Moses (Psalms 90:1-17.): Solomon, “Remember now thy Creator; Christ, “I must work,” etc.; that Pagan prince who, when a day had passed without a good deed, exclaimed, “I have lost a day.”
5. Ask death-beds. “Doctor,” said a dying man, “the whole of my estate for half-an-hour,” but no, the whole of his estate could not purchase half a moment.
6. Travel to the regions of sorrow and despair. How would they hail a second probation I They had time, they abused it; their time is gone.
7. Travel to the mansions of light. The spirits of just men made perfect are there, because they redeemed the time for the purpose of preparing for eternity.
II. The duration of time is short.
1. How frequently we express ourselves incorrectly on this subject. A man who has been unwell for a few weeks says he has been ill a long time. But no portion of time is long in reference to eternity. There is some comparison between an atom and the globe, because the globe only contains so many atoms, but there can be no comparison between the little atom of time and unmeasurable eternity.
2. If time be short comparatively, what is the time of our life. “The time is short.” How short. Before the flood some lived nearly one thousand years. After the flood there was a reduction. By the time of Moses the period was seventy or eighty. How few reach even that now. A friend of mine once ascertained the average age of persons buried in a country churchyard; it was fourteen years. Our life is but “a step between us and death”; “a hand-breadth”; “a weaver’s shuttle”; “grass”; “a vapour.” Then we have not a moment to waste.
III. Much of our short time has elapsed.
1. The morning of life has gone with many of us. Prize the morning of life, young people! It is the best part of the day. If it be wasted we have but little hope of subsequent periods. “In the morning sow thy seed.” When it was morning with many of us how impatient we were to have it noon and be men.
2. Noon has come and gone, and it seems only yesterday that we were young.
3. Some are in the evening, the last mile-stone is in view, the taper must soon expire, and the hour-glass run out. A man may regain lost health, wealth, friends, but never time. Then how we ought to redeem what remains.
IV. What remains is uncertain. We can ascertain how much has been expended, not what is left. The rich fool talked of years. God did not talk of a single day. “This night.” How numerous are sudden deaths. “Lord, teach us to number our days.”
V. Nothing can compensate for the loss of time. A wise man will part with nothing except for its value, yet many part with time for nothing.
1. For folly, vanity, vice--time-consumers, time-killers.
2. For any kind of amusement-seeking customers to take it off their hands.
3. For business, at the expense of the true riches.
4. For honour, at the expense of heaven’s patent of nobility. But none of us are absolutely bankrupt. Time remains--redeem it.
VI. Odd has made eternity to depend on time. What an awful thing, then, to live. “Infinite joy or endless woe attends on every breath.” (Robert Newton, D. D.)
The merchandise of time
The word here translated “redeem” literally means to purchase in the market, and is quite different from the theological term, which means to re-purchase. Time is thus presented to us as a precious commodity.
I. The obligations to the practice of making merchandise of time.
1. On the mode in which we employ our time our everlasting destiny depends. One of the plainest principles of commerce is that any commodity is desirable in proportion to the returns it is capable of securing. The same principle applies here. The everlasting consequences which flow from it give to time transcendent value. Were it not for these we might say, “Let us eat and drink,” etc. Just as a merchant, then, is most anxious about a profitable bargain so ought we to be about redeeming the time.
2. Time is short and uncertain. In commerce the rarity of an article enhances its value, and should any doubt exist as to another opportunity for procuring it the merchant is proportionably anxious to obtain it without delay. Had we for certain a considerable period to live in our neglect might be excused; but as it is we are bad spiritual merchants if we fail to redeem the time.
3. Unless you check the progress of sin now it will become every day more difficult, and eventually become impossible. What merchant would allow an unprofitable line of business to lengthen out as men do the life of sin. He stops promptly, lest by delay all chance of retrieving his fortune should be gone.
II. Directions for complying with the exhortation.
1. Have a plan or system for the distribution of time. Every man of business knows the importance of pre-arrangement and method. How much more so is this on which hang such infinite issues. In your plan set aside time for devotion.
2. Beware of those things which rob you of the best portion of it.
(2) Undue devotion to matters of subordinate importance.
(3) Overdone amusements.
3. Watch for and improve those occasions in which you can best promote not only your own eternal interests but those of others, and particularly of your family.
4. Accustom yourselves to serious and impartial self-examination. Take stock as men of business do. (P. Grant.)
The right use of time
If this year is to be more valuable than the last, we must more carefully attend to the use of our time.
I. When to use time rightly.
1. Now. The present moment is a king in disguise.
2. While it is ours. The past is a memory; the future, an undivided inheritance.
3. The present is the only moment which can be used.
II. How to use time rightly.
1. By a circumspect walk.
2. By wisdom in its employment.
3. By helpful recreation. Avoid the two extremes of overwork and no work.
4. By the redemption of every fleeting moment. Take care of the seconds, and the hours will take care of themselves. Devote it all to God.
III. Why should we use time rightly?
1. Because of its value. The destiny of eternity hangs upon a moment of time.
2. The time is short.
3. When lost it can never be redeemed.
4. All that we have to do must be done quickly.
5. We shall have to account for our time.
1. We shall make the most of time, if we work in it with zeal and diligence.
2. We should see to it that we are unreprovable in its use and in our work and recreation.
3. We should seek out, and not merely wait for, time in which to benefit others, or reprove the evils of our day. John the Baptist reproved Herod at the cost of his head; Jesus freely gave Himself for us all, and the disciples devoted their whole lifetime to teaching, preaching, exhorting, and re proving.
4. We should learn to be more faithful in the use of the present, because so much of the past has run to waste.
5. Avoid procrastination and building air castles.
6. Daily examine what use you have made of your time.
V. Illustrative scriptures. Ecclesiastes 8:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 6:13; Colossians 4:5; Jam 4:13-15; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 22:20. (L. O. Thompson.)
The value of time
The value set on time by the Duke of Wel lington was one of his most marked characteristics. He once wrote to Dr. Hutton for information as to the scientific acquirements of a young officer who had been under his instructions. The doctor thought he could not do less than answer the question verbally, and made an appointment accordingly. Directly the Duke saw him he said, “I am obliged to you, doctor, for the trouble you have taken. Is--fit for the post?” Clearing his throat Dr. Hutton began, “No man more so; I can--” “That’s quite sufficient,” said Wellington, “I know how valuable your time is; mine just now is equally so. I will not detain you any longer. Good-morning.” On another occasion he made an appointment with a civic dignitary who was five minutes late, and on finding the Duke watch in hand and very angry, pleaded, “It is only five minutes, your grace.” “Only five minutes!” he replied, “five minutes unpunctuality would have before now lost me a battle.” Next time the magnate took care, as he thought, to be on the safe side. When the Duke appeared he greeted him rather triumphantly. “You see, your grace, I was five minutes before you this time.” “Shows how little you know time’s value,” said the old Field Marshal, “I am here to the moment. I cannot afford to waste five minutes.”
The value of a minister’s time
An American clergyman in the early part of his ministry, being in London, called upon the late Matthew Wilks. He received him with courtesy, and entered into conversation, which was kept up briskly, till the most important religious intelligence in possession of each was imparted. Suddenly there was a pause; it was broken by Mr. Wilks. “Have you anything more to communicate?” “No, nothing of special interest.” “Any further inquiries to make?” “None.” “Then you must leave me; I have my Master’s business to attend to. Good-morning,” “Here,” says the minister, “I received a lesson on the impropriety of intrusion, and the most manly method of preventing it.” (W. Baxendale.)
Wesley’s economy of time
The diligence of Mr. Wesley in redeeming time has often been noticed; but it is scarcely possible for those who were not intimate with him to have a just idea of his faithfulness in this respect. In many things he was gentle and easy to be entreated; in this, decided and inexorable. One day his chaise was delayed beyond the appointed time He had put up his papers and left the apartment. While waiting at the door he was heard to say, “I have lost ten minutes for ever.” (W. Baxendale.)
Improve the moments
If we were to see a woodman felling eight large trees in a forest every week, or four hundred every year, we should some of us say, “What a pity!” yet in one large steam sawing-mill, visited by Mr. Mayhew, that was just the number employed to make lucifer matches, 1,123,200,000 matches were made in one year out of the above 400 trees! This may remind one of the remark of Howe, “What a folly it is to dread the thought of throwing away one’s life at once, and yet to have no regard for throwing it away by parcels and piecemeal!” (Bowes.)
Let your speech he alway with grace, seasoned with salt.
I. The exhortation.
1. What: Your speech.
(1) It is not sufficient to order our life and actions well unless we at the same time regulate our words (James 1:26).
(2) Not only is there danger of guilt and damnation from wicked actions, but from wicked speeches (James 3:8; Proverbs 18:21).
(3) It is the mark of a perfect Christian to manage his discourse rightly (James 3:2).
2. How long: always. Whenever we speak we must speak as we ought. Hence they are to be reproved who only speak soberly before grave men, or in affliction. While in their banquets, or private conversation, they regard it as a privilege to talk obscurely or foolishly.
3. In what manner: with grace as it were seasoned with salt, i.e., with religious prudence flowing from the Holy Spirit, which first directs the heart, then the tongue.
(1) As salt extracts noxious humours and banishes putresency from meat, so the grace of wisdom represses idle language, and represses wicked and impure (Ephesians 4:20.)
(2) As salt is helpful to digestion, so wisdom is suited to edification (Ecclesiastes 12:10.)
(1) No discourse of Christians ought to be insipid; but that is deemed as unsavoury which is either hurtful or unprofitable.
(2) It is not sufficient to season our speech with any kind of salt, but we must do it with the salt of wisdom. The salt of satirical virulence must be discarded, and that of jocularity be used sparingly.
(3) They are altogether destitute of this salt who blab out words--
(a) corrupting the mind by heresy and doubt;
(b) corrupting the heart by obscure or irreligious sayings. For it is the office of salt to restrain not to promote corruption.
II. The amplification.
1. The fountain of sound speech: knowledge drawn from the Word of God, laid up in the speaker’s mind. “That ye may know.”
2. Its use--“that it may be answered to every man as it is fit,” i.e.,
(1) To unbelievers requiring a reason of our faith, constantly and prudently, lest we expose religion to ridicule.
(2) To heretics impugning the faith, vigorously and bravely to maintain religion.
(3) To the ignorant, that we may impart saving know]edge.
(4) To the afflicted, that we may minister comfort.
(1) All Christians must endeavour to obtain that knowledge of Divine things which may guide them to render a reason for their faith (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 8:7).
(2) Hence the wickedness and folly of Romanists who would take away the salt of the Divine Word from the people. (Bp. Davenant.)
I. The precept deals with the properties of speech.
In respect to the cause good words are gracious.
(a) Because they flow from the free grace of God without our merit, for we do not deserve to be trusted with a single good word. Reason yields us conceits, and nature an instrument to speak by, but it is the God of nature by His free grace that gives us good words.
(b) Our words ought to proceed from some grace of God in the heart, as from knowledge, faith, joy, love, sorrow, fear, etc., and in this sense, when on the tongue, they carry the name of the fountain whence they flow.
(2) In respect of the subject: the matter we talk of must be good, words of instruction, comfort, faith, hope, etc., and all seasoned by the daily memory and mention of God’s grace to us in Christ (Psalms 40:11.)
(3) In respect of the effect: such as tend to build up and minister grace to the: hearers (Ephesians 4:29).
(a) Fair words.
(b) Inoffensive words and not railing, bitter, slanderous, blasphemous, or filthy: no, nor even such jesting words as irritate, disgrace, and bite.
(c) Seasonable words (Proverbs 15:23).
(d) Wholesome words (Ephesians 4:29).
2. Powdered with salt. The reference is to the salt of sacrifice, and the salt of preservation.
(1) It is implied that there are corrupt words which want seasoning.
(a) The talk of the covetous is of mammon.
(b) Epicures talk of sports and pleasures.
(c) The superstitious of the signs of heaven, etc.
(d) The wrathful of vengeance.
(e) The ambitious of their prospects.
(2) Christians must season this corruption.
(a) There is the salt of doctrine, whereby those who have it become the salt of the earth.
(b) The salt of mortification, which every Christian must have in himself.
(c) The salt of discretion (James 3:2).
II. The end of the precept--“That ye may know how to answer.” Observe, in general, that by speaking well we learn to speak well; and that the soundest knowledge is experimental. He knows not how to answer that practice himself, no matter how many arguments he may have in his head. To answer does not always mean to reply, but sometimes to continue to speak (Matthew 11:25).
1. As to answering unbelievers. Notice--
(1) True grace is sure to be opposed; let therefore every Christian expect it, and be prepared for it.
(2) Every Christian ought to answer for the truth wherever and by whomsoever, opposed.
(3) It is not easy to answer well, therefore note the requisities--
(a) Deliberation and understanding of the matter.
(b) Prayer (Proverbs 16:1; Habakkuk 2:1).
(c) Faith in God’s favour and promise (Matthew 10:19; Psalms 119:41-42).
(d) Discretion concerning time, place, occasion, persons (Proverbs 25:11; Proverbs 26:4; Proverbs 26:6).
(g) A good conscience.
2. As to answering believers, observe that--
(1) Christians should propound their doubts one to another.
(2) Strong Christians should help the weak with instruction and arguments (Romans 2:19).
(3) However hard all answers should be gracious, seasonable, and profit able.
(4) Custom in gracious speech breeds, by God’s blessing, an ability to give sound judgment, advice, and resolution of doubts. It is not wit, learning, or authority, that breeds this. (N. Byfield.)
The right use of speech
When we consider the importance of speech, the ease with which we speak, and the pleasure we derive from this faculty, no wonder so much labour has been taken to improve it. Hundreds of rhetoricians have giving rules respecting “the art of speaking well.” But that is really a Christian grace. Christianity alone lays down the fundamental rules of good speaking, and puts us in the way of doing most good with the talent of speech.
I. The precept shows--
1. The character of Christian converse. It must be gracious.
Good words flow from grace no less than good deeds. When God gave you a new heart He gave you a new tongue. Words are the pictures of thought, and “out of the abundance of the heart the month speaketh.” When grace is in the heart means will be employed to forward the work of grace in others (Psalms 66:16).
(2) Speech is always to be with grace, not now and then. How many Christians there are whose words at times are all they ought to be, and at others the reverse.
2. Its properties--“seasoned with salt.”
(1) Salt is an article of food, so our conversation should be morally and in tellectually nutritive.
(3) Salt gives a relish to ordinary food. How helpful may converse be in making the dry monotonies of life and the hard fare of affliction palatable.
(3) Salt preserves, and so should speech preserve the family, neigh bourhood, country. How many a family, society, nation, have been preserved from corruption by the wise counsels of a father, citizen, statesman.
(4) Salt heals (2 Kings 2:21), and so a few gracious words of meekness have healed the most serious breaches. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
II. The end and use of the precept--“That ye may know,” etc. How much wisdom is needed for this. Many a good man has done much mischief for want of prudence here; by ill timed zeal, dogmatism, offensive statement of truth, wrangling discussion. For the better ordering of speech--
1. Consider the end of it. Speech was not given to man for God’s sake. He can tell the meaning of the heart without words; nor for our own sakes--it is unnecessary for the perception of individual wants; but for the benefit of others. Recollect, then, when you open your lips that it should be for the good of those who hear you.
2. Meditate before speaking. “If you think twice before you speak once, you will speak twice the better for it.”
3. Be moderate in speech. It is evident by the design of providence that the faculty of speech should be used less than most others. We have but one tongue, but two ears, two eyes, etc. “Let thy words be few.” “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” “A fool is known by the multitude of words.” The weakest minds are often the most garrulous; they unconsciously make up in number of words what they lack in wisdom; whereas the wisest try to say much in few words. There is far the most depth where there is least noise. (T. Watson, B. A.)
I. By speech with grace the apostle does not mean what is so often miscalled religious conversation. This is good in fit time and place, and to proper persons. But it is distasteful and injurious when obtruded unseasonably; worthless when it runs into perplexing technicalities; offensive when it degenerates into unmeaning cant; mischievous when it feeds the habit of morbid introspection. But there is a grace which, blending with speech, on all sorts of subjects and occasions, may make the whole intercourse of life religious. Our Saviour at Bethany would not talk with His friends only on God and heaven, but about their earthly concerns and friends; yet there was that in all His words which indicated Him as the Holy One of God. The traits of grace which should mark the conversations of Christians are--
1. Truth. The Christian has, of course, put away lying; yet there are excellent persons who are careless as to exact and literal truth, on whose lips a surmise takes the place of a fact, and who, while they would not for their right hand make a lie for themselves, are not equally scrupulous about lies made by others, or those which grow from tongue to tongue. Yet there is no deviation from truth which may not either do mischief to others, or reflect on him who gives it currency. How few confine themselves to what they know 1 There are so many things outside this limit which give zest to social intercourse; while literal speech is so jejune and dull. Yet speech thus weighed may save from fearful complicity in evil.
in the expression of opinions. On many subjects on which the clear utterance of all who think soberly would be as efficient in demolishing the wrong and establishing the right as Joshua’s trumpet blast, good men pause to listen when they ought to speak, or speak ambiguously so that their words may seem to favour the winning side. Hence public opinion on subjects of prime importance is manufactured by those interested in the wrong. No moral force is so mighty as outspoken Christian opinion. It is a trust, therefore, for the common good, and should be used--
(2) In the expression of feeling. Silence or sincerity should be the alternative. Bad feeling ought not to be uttered, but while it rankles in the heart it ought not to be forced into hypocritical utterance. Let, the artifice which gives truth-like expression to the proper feelings we do not feel be exchanged into the endeavour to suppress in our hearts all we should blush to utter. But every genuine emotion demands and merits unconstrained expression. Admiration, enthusiasm, love of beauty, all kindly sympathies, by natural and hearty utterance gain strength, and bless those who speak and those who hear; while he who keeps right feelings under a perpetual restraint becomes the cold and passionless clod he tries to seem.
(1) The tongue is the chief instrument of and hindrance to charity. What is charity without it? It is only the very abject that can enjoy mere alms, and what is coldly or chidingly given starves and chills the soul while it feeds and warms the body: whereas there are words which bless even the poor more than gifts, by imparting inspiration and awakening hope.
(2) In ordinary social life, too, kind speech is demanded beyond all other forms of kindness. More unhappiness is caused through unkind speech than through all else combined. What beneficent agency can be compared with that of him or her in whose ears all scandal lies buried, and whose lips are hollowed for gentle ministries of encouragement and refinement.
(3) It is not enough that we pull up all roots of bitterness from the heart. There is not a little of unkind speech that is not meant to be so. The fibres of human feeling are tremulously sensitive to our unskilled touch.
4. Modesty. “In honour preferring one another” is a rule for conversation. The opinionativeness which always knows it is right and everybody else wrong; self-assertion, the ambition for effect barely tolerable in genius are disgusting in mediocrity. Mutual instruction and entertainment are the chief uses of conversation, and these ends are defeated when one assumes as his the right to be an oracle.
5. Reverence. When the tone of reverence is low, there is a vicious tendency to introduce sacred things to give raciness to an anecdote, or to point a jest. But when the natural track of conversation leads near the oracles of God, there should always be in our speech that which corresponds to the taking off of the shoes of our feet on holy ground.
II. Speech seasoned with salt, i.e., not insipid, as talk is that is only negatively good.
1. Its importance. It is frequently lack of salt that has brought religious conversation into disrepute. The more grace there is in the words the more salt do they need to make them palatable, and to render them worthy of themes so high. In the intercourse of daily life there is a willingness merely to fill up the time with a continuous flow of words, no matter with how little wit or sense or even freshness. But the Christian should regard the capacity for conversation as a talent to be employed for precious uses. More than anything else it makes home attractive, gives a charm to society, and counteracts, when well employed, the charm of vicious society.
2. Its cultivation. In order to talk well
(1) we must not enter into conversation lazily and listlessly. It is net thus that we engage in other recreations, the best of which are only varied employments.
(2) We need to train ourselves and should keep ourselves abreast of current topics, and so exercise our minds upon them that we may not reproduce the hackneyed commonplaces of the press and street.
(3) We need to read much and well with a view of being conversant with what everybody is ready to talk about, and to have our own speciality from which we can contribute to the common stock of knowledge.
(4) Then as to conversational power there is the widest difference between him who moves ever as in a blind study, and him who goes through life with his eyes and ears wide open. The incidents of a walk through crowded streets or country lanes, the treasured experiences of distant travel, the curious information gleaned from transient fellow-wayfarers, the contents of an old book may add largely to one’s materials for pleasant and appetising conversation.
(5) We must throw ourselves unreservedly into social intercourse instead of keeping up our own insulated trains of thought, listening by snatches, and answering at haphazard. If we want to meditate let it be in solitude. If we talk, that is our work for the time being, and let us put our best into it. If the theme be grave, let it have our ripest thoughts in well-weighted utterance; if gay, let us contribute what we can of mirth.
III. But with the salt never forget the grace. Not mere amusement is the Christian’s aim, but edification, i.e., building up the social edifice with its substantial foundation, frame, and walls of solid principle, with its firm fretwork and tracery that shall lack no element of beauty. There are occasions on which he must speak directly in defence of the truth and plead his blaster’s cause, and sometimes deal out rebuke. But there are more numerous occasions when, with a heart always loyal, he can serve the cause of virtue much more efficiently by talking on common subjects in a Christian way, and by dropping unostentatiously, ever and anon, a word in season that may be a seed-thought for a spiritual harvest. (A. P. Peabody, D. D.)
Christ’s truth in relation to our daily conversation
I. The large space which words occupy in human life.
1. On account of their number. Great part of human life is passed in talking. How many millions of words are uttered in the course of a long human life.
2. On account of their consequences. There are many things which are very easy to do, but the effects of which will last for ages. It is easy to sow an acorn, it is soon done; but the growth of the acorn is not soon done; it becomes an oak, which will defy the tempests of a thousand years. The conflagration of Chicago was very soon done.
II. The importance of special self-examination in reference to our words.
III. Earnest listening to the divine voices, the cure for vain speech and the source of gracious speech.
1. The cure for vain speech. St. James says, “Be ye swift to hear, slow to speak.”
2. The source of gracious speech.
IV. Our words are not to be all about religion, but to be pervaded by the spirit of religion.
V. Our conversation being thus seasoned, we shall know how we ought to answer every man. (R. Abercrombie, M. A.)
Speech seasoned with salt
That does not mean the “Attic salt of wit.” There is nothing more wearisome than the talk of men who are always trying to be piquant and brilliant. Such speech is like a “pillar of salt,” it sparkles, but is cold, and has points that wound, and it tastes bitter. That is not what Paul recommends.
I. Salt was used in sacrifice. Let the sacrificial salt be applied to all our words, i.e., let all we say be offered to God, “a sacrifice of praise to God continually.”
II. Salt preserves. Put into your speech what will keep it from rotting. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” Frivolous talk, dreary gossip, ill-natured, idle, to say nothing of foul and wicked words, will be silenced when your speech is seasoned with salt.
III. Salt gives savour to food. Do not deal in insipid generalities, but suit your words to your hearers, “that ye may know,” etc. Speech that fits close to the characteristics and wants of the people to whom it is spoken is sure to be interesting, but that which does not will for them be insipid. Commonplaces that hit full against the hearer will be no commonplaces to him, and the most brilliant words that do not meet his minds or needs will to him be tasteless “as the white of an egg.” Individual peculiarities, then, must determine the wise way of approach to each man, and there will be a wide variety of methods. Paul’s language to the wild hill tribes of Lycaonia was not the same as to the cultivated, curious crowd on Mars Hill, and his sermons in the synagogues have a different tone from his reasonings before Felix.
IV. Salt has to re rubbed in if it is to do any good. Preaching to a congregation has its own place and value; but private and personal talk, honestly and wisely done, will effect more than the most eloquent preaching. Better to drill the seeds, dropping them one by one into the little pits made for their reception, than to sow them broadcast. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Seasoning a letter
I have read of a lady who, writing to a young man in the navy, thought, “Shall I close this as anybody would, or shall I say a word for my Master?” and, lifting up her heart for a moment, she wrote, telling him that his constant change of scene and place was an apt illustration of the Word, “Here we have no continuing city,” and asked if he could say, “I seek one to come.” Trembling she folded it, and sent it off. Back came the answer: “Thank you so much for those kind words. I am an orphan, and no one has spoken to me like that since my mother died, long years ago.” The arrow, shot at venture, hit home, and the young man shortly after rejoiced in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of peace.
A word spoken in season
A clergyman sailing up the Hudson River in a sloop, some forty years since, was pained by the profaneness of a young man. Seeking a favourable opportunity, he told him he had wounded his feelings by speaking against his best friend--the Saviour. The young man showed no relentings, and at one of the landings left the boat. Seven years after, as this clergyman went to the General Assembly at Philadelphia, a young minister accosted him, saying he thought he remembered his countenance, and asked him if he was not on board a sloop on the Hudson River, seven years before, with a profane young man. “I,” said he, “am that young man. After I left the sloop I thought I had injured both you and your Saviour. I was led to Him for mercy, and I felt that I must preach His love to others. I am now in the ministry, and have come as a representative to this Assembly.” (British Workman.)
Do not mistake vinegar for oil, or pepper for salt. “Seasoned with salt.” Let it be tasteful and savoury. I read, quite lately, a most striking incident, showing the tower of grace seasoned with salt in speaking a timely word to one that was without. An officer in your army was led to help a lady who was an earnest worker among soldiers. One evening, after helping at a soldiers’ tea, he came to her, evidently much excited, and said, “I have almost made up my mind that I will never come here again.” She expressed, of course, her regret, and asked what had happened. “Oh, So-and-so has been at me about coming here as I do, and being such a card-player as I am. But I can’t give up my cards; that I shall never do.” “Oh,” said the lady, “I am sorry that you have been spoken to in that way. You can’t give up your cards. I should never ask you to do that. Why, it is all you have got. You must have something.” Well, that was “grace seasoned with salt,” for it brought him to himself. He saw that if that card-playing was taken from him he had nothing left; and he had no rest until the love of Jesus had delivered him from the love of the world. (A. Monod, D. D.)
A turn in the talk
I shall never forget the way a thirsty individual once begged of me on Clapham Common. I saw him with a very large truck in which he was carrying a very small parcel, and I wondered why he had not put the parcel in his pocket and left the machine at home. I said, “It looks odd to see so large a truck for so small a load.” He stopped, and, looking me seriously in the face, he said, “Yes, sir, it is a very odd thing; but do you know I have met with an odder thing than that this very day. I have been about working and sweating all this ‘ere blessed day, and till now I haven’t met a single gentleman that looked as if he’d give me a pint of beer till I saw you.” I considered that turn in the conversation very neatly managed; and we, with a far better subject upon our minds, ought to be equally able to introduce the topic on which our heart is set. There was an ease in the man’s manner which I envied, for I did not find it quite so simple a matter to introduce my own topic to his notice; yet if I had been thinking as much about how I could do him good as he had upon how to obtain a drink, I feel sure I should have succeeded in reaching my point. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wise words spoken in reason
Travelling by diligence from Geneva to Dole with a Roman Catholic, I said to him, simply, “I should like to speak to you about your soul, but I don’t know how to go about it.” “Well, sir, go on,” said the man, heartily. I continued, or rather we continued, and, on leaving him, I had the happiness of hearing him thank God for having made some one speak to him of salvation, and he begged me to send him a Bible. In general, I have found that if one commences a conversation of this kind with kindness and politeness, one will be always listened to. This is, besides, the only way to succeed. (C. Malan.)
Religion in conversation
“What awakened you?” said a Christian minister on one occasion to a young friend. “It was what you said to me one evening coming out of the lecture-room. As you took me by the hand, you said, ‘Mary, one thing is needful. You said nothing else, and passed on; but I could not forget it.’” It was a word spoken in the Spirit, and the Lord accompanied it with saving power. The sculptor, Bacon, being an earnest Christian, used to seek opportunities of introducing religion into his conversation. On one of these occasions, the lady he addressed, said, “As to that, my religion is to fear God, and keep His commandments; so we will talk no more on such matters.” Bacon replied, ‘“But, madam, you will recollect it is said, ‘they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’” (J. F. B. Tinling.)
All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you.
Christian commendations and salutations
“What is in a name!” Nothing, is the ordinary reply, but there may be much. The names of Solomon, Alexander, Napoleon, and Paul are associated with important events in history. Each is a record, and stirs up admiration, desire, dislike, or sorrow as the case may be. If the names of great men interest us, those of the good men who shared the labours of St. Paul may also do so. Those labours are more important than the conquests of captains and the speculations of philosophers. Note--
I. The value of Christian friendship. True friendship will--
1. Show a kindly interest in the welfare of its objects. Paul had such an interest in the Colossians and vice versa.
2. Mutual interest will lead to reciprocal communications. Paul could not go to Colossae so he sent Tychicus and Onesimus to inform them of himself and the affairs of Christ’s kingdom, to comfort them and bring back a report.
3. Distance and difficulty will not be allowed to stand in the way. Colossae was far off and Paul was in prison, but both were surmounted.
4. Written messages will not be allowed to supersede personal communications when the latter are practicable. So Paul sent his Epistle by trusted friends who were charged also with verbal communications, better spoken than written,
II. The propriety of Christian commendations. In naming the two messengers he speaks of them in high terms, but not in the style of fulsome eulogy.
1. Tychicus is
(1) “a beloved brother” which indicates his relation to the Church.
(2) “Faithful minister,” or attendant, which indicates his relation to the Apostle as a trusty helper.
(3) “Fellow servant in the Lord,” which indicates his relation to Christ--a coadjutor of the apostle in the service of the same Master.
2. Onesimus, the whilom runaway slave, is now a faithful and beloved brother a commendation which would secure for him the welcome that he sorely needed.
3. The spirit of this commendation should be cultivated. The true ground of honour is not in a man’s social standing, but in his moral worth and relation to Christ.
III. The force of Christian salutations.
1. Christianity sanctifies the commonest things. How common for us to send our respects to some friend through the letter of another. “Give him my kind regards,” etc. We have only to think of St. Paul as here using the expressions equivalent in his day. Little did these good men think that their simple expressions of affection would be handed down to prove the sympathy and the unity of the Church throughout the world and time.
2. The saluting brethren were Jews, which would show to the Gentile Church that they had learned what the apostle would teach them, not to call anything that God had cleansed common or unclean.
IV. The solace of christian co-operation.
1. Loneliness is very depressing, but the apostle was spared this.
2. Co-operation in labour divides its burden and ensures success.
3. Unity in Christian toil brings the greatest in touch with the humblest, and gives the humblest a share in the glory of the greatest. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Side lights on Church life in the early times
A straw will indicate the direction of a current; a bit of glass will reveal a star; a kick of the foot may discover a treasure; a word, a look, an involuntary movement will disclose the leading tendency of an individual character; so, on the crowded stage of life it is not always gigantic and public scenes that are most instructive, but rather trivial, undesigned incidents unnoticed by an ordinary observer. We learn--
I. Christian sympathy.
1. As fostering mutual interest in tidings concerning the work of God. The apostle, though in prison and separated from the Colossians, does not abate anything of his interest in their welfare.
2. As a source of encouragement and strength in the Christian life. “That he might know your estate and comfort your heart.”
II. Christian commendation (verse 7)
. The apostle speaks of his two messengers in a way calculated to ensure their favourable reception by the Colossians, and a respectful attention to their message.
III. Christian courtesy. Those who sent their salutations were of the circumcision. The Christian spirit triumphed over their prejudices, and their greeting would be all the more valued as an expression of their personal esteem, their brotherly affection, and their oneness in Christ. That courtesy is most refined, graceful, gentle, and acceptable that springs from a Christian spirit.
IV. Christian helpfulness (verse 11). How consoling is the sympathy and co-operation of a faithful few. (G. Barlow.)
The sympathetic spirit.
I. Out of a common faith in Christ springs a common sympathy. Here is a man who never saw the Colossians writing to them as a mother might write to her son. Epaphras, not he, had brought them to Christ, yet he loves them as much as though they had been his own children in the faith. This arose out of the simple fact that they both believed in a common Saviour. And as it was with them it should be with us. Man is a social being, and there are many points in his nature which are sympathetic. There are intellectual affinities and moral affinities; besides which there are extra grounds of sympathy. But apart from blood relationships there is no sphere in which the sympathetic spirit works so mightily as in the Christian Church. The same faith incites us believers of the nineteenth century as incited those of the first. Our faith was theirs: their sympathy should be ours.
II. Christian sympathy will seek and find outlet and manifestation.
1. Paul’s heart is touched with sympathy; how can he show it. He is a prisoner. It is true he clings to the hope of revisiting Asia, but sympathy does not like delays. And as he cannot go himself he sends Tychicus as his deputy. Here, as in other things, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
2. Where there is genuine sympathy the best way for its manifestation will somehow open up. That was the ease here. Tychicus was an Asiatic (Acts 20:4)
, and was therefore a convenient messenger. Perhaps he had offered himself for the mission. And besides, Onesimus had to go to Colossae to his master.
III. Christian sympathy is hard to satisfy. When it is at full heat it does not ask how little, but how much it may do. The letter itself indicates the deepest thought and care for their welfare; but this is not enough. Tychicus and Onesimus must be bearers of oral messages of comfort. You manifest sympathy as you run down a steep hill. When once you set off you must go on; only there is this difference, when the foot of the hill is reached you stop, but in the path of love there is no stopping.
IV. The sympathetic spirit will as a rule act wisely. The messenger in this case was the best who could have been selected.
1. He was “the beloved brother” (Ephesians 6:21); a brother who had a large heart, and who, consequently, had insinuated himself into the good graces of his fellow Christians. He was a favourite among them, they all liked him, and so he was just the man to send.
2. He was “a faithful minister.” The apostle speaks from personal experience. Tychicus had taken care of Paul, and was therefore a tried man. His conscience was as largo as his heart; his kindness was not at the expense of his justice. Faithfulness was needed at Colossae as much as kindness, her Paul had a great conflict about that Church.
3. “A fellow servant.” Whoever went to Colossae must be armed with authority, and therefore Paul places the messenger on the same footing as himself.
V. The sympathetic spirit is both contagious and infectious. Some things are contagious which are not infectious; sympathy is both. Tychicus and Onesimus caught it; it was conveyed to the distant Colossians. I can touch my neighbour and make him sympathetic too, i.e., if there be any affinity between us; and I can also send its electric current to my friend thousands of miles away. It can be transmitted by the simplest implement--a pen.
VI. The sympathetic spirit never fails. It is a form of charity. It is like the sun--only let it shine on, and as it shines stronger and stronger, the hard frost will relax its deadly grasp, winter will disappear, and spring with its flowers and music will come.
VII. We can all acquire the sympathetic spirit. There is nothing to show that Tychicus was a great man. He was not an apostle, but he had a large warm heart. If we cannot render Christ head service we can heart service. (A. Scott.)
Tychicus and Onesimus, the letter bearers
1. The man and his mission. He was probably one of the fruits of the apostle’s residence in Ephesus. On his way to Jerusalem after the riot he was joined by seven friends. Tychicus was one of the two from Asia; the other was Trophinius, whom we know to have been an Ephesian (Acts 21:29), as Tychicus probably was. This was about 58 A.D. Then came an interval of three or four years, and then the apostle is in Rome. Whether Tychicus was with him all the time we do not know, but these verses, written a.d. 62 or 63, imply a considerable period of service. He is now sent to Colossae. The same words are employed about him in the contemporaneous letter to the Ephesians. Evidently, then, he carried both letters on the same journey, and one reason was that he was a native of the province, and probably of Ephesus. “You go, Tychicus. It is your home; they all know you.” The most careful students now think that the Ephesian Epistle was meant to go the round of the Churches of Asia Minor, beginning with Ephesus. If that be so Tychicus would necessarily come to Laodicea, which was only a few miles from Colossae, and so could conveniently deliver this Epistle. After this we get two more glimpses of the man; one in the Epistle to Titus, when the apostle intended to despatch him to Crete, and the last in 2 Timothy 4:2 (a.d. 67). “Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus,” as if he had said, “Now go home, my friend! You have been a faithful servant for ten years. I need you no more. Take my blessing. God be with you!” So they parted--he that was for death to die I and he that was for life, to live and treasure the memory of Paul for the rest of his days.
2. His character and work.
(1) As for his personal godliness and goodness, he is “a beloved brother,” as are all who love Christ.
(2) He was “a faithful minister” or personal attendant. Paul always seems to have had one or two such about him. Probably he was no great hand at managing affairs, and needed a plain common-sense nature to act as secretary and factotum. Men of genius, and men devoted to some great cause, want some person to fill such a homely office. Common sense, willingness to be troubled with small secular details, and hearty love for the chief, and desire to spare him, were the qualifications. Such probably was Tychicus--no orator, thinker, organizer, but a plain soul who did not shrink from rough work if it would help the cause.
(3) He was “a fellow-servant in the Lord.” As if he had said, “Do not suppose there is much difference between us. We have both, as I have been reminding you, a common Master.” The delicacy of the term thus given to the commendation is a beautiful indication of Paul’s chivalrous nature. No wonder that such a soul bound men like Tychicus to him.
(1) Small things done for Christ are great. In some powerful engine there is a little screw, and if it drop out the huge piston cannot rise nor the huge crank turn. There is a great rudder that steers an ironclad. It moves on a “pintle” a few inches long. If that bit of iron were gone what would be the use of the ship. There is an old jingle about losing a shoe for the want of a nail, a horse for want of a shoe, a man for want of a horse, a battle for want of a man, a kingdom for loss of a battle. The intervening links may be left out--and the nail and the kingdom brought together. What is the use of writing letters if you cannot get them delivered? It takes both Paul and Tychicus to get the letter into the hands of the Colossians.
(2) The sacredness of secular work done for Christ. When Tychicus is caring for Paul, his work is “in the Lord.” The distinction between sacred and secular, like that of great and small, disappears from work done for and in Jesus. All done for the same God is the same in essence, for it is all worship.
(3) Fleeting things done for Christ are eternal. How astonished Tychicus would have been if anybody had told him that those two precious letters in his scrip would outlast all the pomp of the city, and that his name, because written in them, would be known to the end of time all over the world.
(a) They are eternal in Christ’s memory, however they may fall from man’s remembrance.
(b) They are perpetual in their consequences.
True, no man’s contribution to the sum of righteousness can very long be traced, any more than the rain-drop that refreshed the harebell can be traced in a burn, or river, or sea; but it is there. The Colossian Church, with its sisters, is gone; but Christian men all over the world owe something to Tychicus’ care. Paul meant to teach a handful of obscure believers; he has edified a world.
(4) As the reward is given not to the outward deed, but to the motive which settles its value, all work done from the same motive is alike in reward, however different in form. Paul in the front, Tychicus in the rear, shall share alike at last. “He that receiveth a prophet,” etc.
1. The man and his character. He is the same as we read of in Philemon. He had been a good-for-nothing servant, and apparently had robbed his master and then fled to Rome. Somehow or other he had found Paul, and Paul’s master had found him. And now he goes back to his owner. With beautiful considerateness the apostle unites him with Tychicus, and refers the Church to him as an authority. But with sensitive regard he omits the “fellow-slave,” which might have hurt, but he cannot leave out the “faithful,” because Onesimus had been eminently unfaithful. There is no reference to his flight, etc. The Church has nothing to do with these, only Philemon.
(1) The transforming power of Christianity. Slaves had well-known vices of which Onesimus had his full share. Think of him as he left Colossae; and think of him as he went back Paul’s trusted representative. What had happened? Nothing but this--the message had come to Him. “Onesimus! Christ has died for thee and lives to bless thee. Believest thou this?” And he believed. It had changed his whole being, He is a living illustration of Paul’s teaching, lie is dead with Christ to his old self; he lives with Christ a new life. The gospel can do that. Nothing else can. The gospel despairs of none; none are beyond its power.
(2) The power the gospel has of binding men into a true brotherhood. We can scarcely picture to ourselves the gulf which separated master from slave; Christianity gathered both into one family. All true union must be based on oneness in Christ. The world must recognize that “One is your Master,” before it comes to believe that “All ye are brethren.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
was a native of proconsular Asia (Acts 20:4)
, and perhaps of Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12). He is found with St. Paul at three different epochs in his life.
1. He accompanied him when on his way east ward at the close of the third missionary journey, a.d. 58 (Acts 20:4), and probably, like Trophimus (Acts 21:29), went with him to Jerusalem. It is probable that Tychicus, together with others mentioned among Paul’s numerous retinue on this occasion, was a delegate appointed by his own Church according to the apostle’s injunctions (1 Corinthians 16:3-4), to bear the contributions of his brethren to the poor Christians of Judaea; and, if so, he may possibly be the person commended as “the brother,” etc. (2 Corinthians 8:18).
2. We find Tychicus again in St. Paul’s company here, probably towards the end of the first Roman captivity, a.d. 62, 63.
8. Once more at the close of St. Paul’s life (about a.d. 671 he appears again to have associated himself with the apostle (Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12). Tychicus is not so common a name as some others, but it is found occasionally in inscriptions which belong to Asia Minor, and persons bearing it are commemorated on coins. (Bp. Lightfoot.)
Value of a comforter
But so have I seen the sun kiss the frozen earth, which was bound up with the images of death, and the colder breath of the north; and then the waters break from their enclosures, and melt with joy, and run in useful channels; and the flies do rise again from their little graves in walls, and dance a while in the air, to tell that there is joy within, and that the great Mother of creatures will open the stock of her new refreshment, become useful to mankind, and sing praises to her Redeemer. So is the heart of a sorrowful man under the discourses of a wise comforter. He breaks from the despairs of the grave, and the fetters and chains of sorrow; he blesses God, and he blesses thee, and he feels his life returning; for to be miserable is death, but nothing is life but to be comforted. And God is pleased with no music from below so much as in the thanksgiving songs of relieved widows, of supported orphans, of rejoicing and comforted and thankful persons. (Bp. Taylor.)
With Onesimus a faithful and beloved brother who is one of you.
I. The person. Onesimus teaches us--
1. To despise no one for his former misdeeds after he has come to his right mind. This Onesimus was once contemptible, useless, and a runaway slave, but after his conversion he was thought worthy by the chiefest apostle of a mission of great honour. They therefore sin grievously who reproach the truly converted for their former evils, than to congratulate them on their new nature. God estimates men not by what they have put off, but by what they have put on (Ezekiel 18:22).
II. His commendation.
1. He is a faithful brother, i.e., not only a Christian, but a genuine one; for many who have assumed the name have denied the thing (Galatians 2:4; 2 Timothy 3:2-4). Hence we may observe--
(1) We should endeavour to answer to our name and profession; for to be called a Christian, faithful, etc., and not be so, is to be loaded with false titles and dishonourable (Revelation 3:1).
(2) They are to be loved by all the pious, and to be embraced with both arms who are faithful in their Christian profession and special vocation.
(3) Nothing is more dangerous than those perfidious brethren who feign religion while they despise it (2 Corinthians 11:26).
2. He was loved warmly by Paul, who was not accustomed to receive any into intimate friendship except they were worthy, Therefore the apostle wished them to infer that Onesimus deserved to be beloved by them.
(1) It is a sign of a good Christian to be dear to his pastor.
(2) It becomes a prudent minister to embrace the most pious with peculiar affection (Philippians 4:1).
(3) It ought to be the care of all believers to be beloved by their pastors.
3. He was one of themselves. Although this was not much in his praise, it made him acceptable, for what is our own is wont to be prized more than what is not.
(1) It is proper to treat, then, with peculiar affection those who are of the same blood, country, society, as ourselves.
(2) It is contemptible to neglect our own, and to extol the distant at the expense of the near (Mar 13:57).
III. His mission. To make known what was going on with the apostle and at Rome. Tychicus was also entrusted with the same, but in adding Onesimus he provided two witnesses that the thing might be established. (Bishop Davenant.)
was a native, or certainly an inhabitant, of Colossi, since Paul refers to him as “one of you.” This confirms the presumption which his name affords that he was a Gentile. Slaves were numerous in Phrygia, and the very name Phrygian was almost synonymous with that of slave. Hence it happened that in writing to the Colossians (Colossians 3:22-25; Colossians 4:1)
Paul had to instruct them concerning the duties of servants and masters towards each other. Onesimus was one of this unfortunate class of persons, who escaped from his master and fled to Rome, where in the midst of its vast population he could hope to be concealed, and to baffle the efforts which were so often made in such cases for retaking the fugitive. Whether he had any other motive for the flight than the natural love of liberty we have not the means of deciding. It has been generally supposed that he had committed some offence, as theft or embezzlement, and feared the punishment of his guilt (Philemon 1:18). Though it may be doubted whether Onesimus heard the gospel for the first time in Rome, it is beyond question that he was led to embrace the gospel there through the apostle’s instrumentality (Philemon 1:10). As there were believers in Phrygia when the apostle passed through the region on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23), and as Onesimus belonged to a Christian household (Philemon 1:2), it is not improbable that he knew something of Christian doctrine before he went to Rome. How long a time elapsed between his escape and his conversion we cannot decide. After the latter event, however, the most happy and friendly relations sprang up between the teacher and the disciple. The situation of the apostle must have made him keenly alive to the sympathies of Christian friendship, and dependent upon others for various services. Onesimus appears to have supplied this want in an eminent degree. He won entirely the apostle’s heart, and made himself so useful that Paul wished to keep him, and yielded him up only in obedience to that sensitive regard for the feelings and rights of others of which his conduct on this occasion was a conspicuous example. The traditional notices of Onesimus are not of great value. Some of the later fathers assert that Onesimus was set free and became Bishop of Beroea, and that he made his way to Rome again and died a martyr under Nero. (H. B. Hackett, D. D.)
The excellence of faithfulness
A year ago last summer I visited Yellowstone Park. I had read a great deal of the geysers, and seen pictures of them, but now it was my privilege to see them rise grandly and proudly in dizzy heights, then fall in graceful spray. They had great names given them. Some were called “The Wonderful,” “The Monarch,” others “The Lion” and “The Lioness,” but you never can depend on their regularity of action. A traveller may visit them and wait around four or five days without witnessing a performance, getting only labour for his pains, though you cannot tell when they will play. When they do they are very beautiful. But there is one geyser, named the “Old Faithful,” that is not so large, and doesn’t make such a grand display, but you can always depend on it. It plays at certain times, and never fails. If you are there at 1 o’clock, or five minutes before, you will see the water shoot up at a height of 60 or 70 feet. At 1:55 it will play again, not rising at such height as the other geysers, nor making such a roaring noise, but you can depend on it. It always comes to time, and never fails in a performance. I at once respected that geyser. It was faithful in its performance and sure. That is the key to a successful life. (A. Little.)
Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner, saluteth you.
I. The duty of salutation. The Greek word signifies either to embrace, as we are accustomed to do one who has been long absent, or to salute by word of mouth or letter. This salutation is the auspicious prayer of health and happiness from God the Author of all good. That this duty is not to be neglected by the Christian appears--
1. From the command of Christ (Matthew 10:12).
2. From the uniform example of St. Paul.
3. From its manifold utility. For such a habit
(1) not only expresses the mutual happiness which ought to flourish among Christians, but promotes it.
(2) When flowing from a heart purified by faith and inflamed by love, brings down the wished-for blessing.
II. Inferences and lessons. Observe--
1. That the external duties of humanity, of which salutation is one, are diligently to be performed by pious men. Augustine says, “If any one should not salute him whom he may meet, he will not be accounted a man by the traveller, but a post.”
2. That they are to be performed not only in conformity with custom, but from love and pure charity. For he incurs the guilt of hypocrisy who salutes him whom he does not wish health and prosperity. So Judas saluted Christ (Matthew 26:49).
3. That they sin who would have this duty of Christian charity to serve their pride and ambition. So the Pharisees loved salutations in the market places.
4. That they act basely who instead of saluting perform an act of adulation. (Bishop Davenant.)
was a Thessalonian, and so perhaps one of Paul’s early European converts (Acts 20:4)
. He was a Jew, but like so many of his brethren of the dispersion, bore a Greek name. He was with Paul in Ephesus at the time of the riot, and was one of the two whom the excited mob dragged into the theatre to the peril of their lives. We next find him a member of the deputation which joined Paul on his voyage to Jerusalem. He was in Palestine with Paul, and sailed with him thence (Acts 27:2). Probably he went home to Thessalonica at some point of the journey, rejoining Paul subsequently. At any rate, here he is standing by Paul and enthusiastically devoted to his work. He receives here an honourable and remarkable title, “my fellow-prisoner.” Now it is to be noted that in the Epistle to Philemon, where almost all these names reappear, it is not Aristarchus but Epaphras who is honoured by this epithet, and that interchange has been explained by a supposition that Paul’s friends took it in turn to keep him company, and were allowed to live with him on condition of submitting to the same restrictions and military guardianship. There is no positive evidence in favour of this, but it is not improbable, and helps to give an interesting glimpse of Paul’s prison life, and of the loyal devotion which surrounded him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Marcus--the John Mark of the Acts. He was once the subject of a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas, which issued in the separation of these good men (Acts 15:37-39)
. On a missionary tour previous to that painful occasion, Mark had left them, perhaps unhandsomely (Acts 13:13); and Paul, to indicate his sense of Mark’s conduct, refused to take him with them on a subsequent occasion. Barnabas, being a near kinsman, may have been prejudiced in favour of his relative. What were the commands regarding him which the Colossians had already received it is in vain for us to conjecture. Mark evidently contemplated a journey which would lead him to Colossae, and the Colossians are here enjoined to give him a cordial reception. The apostle thereby intimates the restoration of Mark to his full confidence. The cloud under which his character for zeal had lain seems to have quite passed away. A single error, even in one engaged in the public ministry, is not enough to warrant the entire withdrawal of confidence. But why this mention of Mark in relation to a Church with which he had no special connection? It was at Perga in Pamphylia that Mark left the apostle, and as Colossae was not far away from the sphere of the subsequent labours of the missionaries, Mark’s defection and Paul’s displeasure could not fail to be generally known. It was beautiful and proper, therefore, that having in the interval seen reason to receive Mark again into favour, the apostle should make this change known, and give the Churches of Phrygia a charge to receive him with due confidence and cordiality as a faithful evangelist for Christ. (J. Spence, D. D.)
Jesus which is called Justus.
How startling to come across that name borne by this obscure Christian! How it helps us to feel the humble manhood of Christ, by showing us that many another Jewish boy bore the same name: common and undistinguished then, though too holy to be given to any since. His surname Justus, may perhaps, like the same name given to James, hint his rigorous adherence to Judaism, and so may indicate that like Paul himself, he came from the straitest sect of their religion into the large liberty in which he now rejoiced. He seems to have been of no importance in the Church, for his name is the only one in this context which does not re-appear in Philemon, and we never hear of him again. A strange fate his! to be made immortal by three words, and because he wanted to send a loving message to Colossae! Why men have striven and schemed and broken their hearts, and flung away their lives to grasp the bubble of posthumous fame; and how easily this good “Jesus which is called Justus” has got it! He has his name written for ever on the world’s memory, and he very likely never knew it, and does not know it, and was never a bit the better for it! “What a satire on “the last infirmity of noble minds!” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Who are of the circumcision.--These three men, the only three Jewish Christians in Rome who had the least sympathy with Paul and his work, give us in their isolation a vivid illustration of the antagonism which he had to face from that portion of the Early Church. The bulk of the Palistinian Jewish Christians held that the Gentiles must pass through Judaism on their road to Christianity, and as the champion of Gentile liberty Paul was worried and hindered by them all his life. They had next to no missionary zeal, but they followed him and made mischief wherever they could. If we can fancy some modern sect that sends out no missionaries of its own, but delights to come in where better men have forced a passage, and upset their work by preaching their own crotchets, we get precisely the thing which dogged St. Paul. There was evidently a considerable body of these men in Rome. They preached Christ of “envy and strife,” and only these three were large-hearted enough to take their stand by his side. It was a brave thing to do. Only those who have lived in an atmosphere of misconstruc tion can understand what a cordial the clasp of a hand or the word of sympathy is. These men were like the old soldier who clapped Luther on the shoulder on his way to the Diet of Worms with “Little monk! little monk! you are about to make a nobler stand to-day than we in all our battles have ever done. If your cause is just, and you are sure of it, go forward in God’s name, and fear nothing.” But the best comfort Paul could have was help in his work. He did not go about the world whimpering for sympathy. He was much too strong a man for that. He wanted men to come down into the trench with him, and shovel and wheel there till they had made in the desert a highway for the King. This is what these men did, and so were a comfort to him. He uses a half medical term, which, perhaps, he had caught from the physician at his elbow, which we might perhaps parallel by saying they had been a cordial to him--like a refreshing draught to a weary man, or some whiff of pure air stealing into a close chamber and lifting the curls from some hot brow. The true cordial for a true worker is that others get into the traces and pull by his side. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Co-operation in work for Christ
Jesus sent out His disciples by twos, for He knew that each would cheer his fellow. Service is usually best in companionships: he who works altogether alone will be in his temper either too high or too low, censorious or desponding. Two are better far than one; they not only accomplish twice the work, as we might have expected, but they frequently multiply their power seven times by their co operation. Happy are those wedded souls whose life of love to their Lord and one another is like the cluster on the staff, which they joyfully bear along! Happy those Christian companions who share each other’s joys and sorrows, and so pass onward to the skies knit together as one man. Communication enriches, reticence impoverishes. Communion is strength, solitude is weakness. Alone, the fine old beech yields to the blast, and lies prone upon the sward; in the forest, supporting each other, the trees laugh at the hurricane. The sheep of Jesus flock together; the social element is the genius of Christianity. To find a brother is to find a pearl of great price; to retain a friend is to treasure up the purest gold. Between two upon a staff we find happiness. The monastic or hermit death-life is not our Master’s beau ideal, but holy companionship is His chosen means for affording us help in service and advance in joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The power of combination
The house martin (Chelidon urbica)
, our common summer visitor to all parts of Europe, seems quite to understand that combination is strength. These birds possess some sort of intelligence with each other which enables them to combine their efforts to effect some desired purpose. Dupont de Nemours says--“I once saw a martin which had unfortunately, I know not how, caught its foot in the running knot of a thread, the other end of which was attached to a gutter of the College des Quatre Nations. Its strength being exhausted, it hung and cried at the end of the thread, which it raised sometimes by trying to fly away. All the martins of the great basin between the bridge of the Tuilleries and the Pont Neuf, and perhaps from a still greater distance, collected to the number of several thousands. They formed a cloud, all emitting cries of alarm and pity. After much hesitation and a tumultuous consultation, one of them invented a mode of delivering their companion, made the others understand it, and commenced its execution. All those that were within reach came in turn, as if running at the ring, and gave a peck to the thread in passing. These blows, all directed upon the same point, succeeded each other every second, or even still more frequently. Half an hour of this work was sufficient to cut through the thread, and set the captive at liberty.” No union of men for a common purpose could more completely illustrate the truth that combination is strength. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Valise of a faithful friend
One of the company despatched a servant for a lute, and on its being brought it had lost tune, as happens to these instruments when exposed to the changes of the atmosphere. While he was tightening the strings, Gotthold’s thoughts ran thus, “What is sweeter than a well-tuned lute, and what more delightful than a faithful friend who can cheer us in sorrow with affectionate discourse? Nothing, however, is sooner untuned than a late, and nothing is more fickle than a friend. The tone of the one changes with the weather, that of the other with fortune. With a clear sky and a bright sun you will have friends in plenty; but let fortune frown and the firmament be overcast, then they will prove like the strings of’ the lute, of which you tighten ten before you find one which will bear the tension or keep the pitch.”
How Christians may comfort others
When this church was being built I became acquainted with one of the carpenters--a plain man--who worked upon it, and I had many chats with him afterwards. That day, being a Christian (sometimes I am not one)
, when I met him, as he came down the street, I stopped and spoke to him, and shook hands with him. And giving me, as I noticed, a peculiar look, and keeping hold of my hand, he said, “Now, sir, you do not know how much good this does me.” “What?” said
I. “Well, your speaking to me and shaking hands with me.” Said he, “I shall go home to-night, and say to my wife, ‘I met Mr. Beecher to-day:’ Ah! ‘she will say, ‘what did he say?’ and the children will look up too. And I will tell them, ‘He stopped me and shook hands with me, and asked if I was getting along well:And they will talk about that for a week. You have no idea how much good it does a plain man to be noticed, and to be made to feel that he is not a nobody.” (H. W. Beecher. )
Epaphras, who is one of you.
The sympathy of Christianity
1. If you think of Christianity as a great thought, a transcendental doctrine, a grand conception, you are right; and if you think the preacher is called upon to speak the language of earth in she accent of heaven and expound celestial mysteries, you are right. But this is not all. A man who would describe the present scene as all firmament would be wrong; but a man who omitted the firmament from a landscape would be a fool. It is the sky in a landscape painting that often first attracts attention. There could be no landscape were there no sky. So with this great Christian truth: it is firmamental, but it is the sky out of which our landscape comes--the immeasurable, out of which our units and definite lines are given to us. Christianity is not only the highest metaphysic, it is the most absolute practical teaching and sympathy.
2. What have these personal salutations to do in the Bible? When the apostle began this great letter, he seemed to strike a grand key, and to call the universe to hear. He speaks of One who is the “image of the invisible God,” etc. That is grand music. Let that organ roll out its rythmic thunders, and while they charm us make us solemn; but here at the end he begins to talk about Aristarchus, etc. Is he out of tune at last? Does the anthem die off into a mean piping, or is there still sweet music in it, encompassing, not shaking, the high heavens, but making the household glad, filling every room of it with sacred glee.
3. The more Christianity is understood the more will manhood go up in value. Christianity takes us all in charge--women, poor people, the sick. It goes to the merchant and says: “I have seen to-day many poor, sick ones, who want kindly treatment and practical sympathy, and you must give it”. Any religion that talks so about men and to men is presumptively a true religion. Christianity has a message from every-man to every other man.
I. “Epaphras, who is one of you.”
1. Being a native of Colossae he carries it in his heart to Rome. The idea of the Church is domestic. We do not realize that. Our idea of it is approximation without identity, proximity without sympathy, a hebdomadal meeting and a week-long parting, a cold “ how do? “ without answer being waited for. The poor, simple soul thought you meant it, and was just about to ten you how be did when you jumped into your chariot and drove off. Christ’s idea was that of a house, and Paul that of a family--“in whom the whole family,” etc. See how these Christians love one another. They have a great respect for one another, a marvellous respect, an official respect; but the old apostolic unity and downright warm love--where is it? And echo answers where?
2. “One of you,” though not at home. We think that going from home deprives a man of his proper belongings in the Church. A young man leaves us and goes to New Zealand. Is he no longer one of us? The poor lad’s heart ached when the “good-bye” was forced out of him; but now that he is fifteen thousand miles away we say, “He once belonged to us.” We want a warmer language and a more affectionate fellowship in God. How large a Church would be if we interpreted its membership in this way, that a man who is in a far-off city is still one of us, and still claims us, wonders what hymns we are singing, and what the text is. We are in danger of degrading the church into a meeting-house, a place of casual association, and of cutting off all those fine living bonds which ought to be independent of time and place, which make Rome Colossae and Colossae Rome, every land a home, and every Christian a brother.
II. A servant of Christ.
1. Are you fond of titles? This is the one the King will give you. It is select, and yet might be universal. Let the noblest envy you. Other titles are sounds, sometimes sounds and fury, signifying nothing. But this signifies to be the slave of Him “who though He was rich,” etc.
2. What are the signs by which a servant of Christ is known? Those who are skilled in such things can go through a picture gallery and say, “This picture is after So-and-so.” There is a manner that can be but feebly imitated by the most skilful hands. So you cannot mistake a man who has been with Christ. In the early days there were those who took knowledge of disciples that they had been with Jesus. You have been in a garden of spices; I know it; you bring the fragrance with you. You have seen some solemn sight; I know it; vulgarity is ironed out of your face, and it is transfigured. You have heard strange music, and all the meaner elements have been taken out of you. You have been with Christ, and I know it by the tenderness and simplicity of your speech, by the diligence of your service, by the lavishness of your liberality.
III. “saluteth you.” That would not do now. I get letters from Christian friends that I would not send to a day labourer whom I had never seen in my life before. They are too correct to be true, too proper to be good.
IV. “Always labouring fervently for you in prayer.”
1. I do not know that Epaphras was an eloquent preacher, but he was mighty in intercession. He threw his arms around his native Church, and toiled in prayer for them till his brow was bedewed as with agony, and his whole face lighted up with saintly expectation that he might see the descending blessing. That I can do for my friends. I may not be able to write elaborate letters, but I can pray for them. That you can do for me.
2. What did Epaphras pray for? “That ye may stand perfect--like a ship in full gale.” Let that be my posture; no harsh, bitter wind striking me in the face, and making my sea-faring difficult, but a great favouring gale, bearing me onward, all sail set, towards the will of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The ministry of Epaphras
I. His object: that the Colossians might “stand perfect,” etc. The will of God has reference--
1. To our perfection in the knowledge of revealed truth. The Bible is a revelation of God’s will with respect to us, and is able to make us wise unto salvation. Why has God put it before us but that we should study it. Our Lord reproved His disciples because of their want of due attention to His teaching, and the Hebrews are rebuked for their want of proficiency, and are exhorted to go on to perfection. This perfect knowledge is necessary--
(1) To religious usefulness.
(2) To progressive and entire sanctification. “Sanctify them through Thy truth.”
2. To our salvation from sin. This must be complete before we can enter heaven; but provision is made in the blood “which cleanseth from all sin,” and in the grace of the Spirit who “sanctifies wholly.”
3. To the graces of the Spirit.
(1) Faith. This admits of degrees. There is the weak faith of “babes”; the strong faith of “young men”; the ripe faith of “fathers,” when it is perfect.
(2) Love. This admits of degrees. I may have a sincere love for God, and yet not love Him “with all my heart”; a sincere love of man, and yet not as myself. But the love set forth in Scripture is “perfect love.”
(3) Hope. All Christians have this, but not all in an equal degree. It is not every believer who can say with John, “Even so; come, Lord Jesus.” That is, however, the “full assurance of hope” for which we should all strive.
(4) The passive graces, such as patience, which is to “have her perfect work that ye may be perfect,” etc.
4. To our actual conduct in the world. Christ’s religion is a practical religion (Titus 2:11-12), and is to assume a perfect form (Hebrews 13:20-21). To bring up His people to this standard God has said, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
5. To our stability and perseverance. Epaphras is anxious not only that the Colossians should be perfect in their conformity to the Divine will, but that they should “stand” in that state to the end of life. It is the end which crowns the work. It is not he who runs well for a season, but he who continues to the end, to whom the promise of life is given.
II. The means of securing this object--Prayer. From this we learn--
1. That Christians can only be brought to this high standard by God’s grace and blessing. Had they been able of themselves, prayer would have been presumptuous. We do not ask God to do for us what we can do for ourselves. But we never can be made Christians but by God--and God can make perfect Christians; and the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit must not be limited.
2. That prayer is available with God for obtaining needful grace. There are some who restrict the power of prayer to its subjective influence. If this were true, prayer for others would be of no avail. I might pray for one whom I love, and my prayer might exercise my benevolent feelings, but the person for whom I pray will receive no benefit. Away with so God-dishonouring a notion. Some of you, perhaps, have near relatives across the sea. Take encouragement. God’s arm of power and mercy can reach them. Bring their cases before Him.
(1) Notice the earnestness and importunity of his prayer. True prayer is a labour. We ought in prayer to labour for a just apprehension of the Divine character, of the mediation of Christ, of the import of the promises.
(2) Notice the connection of prayer with this object--the fulfilment of God’s will. The glory of God is dear to every pious heart. Our Lord, therefore, taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” etc.
3. That the honour of true religion is connected with the perfection of Christian character. The world judges of Christians by their conduct
4. That the welfare of Christians is connected with their perfection of character. Spiritual as well as bodily happiness depends on the state of the health. (T. Jackson.)
Labouring fervently for you in prayers.
Prayer the noblest form of work
I. Prayer is religion in action, and is the noblest kind of human exertion. It is the one department of action in which man realizes the highest privilege and capacities of his being. And in doing this he is enriched and ennobled almost indefinitely.
2. That this view of prayer is not universal is notorious. It is thought an excellent thing for clergymen, recluses, sentimentalists, and women and children generally; that it has its uses as a form of desultory occupation, an outlet for feel ing, a means of discipline, but altogether less worthy of the energies of a thinking man than hard work in study or business.
3. In response to this let those speak who have really prayed. They sometimes describe prayer with Jacob, as a wrestling together with an unseen power, which may last even to the break of day (Genesis 32:24)
, or with Paul, as a concerted struggle (Romans 15:30). They have their eyes fixed on the Great Intercessor in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Importunity is of the essence of successful prayer (Luke 11:8; Luke 18:5; Matthew 15:27-28; Mark 7:28-29); and importunity means not dreaminess, but sustained work, and of an energetic character (Matthew 11:12). Bishop Hamilton, of Salisbury, once said that “no man was likely to do much good in prayer who did not begin by looking upon it in the light of a work, to be prepared for and persevered in with all the earnestness which we bring to bear on subjects which are the most interesting and necessary.” This will appear if we take an act of prayer to pieces. To pray is--
I. To put the understanding in motion, and to direct it upon the highest object to which it Can address itself. How overwhelming are the truths which pass before us--a boundless Power, an eternal Existence. Then the substance of the petition, its motives, the issues which depend on its being granted or refused present them selves to the mind, as does the Intercessor who presents our prayers.
II. To put the affections is motion. The object of prayer is the uncreated Love, and to be in His presence is to be conscious of heart expansion; and when the matter of prayer is blessing for others and not for self, all the best emotions and sentiments are called into play (Matthew 15:8; 1 John 3:21-22).
III. To put the will in motion, just as decidedly as we do when we sit down to read hard, or to walk up a steep hill against time (John 9:31; Matthew 7:21; James 4:7-8; all of which imply that prayer in which the will is not engaged is worthless. That sovereign power does not merely impel us to make the first necessary mental effort, but enters most penetratingly and vitally into the very action of prayer itself (Genesis 32:26). These three ingredients of prayer are ingredients in all real work, whether of the brains or the hands. The difference is that in prayer they are more equally balanced. Study may in time become intellectual habit, which scarcely demands any effort of will; handiwork may in time become so mechanical as to require little or no guidance from thought; each may exist without the co-operation of the affections. Not so prayer. It is always the joint act of the will and the understanding, impelled by the affections; and when either will or intelligence is wanting, prayer at once ceases to be itself, by degenerating into a barren, intellectual exercise, or into a mechanical and unspiritual routine. (Canon Liddon.)
Fervent labour in prayer
The word here used signifies to strive, or wrestle, as those do who strive for mastery; it notes the vehemency and fervency of this man’s prayers for the Colossians. As the wrestlers do bend and writhe and stretch and strain every joint of their bodies, so did Epaphras every joint of his soul that he might be victorious with God upon the Colossians’ account. So Jacob when alone with God (Genesis 32:24-27; Hosea 12:4-5)
wrestles and weeps, and weeps and wrestles; he holds his hold, and will not let God go, till as a Prince he has prevailed. (T. Brooks.)
The value of intercessory prayer
This was no passing wish, sentimental desire, transient emotion. The burden of Epaphras’ heart was the good of the Church, and in proportion to the fervency of his affection was the importunity of his petition. There may be no help more needed, no succour more sure, than that obtained through prayer. Who can tell what good may come to the wilful and wayward boy far away at sea, or in some distant land, from the unceasing intercessions of his mother, wrestling for him with God? You have a dear friend in sorrow at a distance. You cannot reach him to comfort him, but you can reach him by prayer more effectively than if you could see him face to face. Many a time has God’s work revived, and rich spiritual blessing come to a congregation, through the earnest supplication of some obscure member. We do not ourselves know all that we owe to the prayers of others. There are circumstances in which we can do nothing but pray for those in whom we are deeply interested. Especially is it so with pastors. Some may seem ready to faint in the conflict; some fair blossoms of spiritual promise may be going up as dust; some often warned and entreated may be becoming more callous, or on the point of making shipwreck of faith, etc.; what can be done for such? The mightiest resource is persevering prayer. It is God alone whose help is all powerful, and this prayer can secure. (J. Spence, D. D.)
The power of prayer
A spoonful of water sets a hydraulic press in motion, and brings into operation a force of tons’ weight; so a drop of prayer at one end may move an influence at the other which is omnipotent. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.--
Standing in perfectness
1. There is no kind of qualification to this, no hint that Paul thought that Epaphras was asking with an extravagant expectation. They were no sham prayers; struggles after impossible attainments, but those that he and Paul thought might be realized. Such prayers are in conflict with modern notions, which regard perfection as beyond the range of practical Christianity.
2. What made Epaphras believe that he might ask this?
Paul’s teaching. “We pray for this, even your perfection.” “That we may present every man perfect.”
(2) Christ’s words, “Be ye perfect,” etc.
3. Was this an attainment to be expected in this life or the next? In this. Paul wrote that he had not attained, etc., but he appealed to the Philippians on the supposition that he and they were perfect. And so Christ teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” i.e., perfectly. There is no difficulty here. It is our duty to be entirely conformed to the will of God, and yet see a point beyond our highest attainments, and say, “We must reach that also.” Let us consider the purpose of these prayers.
1. It is not that full knowledge and obedience may be achieved at once. This is impossible under the conditions imposed by the flesh, and both will be progressive under heavenly conditions. But we are to act according to our several ability. A child in the alphabet class must not be expected to do the work of the higher forms, either in the school of nature or of grace. It is enough that each does thoroughly what is allotted to it. An infant is perfect, but not in the same sense as a man. So it is in the kingdom of God.
2. It is not that temptation will be absent. Both Paul and Christ were fiercely tempted.
3. It is not that there will be an unbroken flow of joy and peace. No person is capable of being continuously under the same emotions, and alternations of joy and gloom make no difference to our spiritual standing, so long as under both we abide in God. There were changes of feeling in Paul and Christ.
II. Positively. It is that we may do the will of God as far as we know it. We are not to ordain an impossible standard. Our King distributes to us a variety of talents. Hence the young act differently from the old; men from women; sickly from healthy, and yet in each the love of God may be perfected, viz., in the keeping of His commandments. And these commandments have a wonderful variety, and relate to secular as well as spiritual employments, since all life by the Christian is devoted to God. Do you say that this is an easy kind of perfection? Try it--Or that it is inconspicuous? True, so was Christ’s generally. Only on occasions did His divinity flash forth.
2. It is that we may use the means for our fulfilling the will of God perfectly. Epaphras laboured in prayers, which denotes the power from which we are to derive our ability. We must go to God and He will supply all our need: in faith in His faithfulness who has promised, “who also will do it,” even sanctify us wholly. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
A Christian may be said to be perfect in respect--
I. Of the cause or fountain of holiness; so good gifts are said to be perfect (James 1:17)
, as they are from God.
II. Of consecration (Hebrews 1:10; Hebrews 5:9). Christ was perfect because set apart to a perfect calling which He fulfilled perfectly.
III. Of acceptation, not in respect of operation, the Lord accounting our confession of imperfection for perfection.
IV. Of parts, though not in respect of degrees; he is perfect in that he hath holiness in every part, though not in such measure. Thus to be perfect is to be sanctified throughout.
V. Comparatively, not positively. A Christian that makes conscience of all his ways, and can love his enemies, is perfect (Matthew 5:48), in comparison of carnal men, that follow the swing of their own corruptions and affections.
VI. Of truth, though not in respect of absoluteness. Thus he is perfect, because he desires and endeavours after perfection, though in act he attains it not.
VII. Of men or common estimation, and so he is perfect that is unrebukable.
VIII. Of the end, and so he may be said to be perfect--
1. In intention, because he sets perfection as a mark to shoot at (Philippians 3:1.)
2. In respect of duration, because he holds out to the end.
3. In respect of accomplishment, because he finisheth what he under taketh in godliness, or mortification, he doth it not by halves, or in some parts of it, for so to perfect is translated to finish (Acts 20:24; John 4:34; John 17:4). (N. Byfield.)
All the will of God
There are people who would be content to do some part of what God wills, provided they might be excused the rest; as, for example, to believe the truth which God has revealed, but not to do the good works which He has commanded; or to exercise some of them, but utterly fail in others: as they who live fair with men, but remain in impiety, and in the profession of error; or those, on the contrary, who make profession of error; or those, again, who make open profession of the pure service of God, but spare not either the goods or honour of their neighbours; or who, abstaining from one vice, license themselves to others; who are chaste, but covetous; or liberal and beneficial to the poor, but corrupt and incontinent. This partition is unjust, injurious to God, impossible in truth, and incompatible with the nature of the things themselves. (J. Daille.)
He hath a great zeal for you.--
The nature of zeal
Zeal is an intense earnestness for the accomplishment of its object. It is defined in our latest dictionary as a passionate ardour in the pursuit and accomplishment of it. It is not, therefore, a great excitement of feeling, mere demonstrative warmth of expression, mere quickness of the motion, but something far more deep and en during. It is a working, practical energy; a power which may be directed to things indifferent, good or bad. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
A little before his death Gregory Thaumaturgus made a strict inquiry whether there were any persons in the city and neighbourhood still strangers to Christianity. Being told there were about seventeen in all, he sighed, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, appealed to God how much it troubled him that any of his fellow-townsmen should still remain unacquainted with salvation. (Milner.)
It is said of Holy Bradford, preaching, reading, and prayer, was his whole life. “I rejoice,” said Bishop Jewel, “that my body is exhausted in the labours of my holy calling.”… “Let racks, fires, pulleys, and all manner of torments come, so I may win Christ,” said Ignatius. (Watson.)
Reinerius, their adversary, declares “that a certain Waldensian heretic, with a view of turning a person from the Catholic faith (for such he calls the Romish errors), swam over a river in the night, and in the winter, to come to him, and to teach him the novel doctrines.” (Milner.)
Laodicea (see on Colossians 2:1). Hierapolis.--On the north side of the valley of Lycus, opposite to the sloping hills which mark the site of Laodicea, is a broad level terrace jutting out from the mountain side, and overhanging the plain with almost precipitous sides. On this plateau are scattered the vast ruins of Hierapolis. It is here that the remarkable physical features which distinguish the valley display themselves in the fullest perfection. Over the steep cliffs which support the plateau of the city tumble cascades of pure white stone, the deposit of calcareous matter from the streams which, after traversing this upper level, are precipitated over the ledge into the plain beneath, and assume the most fantastic shapes in their descent. At one time overhanging in cornices fringed with stalactites, at another hollowed out into basins or broken up with ridges, they mark the site of the city at a distance, glistening on the mountain side like foaming cataract’s frozen in the fall. Like Laodicea, Hierapolis was at this time an important and a growing city, though not like Laodicea, holding Metropolitan rank. Besides the trade in dyed wools, which it shared in common with the neighbouring towns, it had a source of wealth peculiar to itself. The streams to which the scenery owes its remarkable features are endowed with valuable medicinal qualities, while at the same time they are so copious that the ancient city is described as full of self-made baths. An inscription still legible celebrates their virtues, “Hail, fairest soil in all broad Asia’s realm; hail, golden city, nymph Divine, bedecked with flowing rills, thy jewels,” and (Esculapius and Hygeia appear on still extant coins. To the ancient magnificence of Hierapolis its ruins bear ample testimony. A city which combined the pursuit of health and gaiety had fitly chosen as its patron deity Apollo, the god alike of medicine and festivity, here worshipped as “Archegetes,” the founder. But more important, as illustrating its religious temper, is the fact, that there was a spot called the Plutonium, a hot well or spring, from whose hot mouth issued a fatal memphitic vapour, from the effects of which the mutilated priests of Cybele alone, so it was believed, were free. Indeed this city appears to have been a chief centre of the passionate mystical devotion of ancient Phrygia. But in addition to this religious rites were borrowed from other parts of the East, more especially from Egypt. By the multitude of her temples Hierapolis established her right to the title of the “sacred city” which she bore. Though, at this time, we have no record of her famous citizens, such as graced the annals of Laodicea, yet a generation or two later she numbered among her sons one nobler far than the rhetoricians, sophists, millionaires, and princes, of whom her neighbour could boast. The lame slave, Epictetus, the loftiest of heathen moralists, must have been growing up to manhood when the first rumours of the gospel reached his native city. Did any chance throw him across the path of Epaphras, or of St. Paul? We should be glad to think that the greatest of Christian and the greatest of heathen preachers met together face to face. Such a meeting would solve more than one riddle, and explain some strange coincidences in their writings. Drawn by trade, and by its charms as a gay watering-place, a very considerable colony of Jews settled down in Hierapolis, which gave point to a Talmudic complaint, “The wines and baths of Phrygia have separated the ten tribes from Israel.” After the destruction of Jerusalem one of the chief settlements of the Christian dispersion was here, which explains how the Phrygian Churches assumed such a prominence in the ecclesiastical history of the second century. Here settled Philip of Bethsaida, the early friend and fellow-townsman of St. John, who took up his abode in Ephesus, and the first apostle who held communication with the Gentiles (John 12:20). Here he died and was buried; and here, after his decease, lived his two virgin daughters, from whom Papias heard several stories of the first preachers of the gospel, which he transmitted to posterity in his work. Papias was, probably, a native of Hiera-polls, of which he afterwards became bishop. He was succeeded by Abercius, and Abercius by the great controversialist and apologist, Claudius Apollinaris, and presided at a council in this city at which Montanism was condemned. At a later ate the influence of both Hierapolis and Laodicea declined. They take no great art in the great controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. Among their bishops there is not one who has left his mark on history. They take only a silent art in the great councils, and more than once wavered in their allegiance to the othodox faith. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.
Luke the beloved physician
At the moment of the transition of Christianity from Asia to Europe he was enrolled among St. Paul’s companions. We ascertain this by a change of a pronoun--“they” (Acts 16:6)
, “we” (Acts 16:10). The same language is continued in the narration of what took place at Philippi, and so Luke is very pointedly associated with this neighbourhood. But again we lose sight of the succession from the time Paul quits Macedonia, and we do not discern any trace until Paul is in Macedonia again (Acts 20:5-6). From this time he appears to have been in close companionship with the apostle, and to have gone with him to Rome.(Acts 28:16; Philemon 1:24; Colossians 4:14). A baseless tradition says that he was a painter; and yet in one sense it is most true. In the Acts, besides the minor portraits, we have a full-length picture of the great apostle, without which we could not have fully known St. Paul, and one drawn by the hand of a friend. We see how thoroughly the biographer sinks and forgets himself, revealing his ardent and steady friendship and modesty. But much more is made known to us concerning St. Luke through what is said of him by St. Paul. He speaks of him not merely as his “fellow labourer,” but also as “the beloved physician.” The mere fact that his profession is specified is full of interest. There are only two other such cases in the record which we have of the companions of our apostle. “Demetrius, the silversmith” (Acts 19:24), though his conduct had much to do with the very important passage of St. Paul’s career, can hardly be said to have been one of his companions: and of “Alexander the coppersmith,” or “Zenas the lawyer.” (2 Timothy 4:14; Titus 3:13), we know little. Lydia, the seller of purple” (Acts 16:14), was probably brought to Philippi, and thus within the sacred circle of apostolic companionship, by the exigencies of her trade--while of Aquila and Priscilla, who were “tent-makers,” we are distinctly told that Paul “abode with them, because he was of the same craft” (Acts 18:3). Similarly, there can hardly be a doubt that St. Luke’s professional life was the occasion of his coming into close contact with St. Paul. Physicians were men of high education, and this would establish an easy link of connection with one who, besides other great qualifications for his work, was a man of literary culture. But there is a strong probability that a deeper union between the two men subsisted than that of intellectual tastes. St. Paul had been suffering from serious illness in Galatia (Galatians 4:13), and very soon afterwards St. Luke appears with him at Troas. During subsequent years they were frequently associated in the closest manner, and we have the best reasons for believing that the apostle’s health was delicate. What so natural as to suppose that the first acquaintance at Troas was marked by the exercise of St. Luke’s professional skill, and that the same skill was on many subsequent occasions available for the alleviation of suffering and fatigue? How entirely this explains the peculiar warmth and definiteness of the allusion here! We must carefully observe, too, that it is not merely St. Luke’s medical knowledge which St. Paul mentions, but that he calls him “beloved” in connection with this characteristic. There seems to be evidently here the sense of personal gratitude for benefits received. It is natural to attempt to trace out some indications in St. Luke’s writings of the fact that he was a physician. Thus it is in his Gospel alone, in the record of that first sermon at Nazareth, that we find the prominent mention of the “healing” of both mind and body as a characteristic of the Saviour’s mission; and here only, at the close of that sermon, have we the quoting of that pointed proverb--“Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:18; Luke 4:23). With this may be classed a phrase which is unique in this Gospel, in the account of what took place soon afterwards--“The power of the Lord was present to heal them” (Luke 5:17). So again, we have, twice repeated, in this Gospel, a peculiar phrase having reference to recovery from sickness: “There went virtue out of Him and healed them all “ “Somebody hath touched Me; for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me” (Luke 6:19; Luke 8:46). But, above all, we must notice what is almost an amusing corroboration of the view concerning the existence of this professional feeling in St. Luke’s Gospel. In the account which the other evangelist gives of the woman healed a reflection seems to be thrown on the skill of the physicians (Mark 5:26); whereas St. Luke casts no imputation on the skill of those who belonged to his own profession (Luke 8:43). Similarly we trace indications of the physician’s mind in the mention of technical details and in the use of appropriate medical terms. In the account of the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother when St. Luke describes the fever as a “great” fever, and speaks of Jesus as “standing over” the patient, he is really using technical forms of expression; while still by the words, “He rebuked the fever,” he is careful to mark the miraculous nature of the cure (Luke 4:38-39). In the Acts the writer has an evident tendency to dwell on symptoms; and this is a true mark of the medical mind. Thus, in relating the case of the lame man at the temple gate, it is not merely the fact of the recovery which is stated, but it is said that “the feet and ankle bones received strength” and it is added further, as if to mark the stages of the recovery, that “he stood up and walked” (Acts 3:7-8). So the stages of the blindness of Elymas at Paphos are indicated, and the symptoms of the case, as well as the mere fact of the loss of sight, when it is said that, on the utterance of St. Paul’s stern anathema, “there fell on him a mist and a darkness, and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand” (Acts 13:11). The lash instance may be furnished by the record of St. Paul’s stay in Malta, after the shipwreck. A miraculous cure was worked there on the father of Publius, “the chief man of the island,” who was suffering from dysentery in an aggravated form; and the language which St. Luke applies to the patient is as exact and appropriate as if he himself had been called in to treat the case professionally (Acts 28:8). (Dean Howson.)
Luke the beloved physician
I. The congruity between Luke’s profession and the religion of which he had become the possessor
1. The predominating characteristic of Christianity among the religions of the world is its humanity. It brings relief to the physical ills which curse the race. Christ acted as the Great Physician. “The works that I do shall ye do also.” Where the gospel comes the laws of health and the healing art receive attention such as cannot be found among heathens. In the palmiest days of Greece these matters were terribly neglected.
2. The requirements and tendencies of Christianity involve attention to what is the physician’s peculiar care. Physical well-being is essential to vigour of mind, healthy affections, pure morals, both in the individual and in the community. Diseased nervous conditions render the practice of some Christian virtues well-nigh impossible.
II. The adaptation of the gospel to the learned and rich, as well as to the poor and illiterate. Religion in the ancient world was often a luxury for the well-to-do. The glory of the Saviour’s ministry and its novelty was, “To the poor the gospel is preached.” There is no room in it for despising culture. Dependence was placed, not upon the wild outburst of fanaticism or the erratic movements of ignorance, but upon the calm energy of disciplined intelligence. Paul was himself a scholar of rare attainments, as was Moses in the older economy, as also was Luke. Their mark on Christianity is the deepest, their influence the strongest. Crude, misshapen theologies are the product, not of the educated, but of smatterers. Luke was a physician when he believed the gospel.
1. The rich and scientific need its grace as much as the poorest and most illiterate. Its revelations make special demands upon the reason of the wise.
2. Luke’s example shows us that cultivated intelligence does not find it impossible to assent either to the evidences or the doctrines of Christianity.
III. Here is an example of professional godliness. Luke practised as a physician and preached as an evangelist. For long the healing art was in the hands of ecclesiastics. Modern division of labour has dissociated them. But the two can work together and work into each other’s hands. But as the physician has to be with men under the darkest shadows of their lives and in the deepest depths, how essential that the spirit of their work should be the spirit of the Man of Sorrows. Luke was Paul’s beloved friend. It is a calamity when the physician is unworthy of such a confidence on the part of an apostle. Luke’s faithful consistency is full of practical admonition. Being dead he yet speaks. Faith in Christ Jesus, the Physician of souls, is the only but all-sufficient means of salvation. So Luke, the beloved physician, teaches. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
Religion and the medical profession
I. The deference shown to medical science. Medicine has always occupied a conspicuous place among the sciences. It has to do with that which intimately concerns us. Our nature is not what it was as it came from the hand of God. Sin has turned this world into a vast lazar-house. No individual ultimately escapes. Naturally men have sought amelioration, and their cry has always been met. Even the most savage tribes have “medicine men.” So high was the estimate put on this act that it was regarded as akin to the supernatural and was chiefly in the hands of the priesthood. Among the Egyptians the knowledge of medicine was a profound secret, and in Greece it was carefully concealed and transmitted from father to son by the priests of AEsculapius, to whom belonged Hippocrates. Although medicine has ceased to be a secret it has lost nothing of its hold on the respect and confidence of mankind. As in religion men speak lightly of the profession, but as soon as a man, however sceptical, is sick he sends for the doctor. And no profession, except that which deals with the healing of the soul, has more claims on our gratitude. When the body is racked with pain or parched with fever the physician comes as a minister of mercy, and without the boon which he brings what is the value of all other earthly blessings. The banquet is spread in vain for the man who has no appetite, and riches, friends, etc., avail nothing.
II. The benevolence of the medical profession. Their labours are not the most remunerative. Compared with commerce the returns are meagre; yet what deserves ampler remuneration, not only on account of the benefits conferred, but because of the exhaustive character of the work. The merchant is always sure of his evenings and Sundays; the doctor never. And people make allowances when other men fail to keep their engagements, but no excuse is allowed the doctor. Serving all classes self-sacrificingly he is eminently the benefactor of the poor.
III. The religious drawbacks of the profession.
1. It might seem that no class could be more favourably situated for having the claims of religion enforced upon them. With the memento mori ever before him how can the doctor forget that he, too, must die. Familiarity breeds contempt, however, here as elsewhere, or if not, it blunts the edge of providential appeals.
2. Then, again, there is the temptation to materialism into which so many medical men fall. Scientific research has to do with matter alone, and is incapable of discovering the soul; but that does not prove there is no soul, which scientists too often assume.
IV. The religious responsibilities of the profession. Obligation is proportioned to opportunity in doing good. Who has such power over the confidence and the affections as the doctor? With what eagerness are his visits expected, and how much better does a patient often feel simply because the doctor has been. But how immeasurably would the happy effects of his visits be enhanced if he combined with his proper office that of physician for the soul. Words of encouragement and consolation would be of more value because less professional than those of the minister, and what could be more imitative of the example of the Great Physician, He comes, too, just at the time for making a religious impression. In health men are callous, but sickness brings home subjects of momentous importance. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
The importance of religion to the study and practice of medicine
(To medical students.)
This science is a most pleasing and important study. Its object is the prevention and cure of disease. Next to the health of a man’s soul is the health of his body. Without this enjoyment and usefulness is impaired and suffering brought on society in general. A great many men have and are engaged in it, and no class is more worthy of our respect. Witness their gratuitous attention to the poor and at hospitals, their remonstrances against the evils which infest the community.
I. Illustrate the sentiment in the character of Luke. He was a native of Antioch in Syria, where he probably studied at its famous university. Some say that he was a pupil of Galen, but the dates seem to disprove this.
1. His practice as a physician is not stated, whether large or small, but “the beloved physician” implies much to Paul and perhaps many others. He was beloved--
(1) As a physician. How valuable to Paul to have a companion who understood medicine! How often did he require attention through stripes, bruises, ill-health, and exhausted energies.
(2) As a friend. A man whose mind was cultivated by science and who could write those elegant dedications to Theophilus, and the books of which they are the prefaces, must have been very congenial to a mind like Paul’s.
(3) As a helper. The healing art has been always a powerful help to the gospel. The physician can get a word in where the clergyman cannot.
2. Note the importance of religion to him as a physician.
(1) It gave him a decided character. He chose to leave his residence and practice to travel, not for pleasure or in the interests of science, but with a persecuted missionary to propagate the gospel We are not all called to follow this example, but it shows how piety enables a man to prize real excellence, choose and do the greatest good, and not to be ashamed of God when it is fashionable to deny Him.
(2) It made him useful. He, like his Master, was cast among the diseased. Miracles were not always necessary, hence Christ was sparing of them. He that cures the body does well; he that cures the soul does better; he that cures both does best. The name of Luke the “beloved physician” is admired, but Luke the evangelist all nations shall bless.
II. Prove the sentiment is respect to yourselves. Religion is important.
1. To prepare you for study. You of all men require a peaceful, not a torturing, conscience; a mind at rest, not driven to and fro with the speculations of every religious adventurer. The religion of Christ gives this.
2. To accompany scientific investigations. You have to study the noblest work of God. That religion accelerates this study is proved by David (Psalms 139:1-24.) and Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14.). Here is a knowledge of anatomy in its most beauteous form. How can you investigate this without right views of God? Wisdom, power, and goodness display themselves in every exhibition of the human body. And that science should lead to materialism is astounding.
3. To aid usefulness in practice. Patients are often dependent for their recovery on the state of their mind. Disease is aggravated by anxiety, murmuring, and irreligious views of God. If without the formality of a clerical visit you can soothe the mind and drop into it a Divine promise, how vastly your usefulness will be augmented. And besides, there will be cases which no medicine can reach. What will you do then if you are not qualified by religion to be a physician for the mind?
4. To exalt the character. The man who reverences God and promotes the highest interests of others may be sneered at by infidels and profligates, and perhaps looked down upon by other members of his profession; but ask the public what they think of such a man. But, better still, such a man will stand well in the estimation of God.
5. To promote your own happiness. (J. Sherman.)
Demas (Philemon 1:24)
, perhaps Demetrius. Is the curt mention of this man contrasted with the full affectionate recognition of St. Luke the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand which prepares as for the subsequent darkness that hangs over him? (2 Timothy 4:10). (Bishop Alexander.)
We know no more about him except the melancholy record, “Demas hath forsaken me,” etc. Perhaps he was a Thessalonian, and went home. His love of the world was his reason for abandoning Paul. Probably it was on the side of danger that the world tempted him. He was a coward, and preferred a whole skin to a clear conscience. In immediate connection with the record of his desertion we read, “At my first answer, no man stood by me, but all men forsook me.” As the same word is used, probably Demas was one of those timid friends whose courage was not equal to standing by Paul when he thrust his head into the lion’s mouth. Let us not be too hard on a constancy that warped in so fierce a heat. He may not have been an apostate Christian, though he was a faithless friend. Perhaps, away in Thessalonica, he repented him of his evil, and perhaps Paul and Demas met again before the throne, and there clasped inseparable hands. Let us not judge a man of whom we know so little, but take to our selves the lesson of humility and self-distrust. That world that was too strong for Demas will be too strong for us if we front it in our own strength. It is ubiquitous, working on us everywhere, and always like the pressure of the atmosphere upon our bodies. Its might will crush us, unless we can climb to, and dwell on, the heights of communion with God, where pressure is diminished. It acted on Demas through his fears. It acts on us through our ambitions, affections, and desires. So, seeing that miserable wreck of Christian constancy, and considering ourselves lest we also be tempted, let us not judge another, but look at home. There is more than enough there to make profound self-distrust our truest wisdom, and to teach us to pray, “Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Luke and Demas
These two names in juxtaposition and subsequent separation suggest--
I. The basis of Christian friendship.
1. Society is divided into many classes. Men are bound together by similarity of pursuit, taste, attainment. The basis of their union may be pecuniary equality, political agreement, or common occupation. But such friendships are temporary, being based on what is temporary. A man’s circumstances may alter, his tastes change; easy then for friends to be sundered. The poor basis of worldly friendship may resist the sapping waters of change. But this is the exception; hence we say, “What devotion!” Self-interest may bind men together, and even a common consciousness of wrong. But let self be imperilled, and where is the cohesion then?
2. The basis of Christian friendship is common love to a common Lord. “A new commandment give I unto you that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” There is the measure and the motive. The coolness of some professors shows how they lack the spirit of Christ. As we are in Him, and imbued with His spirit, shall we be one in Him. In the primitive Church men of different ranks and pursuits, etc., “continued in the apostles’… fellowship.” And then Paul, a man of large intelligence, wide learning, good family, etc.
just the man to hold others aloof--after the heavenly vision, gathered into his friendship Luke the physician, Onesimus the runaway slave, and Demas. Beautiful his friendship with men of less degree. And when he writes to distant brethren he says, “Luke, I shall mention your name, and, Demas, yours.”
II. Common Christian labour is a cementing force in Christian friendship. In writing to Philemon, Paul shows the thing which bound them together. Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers. Paul had an utter impatience of idleness. He had not only the faculty of industry, but of setting others to work. And whoever co-operated with him, however humble, received the title of “fellow-worker.”
1. Luke was such; and was very valuable to the oft-afflicted apostle as--
(1) A physician. Invaluable everywhere, especially so in prison, the sedentary life of which told upon the apostle’s never stalwart frame. But Luke was with him with his physic and his words, “doing good like medicine.”
(2) As a congenial fellow-traveller and helper in missionary work.
(3) The hand that could wield a lancet could also use a skilful pen, and by his Gospel and Acts he has laid the Church under perpetual obligations.
2. What of Demas? What he could do is not written. But he did something. He was no idler. Paul calls him a fellow-worker. He was no Luke, but as there are diversities of gifts, so he had his special line, as has every one.
3. Common labour will draw us together. From the general down to the drummer-boy, all in an army, when the battle is expected, feel knit together, for they have a common enemy; and when the enemy is vanquished, they rejoice in a common victory. Let all Christians unite against evil and for God, and that will unite all hearts.
III. Worldliness is the disintegrating force in Christian friendship. Pleasant is our first brief view of Demas--sharer of work and affection with Luke. Later on Paul writes, “Demas forsook me … only Luke is with me.” Paul can ill spare a friend now, for “the time of his departure is at hand.” On his release from prison Paul had two or three years of Christian labour. Did Demas go with him? Again Paul is cast into a Roman cell. Still Demas is his friend; but only for a while. How much of sincerity mingled with this man’s profession of Christ? Did he leave under temptation? Was he recovered? It is worthy of note that in the three times he is mentioned there is no honourable epithet attached to his name. Was Paul in doubt of him? Did his quick eye detect in him an ambitious spirit, or a love of ease, or a hunger for human approbation? He went to Thessalonica. Did his pagan parents seduce him back to idolatry? Or had some heathen beauty captivated and drawn his love from that which ought to have been supreme? Was he ever recovered? Let us hope so; although tradition says he became a heathen priest, and was struck dead with lightning while officiating at the altar. Whatever his end, worldliness was his immediate ruin. Many are the modern confirmatory instances. Many once Christian workers are now idlers. Shall the queen’s soldier turn deserter because of his difficulties or comrades? Loyalty to queen and country forbid. Shall the Christian’s duty be less binding? God help us to stay with Luke, and not desert with Demas. What did he gain? What is that gain to him now? (G. T. Coster.)
How strikingly these two contrasted characters bring out--
I. The possibility of men being exposed to the same influences, and yet ending far away from each other! They set out from the same point, and travelled side by side, subject to the same training, in contact with the magnetic attraction of Paul’s personality, and at the end they are wide as the poles asunder. Starting from the same level, one line inclines ever so little upwards, the other imperceptibly downwards. Pursue them far enough, and there is room for the whole solar system in the space between them. So two children trained at one mother’s knee, subjects of the same prayers, with the same good influence upon both, may grow up, one to break a mother’s heart and to disgrace a father’s name, and the other to walk in the way of godliness and to serve the God of his fathers. Circumstances are mighty; but the use we make of circumstances lies with ourselves. As we trim our sails and set our rudder, the same breeze will take us in opposite directions. We are the architects and builders of our own characters, and may so use the most unfavour-able influences as to wholesomely harden our natures thereby, and we may so misuse the most favourable as only thereby to increase our blameworthiness for wasted opportunities.
II. We are reminded, too, from these two men who stand before us like a double star--one bright, one dark--that no loftiness of Christian position nor length of Christian profession is a guarantee against falling and apostasy. As we read in another book, for which also the Church has to thank a prison cell--the place where so many of its precious possessions have been written--there is a backway to the pit from the gate of the Celestial City. Demas had stood high in the Church, and had been admitted to the close intimacy of the apostle, was evidently no raw novice, and yet the world could drag him back from so eminent a place in which he had long stood. “Let him that thinketh he standeth,” etc. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas.
Early Church life
I. The brethren at Laodicea. This salutation teaches us--
1. That brotherly love should flourish among all Christians. The philosophers of old said that “a wise man was a friend to a wise man, although unknown”; but we may say that a Christian is a brother, although unknown; yea, he is more united than any natural brother (Acts 4:32).
2. This brotherly love is not only declared by words, but by services, as often as brethren, even they who live in remote churches, need our assistance. For to salute one by word as a brother, and not to promote the welfare of a brother, is the work of derision rather than of love.
II. The church which was in the house of Nymphas. Either the assembly of Christians meeting there or his private family, which, for its piety, merited the name of Church. There is no harm in understanding it in both senses.
1. Every collection of believers, although, on account of its smallness, may be included in the walls of a private house, and although, on account of their enemies, they meet in nocturnal assemblies, is a true Church, a member of the Church Universal.
2. The Papists therefore err who acknowledge no Church unless that which has the sovereignty, and is ever before the eyes of the world, for sometimes through persecution the Church cannot move in the public sight at all (Revelation 12:6), So when the Arians ruled, Athanasius and the orthodox were compelled to retire into corners.
3. It is the duty of every head of a family so to train his children and servants that his house may deservedly obtain the name of a church (Genesis 18:19; Joshua 24:15), and those who neglect this are unworthy of the name of Christians. (Bishop Davenant.)
The Church in the house
In that the apostle calls this household a Church, we may note that a religious and well-ordered family is as it were a little Church. Now, do we learn from hence that our houses are Churches? Then these things will follow.
1. That God’s worship and piety must be set up in them. How can they be Churches of God if God be not served in them?
2. All must be done there in order, and quietness, and silence, for so it is or should be in the Church.
3. Evil persons that are incorrigible must not dwell there, but must be cast out (Psalms 101:1-8.)
4. The husband or master of the family must dwell there as a man of knowledge, and wives, children, and servants must obey as the Church doth Christ.
1. Are our families Churches? Why, then, religious families are in a happy case, for then God Himself will dwell there; so as a stranger coming to such places may say, as Jacob did of Bethel, “Surely God is in this place.”
2. Should our families be Churches? Oh, then, woe unto the world of profane households. (N. Byfield.)
The Church in the house of Nymphas
We read that Priscilla and Aquila had such both in their house at Rome (Romans 16:5)
and in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19), and that Philemon had one in his house at Colossae. This may have been the families, or small congregations meeting in these houses. The expression gives us a glimpse of the primitive elasticity of Church order and fluidity of ecclesiastical language. The word Church had not yet been fixed to its present technical sense. There was but one Church in Laodicea, and yet within it was this little Church--an imperium in imperio--as if the word had not yet come to mean more than an assembly, and as if all the arrangements of order and worship of later days were undreamed of yet. The life was there, but the forms which were to grow out of the life, and to protect it sometimes, and to stifle it often, were only beginning to show themselves, and were certainly not yet felt to be forms. If the Church in the house of Nymphas consisted of--
I. His own family and dependents, it stands for us as a lesson of what every family which has a Christian man or woman at its head ought to be. Little know ledge of so-called Christian households is needed to be sure that domestic religion is woefully neglected to-day. Family worship and instruction are disused, one fears, in many homes, the heads of which can remember both in their fathers’ houses; and the unspoken atmosphere of religion does not fill the house with its aroma as it ought to do. If a Christian householder have not “a Church in his house,” the family union is tending to become “a synagogue of Satan.” A like suggestion may be made if this Church--
II. Included more than family and dependents. It is a miserable thing when social intercourse plays freely round every other subject, and taboos all mention of religion; when Christian people choose society for worldly advantages, and for every reason under heaven--some times a long way under--except those of a common faith, and of the desire to increase it. It is not needful to lay down extravagant, impracticable restrictions, by insisting that we should limit our society to religious men, or our conversation to religious subjects. But it is a bad sign when our associates are chosen for every other reason but their religion, and when our talk flows copiously on all other subjects, and becomes a constrained driblet when religion comes to be spoken of. Let us strive to carry about with us an influence which shall permeate all social intercourse, and make it, if not directly religious, yet never antagonistic to religion, and always capable of passing easily and naturally into the highest regions. Our godly forefathers used to carve texts over their doors. Let us do the same in another fashion, so that all who cross our threshold may feel that they have come into a Christian household, where cheerful godliness sweetens and brightens the sanctities of home. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Church duties at home
Two Christians met on a Monday morning. Both were parents. As was natural, the conversation turned upon the services of the previous day. The first speaker opened by saying, “ We had a sermon from our minister last night on the religious instruction of children. Why didn’t you come and hear it?” “Because,” said the other, “I wag at home doing it!” (Christian Treasury.)
It was a source of much trouble to some fishes to see a number of lobsters swimming back wards instead of forwards. They therefore called a meeting; and it was deter mined to open a class for their instruction, which was done, and a number of young lobsters came, for the fishes gravely argued that if they commenced with the young ones, as they grew up they would learn to swim aright. At first they did very well; but afterwards, when they returned home, and saw their fathers and mothers swimming in the old way, they soon forgot their lessons. So many a child well taught at school is drifted backwards by a bad home influence. (Bible Class Magazine.)
The Church anywhere
The Church of Jesus Christ is found wherever He is known, served, and adored according to His gospel; within the enclosure of the walls of a house, or in the very caverns of mountains, and coverts of the wilderness, whither the Holy Spirit expressly foretells us that the spouse of the Lamb shall be sometimes constrained to retire. (J. Daille.)
A prayerless home
I shall never forget the impression made upon me during the first year of my ministry by a mechanic whom I had visited, and on whom I urged the paramount duty of family prayer.. One day he entered my study, and bursting into tears, said, “You remember that girl, sir; she was my only child. She died suddenly this morning. She has gone, I hope, to God. But if so, she can tell Him what now breaks my heart--that she never heard a prayer in her father’s house or from her father’s lips! Oh that she were with me but one day again!” (Norman Macleod.)
When this Epistle is read among you, cause it to be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans.
I. The apostle wished his Epistle to be read in the whole Church. Hence observe--
1. That the sacred Scriptures were not written for the clergy, but for all Christian people, and that the ordinary reading of the Scriptures obtained in the primitive Church (1 Thessalonians 5:27). And that this was in a language understood by the people is plain from Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and other fathers.
2. That they do err who deny that the reading of the Scriptures conduces to the edification of a Christian people unless there be an exposition by the preacher. This is not to detract from the utility or necessity of preaching. Nevertheless, we assert with the Psalmist (Psalms 19:7).
II. He ordered them to communicate this Epistle to the Laodiceans.
1. Because the doctrine of the Epistle is general, and on that account was not to be reserved for the private use of the Church, but to be communicated to the whole Church of God, but first to their nearest neighbours, who, having read the autograph, could take copies of them and scatter them abroad.
2. Because Laodicea was infected with the same error as Colossae. Observe, then, that among all the Churches of God, and especially neighbouring ones, there Ought to be a communication of spiritual benefits, so that if one Church should have anything that might contribute to the edification of another, it should not grudge to impart it. (Bishop Davenant.)
The Epistles a common means of edification
The first Churches were edified by the mutual interchange of apostolical Epistles, and by the public reading of them. An Epistle sent to one Church became in reality the common property of all the Churches, and this fact led, at no very long period, to the formation of the canon of the New Testament. These Epistles were eagerly sought after, frequently copied, and devoutly cherished, so that complete collections of them were made. They were carefully distinguished from other writings, and, by the voice of the Churches, to them exclusively was accorded a place in the sacred canon. In this arrangement the wisdom of God was providentially manifested. By such use of the Holy Scripture the first Christians were nourished in their faith, and built up in the love and hope of the gospel. Healthful religion from that time to this, and, indeed, previously, under the Jewish economy, has been connected with a free, frequent, and devout use of Holy Scripture. This alone, by the blessing of God, can preserve the purity and living power of a Church. Shut out the Word of God, and superstition and spiritual death will creep in. It is by the use of the unadulterated “milk of the Word” that the disciples are to grow (1 Peter 2:2)
. It is the “engrafted Word” which saves (James 1:21). It is through the comfort of the Scriptures that we have hope (Romans 15:4). And all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17). (J. Spence, D. D.)
General reading of Scripture allowed
Nothing is more condemnatory of the practice of Rome than this plain unequivocal command. Yet Romanists prohibit the general perusal of the Scriptures, and read only small portions, and these in an unknown tongue, in public worship. St. Paul orders his entire Epistle to be read publicly. But if one Epistle, then all Epistles are equally required to be read. The Old Testament was, as we know, constantly recited in the Jewish synagogues, as is manifest by the case of our Lord at Nazareth and St. Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:15)
; and in the face of the apostle’s command respecting his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Romanism sets up its prohibitions. Can we wonder that all evils and superstitions should follow; that the invocation of saints, the worship of images, the adoration of the Virgin, and the veneration of altars, tombs, and relics should supersede the mediation of Christ; and that a multitude of uncommanded ceremonies and abstinences, and a whole torrent of will-worship, should follow in the train? (Bishop D. Wilson.)
The Epistle from Laodicea.
The connection forbids us to suppose that this means a letter by the Laodiceans. Both letters are plainly Pauline Epistles, and the latter is said to be “from Laodicea,” simply because the Colossians were to procure it from that place. The “from” does not imply authorship, but transmission. What, then, has become of that letter? Is it lost? So say some; but a more probable opinion is that it is the Epistle we know as that to the Ephesians. Very weighty authorities omit the words “In Ephesus” in verse 1 of that Epistle. The conjecture is a reasonable one that the letter was intended for a circle of Churches, and had originally no place named in the superscription, just as we might issue circulars “To the Church in--“leaving a blank to be filled in with different names. This conjecture is strengthened by the marked absence of personal references in the letter, which, in that respect, forms a striking contrast to Colossians, which it so strongly resembles in other particulars. Probably, therefore, Tychicus had both letters put into his hands for delivery. The circular would go first to Ephesus, as the most important Church in Asia, and thence would be carried by him to one community after another, till he reached Laodicea, from which he would come further up the valley to Colossae, bringing both letters with him. The Colossians are not told to get the letter from Laodicea, but to be sure they read it. Tychicus would see that it came to them; their business was to see that they marked, learned, and inwardly digested it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry.
Often men who were once faithful grow negligent in the ministry.
1. Sometimes from discouragements from their people, either because they profit not, or because they weary their teachers.
2. Sometimes this comes from the corruption of their own natures; they grow soon weary of God’s work, or, having taken more work to do than they are sufficient for, they grow to neglect all; or they are drawn away with the love of the world.
3. Sometimes God Himself for the wickedness of their lives casts a barrenness upon their hearts, and blasteth their gifts. In this exhortation four things may be noted.
I. Who is he that is exhorted? “Say to Archippus.” This teaches us that--
1. The sinner must be told of his sin (Leviticus 19:17).
2. Such as offend publicly must be told of it publicly.
3. Ministers as well as others may be rebuked, though some clergymen are so sore and so proud, that they may not be touched; and many times it is a just judgment of God that no man should rebuke them. No man’s learning or greatness of place can so protect them, but that they may be told of their faults; it is too commonly known they can sin as well as others; why, then, should they not be rebuked as well as others?
4. The people may put their teachers in mind of their faults; as they ought to encourage them in well-doing, so may they admonish them for what is evil.
5. Ministers must be told of their faults by their people with great reverence, and heedfulness, and wisdom, according to that direction: “Rebuke not an elder, but exhort him as a father.”
6. They must say it to him, not say it of him. Ministers ought not to be traduced behind their backs.
7. He doth not threaten him if he do not, which implies he hoped their exhortation would speed; certainly it is a great praise to profit by admonition.
II. The matter charged upon him. “Take heed to thy ministry.” Note--
1. Consideration, a weighing and meditation of the greatness of the function, of the dignity of it, and the duty also, with the accounts he must make to God and His high calling and the great price of souls, etc.
2. Divers of the worthy qualities of a minister, as care, attendance, watchfulness, aptness to teach, and divide the word aright; discretion, to give every one his portion; diligence, gentleness, in not marring the doctrine with passion; patience to endure the work and labour of his ministry, etc.
3. Caution, and so ministers must take heed both of
(1) what is within them of their own divinations, of idleness, of the objections of their own flesh, and the temptations of the devil.
(2) Without them they must take heed of the new errors that will daily rise; of the sins of the people, with all the methods of Satan in devising, committing, or defending of sin, of men’s fancies; and for persons, they must take heed of hypocrites, and open adversaries, domestical vipers, and foreign foes, false brethren, and professed idolaters.
III. The reason by which it is urged. “Which thou hast received in the Lord.”
1. Because it is God’s free grace that he is chosen to be a minister (Romans 5:1).
2. Because he is inwardly called and qualified by God.
3. Because he received his outward authority, though from men, yet by direction and warrant of God’s Word.
4. Because he receives it for the Lord--that is to God’s glory, and the furtherance of His kingdom, over the mystical body of Christ. The use is threefold. First, the people should therefore learn to seek their ministers of God. Secondly, ministers should hence learn not to be proud, for they received their ministry of God; it was His gift, not their deserts; not idle, for they are to do God’s work. Thirdly, ministers may hence gather their own safety notwithstanding the oppositions of the world, that God that called them will perfect them.
IV. To fulfil it.
1. By constancy, holding out in it to the end, to go on, and not look back when they are at plough.
2. By faithful performance of it with a due respect of all the charge they have received of God, thus to fulfil it is to show the people all the counsel of God; it is to rebuke all sorts of sins and sinners; it is faithfully to do every kind of work that belongs to their ministry whether public or private. (N. Byfield.)
The ministry of Archippus
It is probable that Archippus was a young pastor recently appointed to the Church at Laodicea. Already signs of slackened zeal began to appear, which afterwards culminated in the state of lukewarmness for which this Church was denounced (Revelation 3:19)
. The condition of preacher and people react upon each other; the Church takes its colour from, and communicates it to its pastor. Hence the apostle, well knowing the perils surrounding the inexperienced Archippus, sends to him this timely warning to take heed to his ministry. He is reminded of--
I. The direct authority of the ministry. “In the Lord.”
II. The implied dangers of the ministry. “Take heed.”
III. The imperative personal demands of the ministry. “That thou fulfil it.” (G. Barlow.)
Archippus and his ministry
A sharp message that, and especially sharp as being sent through others. If this Archippus were a member of the Church at Colossae, it is remarkable that Paul should not have spoken to him directly, as he did to Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2)
. But it is by no means certain that he was. He is named in the Epistle to Philemon in such immediate connection with the latter and his wife Apphia, that he has been supposed to be their son. At all events, he was intimately associated with the Church in the house of Philemon, who, as we know, was a Colossian. But, on the other hand, the difficulty referred to, and the fact that the whole section is concerned with Laodicea, points to the conclusion that Archippus, though perhaps a native and even resident at Colossae had his ministry in connection with a neighbouring Church. But what does it matter where he worked? Not very much perhaps; and yet one cannot but read this grave exhortation to a man who was evidently getting languid and negligent, without remembering what we hear about Laodicea and its angel when next we meet it. It is not impossible that Archippus may have received the message more awful than Paul’s. “Because thou art neither hot nor cold,” etc. Be that as it may--
I. Each of us has a ministry, or sphere of service. We may fill it full, with earnest devotion and patient heroism, as some expanding gas fills out the silken round of its containing vessel, or we may breathe into it only enough to occupy a little portion, while all the rest hangs empty and flaccid.
II. A sacred motive enhances the obligation. We have received it “in the Lord.” In union with Him it has been laid upon us. No earthly hand has imposed it, nor does it arise from mere earthly relationships.
III. There must be diligent watchfulness to fulfil our ministry.
1. We have to take heed to our service, reflect upon it, its extent, nature, imperativeness, the manner of discharging it, and the means of fitting us for it. We have to keep it before us. Unless we are absorbed in it, we shall not fulfil it.
2. We have to take heed to ourselves, ever feeling our weakness and the strong antagonisms in our own natures which hinder our dis charge of the plainest and most imperative duties.
3. Let us remember, too, that if we begin, like Archippus, to be a little languid and perfunctory in our work, we may end where the Church at Laodicea ended. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Christian ministry
I. The Christian ministry is a solemn and responsible trust.
1. It is Divine in its bestowal. “Received in the Lord.”
2. It is personal in its responsibility. “Which thou hast received.”
3. It involves the communication of good to others. “Ministry.”
4. It has a special aspect of importance for the individual minister. “The Ministry.”
II. The Christian ministry demands unswerving: fidelity in accomplishing its lofty mission. “That thou fulfil it.”
1. Divine truth must be clearly apprehended and profoundly realized.
2. The whole truth must be declared.
3. The declaration of truth must be full and courageous.
III. The Christian ministry is surrounded by peculiar perils. “Take heed.” A shrewd and ever wakeful vigilance is needed against--
1. The stealthy encroachments of error.
2. The pernicious influences of the world.
3. The subtle temptations to unfaithfulness. (G. Barlow.)
Ministers must look to Christ their Master for direction
At the battle of Lake Erie, when, in the sweeping havoc which was sometimes made, a number of men were shot away from around a gun, the survivors looked silently around to Perry, and then stepped into their places. When he looked at the poor fellows who lay wounded and weltering on the deck, he always found their faces turned towards him, and their eyes fixed on his countenance. In the midst of trials and labours the minister should keep his eyes on the great Leader, Christ.
The salutation of me, Paul
Words of farewell
Last words have in them a nameless touch of pathos.
They linger in the memory as a loved, familiar presence, soothe life’s sorrows, and exert upon the soul a strange fascination. As the years rush by, how rich in meaning do the words of dying lips become, as when Caesar said, sadly: “And thou, Brutus!” or when John Quincy Adams said: “This is the last of earth;” or Mirabeau’s frantic cry for “Music,” after a life of discord; or George Washington’s calm statement: “It is well;” or Wesley’s triumphant utterance: “The best of all is, God is with us!” And these closing words of the high-souled apostle, written from his prison, in the prospect of threatened death, carry with them a significance and tenderness which will be felt wherever this Epistle is read.
I. A personally inscribed salutation. The rest of the Epistle was dictated by the apostle to an amanuensis. He adds his own salutation not only as an expression of his love, but also as a mark of the authenticity of the document. It were worthy of the pencil of genius to pourtray the noble prisoner, whose right hand was linked to the left of his military jailor, tracing with tremulous fingers the final words to those for whose sake he was in bonds! How would the hand-writing of such a man be prized and venerated, and with what holy eagerness would his words be read and pondered!
II. A touching reminder. “‘Remember my bonds.” The apostle was in prison, not for any offence against the laws of God or man, but for the sake of the gospel. The Church of Christ in all ages has had abundant reason to remember with gratitude and praise the bonds of the great apostle, not only for the stimulating example of holy patience and dignified submission displayed under trying circumstances, but for his unspeakably precious literary work. The Epistle begins and ends with blessing; and between these two extremes lies a body of truth which has dispensed blessings to thousands, and is destined to bless thousands more. The benediction is short, but instinct with life, and laden with Divine beneficence. Grace is inclusive of all the good God can bestow, or man receive. Lessons:
1. Praise God for a well-authenticated Bible.
2. Praise God for the teachings of a suffering life.
3. Praise God for His boundless grace. (G. Barlow.)
Remember my bonds.
Being bound by a chain, Paul had to employ a secretary, and then at the close of the letter he would raise his own manacled hand, and add a few words of loving salutation. Under these circumstances his writing would be awkward and ill-formed. He looks at the: MS. He sees his friend’s work so neat, and his own writing disfiguring the MS. “What will the Colossians think of this? They may regard it as an indication of carelessness. I will tell them the reason--my bonds. They will not misunderstand now.” This is a small circumstance, but there is this in it: If the great apostle needed consideration, and had something which spoiled the perfection of his work, and which, being remembered, accounted for the imperfection, may it not he true of others also? We have all a chain of some kind.
I. How many chains there are that need to be remembered.
1. Temperament often hinders men from being and doing what others expect of them. Some are impulsive, others slow; some are irritable, others placid; some must work spasmodically, others are dogged; some are sanguine, others despondent. You see all this in the family circle, where you make allowance. You see it in the Church; remember it there.
2. The bondage of education, i.e., the training of a lifetime, leads to misunderstandings. One man has had a rough, and another a gentle, bringing up. They meet as brethren--the one hearty, the other reserved. The one thinks the other rude; the other thinks his brother cold. Yet both are equally friendly and loyal. What they want is to remember one another’s bonds.
3. Family ties are sometimes bonds. How many live in unsympathetic homes which restrain their better impulses, and act as a clog to their activities. How many have claims upon them of which others know nothing, and which make them appear parsimonious.
4. What a chain, too, is some forgiven sin. It hinders men from taking positions which others in ignorance would thrust upon them. Just such a sin barred David from building the Temple. There is a sense in which we should forget a man’s past--in kindness; but there are times when we should remember it in love. It will thus account for much that is unaccountable.
II. How important it is that these bonds should be remembered. When a man is appointed to do some work in a public observatory, he is set to take some well-ascertained observations, that any deviation on his part from the average vision may be ascertained. And this deviation is called his “personal difference,” and is allowed for. If forgotten it would make his work useless. Something like this should be done by Christians. Allowance should be made for each man’s “personal difference.” Our brother’s chain should be remembered.
1. In justice to him. Otherwise we shall deem him less worthy than he is.
2. In justice to ourselves and to our faith. We cannot but believe more fully in the Saviour if we measure His influence, which we cannot do if we misjudge our brother.
3. In justice to the cause of Christ. So long as we forget our neighbour’s chain we shall misunderstand him, and so be unable to co-operate with him in Christian work.
III. There is a right and a wrong side to this memory.
1. Remember your brother’s chain and this will make you more charitable in your judgments.
2. Remember only your own and it will make you petulant and sensitive.
3. Forget your own chain, then, but never that of others. (J. Ogle.)
The limitations of life
We have all our bonds and feel fettered somehow. Continually we discover that the realization of our aspirations, or the attainment of our purposes, is marred by some chain, even as the penmanship of Paul was made angular and irregular by his bonds. Thus we are each carrying about with us a chain, of which, so long as we are working within its limits, we may be largely unconscious, but which brings us to a stand the moment we have gone to its farthest length. The business man is bound to his counting-house by a cord which neither his God nor his conscience will allow him to break. The invalid is held down to her couch, and her devoted nurse is kept continually at the bedside of the sick one by a cord, which is not the less real because it is invisible, or the less powerful because its strands consist of love. The mother, wherever she goes, feels tugging at her heart the silken string that ties her to the cradle. The poor man is hampered by his poverty, and the servant has his service of God in some sort conditioned and qualified by the duties which he owes to his earthly master. We may find a few things suggested which may reconcile us to our bonds.
I. The apostle’s bonds were no disgrace to him.
1. His chain was the trophy of principle, and was more ornamental to him than the bracelets of our fashionable ladies are to them. He could not blame his own folly or wickedness for his present condition. It came to him when he was in the way of duty, and the consciousness of that was a support and solace to him all through.
2. But it is quite similar with our providential limitations. There is no disgrace in poverty or in sickness, provided only we have not brought it upon ourselves by our iniquity. The business man has no need to be ashamed of his attention to his counting-house. The mother cannot think that she is disgraced by the little ones that fill the nursery with their glee. And if there be anywhere on earth the human incarnation of that angel who ministered to our Lord in His anguish, it is to be found in the devoted nurse who tends the fevered sufferer. Let us not condemn ourselves if, because we are unavoidably called to the discharge of such duties, we cannot give ourselves to work in some department of Church activity.
3. But the tendency of much that is said nowadays is to make one dissatisfied with himself if he be not engaged in some ecclesiastical work. It is good to realize Wesley’s idea, “all at work, and always at work.” But I have known a gentle heart well-nigh broken because a minister as good as declared that those who did not engage in a certain kind of work, were unworthy to be called Christians. But that quiet one was every day doing a kind of service for Christ which required far more self-denial, and one which she could not have neglected without sin. But the service of suffering is as well pleasing to God as is that of working. Holiness comes out in suffering as well as in working. And so, provided we maintain holiness within the limits of our chain, it is no disgrace to us that we cannot go beyond them.
II. Paul’s bonds did hot prevent him from being useful.
1. No doubt Paul was sometimes saddened by the thought that his long imprisonment had kept him from missionary work, and yet in the long run he became convinced that his chain had really advanced the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12-13).
(1) The soldier to whom he was chained was changed every four hours, so by embracing the opportunity of conversing with each of his guards Paul became instrumental in the conversion of many soldiers, and introduced the leaven of Christianity into the Roman army. “My bonds in Christ are manifest throughout the praetorian guard, and in all other places.” He came into contact with the lowest and the highest of the people, and was blessed in the salvation not only of the runaway slave Onesimus, but also of some of the inmates of Caesar’s household.
(2) It was at this time that he wrote his letters to the Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon; and who may estimate the results these Epistles have produced and are producing. Thus Paul was laid aside from personal activity for a time, in order that, through these letters, he might work for all time.
2. There is much in all this to stimulate and encourage us. How much the business man might accomplish for the Lord, if he were only to do with those who are brought into contact with him what Paul did with his soldier guardians! And is there on this earth any sanctuary so blessed as the sick chamber, where the pulpit is a couch of suffering, and the preacher is a patient, loving, gentle one who tries to bear all for Christ? It may seem a great hardship to the mother that she is kept by family cares from taking a share in any departments of active benevolence. But wait until that bright-eyed boy has grown up to be a godly man, or it may be a useful minister, and then she will have the satisfaction of knowing that the influence of her training is telling through him upon thousands of hearts. We never lose in the long run, even in the matter of usefulness, by giving ourselves to the nearest work, and to which we seem bound by a chain we cannot and dare not break. Another person can do as well in a mission school, but who, save she, can be a mother to her children. In the day of final apocalypse few things will surprise us more than the benefits which have sprung from the labours of some humble Christian who thought that she was doing nothing. Courage, then! You may be fettered, but He whom you serve is not bound.
III. Paul’s bonds did not mar his happiness. When he was in the prison of Philippi he “sang praises unto God,” and we cannot but feel that he was speaking his own experience in his injunctions to that Church (Philippians 4:4-8). Nor is this all. In the Epistles of his first imprisonment there is an elevation of thought and a gladsome spirit which we hardly discover in any other. In any case his chain had not bound his heart. In the days of superstition men wore charms about them under the belief that they would thereby ensure themselves against disease. But no mere external appliance can keep sorrow from the soul. We must have Christ within to charm misery away. He “giveth songs in the night.” It is an easy thing to sing in the day of health and prosperity; but only Christ can make us sing in want and bondage.
IV. Paul’s bonds did not lesson his reward. Opportunity is the measure of responsibility. He who sat over against the treasury pronounced the noblest eulogy over her who had cast into it the smallest coin--because in estimating her merit He “remembered her bonds.” He knew that her heart was larger than her means, and that she was lamenting all the time that she had not more to give. So He will give the same kindly consideration to the different providential hindrances with which we have to contend; and haply they, who through their lives have been regretting that they have done so little, may hear the unexpected encomium, “He hath done what he could,” “He hath done more than they all.” We are thoughtlessly apt to connect reward with activity; Christ has connected it with character, and that is indicated and strengthened by suffering and patience as well as work. Consciousness of limitation may make a man painfully conscious of the imperfections of the little he is able to do. “It is not all I once planned to do. It was in my heart to make it much better! Master! Remember my bonds!” And the appeal will not be made in vain, for the reply will come: “Well done! enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Bonds worn for Christ
We should not forget that we, too, are m some sort “the prisoners of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and ought to wear our bonds patiently in remembrance of Him. I saw lately in a sketch of the philosopher Morse, a simple incident that may help here to illustrate my meaning. In his early painting days, Morse went into the studio of Benjamin West, with whom he was a special favourite. That great artist was then engaged upon his famous picture of Christ Rejected, and after carefully examining his visitor’s hands, he said to him, “Let me tie you with this cord, and place you there while I paint in the hands of the Saviour.” So he stood still until the work was done, bound, as it were, in the Saviour’s stead. I can fancy that a strange thrill would pass through Morse’s breast as he thought of being, in any lowliest manner, identified thus directly with the Lord. But that was only in a picture. In the sternly real life of every day, however, we are each in some way bound by a chain in the Redeemer’s stead, as representing Him on earth; let us see to it, therefore, that we wear it as meekly and as bravely as He wore that wherewith for our sakes He was fastened to the lictor’s stake. Thus again we come to that cross whereon for us the Saviour died, and find in it a motive strong enough to induce us to bear anything, or do anything. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Bonds no hindrance to happiness
As I was writing there broke upon my ears the song of a canary bird hanging in the room overhead. Its trilling notes were not a whit less joyous than those which I have often heard rained down from the infinite expanse of heaven by the little skylark of my native land. In spite of its cage that tiny warbler sings, and when its young mistress goes to speak to it, there is a flutter of joy in its wings, as with ruffled neck and chattering gladness it leaps to bid her welcome. So let us accept our bonds, whether of poverty, or weakness, or duty, as the bird accepts its cage. You may cage the bird, but you cannot cage its song. No more can you confine or restrain the joy of the heart which, accepting its condition, sees God in it and greets Him from it. To fret at our circumstances will not improve them; but it wilt make us worse ourselves. On the other hand, the way to get the most happiness out of life is to carry Christ continually in our hearts. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Colossians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter