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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 26: Sojourn at Rome.

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Part:  A  B  C

He requests Philemon to receive him as his own child. He says that it was his desire to retain Onesimus, that he might act the same part in ministering to him in his bonds as Philemon would have done. But he did not desire his services unless Philemon should voluntarily set him free; for it might be in the providence of God that Onesimus had left his master for a season in so improper a manner, that, being converted, he might on his return be forgiven and received with such affection that he would choose to dwell with him ever after, "not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved."

The apostle added: "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he [p. 287] hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account. I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it; albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides."

Paul voluntarily proposes to assume the debt of another; he will make reparation for a crime committed by another, that the guilty one may be spared the disgrace of punishment, and may again enjoy the privileges which he has forfeited. The apostle well knew the severity which masters exercised towards their slaves, and that Philemon was much incensed at the conduct of his servant. He therefore approached him in a manner to arouse his deepest and tenderest feelings as a Christian. The conversion of Onesimus has made him a brother in the faith, and any punishment inflicted on this new convert from pagan darkness would be regarded by Paul as though inflicted on himself.

How fitting an illustration of the love of Christ toward the repenting sinner! As the servant who had defrauded his master had nothing with which to make restitution, so the sinner who has robbed God of years of service has no means of canceling the debt; Jesus interposes between the sinner and the just wrath of God, and says, I will pay the debt. Let the sinner be spared the punishment of his guilt. I will suffer in his stead.

After offering to assume the debt of Onesimus, Paul gently reminded Philemon how greatly he himself was indebted to the apostle; he owed to him his own self in a special sense, since God had made Paul the instrument of his conversion. He then, in a most tender, earnest appeal, [p. 288] besought Philemon that as he had by his liberalities refreshed the saints, so he would refresh the spirit of the apostle by granting him this cause of rejoicing. "Having confidence in thy obedience," he added, "I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say."

This epistle is of great value as a practical illustration of the influence of the gospel upon the relation of master and servant. Slave-holding was an established institution throughout the Roman empire, and both masters and slaves were found in most of the churches for which Paul labored. In the cities, where slaves many times outnumbered the free population, laws of the most terrible severity were considered necessary to keep them in subjection. A wealthy Roman owned hundreds of slaves, of every rank, of every nation, and of every accomplishment. The master had full control of the souls and bodies of these helpless beings. He could inflict upon them any suffering he chose; but if one of them in retaliation or self-defense ventured to raise a hand against his owner, the whole family of the offender would be inhumanly sacrificed, however innocent they might be. Even the slightest mistake, accident, or carelessness was punished without mercy.

Some masters, more humane than others, were more indulgent toward their servants; but the vast majority of the wealthy and noble gave themselves up without restraint, to the indulgence of lust, passion, and appetite, and they made their slaves the wretched victims of caprice and tyranny. The tendency of the whole system was hopelessly degrading.

It was not the apostle's work to violently [p. 289] overturn the established order of society. Had he attempted this, he would have prevented the success of the gospel. But he taught principles that struck at the very foundation of slavery, and that, carried into effect, would surely undermine the whole system. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The religion of Christ has a transforming power upon the receiver. The converted slave became a member of the body of Christ, and as such was to be loved and treated as a brother, a fellow-heir with his master of the blessings of God and the privileges of the gospel. In the same spirit were servants to perform their duties; "not with eye- service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." Christianity makes a strong bond of union between master and slave, king and subject, the gospel minister and the most degraded sinner who has found in Christ relief from his burden of crime. They have been washed in the same blood, quickened by the same Spirit; they are made one in Christ Jesus.

Part:  A  B  C

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