William Burkitt Notes and Observations - Philemon 1:8 - 1:8

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William Burkitt Notes and Observations - Philemon 1:8 - 1:8


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Observe here, The marvellous condescending humility of our apostle in these expressions: As an apostle he was the highest ruler and officer in the church of God, and had the fullest authority and power that a person could have upon earth, to command, require, and enjoin Philemon to the practice of his duty; but he tells him, though he might be bold to enjoin, yet he rather chose to beseech: For love's sake I rather beseech thee.

Learn hence, That church rulers and governors, although they have a commanding power and authority, which upon occasion they may and must make use of; yet they should choose much rather in love to entreat, hoping that will work more kindly and effectually upon the minds of persons.

Observe, 2. The argument St. Paul uses as a ground of entreaty: I Paul desire and beseech thee, I Paul the aged, I Paul a prisoner.

Note, he urges his years as an argument for granting his request; that he was aged, and an aged minister of Christ: if honour be due to an aged person walking in the ways of righteousness, much more is it so to an aged minister, gray-headed in the service of Christ, and having faithfully discharged his duty there. He also urges his sufferings as well as his years; I Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ. The sufferings of Christ's ministers in the cause of God should by no means lessen and diminish, but rather augment and increase, that reverence, regard, and respect, which is deservedly due and payable unto them.

Observe, 3. The person whom he thus intercedes with affection for: Onesimus, whom he calls his son begotten in his bonds; that is, his spiritual son, converted to Christianity by his ministry, when he was in prison.

Where note, That endearing love, and that fervent affection, which the ministers of Christ bear to their converts, to such as they have gained unto Christ; it equals, nay, perhaps exceeds, the natural affections of parents towards their own children.

Note also, Who they are that best deserve the name of fathers in the church; verily those who have begot most spiritual children unto God; such as can say, "Lord, here am I, and the children which thou hast given me." Nevertheless, for our comfort, God will, at the reckoning day, account and treat such as spiritual fathers who have been faithful, though unsuccessful in the work of Christ; because they have cast forth the prolific seed of the gospel, therefore the cause of sterility and spiritual barrenness cannot be imputed to them, they having exerted and put forth their best endeavours.

Note also, The high honour which God confers upon his faithful ministers: the scripture allows them, though but instruments, what is properly attributed to God himself, namely, to beget spiritual children; this is God's work. Of his own will begat he us, Jam_1:18 God allows that to be in an inferior sense attributed to the ministry, which is strictly applicable only to himself.

Observe, 4. How the apostle wisely answers the objections which Philemon might make against his request of receiving Onesimus, that he had been vile, a fugitive, a thief; what not? St. Paul implicitly owns all that, yet with a softening distinction, He was unprofitable in times past, but now profiteth both thee and me.

Now St. Paul pre-occupating and answering this objection before Philemon made it, shows how hard it is for the best of men to forgive and forget injuries done unto them, especially by their relations, those in their own families, whether children or servants.

Note also, The character given of Onesimus before conversion, he was unprofitable. Lord! what an useless, unprofitable creature, is an unsanctified and unconverted sinner! unprofitable to God, unprofitable to others, unprofitable to his own soul; but by conversion he becomes universally useful and profitable to all about him, but especially to himself; others may have the benefit of our estate, our parts and gifts, but we ourselves shall have the chief benefit, comfort, and advantage, of our own grace.