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THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON.
The singular correspondency between this epistle and that to the Colossians has been remarked already. An assertion in the Epistle to the Colossians, viz. that Onesimus was one of them, is verified by the Epistle to Philemon ; and is verified, not by any mention of Colosse, any the most distant intimation concerning the place of Philemon's abode, but singly by stating Onesimus to be Philemon's servant, and by joining in the salutation Philemon with Archippus ; for this Archippus, when we go back to the Epistle to the Colossians, appears to have been an inhabitant of that city, and, as it should seem, to have held an office of authority in that church. The case stands thus. Take the Epistle to the Colossians alone, and no circumstance is discoverable which makes out the assertion, that Onesimus was one of them. Take the Epistle to Philemon alone, and nothing at all appears concerning the place to which Philemon or his servant Onesimus belonged. For any thing that is said in the epistle, Philemon might have been a Thessalonian, a Philippian, or an Ephesian, as well as a Colossian. Put the two epistles together and the matter is clear. The reader perceives a junction of circumstances, which ascertains the conclusion at once. Now, all that is necessary to be added in this place is, that this correspondency evinces the genuineness of one epistle, as well as of the other. It is like comparing the two parts of a cloven tally. Coincidence proves the authenticity of both.
And this coincidence is perfect; not only in the main article of showing, by implication, Onesimus to be a Colossian, but in many dependent circumstances. VOL. IV.
1. “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have sent again,' (ver. 10–12). It appears from the epistle to the Colossians, that, in truth, Onesimus was sent at that time to Colosse : “All my state shall Tychicus declare, whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother. Colos. chap. iv. 7-9.
2. “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds,' (ver. 10). It appears from the preceding quotation, that Onesimus was with St Paul when he wrote the epistle to the Colossians; and that he wrote that epistle in imprisonment, is evident from his declaration in the fourth chapter and third verse: 'Praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.'
3. St Paul bids Philemon prepare for him a lodging: 'For I trust,' says he, 'that, through your prayers, I shall be given unto you. This agrees with the expectation of speedy deliverance, which he expressed in another epistle written during the same imprisonment: 'Him, (Timothy) ‘I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me; but I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.' Phil. chap. ii. 23, 24.
4. As the letter to Philemon, and that to the Colossians, were written at the same time, and sent by the same messenger, the one to a particular inhabitant, the other to the church of Colosse, it may be expected that the same, or nearly the same, persons would be about St Paul, and join with him, as was the practice, in the salutations of the epistle. Accordingly we find the names of Aristarchus, Marcus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas, in both epistles. Timothy, who is joined with St Paul in the superscription of the Epistle to the Colossians, is joined with him in this. Tychicus did not salute Philemon, because he accompanied the epistle to Colosse, and would undoubtedly there see him. Yet the reader of the Epistle to Philemon will remark one considerable diversity in the catalogue of saluting friends, and which shows that the catalogue was not copied from that to the Colossians. In the Epistle to the Colossians, Aristarchus is called by St Paul his fellowprisoner, Colos. chap. iv. 10.; in the Epistle to Philemon, Aristarchus is mentioned without any addition, and the title of fellow-prisoner is given to Epaphras. *
* Dr Benson observes, and perhaps truly, that the appellation of fellow-pris
And let it also be observed, that notwithstanding the close and circumstantial agreement between the two epistles, this is not the case of an opening left in a genuine writing, which an impostor is induced to fill up; nor of a reference to some writings not extant, which sets a sophist at work to supply the loss, in like manner as, because St Paul was supposed, Colos. chap. iv. 16, to allude to an epistle written by him to the Laodiceans, some person has from thence taken the hint of uttering a forgery under that title. The present, I say, is not that case; for Philemon's name is not mentioned in the Epistle to the Colossians; Onesimus' servile condition is no where hinted at, any more than his crime, his flight, or the place or time of his conversion. The story therefore of the epistle, if it be a fiction, is a fiction to which the author could not have been guided, by any thing he had read in St Paul's genuine writings.
Ver. 4, 5. 'I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers; hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints'
Hearing of thy love and faith. This is the form of speech which St Paul was wont to use towards those churches which he had not seen, or then visited ; see Rom. chap. i. 8; Ephes. chap. i. 15; Col. chap. i. 3, 4. Toward those churches and persons, with whom he was previously acquainted, he employed a different phrase; as, 'I thank my God always on your behalf,' 1 Cor. chap. i. 4; 2 Thess. chap. i. 3; or, upon every remembrance of you,' Phil
. chap. i. 3; 1 Thess. chap. i. 2, 3; 2 Tim. chap. i. 3: and never speaks of hearing of them. Yet, I think, it must be concluded, from the nineteenth verse of this epistle, that Philemon had been converted by St Paul himself: Albeit, I do not say to thee, how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. Here then is a peculiarity. Let us inquire whether the epistle supplies any circumstance which will account for it. We have seen that it may be made out, not from the epistle itself, but from a
oner, as applied by St Paul to Epaphras, did not imply that they were impris. oned together at the time; any more than your calling a person your fellowtraveller, imports that you are then upon your travels. If he had, upon any former occasion, travelled with you, you might afterwards speak of him under that title. It is just so with the term fellow-prisoner.
comparison of the epistle with that to the Colossians, that Philemon was an inhabitant of Colosse; and it further appears, from the Epistle to the Colossians, that St Paul had never been in that city; 'I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. Col. chap. ii. 1. Although, therefore, St Paul had formerly met with Philemon at some other place, and had been the immediate instrument of his conversion, yet Philemon's faith and conduct afterwards, insomuch as he lived in a city which St Paul had never visited, could only be known to him by fame and reputation.
The tenderness and delicacy of this epistle have been long admired: Though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds. There is something certainly very melting and persuasive in this, and every part of the epistle. Yet, in my opinion, the character of St Paul prevails in it throughout. The warm, affectionate, authoritative teacher is interceeding with an absent friend for a beloved convert. He urges his suit with an earnestness, befitting perhaps not so much the occasion, as the ardour and sensibility of bis own mind. Here also, as every where, he shows himself conscious of the weight and dignity of his mission; nor does he suffer Philemon for a moment to forget it: 'I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient. He is careful also to recall, though obliquely, to Philemon's memory, the sacred obligation under which he had laid him, by bringing to him the knowledge of Jesus Christ ; 'I do not say to thee, how thou owest to me even thine own self besides.' Without laying aside, therefore, the apostolic character, our author softens the imperative style of his address, by mixing with it every sentiment and consideration that could move the heart of his correspondent. Aged and in prison, he is content to supplicate and entreat. Onesimus was rendered dear to him by his conversion and his services; the child of his affliction, and ministering unto him in the bonds of the gospel.'
This ought to recommend him, whatever had been his fault, to Philemon's forgiveness: 'Receive him as myself, as my own bowels. Every thing, however, should be voluntary. St Paul was determined that Philemon's compliance should flow from his own bounty: Without thy mind would I do nothing, that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly;' trusting nevertheless to his gratitude and attachment for the performance of all that he requested, and for more: 'Having confidence in thy obedience, I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.'
St Paul's discourse at Miletus; his speech before Agrippa; his Epistle to the Romans, as hath been remarked (No. VIII); that to the Galatians, chap. iv. 11–20; to the Philippians, chap. i. 29, ch. ii. 2; the Second to the Corinthians, chap. vi. 1-13; and indeed some part or other of almost every epistle, exhibit examples of a similar application to the feelings and affections of the persons whom he addresses. And it is observable, that these pathetic effusions, drawn for the most part from his own sufferings and situation, usually precede a command, soften a rebuke, or mitigate the harshness of some disagreeable truth.
THE SUBSCRIPTIONS OF THE EPISTLES.
Six of these subscriptions are false or improbable; that is, they are either absolutely contradicted by the contents of the epistle, or are difficult to be reconciled with them.
I. The subscription of the First Epistle to the Corinthians states that it was written from Philippi, notwithstanding that, in the sixteenth chapter and the eight verse of the epistle, St Paul informs the Corinthians, that he will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost;'and notwithstanding that he begins the salutations in the epistle, by telling them the churches of Asia salute you;' a pretty evident indication that he himself was in Asia at this time.