A slave of Colossae had fled from his master having first, as it appears, robbed him. He fled to Rome: he heard the apostle Paul. How, when, or where, we are not told. Did he strive to hide himself behind the eager listeners, lest he should be seen? Was he there caught and struck by that earnest eye, whose pleading tones, those beseeching tears? Was it that the apostle reasoned of righteousness, and his own iniquity flashed across his scorched soul: that he spake of temperance, and his drunken carousals rose up to convict him? Was it that the preacher of the judgment to come, and the white throne, and the dead gathered, and the whole dread assize rose in truth's solemn grandeur before him, appalled his spirit, locked his lips, and smote his heart with sore amazement at sin's madness - the enjoyment of an hour for the pains of eternity? Or was it the gentle story of the crucified Jesus that stole into his heart, and a sense of his ingratitude to God that struck him with piercing anguish? We are not told. Enough for us to know, that whatever the apostleís topic, he heard and believed in Jesusí blood, as the ransom and atonement for sin. He was a new creature; old things had passed away, all things were become new. Ice and snow, and barrenness and death, and the wintry tempests of his soul were gone; its spring of gratitude, and love, and life, was come.


But he began to think of duties broken, of a master robbed and wronged. Ought he not to go back again to the station where God had set him? Should he not strive to undo, by earnest diligence and faithfulness in the future, the trespass he had committed? He appeals; therefore, we may suppose, to Paul - ĎTeacher of grace! What shall I do? My masterís face rises before me daily, and chides me that I linger in Rome. A sense of my forgotten duties scourges me hour by hour. Ought I not go back to Colossae? But how can I meet my master again? How suffer the penalty due to my offence? How pay by passage back? How repay the money of which I have robbed him


Paul (we suppose) answers - ĎYou have sinned indeed: sinned beyond your power to atone. But leave your reconciliation with your master to me - I will plead on your behalfIt was this conjuncture of the circumstances that drew forth the Epistle to Philemon. Let us see then how Paul undertakes the reconciliation.


By such an answer, the apostle puts himself into the place of mediator or intercessor, for he stands between the offended master and his offending slave, to being them together again; so that the one may escape punishment, and the otherís interest take no damage.


If Onesimus believed in Paulís power and willingness to reconcile him, his soul would be at peace. His fears of punishment would depart, and he would even desire to get back to Philemonís house, that he might serve him, as he had never done before. What made the change? Faith. He trusts in Paulís power with his master. He does nothing in the matter himself. Look through the epistle, and you will not see one word from Onesimus. He does not ask Paul to tell his master how very sorry he was for the past, and promise faithfully, with vows and oaths, that if he were received back again and forgiven, Philemon should never have cause to complain of him, and that he would work off the debt by extra labour. No: this would be acting as men in general do. But this would be putting himself on the old ground, to be dealt with according to his own works.


In manner like Paulís is the sinner [and Christian backslider] reconciled to God. He is, like Onesimus, a runaway slave, that has robbed his master. But if he hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ - the good news of the coming of the Son of God to die for sin - his heart changes, and he desires to serve the God against whom he before rose in rebellion. But how shall he escape just judgment for the past? How face the threatening law?


He must betake himself to the intercession of Jesus, as Onesimus did to Paulís. He must trust in that, and that will give him instant peace. As Paul pleaded with Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, so does Jesus for every returning sinner. Only, if he is to be reconciled, he must leave it all in the Mediatorís hands. As Onesimus appears not in the matter of atonement, so neither does the sinner. As Onesimus said nothing of his sorrow for the past, or of his good behaviour for the future, as the reason of Philemonís forgiveness, but trusted only to Paulís plea, so must it be with the well-instructed sinner. His trust must be solely in the one Mediator between God and man - the man Christ Jesus.


But let us look more closely at what Paul says, that we may enter fully into the joyful secret of reconciliation. He begins his plea by speaking about himself. He had a request to make of Philemon, as one who loved Paul, and knew his sufferings in the cause of Christ. So Jesus pleads, by speaking to the Father of His love to Him, and of His sufferings for His glory. This is the first point. If the mediator were not worthy, all hope must fall to the ground.


Next Paul mentions Onesimus, to whom he have a new relationship. "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." Onesimus then is presented as born again, and by virtue of that birth related to his intercessor. He says not, - ĎI beseech thee for thy slaveí: but Ďfor my sonHe who believes in Jesus is born again of the Holy Ghost, and has died to the old nature, that he may become the Son of God


But now he speaks of his former state: ďWho in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable both to thee and to me." The turantís fault is not disguised, nor his former life defended. His name was indeed Onesimus, which signifies "profitable," but his actions had belied his name. Many a one calls himself ĎChristian,í - Ďone like Jesus Christ,í - but his actions give the lie to the name he takes.


In the foregoing words, Paul meets a question that might arise in the mind of Philemon: ĎBut Paul, if I forgive him now, will he not by and by rise, and rob me, as he did before? What security have I, that he will not laugh at my pardon behind my back, and anew follow his evil careerWhat is the reply? Ďthe security, Philemon, lies deep; deep enough to satisfy you, for it satisfies God. He sinned against thee once, because he was a member of the old and corrupt Adam. But to that old nature he [has now] died, the new man is raised up withinThis is Godís security for our future life: not our well-forged determinations, and vows to serve Him, but the new nature which He has raised up in us. For "whosoever is born of God sinneth not; he cannot sin, because he is born of God."


And now notice well the ground on which returning Onesimus is set: "Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels."


The repentant one returns, not as Onesimus, but as a part of Paul. Did Philemon love Paul? He must love Onesimus as though he were a member of Paul? Paulís own "bowels." With the very love that Philemon bore to the apostle is the truent slave to be received. Onesimus is changed within. He is begotten again. He is changed without. Paul has made him a part of himself. Is not this beautiful? Doubly beautiful is it, when we see it in the platform on which the accepted sinner stands before God. How can men, those truant sinners, be accepted before a spirit-searching holy God? When they stand where Onesimus does, not as members of the old Adam, but as one with Christ by faith. Then, then they are members of Christ Jesus. "For we (says Paul) are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones:" Eph. 5: 30.


If Philemonís wife had said to him - ĎDo you know that the culprit Onesimus has returned? Send him to prison! Remember how treacherously he robbed you by night. Load him with fetters! Make an example of himPhilemon must have replied - ĎI cannot, even if I would. Paul has entreated me, as I love him, to receive Onesimus as if it were himself. And so I will, FOR PAULíS SAKE! Bid him welcome! Spread the table! Bring bread! Pour him out wine! I see in him Onesimus no longer, but Paul


Philemonís right to him had not indeed ceased, and therefore Paul had sent him back. The conversion [or restoration] of Onesimus was everything to him before God, and as to his standing in eternity, but it did not make him a freeman before the world. But, says the apostle, you will now receive him back in spiritual things, "no longer as a servant (slave) but above a servant, a brother beloved." He was to be Philemonís companion in glory for ever. Faith raises us from the lowest estate, and makes us great, not in this world, but sons of God, and heirs of all things in the age to come.


But behold, again the same blessed ground of acceptance appears: "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself."


Do you wish to know, reader, your ground of assurance of acceptance before God? Catch this lesson: let it be engraven deeply on your heart! If this lesson of peace with God be once well learned by grace, Satan will not be able to trouble you with thoughts of your unworthiness or ill deserts.


Suppose that Onesimus returned, one of his fellow-slaves had met him in the hall. He gazes on him with sudden surprise. ĎYes! It is Onesimus! So you are come back again! I would not for the world stand in your place! You may prepare yourself for the inner prison, the stocks and the lash: for your master has not forgotten your robbery.í If Onesimus knew the ground on which Paul had placed him, he would be unterrified. He would know that he stood not on the footing of his own deserts before his once offended master. Reader, do you believe? If you do, mark with thankful heart the ground on which you rest before God! Think that you hear Jesus uttering these words before the Father - "If thou count Me a partner, receive him as Myself." Is not Jesus the man that is Godís Fellow, in everything His Partner? Then we are to be received as Jesusí very self. On this ground is Satan to be met, and resisted, if he speak to us of our unworthiness and sinfulness, as the reasons why we should dread to draw near to God. Does the Father love Jesus? So then, with even such love does the Father welcome and love us. Jesus has clothed us with His righteousness, put upon us His name, perfumed us with His holy merit, and asks the Father to receive us as Himself!


A greater friend, O sinner, than Paul, is willing to stand for you, to bring you back, and guarantee a gracious pardon, and entrance to God. Will you not ask Him?


But another point was to be provided for yet. The former plea ensured the truant a kind reception, but it did not remove Philemonís claim on the offender for the stolen money. And Onesimus goes back weary and poor, his last penny spent. How is this met? "If he has wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that to my account. I, Paul, have written with my own hand, I will repay it."


In all this Onesimus is silent. He goes back, and presents the letter. He trusts in what Paul has done for him. And that provides for his every want. The runaway does not pay or promise to pay, his own debt: Paul takes it on himself. No matter how large or how small it was, Paul takes it on himself. ĎLook not to Onesimus,í he says; ĎHe owes it to you no longer: I owe it. You can trust me that I will repay it, if you cannot trust him. Here is my bond. The debt is mineWhat must Philemon say? ĎOnesimus, you are free! Paul has taken on himself your debt


Is not this beautiful in itself? But O! most beautiful is it, as a true picture of Jesus taking our debts upon Him, and of the Fatherís setting us free in consequence. We have wronged God. We owe him ten thousand talents: we bankrupts cannot pay. How then can we escape the debtorís cell, the darkness, the chains, and the tormentors, till we pay the uttermost farthing? Because Jesus makes our debts His own. Great our debt, but His payment is greater; and therefore we felons may go free. God can trust His Son. If Jesus undertake, the Father shall be no loser. "He has magnified the law and made it houourable."


Does anyone who reads this, say that he cannot understand justification by faith? Look on this picture, and see it realized, and you cannot mistake it. The guilty Onesimus going back to his offended master, with no plea of his own, but simply Paulís letter and plea for him, is pardoned, is welcomed, is set free from debt. If Onesimus had re-entered his masterís doors, having suffered all that the law threatened against absconded slaves, and having money in his hand to pay all the debt, he would have been justified by his own sufferings and deeds. But now he returns, not accepted by his master for what he had done or promised to do, but solely on the ground of what another had done and promised to do for him. He was justified by what Paul did for him, and trusting in that, Onesimus, though a culprit, was able in peace to meet his master again. To the eyes of his fellow-servants he was only Onesimus still, the guilty felon that deserved the lash, and the dungeon; but he knew that before his masterís eye he stood on wholly different ground. All Paulís merits were reckoned his. All Paulís favour in the sight of his master was made over to him. And his own evil deeds and debts, are reckoned as Paulís.


Reader, do you believe? If not, how far have you gone with me? Are you in the place of the runaway slave? Do you own anything to God, soul, mind, body, strength? Do you hate His service as the direst drudgery? Have you fled from it and robbed God? Have you flung off His laws, determined to be happy in spite of Him? Have you fled as fast and as far as you could from Him, and all that could remind you of Him? Have you sped with fiery haste to the hot desert sands on search of water? Have you dwelt in the tombs in search of life, like the demoniac of old, crying and cutting yourself with stones, and saying to the Saviour - "Let us alone! What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?" Have you in the search for a table of dainties been forced to stoop amidst swine? Prodical return!


But do you say - ĎHow can I go back? My former transgressions will accuse me. My past words [and actions] condemn me. How can God receive me


Even as Philemon received Onesimus. Return as he did, and the same mercy awaits you. He trusted in Paulís merits, and his power with his master. Do you trust in Jesusí power, and in His merits with God? If Onesimus trusted Paul, much more reason have you to trust Jesus, and His reconciling power with God.


Paul promises to pay the debts of Onesimus: but Christ has paid sinís debt already. "He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." "He was delivered for our offences, and rose again for our justification:" Rom. 4: 25. Paul must write to Philemon, for a thousand miles divided him from Colossae. But Jesus has for us entered the heaven itself, and is seated in the very presence-chamber of the Father. Paul was the poor prisoner in the dungeon, aged, and about to put off this tabernacle. But Jesus is raised to the Fatherís right hand, never more to die, all authority committed to Him in heaven and earth - able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through Him. Will you not trust His pleading blood, that cries aloud for forgiveness?


Arise and flee into this ark, ere the waters of wrath overwhelm you. Precious in the sight of God is a single soul! This whole epistle is concerning Onesimus. Rate your soulís value as God does.


And if you make Christís merits and blood your trust before God - your standing in Godís sight, be reminded, also, that this blessed epistle to Philemon sets forth what is to be the Christianís walk. Once unprofitable to God and Christ, see that you be "now profitable." Reconciliation does nor release us from obligation; it rivets it. Once you were a lamp unlit; lighted now, by the gracious hand of God, see that you shine before the world with steady beam!











Onesimus had fled from the mountains of Phrygia, to escape from the service of a master conspicuous of his goodness and love (Philemon 5). By doing so he cast a slur on Philemonís character as a master: he set an example of lawlessness to Philemonís other slaves: and - to reach Rome - he probably had robbed his masterís till. Behold us all, the Lordís Onesimi! My sin casts a slur on the God who made me: I have robbed him of the lifelong service that was his due: my unregenerate life has been full of evil example to others; I have wandered far away into the prodigalís land. And the extreme penalty against a runaway slave was crucifixion.




Philemon, wealthy, loving, wronged, hurt; Onesimus, a runaway, a thief, an outcast, a criminal: - now there appears one between, - Paul, a sufferer, a sympathiser, an intercessor, a surety. What does Paul do? "Whom I have sent back to thee in his own person." The first thing Christ does with a soul is to send it back to God. Sinner or saint, pure or foul, saved or unsaved, we must all get back to God. But how? With a covering letter only. No excuses, no denials, no vows, no promises; no offers to pay our debt, or to work out our own liability: Onesimus, silently pointing to the letter in his hand, stakes everything on Paulís influence with Philemon. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 1: 2).




Paul presents Onesimus in a way the most awkward possible for Philemon to refuse. "I beseech thee for my child, Onesimus; - whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart: ... of thou then countest me a partner, receive him as myself." Onesimus comes back, not Onesimus, but a part of Paul: for Philemon to refuse him now, would be, as it were, to strike our Paulís eyes, or to pluck out Paulís heart. What a picture of Christís love! "I in them, and Thou in Me, ... that the world may know that Thou lovest them even as Thou lovedst Me" (John 17: 23). Philemon must receive him, so.




ĎBut,í Philemon may say, Ďhow can I take back one so false and untrustworthy? A second time he may ruin me utterly Therefore Paul gives back another man. "My child, whom I have begotten in my bonds: [who] perhaps was parted from thee for a season, that shouldest have him for ever." Paul gives back one born again; one re-created in his own likeness; the new nature, one with the Holy Father. The child of God is begotten in the bonds of Calvary: Christ reproduces Himself in me, and then He gives me back to God. What a philosophy, too, of the Fall! "Perhaps he was parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have Him for ever:" - Have in full, have exhaustively. Paul gives back far more than Philemon ever lost: the recreated in the last Adam is a more powerful being than the Adam who fell.




But Onesimus is a bankrupt slave, and the debt remains. ĎIf my slave,í Philemon may say, Ďcan rob me with impunity, and I merely cancel his debt, how can this be just to my other slaves?í Paul answers: "If he hath wronged thee at all, or oweth thee aught: put that to mine account, ... I will repay it." Paul had not robbed Philemon: but the liability for the debt, by this offer, now passes from Onesimus to Paul: after this, Onesimus is no more in debt. Crucifixion, the extreme penalty of a runaway slave, has been paid in full: "having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2: 14). The redeemed soul is in debt to God no more: the bond is cancelled, because the debt is paid.




So Paul takes the whole liability: Onesimus takes the full discharge: "No longer as a slave, but more than a slave" - that is, a slave still, but much more - "a brother beloved." He was Philemonís in body before: now in body and soul. Why? Because the soul has now understood its God; that our God is love, essential, originating, all-comprehensive love: and it has found salvation in simply letting God love it. The state of salvation is the state of love between God and the soul. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4: 7). Nothing, in heaven or earth, is nearer the heart of God than His redeemed child.




In one point - perhaps the lovliest - the picture fails. Paul had to work on the sympathies of Philemon, to win back his love to Onesimus: in the Gospel it is Philemon who sent Paul after his runaway slave.


And none of the ransomíd ever know

How deep were the waters crossíd;

Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passíd through,

Ere He found His sheep that was lost:

Out of the desert He heard it cry,

Sick, and helpless, and ready to die.


O Onesimus, will you present Christís letter, on your behalf, to God? God will be certain to hear that plea: none ever came to Him through Christ in vain. "Are you there, Mary?" a blind girl, dying said to her attendant. "Yes." "Have you got a Bible?" "Read it." "He is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him." "Yes, that is it." ďNow take hold of my hand, and put my finger on that verseďIs it there?" "Yes." "Now, my God, I die on that verse." "I AM THE DOOR: BY ME IF ANY MAN ENTER IN, HE SHALL BE SAVED" (John 10: 9).




"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3: 19-21).