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with the court of heaven by prayer, or from recommending to it any individual who, by showing kindness to him, had befriended its interests. Paul had it not in his power to testify his gratitude to Onesiphorus, as David did to Barzillai, by receiving his son into his family ; * but he recommended his whole household to the tutelage and mercy of the bountiful Master whom he served.
“ The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus !” It
appears from the close of the epistle, in which the apostle sends his salutations “ to the household of Onesiphorus," that the head of the family had not yet returned to Ephesus, being most probably still detained in Italy on the business which had brought him from home. Like every good man he would feel anxious about the safety of his family in his absence, and would be much engaged in supplications to God in their behalf. Now what things he sought for them, these Paul also sought for them in this brief but comprehensive petition : • The Lord be a father and head to them during the absence of their earthly protector and guide ! Because he hath made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, his habitation, let no plague come nigh his dwelling! Shield them from sickness and violence, and every evil! Above all, preserve them in the paths of righteousness, in which they have been trained to walk ! My God, supply all their need out of thy riches in glory by Jesus Christ !' Wonder not that I consider this as applying to the effects of mercy in time, for in this sense the apostle uses the expression elsewhere, with reference to an individual to whom he was greatly indebted : “ Epaphroditus was sick nigh unto death ; but God had mercy on him (recovered him); and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” † How much would it have added to the weight of Paul's chain, if any thing distressing had happened to the family of his friend during this journey! Doubtless, however, this petition was not confined to temporal blessings, but included what we find him next supplicating for Onesiphorus himself.
* 2 Sam, xix. 31-38,
4 Philip. ii. 27.
“ The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day !” And what could Paul say
more ? What could the most liberal soul devise more liberally than this? Enlarged as his desires were, big, swelling, and overflowing with gratitude as his heart at this time was, could he ask any thing greater for his Christian friend and benefactor than that at the great day of accounts, when he should stand before the bar of the universal Judge, and await the sentence fixing his eternal condition, he should “ find mercy of the Lord,”—be mercifully acquitted, and accepted, and rewarded ? He had shown mercy to the apostle in the day of his trial, and he prays that mercy may be shown to him in the day of his trial. He had “ refreshed him oft," and he prays that the great day of decision may be to his benefactor a “ time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” The apostle had just been expressing to Timothy his persuasion that he to whom he had “ committed” his own soul was “able to keep it against that day;" and what higher testimony of his regard could he give to Onesiphorus than to commit him to the same all-sufficient and faithful Redeemer ? He had parted with him expecting to see his face no more until the day that they should appear at the same judgment-seat ; and, therefore, he " commends” him, as he had done the elders of the church to which he belonged, “ to God and to the word of his grace, which was able to build him up, and to give him an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” * This is Christian gratitude.
The repetition of the name of the person to whom he addresses himself, and from whom he implores mercy to Onesiphorus, is expressive of the fulness of the apostle's heart, and the ardour of his affection. But my object was not to bring forth all that is implied in the expressions, but to unfold the characters delineated in the passage. Let us now improve the subject. The improvement is twofold. We have here
We have here exemplified the power of Christianity on two individuals placed in
* Acts, xx. 32.
different situations—the one a private member of the church, the other an apostle; the one in affluent circumstances, the other in the most destitute condition; the one at liberty, the other in chains, and about to be led out to an ignominious death. The grace of God shines in both with a beautiful variety. Their features differ, and yet they are evidently children of the same family. In the charity and constancy of the
in the piety and gratitude of the other, and in the faith and fortitude of both, you may see what the gospel is capable of effecting, and thus have your confidence in its truth confirmed. But the subject is to be improved also in the way of imitation, by Christians in circumstances differing very widely. I shall point out a few of its lessons.
1. Learn to look more on the bright than on the dark side of the picture of your lot. The mind easily catches the impression of the objects on which it habitually dwells : if they be dark, it will be gloomy; if they be light, it will be cheerful. Who so deeply and so uniformly involved in afflictions as Paul, and yet who so uniformly and so joyfully elevated as he ? One secret of this we perceive in the passage before us. He was in bonds; but Onesiphorus was not ashamed of his bonds. He had been deserted by his friends; but there was one who had diligently sought him out and found him. And he dwelt on the last until the remembrance of the first was completely obliterated from his mind. Go thou, Christian ; do likewise ; and then, “ though sorrowful, thou wilt be always rejoicing."
2. Learn that Christianity does not extinguish any of the innocent feelings of human nature, and improves those which are amiable. It is natural for us to be dejected when we are forsaken and left alone; and to be cheered and refreshed by the visits, the conversation, and the sympathy of friends. Such is our weakness here—the weakness of the strongestthat we are easily dejected and easily elevated. port the heart by his gracious assistance and the consolations of his Spirit; but such is the respect which he has for our frame, that he often condescendingly and seasonably provides for us external cordials. Paul tells us on another occasion that,
God can sup
when he was in great distress, “ God, who comforteth them that are cast down, comforted him by the coming of Titus.” Beware, my brethren, of sullenly rejecting any thing of this kind when it is offered to you, or refusing to rejoice in it because it falls short of the proper consolations of the gospel. It is from God; the refreshing of your animal spirits may be introductory to spiritual joy; and by means of both you may be helped to glorify him. Our blessed Redeemer himself, when he went to the garden of agony, took three of his disciples along with him to watch with him while he prayed ; and when they fell asleep, there appeared unto him an angel, strengthening him. And as Christianity does not war with the innocent, so it improves the amiable feelings. Instead of weakening, it strengthens parental affection, excites it when it is dormant, checks its excess, raises it from an instinct or a passion into a virtue, and expands it into a warm and active concern for the spiritual and eternal welfare of its endearing objects. This is true, also, of friendship and of gratitude. They are not swallowed up in a feeling of universal benevolence, but purified and exalted by an infusion of Christian prins ciple. Onesiphorus had doubtless performed acts of beneficence to many others besides Paul. Why are the latter only men, tioned ? To afford you an example of Christian gratitude.
3. Learn that beneficence is a native fruit of Christianity, and a leading test, especially in the affluent, of Christian character, What is the gospel but the discovery of the love and kindness of God to man? Will not then the unfeigned belief of it produce philanthropy, or a disposition, “as we have opportunity, to do good to all men, especially the household of faith ?” Who can resist the force of this divine logic,—“ If God so loved us, we ought to love one another," and that not in word and in tongue, but in deed, “ as he loved us, and gave his only begotten Son ?” Do they “ know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or have they “ tasted that he is gracious," who are not disposed to be gracious and merciful to their brethren ? Can they be said to believe that Christ " gave himself for them” and “delivered them from the wrath to come, and that they are “ blessed with all spiritual blessings in
heavenly places in him,” who will give nothing, or what is to them next to nothing, to relieve their fellow-creatures and fellow-christians from temporal distresses and want ? Can they believe that the Son of God came from heaven to earth on an errand of
gave himself a ransom for men of all nations, who cannot extend their regards beyond those who are of their own neighbourhood and country? Can they believe that he gave himself for sinners, whose love and its exertions are confined entirely to the righteous and the good ? True Christianity supplants an inordinate affection to the things of the world by means of the love of God, banishes that selfishness which disposes persons to retain whatever they possess, and, by enlarging their hearts, makes them to give without grudging, and to feel the words of the Lord Jesus, “ It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Such was the influence of Christianity on the primitive believers, when “great grace was upon them all-neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own.” Such was its influence on the Macedonians, who contributed for the relief of their brethren in Judea “to their power, yea, and beyond their power.” Such was its influence on the Hebrews, whose “labour of love in ministering to the saints,” is commended by the apostle. And such will be its influence in every age upon all who are savingly acquainted with it. Without this, no attainments in religious knowledge, no orthodoxy in point of sentiment, no zeal of God, no correctness of moral conduct, no warmth of religious affections, no disconformity to the world in its sinful fashions or vain amusements, no mortifications or abstinence from the pleasures of life, will be a sure mark or safe criterion of Christian character.
4. Learn from this subject what is the best expression of gratitude. It is proper to testify our sense of favours received by acknowledgments to our benefactors; but the apostle, in the passage under consideration, "shows us a more excellent way,” while he pours out fervent supplications to God in behalf of Onesiphorus and his family. He that does the former does well; he that neglects not the latter does better. There is less danger of its being ceremonious or merely compliment