Sermon: Christian Friendship
Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press
2 TIM. 1:16-18: The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But when he was in Rome he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.
Of all the circumstances which accompany adversity, none give more acute pain to a person of sensibility and generous mind than the unkindness and desertion of friends. His distress on that account does not arise so much from the loss of the assistance and advice, or even of the society and sympathy of those on whom he had been wont to rely, although he feels this sensibly. But it arises chiefly from those dark and gloomy views of human nature with which the infidelity of friends is apt to fill the soul, inducing the deceived individual to dread the most sincere professions, and sometimes shaking his reliance on Providence itself. Such feelings are peculiarly apt to be excited in his breast by the violation of those friendships which were consecrated by religion, and in which the parties had become bound to one another by pledging their common faith to a Higher Power. In this case his firmest confidences being uprooted, and his holiest affections cheated, he feels at the same time desolate and oppressed. He feels as if all things were moved from their foundations, and the earth, with all the inhabitants thereof, were dissolving, while he labors to bear up the pillars of it. Such appears to have been the state of the Psalmist’s mind, and he mentions it as the acme of his trouble when he describes these words as bursting from him in the haste and agitation of his spirit, All men are liars. It was in a paroxysm produced by this cause that Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth. And hence also another prophet was led to exclaim in strains which partook more of the bitterness of grief than of anger: Wo is me! The good man is perished out of the earth, and there is none upright among men. The best of them is as a brier, the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge. Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide. The minds of the best and most pious of men would be overset by this temptation, if they were left to their own resolution and reflections. But God is faithful, and will not suffer them to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear; he tempers the severity of their trial, and in his wisdom provides such external means as he knows to be best calculated to restore their peace of mind and re-establish their confidence. And who can express the delight which they feel in this deliverance! How joyfully they shake off the damps which oppressed them, while their relieved spirits rise, like a bird which has escaped from the snare, to their native element of unbounded confidence, expressed in gratulations and in prayers poured out for those who have been the honored instruments of effecting their rescue —let the words of the Apostle which we have read to you declare.
Few minds have been so formed for relishing and imparting the refined and elevated enjoyments of Christian friendship as that of Paul. This is apparent, to mention no other proofs at present, from the tender manner in which he salutes those with whom he had formed a sacred intimacy in the different places which he had visited, and the evident pleasure with which he transmits, in his letters to them, the salutations of those who surrounded him. It is observable that these are most numerous in his earlier epistles, and that they become rare in those which he wrote towards the close of his apostolical career: Not surely that this holy affection burned with abated ardor in his breast, but because the objects of it were diminished. As he approached the termination of his course, and as his sufferings increased and his danger became greater and more imminent, he found the ranks of his friends gradually thinned, until at last he was left to stand and fight the good fight alone. To this he repeatedly alludes with deep feeling, but at the same time with a composure which shows that he had overcome the distress which it once gave him, in this epistle to his beloved son Timothy, written during his second imprisonment at Rome, and only a short time before the martyrdom which he endured there for the name of Christ. All they that are in Asia be turned away from me, says he. Only Luke is with me. At my first answer no man stood by me, but all men forsook me. The selfishness, inconstancy, and cowardice, which were thus brought to light, could not but wound the spirit of Paul; but the wound was healed. Though cast down he was not dispirited. Though deserted by his friends he was not left destitute. He could say with his Divine Master, that, though they left him alone, yet was he not alone, and he felt no lack. All men forsook me —nevertheless the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, and I was delivered from the mouth of the lion. At the bar of the Emperor he was enabled to open his mouth boldly in confessing and pleading the cause of Christ; and when remanded to his prison, and when his timid friends in Rome stood aloof from him, the compassionate Master whom he served brought from a distance a friend whose seasonable and divinely arranged visit banished every remains of gloom from his mind, and inspired him with fresh alacrity for the approaching crisis of the combat. When Paul had landed in Italy, some of his brethren in Rome came out to meet him, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage (Acts 28:15). How ravishing to salute dear friends after escaping from the perils of a storm! And, amidst the wreck of our friendships, when, on first recovering from the shock which it produced, we thought of opening our eyes on blank desolation, how reviving to find standing by our side one friend whom we had not seen for a long period of time, but who had never lost sight of us, and who, heaven-directed, had flown as on angel wings to succor and comfort us! One friend who loveth at all times, and whose visits are paid in the season of adversity, is sufficient to compensate for the loss, if loss it can be called, of ten thousand of those giddy pretenders to friendship who buzzed about our ears in the noon of prosperity, whom the slight shower brushed away, and who, in spite of all our caution, left upon us the spots of their own vain and vitiating flattery. Such a friend Paul found in Onesiphorus. From the manner in which it is here mentioned, we perceive that the kind visit and Christian conversation of this friend had left a fragrance behind him which continued still to refresh the spirits and cheer the solitude of the Apostle. He dismissed the Asiatic deserters with a single sentence: but having mentioned the name of Onesiphorus, he did not know how to break off; so much did his heart overflow with gratitude and affection to his ancient and steady benefactor.
In point of expression and structure this episode possesses great beauty, not that which consists in the choice and arrangement of words, but a beauty which art in its highest finishings cannot reach, the impress of the moral and religious feeling which dictated it. The breaks and the repeated changes in the form of address forcibly depict the feelings of the writer —the eagerness and impatience which he felt to express his gratitude to that good man who had shown that he was not ashamed of the cross of Christ, nor of himself, his prisoner and champion, at a time when so many timid and worldly professors had deserted both. It is a rare example (the only one I know) of prayer and narrative, an address to God and to men intermingled, and in which the familiarity used with the latter does not diminish in the slightest degree the reverence due to the former, who will have mercy and not sacrifice. He begins with an address to Heaven in behalf of his friend’s family: The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus. But he interrupts this solemn address to acquaint Timothy with the obligations which he was under to him: For he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. He then resumes his prayer for him in still more solemn and fervent accents: The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord at that day. And he concludes by adverting to his early kindness and benefactions with which Timothy was already well acquainted: And in how many things he ministered to me at Ephesus thou knowest very well. Here, my brethren, you have two portraits drawn with the same pencil and by the same strokes; and it is difficult to say which is most worthy of being admired and imitated —the Christian beneficence and constancy of Onesiphorus, or the Christian gratitude and piety of Paul. Let us contemplate each of them for a little.
I. Of the conduct of Onesiphorus.
This benevolent Christian was an inhabitant of Ephesus, and a member of the church there. Like many of his fellow-citizens, he most probably `owed his own self’ to the Apostle; and he testified his love to the gospel, and his gratitude to his spiritual instructor, by ministering to him liberally of his substance during the time that he preached in that city. It appears from Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, that, with the view of not being burdensome to them, he had labored with his own hands for his support (Acts 20:33-35). But as his labors were interrupted by public teaching, and by persecution, an opportunity was afforded to benevolent individuals to relieve him from straits, which, although his fortitude and self-denial would have enabled him to bear them, could not have failed to distress his mind, and to hinder him in the discharge of his official duty. In imparting this relief, Onesiphorus had distinguished himself, being, as is most likely, a person in good or opulent circumstances. Though the Apostle did not desire a gift, and had learned to suffer need, as well as to abound, yet he desired fruit to abound to the account of those among whom he labored. Hence he rejoiced in the Lord greatly that the care which the Christians at Philippi showed him, at their first acquaintance, had flourished again after a season of suspension; and he calls the things which were sent from them, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well— pleasing to God (Philip. 4:10-18). On this account it refreshed him to recollect the kindness with which Onesiphorus had treated him at Ephesus. He does not tell us in how many things he had ministered to him. This it would not have been easy for him to do, if it had been necessary. In how many ways, my brethren, may we serve others, and contribute to their comfort, even though our means be slender and scanty! Nameless, countless are the kindnesses performed by a zealous and vigilant benevolence, exerting itself in the spirit and after the example of him who presents us with blessings of goodness manifold! It is not the magnitude of costliness of gifts that proves the goodness of the donor, or does most good to the recipient; it is their number, their repetition, their seasonableness, and the considerate and delicate manner in which they are conferred. The goodness of Heaven, in nature and in grace, steals upon us, and its choicest blessings descend in drops so small as not to be perceived, and with such gentleness as scarcely to be felt. Largesses may be bestowed in such a way as to chill the heart and lacerate the feelings, while small and comparatively inconsiderable favors drop like the rain, and distil like the dew, which refresh and saturate the earth.
The early beneficence of Onesiphorus was not forgotten by Paul. But what he was most desirous to record, was the kindness he had lately shown him in Rome. In the many proofs of affection which he had formerly given, he had done virtuously; but this last excelled them all. And wherein did its surpassing excellence lie? It proved him to be a friend indeed; one who sticketh closer than a brother. A person may be capable of deeds both disinterested and generous, romantically generous, and yet he may want that quality without which he is not entitled to the sacred name of friend. Constancy is the cardinal, the crowning property of friendship, the only inimitable and imperishable impress of its genuineness. Though a man should be willing to give all his goods to feed another, yea, and his body to be burned for him, yet if he is liable to be fickle and changeable in his attachments, he is no friend. He cannot be depended on. And here it is, my brethren, that the professions of regard and friendship which abound in the world fail, and are found to be nought. Behold this have I found, counting one by one to find out the account, which yet my soul seeks, but I find not: One man that is generous and disinterested among a thousand have I found; but a man that is constant and unalterable among all those have I not found. True friendship keeps pace with time; changes not with the changes of fortune; sinks not with the opinion of the world; rises superior to offences; views its object with the same unaltered eye through the atmosphere of good report and of bad report, in the light of honor, and under the cloud of disgrace. A man may grow old, and his visage and form be completely altered, he may fall into poverty and under reproach, he may incur the odium of mankind, and see reason to be displeased with his own conduct; but he cannot hate or forget himself; and as he is, so is his friend, who, in this respect, partakes of his personal identity. Paul continued to be the same to Onesiphorus that he had been on the first day of their acquaintance,— the same at Rome as at Ephesus,— the same when deserted as when surrounded by his followers,— the same when a despised prisoner as when an applauded preacher,— the same when chained with criminals as when seated among apostles on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
It is not said that he came to Rome for the express purpose of visiting the Apostle. Christianity does not require such works of supererogation; nor are such romantic deeds of generosity necessary to the maintenance of Christian friendship. However much Paul was gratified at seeing his old friend, he would have been displeased, we may venture to say, if he had undertaken such a journey merely for his personal gratification. It was enough, that, being in Rome, he did not forget his revered teacher, now the prisoner of the Lord, but sought him out very diligently, and visited him oft.
I was in prison, and ye came unto me, is the top of the climax in that beautiful description which our Saviour gives of those who shall be acknowledged as his friends at the last day, and to which he subjoins this explanation, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. This was a stronger proof of friendship than giving him meat when he was hungry, or drink when he was athirst; and it was the only proof which, in the circumstances stated, could be sustained. If Onesiphorus had made some enquiries after Paul, but on finding it difficult to discover the place of his confinement, had desisted from them, and left with some member of the Roman church his affectionate salutations to the Apostle, together with a sum of money to support him in prison, think you, my brethren, that this would have been accepted as a sufficient token of regard, or that it would have refreshed the soul of the prisoner? Verily no. In that case, Paul would have been disposed to reply to his message in the words which a poet has put into the mouth of a female mentioned in the New Testament, Visit me, and retain thy gifts. The present would have been regarded as an affront, and the salutations as a renunciation of friendship. Nothing, we may be sure, which was needful to relieve the temporal necessities of the Apostle, or which could help to lighten his chain, or alleviate his sufferings, would be withheld by this affectionate and munificent friend. But if any thing of this kind was given, it was not thought worthy of being mentioned at the same time with his personal visit. Upon this Paul set a higher value than upon all the substance of his house. To see the face of his ancient benefactor before he died, to receive his cordial and Christian embrace, to hear again his well-known and never-forgotten accents, to learn from his own lips, what he had heard from the report of others, that he retained all his former love to Christ, to his gospel, to his servant, this— this was the refreshing. This made all the garments of his visitant to smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia; and converted his narrow and gloomy cell into an ivory palace, in which he could entertain and make glad his guest.
Though an Apostle, though endued with such deep insight into the mysteries of the gospel, that the very chiefest of the apostles added nothing to him in conference, and though now grown old in Christian experience, Paul did not think himself above receiving consolation and spiritual benefit from the meanest saint. In giving and receiving this, he was always ready to communicate with his brethren. Hence he assigned this reason for wishing to visit the Christians at Rome,— that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me (Rom. 1:18). We cannot doubt that he was refreshed on the present occasion by the conversation which he held with Onesiphorus. And what might the nature of that conversation be? Not, perhaps, exactly that which we might at first suppose it to have been. When Moses and Elias appeared with our Saviour on the Holy Mount, though he was transfigured before them, they did not entertain him with the glories of the celestial city from which they had just made their descent; but they spake of the decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Paul and Onesiphorus would not spend the precious moments in talking of the passing news of the day, nor even in recalling the incidents of their former life when they knew one another in happier external circumstances. Their communings would be on higher themes; nor would their countenances be sad while they discoursed of Him who died for them, and rose again, and was now at the right hand of God,— and of his love, from which no distance of place, or depth of distress, or form of death, could separate them,— and of the triumphs which the cross had gained over the powers of darkness, and the still more signal triumphs which awaited it in its irresistible progress,— and of the death by which Paul was shortly to glorify God, and to seal his preaching, now fully made known to the Gentiles,— and of the comforts which would make him more than a conqueror in the closing conflict,— and of the joy of his Lord, into which he would immediately enter. On these high and heart-ravishing themes would they dilate, while the hours fled unheeded away, until the faint glimmerings of the lamp, reflected from the walls of the cell, discovered to them the haggard faces of its fierce inmates subdued into a temporary tameness, while they listened with fixed attention to the strange things which now for the first time saluted their ears; and while their every feature expressed the surprise and astonishment which they felt at witnessing the joy and transports of a detested criminal, who had the prospect of speedily terminating his life in the midst of the most excruciating torments.
But though the conversation of Onesiphorus must have imparted high pleasure to Paul, it was not the chief source of the gratulation which he expressed at his visit. What conveyed the most lively joy to his heart, was the testimony which his Ephesian friend had given of his love to the gospel, by despising the shame with which its imprisoned Apostle was then loaded. He refreshed me, for he was not ashamed of my chain. You may feel some difficulty in entering fully into the force of this reason. If the Apostle had said, `He was not afraid of incurring my bonds,’ you could have understood him more easily. This was included; but there is great propriety in expressing the whole of the sufferings to which Christians were then exposed by this part of them; for in reality shame was the gall of its bitterness. Hence the language in which Paul addresses his exhortation to Timothy in the context: Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel: and hence, too, his declaration concerning himself, I suffer these things, nevertheless I am not ashamed. You will err exceedingly, my brethren, if you suppose there was any resemblance between Onesiphorus’s visit to Paul, and those which charitable and pious individuals are now accustomed to pay to prisons, with the laudable view of alleviating the bodily sufferings, or ministering to the spiritual wants of their wretched inhabitants; visits, which, so far from exposing them to disgrace, greatly enhance their reputation. Nor are you to imagine that the shame was incurred by a man of respectable rank visiting and conversing with a prisoner in chains, or that it arose in any degree from the worthless character of the malefactors with whom the Apostle was confined. So far was this from being the case, that it was then much less disgraceful to suffer as a thief or a murderer than as a Christian. It would lead us away from our subject to inquire into the causes which co-operated in producing this feeling. Suffice it at present to say, that it appears from the concurring testimony of civil and ecclesiastical history, that from a variety of causes (not involving the conduct of its professors), Christianity had at this time fallen under extreme odium at Rome, the most diabolical calumnies against its friends were industriously circulated and greedily believed; and they were regarded, by the multitude, magistrates, and philosophers, with a mixture of hatred, horror, and contempt not to be described. During his first imprisonment, Paul was kept under an easy restraint, lived in his own hired house under the guard of a soldier, received his friends, and preached the gospel, without any hindrance. But it was quite otherwise now during his second imprisonment. He was thrown into chains, capitally arraigned, and although he had miraculously escaped at his first appearance before Nero, yet he looked every day for the pronouncing of his doom. Accordingly all his brethren, even those who had hitherto stuck most closely by him, had withdrawn and left him to his fate. No man knew him. It was only after a long search, and many fruitless inquiries, that Onesiphorus could discover the dungeon in which he was confined, and trace him to his cell, where he was shut up with the most depraved of the criminals who swarmed in the metropolis of the world —men-stealers, murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, who yet shunned his society, and looked on themselves as they were looked on by others, as felons less foul than —that Christian.
Come hither, my brethren, draw near, and look on infant Christianity, the mother of us all. Do you recognize her? Her cradle a cell, her clothing rags, her swathing-band an iron chain, her nurse a jailer, her mates and betters the vilest of the malefactors! Here let us humble ourselves, and try whether we be Christians indeed. Ah! how little know we of suffering shame for the name of the Lord Jesus! Which of us would be able to bear the proof, if, to testify our attachment to him, it were necessary for us to submit to be made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions, or to become companions of them that were so used? It was this proof of love to the gospel, and of inextinguishable affection for himself on the part of Onesiphorus, that penetrated the heart of Paul, and filled it with exultation. He was not ashamed of my chain. Ashamed of it? No: he gloried in it, embraced it, called it the chain of his blessed Saviour, and protested that for his sake he would willingly bind it about his neck, and wear it as a badge of distinction more honorable than the diadem of Caesar.
II. Of Paul’s return for the kindness of Onesiphorus.
Alas! what return could he make for such rare and disinterested goodness? Although it had been possible to discharge the debt, he was at present utterly destitute of the means. His feet were fast bound in the stocks; and he could not even testify his gratitude in that way in which the meanest pauper feels a pleasure in doing it, while he accompanies his benefactor to the door of the hovel which he had cheered by his presence. All his friends had deserted him; and there was not an individual within the walls of the crowded city to whom he could delegate the performance of the rites of hospitality due to the friendly stranger. Did there then remain to Paul no way of expressing his gratitude? Yes, there was one, and that more excellent and efficient than all those to which we have alluded. He could not follow Onesiphorus to the door of his cell; but he could follow him whither-soever he went with his prayers. He could give him no assistance in the secular business which had brought him to Rome; but he could further his views in the more lucrative traffic which he carried on with heaven. He could not say to him, as the prophet to his Shunammite hostess, Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king or the captain of the host (2 Kings 4:13)? But he had interest at a higher court than that of any king or emperor, and could speak for him to the Captain of Salvation. True he was in bonds; but he was an ambassador in bonds; and those who had dared to throw into prison the ambassador of the King of Kings, and to interrupt him in the discharge of his embassy, could not prevent him from maintaining an intercourse 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 (2 Sam. 19:31-38); 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 (Philip. 2:27). 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.
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 (Acts 20:32). 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 ardor 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 exemplified the power of Christianity on two individuals placed in very 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 one, 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 strongest— that we are easily dejected and easily elevated. God can support 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, 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 principle. Onesiphorus had doubtless performed acts of beneficence to many other besides Paul. Why are the latter only mentioned? 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 mercy, and gave himself a ransom for men of all nations, who cannot extend their regards beyond those who are of their own neighborhood 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 labor 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 favors 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 complimentary; and surely it promises to be more effectual and available. Those whom Providence has placed in such circumstances as to require the assistance of others, should beware of failing in this duty, or of performing it in a listless and cold manner. If you are subjected to hardships from which your richer brethren are exempted, they are exposed to temptations from which you are exempted. Pray for them that their table, instead of becoming a snare to them, may be sanctified, and that they may not have all their good things in their life-time. If you are deficient in making a return for gifts which you have received, you have yourselves to blame. A Christian can never be a bankrupt, for he can always draw on heaven. If you cannot pay your debts of gratitude yourselves, you can by means of prayer transfer them to one who is able to discharge them. Access to the throne of grace is a precious privilege to all saints, but it is doubly so to the poor; for it enables them to relieve themselves from a load which cannot fail to be oppressive to every feeling mind.
5. Those who are in ability are encouraged by this subject to be kind and compassionate to necessitous and afflicted Christians. By such conduct you draw out their desires to God in your behalf; and the prayers of the righteous in such cases have the force of promises, as their complaints against the cruel and oppressive have the force of curses. Christians pray for all men, including their enemies; but they do not, and cannot pray for all with the same warmth and confidence. When mentioning his desertion by his brethren at his appearance before Nero, Paul says, I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge! But there is a marked difference between that prayer and this in our text. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much when it is fervent. Your acts of kindness will excite their religious affections, cause them to remember you every time they bow their knees to their heavenly Father, and fill their mouths with new arguments for enforcing their petitions. Falling into their souls, your beneficence will refresh them, open them to the rays of the sun of righteousness, and thus make them send up their fragrance to heaven, like the earth when it has been refreshed by a shower. Their prayers will be to your alms what the oil and frankincense was to the meat-offering under the law; and both will ascend as a sweet savour unto the Lord (Lev. 2; Philip. 4:18).
In fine, you may learn from this subject that deeds of beneficence and charity are not meritorious in the sight of God. Those who teach the merit of good works learned it not assuredly either from the doctrine or the prayers of Paul; for when his heart was penetrated most deeply with a sense of the kindness of Onesiphorus, and when he prayed most fervently that he might be rewarded for it, he employed in each petition the plea of mercy. Your goodness reacheth not unto God but to the saints; and shall a few temporal favors which you have been enabled to do for the excellent of the earth assume that mighty importance in your eyes as to merit the kingdom of heaven? Guard against legalism as well as anti-nomianism; and, O! beware lest your vessel, fully furnished with every good work, strike on that rock which has proved fatal to the hopes of so many. Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, but put on also humbleness of mind. When you have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done no more than we ought to have done. God is not unrighteous to forget your labor of love. Verily you shall have a reward; but then it will be a reward of grace and not of debt. Those who deserve best of their fellow-creatures are most deeply impressed with a sense of their ill-desert in respect of God; and those who are the most faithful servants of righteousness, instead of claiming eternal life as wages due to them, will be most disposed to receive it as the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Cherish this disposition, and it will cause you to be not slothful but zealous and diligent followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and thus you shall make your calling and election sure to yourselves. Ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.