The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus.
The man who now steps upon the scene does not reappear. One Epistle only mentions him, and in the Acts his very name is unrecorded. Let us mark, however, what letter it is which contains these references. It is the last of all the Epistles of Paul, written during his second imprisonment, and not long before his death. He is again at Rome, but not, as on the former occasion, in his own hired house, with liberty to receive whom lie will, and to speak all that is in his heart. Cold, and worn, and ill, Paul the aged lies in his prison cell; and, of all his many companions, only Luke is with him now. So it happens that the very epistle which is full of the moat, heroic confidence in Divine protection, is marked by the tenderest yearings after human sympathy; and the heart of the apostle is swayed like the sea before the rough wind of unkind desertion, and again under the soft breeze of faithful solicitude and care. Onesiphorus, it is clear, was an Ephesian; for Timothy was at this time resident at Ephesus, and there this man's household dwelt. There, then, Paul and he had made acquaintance, during the long-continued campaign of the apostle in the city, now ten years ago. That earlier time is not, forgotten. Every one knew, and Timothy had often heard, of what value his friendship had been. His house was one of the many which had opened to Paul and made him welcome. Children were there, now grown to manhood, who were taught to run to the door at his approach and to draw him joyfully in. Years passed, and they had not met. Business of some kind brings Onesiphorus at last to Rome. Paul is at Rome too, a prisoner, in close confinement, and it is not easy to get access to him. "No man stood by me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it be not laid to their charge." This good Ephesian, however, is made of sterner stuff. He applied to the brethren, and, to his astonishment, they have nothing to tell about the apostle. He goes to the government offices and inquires there; there information is scornfully refused. He makes his way, nothing daunted, to the prisons, and gets referred from one jailer to another, till he is almost tired out; but he perseveres, and at last here is a man who can tell him. But does he know the risk to his own liberty, perhaps to his own life? He knows; he is prepared to face it, if only he may see Paul. "He sought me out very diligently, and found me" — found the solitary old man. with the chains on his hands, and the damp, dark prison walls round him. What a meeting must that have been! Sunshine pouring into the mouth of a cave is a poor emblem of what the sight of that brave and cheerful countenance must have been to Paul. It was not, then, in vain, that Jesus had left the word on record for His disciples, "I was in prison, and ye came unto Me." Christian sympathy will find a way through every difficulty, and a key for every prison door. Paul has no silver or gold to give; he is so poor that he cannot buy a cloak to keep off the cold; but he has something to be prized far more — A good man's prayers. Those prayers he offers both for Onesiphorus himself and his family. "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus." "The Lord grant it unto him." Nor is it Onesiphorus alone for whom Paul would pray. Let his household, too, be saved. Those sweet children, to whom he had so often spoken of the love of Jesus; those faithful servants, who had their master's example to guide them; the kinsfolk, who came to visit him; may they all be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord their God! See how great the blessing is of belonging to a godly home. Onesiphorus has been abundantly recompensed in time and in eternity for all that tie had done and dared for Paul. Need we fear to be overlooked? We have the servants' prayers, We have the Master's promise. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."
A good man in these verses counts up what his friend had done for him, and then, to the best of his ability, he makes a payment.
I. WHAT HAD OSESIPHORUS DONE FOR PAUL?
1. "When he was in Rome he sought me out very diligently." We cannot tell what it was that took Onesiphorus to Rome. Perhaps he was a merchant, and went there to buy and sell. Perhaps he was a scholar, and went there to listen to its poets and orators, and to acquaint himself with its works of art. But whatever he went for, he resolved to see his friend. It is possible that he was not at once successful. But he grudged no time, he spared no effort. And at length he succeeded. He found Paul. Some, perhaps, had they been in the place of Onesiphorus, would have been equally well pleased not to have found Paul. They would have reported to the Church, at their return home, that they had made various efforts, and had failed, and that probably the apostle was either dead or had been removed to another city. Their consciences would have been quieted, and perhaps their friends satisfied. But Onesiphorus was not anxious merely to quiet his conscience. What had Onesiphorus done for Paul? He had gone to see him not once, but many times. "He oft refreshed me." Perseverance in sympathy or in active kindness is more difficult than the being once sympathising, or once kind. Yet, though difficult, how valuable it is I
2. There is one characteristic of Onesiphorus' visits to Paul which is well worth noticing. The apostle was refreshed by them. "He oft refreshed me." Visits to the sick and the poor may be very depressing. We may go to tell them our own troubles instead of listening to theirs, or we may go to chide and scold — to tell how that, if we had been in their places, debts would not have been contracted, nor sicknesses taken, or we may go and "talk good," and that by the hour, while the weary or the bereaved one listens in submission. And the intention in all this may have been very kind. We went — for we felt it was our duty to go — and we did our best. But, alas! our visits healed no wound — they brought no sunshine. Yet how refreshing are the visits of some, and among them those of Onesiphorus. "He oft refreshed me." Do the words suggest to us any other visitant who comes in dark moments with "thoughts of peace and not of evil"? Is there not One who says, "Come unto Me, all ye that travail, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."
3. Further, says the apostle, "he was not ashamed of my chain." If our friends are under reproach, our going to visit them, or in any manner permitting their names to be associated with our own, is a proof of our constancy. Most men are willing enough to worship the rising sun. If we hear of any one, with whom we have a casual acquaintance, becoming suddenly distinguished by a literary production, or a work of art, or an act of heroism, we are very swift to put forth our claims to recognition or companionship. But if a friend become poor, how prone we are to "cut" him, or, if he be dishonoured, to deny him. Onesiphorus despised the shame.
4. And be it observed that what was now done at Rome had been done elsewhere. For, says the apostle, "In how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well." Perhaps at Ephesus the apostle had slept under his roof, had eaten, and that oft, at his table, had been helped by his purse, his time, his money. And now he shows that he had not become wearied in well-doing. And so he illustrated Solomon's proverb, "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
II. And now we will look at THE PAYMENT THE APOSTLE RENDERED. "The Lord," says he, "give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus." May children, and wife, and servants — all who dwell within the house or cluster round it — share the Divine bounty. May mercy engirdle its walls and canopy its reel May it fall each night upon them that dwell therein as the soft dew. May it rise on them each morning as the blessed sun. In each breast may it settle like a gentle bird; in each car may it ring like the chime of church bells. May mercy take the ham] of each and guide him, and watch over the plans of each and prosper him, and light up the prospects of each and cheer him. And, at last, may mercy make the pillow of caeca soft and easy, and enable each to close his eyes in the conviction that all beyond is well; that the strange land to which he is going is still a land of mercy, and that in it there is a welcome waiting from Him who is the "Father of mercies and the God of all consolation." But a particular period is named to which the apostle's prayers pointed. "The Lord grant that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day." How blessed will it be to find mercy of the Lord in that day, and to find it as the kindly recompense for deeds done in days gone by. Who would have thought that there was any connection between those visits paid by Onesiphorus to a lonely man in irons in a gloomy prison, in a gloomy street, in the capital of the Caesars, and the transactions of that period when the throne should be set and the books opened? What thread of connection is there between these? Only this: that seed bears its appropriate crop, that certain con. sequences follow certain antecedents to the end of time — yes, and after time!
Onesiphorus comes into view as a ship appears upon the ocean when she crosses the pathway of the moon. Very little is known of his life before or after this brief contact with the life of Paul. The radiance which the apostle casts upon the page of history makes Onesiphorus visible. In this light the beauty of a noble character, whose gentle ministrations were the solace of one of God's servants, is evident. The moon discovers the model of a ship, and also her course; and an acquaintance is formed with a stranger of the ancient time because he stands near to, and sympathises with, a notable man. So true is it that life depends for its efficiency and its estimate upon the relations which it sustains, and that obscurity and fame are determined by the perspective. The apostle was a prisoner in a Roman dungeon. The comforts of "his own hired house" were no longer his. Nero was the Emperor. Christianity had been charged with political designs. The sword of the persecutor was red with blood. There was little hope of a favourable verdict at the bar of Caesar. One companion after another had found it convenient to leave Paul. "Only Luke is with me," was the sad announcement which Timothy read when he opened the last letter of his honoured friend. It was not safe to visit such a prisoner. He was a marked man. The caprice of the Emperor was ready to seize upon any protest. His spies filled the city. A single word from his lips meant instant death. He had determined to hold Christianity responsible for a great disaster which befell Rome upon the 19th of July, in the year 64. For then a fire broke out in a valley between the Palatine and Caelian Hills, and marched steadily on its downward course for six days and seven nights. Some one must be punished, and Nero selected the Christians as the victims of his wrath. While Christianity was thus enduring persecution, Onesiphorus, an Ephesian, who had befriended Paul in his own city, reached Rome. He learned that the apostle, aged now and infirm, was in prison and in chains. He determined to go to his relief. His courage was equal to his sympathy. As we read these few sentences of Paul's letter to Timothy, we are impressed with the unfailing courtesy of the apostle. He appreciates the attentions of his friends, and he never fails to acknowledge them with great delicacy. His letters are models of correspondence, so dignified, so sincere, so frank, so affectionate! They are filled with personal allusions, which exhibit the social character of this eminent man. "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day!" How heart-felt! How genuine! How delicate! This sturdy soldier of the cross, whose valour has been displayed upon many a battlefield, commends the truth of the gospel by his courtesy. He does not repel men, but wins them. One of the wise sayings of Hillel, the distinguished Jewish Rabbin, was this: "Be thou of Aaron's disciples, loving peace and seeking for peace, loving the creatures and attracting them to the Law!" Hillel himself was a beautiful illustration of his own teaching. His gentleness of manner was associated with firmness of principle and strength of conviction. Paul, as a Pharisee, must have been familiar with the many traditions which were current among the Jews concerning the renowned teacher, and his own character must have been somewhat affected by his admiration for one whose virtues were praised in the schools of Jerusalem. "Let a man be always gentle like Hillel, and not hasty like Shammai," was an oft-repeated injunction. Gamaliel, the teacher of Saul of Tarsus, was the grandson of Hillel, and the school which the future apostle entered was pervaded with aa atmosphere of courtesy. Then, when our Lord taught that zealous Pharisee, and led him to realise the sinfulness of his mistaken zeal which had made him a persecutor, and gave him a new appreciation of the excellence of humble service and gentle ministrations, he advanced to a new recognition of the duty and the opportunity of courtesy. I regard courtesy as one of the efficient graces of the Christian life. It is the polished mirror which reflects the most light. Bluntness, coarseness. rudeness, are not evidences of strength. The courtesy of Lord Chesterfield is not the courtesy of Paul. For Chesterfield, in his letters to his son, exhibits his lack of sincerity, his want of principle. His courtesy is only a thin veneer, which has received constant rubbing until it is worn out. Paul's courtesy is the real wood, which is solid down to the heart. The Christian heart is always ready to sustain the Christian manner; and the Christian manner is Christ's manner. He commended truth by his address. Can you wonder that such courtesy as his secured him many friends among the poor and suffering? Does it seem strange that a similar courtesy has led mankind as with magnetic power? And yet we carry too little of it with us into the practical work of daily life. There is many a man whose business hours never hear a single kind word — A "thank you," an "if you please." Service becomes drudgery. The rich and the poor draw apart. Hostile camps are organised. Men who should be friends look angrily at one another. There is a better way for the home, the shop, and the counting-room. It is Christ's way, and Paul's way, and the way of all who manifest with them the true spirit of love. There is something very fine about this conduct of the large-hearted Ephesian. He was evidently a man of substance, for he had the means at his command which enabled him to help Paul in Ephesus and in Rome. Yet, when he visited the imperial city, where a money value was placed upon almost everything, he went about through the streets and among the prisons to find a despised Jew — one Saul of Tarsus — whose name had become a by-word and a reproach. Social life needs an illustration such as this. We are apt to forget — alas! we are apt to despise — the poor. Yet but for the poor — God's own poor — social life would perish in its corruption. It is well for us to appreciate the intimacy of this dependence which it obtains. Spiritual treasures are to be regarded as wealth. We must traffic more. Gold and silver must be exchanged for sympathy and prayer. The material blessings of this life are to be distributed just as the spiritual blessings are. The rich are to live for the poor, and the poor are to live for the rich. The man whose talents qualify him to command armies is to be the protector of the weak, aim the man whose appreciation is sensitive is to be the teacher of the ignorant; the man who has this world's goods is to supply his brothel's need, and the man who can prevail with God is to realise his responsibility in prayer. The ministrations of Onesiphorus exhibit the watchfulness of God, which is exercised through His servants. The poor saints understand this better than the rich saints can. Their poverty affords many occasions for the manifestation of special providences. And in their lives these special providences are very numerous. God feeds them, as He did Elijah by the brook Cherith. There is a wonderful adaptation of supply and demand. Nor should we fail to discover the dignity which is ours when we are selected by God as His messengers. Subjects always appreciate the preference of a sovereign. God honours us if He makes us His almoners. Let us appreciate the honour, and let us seek to discharge such duties with considerate love. "Blessed," says the Psalmist, "is he that considereth the poor." This is something more than giving; for it includes the manner of the giving. England has forgotten many of the leaders of fashion who were in favour thirty years ago, but she will never forget that cultured woman who went as nurse to the soldiers of the Crimea. Florence Nightingale once wrote that "the strong, the healthy wills in any life must determine to pursue the common good at any personal cost, at daily sacrifice. And we must not think that any fit of enthusiasm will carry us through such a life as this. Nothing but the feeling that it is God's work more than ours — that we are seeking His success, and not our success — and that we have trained and fitted ourselves by every means which He has granted us to carry oat His work, will enable us to go on." Christianity waits for such service. When Onesiphorus came into helpful contact with the life of Paul, he secured an unconscious immortality. His is not a principal figure in the Scriptures. He is of secondary rank or importance. But he has secured a grand immortality, while other men, greater, wiser, more conspicuous then than he, are forgotten; and this immortality was secured by self-forgetfulness on the part of Onesiphorus. If we cannot work unless we are sure of a recognition, we shall have no part in the sweet charities which make life tolerable. We must learn of the coral insect, whose instinct teaches it to build until it dies, and which, by building, slowly lifts an island out of the seas, upon which flowers may bloom, and trees may wave, and man may find a home. This, my friends, is our immortality, sure and blessed. "We are labourers together with God." It may be that we can do but little. Never mind. We will do what we can.
The only ground for the hypothesis of the death of Onesiphorus appears in the further reference to his household, rather than to himself, in the final salutations (2 Timothy 4:19
). This might easily be explained on another supposition, as well as on that made by the advocates of the "prayer for the departed." If Onesiphorus of Ephesus had business in Rome, he may have had reasons for "visiting Corinth, or Thessalonica, or Alexandria, or Spain, and may have been at too great a distance to receive personally the apostle's salutations.
()The balance of probability is decidedly in favour of the view that Onesiphorus was already dead when St. Paul wrote these words. There is not only the fact that he speaks here of "the house of Onesiphorus" in connection with the present and of Onesiphorus himself only in connection with the past; there is also the still more marked fact that in the final salutations, while greetings are sent to Prisca and Aquila, and from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, yet it is once more "the house of Onesiphorus," and not, Onesiphorus himself, who is saluted. This language is thoroughly intelligible if Onesiphorus was no longer alive but had a wife and children who were still living in Ephesus; but it is not easy to explain this reference in two places to the household of Onesiphorus, if he himself was still alive. In all the other cases the individual, and not the household, is mentioned. Nor is this twofold reference to his family, rather than to himself, the only fact which points in this direction. There is also the character of the apostle's prayer. Why does he confine his desires respecting the requital of Onesiphorus' kindness to the day of judgment? Why does he not also pray that he may be requited in this life? that he "may prosper and be in health, even as his soul prospereth," as St. John prays for Gaius (3 John 1:2)? This, again, is thoroughly intelligible if Onesiphorus is already dead. It is much less intelligible if he is still alive. It seems, therefore, to be scarcely too much to say that there is no serious reason for questioning the now widely accepted view that at the time when St. Paul wrote these words Onesiphorus was among the departed.
Like the sea anemone, which feels the first returning wave upon the rock, and throws out all its tendrils, so the tender nature of some individuals will give forth all its sympathies at the slightest intimations of woe.
What a blessing are rest-giving men and women! People upon whose strong sense and deep and delicate sympathy we can fling ourselves as on to a welcome couch! People into whose presence the worries and irritabilities of life seem afraid to enter! Cathedral-like souls, full of softened lights and restful shadows! Oh, what a refreshment to meet with such! Large, deep natures which have found for themselves rest in God, and whose very presence brings over others what Christ's word brought over the Sea of Galilee — A great calm. Souls that are like a vast forest, rich and cool, filled with speaking silences and peopled solitudes, where one can recline for hours or wander for days a stranger to the heat that wearies and withers outside! Such, in some measure, we can all be, and the need for such service to humanity is not sufficiently insisted on.
Who has not read the story of Picciola; how the prisoner knelt down and nursed the little flower which sprung up between the flagstones in his walk — how, in his loneliness, he talked to it as though it had a soul that could speak hack to him — and how, at length, the strong heart was broken within him, when, with the heat of the sun, it at last withered and died? Or that stranger illustration of the prisoner of the Bastille who knit his affections to a spider, weaving his web in a corner of the cell, and then wept, as one weeps for his first-born, when it was killed through the wanton cruelty of the gaoler? Far beyond this is the joy we have in the fellowship of our own kind. — Onesiphorus
means "bringing profit." The man's life was true to his name. He brought profit to himself, others, God.
A model minister's friend.
I. RELIGIOUS FRIEINDSHIP IS EMINENTLY PRACTICAL IN ITS SERVICE.
1. Invigorating. "Refreshed me." Like dew to shrivelled grass and drooping flower.
2. Painstaking. "Sought," etc.
3. Courageous. "In Rome." "Not ashamed of my chain." False friends are swayed by the signs of the times. Like a shadow, they leave us when we pass out of the sunshine. True friendship, based on character, not circumstances, hence unalterable.
6. Proverbial. "Thou knowest very well." The true man loves to recount deeds of kindness.
7. Immortal. Kindness is undying.
II. RELIGIOUS FRIENDSHIP IS HIGHLY DISTINGUISHED IN ITS REWARD.
1. It gained for him the influence of the mightiest Christian power.
2. It gained for him the influence of prayer for the best blessing "Mercy."
(1)The most needed blessing.
(2)Involves every other.
3. It gained for him the influence of prayer for the best blessing on the most momentous occasion. "That day" — the judgment — the day of destiny — the final day of mercy.
()And here the best may be taxed for omitting of the present occasion, or poor man's necessity. We are prone to commit sin instantly, and to put off good and charitable duties from time to time, and to do them lingeringly. But, beloved, this should not be so; we gather fruit when it is the ripest; cut down corn when it is the hardest; let blood when it groweth rankest; and shall we not refresh our brethren being poorest?
()We may run from the poor, and his homely bed and cottage; but God and His swift curse will one day overtake us.
()"I have read recently that in one of the English prisons there was at one time an underground cell, which was used as a place of punishment. Its remoteness, loneliness, and darkness made it a place greatly dreaded. Among the prisoners there was a man of refinement and nervous temperament, to whom the horror of this penalty was a fright that haunted him day and night. At length there was some alleged offence against the prison discipline, for which he was sentenced to four and twenty hours in this dungeon. He was led by the wardens to the place; the door was opened and he had to go down the stairs into its depths. The door was shut. The steps of the wardens died away in the distance; the outermost door was heard as its slamming echoed in the hollow places. Then all was still — A stillness that oppressed with terror amidst a darkness that could be felt. Nervous and full of imagination, the man sank down paralysed with fear. Strange and hideous shapes came out of the gloom, and pointed at him. His brain throbbed as with fever, and mocking voices seemed to come from all sides. He felt that before long the terror must drive him mad. Then suddenly there came the sound of steps overhead; and in a quiet tone the chaplain called him by name. Oh, never was any music so sweet! 'God bless you,' gasped the poor fellow. 'Are you there?' 'Yes,' said the chaplain, 'and I am not going to stir from here until you come out.' The poor man could not thank him enough. 'God bless you,' he cried. 'Why, I don't mind it a bit now, with you there like that.' The terror was gone; the very darkness was powerless to hurt while his friend was so near — unseen, but just above." And so beside us all ever is the unseen yet loving presence of our Master and Friend, and darkness and danger have no longer any power to frighten us.
Was not ashamed of my chainHere was Paul, in that large, grand company of men who, in all the ages, have been the victims of great ideals, of noble inspirations, of truth, of virtuous impulses, of high and generous purposes that reach out and beyond him; and there were a thousand men of all sorts coming against Paul's life, who appreciated his nobility, his gifts, his eloquence, his scholarship, his Judaism; and they saw nothing else in Paul or upon Paul but his chain, and then they walked away half ashamed and so sorry that so good a man as Paul had to wear a chain. There never was such jewellery in all the ages as that chain of Paul's. Never did any goldsmith melt together the rarest pieces from the mines and put them in such delicate and. beauteous relationships with one another, as did the Providence of God, when, through countless years and by various circumstances, the prophecies worked out that chain for Paul. Here is a mother, and if she is really a mother she is far more certainly chained than the woman by her side who tosses her little head, for such heads are always small, and has no thought of responsibilities and cares; no thought about those relationships of life which ought to be the most sacred in the world. Here is a young man who has started out to make himself intelligent. He has only a few hours in which to do it. He takes those hours and by all the severe exactions of his noble spirit he is bound so to that ideal that he cannot do this, and he has not an evening for that, and he hurries to his work a chained man, but oh, how grand! Here is a girl who thinks, perhaps, that tomorrow she will begin to sew again, wearily but happily, chained to her work, because yonder in some lowly place in this city her mother is working and waiting, prayerfully doing what she can, for death to take her. But this brave girl is carrying that aged mother upon those weary arms as once the mother carried her, chained, but not with a chain bought at a jewellery store. She has not the kind of jewellery upon her that sparkles upon you at the great reception. No, her jewellery is made by Almighty God; it was mined in the vast secrets of goodness; it was brought out by the heat and fire of that eager life; and God has given her this chain as the mark that she belongs to that grand race of aristocrats. And I care not whether that girl lives in a garret, or lives in a mansion, she belongs to the aristocracy of heaven. In what contrast to these chains appear the chains that have rattled as you came here, my friend; for there are other chains of the most coarse and ignoble kind that bind us. Here is a man who comes and feels, when he sees the picture of that young man earnestly trying to become intelligent, that he is ignorant, and he never knows how much of a chain there is attaching itself to him. Other people do. His smartnesses are simply exhibits of his chain; every time he tries to perpetrate a joke the chain rattles and people see how bound he is to utter ignorance. Here are men and women bound by chains of selfishness. To save your life you cannot conceive of a noble inspiration, The other day, when somebody told you of some one giving some money to a great cause, you sneeringly measured your own soul when you thought you were measuring his, and you said: "Well, he wanted to be advertised!" You know that is the way you would feel under the circumstances. Your chain rattled, and it rattled so awfully that those who were round about you saw the awful depths of selfishness into which you were about to fall. Here are men who are chained by habit. To save your life, you can't get home without feeling the pulling of a chain which you would rather break than to accomplish anything else in the world. But how different are these chains from the ones which Paul wore, as he stood there in the face of Israel and the whole world! That chain was rattling when he spoke, and he uttered that word with such eloquence that it has resounded through the centuries. "For the hope of Israel," he said, "I am bound with this chain. Other men have been bound to the past; I am bound to the future. Other men have been bound to iniquity; I am bound to righteousness. Other men have been bound to low ideals; I am bound to lofty ideals. Other men are in slavery, abject slavery, to those carnal purposes of life that debase; I am in slavery which is sublime, to the true and lofty ideals that exalt. For the hope of Israel, I am bound with that chain."
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