The Limitations of Life
Colossians 4:18
The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

We have all our bonds and feel fettered somehow. Continually we discover that the realization of our aspirations, or the attainment of our purposes, is marred by some chain, even as the penmanship of Paul was made angular and irregular by his bonds. Thus we are each carrying about with us a chain, of which, so long as we are working within its limits, we may be largely unconscious, but which brings us to a stand the moment we have gone to its farthest length. The business man is bound to his counting-house by a cord which neither his God nor his conscience will allow him to break. The invalid is held down to her couch, and her devoted nurse is kept continually at the bedside of the sick one by a cord, which is not the less real because it is invisible, or the less powerful because its strands consist of love. The mother, wherever she goes, feels tugging at her heart the silken string that ties her to the cradle. The poor man is hampered by his poverty, and the servant has his service of God in some sort conditioned and qualified by the duties which he owes to his earthly master. We may find a few things suggested which may reconcile us to our bonds.


1. His chain was the trophy of principle, and was more ornamental to him than the bracelets of our fashionable ladies are to them. He could not blame his own folly or wickedness for his present condition. It came to him when he was in the way of duty, and the consciousness of that was a support and solace to him all through.

2. But it is quite similar with our providential limitations. There is no disgrace in poverty or in sickness, provided only we have not brought it upon ourselves by our iniquity. The business man has no need to be ashamed of his attention to his counting-house. The mother cannot think that she is disgraced by the little ones that fill the nursery with their glee. And if there be anywhere on earth the human incarnation of that angel who ministered to our Lord in His anguish, it is to be found in the devoted nurse who tends the fevered sufferer. Let us not condemn ourselves if, because we are unavoidably called to the discharge of such duties, we cannot give ourselves to work in some department of Church activity.

3. But the tendency of much that is said nowadays is to make one dissatisfied with himself if he be not engaged in some ecclesiastical work. It is good to realize Wesley's idea, "all at work, and always at work." But I have known a gentle heart well-nigh broken because a minister as good as declared that those who did not engage in a certain kind of work, were unworthy to be called Christians. But that quiet one was every day doing a kind of service for Christ which required far more self-denial, and one which she could not have neglected without sin. But the service of suffering is as well pleasing to God as is that of working. Holiness comes out in suffering as well as in working. And so, provided we maintain holiness within the limits of our chain, it is no disgrace to us that we cannot go beyond them.


1. No doubt Paul was sometimes saddened by the thought that his long imprisonment had kept him from missionary work, and yet in the long run he became convinced that his chain had really advanced the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12-13).

(1) The soldier to whom he was chained was changed every four hours, so by embracing the opportunity of conversing with each of his guards Paul became instrumental in the conversion of many soldiers, and introduced the leaven of Christianity into the Roman army. "My bonds in Christ are manifest throughout the praetorian guard, and in all other places." He came into contact with the lowest and the highest of the people, and was blessed in the salvation not only of the runaway slave Onesimus, but also of some of the inmates of Caesar's household.

(2) It was at this time that he wrote his letters to the Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon; and who may estimate the results these Epistles have produced and are producing. Thus Paul was laid aside from personal activity for a time, in order that, through these letters, he might work for all time.

2. There is much in all this to stimulate and encourage us. How much the business man might accomplish for the Lord, if he were only to do with those who are brought into contact with him what Paul did with his soldier guardians! And is there on this earth any sanctuary so blessed as the sick chamber, where the pulpit is a couch of suffering, and the preacher is a patient, loving, gentle one who tries to bear all for Christ? It may seem a great hardship to the mother that she is kept by family cares from taking a share in any departments of active benevolence. But wait until that bright-eyed boy has grown up to be a godly man, or it may be a useful minister, and then she will have the satisfaction of knowing that the influence of her training is telling through him upon thousands of hearts. We never lose in the long run, even in the matter of usefulness, by giving ourselves to the nearest work, and to which we seem bound by a chain we cannot and dare not break. Another person can do as well in a mission school, but who, save she, can be a mother to her children. In the day of final apocalypse few things will surprise us more than the benefits which have sprung from the labours of some humble Christian who thought that she was doing nothing. Courage, then! You may be fettered, but He whom you serve is not bound.

III. PAUL'S BONDS DID NOT MAR HIS HAPPINESS. When he was in the prison of Philippi he "sang praises unto God," and we cannot but feel that he was speaking his own experience in his injunctions to that Church (Philippians 4:4-8). Nor is this all. In the Epistles of his first imprisonment there is an elevation of thought and a gladsome spirit which we hardly discover in any other. In any case his chain had not bound his heart. In the days of superstition men wore charms about them under the belief that they would thereby ensure themselves against disease. But no mere external appliance can keep sorrow from the soul. We must have Christ within to charm misery away. He "giveth songs in the night." It is an easy thing to sing in the day of health and prosperity; but only Christ can make us sing in want and bondage.

IV. PAUL'S BONDS DID NOT LESSON HIS REWARD. Opportunity is the measure of responsibility. He who sat over against the treasury pronounced the noblest eulogy over her who had cast into it the smallest coin — because in estimating her merit He "remembered her bonds." He knew that her heart was larger than her means, and that she was lamenting all the time that she had not more to give. So He will give the same kindly consideration to the different providential hindrances with which we have to contend; and haply they, who through their lives have been regretting that they have done so little, may hear the unexpected encomium, "He hath done what he could," "He hath done more than they all." We are thoughtlessly apt to connect reward with activity; Christ has connected it with character, and that is indicated and strengthened by suffering and patience as well as work. Consciousness of limitation may make a man painfully conscious of the imperfections of the little he is able to do. "It is not all I once planned to do. It was in my heart to make it much better! Master! Remember my bonds!" And the appeal will not be made in vain, for the reply will come: "Well done! enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

WEB: The salutation of me, Paul, with my own hand: remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

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