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some years after, in the records of the church of his native town, the epistle, which is styled, in our Bibles, that of Paul to the Colossians; or rather, let us suppose, that he heard it read then, for the first time, in the public congregation. If he recollected any thing of the private letter of Paul, which he had before discovered among Philemon's papers, he would not, for a moment, doubt of the authenticity of this public epistle to the Colossians. For he would instantly be struck with the coincidences between them, and observe the light and confirmation, which they communicate to each other, and to the history of the apostle. He would remark, that this epistle to the church was written about the same time, and from the same place, with the letter to Philemon ; of course he would expect to find, what is repeatedly mentioned in the Colossians, the writer speaking of himself, as imprisoned. There is one coincidence, however, which would strike him with singular force. He remembers to have found in the letter, that the name of Philemon's slave, who had absconded, and returned to him penitent, was Onesimus, and he now finds, in the epistle to the Colossians, that it is mentioned by mere accident, that a convert, named Onesimus, was the bearer of this public epistle to the church; and that he is there also, as in the other, commended by Paul with sin. gular affection, as a faithful and beloved brother. Could he suspect, for a moment, the authenticity of the epistle to the Colossians, after observing these and many more undesigned coincidences between this public correspondence with a church and this private letter to his deceased friend ; a letter, which, for any thing that we know, might, but for some such circumstances as those we have imagined, have remained forever buried in the desk of Philemon ?

Let us pursue this subject. What idea would the reader of this letter be apt to form of the character of

the writer? Would he not conclude him to be a man of the most affectionate dispositions, of the most glowing philanthropy, capable of strong sympathies, interested in the fortunes of his friends, and disposed to

any exertions in their favour? Would he not set him down as a minister, devoted altogether to the cause which he had espoused, esteeming it his first and highest object, in defiance of every personal inconvenience, to communicate, in his bonds, the knowledge of the gospel ; solicitous, even in such

a situation, to save the soul of a poor slave, and unable to conceal his delight at the change of character even in the obscure Onesinus? Yes, and with all this interest in the minutest circumstances connected with the credit of the gospel, I think he might discover in the writer of this letter a consciousness of dignity, mingled with his condescension, and consummate prudence of address, united with expressions of undissembled friendship for Philemon. I think he would say, here is a man, who is sensible of the influence, which age and office should command, and yet is master of a politeness, which knows how to bring itself, without abasement, to a level with the place, the feelings, and the prejudices of every class of men.

He would pronounce him familiar with all the avenues to the heart. He would say,

He would say, this man is no stranger to the world, but he is raised above its common interests; and beneath all the graces of this insinuating style, you may discern the magnanimity and disinterestedness of an apostle of the Son of God, a preacher of sublime and everlasting truths.

It happens, by a singular coincidence, that there has come down to us a letter of Pliny, the courtier, the consul, the man of letters, who lived in the same age with the apostle ;* a letter, addressed to one of

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* Pliny, lib. ix. lit. 21.

his friends, upon an occasion precisely similar to this of Paul, interceding for the pardon of a runaway slave. The time and the occasion must excuse me from reciting it. In comparison with that of Paul, however, I hesitate not to say, that it is altogether inferiour, not merely in affection, in dignity, and the spirit of christianity, of which Pliny was ignorant, but also in the subordinate beauties of style, and in eloquence of persuasion. And yet Paul was a Jew of Tarsus, and Pliny, the ornament of an accomplished court and of a literary age. But to return.

If such, then, would be his conception of Paul's character, from the faint sketches, which appear in this letter, let him turn to the history in the Acts, and contemplate there a full-length portrait of this wonderful man, this sublime apostle, and say, whether he does not recognise the resemblance. There, he appears animated with a zeal, which nothing earthly could quench, and fearless of every thing which appals ordinary men; affectionate as a child, when taking his leave of the elders at Ephesus, bold as a lion, in the presence of corrupt Roman governours ; in his speeches before the Areopagus and the Athenians, discovering a masterly address and a cultivated mind; in the hearing of Agrippa, eloquent as a practised rhetorician ; in the presence of his enemies, the Jewish council, prudent, dexterous, and alert to seize every lawful advantage; yet, with all this, a most humiliating sense of his former sinfulness, on the one hand, attends, controls, attempers, and characterizes all his greatness; while, on the other, a sentiment of inexpressible gratitude to the Saviour, who had rescued and pardoned bim, gives a kind of supernatural energy of love to all his exertions, sanctifies all his success, and seems to spiritualize all his consciousness of desert, all the glory of his triumphs. Yes, the penitent and the hero break out in his character, whether he preaches or

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writes, whether he suffers, or is worshipped as a God. It is the same extraordinary man, who discovers himself in the familiarity of a private letter, and in the wonders of a miraculous history. The dress is altered, but the bold cast of countenance is the same.

It is Paul's, and Paul's only. Truly, the conquest of such a mind was the first and the noblest of the triumphs of the cross.

Lastly, what ideas would the reader of this letter form of the nature and spirit of christianity ? I think, that, even from this short epistle, he would learn to reverence and love the cause, which could form such men, and dictate such sentiments. Here he would see the distinctions of master and slave, of the chief apostle and his meanest convert, vanishing in their common relation to Jesus and his gospel. Love counts nothing humble, nothing mean.

Here he would learn, that the soul, even of a fugitive slave, is not unworthy of being rescued from the tyranny and misery of şin ; that the gift of eternal life, in the sight of Jesus and of Paul, is no less important to Onesimus, than to his master. Yet, in remarkable coincidence with the doctrine of the apostle in other epistles, he would find, that christianity made no alterations in the civil or political relations of the converts, for Paul demands not the emancipation of the slave, but, on the contrary, returns him to the service of his master.

In this epistle, too, he would see recommended that temper of forgiveness, which the gospel requires, and requires, too, without respect of persons, from a superiour justly incensed toward the most abject dependent. It acknowledges neither the pride of revenge, nor the haughtiness of office. We see, also, exemplified, the duty of reconciling those, who are at variance, however distant or unequal. We see a religion, in short, which takes an interest even in the continuance of the attachment of a master and

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his domestics. How generous, how disinterested, and yet how practicable is all this! How conformable to the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and how unlike the customs and the spirit of modern society!

Besides all this, we are taught, by the example of Paul and Onesimus, not to turn away from any portion of the community, as irreparably wicked, or out of the reach of instruction and conversion. It gives a lesson to every christian minister, and not less, let me add, to every master of a family. It shows us, too, that the gospel was intended to find its way to the breast of a slave, as well as to the head of a philosopher; to form the characters of the lowest order of a community ; to make a worthy man, where every other religion, which the world has yet seen, and all the lectures of the Lycæum besides, would have left a worthless, ignorant criminal.

To conclude, he who feels not the worth of this amiable, benevolent, unpretending epistle, may study mysteries till he is tired; he may talk of our holy religion, till he fancies himself its champion; but he understands not the nature of christianity. He has not imbibed that spirit of charity, without which the most confident faith and the most burning zeal are but a hypocritical show, or a ruinous delusion.

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