“He then tells them that Onesimus is present; that he has been sent back by the Apostle Paul, and with the full, cordial consent of Onesimus himself. He would ask permission for Onesimus to say a few words.
“‘Come hither,’ says the pastor, ’and tell us what the Lord hath done for thee, and how he hath had mercy on thee.’
“‘Let me wash the saints’ feet,’ says Onesimus, ’but I am not worthy to teach in the church.’
“He proceeds to tell them, in full, of his escape from his master, after robbing him; of his meeting the Apostle at Rome; of his conversion; of his voluntary return to spend his days, if such be the will of God, as the servant of Philemon.
“The account of these proceedings reaches Laodicea, not far distant, to which place Paul had also sent a letter, and the Colossians, agreeably to the Apostle’s charge, exchange letters, and no doubt the letter to Philemon is also read to the Church which is at Laodicea.
“Whereupon, we will suppose, a controversy at once springs up. There had already appeared in this region of Phrygia, as we infer from the Epistle to the Colossians, serious errors, among them a kind of angel worship and asceticism, or abstinence from things lawful, and a state of things called Gnosis, (Eng. knowledge,) or Gnosticism, a pervading spirit of worldly wisdom, science, philosophy, which treated the simplicity which was in Christ as too rudimental and plain for the human mind, and therefore sought to furnish it with speculations and mysticism, to gratify its desires for a more extensive spiritual knowledge than it seemed to many of them was provided for by Christianity.
“Among the speculations and theories of those days, we will suppose that the idea began to prevail that Christianity was inconsistent with holding a fellow-being in bondage. A motion is made in the Laodicean Church that a committee be appointed to confer with the Colossian Church on the return of Onesimus into slavery. Such a motion would have found ready advocates in the Church at Laodicea, if, as at a later day, they were ‘neither cold nor hot’ in religion; in which case any collateral subjects wholly or partly secular, would have a charm for them. These supplied that lack of warmth which they were conscious of as to religion; their church-meeting, no doubt, seemed to them dull, unless a subject was introduced which gave opportunity for discussion, and for things which gendered debate, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings.
“The result of the conference on the part of the Laodicean Committee with the Colossian Church was, that a general meeting was appointed to discuss the subject of the return of Onesimus into slavery. It was a private session of members of the two churches. They claimed the privilege as Christians of discussing any question relating to the government and the laws, taking care that no spies were present; still, with all their precautions, false brethren made trouble for them by giving private information to the civil authorities against some of their number, whom they disliked; and this led to some oppression and persecution.