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IRON SHARPENETH IRON; SO A MAN SHARPENETH THE COUNTENANCE OF HIS FRIEND.
THERE are many things said about friendship in Scripture, and some touching examples of the fidelity of friends. ‘A friend loveth at all times,’ and ‘There is one that sticketh closer than a brother,’ are two sayings about friendship which occur in the Book of Proverbs. Another is ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend,’ which means that his reproofs are true and upright, and proceed from the love of his soul; they are the contrary of those ‘precious balms’ which are said to break the head. ‘He that repeateth a matter separateth friends,’ is a maxim of which the proof lies within the experience of all of us. ‘Sweet language will multiply friends’ may be compared with the more familiar proverb, ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath.’ ‘He that hath friends must show himself friendly,’ that is, he must be kindly and sociable, he must talk to his friends and show them sympathy, or the springs of friendship will soon be dried up in them. ‘A faithful friend is the medicine of life’; he is the medicine, and also the physician, who heals the wounds 338which unkindness or misfortune have made in our lives, who ministers to us and restores us to ourselves.
These are quaint utterances of Eastern wisdom more than two thousand years old; and yet they have a living voice, and speak to modern society as much as to the Israelites of old. Whoever was the author of them had a profound insight into the nature of man. And there are not only sayings of this kind, but there are also striking and typical examples in Scripture of personal attachments, such as that noble one of David and Jonathan, the two men who seemed destined almost necessarily and by the nature of the case to be enemies of one another; yet at first sight, as we are told, Jonathan ‘loved him as his own soul.’ No cloud of envy intercepted his admiration of the great warrior, the sweet singer of Israel, who hereafter was to supersede him in the kingdom. Many persons can regard with equanimity the rise of a rival who is still a little inferior to them. But it is only a generous mind which can feel admiration of a superior, equal in years or younger, without any alloy of jealousy. Jonathan was persuaded that he was not to succeed to the throne of his father, but he was content to take the second place—‘Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.’ And, of all the persons at Saul’s court, the man whom he was destined to supplant was the only one whom David trusted. There is no more touching scene than the last farewell of 339these two, when ‘David arose out of his hiding-place and bowed himself three times, and they kissed one another, and wept with one another until David exceeded.’
Remember again the deep and earnest affection of the two women, Ruth and Naomi, though of different country and origin: ‘Whither thou goest I will go, where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so unto me and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.’
Turning to the New Testament, we find that St. Paul had his younger friend Timotheus, who, ‘like a son with a father, laboured with him in the Gospel’; and that our Saviour Christ, though His thoughts were not as our thoughts, was the friend of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary, in whose home He sat at meat; that He ‘called His disciples friends,’ adding the reason ‘because He had told them all that He had heard of the Father,’ just as men tell their whole mind to their friends; and that, although He loved all His disciples, yet among them there was one who is called the ‘beloved disciple,’ who also ‘leaned on His breast at supper.’
If, passing from Scripture, we proceed to classical literature, we see that friendship has a great part both in the government of States and in the lives of individuals; it is an aspect of politics, and of human 340nature, and of all virtue. Partly owing to the different character of domestic life, the tie of friendship seems to have exercised a greater influence among the Greeks and Romans than among ourselves. And, although these attachments may sometimes have de generated into licentiousness (for the best things in human nature are not far removed from the worst), we cannot doubt that much of what was noble in that old life is also due to them. Such an ideal the Greek had before him in the friendship of Achilles and Patroclus, of Pylades and Orestes, who, as the ancient story told, were ready to die for one another. The school of Socrates was quite as much a circle of friends as a band of disciples. And in Roman times we hear of noble friendships, such as that of Scipio and Laelius, which Cicero has described to us, or his own friendship with Atticus, to whom, though a very different character from himself, he communicated his inmost thoughts, his weaknesses, his vanities, feeling sure that he would meet with a response.
Our great dramatist again has provided us with several types of friendship. Most of us will remember the parting of the two friends, when the one who had so much need to feel anxiety about his own concerns can think only of his love for his friend:
‘And even then, his eye being big with tears,
Turning his face, he put his hand behind him,
And, with affection wondrous sensible,
He wrung Bassanio’s hand, and so they parted.’
Or the well-known passage in Hamlet, beginning:
‘Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man
As e’er my conversation coped withal.’
‘Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath sealed thee for herself.’
Or the adieu of the prating old man of the world, whose maxims seem to be so far above his character:
‘The friends thou hast and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched unfledged comrade.’
‘This above all: to thine own self be true;
Thou canst not then be false to any man.’
In another great play, ‘Julius Cæsar,’ there is a description of a quarrel between two friends, both of whom are cast in a larger mould than ordinary men, the one so passionate and restless, the other so just and immovable, between whom angry words pass until their deeper love is called forth by the over powering sorrow of one of them. These are types or models, which I venture to cite by way of preface, because they illustrate the subject of which I am about to speak this morning.
In youth, when life is first opening upon us, we easily form friendships; then, to be with our equals at school or college, in any new beginning of life, 342when we become our own masters, is delightful to us: and we single out one or two, that we may share our pleasures with them, and join in their serious occupations. A young man, if poor in worldly goods, may reasonably hope to be rich in friends. He himself will be more disposed to form friendships than in later years. If he be kindly and affectionate and good-natured, if he cultivate the habit of conversing with others, not wrapping himself in a moody shyness, he will find that friends soon begin to gather around him. There will be no other opportunity in after life like that which he has here. For here alone the circle from which he may choose is practically unlimited. Here also men are brought together from different places and conditions, and meet one another on the common level of education and college life. Like draws towards like, and youth rejoices in youth. ‘Let him not,’ to repeat once more the words of the poet,
‘Dull his palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched unfledged comrade;’
but let him be ambitious of knowing those who are a little above him, not in worldly position, but in ability, in force of character, in goodness.
The memory of that first opening of life will be imprinted on our minds as long as we have the recollection of anything; far more (and indeed it is really more important) than any similar period of life which is to follow. The pleasant days of youth 343will be cherished by us in imagination thirty or forty years hence; the remembrance of early friends will be brought back to us in many a conversation with old acquaintances and contemporaries, or with the chance stranger whom we meet perhaps in a foreign land. For we too—I mean the younger portion of us—if we live, will have feelings about the past of which we know nothing as yet; and the elder among us may go back to old scenes, which sometimes haunt us, of loving friends now departed, of a world which seems to have died out to us and yet is very easily called up and near to us in thought.
Remembering these things as they affect us all, I propose to speak to you to-day of friendship, its nature and value, its dangers and disappointments, its joys and sorrows; and then I shall say a few words of Christian friendship, which, in uniting us to a friend, at the same time unites us to Christ and God.
In speaking of the opportunity of forming friend ships which youth possesses, I do not mean to say that we can acquire friends exactly as we please. Friend ships are not made, but grow out of similarity of tastes, out of mutual respect, from the discovery of some hitherto unsuspected vein of sympathy: they depend also on our powers of inspiring friendship in others. Two men meet and talk together, and at once they seem to understand one another: they may differ in character, but they have also something in common which gives them an extraordinary regard 344for one another. They have found, as if by accident and mere juxtaposition, the very person in all the world who is most congenial to them, at any rate for a time. Yet neither is the choice of friends altogether independent of ourselves. A man may properly seek for them, he may have an honourable desire to know those who are his superiors in moral and intellectual qualities; or he may allow himself to drop into the society of persons beneath him, perhaps because he is more at home with them and is proud and shy with his superiors. And so he gets good, or harm, out of the companionship of those whom he loves. Such as they are he will be in some degree; he will take from them his manners and style of conversation; he will be reflected in them and they in him. We do not want to be judges of our fellow men (for ‘who made thee to differ from another?’). But neither can we leave entirely to chance one of the greatest influences of human life.
And, first, let me speak of the character of true friendship. It should be simple, manly, unreserved, not weak, or fond, or extravagant, nor yet exacting more than human nature can fairly give (for there are other ties which bind men to one another besides friendship); nor again intrusive into the secrets of another’s soul, or curious about his circumstances; rejoicing in the presence of a friend, and not forgetting him in his absence. It should be easy too and cheerful, careful of little things, but having also a sort of 345dignity which is based on mutual respect. Perhaps the greatest element of friendship is faithfulness. To know that there is some one who will be always the same to us, who has a deep and abiding affection for us, to whom in time of trial we may turn for advice or help, adds greatly to the security and happiness of life. Two going together have not only a twofold but a fourfold strength. They learn from each other, they form the character of one another, they bear one another’s burdens; they make up for each other’s defects, they double each other’s pleasures. Few persons are so constituted that they can live wholly without kindness. It is this want in our nature that friendship supplies. When the heart is in bitterness or disappointment; when we have made a mistake, or are going to make a mistake; when we are over sensitive to the opinion of the world; we cannot value too highly the counsel and sympathy of another. At such times the appearance of a friend is like the return of sunshine, giving light and warmth to the dull and chill landscape.
The ancients spoke of three kinds of friendship: one for the sake of the useful, another for the sake of the pleasant, a third for the sake of the good and noble. The first is a contradiction in terms, for no man can be the friend of another with a view to his own interests; this is a partnership and not a friend ship. A sensitive and honourable mind will rather fear lest some indirect advantage may impair the 346disinterestedness of true friendship. Yet there are services, even pecuniary, rendered by friends to one another which are ‘twice blessed.’ Of the pleasures of friendship I need hardly speak to you. For every one in youth knows the delight of having a friend. Who has not felt his heart beat quicker, standing at the door of the house at which he expects to meet him after a long absence? How many things have we to say to him; how much to hear from him, protracting into the night our conversation with him, which seems as if it would never end. Even the common incident of paying a visit to an old friend is the source of a great deal of pleasure to us. So naturally formed are we for friendship; so great are the blessings which flow from it.
But let us now consider further, whether, in ancient phraseology, there may not be a friendship for the sake of the noble and the good. Men are dependent beings, and we cannot fail to see how much more, when acting together, they may do for the elevation of one another’s characters, and for the improvement of mankind. Thus friendship becomes fellow service in daily work; perhaps in the management of a school, or a college, or an office; and, when there is no such connexion, at any rate a sympathy about all the higher objects in which the friends take an interest. They seek to impart to one another the best which they have; they inspire one another with high and noble thoughts; they may sometimes rejoice 347together over the portion of their work which has been accomplished, and take counsel about that which remains to be done; or perhaps congratulate one another on some public event in which they took a more distinct part. They desire, if I may use a homely expression, to keep one another up to the mark; not to allow indolence or eccentricity or weakness to overgrow and spoil their lives. And some times, though with care and reserve, they will speak to one another of faults and mistakes. For we cannot see ourselves exactly as others see us, nor can we hear what others say of us. And, although the candid friend has a bad name, yet there are crises of life in which the words of friendship may be golden, and may save us from protracted misery or one long mistake. A faithful friend cannot stand by and see another on the high road to ruin without expostulating. Seldom, though this is a minor matter, will words dictated by true affection be found to give our friend pain or offence; the love which we bear to another is the measure of what we can say to him.
But this is an ideal of friendship which is rarely attained in this world. Like the other goods of life, friendship is commonly mixed and imperfect, and liable to be interrupted by the changing circumstances or tempers of men. Few, comparatively, have the same friends in youth and age, unless bound to them by the tie of relationship. Some of our youthful friendships are too violent to last; they have in them 348some element of weakness or sentimentalism; the feeling passes away, and we become ashamed of them and desire that they should be no more remembered. Sometimes the characters of men develop differently; or their interests become opposed; or their opinions, as Cicero remarks about politics, or, as we should more often say, about the Church and religion, diverge widely; or at some critical time a friend has failed to stand by us, and then our love to him grows cold, and the point of view from which we regard his whole character is altered. Friendships should not be lightly broken; but, when they are broken, they cannot be easily resumed. Only let us remember that there are duties which we owe to the ‘extinct’ friend, as I may term him, who perhaps on some fanciful ground has parted company with us. We should never speak against him, or make use of our knowledge about him. Let us remember his former kindness, and bury his coldness or disloyalty; we may have even learned from him lessons which he has forgotten himself; for the memory of a friendship is like the memory of the dead, not lightly to be spoken of or aspersed. Yet the breaking up of a friendship and the loss of a friend is more often due to our own fault than to circumstances. We have been negligent of him; we don’t see much of him, as people say; we have not ‘kept the friendship in repair’; and thus insensibly alienation arises. Or he may have written or said something about us which 349is irritating, and we may make it an excuse for casting him off. But many things may be said against most of us which are perfectly just, and from which we may learn something about ourselves and about the truth. We should at least allow criticism, whether we are enlightened by it or not, to flow off from us, and not to disturb our minds or our relations to others. Nor can any man be talked down, any more than he can be written down, except by himself. A passing word should not be suffered to interrupt the friendship of years. ‘Admonish a friend; it may be that he hath not done it: and if he have done it that he do it no more. Admonish thy friend; it may be that he hath not said it: and if he have that he speak it not again.’ Persons often give unintentional offence because they are uneasy with themselves. It is a curious observation, that the most sensitive natures are also the most liable to pain the feelings of others. Nor is the reason far to seek; for they are so engrossed with their own sensibilities that they have no room for the thought of others. In friendships, as in families, a great deal of misery has been caused from the misunderstanding of this. Those who are yearning for sympathy, for kindness, for forgiveness, nevertheless wear a cold or haughty exterior. Among the better sort of men and women, half the evils of life seem to rise from a want of imagination. They are too literal and positive; they do not put themselves in another’s situation; 350they do not understand one another’s trials. Many of us must have known families in which for years, some times almost for generations, there has been no peace or comfort; and we wonder how such good people should have lived in such an unchristian manner, and have done so little for the happiness of one another. Is not the cause of this mainly inattention to one another’s characters? Though we may with a certain justice attack these foibles and infirmities of human nature, yet we are all liable to them to some extent, and therefore should all seek to minister to them. There is a great deal of magnanimity required, and a long experience, before we can fully realize or over come the petty jealousies and irritations of life. Tried by the ethical standard of virtue and vice, these bitternesses may seem trifles. But any one who wishes to raise the character of society either here or elsewhere, who would strengthen the bonds of the family, or make friendship permanent or lasting, must acknowledge that he can effect these objects in any degree only by an entire freedom from personality in himself, and a loving consideration of the feelings of others.
Lastly, I proposed to speak to you of Christian friendship, which is another aspect of the ideal friendship, though in some respects different. For the spirit of a man’s life may be more or less consciously Christian. That which others regard as the service of man, he may recognize to be the service of 351God; that which others do out of compassion for their fellow creatures he may do also for the love of Christ. Feeling that God has made him what he is, he may seek to carry on his work in the world as a fellow worker with God: remembering that Christ died for us, he may be ready to lay down his life for other men. And so of friendship; that also may be more immediately based on religious motives and may flow out of a religious principle. ‘They walked together in the house of God as friends,’ that is, if I may venture to paraphrase the words, ‘They served God together in doing good to His creatures’: even their earthly love to one another was sanctified by the thought that they were in His presence. And sometimes they poured forth their aspirations in prayer, or at the Communion, that their friendship might be worthy of servants of Christ; and that they might find the meeting-point of their lives in Him. For human friendships constantly require to be purified, and raised from earth to heaven. And yet they should not lose themselves in spiritual emotion, or in unreal words. Better that friendship should have no element of religion than that it should degenerate into cant and insincerity. But there may be some amongst us who, like St. Paul, are capable of feeling a natural interest in the spiritual welfare of others; or, if you like the expression better, in the improvement of their characters; that they may become more such as God intended them to be in this world. And all 352of us may sometimes think of ourselves and our friends as living to God, and of human love as bearing the image of the divine.
But in some respects Christian friendship is not merely the religious aspect of the ideal of the ancients: it is also different. For it is not merely the friend ship of equals, but of unequals; the love of the weak and of those who can make no return, like the love of God towards the unthankful and the evil. Perhaps for this reason it is less personal and individual, and more diffused towards all men. It is not a friendship of one or two, but of many. Again, it proceeds from a different rule—‘Love your enemies.’ It is founded upon that charity which ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.’ Such a friendship we may be hardly able to reconcile with our own character, or with common prudence. Yet nothing short of this is the Christian ideal which is set before us in the Gospel. And here and there may be found a person who has been inspired to carry it out in practice. I will tell you an anecdote which has lately come within my own knowledge. Two friends had been warmly attached to one another for many years, when one of them began to lose his reason. The malady, as is not uncommonly the case in these singular visitations, showed itself in extreme hatred and abuse of his former friend. The other took him into his family, and succeeded in restoring him to the world, after a few 353months, completely cured. Is not this something like what the Scripture calls ‘bearing the image of Christ’?
Lastly, some among us have known what it is to lose a friend. There are many reflections suggested to our minds by such a recollection. Death is a great teacher; the death of others, as well as the thought of our own, teaches us many things which we have imperfectly realized in life. Who that has lost a friend would not wish to have done more for him now that he is taken from us? How little should we have regarded any cause of offence which he had given us, if we had known that he was so soon to leave us! We recall the scenes in which we were accustomed to meet him; we remember the books which he loved; we treasure up the words which we shall hear no more. And where is he? Most of us have in our mind’s eye some one no longer living, about whom we feel a peculiar interest. It may be an elder friend, who first drew us out, and taught us to have confidence in ourselves; or a youth of our own age who set us an example of a higher kind of life; or some sweet face may be recalled to us upon which parents and loving friends were accustomed to gaze ‘as upon the face of an angel’; of one whose gentle ways we knew, and who still seems to linger among us. Or we may be reminded of the venerable presence of some aged man, with whom we used to sit and talk of times past, whose kindness and charitable judgement of his 354fellow men seemed ever to increase with increasing years; of whom, also, it might be said, ‘When the eye saw him it blessed him, and when the ear heard him it gave witness to him’; or some distinguished person whom we had known from very ancient days, who ‘clung to us like a brother’ when he became eminent as when we were youths together, with whom we had an unclouded friendship; or, if at times, like all human things, a little clouded, yet that makes no difference; we only wish that we had understood him better or been able to do more for him. Where is he, or she? and shall we ever see them and speak to them again? We cannot tell. They are withdrawn from our sight, and the language of this world is no longer applicable to them. But the memory of them may still consecrate and elevate our lives. The thoughts of a departed friend or child, instead of sinking us in sorrow, may be a guiding light to us; like the thoughts of Christ to the first disciples, bringing many things to our remembrance of which we were ignorant. And if we have hope in God for ourselves, we have hope also for them; we believe that they rest in Him, and that no evil shall touch them.355
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