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PREACHED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
AT CHRIST-CHURCH, OXON, 1664.
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
WE have here an account of Christ’s friendship to his disciples; that is, we have the best of things represented, in the greatest of examples. In other men we see the excellency, but in Christ the divinity of friendship. By our baptism and church-communion we are made one body with Christ; but by this we become one soul.
Love is the greatest of human affections, and friendship is the noblest and most refined improvement of love; a quality of the largest compass. And it is here admirable to observe the ascending gradation of the love which Christ bore to his disciples. The strange and superlative greatness of which will appear from those several degrees of kindness, that it has manifested to man, in the several periods of his condition. As,
1st, If we consider him antecedently to his creation, while he yet lay in the barren womb of nothing, and only in the number of possibilities: and consequently 379could have nothing to recommend him to Christ’s affection, nor shew any thing lovely, but what he should afterwards receive from the stamp of a preventing love. Yet even then did the love of Christ begin to work, and to commence in the first emanations and purposes of goodness towards man; designing to provide matter for itself to work upon, to create its own object, and, like the sun in the production of some animals, first to give a being, and then to shine upon it.
2dly, Let us take the love of Christ as directing itself to man actually created and brought into the world; and so all those glorious endowments of human nature in its original state and innocence, were so many demonstrations of the munificent goodness of him, by whom God first made, as well as afterwards redeemed the world. There was a consult of the whole Trinity for the making of man, that so he might shine as a master-piece, not only of the art, but also of the kindness of his Creator; with a noble and a clear understanding, a rightly disposed will, and a train of affections regular and obsequious, and perfectly conformable to the dictates of that high and divine principle, right reason. So that, upon the whole matter, he stepped forth, not only the work of God’s hands, but also the copy of his perfections; a kind of image or representation of the Deity in small. Infinity contracted into flesh and blood; and (as I may so speak) the preludium and first essay towards the incarnation of the divine nature. But,
3dly and lastly, Let us look upon man, not only as created, and brought into the world, with all these great advantages superadded to his being; but also, 380as depraved, and fallen from them; as an outlaw and a rebel, and one that could plead a title to nothing, but to the highest severities of a sin-revenging justice. Yet even in this estate also, the boundless love of Christ began to have warm thoughts and actings towards so wretched a creature; at this time not only not amiable, but highly odious.
While indeed man was yet uncreated and unborn, though he had no positive perfection to present and set him off to Christ’s view; yet he was at least negatively clear: and, like unwritten paper, though it has no draughts to entertain, yet neither has it any blots to offend the eye; but is white, and innocent, and fair for an after-inscription. But man, once fallen, was nothing but a great blur; nothing but a total universal pollution, and not to be reformed by any thing under a new creation.
Yet, see here the ascent and progress of Christ’s love. For first, if we consider man, in such a loath some and provoking condition; was it not love enough, that he was spared and permitted to enjoy a being? since, not to put a traitor to death is a singular mercy. But then, not only to continue his being, but to adorn it with privilege, and from the number of subjects, to take him into the retinue of servants, this was yet a greater love. For every one that may be fit to be tolerated in a prince’s dominions, is not therefore fit to be admitted into his family; nor is any prince’s court to be commensurate to his kingdom. But then further, to advance him from a servant to a friend; from only living in his house, to lying in his bosom; this is an instance of favour above the rate of a created goodness, an act 381for none but the Son of God, who came to do every thing in miracle, to love supernaturally, and to pardon infinitely, and even to lay down the sovereign, while he assumed the saviour.
The text speaks the winning behaviour and gracious condescension of Christ to his disciples, in owning them for his friends, who were more than sufficiently honoured by being his servants. For still these words of his must be understood, not according to the bare rigour of the letter, but according to the arts and allowances of expression: not as if the relation of friends had actually discharged them from that of servants; but that of the two relations, Christ was pleased to overlook the meaner, and with out any mention of that, to entitle and denominate them solely from the more honourable.
For the further illustration of which, we must premise this, as a certain and fundamental truth, that so far as service imports duty and subjection, all created beings, whether men or angels, bear the necessary and essential relation of servants to God, and consequently to Christ, who is God blessed for ever: and this relation is so necessary, that God himself cannot dispense with it, nor discharge a rational creature from it: for although consequentially indeed he may do so, by the annihilation of such a creature, and the taking away his being, yet supposing the continuance of his being, God cannot effect, that a creature which has his being from, and his dependance upon, him, should not stand obliged to do him the utmost service that his nature enables him to do. For to suppose the contrary, would be irregular, and opposite to the law of nature, which, 382consisting in a fixed unalterable relation of one nature to another, is upon that account, even by God himself, indispensable. Forasmuch as having once made a creature, he cannot cause that that creature should not owe a natural relation to his Maker, both of subjection and dependance, (the very essence of a creature importing so much,) to which relation if he behaves himself unsuitably, he goes contrary to his nature, and the laws of it; which God, the author of nature, cannot warrant without being contrary to himself. From all which it follows, that even in our highest estate of sanctity and privilege, we yet retain the unavoidable obligation of Christ’s servants; though still with an advantage as great as the obligation, where the service is perfect freedom: so that, with reference to such a Lord, to serve, and to be free, are terms not consistent only, but absolutely equivalent.
Nevertheless, since the name of servants has of old been reckoned to imply a certain meanness of mind, as well as lowness of condition, and the ill qualities of many who served, have rendered the condition itself not very creditable; especially in those ages and places of the world, in which the condition of servants was extremely different from what it is now amongst us; they being generally slaves, and such as were bought and sold for money, and consequently reckoned but amongst the other goods and chattels of their lord or master: it was for this reason that Christ thought fit to wave the appellation of servant here, as, according to the common use of it amongst the Jews, (and at that time most nations besides,) importing these three 383qualifications, which, being directly contrary to the spirit of Christianity, were by no means to be al lowed in any of Christ’s disciples.
1st, The first whereof is that here mentioned in the text; viz. an utter unacquaintance with his master’s designs, in these words; The servant knows not what his Lord doeth. For seldom does any man of sense make his servant his counsellor, for fear of making him his governor too. A master for the most part keeps his choicest goods locked up from his servant, but much more his mind. A servant is to know nothing but his master’s commands; and in these also, not to know the reason of them.
Neither is he to stand aloof off from his counsels only, but sometimes from his presence also; and so far as decency is duty, it is sometimes his duty to avoid him. But the voice of Christ in his gospel is, Come to me all ye that are heavy laden. The condition of a servant staves him off to a distance; but the gospel speaks nothing but allurement, attractives, and invitation. The magisterial law bids the person under it, Go, and he must go: but the gospel says to every believer, Come, and he cometh. A servant dwells remote from all knowledge of his lord’s purposes. He lives as a kind of foreigner under the same roof; a domestic, and yet a stranger too.
2dly, The name of servant imports a slavish and degenerous awe of mind; as it is in Rom. viii. 5. God has not given us the spirit of bondage again to fear. He who serves, has still the low and ignoble restraints of dread upon his spirit; which in business, and even in the midst of action, cramps and ties up his activity. He fears his master’s anger, but designs not his favour. Quicken me, says David, 384with thy free spirit. It is the freedom of the spirit, that gives worth and life to the performance. But a servant commonly is less free in mind than in condition; his very will seems to be in bonds and shackles, and desire itself under a kind of durance and captivity. In all that a servant does, he is scarce a voluntary agent, but when he serves himself: all his services otherwise, not flowing naturally from propensity and inclination, but being drawn and forced from him by terror and coaction. In any work he is put to, let the master withdraw his eye, and he will quickly take off his hand.
3dly, The appellation of servant imports a mercenary temper and disposition; and denotes such an one as makes his reward both the sole motive and measure of his obedience. He neither loves the thing commanded, nor the person who commands it, but is wholly and only intent upon his own emolument. All kindnesses done him, and all that is given him, over and above what is strictly just and his due, makes him rather worse than better. And this is an observation that never fails, where any one has so much bounty and so little wit, as to make the experiment. For a servant rarely or never ascribes what he receives to the mere liberality and generosity of the donor, but to his own worth and merit, and to the need which he supposes there is of him; which opinion alone will be sure to make any one of a mean servile spirit, insolent and intolerable.
And thus I have shewn what the qualities of a servant usually are, (or at least were in that country where our Saviour lived and conversed, when he spake these words,) which, no doubt, were the cause 385why he would not treat his disciples (whom he designed to be of a quite contrary disposition) with this appellation.
Come we therefore now, in the next place, to shew what is included in that great character and privilege which he was pleased to vouchsafe both to them, and to all believers, in calling and accounting them his friends. It includes in it, I conceive, these following things:
1. Freedom of access. House, and heart, and all, are open for the reception of a friend. The entrance is not beset with solemn excuses and lingering delays; but the passage is easy, and free from all obstruction, and not only admits, but even invites the comer. How different, for the most part, is the same man from himself, as he sustains the person of a magistrate, and as he sustains that of a friend! As a magistrate or great officer, he locks himself up from all approaches by the multiplied formalities of attendance, by the distance of ceremony and grandeur; so many hungry officers to be passed through, so many thresholds to be saluted, so many days to be spent in waiting for an opportunity of, perhaps, but half an hour’s converse.
But when he is to be entertained, whose friend ship, not whose business, demands an entrance, those formalities presently disappear, all impediments vanish, and the rigours of the magistrate submit to the endearments of a friend. He opens and yields himself to the man of business with difficulty and reluctancy, but offers himself to the visits of a friend with facility, and all the meeting readiness of appetite and desire. The reception of one is as different from the admission of the other, as when the 386earth falls open under the incisions of the plough, and when it gapes and greedily opens itself to drink in the dew of heaven, or the refreshments of a shower: or there is as much difference between them, as when a man reaches out his arms to take up a burden, and when he reaches them out to embrace.
It is confessed, that the vast distance that sin had put between the offending creature and the of fended Creator, required the help of some great umpire and intercessor, to open him a new way of access to God; and this Christ did for us as Mediator. But we read of no mediator to bring us to Christ; for though, being God by nature, he dwells in the height of majesty, and the inaccessible glories of a Deity; yet to keep off all strangeness between himself and the sons of men, he has condescended to a cognation and consanguinity with us, he has clothed himself with flesh and blood, that so he might subdue his glories to a possibility of human converse. And therefore he that denies himself an immediate access to Christ, affronts him in the great relation of a friend, and as opening himself both to our persons and to our wants, with the greatest tenderness and the freest invitation. There is none who acts a friend by a deputy, or can be familiar by proxy.
2. The second privilege of friendship is a favourable construction of all passages between friends, that are not of so high and so malign a nature as to dissolve the relation. Love covers a multitude of sins, says the apostle, 1 Pet. iv. 8. When a scar cannot be taken away, the next kind office is to hide it. Love is never so blind, as when it is to spy 387faults. It is like the painter, who being to draw the picture of a friend having a blemish in one eye, would picture only the other side of his face. It is a noble and a great thing to cover the blemishes and to excuse the failings of a friend; to draw a curtain before his stains, and to display his perfections; to bury his weaknesses in silence, but to proclaim his virtues upon the house-top. It is an imitation of the charities of heaven, which, when the creature lies prostrate in the weakness of sleep and weariness, spreads the covering of night and darkness over it, to conceal it in that condition; but as soon as our spirits are refreshed, and nature returns to its morning vigour, God then bids the sun rise, and the day shine upon us, both to advance and to shew that activity.
It is the ennobling office of the understanding, to correct the fallacious and mistaken reports of sense, and to assure us that the staff in the water is straight, though our eye would tell us it is crooked. So it is the excellency of friendship to rectify, or at least to qualify, the malignity of those surmises, that would misrepresent a friend, and traduce him in our thoughts. Am I told that my friend has done me an injury, or that he has committed any undecent action? Why, the first debt that I both owe to his friendship, and that he may challenge from mine, is rather to question the truth of the report, than presently to believe my friend unworthy. Or, if matter of fact breaks out and blazes with too great an evidence to be denied, or so much as doubted of, why still there are other lenitives that friendship will apply, before it will be brought to the decretory rigours of a condemning sentence. A friend will be 388sure to act the part of an advocate, before he will assume that of a judge. And there are few actions so ill (unless they are of a very deep and black tincture indeed) but will admit of some extenuation at least from those common topics of human frailty; such as are ignorance or inadvertency, passion or surprise, company or solicitation; with many other such things, which may go a great way towards an excusing of the agent, though they cannot absolutely justify the action. All which apologies for, and alleviations of, faults, though they are the heights of humanity, yet they are not the favours, but the duties of friendship. Charity itself commands us, where we know no ill, to think well of all. But friendship, that always goes a pitch higher, gives a man a peculiar right and claim to the good opinion of his friend. And if we justly look upon a proneness to find faults, as a very ill and a mean thing, we are to remember, that a proneness to believe them is next to it,
We have seen here the demeanour of friendship between man and man: but how is it, think we now, between Christ and the soul that depends upon him? Is he any ways short in these offices of tenderness and mitigation? No, assuredly, but by infinite degrees superior. For where our heart does but relent, his melts; where our eye pities, his bowels yearn. How many frowardnesses of ours does he smother, how many indignities does he pass by, and how many affronts does he put up at our hands, because his love is invincible, and his friend ship unchangeable? He rates every action, every sinful infirmity, with the allowances of mercy; and never weighs the sin, but together with it he weighs 389the force of the inducement; how much of it is to be attributed to choice, how much to the violence of the temptation, to the stratagem of the occasion, and the yielding frailties of weak nature.
Should we try men at that rate that we try Christ, we should quickly find, that the largest stock of human friendship would be too little for us to spend long upon. But his compassion follows us with an infinite supply. He is God in his friend ship, as well as in his nature, and therefore we sinful creatures are not took upon advantages, nor consumed in our provocations.
See this exemplified in his behaviour to his disciples, while he was yet upon earth: how ready was he to excuse and cover their infirmities! At the last and bitterest scene of his life, when he was so full of agony and horror upon the approach of a dismal death, and so had most need of the refreshments of society, and the friendly assistances of his disciples; and when also he desired no more of them, but only for a while to sit up and pray with him: yet they, like persons wholly untouched with his agonies, and unmoved with his passionate entreaties, forget both his and their own cares, and securely sleep away all concern for him or themselves either. Now, what a fierce and sarcastic reprehension may we imagine this would have drawn from the friendships of the world, that act but to an human pitch! and yet what a gentle one did it receive from Christ! In Matt. xxvi. 40. no more than, What, could you not watch with me for one hour? And when from this admonition they took only occasion to redouble their fault, and to sleep again, so that upon a second and third admonition they had nothing to plead for their 390unseasonable drowsiness, yet then Christ, who was the only person concerned to have resented and aggravated this their unkindness, finds an extenuation for it, when they themselves could not. The spirit indeed is willing, says he, but the flesh is weak. As if he had said, I know your hearts, and am satisfied of your affection, and therefore accept your will, and compassionate your weakness. So benign, so gracious is the friendship of Christ, so answerable to our wants, so suitable to our frailties. Happy that man, who has a friend to point out to him the perfection of duty, and yet to pardon him in the lapses of his infirmity!
3. The third privilege of friendship is a sympathy in joy and grief. When a man shall have diffused his life, his self, and his whole concernments so far, that he can weep his sorrows with another’s eyes; when he has another heart besides his own, both to share and to support his griefs; and when, if his joys overflow, he can treasure up the overplus and redundancy of them in another breast; so that he can, as it were, shake off the solitude of a single nature, by dwelling in two bodies at once, and living by an other’s breath; this surely is the height, the very spirit and perfection of all human felicities.
It is a true and happy observation of that great philosopher the lord Verulam, that this is the benefit of communication of our minds to others, that sorrows by being communicated grow less, and joys greater. And indeed sorrow, like a stream, loses itself in many channels; and joy, like a ray of the sun, reflects with a greater ardour and quickness, when it rebounds upon a man from the breast of his friend.391
Now friendship is the only scene, upon which the glorious truth of this great proposition can be fully acted and drawn forth. Which indeed is a summary description of the sweets of friendship: and the whole life of a friend, in the several parts and in stances of it, is only a more diffuse comment upon, and a plainer explication of, this divine aphorism. Friendship never restrains a pleasure to a single fruition. But such is the royal nature of this quality, that it still expresses itself in the style of kings, as we do this or that; and this is our happiness; and such or such a thing belongs to us; when the immediate possession of it is vested only in one No thing certainly in nature can so peculiarly gratify the noble dispositions of humanity, as for one man to see another so much himself, as to sigh his griefs, and groan his pains, to sing his joys, and, as it were, to do and feel every thing by sympathy and secret inexpressible communications. Thus it is upon an human account.
Let us now see how Christ sustains and makes good this generous quality of a friend. And this we shall find fully set forth to us in Heb. iv. 15. where he is said to be a merciful high-priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and that in all our afflictions he is afflicted, Isa. lxiii. 9. And, no doubt, with the same bowels and meltings of affection, with which any tender mother hears and be moans the groanings of her sick child, does Christ hear and sympathize with the spiritual agonies of a soul under desertion, or the pressures of some stinging affliction. It is enough that he understands the exact measures of our strengths and weaknesses; that he knows our frame; as it is in Psalm ciii. 14. 392and that he does not only know, but emphatically, that he remembers also, that we are but dust. Observe that signal passage of his loving commiseration; as soon as he had risen from the dead, and met Mary Magdalen, in Mark xvi. 7. he sends this message of his resurrection by her; Go, tell my disciples and Peter, that I am risen. What, was not Peter one of his disciples? Why then is he mentioned particularly and by himself, as if he were exempted out of then* number? Why, we know into what a plunge he had newly cast himself by denying his Master: upon occasion of which he was now struggling with all the perplexities and horrors of mind imaginable, lest Christ might in like manner deny and disown him before his Father, and so repay one denial with another. Hereupon Christ particularly applies the comforts of his resurrection to him, as if he had said, Tell all my disciples, but be sure especially to tell poor Peter, that I am risen from the dead; and that, notwithstanding his denial of me, the benefits of my resurrection belong to him, as much as to any of the rest. This is the privilege of the saints, to have a companion and a supporter in all their miseries, in all the doubtful turnings and doleful passages of their lives. In sum, this happiness does Christ vouchsafe to all his, that as a Saviour he once suffered for them, and that as a friend he always suffers with them.
4. The fourth privilege of friendship is that which is here specified in the text, a communication of secrets. A bosom secret and a bosom friend are usually put together. And this from Christ to the soul, is not only kindness, but also honour and advancement; it is for him to vouch it one of his privy 393 council. Nothing under a jewel is taken into the cabinet. A secret is the apple of our eye; it will bear no touch nor approach; we use to cover no thing but what we account a rarity. And therefore to communicate a secret to any one, is to exalt him to one of the royalties of heaven. For none knows the secrets of a man’s mind, but his God, his conscience, and his friend. Neither would any prudent man let such a thing go out of his own heart, had he not another heart besides his own to receive it.
Now it was of old a privilege, with which God was pleased to honour such as served him at the rate of an extraordinary obedience, thus to admit them to a knowledge of many of his great counsels locked up from the rest of the world. When God had designed the destruction of Sodom, the scripture represents him as unable to conceal that great purpose from Abraham, whom he always treated as his friend and acquaintance; that is, not only with love, but also with intimacy and familiarity, in Gen. xviii. 17. And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I go about to do? He thought it a violation of the rights of friendship to reserve his design wholly to himself. And St. James tells us in James ii. 23. that Abraham was called the friend of God; and therefore had a kind of claim to the knowledge of his secrets, and the participation of his counsels. Also in Exodus xxxiii. 11. it is said of God, that he spoke to Moses as a man speaketh to his friend. And that, not only for the familiarity and facility of address, but also for the peculiar communications of his mind. Moses was with him in the retirements of the mount, received 394there his dictates and his private instructions, as his deputy and viceroy; and when the multitude and congregation of Israel were thundered away, and kept off from any approach to it, he was honoured with an intimate and immediate admission. The priests indeed were taken into a near attendance upon God; but still there was a degree of a nearer converse, and the interest of a friend was above the privileges of the highest servant. In Exod. xix. 24. Thou shalt come up, says God, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest the Lord break forth upon them. And if we proceed further, we shall still find a continuation of the same privilege, Psalm xxv. 14. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. Nothing is to be concealed from the other self. To be a friend, and to be conscious, are terms equivalent.
Now if God maintained such intimacies with those whom he loved under the law, (which was a dispensation of greater distance,) we may be sure that under the gospel, (the very nature of which imports condescension and compliance,) there must needs be the same, with much greater advantage. And therefore when God had manifested himself in the flesh, how sacredly did he preserve this privilege! How freely did Christ unbosom himself to his disciples, in Luke viii. 10. Unto you, says he, it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but unto others in parables; that seeing they might not see: such shall be permitted to cast an eye into the ark, and to look into the very holy of holies. And again in Matt. xiii. 17. Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things 395which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Neither did he treat them with these peculiarities of favour in the extraordinary discoveries of the gospel only, but also of those incommunicable revelations of the divine love, in reference to their own personal interest in it. In Rev. ii. 17. To him that over cometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. Assurance is a rarity covered from the inspection of the world. A secret that none can know but God, and the person that is blessed with it. It is writ in .a private character, not to be read nor understood but by the conscience, to which the Spirit of God has vouchsafed to decipher it. Every believer lives upon an inward provision of comfort, that the world is a stranger to.
5. The fifth advantage of friendship is counsel and advice. A man will sometimes need not only an other heart, but also another head besides his own. In solitude there is not only discomfort, but weakness also. And that saying of the wise man, Eccles. iv. 10. Woe to him that is alone, is verified upon none so much as upon the friendless person: when a man shall be perplexed with knots and problems of business and contrary affairs, where the determination is dubious, and both parts of the contrariety seem equally weighty, so that, which way soever the choice determines, a man is sure to venture a great concern: how happy then is it to fetch in aid from another person, whose judgment may be greater than my own, and whose concernment is sure not to be less! There are some passages of a man’s affairs 396that would quite break a single understanding. So many intricacies, so many labyrinths, are there in them, that the succours of reason fail, the very force and spirit of it being lost in an actual intention scattered upon several clashing objects at once; in which case, the interposal of a friend is like the supply of a fresh party to a besieged yielding city.
Now Christ is not failing in this office of a friend also. For in that illustrious prediction of Esay ix. 6. amongst the rest of his great titles, he is called mighty Counsellor. And his counsel is not only sure, but also free. It is not under the gospel of Christ, as under some laws of men, where you must be forced to buy your counsel, and oftentimes pay dear for bad advice. No, he is a light to those that sit in darkness. And no man fees the sun, no man purchases the light, nor errs, if he walks by it. The only price that Christ sets upon his counsel is, that we follow it, and that we do that which is best for us to do. He is not only light for us to see by, but also light for us to see with. He is understanding to the ignorant, and eyes to the blind: and whoso ever has both a faithful and a discreet friend, to guide him in the dark, slippery, and dangerous pas sages of his life, may carry his eyes in another man’s head, and yet see never the worse. In 1 Cor. i. 30. the Apostle tells us, that Christ is made to us not only sanctification and redemption, but wisdom too: we are his members; and it is but natural, that all the members of the body should be guided by the wisdom of the head.
And therefore let every believer comfort himself in this high privilege, that in the great things that concern his eternal peace, he is not left to stand or 397fall by the uncertain directions of his own judgment. No, sad were his condition, if he should be so; when he is to encounter an enemy made up of wiles and stratagems, an old serpent, and a long-experienced deceiver, and successful at the trade for some thousands of years.
The inequality of the match between such an one and the subtilest of us, would quickly appear by a fatal circumvention: there must be a wisdom from above, to overreach and master this hellish wisdom from beneath. And this every sanctified person is sure of in his great friend, in whom all the treasures of wisdom dwell; treasures that flow out, and are imparted freely, both in direction and assistance, to all that belong to him. He never leaves any of his, perplexed, amazed, or bewildered, where the welfare of their souls requires a better judgment than their own, either to guide them in their duty, or to disentangle them from a temptation. Whosoever has Christ for his friend, shall be sure of counsel; and whosoever is his own friend, will be sure to obey it.
6. The last and crowning privilege, or rather property, of friendship is constancy. He only is a friend, whose friendship lives as long as himself, and who ceases to love and to breathe at the same instant. Not that I yet state constancy in such an absurd, sense less, and irrational continuance in friendship, as no injuries or provocations whatsoever can break off. For there are some injuries that extinguish the very relation between friends. In which case, a man ceases to be a friend, not from any inconstancy in his friendship, but from defect of an object for his friendship to exert itself upon. It is one thing for 398a father to cease to be a father by casting off his son; and another for him to cease to be so, by the death of his son. In this, the relation is at an end for want of a correlate: so in friendship there are some passages of that high and hostile nature, that they really and properly constitute and denominate the person guilty of them, an enemy; and if so, how can the other person possibly continue a friend, since friendship essentially requires that it be between two at least; and there can be no friendship, where there are not two friends?
Nobody is bound to look upon his backbiter or his underminer, his betrayer or his oppressor, as his friend. Nor indeed is it possible that he should do so, unless he could alter the constitution and order of things, and establish a new nature and a new morality in the world. For to remain unsensible of such provocations, is not constancy, but apathy. And therefore they discharge the person so treated from the proper obligations of a friend; though Christianity, I confess, binds him to the duties of a neighbour.
But to give you the true nature and measures of constancy; it is such a stability and firmness of friendship, as overlooks and passes by all those lesser failures of kindness and respect, that, partly through passion, partly through indiscretion, and such other frailties incident to human nature, a man may be sometimes guilty of, and yet still retain the same habitual good-will and prevailing propensity of mind to his friend, that he had before. And whose friend ship soever is of that strength and duration as to stand its ground against, and remain unshaken by, such assaults, (which yet are strong enough to 399shake down and annihilate the friendship of little puny minds,) such an one, I say, has reached all the true measures of constancy: his friendship is of a noble make and a lasting consistency; it resembles marble, and deserves to be wrote upon it.
But how few tempers in the world are of that magnanimous frame, as to reach the heights of so great a virtue: many offer at the effects of friend ship, but they do not last; they are promising in the beginning, but they fail, and jade, and tire in the prosecution. For most people in the world are acted by levity and humour, by strange and irrational changes. And how often may we meet with those who are one while courteous, civil, and obliging, (at least to their proportion,) but within a small time after are so supercilious, sharp, troublesome, fierce, and exceptions, that they are not only short of the true character of friendship, but become the very sores and burdens of society! Such low, such worth less dispositions, how easily are they discovered, how justly are they despised! But now, that we may pass from one contrary to another, Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever in his being, is so also in his affection. He is riot of the number or nature of those pitiful, mean pretenders to friend ship, who perhaps will love and smile upon you one day, and not so much as know you the next: many of which sort there are in the world, who are not so much courted outwardly, but that inwardly they are detested much more.
Friendship is a kind of covenant; and most covenants run upon mutual terms and conditions. And therefore, so long as we are exact in fulfilling the condition on our parts, (I mean, exact according to 400the measures of sincerity, though not of perfection, we may be sure, that Christ will not fail in the least iota to fulfil every thing on his. The favour of relations, patrons, and princes, is uncertain, ticklish, and variable; and the friendship which they take up, upon the accounts of judgment and merit; they most times lay down out of humour. But the friend ship of Christ has none of these weaknesses, no such hollowness or unsoundness in it. For neither principalities nor powers, things present, nor things to come, no, nor all the rage and malice of hell, shall be able to pluck the meanest of Christ’s friends out of his bosom: for, whom he loves, he loves to the end.
Now, from the particulars hitherto discoursed of, we may infer and learn these two things: 1. The excellency and value of friendship. Christ the Son of the most high God, the second person in the glorious Trinity, took upon him our nature, that he might give a great instance and example of this virtue; and condescended to be a man, only that he might be a friend. Our Creator, our Lord and King, he was before; but he would needs come down from all this, and in a sort become our equal, that he might partake of that noble quality that is properly between equals. Christ took not upon him flesh and blood, that he might conquer and rule nations, lead armies, or possess palaces; but that he might have the relenting, the tenderness, and the compassions of human nature, which render it properly capable of friendship; and, in a word, that he might have our heart, and we have his. God himself sets friendship above all considerations of kindred or consanguinity, as the greatest ground and argument of mutual endearment, in Deut. xv. 6. If thy 401brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee to go and serve other gods, thou shalt not consent unto him. The emphasis of the expression is very remarkable; it being a gradation or ascent, by several degrees of dearness, to that which is the highest of all. Neither wife nor brother, son nor daughter, though the nearest in cognation, are allowed to stand in competition with a friend; who, if he fully answers the duties of that great relation, is indeed bet ter and more valuable than all of them put together, and may serve instead of them; so that he who has a firm, a worthy, and sincere friend, may want all the rest, without missing them. That which lies in a man’s bosom should be dear to him, but that which lies within his heart ought to be much dearer.
2. In the next place, we learn from hence the high advantage of becoming truly pious and religious. When we have said and done all, it is only the true Christian and the religious person, who is or can be sure of a friend; sure of obtaining, sure of keeping him. But as for the friendship of the world; when a man shall have done all that he can to make one his friend, employed the utmost of his wit and labour, beaten his brains, and emptied his purse, to create an endearment between him and the person whose friendship he desires, he may, in the end, upon all these endeavours and attempts, be forced to write vanity and frustration: for, by them all, he may at last be no more able to get into the other’s heart, than he is to thrust his hand into a pillar of brass. The man’s affection, amidst all these kindnesses done him, remaining wholly unconcerned and impregnable; 402just like a rock, which, being plied continually by the waves, still throws them back again into the bosom of the sea that sent them, but is not at all moved by any of them.
People at first, while they are young and raw, and soft-natured, are apt to think it an easy thing to gain love, and reckon their own friendship a sure price of another man’s. But when experience shall have once opened their eyes, and shewed them the hardness of most hearts, the hollowness of others, and the baseness and ingratitude of almost all, they will then find that a friend is the gift of God; and that he only, who made hearts, can unite them. For it is he who creates those sympathies and suitablenesses of nature, that are the foundation of all true friendship, and then by his providence brings persons so affected together.
It is an expression frequent in scripture, but infinitely more significant than at first it is usually observed to be; namely, that God gave such or such a person grace or favour in another’s eyes. As for instance, in Gen. xxxix. 21. it is said of Joseph, that the Lord was with him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Still it is an invisible hand from heaven that ties this knot, and mingles hearts and souls, by strange, secret, and unaccountable conjunctions.
That heart shall surrender itself and its friendship to one man, at first view, which another has in vain been laying siege to for many years, by all the repeated acts of kindness imaginable.
Nay, so far is friendship from being of any human production, that, unless nature be predisposed to it by its own propensity or inclination, no arts of obligation 403shall be able to abate the secret hatreds and hostilities of some persons towards others. No friendly offices, no addresses, no benefits whatsoever, shall ever alter or allay that diabolical rancour that frets and ferments in some hellish breasts, but that upon all occasions it will foam out at its foul mouth in slander and invective, and sometimes bite too in a shrewd turn or a secret blow. This is true and undeniable upon frequent experience; and happy those who can learn it at the cost of other men’s.
But now, on the contrary, he who will give up his name to Christ in faith unfeigned, and a sincere obedience to all his righteous laws, shall be sure to find love for love, and friendship for friendship. The success is certain and infallible; and none ever yet miscarried in the attempt. For Christ freely offers his friendship to all, and sets no other rate upon so vast a purchase, but only that we would suffer him to be our friend. Thou perhaps spendest thy precious time in waiting upon such a great one, and thy estate in presenting him, and probably, after all, hast no other reward, but sometimes to be smiled upon, and always to be smiled at; and when thy greatest and most pressing occasions shall call for succour and relief, then to be deserted and cast off, and not known.
Now, I say, turn the stream of thy endeavours another way, and bestow but half that hearty, sedulous attendance upon thy Saviour in the duties of prayer and mortification, and be at half that expense in charitable works, by relieving Christ in his poor members; and, in a word, study as much to please him who died for thee, as thou dost to court and humour thy great patron, who cares not for thee, and 404thou shalt make him thy friend for ever; a friend who shall own thee in thy lowest condition, speak comfort to thee in all thy sorrows, counsel thee in all thy doubts, answer all thy wants, and, in a word, never leave thee, nor forsake thee. But when all the hopes that thou hast raised upon the promises or supposed kindnesses of the fastidious and fallacious great ones of the world, shall fail, and upbraid thee to thy face, he shall then take thee into his bosom, embrace, cherish, and support thee, and, as the Psalmist expresses it, he shall guide thee with his counsel here, and afterwards receive thee into glory.
To which God of his mercy vouchsafe to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, &c. Amen.405
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