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A REMARKABLE FRIENDSHIP
—1 SAMUEL 20:12-23.—AUGUST 23.—
Golden Text:—”There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”—Prov. 18:24
HISTORY relates many instances of intense friendships between great men in ancient times, but it tells us of none surpassing the friendship between Jonathan and David, referred to in this lesson. Jonathan’s love for David, evidently thoroughly reciprocated by the latter, shines out not only as a friendship that was unselfish, but as one that was apparently injurious to Jonathan’s interests—though not really so.
As the son of King Saul, Jonathan was the recognized heir to the throne of Israel, and was at this time about thirty-five years of age. David, the country youth of about twenty-one years of age, had suddenly sprung into prominence before the nation, had been appointed a captain of a thousand men, and was just recently married to Saul’s daughter. Saul himself viewed David as a rival in the affections of the people, and everything foreboded that some day he would be Saul’s successor. From the standpoint of fallen manhood, therefore, Jonathan had every reason to consider David an opponent and rival, and the envy and jealousy of the fallen nature might be expected to breed in Jonathan’s heart hatred and enmity instead of friendship and love. These circumstances constitute the remarkable friendship between these two young men one of the most wonderful on the pages of history.
We read of how Jonathan’s soul was knit unto the soul of David—their affections, confidences and loves were interwoven. Jonathan giving to David certain parts of his own apparel when the latter came to live at the court of Saul, was merely an outward manifestation of the other precious sentiments which prompted this and other manifestations of affection—all of which, dignifying David and promoting his honor, were derogatory to the natural interests of Jonathan, who, as the heir apparent, might not improperly have aspired to the maintenance of his own place of honor at the court. Small minds are apt to make the mistake of supposing that the crushing down of others is essential to their own honor and exaltation; but it was because Jonathan was not thus small-minded, but noble-hearted, that his character has been beloved by all who have known it from then until now.
There is a reason for everything, and there must have been a reason for this love between these two noble souls. We are to love and esteem whatsoever things are just, true, pure, noble, honorable, says the Apostle, which implies that the love of the reverse of these would be improper. True, there is a difference between loving principles of righteousness and goodness and loving individuals, but what we wish to notice is that the love for individuals should be based upon their possession of noble and love-worthy characters. Neither of these men could have loved the other had he been bad, ignoble; for only the mean can love the mean, and only the perverse can love the perverse.
What was there in David’s character that attracted Jonathan’s love? Undoubtedly it was his nobility, his courage, his honesty, his faithfulness to the king and to the nation, and, above all, his trust in God, his reliance on him. What was there in Jonathan which drew forth the responsive love of David? There were many of the same qualities: Jonathan was also courageous and had already demonstrated this; he was sincere, honest, humble-minded, generous, faithful to a friend, and above all faithful to his God.—1 Sam. 14:1-15,27-30,43; 23:16-18.
While these two men had certain natural qualities of heart which commended each to the other’s love, the great bond of union was the faith and devotion of each to God. Some one has said that those who would be the best friends need a third object in which both are interested, and that then, like the radii of a circle, the nearer they come to this center the nearer they approach to one another. So with these men: their loyalty to God and to the principles of truth and righteousness exemplified in God, was the strong bond of their friendship which hindered the diversity of their earthly interests from alienating their affections.
This same principle is exemplified in all true, unselfish love: there must be something mutually attractive to draw and to hold the interest and love of each to the other. The breaking of vows of love and friendship
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or the breaking of marriage vows implies that one or other had a selfish love and not a pure love, which the Lord’s Word inculcates and which is so nobly illustrated in this lesson. Selfish love may indeed admire that which is brilliant, that which is good, that which is noble, that which is generous; but not being equally noble and generous, it will be sure at some time to be assaulted with the temptation to abandon the friendship where it believes it could better serve its own interests. Jonathan’s love was not of this selfish kind, consequently it was unchangeable—indeed, grew the firmer and the stronger in proportion as it triumphed over the propositions of any selfish suggestions. In this respect it well represents the love of our Lord Jesus for his people. As Jonathan loved David at the cost of his own position, our Lord Jesus left the glory which he had with the Father that he might become the Redeemer of his people, to whom he declares, “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
“One there is above all others
Well deserves the name of friend;
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His is love beyond a brother’s,
Costly, free, and knows no end”
Our lesson introduces these two friends at a time when the life of David was in danger. Our preceding lesson showed that Saul was disposed to do violence to David. The threatening action mentioned in that lesson was repeated several times, and finally the javelin was thrown at his musician David, but the latter escaped it. It was in view of this hostile feeling that these friends decided that it would be unwise for David to again appear at court unless King Saul manifested some change of mind toward him. The coming feast would be an important one; Jonathan and others of the household would be present, but it was not considered prudent that David should hazard his life by attending, and it was arranged that Jonathan should make his excuses to the king and should subsequently let David know the king’s attitude of mind, so that if necessary he should flee out of the country. Jonathan found Saul full of bitterness of heart toward David, so much so that he was angered at his son for making excuses for him and threw his javelin at him as an evidence of his displeasure, though probably not with the intention of killing him. Jonathan resented the indignities and wrong of his father, and at once communicated the matter to David by the prearranged signal related in this lesson. However, the two friends could not part without a personal interview, in which they kissed each other, and wept, and bound each other in promises, and called upon God to witness the sincerity of their devotion to each other. Jonathan was evidently fully convinced that David was the Lord’s choice for a king to succeed Saul, and, being full of faith and devotion to God, he had not the slightest thought of opposing the divine arrangement. Quite probably, too, in their confidences, David had already told Jonathan of his anointing, assuring him, however, that he would not consider this anointing a proper excuse or ground for any interference with King Saul; that on the contrary, as the Lord had sought him and anointed him, the Lord himself was able in his own due time and in his own way to instal him in authority and power without his stretching forth his hand to do injury to one who already had been anointed of the Lord to this office of king.
We have already noticed that friendship implies like qualities of mind and of heart. The generous love the generous, the noble love the noble, the honest love the honest, the meek love the meek, etc.; but now we call attention to the fact that amongst the Lord’s people are not many great, wise or noble—naturally speaking—and that God loves and accepts as his covenant people, friends, children, chiefly those who are not noble by nature. We notice also a love and friendship amongst the Lord’s consecrated people stronger and deeper than any earthly tie or relationship—notwithstanding the fact that amongst the Lord’s people are “not many great or noble,” but chiefly the poor of this world, rich in faith. How comes this seeming contradiction of a general rule of friendship? We reply that God’s love toward us as sinners was not that of friendship but of compassion, and similarly the love of his people for sinners is not that of friendship but of compassion, sympathy, the desire to help them out of their degradation. Not until after we had ceased to be sinners, through acceptance of Christ, were we privileged to become the friends of God and to realize him as our friend. Not until we had ceased to be sinners, and had been accepted in the Beloved, would we become the friends of others similarly transformed, and begin to grow in this quality of friendship—love for one another as brethren, partakers of the holy Spirit.
In a word there are two planes of friendship—a natural plane, on which men of like natural qualities would be drawn together; and a spiritual plane, on which those unlike in natural qualities, but alike in spiritual hopes, aims and ambitions, are drawn still more closely together by the new tie, the new love, which binds not their flesh but their hearts in Christian love and unity.
These New Creatures in Christ Jesus know each other not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. In each other’s spirits or new minds there are the noblest sentiments, the highest aspirations, that which is good, true, noble, pure—whatever may be their weaknesses according to the flesh. They love each other from the new standpoint of intention, will, harmony with God, and their friendship for one another grows increasingly as they perceive each other’s energy in fighting the good fight of faith against the evil influences of the world, the flesh and the Adversary. Nor tongue nor pen can properly express the love, the friendship, which subsists between these New Creatures in Christ Jesus, to whom old things have passed away and all things have become new.
This does not signify, however, that a parent must have exactly the same love for other children as for his own;—he has a greater responsibility for his own, and should realize it. Nor does it imply that even the saints will all be loved to the same degree. Our Lord, we are told, specially loved some of his disciples. By and by, when perfection shall have replaced imperfection, all “brethren” will be perfect and all neighbors will be brethren beloved. Until then, however, we must love all, but “making a difference”—according to natural obligations and spiritual development.—Jude 22.
As there are nominal Christians and real Christians,
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so there is a nominal love as well as a real love amongst those who profess the name of Christ, and it should be more and more the aim of the Lord’s true people to cultivate his spirit, his character, his disposition, his love, his friendship; and that they may be able to cultivate these he has caused the Apostle to present to our attention a most graphic description of the love which is from above. This description is given in 1 Cor. 13. It must be enjoyed to some extent by all who are New Creatures, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his; but it will be increasingly enjoyed and appreciatingly understood in proportion as the Lord’s people each become stronger in the Lord—copies of God’s dear Son—like him who is the friend above all others.
One writer says, “The glory of life is to love, not to be loved; to give, not to get; to serve, not to be served. … The self-centered cannot keep friends even when he makes them.”
Another remarks, “Behold, what gross errors and extreme absurdities many do commit for want of a friend to tell him of them.”
“True criticism does not consist, as so many critics seem to think, in depreciating but in appreciation. More lives are spoiled by undue harshness than by undue gentleness.”
“The centered love of any one person tends toward universal good-will, the love of all. The candle not only shines on him who lights it, but on all within reach of its rays.”
“Every power for good in true friendship is a power for evil in the false.
“‘Was it friend or foe that spread these lies!
Nay, who but infants question in such wise?
‘Twas one of my most intimate enemies.'”
— August 15, 1903 —