The Basis of Friendship
God has made us social beings needing sympathy and affection. A man living on a solitary island in the midst of the sea, cut off from all human companionship, seeing no face, feeling no warm hand-grasp, hearing no word from human tongue, without sympathy, without help, torn out of the great web of human life and love, and cast away — would be miserable indeed. A man might have all the riches of the world, and live in a palace filled with all the comforts and luxuries of civilization — but if he had no friends he would be very poor.
It is the part of wisdom, then, to seek to have friends, and to form close and tender friendships in the days of youth and prosperity. And the word of God tells us that "he who has friends, must show himself friendly."
First, he must be worthy of friends. Even Cicero taught that true, genuine friendship can exist only between the good and virtuous.
Wicked men may combine together in some sort of compact, which they may call friendship, but it is not worthy of that sacred and holy name. It is based only on self-interest; or its bond is sin. No false heart is capable of friendship. A true friend is one who "loves at all times." So a selfish man cannot have friends. Selfishness is a deadly Upas tree in a heart, blighting all the beautiful flowers which God has planted there.
There are a great many people who want friends to help them. They want influence, assistance, gain, favor, advertisement. They want friends as the king wants steps up to his throne, to walk upon up to greatness and power. They want friends as the river wants springs and rills, to pour water into its channels. They want friends as the auctioneer wants a bell-ringer, as the quack-medicine man wants customers. Selfish men want friends to further their own purposes, to enlarge their own prosperity, to add to their own fame, to help them over the hard places. And when a man can no longer be of any use to them, they do not want to be cumbered with his friendship.
Selfishness is, therefore, death to friendship. Only truth and truth will wed. Friendship must be mutual. Love may exist on one side, but friendship requires two hearts reciprocally attached. It is the knitting together of souls. As when two trees, standing and growing side by side, put out their roots and branches, until the roots and branches of both are woven, tangled, and matted together, branch clasping branch, and root binding root — so in friendship each heart's tendrils of affection lay hold on the other, and weave themselves into a holy web of love, binding both hearts together. Mutual unselfishness and reciprocal self-sacrifice — is the true basis of friendship.
Two people who both must have their own way all the time, cannot be friends. Where one always has his own way, and the other always yields — there is, on the one side tyranny, on the other side slavish subjection; but there is no friendship. Friendship implies mutual unselfishness. Each forgets self and lives for the other. Each thinks of the other's comfort, forgetting his own.
And such a friendship binds two hearts together indissolubly. "The twain shall be one flesh" is not a mere figure of speech, as a picture of true marriage. It is just what God meant should be actually realized in every marriage. But it means more than living together in the same house, more than a partnership, more than forbearance and toleration, more than authority and subjection. It means an actual union of hearts, a growing together of lives, until one pulse throbs in both, and one spirit animates the purposes and thoughts of both. The one life gives itself to the other; they meet on the altar; the fire of God falls upon them; and they are "no more twain, but now one."
And nothing can ever separate them. They were not true friendships, not genuine marriages — which are now destroyed. They were only external. The bond was not friendship. When two hearts are truly united, they cannot be torn asunder. Mountains and oceans may be between them. But mountain-walls cannot divide hearts, and seas cannot drown love.
Time wears out many a beautiful robe. The threads of many a web decay and turn to ashes through the lapse of years. But the threads of friendship's web are silver and golden. They are as bright after scores of years as ever.
Then even death has no power to destroy friendship. True marriage, true union of hearts, is absolutely inseparable. They neither marry, nor are given in marriage, in Heaven; and yet death is not a divorce court. When hearts are joined together on earth, their love sanctified by the divine love, their union sealed by the blood of Christ — they shall walk on together in white forever. Meeting again on the other side, they shall be like two friends, separated for a time, but brought together again. They will have a great many questions to ask, and a great many things to tell each other. And they will take up the threads of life and love they dropped when the one was taken and the other left, and will go on weaving the beautiful garment forever.
But it is only of true friendship that I affirm these things, and I believe such friendships are very rare. Too many are but for a day. Adversity blights them. Separation sweeps them clean out of the heart. They were not friendships. They were only selfish compacts, or mere external unions. If anyone would have his heart blessed by such a friendship as I have described — then he must sacrifice self on the altar. The fire that does not consume one's own heart, is not the fire that comes down from Heaven.
Then again, to have friends one must be friendly. When certain savages looked for the first time into a mirror, they wanted to break it in pieces, because of its horrid ugliness — but it was only their own black, disfigured, tattooed faces that they saw. Many people think that this world is very cold, very cruel, very unfriendly — but really, they see only pictures of their own hearts mirrored in society. Every man will hear the echoes of his own voice from society. You will get about as much as you give. Be friendly, and you will have friends.
Then friendships need cultivation. They are like rare and beautiful flowers, brought to our wintry climate from the warm south. They require the most tender care. No flowers in this world are so tender as these love-plants, transplanted from Heaven into our earthly gardens. Bitter words fall like frosts upon them. Neglect, wrong, cruelty, unkindness — will destroy them.
And no hand can restore a blighted friendship. No hand can ever give back the beauty of the flower when the frost has destroyed it — for no loom of earth can weave its delicate garments again, and no hand can paint again its glorious beauty.
In the same way, there is no skill of man that can restore the tender grace and beauty, and the sweet and rich fragrance of friendship's heavenly plants — once the frosts of unkindness or bitterness have fallen upon them. We must, cherish sacredly, then, the choice friendships of our hearts. We must cultivate them tenderly. We must pour our heart's warmest sunshine upon them. We must shield them from the frosts.
This is true of the friendships and loves of home — though many seem to forget it. The wooing too often ends with the honeymoon, and the two who have sworn "to love and cherish each the other, until death shall separate them," do the loving enough perhaps, but forget the cherishing. There is no friendship on the earth that needs cultivation, as much as that of marriage. It should not be taken as a matter of course. It should be nourished with tenderest and most assiduous care.
And so with all the home loves. There is no place where one should take so great pains to be kind, gentle, patient, courteous, and loving — as at home. A man should always be on his very best behavior there. He should never carry a thunder-cloud into his own home, scathing and shivering the hearts that are dearest to him. Let him do his thundering somewhere else — and carry clear blue sky home.
Now a great many men who are brilliant, sparkling, courteous away from home, in business circles, or in society — are dull, gloomy, gruff and awful at home. It may be that they have very loving hearts — and they may carry their dear ones very deep in their bosoms. But why does their love never find expression? Plenty of water in a deep well, with nothing to draw it out, will not refresh a thirsty man.
Mary broke the alabaster box, that its fragrance might fill all the house where Jesus was. In the same way, should we break the alabaster box that holds our love, that its sweetness may flow out.
Why is it that so many men are so sparing of their expressions of love? They have it in their power to add immeasurably to the joy of their loved ones, whose hearts are yearning and hungering for the tender words they used to hear. Why do they not do it?
"We have kindly words for the stranger,
And smiles for the occasional guest;
But oft for our own, the bitter tone,
Though we love our own, the best."
When you go home in the evening, surprise your wife with the tenderness of the old wooing days. You will lift the burdens from her heart, and open a fountain of glad joy there. Remember, you swore to cherish her. Then go and romp with the children. Make them happy and make them love you. Take care of your own garden!