The Death of Intimate Friends
George Mylne, 1871
Relationship is of blood, a self-existent thing. We know its influence, and own its power. But there is a kinsmanship that claims a wider range, and asserts a power, at times more influential still. Yet it claims not kin with all, being too fastidious for that. It finds its kin in kindred spirits. It is the companionship of heart with heart, and mind with mind--its secret of attraction and cementing power is congeniality. Yet it renders no account of its proceedings, as to the nature of its affinities--how they had their origin--how heart became attached to heart, and man to man. Nor does it fail, at times, to be capricious in its likings, even to fraternize with objects most unlikely. Tastes may be different, and pursuits divergent--tempers and dispositions as wide apart as arctic from antarctic pole--and yet that fitful thing called friendship thrives on the soil of such discordance, and strikes its roots deeply.
Yet, it is sweeter when more accordant in its elements, and the interchange of intimacy is adorned with harmony of tastes and feelings; more edifying, too, to others, when spared the sight of worth enchained by a bond of most unworthy partnership--fascinated by what it ought to spurn--dishonoring the name of friendship by its monstrous tendencies and wayward love.
But, however formed, there is a power in friendship, in some respects outvying relationship by blood; yet, in its noblest forms, it abstains from doing violence to what it justly deems a prior claim, and abhors the thought of intercepting the affection due to kith and kin.
Now, Jesus had a friend--one above others, whom He loved, to whom He told His secrets, and to whom He gave the privilege of lying in His bosom. And if the Holy One, unfallen in His nature, the very soul of innocent propriety, could single out a friend--if even in His bosom the mysterious principle was found, that close connecting bond of friendship--then it is an honorable thing, an institution of man's very nature--to be recognized as a true friend.
The very nature of the bond engenders mutual confidence, a rare unfolding of the inner man, communications of wondrous intimacy. A man to meet his friend--walk with him, talk with him--no one to share their privacy or mar their fellowship! The very thought inspires repose, and bygone tastings whet the appetite for more. But never is the bond so close, so binding, as when it is formed on principles transcending earthly ties--on fellowship in Jesus--fellowship with Him and one another.
No blood relationship they claim, yet they are joined in family connection of a higher kind--the family of God Himself, the domestic circle of the inner sanctuary, the bond of grace. Such unity can never reign on earthly principles. Heart must be joined to heart in ways that nature knows not of; and hence they hold communion with an intimacy otherwise unknown; feeling their bond to be eternal, destined to survive the earth itself and all life's concerns, while they hold communion on things unseen, but revealed and realized. If such is the fellowship of Christian friends, both here and ever--it is no wonder that the bond is intimate beyond compare.
As little wonder is it that friends, even on earthly principles, should mourn each other's loss, and feel the lasting and severe pang inflicted. Kinsmen in thought and fond association, they miss each other painfully. When a friend is mourned--a bosom friend--the pang is felt in the inmost recesses of the man. Mental companionship receives a blow; and there is nothing that feels the severing of a bond, like mind allied to mind through a long tract of fellowship, closely sustained and fondly exercised. Thrice blessed is it when natural ties and fond companionship are joined in a brother or sister friend. When such companionship is beautified with grace, it is the very acme of earthly oneness!
Reader, have you lost a friend--the chief companion of your mental powers, an intimate of your heart? When near, how oft you sought his company! When absent, companionship, if possible, more intimate was kept with ink and pen. But now your fellowship has ceased, and you are left, a mourner of no trifling order--you feel a blank unutterably void. To find another such were hard; to seek another such by rule--perforce to make a friend of someone or another to supply his place--say, could you do it? Your heart rejects the thought. The link that bound your hearts together, refuses to be forged on such an anvil. The train of subtle circumstances that made you friends, cannot be reproduced at will. Such friendship is a solitary thing. If a brother dies, you may have a brother still, and at the family-home you find your consolation. But a friend, a bosom friend--leaves none behind to take his place, for friendship goes not in groups of family connection; and when it dies, it leaves neither kith nor kin to represent it, with the friend who is left to mourn.
May I ask you, reader, if you are comforted, and where you seek your consolation? You feel the truth of what Solomon has said--"A friend loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17). You say, "That pictures forth my friend, yes, to the very life. His love was constant and sincere--in times of woe, he ever wept with me; and in times of prosperity, he made my joy his own."
Again, I quote from Solomon--"A man who has friends must show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). Does this make you think still more of your departed one--in how many ways he proved his friendship? Brothers may have stood aloof in your adversity, nor offered help which was at their command; but your friend proved better than a brother. He never forsook you; he stuck to you throughout. Did I say better than a brother? Yet not than every brother. Blessed be God, there are brothers who minister as friends and brothers, in concentration of all that is generous and kind, whether in brotherhood or friendship--all honor to their bounty and faithful love!
My friend, I question not your loss, either in kind or in degree. But have you ever sought the friend, the Heavenly friend, who loves as no one else can do? Think what a friend he is! From Heaven He came to save you, to bear your sins "in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). What other friend has done, what other friend could do, as much as this--to suffer for you on the Cross? Say, can brother stick to brother, or friend to friend, after a sort so friendly? Your friend, you say, loved you at all times. Does not Jesus do the same, and in an infinite degree? What moment do you not sin? What moment have you loved Him, thought of Him, as you ought? And yet what moment has He not thought of You? In your prosperity, he thought of you. He thinks of you in your present grief. He knows your sorrow, and even now would be your Comforter. One only thing He waits for--that you should seek Him as your friend.
Would you know His friendship's worth? Consider what Jesus has done to prove Himself your friend. This you require to know for a double reason--the pardon of your sins, and for present consolation. The day is coming when earth shall pass away--when earthly friendships shall have no further place--when all must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive the things done in the body, whether they are good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Then make the Judge your friend. "Kiss The Son, lest He be angry" in that great day, "and you perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" (Psalm 2:12). Then seek a friend In Jesus. Faithful and true you will find Him--faithful in life--faithful in death--faithful to all eternity!
There is a class of friends, whom not to speak of were to do foul wrong to friendship's sacred name. I mean, faithful, attached domestic servants. That the tie is recognized in many families is amply proved by the notices we read, from time to time, in the public journals, of grateful masters thus recording that they have lost a friend. But, on the whole, the bond is little recognized, too little felt, and the law of mutual obligation strangely overlooked. How many consider that the obligation thus conferred is solely on the part of those who pay the wages, forgetting all the while that the obligation, to say the least, is equally conferred by those who yield the service! If servants cannot live without a master to feed and pay them wages--could masters do without servants to do them service? And is the servant humbly to thank his master for his wages, and the master not to thank the servant for his offices? And yet, comparatively speaking, this is seldom acted on; and if masters so little understand their duty, can we wonder if servants are ignorant of theirs?
If we forget that they have flesh and blood, feelings and faculties the same as we, we must not be surprised if they, in practice, resent the injury and yield unwilling service. And yet, how much we owe them, if they are faithful to their trust! Can love be bought with money? Can kind devotedness be paid for across the counter? Can honesty, untiring interest in their master's cause, faithful adherence in trying circumstances, nights of tender watching in the sick-room, and other services cheerfully rendered day by day--say, can these be rated at a market price? These mark not the servant, but the friend--and friendship is too precious to be bought and sold.
And what if the good is mixed with evil--if faithful service is attended with unsavory things, as fits of temper, or eccentric ways? Much as we blame it, can we wonder at it? If masters are imperfect, can they expect perfection in their servants? When we engaged them, did we expect the promised wages would purchase freedom from infirmity, and insure that they should not be like ourselves in sinful tendencies? Or could they engage, for money, to be transformed at once, and be no longer liable to sin? I say not this to palliate their faults, but simply to guard against expecting what can be hardly done.
Again, how close the union between faithful servants and their masters--in daily fellowship more intimate than with most relatives and friends! Companions in our joys and sorrows; alive to every family event; sharing our interests as their own; consulted in domestic matters; oft taken into counsel in graver matters; trusted to act for us in difficulties; treated as confidential friends--how much is there to form a bond of life-enduring strength and intimacy! How much, when death removes them, to make us mourn their loss, especially if they have died in service, or, it may have been, exempt from work, ending their days among us in tranquil honor--their little chamber the rendezvous for many a meeting, where many a family secret is discussed--where coming family events have cast their shadows forward in the presence of that congenial sun!
What a blank occurs when such a friend is taken! It is not merely that a friend is lost, but an institution gone. My friend, your sorrow does you credit--your tears are rightly shed, and honorable. And as you grieve not according to the scale of earth's relationships, or grief conventionally felt--as your sorrow is not prescribed by such formal rule, so neither is your consolation! But remember, the more genuine the grief, the less conventional the tears, the less trite the call for consolation, the more the need to have your sorrow sanctified, and to improve the occasion. Did your departed friend act as a nursing mother, and in many ways reflect God's kindly providence and tender care? Your interest and your duty alike exhort you to hide yourself in God, and thus combine comfort and holiness all in one.