And when David was a little past the top of the hill.
Mephibosheth, it will be recollected, was the only son of Jonathan. Now, when David was a little past the top of the hill where he had worshipped God, he met Ziba coming towards him with two asses, laden with cakes of raisins and summer fruits, a skin-bottle of wine, and two hundred loaves of bread. Probably, when David first saw Ziba, he thought that Mephibosheth had sent this timely contribution, and the first thing that annoyed him was to find that this present did not come from him at all. No doubt there was a good deal more conversation between David and Ziba than is recorded; the crafty man made it very plain that it was he who had been so thoughtful for the "king's wants; thus he led David on to suspect Mephibosheth's loyalty; and when the king asked him plainly why his master was not with him, feigning probably great reluctance to speak against his employer, and pretending that only loyalty induced him to speak, he told the lie against Mephibosheth. David was very apt to judge hastily: he was a man of a very warm temperament, with strong affections, and passions that were easily excited. Here Ziba seemed faithful, and mindful of his sovereign, when Mephibosheth was said to be ungrateful; and thinking that he has found devotion where he expected nothing, and ingratitude where he looked for love, as it was in the case of Ittai and Ahithophel, and really forgetting in the moment of his flight, and when in danger of losing his own throne, that he has no power to enforce his sentence, he awards to the crafty Ziba all the lands of Mephibosheth. How many times we are warned in Scripture against pronouncing hasty judgments; and which of us has not had to confess more than once that the bad opinion we have formed of some person was altogether erroneous? Again and again we have listened to unjust calumnies; we have thought there must be some truth in the accusation, some foundation for the slander, and we have acted very much like David here. David had gone but a few steps further before he encountered Shimei, another of the tribe of Benjamin. Bahurim is but a little distance from Bethany, on the other side of the Mount of Olives; but tilt they reached that spot, faint and weary, Shimei followed them with bitter curses. Now David had recovered himself; probably his conscience blamed him for his hasty ebullition of temper against Mephibosheth: and he may have felt that he had believed Ziba's story too easily. At least, when he spoke like that, he had forgotten his early friendship, and the beautiful and disinterested love of Jonathan. Now we are to see David in a better mood; grace has once more subdued nature. Now, Shimei was uttering unjust words: David of course knew that he did not deserve them. for no one could have been more forbearing to the house. of Saul: and perhaps Shimei's words reminded him, as well as Abishai's impetuousness, of his own conduct to that family in times past; and hence his command of his temper at this moment. Perhaps, too, the unjust slanders of Shimei made him aware that Ziba might have been slandering his friend Mephibosheth and just because he felt he did not deserve it, and his conscience did not prick him in the matter, perhaps he was the more able to forgive the man. This man Shimei evidently had long hated David. He had been hoping there would be some reverse in his fortunes, and he rejoiced in his enemy's downfall. But what. does David do? He loses sight of Shimei altogether; he looks above the instrument to the Agent; he sees God's hand in the matter, and to be angry, therefore, would be to be discontented with the providence of God. Oh that we could learn to follow David in this! There are numberless annoyances that happen to us all; and since "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God," we must be prepared for trials that will peculiarly test our faith and patience. If you forget that "the Lord reigneth," if you do not connect the providence of God with all that happens, the very smallest daily trouble may completely upset you, and you will be continually losing your temper. And then there was another great advantage to David in this circumstance, and, indeed, in the whole rebellion: it just showed him the value of human affection, and made him feel how fickle the populace is. And the bitter words of Shimei, perhaps more than anything else, would humble his pride and self-conceit. We are all too apt to flatter each other. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend;" but faithful friends are very few. Partly because we want to stand well with our friends, partly because we do not like to hurt their feelings, we never tell them of their faults. We repeat the good, but not the evil, that we hear about them; and as we do this to each other, and are naturally indulgent to our own failings, we are all too apt to have a good opinion of ourselves. The fact is that self-righteousness clings to us to the very last. We are apt to feel as if there was really something commendable in us. We use expressions about our sinfulness which too often have little meaning-in them; and strange as it may seem, we really forget our utter natural corruption. And lastly, observe that as, when David sent back the ark, he expressed a hope that God would bring him to see it again, so he is conscious of being in his Father's hands; he believes that this chastening is sent for good; and he looks forward to "a happy issue out of all his affliction." But let us never forget the end of it all: that if God begins, He will surely carry on the work of grace; that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." And in the midst of all the trials that may come upon us, possibly even the desertion of friends — as David bore them meekly,. a type of Him who prayed for His enemies — so let us ever keep the bright certainty of eternal glory before us; and we shall be meek and patient, as David was; and we, like the Master, "for the joy set before us," shall "endure the cross, despising the shame;" and as there will be heaven for us hereafter, so there will be peace even now.
Shimei the son of Gera; he came forth, and cursed still as he came. I.
THE PROVOCATION DAVID RECEIVED.
1. The most irritating by which the patience of man was ever tried. The reason why God was pleased to allow this insult to be added to the other trials of David, is obvious. He wished to teach him how low his iniquities had sunk him, and to show him that the cup of the Divine indignation against him was not even yet exhausted. It tells us that the servant of God must expect to meet with insults and provocations from his fellow-sinners. We are not dwelling among angels, but among men. We are living in a fallen world, in a world that has renounced the authority of the God of peace, and thrown itself under the dominion of the prince of discord. It would be madness, then, to think of passing through it, as though it were a world of love.
2. The conduct of Shimei was cruel also, as well as irritating. The condition of David at this period appeared calculated to disarm by its misery the most inveterate of his enemies. We are ready to suppose in the hour of affliction that every heart must feel for us, and that the malice of our bitterest enemies must now for a season be changed into pity. But experience proves that the most afflicted are generally the most persecuted. Their calamities leave their adversaries nothing to hope from their favour, and little perhaps to dread from their displeasure.
3. The provocation which David received was also undeserved. It here was indeed blood which cried from the ground for vengeance on his head, but he had never injured Shimei; and as for his having been guilty of the death of Saul, and his family, no charge could be more unjust. But the ungodly are always selfish. They judge of others, not by the laws of impartial justice, but by the standard of self-interest.
II. But let us turn from the cruel and irritating conduct of this disappointed Israelite, and consider THE FORBEARANCE WHICH DAVID MANIFESTED.
1. He received the provocation of Shimei with meek silence. He heard his accusations, and he knew them to be false; but he answered him not a word. There are indeed cases in which it becomes absolutely necessary to vindicate our characters at any risk from the calumnies of the ungodly; but these occasions do not often occur. When our enemies are much incensed against us, it will generally be found that to reply to their aspersions serves only to increase their violence, and perhaps to give them an advantage over us. Silence under provocation is safety. To govern our lips is, in most instances, to govern our hearts.
2. But there may be silence where there is no meekness. No angry word may proceed from the lips, while the deadliest revenge is cherished in the heart. It is necessary therefore that we should observe, further, that David forgave the provocation of Shimei. His friends around him were incensed to the utmost, and were eager to vindicate the honour of their insulted monarch with their swords. Would the conduct of David have been either unlawful, or sinful, if he had commanded his attendants to take immediate vengeance on Shimei? It might not have been unlawful, for the laws of Judaea would undoubtedly have condemned the traitor, and the power of carrying them into execution was vested in David's hands; but laws were not designed by God to gratify vindictive passions. It is as sinful to seek revenge by the arm of the law as to seek it by the violence of our own arm. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."CONCLUSION.
1. A review of this history, as far as we have considered it, is calculated to leave impressed on us a conviction of the power of true religion; its power, not only to touch the fears and hopes of the soul. but the mighty power which it exercises over the dispositions, the temper, the heart.
2. This history reminds us also of the dignity which a meek and forgiving spirit imparts. The Bible tells us that "it is the glory of a man to pass over a transgression," and it gives us in this chapter a confirmation of the saying. Here, then, is a lesson for those who are striving to raise themselves to honour. You wish to be highly esteemed among men, and, in order to procure their respect, you imagine that no real or supposed insult must pass unnoticed, and that you must commence a struggle for superiority in rank and consequence. Is, then, the object of your wishes to be attained by such means as these? Impossible. Cease from the foolish attempt. Go and sit at the feet of David, and let him teach you that the readiest, the surest, the safest way to exalt yourselves is to lie low and be humble, to be "meek and lowly in heart," to triumph over the pride and folly which have hitherto been leading you captive.
"The fruit of the Spirit," said St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, "is long-suffering." Long-suffering patience is one of the rarest of virtues, because it is so easy to be impatient. There is a story told of the great Athenian Pericles, which gives us a good lesson in patience. Hardly anything ever put Pericles out of temper. There was a man who railed at him throughout a whole day in the market-place before all the people, and this although Pericles was a magistrate. Pericles, however, took no notice, but went on hearing and dealing with the various cases brought before him until night fell. Then he set out for home, walking slowly. The man followed him all the way, uttering hard, untrue, and cruel words all the time. When Pericles arrived at his house it was quite dark, so, calling his servant, he ordered him to get a torch and light his defamer home.
Let him alone, let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.
David, in his adversity, receives from Shimei an undeserved, cruel, and most irritating provocation; he reviles him, and curses him, and casts stones at him; but the afflicted monarch bears all his insults with silent meekness; he, forgives and protects his railing enemy; and here in the text he discloses to his wondering attendants the feelings which actuated his conduct towards him. His words evidently direct our attention to the grounds of his forbearance towards Shimei; and they convince us at once that this forbearance did not proceed from a want of feeling. Some men appear to bear provocations, as a stone may be said to bear them: they excite no resentment, for they give no pain. But this insensibility is not Christian meekness. We must feel before we can forgive; and that forgiveness is the most exalted in its nature, which is accompanied with the keenest sense of the injuries it pardons. Neither was this insensibility the meekness of David. His was one of the warmest hearts that ever beat in a human breast. Every act of kindness had power to move it, and he himself tells us that reproach could almost break it.
I. His forbearance must be traced partly to THE SOFTENING INFLUENCE OF AFFLICTION. David here reminds his servants of the trials under which he was suffering; and intimates to them that the father, who had to bear with the cruelty of a beloved son, could find but little difficulty in pardoning the insults of a reviling enemy; that the greater affliction had prepared his mind for the less, and enabled him to be submissive under it. "Tribulation," says the apostle, "worketh patience." It calls the patience of the Christian into exercise, and consequently strengthens it. Who are the proud and revengeful among mankind? They who have known but little of the calamities of life, and been tossed by few of its storms.
II. David was assisted in overcoming his resentment BY TRACING THE PERSECUTION HE RECEIVED TO GOD. The ill-treatment of the ungodly, as well as the natural evils of life, must be ascribed, in some degree, to a chastising God. The malice and cruelty of the world are no less the instruments of working his will than the diseases which assail our bodies, or the storms which lay waste our dwellings.
III. Hence the forbearance of David may be ascribed also TO A SENSE OF SIN. He says nothing indeed of his sinfulness, but the abrupt language which he uses evidently implies that it was in his mind. And what provocation is there which a deep sense of guilt will not enable us to bear? Go to the man whom a heavenly instructor has made acquainted with the hidden depravity of his nature; who is day by day retiring to his closet to mourn over his sins, and who often waters his couch with tears by night as he thinks of his transgressions — try the patience of the stricken penitent by insults and revilings; and what is the result? Says the wounded Christian, "I am a sinner, and wrath must not lodge in a sinner's heart. I may be reviled, but what a miracle of mercy is it that I am not consumed! Men may reproach me, but how ought I to wonder that my God forbears to curse and destroy me!"
IV. The forbearance of David proceeded from AN HUMBLE EXPECTATION OF A RECOMPENSE FROM GOD. Though he had sinned against him and was suffering under his righteous displeasure, he knew that the Lord had not utterly taken away his loving-kindness from trim. What a powerful motive to forbearance and patience! When we are persecuted, the Lord looks on our afflictions. "He knows our reproach, and our shame, and our dishonour; our adversaries are all before him." In conclusion:
1. David was not of a revengeful disposition. A mind so softened by affliction, so fixed on God, so full of contrition and faith, could not be revengeful.
2. We may infer also from the text, the reason why so much importance is attached in thee Scriptures to a forgiving spirit.
Sir Matthew Hale, the celebrated judge, had so completely gained the government of his passions that, though naturally of a quick temper, he was never seen in a passion, nor did he ever resent injuries. One day a person who had clone him a great injury came to him for his advice in the settlement of his estate, which he very readily gave him, but would accept no fee for it. When he was asked how be could behave so kindly to a man wire bad wronged him so much, his answer was, "I thank God I have learned to forgive and forget injuries."
"As children will thank the tailor, and think they owe their new clothes to him rather than to their parent's bounty, so we look to the next hand, and set up that instead of God." Second causes must never be made to stand before the first cause. Friends and helpers are all very well as servants of our Father, but our Father must have all our praise. There is a like evil in the matter of trouble. We are apt to be angry with the instrument of our affliction, instead of seeing the hand of God over all, and meekly bowing before it. It was a great help to David in bearing wits railing Shimei, when he saw that God had appointed this provocation as a chastisement. He would not suffer his hasty captains to take the scoffer's head, but meekly said, "Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him." A dog when he is struck will bite the stick; if he were wise, he would observe that the stick only moves as the hand directs it. When we discern God in our tribulations we are helped to be quiet, and endure with patience. Let us not act like silly children, but trace matters to their fountain-head, and act accordingly.
And Absalom, and all the people of the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem.
When Absalom came to the city there was no trace of an enemy to oppose him. His supporters in Jerusalem would no doubt go out to meet him, and conduct him to the palace with great demonstrations of delight. Once within the palace, he would receive the adherence and congratulations of his friends. Among these, Hushai the Archite presents himself, having returned to Jerusalem, at David's request, and it is to Hushai's honour that Absalom was surprised to see him. The sight of Hushai impressed Absalom as the sight of an earnest Christian in a gambling saloon or on a racecourse would impress the greater part of worldly men. For even the world has a certain faith in godliness — to this extent, at least, that it ought to be consistent. There is a fitness of things to which the world is sometimes more alive than Christians themselves. But Hushai was not content with putting in a silent appearance for Absalom. When his consistency is challenged, he must repudiate the idea that he has any preference for David. But can we justify these professions of Hushai? It is plain enough he went on the principle of fighting Absalom with his own weapons. Absalom had dissembled so profoundly, he had made treachery, so to speak, so much the current coin of the kingdom, that Hushai determined to use it for his own purposes. Having established himself in the confidence of Absalom, Hushai gained a right to be consulted in the deliberations of the day. He enters the room where the new king's counsellors are met, but he finds it a godless assemblage. The first to propose a course is Ahithophel, and there is something so revolting in the first scheme which he proposed that we wonder much that such a man should ever have been a counsellor of David. Without hesitation Absalom complied with the advice. It is a proof how hard his heart had become, that he did not hesitate to mock his father by an act which was as disgusting as it was insulting. The next piece of Ahithophel's counsel was a masterpiece alike of sagacity and of wickedness. He proposed to take a select body of twelve thousand out of the troops that had already flocked to Absalom's standard, and follow the fugitive king. That very night he would set out; and in a few hours they would overtake the king and his handful of defenders; they would destroy no life but the king's only; and thus, by an almost bloodless revolution, they would place Absalom peacefully on the throne. It is with counsel as with many other things: what pleases best is thought best; solid merit gives way to superficial plausibility. The counsel of Hushai pleased better than that of Ahithophel, and so it was preferred. Satan had outwitted himself. He had nursed in Absalom an overweening vanity, intending by its means to overturn the throne of David; and now that very vanity becomes the means of defeating the scheme, and laying the foundation of Absalom's ruin. The turning-point in Absalom's mind seems to have been the magnificent spectacle of the whole of Israel mustered for battle, and Absalom at their head. He was fascinated by the brilliant imagination. The council is over; Hushai, unspeakably relieved, hastens to communicate with the priests, and through them send messengers to David; Absalom withdraws to delight himself with the thought of the great military muster that is to flock to his standard; while Ahithophel, in high dudgeon, retires to his house and commits suicide.
1. This council-chamber of Absalom is full of material for profitable reflection. The manner in which he was turned aside from the way of wisdom and safety is a remarkable illustration of our Lord's principle — "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." We are accustomed to view this principle chiefly in its relation to moral and spiritual life; but it is applicable likewise even to worldly affairs. Absalom's eye was not single. Success, no doubt, was the chief object at which he aimed; but another object was the gratification of his vanity. This inferior object was allowed to come in and disturb his judgment. For even in worldly things, singleness of eye is a great help towards a sound conclusion, "To the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." And if this rule hold true in the worldly sphere, much more in the moral and spiritual. It is when you have the profoundest desire to do what is right that you are in best way to know what is wise.
2. But again, from that council-chamber of Absalom and its re-suits we learn how all projects founded on godlessness and selfishness carry in their bosom the elements of dissolution. They have no true principle of coherence, no firm, binding element, to secure them against disturbing influences arising from further manifestations of selfishness on the part of those engaged in them.
3. Men that are not overawed, as it were, by a supreme regard to the will of God; men to whom the consideration of that will is not strong enough at once to smite down every selfish feeling that may arise in their minds, will always be liable to desire some object of their own rather than the good of the whole. They will begin to complain if they are not sufficiently considered and. honoured. They will allow jealousies and suspicions towards those who have most influence, to arise in their hearts. They will get into caves to air their discontent with those like-minded. All this tends to weakness and dissolution. Selfishness is the serpent that comes crawling into many a hopeful garden, and brings with it division and desolation. In private life, it should be watched and thwarted as the grievous foe of all that is good and right. The same course should be taken with regard to it in all the associations of Christians.
The history of the person, whom the text introduces to your view, is among the finest pieces of the Old Testament. It abounds with incidents, which touch the tenderest feelings of nature, and occur in the dearest relations of life; and is full of useful and impressive instructions to every serious observer. All may contemplate with improvement this inspired story of the beautiful, accomplished, and brave, yet base and unhappy Absalom. He is first introduced to us by the sacred historian, as avenging his sister's wrongs, by the murder of his eldest brother. Resentment even of the greatest wrongs, to trample upon the sacred commands of God, in his anger to slay a man, yea with premeditated and deceptive malice to slay a brother, discovers thus early that inconsiderate, unprincipled spirit, which strengthened with his age, and was the cause of his ruin. It is seldom that a life, which is uncontrolled by religious fear, is marked with only one criminal act. There is an infatuating power in vice. One step beyond the line of virtue renders another less difficult. There is no trusting to self command, when the barriers of duty are down. Vice is rarely single in the human heart. The man, who can be hurried by anger to murder a brother, will easily be induced by ambition to dethrone a father. Amnon's blood on Absalom's robes was white in comparison with the spots which afterwards defiled them. Having fled because of his guilt to Geshur in Syria, he abode there three years, with the royal relations of his mother. Time had now soothed the wound in David's bosom; and, forgetting the dead, he longed to embrace his living, his favourite child. His servants, perceiving the tender anxiety which filled his heart, contrived by an ingenious stratagem to obtain permission to bring the beloved fugitive back to Jerusalem. One would suppose that henceforth we should see nothing but filial reverence and a virtuous life, in this hitherto careless character. Alas, how slender are our hopes of those in whom the religious principle has no place! How terrible is the progress of the wicked, who have once given the reins to their will, and follow the guidance of their evil imaginations l Restored to favour, this unprincipled young man uses the riches of paternal bounty in procuring the gratification of vain desires, and the attendants, force, and equipage, which may add strength to his subtility when he shall need it." With mad ambition, he resolves to depose his fond and venerable parent from the throne. With worse than mad ambition, with the vilest, blackest treachery, he plots his father's disgrace and destruction. But how is it possible? Surely the people wilt cleave to the good king, to whom they owe such victories and prosperity? This vicious, inexperienced man will never be able to drive the renowned David from his throne. When the passions are engaged in any evil pursuit, and the mind has given itself to its attainment, there is nothing at which it will stop. Truth or falsehood, affection or enmity, piety or depravity is assumed by it with equal ease. We may be surprised to think that in so short a time this daring youth should be emboldened to attempt his enterprise. But there are always weak men, to be the tools of such characters; and wicked men to be their abettors. There accompanied him many, who, the narrative says, "went in their simplicity, and knew not anything," and the subtle, famous Ahithophel came from his city to aid the unnatural conspiracy. By the aid of this evil man, new followers of Absalom were daily added, and he succeeded so far as to compel the king to flee with his adherents from Jerusalem. It is happy indeed for men, that there is a Deity, whose providence rules the events of life. By a wonderful interposition the counsel of Ahithophel, which would most probably have been successful, was rejected, and the advice of Hushai, a friend of David in disguise, .was unanimously approved. And now the time approached when the Most High would bring upon this wicked, rebellious son the vengeance which his crimes deserved. The armies entered the field; and Absalom with his hosts were defeated. He took to flight. But as he rode in his haste through the wood, in which the battle was fought, "his head caught hold of the thick boughs of a great oak." Joab' hasted to the place, and thrust him through with darts, and the adherents of the king took down his body, and cast it into an ignominious grave. From this interesting story we may derive many useful reflections.(1) In the first place, it teaches us all, and especially the young, the solemn importance of acquiring a control over our passions and desires. These, if left to be their own directors, may make us base, will make us miserable.(2) The story further teaches parents the solemn importance of implanting and cultivating in their offspring those principles which are the only sure preservatives from debasement and crime.(3) We may learn from this history the barbarity and odiousness of filial disobedience.(4) We may learn from our subject the folly and danger of priding ourselves in t, he possession of personal accomplishments and external charms.
Is this thy kindness to thy friend?
Friendship is the state of minds united by mutual benevolence. It has always been deemed one of the essential articles of human life and comfort. Men have pursued it for their honour, as well as for their happiness; for it is considered as disgraceful as it is distressing, to be without a friend. And who are those who, after a while, lose social intercourse and kind regards, but those who deserve it? — as whisperers, tale-bearers, backbiters, despisers of them that are good, and lovers of themselves. For he that will have friends must show himself friendly, "and there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother." General associations will not supply the place of a friend. Gossips and visitors and acquaintances are not friends, unless such as Cowper speaks of, "belonging to the lady who has her dear five hundred friends," whom she always found sycophants in her house, and every one of whom, before they reach their homes, are running her down. For while "the friendship of the world is enmity with God," it is hypocrisy with men; and no conditions or rank places a man above the attractions of friendship. Kings have laid aside their royalties to indulge in it. Alexander would have found a conquered world a void without an Hephaestion. The dearest relations in life cannot supersede friendship. To the beloved name of brother and sister, husband and wife, must be added that of a friend, in order to fill up the comforts of human life. Oh, friendship, thou benefactor and comforter of the human race! how necessary art thou in a vale of tears, and in a world full of "vanity and vexation of spirit!" Thou art the delight of sanguine youth, and the prop of trembling age. Thou art the sweetener of prosperity, and the solace of adversity. The burdened heart, at thy presence, is relieved, and afflictions by thy hand are deprived of their tears. But while we hail the individual who has found a real friend, we are constrained to observe that it Is not very easy to find one. And, when you have laid down the infallible marks of a real friend, many who have worn the title will be found unworthy of the name, and "weighed in the balances," will be found wanting. I make no apology for applying the inquiry to Christian experience. Nor shall I enter into the circumstances of the history in which it is found. Suffice it to say. it is the language of Absalom, complaining of the conduct of Hushai.
I. WE HAVE TO SHOW THAT YOU HAVE A FRIEND. His adversaries called Him "the Friend of sinners," and their design was to charge Him with being a Friend to their sins. This was infinitely false; but He was a Friend to their souls. This was infinitely true. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. Now let us look at a few of the qualities of this friend.
1. The characteristic of Benevolence. What is benevolence? Benevolence among men is often little more than a commerce of selfishness, and the offspring of sordid gain. Friendship amongst men arises from the possession of some amiable quality in the object regarded, either real or imaginary. But His friendship arises from no excellency in its subject, but is all undeserved favour.
2. The second characteristic of this friendship h sincerity. He is a friend who loves, not in words — in tongue, but in deed and in truth. "He gives us all things richly to enjoy."
3. A third characteristic of this friendship is ability. Where the ear is heavy, that it cannot hear, the hand is often shortened, that it cannot save. Nothing is more painful to real affection than inability. To see a beloved object suffering beyond your reach, — to behold in him wants which you cannot relieve, — to witness in him pains which you cannot alleviate, — to hear the voice from parched lips, "Pity me, pity me, Oh ye, my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me," and to be able only to shed unavailing tears.(1) Speak we of wisdom? "His understanding is infinite."(2) Speak we of wealth? His riches are boundless. "The world is His, and the fulness thereof" in heaven and in earth. Speak we of strength?" Lo! He is "strong" Nothing is too hard for Him. The Emperor Theodosius, having, on a signal occasion, opened all his prisons and released the prisoners, is reported to have said, "And now would to God I could open all the tombs and give life to the dead!" This was a noble saying, but in him it was an ineffectual one. However it is not so in regard to the Lord Jesus.(4) Fidelity is the fourth characteristic of this friendship. It was wrong in David to say, "All men are liars." He owns himself that he said it in his haste, and he should not have said it at all. There were few who ever had more faithful adherents than he.(5) The last characteristic of this friendship which we shall mention is perpetuity. Now this is distinguishable from the former article. That regards the stability of friendship, this regards the continuance of it. For, however true, however faithful, a friend may be, he is mortal. "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to the dust: in that very day his thoughts perish." Mortality is written on everything here. Yet have we "set our hearts upon that which is not." But what is the language of Jesus? "I will never leave thee. nor forsake thee."
II. That you HAVE OFTEN BEHAVED VERY INCONSISTENTLY, AND IMPROPERLY TOWARDS HIM, so as to constrain Him to say, "Is this thy kindness to thy friend?" We premise here two things.(1) That it is not to be supposed that you can fully discharge the obligations you are under to this Friend, in this weak state of flesh and blood. But then you ought to be sensible of them, and show that you are willing to make suitable returns, though you cannot make adequate returns; and to be always asking, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Therefore,(2) we observe that God expects us to make suitable returns, and is disappointed if we do not.Oh, what instances of ingratitude and unkindness compel Him to say, "Is this thy kindness to thy friend?" He does expect gratitude and a sense of obligation in His beneficiaries.(1) It is reasonable and righteous for your friend to expect that you should obey him. "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them," saith the Saviour, "he it is that loveth Me." And none of His commandments are "grievous."(2) It is reasonable and righteous in your friend to expect that you should own Him and honour him before men.(3) It is reasonable and righteous in your friend to expect that you should readily believe him and confide in him.(4) It is reasonable and righteous in your friend to expect that you should be fair and open and unreserved with him.(5) It is reasonable and righteous that your friend should expect that,, if any of his friends and relations be near you, you should behave kindly towards them. David inquired on a particular occasion, "Is there any here of the house of Saul, that I may deal kindly towards them for Jonathan's sake?" The Saviour has brethren and sisters.(6) It is reasonable and righteous in your friend to expect that if he left any emblem or memorial of his, you should highly prize it. Such a memorial you have with regard to Him in the Lord's supper. It is the only representation of Him He has left in His church. Conclusion: There are such who have not this Saviour for their Friend: and is not this the case with some of you? — yea, with many of you. What! has He "no form, nor comeliness, nor any beauty, that you should desire Him?" who yet is "fairer than the children of men"; yea, who is "altogether lovely." We speak this to your shame. Lord Brooks was a nobleman of our own country, but so charmed was he with that wise and accomplished person, Sir Philip Sidney, that, when he died, he would have no other inscription upon his tomb than this — "Here lies the friend of Sir Philip Sidney." Oh, may my tomb but tell a tale that truly states here lies a friend of Jesus!
Trusting a friend so long as there is no room for doubt or distrust, is very well so far as it goes. A decent man can hardly do any less than this. It is always easy to trust a friend as far as one sees. But the real test of fidelity in friendship is when others doubt or question, and when there is room or occasion for two opinions as to a friend's conduct and appearance. True friendship evidences itself when one has to walk by faith, and not by sight. If one rests his trust on the friend because of what others think of that friend, that is one thing — there is no special friendship in that. But real friendship does not depend on outside testimony or opinions. —
Friendship is a vase, which, when it is flawed by heat, or violence, or accident, may as well be broken at once; it never can be trusted after. The more graceful and ornamental it was, the more clearly do we discern the hopelessness of restoring it to its former state. Coarse stones if they are fractured may be cemented again: precious ones never.
The love of friends is an active passion, and delights in rendering services and bestowing benefits. So sensible of this were the ancients that, in discussing the duties of friendship, what they asked was, not how much one friend ought to do for another, but where the limit was at which he ought to stop. They took it for granted that he would do, suffer, and give, all he could for his friend's sake; and they only prescribed to him to restrain himself at the point where his zeal might clash with some still higher obligation to his family, his country, or his God. In accordance with this they represented friendship in art as a young man, bareheaded and rudely attired, to signify activity and aptness for service. Upon the fringe of his garment was written Death and Life, as signifying that in life and death friendship is the same. On his forehead was inscribed Summer and Winter, meaning that in prosperity or adversity friendship knows no change, except in the variety of its services. The left shoulder and the arm were naked down to the heart, to which the finger of the right hand pointed at the words Far and Near, which expressed that true friendship is not impaired by time or dissolved by distance. Of this feature in the friendship of Jesus it would be easy to give examples.
Mr. Payson, the American divine, was out one day with a brother minister who had to make a call at a lady's house, and Payson went in with him. The lady pressed them both to stay to tea. She was not a Christian woman, and Payson had other business, and 'therefore demurred; but as she pressed him very earnestly he sat down, and invoked the divine blessing, which he did in terms so sweet and full of holy unction that he impressed everybody. The lady waited upon him with great attention, and when he rose up to go he said to her, "Madam, I thank you much for your great kindness to us; but how do you treat my Master?" A work of grace was wrought in that lady by the question; she was brought to Jesus; she opened her house for preaching, and a revival followed..
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