The Blessing of Friendship

Blessing of Friendship

Samuel Willard
A Complete Body of Divinity
An Excerpt from a Sermon on the 5th Commandment

There is a special equality made between some, which does not arise from nature, but combination; and this is that which is called friendship.

Which is recommended to us, not only by moral philosophy, but also by the word of God. And the truth is, the necessity of mankind, for their well-being, calls for it; and there is no living well in this world without it. He that has not a friend to whom he may open his secrets, unburden his griefs and of whom he may ask and receive advice and help at all times, is miserable. And true friendship wisely laid, and duly maintained, is the greatest outward felicity that can be here enjoyed. This therefore the psalmist aggravates his affliction by, Psalm 88:18, “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” Now whatsoever disparity there may be between friends, in their condition here; yet as they are friends, so there must be a parity. I shall not here speak all that might be, of this noble subject: only observe the special duties lying upon men in this relation.

1. The love and kindness between friends, ought not to be common, but special. They mistake, who think that we ought to love all alike; for we have observed, that the love is to be calculated according to the relation. Now this is a peculiar relation, and calls for the most intense affection. The wise man tells us, Prov. 18:24, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” And it is a commendation which David gives to Jonathan, 2 Sam. 1:26, “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” And the reason of this will further appear, when we come to consider the things wherein this friendship is to be employed. A man should love and honor all men; but true friendship is a contracted thing, and extendable to but a very few. He who seeks to make many friends, does therein practically say, that he indeed seeks none at all; but is willing to rest contented in a common love. The Scripture usually mentions a friend, in the singular number.

2. Every prudent man ought to be very cautious in the choice of a friend. We observed, that this relation is purely elective; and therefore it calls for deliberation, and is not to be taken up rashly, and entered upon inconsiderately. Every man that may be fit for human, nay Christian conversation, is not qualified for being our close companion. It is true, we may be mistaken in men; and our friendship may be betrayed by them, whose hearts are false, whilst their words and carriages are most smooth and obliging: this David proved to his sorrow in Ahithophel, Psalm 55:13–14. But for all this, he that strikes up a friendship in haste, is likely to repent of it at leisure; for there are special qualities to be sought in a person, whom we may expect to be able to make use of as a friend on all occasions. And though there is often a sort of natural aptitude between such and such, for this close combination; yet there are those things, which are further to be inquired after, the want whereof will unfit them for it.

3. There can be no true Christian friendship, where there is not the fear of God. It is his glory, that ought to be the last end of it; and all other designs in it, ought to bear a due subordination to that: so that though this godliness be not all that is to be sought in it, yet it ought to be the basis of all the rest. A combination between persons, separate from that, is not a friendship, but a conspiracy, and will not tend to the good, but the real hurt of those that are engaged in it. It was a close reprimand given by the prophet to him, 2 Chron. 19:2, “And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.

4. The special duties between friends, are such as these:

1.) They must make great allowances for human frailties. There are none to be found in this world without them, and if friendship be broken on account of these, it must be very short-lived. This is necessary in all relations, and peculiarly in this, else jealousies will be easily raised and fomented; whereas candor calls for charitable constructions, and the best interpretations: and it is the nature of love to cover many frailties; and the more intense it is, the greater allowances it will be willing to make.

2.) They ought to stick by each other, in times of the greatest adversity. It is the wise man’s observation, Prov. 17:17, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” In times of prosperity, many will seek friendship with a man, and pretend to the greatest respect, and readiness to serve him: but he that will keep fast at all times, and when the man is reduced to distress, and all men withdraw and forsake him, will be the same that he ever was, this is a friend indeed; and such an one was Jonathan to David. The wise man observes, Prov. 19:4, “Wealth maketh many friends.” But one that will not be ashamed of or afraid to stand by us, in our deepest troubles, is more worth than all of them, though they were as many more.

3.) They should readily open their souls into each other’s bosom. Here is the great benefit of having a friend: to him we may freely and without fear disclose our minds, in things which it would be our folly to publish to the world. A friend is called a second self; and there are those things that are secret, which we either greatly need counsel about; or which oppress our hearts, as long as they are kept pent up. And he that is now shy of his friend, does herein say, that he counts him not to be a friend: hence that, 2 Sam. 13:4, “And he said unto him, Why art thou, being the king’s son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me?

4.) They ought to keep each other’s secrets faithfully. And this necessarily follows from the former; else it would be frenzy to impart our secrets to another, if we could not confide in him, that they were as safe, as if we had kept them locked in the cabinet of our own bosom. He that cannot keep counsel, is incapable of being a friend indeed: hence that, Prov. 11:13, “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” A man lays his credit and safety to pawn, when he trusts another with his inward thoughts; and if he betrays them, he is not fit for human society, much less for intimate familiarity.

5.) They ought to bear each other’s burdens, and be at all times ready to comfort and counsel one the other. A friend should make his friend’s condition his own; and resent [feel] it as if he were himself in the same. David herein shows the vileness of his adversaries, by telling how he carried it to them in their trouble, in which he shows the character of a friend, Psalm 35:13–15, “But as for me, when they were sick,…I humbled my soul with fasting…I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother…But in mine adversity they rejoiced…” He is not worthy of the title of a friend, that has not a tender compassion upon us, and will readily express it when he sees us in distress, and bowed down under troubles: hence that in Job 6:14, “To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend.” And how pathetical is that expostulation, ch. 19:21, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.

6.) They ought to deal plainly and faithfully one with another. Nor can friendship be better improved, or more kindly applied than by this, which is one principal benefit of it. A man cannot possibly be a flatterer and a friend too; and he that cannot bear a rebuke from a friend, is altogether unworthy of one. David reckoned it the greatest kindness to be thus smitten, Psalm 141:5, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.” And the wise man has such a remark, Prov. 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” And saith, v. 14, “He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.” Though we should not betray our friend to disgrace, yet we ought to give him warning of his danger: and if it be hatred to a neighbor, to suffer sin upon him, for want of giving him a seasonable rebuke (Lev. 19:17), much more is it to a friend, who confides in us on this account.

7.) They should delight in each other’s frequent converse. There must be the greatest freedom between friends; and they should be often refreshing each other, by familiar and openhearted communion: hence that, Prov. 27:9 and 17, “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” It is of the nature of love, to seek much intimacy with the beloved, and accordingly to be as often as they can together; and a neglect in this regard, will both hinder the ends of this relation, and tend to distance and alienation, which will in a little time break the bond asunder: they should therefore avoid all that would tend to breed strangeness, especially whispers and talebearers, who often separate chief friends, Prov. 16:28.

8.) They should maintain each other’s reputation. He is not worthy the name of a friend, that will not stand up for his friend when he hears him reproached, reviled, slandered; and will not as deeply resent it, as if done to himself. It is true, he ought not to lie for his friend, or do any sinful thing in his behalf; but when he is wronged in his name, and exposed by the malevolent tongues of others, he should show himself, by taking his part, defending his innocence, and excusing his imperfections; such was Jonathan, 1 Sam. 19:4 and 20:32.

9.) They must nourish this friendship with all good offices. We are advised, Prov. 18:24, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” There are the testimonials of singular kindness, which must be often repeated to nourish the ardors of their love, and these must be mutual. There are in the nature of fallen man, jealousies too easily kindled, which are as water cast upon the fire of love; and every slight, or seeming unkindness, is apt to foment them. The best way to prevent these, is to take all advantages, to continue new tokens of our constant and unshaken friendship. And having such a friend, let us not be given to change; but endeavor to keep it firm to the end; taking his advice, Prov. 27:10, “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near, than a brother far off.

Get the Kindle e-book (ASIN: B016POKEP0) edited by Mike Christian here.


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