1 Samuel 18:1-4
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David…

I. THE CHOICE OF FRIENDS. The commonest advice given to young men on this subject is to choose their friends well. But do we really choose our friends? Like love, friendship may kindle at first sight. The instant you see a man, something within you may say, "This is the man for me. This is the man who is going to be the other half of my soul." "My friends," says Emerson, "have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me," and I expect some of us could say that too. Although in the initial stages friendship seems to be more a matter of good luck than of choice, or, rather, let me say a matter of God's kind Providence, there are subsequent stages when friendship does need to be cultivated. For instance, when friends separate in Providence to live in different towns or in different countries, unless friendship is to lapse it must be cultivated by correspondence, and letters long unanswered are very apt to cool the heart of a friend. Or when other ties are formed friendship is apt to be sacrificed to them, as, when a man is married, he is apt to drop his friends; but that is a great mistake, because the home is enriched with the visits of friends if they are good ones. What is a man to do if he has been unfortunate enough to contract a friendship which is injurious? There may be such friendships. There are more instances than one of this kind, for example, in the life of Robert Burns, the poet, but one of them was especially influential in determining his moral history. One winter, chancing to be at the town of Irvine, learning flax dressing, a detail of farming in those days, he fell in with a young man rather older than himself, and much more versed in the ways of the world, for whom he instantly contracted a romantic attachment. "I loved and admired him," says he himself, "to a degree of enthusiasm, and, of course, strove be imitate him. His mind was fraught with independence, magnanimity, and every manly virtue, but he spoke of illicit love with the levity of a sailor, which hitherto I had regarded with horror. Here his friendship did me a mischief." And the mischief turned out to be more lasting and decisive than, even at the time when writing this sentence, Burns himself had any conception of. Is there not something horrible in the name of friendship being attached to a relationship which is undermining the character and threatening the whole future of one who is engaged in it.

II. THE GAINS OF FRIENDSHIP. The prime gain of friendship is just the knowledge of a noble soul. That was what Jonathan felt. It is the man who has most in himself to give who gives most, not the man who has most of what is external to give. No counter gifts can altogether balance those which an opulent nature bestows when it gives itself. That, then, is the first gain of friendship, simply to know a noble nature.

2. The second gain of friendship is that it develops the powers of those engaged in it. History contains many striking instances of how friends have stimulated one another to the highest intellectual attainment. For instance, Goethe and Schiller, the two greatest chiefs of German literature, though differing widely in genius and disposition, both produced their grandest works when living in the same town and daily enjoying each other's conversation. And German history has a still more striking example. Just as Goethe and Schiller lived together at Weimar, so Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon lived together at Wittenburg, and their friendship did a great deal to stamp its character on the Reformation. It is perfectly delightful to hear Luther and Melancthon speaking about each other. For instance, Luther says on one occasion, "Philip is a wonder to us all. If the Lord will, he will beat many Martins as the mightiest enemy to the devil and scholasticism. I am the rough woodman who has to make a path; but Philip goes quietly and peaceably along it, builds and plants, sows and waters." On the other hand, the younger man said on one occasion, "Luther supplies the place of all my friends. He is greater and more admirable in my sight than I dare express."

3. Then a third gain of friendship is that a friend can often speak a good word for his friend, and otherwise promote his advantage. Flattery is the poison of friendship, because it is false, and it has always been counted one of the greatest gains of friendship that cane friend can, without offence, tell the other his faults. An ancient Chinese philosopher says about this close friendship, "The heaven-ordained relationship, on which depends the correction of one's character"; and a very ancient Indian poet expresses this still more beautifully in these words:

The words which from a stranger's lips offend

Are honey-sweet if spoken by a friend,

As when the smoke of common wood we spurn,

But call it perfume sweet when fragrant aloes burn;

and the Scripture clinches this matter by saying, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."

III. THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR FRIENDSHIP. Philosophers are too apt to speak as if friendship were possible only to philosophers, or men of genius. Thus Sir Thomas Browne says, "This noble affection falls not on vulgar or common constituents, but on such as are marked for virtue." La Bruyere, the French philosopher, says, "Pure friendship is something which men of an inferior nature can never taste"; and Charles Kingsley says, "It is only the great-hearted who can be true friends; the mean and cowardly can never know what true friendship means." If a man only be genuine he is quite fit for this relationship, and if in addition he be tender and unselfish he can give the highest pleasure in this relationship. It was part of the low estimate of women universal in the ancient world that the ancient philosophers deny that women could be friends. Christianity, however, has corrected this, as so much else, and we know that women are not only as capable as men of being friends to one another, but of being friends to men. I might quote such historical examples as St. Francis and St. Clara, or as between the poet Cowper and Mrs. Unwin. Is the highest friendship possible without religion? One of the most obvious and inalienable qualities of friendship is this, that friends talk confidentially to each other on important subjects. They exchange with each other their deepest subjects. Now, if the deepest subject of all is excluded — if religion is kept out of the conversation — must we not pronounce the friendship to be imperfect and mutilated? The most elementary dictate about friendship is that one friend must do the other as much good as he can.

(J. Stalker, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

WEB: It happened, when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

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