To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend; but he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Oh, how sweet and blessed at this hour would the ministries of true friendship be! Job, in the shipwreck of fortune and of health, is like a poor swimmer clinging to a spar or fragment of rock with ebbing strength, looking vainly for the lifeboat, and the strong, rescuing arms of friends and saviours. Instead of this, his friends stand aloof, and lecture and lesson him on the supposed folly which has steered his bark upon the breakers. Here we see in one glance the greatest danger to which a human soul can be exposed, and the greatest service one human being can render another.
I. THE GREATEST HUMAN PERIL. What is it? The loss of life? Not in the common sense of those words. For the loss of life in this world is not necessarily the loss of the soul. The loss of worldly goods? Still less; for a man's life consisteth not in these. The loss of family, of reputation, of health? All these may be repaired; but the loss of God is irreparable. The mangled tree may sprout again, and send forth vigorous suckers from its root; but how if that root itself be extirpated from its holding? It is the horror in the prospect of losing reverence, trust - of losing God - that now looms upon the patriarch's soul. We need only refer to the twenty-second psalm - to those words quoted by our Saviour in the agony on the cross - to remind ourselves of the fearfulness of this last trial to every godly soul,
II. THE GREATEST HUMAN MINISTRY. It is to do something to save a sinking brother from such a fate. A cheerful faith is infectious. A noble courage will thrill in the vibrations of sympathy to another's soul. And this is, then, the best office our friends can discharge for us in our greatest troubles. Let them remind us by their words, their prayers, their looks, their tones, of God. Let them not throw a new burden upon our drooping consciousness by reminding us of what we are or are not, but relieve us by telling us of what he is and ever will be - the Refuge and Strength of them that seek him. And this may be a fitting place to speak generally of -
III. THE QUALITIES OF FRIENDSHIP. By a beautiful image Job describes the failure of friendship. An unfaithful or unintelligent friend is like a brook swollen with snow and rain in spring-time, but dried in its channel under the scorching heat of summer. The poet says of one who has been lost to his sorrowing companions by death -
"He is gone from the mountain,
He is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
When our need was the sorest!" The pathos of those words is, alas I applicable to living but absent or unsympathetic friends. There is nothing more beautiful or more useful in all the world than true friendship. Perhaps as "all other things seem to be symbols of love, so love is the highest symbol of friendship." But for the service of friendship there must be:
1. Constant affection. The equal flow of a deep river, not the intermittent gushings of a fickle fountain.
2. Habitual sympathy. We must feel with our friend so long as he is our friend. There are crimes which will break up this holy tie. Connivance at guilt can be no part of this sacred covenant. But so long as I can call my friend my friend, I must bear with his infirmities, "not make them greater than they are." How unhappy the knack of seeing all that can be said against our friend, with blindness to all that can be urged in his favour! We dread the coming of these "candid friends," so called. If there are unpleasant truths, let him hear them from another's lips than ours. Let not the troubles of those we own by this sacred name be made occasions for airing the conceit of our superior wisdom, or indulging a vein of moralizing, but for unlocking all the treasures of our heart.
3. Lively imagination. Want of imagination, or, in other words, dulness and stupidity, is a great defect for general social intercourse. Men quarrel and fly asunder because they do not understand one another. They do not use the faculty of imagination to "put themselves in another's place." And what may hinder general intercourse may be a fatal bar to friendship. "I am not understood:" what commoner complaint? Yet what is this high faculty given us for, but that, under the guidance of Christian love, we may identity another heart with our own, appropriate all its sorrowful experiences, and think and speak and feel towards others, as well as do unto them, as we would they should do unto us? But these demands for an ideal friendship are not, after all, to be satisfied by frail human nature. Let us, then, think:
4. These qualities of friendship can be only fully found in God. The Divine Friend! - he whose unfailing, self-replenished love alone is equal to supply the thirst of our hearts, whose sympathy is that of One who knows us better than we know ourselves; who numbers our hairs, and gathers our tears into his bottle; who needs to exercise no imagination in order to realize our condition, because he knows! O God! greater than our hearts, whose knowledge is the measure of thy sympathy, whose sympathy is fed from the eternal well-spring of thy love; God manifested in Jesus Christ; thou only art the Friend of our sorrow, the Sustainer of our help. LESSONS. May we listen with humble obedience to the voice which says to us, "Henceforth I call you friends"! As life wears, and many shallow torrents of earthly kindness are dried, may we experience more profoundly thy never-wasting fulness! - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.