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PROVERBS, xxvii. 10.
WHATEVER relates to the behaviour of men
in their social character is of great importance in religion. The duties which spring from that character, form many branches of the great law of charity, which is the favourite precept of Christianity. They, therefore, who would separate such duties from a religious spirit, or who at most treat them as only the inferior parts of it, do a real injury to religion. They are mistaken friends of piety, who, under the notion of exalting it, place it in a sort of insulated corner, disjoined from the ordinary affairs of the world, and the connections of men with one another. On the contrary, true piety influences them all. It acts as a vivifying spirit, which animates and enlivens, which rectifies and conducts them. It is no less friendly to men than zealous for the honour of God; and by the generous affections which it nourishes, and the beneficent influence which it exerts on the whole of conduct, is fully vindicated from every reproach which the infidel would throw upon it. - In this view I am now to discourse on the nature and duties of virtuous friendship, as closely connected with the true spirit
of religion. It is a subject which the inspired philosopher, who is the author of this book of Proverbs, has thought worthy of his repeated notice; and in many passages has bestowed the highest eulogiums on friendship among good men. As ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so, doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. Make sure of thy friend; for faithful are the wounds of a friend. A friend loveth at all times; and a brother is born for adversity. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. – Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, it is said in the text, forsake not.
I must begin the subject, by observing, that there are among mankind friendships of different kinds, or at least, connections which assume that name. When they are no more than confederacies of bad men, they ought to be called conspiracies rather than friendships. Some bond of common interest, some league against the innocent and unsuspecting, may have united them for a time. But they are held together only by a rope of sand. At bottom they are all rivals, and hostile to one another. Their friendship can subsist no longer than interest cements them. Every one looks with a jealous eye on his supposed friend; and watches the first favourable opportunity to desert, or to betray.
Friendships too there are of a different kind, and of a more respectable nature, formed by the connection of political parties. It is not, perhaps, on selfish or crooked designs that such friendships are originally founded. Men have been associated
together, by some public interest, or general cause, or for defence against some real or imagined danger ; and connections thus formed, often draw men into close union, and inspire for a season no small degree of cordial attachment. When upon just and honourable principles this union is founded, it has proved, on various occasions, favourable to the cause of liberty and good order among mankind. At the same time, nothing is more ready to be abused than the name of public spirit, and a public cause. It is a name under which private interest is often sheltered, and selfish designs are carried on. The unwary are allured by a specious appearance ; and the heat of faction usurps the place of the generous warmth of friendship.
It is not of such friendships, whether of the laudable or the suspicious kind, that I am now to discourse ; but of private friendships, which grow neither out of interested designs nor party zeal; but which flow from that similarity of dispositions, that corresponding harmony of minds, which endears some person to our heart, and makes us take as much part in his circumstances, fortunes, and fate, as if they were our own. The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David ; and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.* Such friendships certainly are not unreal; and, for the honour of human nature, it is to be hoped, are not altogether unfrequent, among mankind. Happy it is, when they take root in our early years; and are engrafted on the ingenuous sensibility of youth. Friendships, then contracted,
* 1 Samuel, xviii. 1.
retain to the last a tenderness and warmth, seldom possessed by friendships that are formed in the riper periods of life. The remembrance of ancient and youthful connections melts every human heart; and the dissolution of them is, perhaps, the most painful feeling to which we are exposed here below. But at whatever period of life friendships are formed, as long as they continue sincere and affectionate, they form, undoubtedly, one of the greatest blessings we can enjoy. By the pleasing communications of all our sentiments which they prompt, they are justly said to double our pleasures and to divide our sorrows. They give a brighter sunshine to the gay incidents of life ; and they enlighten the gloom of its darker hours. A faithful friend, it is justly and beautifully said by one of the Apocryphal writers, is the medicine of life.* A variety of occasions happen, when to pour forth the heart to one whom we love and trust, is the chief comfort, perhaps the only relief, we can enjoy. Miserable is he who, shut up within the narrow inclosure of selfish interest, has no person to whom he can at all times, with full confidence, expand his soul,
SINCE cordial friendship is so great a blessing to buman life, let us proceed to consider what duties it requires, and by what methods it may be cultivated to most advantage. The fundamental qualities of true friendship are, constancy and fidelity. Without these material ingredients it is of no value. An inconstant man is not capable of friendship. He may perhaps have affections which occasionally glow in his heart; which excite fondness for amiable qualities; or connect him with seeming attachment
* Ecclesiasticus, vi. 16.
to one whom he esteems, or to whom he has been obliged. But after these feelings have lasted for a little, either fancied interest alienates him, or some new object attracts him; and he is no longer the same person to those whom he once loved. A man of this inconstant mind cannot be said to have any mind at all. For where there is no fixedness of moral principle, occasional feelings are of no value; mind is of no effect; and with such persons it is never desirable to have any connection. Where constancy is wanting, there can be no fidelity, which is the other basis of friendship. For all friendship supposes entire confidence and trust ; supposes the seal of secrecy to be inviolable; supposes promises and engagements to be sacred, and no advantage of our own to be pursued, at the expense of our friend's honour. An inconstant man is despicable. A faith, less man is base.
But supposing neither constancy nor fidelity to be altogether wanting, still however friendship is in hazard of suffering from the follies, and unreasonable humours, to which all of us are liable. It is to be regarded as a tender plant in an unfavourable soil, which, in order to its flourishing, requires to be reared and nursed with care. The following directions may be of use for promoting its cultivation, and preserving it from whatever might be apt to blast and wither it.
In the first place, let me advise you not to expect perfection in any with whom you contract friendship. It holds in general with respect to all worldly pursuits, that the more moderate our expectations