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Our Friends Post by :Brenda Category :Essays Author :Samuel Osgood Date :November 2011 Read :3233

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Our Friends

Every important word in human language is of itself a chapter of history, and if we could read it rightly would tell us the mind of all the ages that have shaped its form, and all the individuals who have given its meaning. Starting from the beginning, every such word passes from century to century, nation to nation, and makes of itself a medium as universal as the air which forms its tones. We cannot open our mouths, in any kind or honest way, without declaring the creed of humanity, that began with man's creation, and has been enlarged or exalted by every sage and benefactor of our race. What word that is applied to men expresses this creed more than that of "friend?" From the very first, men have called each other friends, and our Saviour did not create, but developed the sense of the term, when he called his disciples friends. In the language in which Jesus was educated, the word flowed in the melody of David so true to friendship and to faith, and in the sentences of Solomon, never forgetful in his keenest prudence of the worth of friends. In the language which the evangelists borrowed from Greece, the word had won to itself many a classic charm, and in passing from the conversations of Socrates to the gospel of Christ, it deepened its meaning without damping its joy. St. John took from his Master's lips more than Plato took from the mouth of Socrates, when that evangelist penned the words, "I have called you friends." This holy sanction has not been forgotten, nor has Christ's spirit left the word. Every age fills it anew with meaning, as the golden chalice from age to age is filled anew at the altar. Daily life and high art and letters show its power. It is breathed in many a song and hymn of home affections and fireside companionship. To what pathos it subdues the majestic muse of Milton in his lament for Lycidas--to what solemnity it lifts the wayward heart of Shelley in his elegy on Adonais--and when since the Hebrew harp that thrilled such sorrow at the death of David's friend, has there been a holier and lovelier tribute to friendship than in the offering which in our utilitarian age the genius of Tennyson has laid on the tomb of Arthur Hallam? These are great instances indeed, but they speak what all may feel. Nay, what is the secret of the power of the poet or sage, except that he can best say what comes home to us all?

Friends,--We have and must have some whom we call such. Happy are we if they can be truly so called. It is not for us to choose, whether we shall have friends at all or in any sense, but it is ours to choose, whether we shall have them in the right sense. All people, however depraved, will have some associates whose company they to some extent enjoy, and he who cares for nobody and for whom nobody cares, may be set aside from the human family as essentially monstrous. Of monsters we are not treating, but of men, and with our common nature in view, I speak now of the duties of friends.

* * * * *

This relation is founded in the will of God and the being of man. God has made us dependent upon each other for protection and comfort. The dependence is not limited by family ties alone, but extends to a large circle, in some measure indeed to all with whom we deal or speak. Nor is it confined to material interests. Friendship is as much a moral fact under Providence as light or gravitation is a physical fact. We like to see and talk with people for the pleasure of their society, and are unhappy when long away from those we know best. God has made this to be so in the structure of our nature, and His work as Creator has been constantly carried out by His providential care for society and all its affinities.

Our need of friends shows His designing will, and His designing will is all the clearer as this need is well supplied. In fact, we cannot be truly ourselves without society. Our thoughts and feelings cannot fully come out apart from congenial companionship. It cheers us, it quickens our powers, stirs our purposes, and the very best things that have been done in the world prove its worth. Christ himself needed it, rejoiced in it, consecrated it. As His disciples went forth two and two to found the heavenly kingdom, the social element kept company with the religious in their own hearts, and in their creed. The divine charity which the gospel inspired, cherished personal friendships as well as general humanity. The grim hermit, in an age whose faith gloried in sacrificing companionship to piety, was glad to know that other persons like himself were in the same wilderness, and would have been frantic at the very idea of being the only person living in the world. His lonely cell was many a time lighted up by images of friends still loved.

A freer age has brought out anew the friendship of the gospel, and little as enlightened people nowadays may be inclined to put on the dress and phrases of the Quaker, there has probably never been a time when so many accepted the essential ideas which led George Fox, William Penn and their associates to reject the old names and forms, and call the Christian Church simply a society of friends. There is a kindly feeling over the world now, and much of the best hope of humanity rests upon the fact, that so many judicious and influential people of every land know each other pleasantly and wish each other well. So friendship even in this sinful world is showing God's will for us, bringing out our own faculties and fulfilling the divine plans for mankind.

* * * * *

The sentiment, that animates the relation, needs little definition or analysis. In some sense, all understand it, although its best sense a true life only can teach. They are friends, who are attached to each other, with any kind of liking or loving. The attachment may begin in interest, as with parties in business or in pleasure, as with the votaries of some art or science, and as the interest or the pleasure is low or elevated, the attachment will shape its character. But however it begins, it never continues well and becomes genuine, unless the parties stand upon the same platform of principle, agree in what is highest and best, and in some way come within the scope of the Master's sense of a true friend, when he said, "I have not called you servants--I have called you friends."

Undoubtedly they are the best friends who differ much in incidental traits and agree in the essentials of character. Their likeness and their unlikeness brings them together. Their likeness makes them congenial, and their unlikeness makes them instructive and interesting to each other. Herein they follow the law of elective affinities, that runs through nature, and which makes a certain contrast essential to true harmony. Elective, yet not exclusive or entire, as the relation is, friends choose each other freely without ties of kindred blood, and however cordial the choice may be, it does not imply exclusive regard or entire union of interests. Affection, as well as esteem, enters into the sentiment, but in comparison with relations of blood and marriage, the element of esteem is generally larger in its composition than that of affection. It is esteem growing into affection rather than affection growing into esteem.

Come now to the practical point of view, and consider the duties of friends for ourselves. We have and desire to have friends, those who are such in general and those who are such particularly. What are we to do to keep or make them?

First of all we are to be sincere. Herein we must stand directly at issue with the fashionable world, that looks upon all sociability as an affair of manner, and manner as but one branch of costume--the mere dress of the tongue and eyes and looks. Let manner be respected, as it should be, yet what is it in its best estate but the simple and thoughtful expression of a gentle heart and a noble mind? It cannot be put on like a cloak, but must grow out as foliage and bloom from the life. It is so generally with manners in promiscuous society, but especially so between friends. They must be sincere alike for the sake of giving and of gaining the true goods of friendship. The heart itself thus acts happily, delighting in the free utterance of its convictions away from the world's folly and harshness. It craves a congenial sphere to breathe freely and fully. Sincere alike in his playful talk and serious conservation, a man finds his nature expanding as his life opens under genial influences refreshing as sunshine and dew. Sincerity indeed needs a grain of caution, and a thoughtful person will not tell his whole mind always. But judicious reserve need not be won at the cost of truth or by the sin of hypocrisy. Taught discretion by some experience of the ridicule or the deceit in store for garrulous frankness, a true friend will be sincere always, yet need not feel himself called upon to open his whole heart to those unable or unwilling to give his confidence hospitality. His spirit will not be without answer. Truth will sit upon his lips and win truth for him. The true will find the true.

But not only are we to be sincere for the vast comfort and gain of free, genial companionship, but for its direct service to others. If we wish to know ourselves, we should be willing to help others know themselves by telling them the truth. Says Lord Bacon, "there is no such flatterer as a man's self, and there is no such remedy against flattery of a man's self as the liberty of a friend." It is easy enough to get more or less than the truth regarding our failings, and friends often fret and spoil each other by a mutual retail of compliments and scandals which they make a business of collecting to be used in congratulation or condolement. What is better in view of such tale-bearing than a sincere counsellor, who at due times will tell the simple and entire truth, and above flattery and calumny will give honest advice upon faults of character and errors of conduct,--mingling kindness with caution, and never so encouraging as when thoroughly frank? This is a nice point, and one full of difficulties, yet the point is a main one, and a brave, generous heart need not fear the difficulties. No man is a true friend, who is not ready to be a faithful adviser, willing to wound self-love in its tenderest part, and give passing pain for the sake of lasting blessing. Not often and never with any assumption must he do this, but humbly as before the searcher of hearts, and in view of the benign and majestic being who washed his disciples' feet before telling them of their defects, and opening to them the fulness of his wisdom and love.

Again, friends should be earnest as well as sincere--earnest not merely in feeling or temperament, but in the aims of life. What are we good for to others, unless we have heart ourselves for what is worthy, and are trying to be and do something for whatsoever is true, honest, pure and lovely, and of good report? A man is worth little or nothing to others unless he is earnest for worth in itself. What more frequent cause is there of the too frequent flatness of what passes for society, than the want of earnestness in its members, the prevalence of a monotonous mediocrity of thought and manner, which makes people uninteresting because they are not interested in much of any thing sensible or elevating? How much power there is in the true companionship to which each brings the zest of his own pursuit, the enthusiasm of his own favorite aim, and all are made wiser and happier by the thought and spirit of each. Part of the influence of such friendship is seen at once in cheerful looks and renewed courage. The better part is not seen, for wherever persons really in earnest meet together, no matter what their calling or topic may be, there is a power among them, that brings their heart into closer relation with the eternal heart, and whether conscious of it or not, men go away confirmed in faith--deepened, whatever their creed, in the sense that God is, and his spirit is abroad among his people.

The nobler their pursuit or their habitual aims, the greater power do friends give and take by their earnestness--the better the spirit which they bring to their personal intercourse. They are more interesting as individuals, as they are mutually interested in matters above themselves, and instructive and attractive to each other. Every honorable interest unites those who cherish it, and beautifully has Jeremy Taylor said, "He that does a base thing in zeal for his friend, burns the golden thread that ties their hearts together." Of every honorable interest the quaint old poet's saying upon honor itself holds good:--


I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honor more.


What earnestness for every generous aim filled the heart of him who sat at the table of communion, inflamed the earthly minds around with heavenly faith and fervor, as he bade them be one with him in God, after he had said, "I have called you friends." Blessing repeated in some measure where any sincere and earnest people interchange thoughts and feelings! Blessing written on all true companionship since Jesus lived and died!

Need we add kindness to sincerity and earnestness as essentials of friendship, for is it not implied? Implied, certainly, although there is a certain kind of earnest sincerity, that lacks the tenderness which this word expresses. It expresses none other than the crowning grace of charity in its familiar application. Kindness, genuine and between persons of congenial minds, watchful to yield its balms and dews, when fortune is sharp or the world is a weariness, instant ever with a sympathy unaffected and unobtrusive in trouble and in joy--living commentary upon the sacred sentence:--


"A faithful friend is the medicine of life,
And they that fear the Lord shall find him."


Then griefs by being communicated are less and joys greater. "Indeed," says South, "sorrow like a stream loses itself in many channels, and joy, like a ray of the sun, reflects with a greater ardor and quickness when it rebounds upon a man from the breast of a friend."

In such kindness there will be an element of magnanimity which will check the selfish calculation that measures regard by gold, and exchanges relations of affinity for bonds of profit and loss. We will not say there is no friendship in trade, but that it is incongruous to make trade of friendship. The more the relation is one of reciprocal sentiment, and the less it is unbalanced by patronage or dependence, the more it moves in its own element and yields its own reward.

The more likely too it is to be lasting, and crown sincerity, earnestness, and kindness, with constancy. Too many things there are to break the unity of our lives, and scatter into fragments our book of experience. Yet some ties we need, and may have, that run their silken thread through its various chapters, and make a volume of the leaves else fragmentary as the Sibyl's. True friends are such ties, and whether of our kindred or not, they can be won by friendliness and kept only by constancy. Some deemed such may fall off and become indifferent, perhaps false, but who that has any heart cannot feel happy in some form of constant kindness, and say with the Scripture and from experience:


"A friend loveth at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity."


Happiness indeed, when as we go through life and take its ups and downs, and look upon its ever-enlarging horizon, we can meet betimes and often some one or more whom we have known from youth, and whose very faces and voices express our best remembrances and hopes. As rising above dull etiquette, we call them by their familiar names, and say William, or Henry, or Mary, or Ellen, grim time seems to drop his inexorable scythe, and the roses that appeared withered in our path bloom out as amaranths of immortality. Power, as well as pleasure, comes from the interview, especially if, under the incentive, noble friendship gives its fascinations to wisdom, and thus stirred we review our lives closely, scrutinize our ways seriously, and our whole experience rises up under a new charm to warn us of evil and urge us to good, ready to say religiously:


"Change not a friend for any good, by no means,
Neither a faithful brother for the gold of Ophir."


Do we think enough of this whole subject of companionship--enough of it for ourselves and our children? In some way, perhaps, we may think enough of being in society, and we may have a sharp eye on our list of acquaintance, be eager enough for the silly race of ostentatious eating, drinking, and dressing, that is the life of our semi-barbarous fashion, or for the frivolous social circles, where friendship is part of the play, and they who flatter each other to the face, laugh at each other as soon as the back is turned; and in perhaps honeyed words character is depicted as sharply as if cannibals had but changed their policy, and brought their teeth to bear in a different way, not upon the flesh but upon the life. Perhaps we have a better ambition, and desire for ourselves and our children the society of the refined, and wise, and good. This is well, but one point must not be overlooked. There is no getting into really good society but by growing into it. We may win entrance to the houses and tables of distinguished people perhaps, but our real friendship with persons of sterling character must depend on our character and culture. Ask honestly--what are we, what have we made and are making of ourselves and our children? And our worth will be the precise measure of the friendship we deserve and are likely to have. Here is motive for the best culture of the mind and heart. A man's own essential character--what he thinks, knows, is, and can do,--it is this that opens to him true companionship, and by a law as universal as that of specific gravity, he rises or falls to his own level. Is it not worth a life's effort to be worthy to win and enjoy the intimate companionship of choice minds?

Do we think of this in the training of our children? Do we try to educate their social affections morally and intellectually--strive to make our houses attractive to sensible people, to give our sons distaste for profligates, and our daughters disgust for fops and fools? Are we laying the foundations of sincere and elevating relations that shall put the due check upon the evil communications that so corrupt good manners? If not, think seriously of the neglect, and do better, as you fear God and love the best in the life he has given us.

Cheerfully, gratefully, leave the subject as we consider what He has done for us, and ask His blessing on all whom we hold dear. God bless our friends! Bless them all in their widest and their inmost circle; bless all the kindly people with whom we have interchanged pleasant words, and who more than the landscape have reflected in any way his light and love; bless all who from age or wisdom have taught us truth and reverence, instructors, guardians, counsellors, pastors, on earth or gone from the earth; bless those nearer sharers of our lot, sincere, earnest, tender, constant companions, whose names are familiar at our table and sacred in our prayers; bless Him, whose gospel crowns all good will with its divine love, and calling all friends who lived in God's love, leaves to all the benediction of His parting prayer: "Holy Father! keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."


(The end)
Samuel Osgood's essay: Our Friends

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