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CHAPTER V.

THE PERPETUATION OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP ACCORDANT

WITH THE NATURE AND DESIGN OF CHRISTIANITY.

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The nature of the human mind, the desire of continued existence, which animates it in proportion to the degree of its conformity to the image of God, and the capacity with which we endowed of making illimitable progress in every feature of intellectual and moral excellence, have been frequently adduced as plain intimations of the immortality of man. A similar train of reasoning might be advantageously pursued, to support the affirmative of the question discussed in the present treatise. For almost every aspect under which it is possible to consider the friendship subsisting amongst the disciples of Christ, encourages a hope, that it is one of those alliances which will survive the general wreck and desolation, which death is destined to bring over all mortal things. While other connections rest upon a perishable foundation, and have respect to a state of things which is quickly passing away, this possesses a spiritual character, and embraces interests which stretch themselves out into the most distant scenes of futurity. The basis on which it rests is, we have shewn, that vital union to the Saviour, in virtue of which all true believers have a common participation in the benefits of his death, are brought into one family, consisting of all the righteous upon earth, and the whole company of the redeemed in heaven; and thus sustain a most exalted relation to one another, designated in the scriptures by almost every conceivable epithet of endearment and sanctity. They are declared to be “ brethren,” “ children of God," "sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty,” “members of the body of Christ,” “ fellow heirs of the grace of life,” and, in short, all the appellations and similitudes which are applied to the christian fraternity, present it to our minds under the most interesting and dignified aspect. And that holy love, which is the cement and very soul of christian friendship, is, too, the badge of their discipleship, the fruit of the Spirit, the fulfilling of the law towards each other, and one of the inseparable accompaniments of the saving and regenerating change. While we are taught to moderate every natural affection, and to watch with a steady and jealous eye over every

earthly desire, love to the christian brotherhood, being a divine virtue, and having for its foundation and regulating principle, a supreme attachment to God, is allowed unfettered exercise. In reiterated and energetic language we are exhorted to cultivate this grace, to live habitually under its influence, and to feed it as a sacred flame, which cannot burn too intensely upon the altar of a heart consecrated to God. The fire is etherial, and the only atmosphere in which it can live is that of piety. “ This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." * Such was the language of Christ in the valedictory address which he delivered to his disciples, and similar is that of the apostles upon the same subject. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” “As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you ; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; and indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia ; but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.” “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren,

* John xv. 12, 13.

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ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”

The desire of reunion, therefore, arising out of this pure and exalted love to the disciples of Christ, as those who wear the impress of his image, and have a common participation in the benefits of his death, must be a virtuous and holy sentiment. Being the effect of christianity, and of that mutual converse and reciprocal sympathy, which are included in their fellowship one with another, it cannot be otherwise than agreeable to the will of the Supreme Parent. And since it does not find plenary gratification upon earth, we have reason to believe that it will meet with it in the paradise above, where the germinating principles of the believer will develope themselves, and bloom with the fruits of immortality. That a friendship thus founded upon love to God, and an unseen Saviour, capable of indefinite progression, in the excellence of its character, and in the richness of its results, produced and cherished by the power of religion, and the influence of the life-giving Spirit, and inspiring the bosoms of the parties united with the ardent desire of improved and continued intercourse-a desire strengthened and sublimed in proportion to their advance in conformity to the image of the Deity, and existing in full vigour amidst the almost entire destruction of the merely animal and instinctive tendencies—that a union thus cemented, characterized, and sanctioned by the approving verdict of conscience and of God, should be dissolved in the moment of death, is a supposition which carries upon its very face the palpable marks of improbability. The goodness of God, which is no less than infinite, and which must ever give support and encouragement to every righteous association—the analogies which are found in the general economy of his providence, and the laws of the christian dispensation, which beautifully harmonize with them, forbid us to conclude, that the last enemy will destroy a friendship resting upon religious principle, and advancing, though it never actually attains in this life, to perfection of character. We have, on the contrary, every reason to believe, that the same gracious and allpowerful Being who formed the bond, will restore it, after a transient dissolution occasioned by death, and that he will be pleased to render the alliance more durable and happy than it was before. Thus the nature of christian friendship, viewed in relation to the principles and general spirit of christianity, affords ground for presuming, that it is an immortal union; a plant which will not be nipped in the bud, but which, as soon as it is fit for the purpose, will be removed by the same hand which planted it, to the heavenly paradise, where all

* 1 John iii. 16. 1 Thess. iv. 9,10. 1 Pet. i. 22.

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