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ON CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP.
WHOEVER has paid the least attention to the constitution of man, must have been often struck with the fact, that, of all the principles which enter into it, there is none which is more deeply seated or which exerts a more powerful influence over him than that of sympathy. It is the cement of society --the grand law of our nature—the attracting power, in short, which appears to answer the same purpose in the moral as is secured in the physical world by the gravitating tendency of matter. Hence the deep and natural aversion which we feel to a solitary life, and the desire which we have to give utterance to our emotions ; a desire which is proportioned to their strength, and which, when our feelings rise to a high degree of intenseness, sometimes constrains us in the absence of a better channel of communication, to express them even to the unconscious and inanimate objects which may
happen to be around us. Hence, too, the relief which is brought to the heart by the disclosure of its sorrows and anxieties to confidential friends, and all the exquisite pleasures as well as alleviations which flow from the exercise of the pure and disinterested affections. These and other mental phenomena of the same kind, which proceed from sympathy, proclaim in the most unequivocal manner the real nature of man, and the proper ends of his existence. They teach us that the highest enjoyments of the soul are only to be found in a benevolent commerce of emotion, thought and action, with kindred and holy intelligences, and that it was chiefly for the realization of these pleasures that we were fashioned by the plastic hand of Deity.
The general principle of sympathy or benevolence admits, however, of numerous modifications, which are sometimes with difficulty distinguished from one another, and presented clearly before the view of the mind. But of all the forms which it assumes, one of the most inviting is that of friendship; and, since it is the object of the present treatise to establish the perpetuity of this amiable relation as far as it exists amongst the disciples of Christ, a few remarks respecting it may not be unacceptable to the reader, and seem to be called for, in order to place the subject in an intelligible light.
The distinguishing characteristic of this interesting connection lies merely, we conceive, in that uniform and powerful tendency of our sympathetic and virtuous feelings to some one or more individuals, which usually results from frequent intercourse and congeniality of disposition and pursuit. That is, it differs from other alliances which are founded in virtue, chiefly with regard to its closeness and constancy. And it is in this view adapted to the narrowness of our capacities, and to the consequent necessities of our nature. The condition of every man in the present world, where sin and suffering abound, demands innumerable offices of kindness, which would for the most part be unfulfilled, had he nothing else to depend upon than the ministrations of general benevolence. For absurd would it be to expect any close inspection of our interests, or any deep, regular and active solicitude for our welfare, amongst persons whose sympathies and affectionate attentions are diffused over the wide field of common observation, and dissipated by a corresponding variety of claims. That lively reciprocation of sentiments, that interchange of benevolent actions, by which all the pleasures of life are multiplied and all its pains diminished in the same proportion, can only be enjoyed by those who are united to each other by a closer bond than that of mere sympathy with our common nature.
Our wants and social appetites,
therefore, attach us to some one or more of our fellow creatures, whose concentrated affections bring us into closer contact with society and supply the many nameless deficiencies, which would otherwise imbitter our lot. It is indeed our duty to love all men as members of the human family, and as intelligent creatures capable of suffering and enjoyment to an indefinite extent, both here and in the world to come. But this duty must refer rather to the spirit than to the actual operation of the religious principle. The minute ramifications of social life are made indispensable by the imperfection of our nature, and are beautifully adapted to the feebleness of its powers. The field of general charity, which stretches out before us, is wide and interminable : and whatever may be the ardour and extent of our wishes, it is only a small portion of it that can come under our inspection and successful culture. We are therefore compelled to fix upon some suitable and congenial spot; and, if we would make the most of our resources, we must give it as much of our attention and labour as we can expend upon it without infringing upon other and more important claims.
Much has been said by poets, philosophers, and divines concerning the value of friendship; and the remarks which we have made upon its origin will suffice, without appealing to universal experience, to show that it must be a relation of immense importance, both in a personal and relative view. It aids us in the pursuit of virtue, imparts confidence and stability to the character, and through the mighty influence of participation increases the pleasures, no less than it diminishes the sorrows of human life. No situation renders us independent of its aid. It is alike necessary to the sage and the savage—to the monarch and the peasant. In its absence adversity presses with unmitigated weight upon the spirit, and pleasure loses its relish.*
“ Celestial happiness! Whene'er she stoops
It has, however, been asserted that christianity, having no where formally prescribed friendship as a duty, is adverse to this interesting connection ; or at least that it cannot claim, in consequence of this omission, the advantage of being a complete
Si quis in cælum ascendisset naturamque mundi, et pulchritudinem siderum perspexisset, insuavem illam admirationem ei fore, quæ jucundissima fuisset, si aliquem, cui narraret, habuis
Sic natura solitarium nihil amat, semperque ad aliquod tanquam adminiculum annititur : quod in amicissimo quoque dulcissimum est. Cic. de Amicitia.