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A DISCOURSE

ON

CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP.

This is my beloved, and this is my friend. - CANT. v. 16.

FRIENDSHIP affords the highest and most sweet enjoyment that is to be had in this life, or that rational creatures are capable of. Yea, it is in some sense the only source of real enjoyment and happiness; so that to be perfectly without this, in every kind and degree of it, is to be wholly destitute of all true enjoyment and comfort. This gives pleasure and sweetness to all other enjoyments, and without this they all fade, and become insipid and worthless; yea, every thing will be rather a burden, and worse than nothing; whereas this will give a degree of enjoyment and pleasure when stripped of every other good. So that he who is in circumstances to exercise and enjoy friendship is in a degree happy, let his situation and condition otherwise be what it may; and it is impossible he should be entirely miserable so long as he is within reach of this sweet, this Heaven-born cordial.

It is probable that the most voluptuous sensualist that lives would in a great measure lose his high relish for the pleasures he is so eagerly pursuing, and all his sweets would be turned into bitterness, if he should feel himself perfectly, and in every sense, friendless; for none can be found, however sunk and sordid their minds have become by vice, who have no sort of taste for friendship, though it may be, on the whole, a very corrupt taste. To be sure, if any such may be found, they seem to be sunk, in this respect, below the brutal creation; for it is observed that among them there is an appearance of love of society, and at least a resemblance of love and friendship.

However lost to all true friendship mankind in general are, yet a desire of the esteem and love of others is found in every breast, and is as essential to man as a desire of happiness, and, therefore, cannot be rooted out but by destroying his natural powers, by which he will cease to be man.

Hence it is that no inconsiderable part of the future misery of the wicked will consist in feeling themselves perfectly friendless, and the objects of the hatred and contempt of all intelligent existence in the universe, while they find themselves in every respect in the most wretched, deplorable circumstances, and have a most keen aversion to being hated and contemned, and a strong desire of the love and esteem of others.

As real or disinterested benevolence is essential to true friendship, we have reason to think there are but few instances of it in this degenerate, selfish world; and where it does take place in any degree, it is in a very low and imperfect one; so that what many in all ages have been convinced of and asserted from long experience may be relied upon as a certain truth, that this is a friendless world. However, there is a sort of friendship which is, at bottom, a merely selfish thing, being founded only in self-love, or which is the result of what may be called instinct, or natural affection, which is very common, and in many instances rises very high, and answers many valuable purposes to mankind in this present state, it being many ways of great service to mankind, as it prevents many evils that would otherwise take place, and promotes the good of society, and often gives a degree of pleasure and enjoyment. But, so far as true virtue or holiness takes place, a foundation is laid for a different kind of friendship, which is immensely higher, more noble and excellent, and consists in exercises and enjoyments wbich surpass those of all other friendships more than the exercises and enjoyments of improved reason excel those of a brute, or the brightness of the meridian sun that of the meanest glowworm.

And God has, in his adorable wisdom and goodness, contrived and provided that this friendship should be exercised and enjoyed in the highest perfection, being raised to the greatest possible heights, and attended with the best and most advantageous circumstances.

The Scripture leads us to conceive of the Deity as enjoying infinitely the most exalted and glorious friendship and society in himself, for which there is a foundation in the incomprehensible manner of his subsistence in the three persons of the adorable Trinity. Here eternal love and friendship takes place and fourishes to an infinite degree, in infinitely the most perfect and glorious society, the Elohim, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And the society and friendship for which mnen

are formed by holiness — without which they cannot be perfectly happy — may be considered as an imitation and image of this, by which they are made in the likeness of God, and partake with him in the same kind of happiness which he enjoys to an infinite degree. And, in order that men might partake with him in the exercise and enjoyment of love and friendship to the highest degree and the greatest advantage, God has not only laid a plan to promote and effect the highest and most perfect love and friendship towards each other in the most exalted and happy society forever, but has so contrived that they shall be brought into the nearest and most intimate union and friendly intercourse with himself, by which they shall in some sense, yea, to a great degree, be united to the eternal and most glorious divine society, and partake of the same river of enjoyment and pleasure which proceeds from the throne of God and the Lamb, in a peculiar and eminent sense.

To effect this in the best manner and to the greatest advantage, the invisible God, who eternally dwelt in the high and holy place, infinitely beyond the comprehension and reach of a creature, must come down and make himself visible, that he might be the head, the life, and soul of a visible and most glorious society. This has been done in the incarnation of the Son of God, by which the greatest purposes of God's moral kingdom are answered in the highest possible degree, and all happy intelligences, especially the redeemed from among men, are brought into a near union with God, and are under special advantages to receive communications from him, and enjoy his love and friendship in a manner and degree which could not have been in any other way. This is the mutual love and friendship spoken of in the text, which takes place between the incarnate Son of God, the divine Redeemer of lost men, and his church or spouse, or every one of the redeemed.

He is in a peculiar and distinguished sense the friend of the redeemed, and he is the beloved of their soul in a sense and degree in which no other person is, or can be; and hence there is a mutual love and friendship between them, which is beyond comparison the most intimate, intense, sweet, and exalted of any thing of the kind between any other friends and lovers, unspeakably surpassing all other friendships in nature and degree, attended with the highest, most noble, transporting, soul-ravishing enjoyment and delight that can possibly exist or be conceived of.

This union of hearts, this mutual love and friendship between Christ the Redeemer and Savior and believers in him, or the redeemed, is represented in Scripture by the inclination and affection between the two sexes of which mankind consist, under the influence of which they mutually seek and come into a peculiar union and intimacy with each other, in which they may enjoy each other, and be happy in the exercise of mutual love and friendship. It is represented by the sweet love and affection between the bridegroom and his bride, and the mutual love and friendship and solemn engagements by which the husband and his spouse are united and become one, and are happy in each other; and this similitude is, beyond doubt, most wisely and properly chosen, by which to represent this spiritual union and friendship, as it is, in many respects, the most lively, striking emblem and image of it that can be found in all nature; and is especially calculated to give men the best and most clear idea of it, and to give and keep up in their minds a conviction and sense of the reality, nature, and happiness of such a union, love, and friendship.

This seems to be the design of this Song from which the words of the text are taken. It is, indeed, a love song, in which the highest, most noble, pure, and honorable love and friendship between Christ and his people are represented and celebrated under the similitude of two lovers, whose hearts are united in the strongest, purest, and sweetest love of esteem, benevolence, and complacency, in the exercise of which they desire and seek the enjoyment of each other in the nearest union and greatest intimacy, in the near relation of husband and spouse. This is, therefore, called The Song of Songs, i. e., the most excellent song, especially the best and most excellent of all the songs of Solomon, which we are told were a thousand and five, as the theme, the subject, and matter of it is by far the most important, entertaining, excellent, and sublime; in order to which Solomon was divinely inspired.

As the virtuous, pious, and pure love between a man and his spouse is, in many respects, the most lively and instructive image of the union and love between Christ and his church, God, in his wisdom and goodness, saw fit to give such a representation of it in a divine song, as what was greatly needed, and would be exceeding useful to his church and people; and though the carnal and inattentive, or those who are strangers to this divine love and friendship, may call it all foolishness, and in their boasted wisdom despise and ridicule it, or iinprove it only to carnal, low, and obscene purposes, yet the children of true wisdom will justify the wisdom of God herein, and adore his goodness, while they find themselves instructed, quickened, and edified hereby; and every true, chaste virgin, who is espoused to Christ as the best friend and spiritual husband, will attend to it, and meditate upon it, with a peculiar relish and sweet and holy delight, which unspeakably surpasses every thing the unholy soul can enjoy, or even imagine.

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