The Unchanging Friend!
The evening was calm and pleasant, enlivened by a gentle breeze and the rays of the declining sun. At the door of a little cottage, sat an old man. His hair was white, his form was bent, and his dim eyes were fixed on the richly-tinted clouds. Was he admiring the simple grandeur of an evening sky? I think not. His features wore a sad and troubled expression, as if his mind were occupied by thoughts which had but little connection with the objects around him. And so indeed it was. He was thinking of the uncertain and unsatisfying nature of earthly friendship; he was musing over a painful proof which he had that day received of the ingratitude and unkindness of one whom he had loved and cherished in years gone by.
"It is trying, very trying," he said, "to be thus deceived and injured by an old friend. It is not an enemy that has done this — but it was my companion and familiar friend. He was the last person from whom I would have expected such treatment; I always reposed the most perfect confidence in him. Oh, what is friendship? It is like a slender reed, which, when leaned upon, often pierces us through with many sorrows!"
The old man's feelings had been sadly wounded, and his mind was much disturbed. But, perhaps, just then the serene aspect of nature soothed him, or perhaps bright memories of loved and faithful ones reproached him for his indiscriminate censure; for he added, in a more cheerful tone, "Not that all friends prove false and changeable. Oh no! I have known and shared too much of the warm and unselfish and continued affection of others, to believe that friendship is nothing but a name. In prosperity and in adversity I have found that there are true friends. I have loved — and I have been loved; I have trusted — and I have been confided in. Life would indeed have been dreary without the sympathy and communion of friends — especially of Christian friends.
"And yet, at the best, earthly friendships are very imperfect. Liable to little mistakes — to partial interruptions; or, if unvarying in their character — they are incapable of entering into all our feelings, or of responding to all our emotions. And how slight the tenure by which they are held! A few weeks, a few days, nay, a few hours — and the most loved of our circle may be removed from us! Death severs the closest and the fondest ties. In yonder churchyard lie the remains of those who were once my dearest companions. Many gathered round me in early life, and set out with me on the pilgrimage to the celestial city; but they have finished their course — and now I am left alone. The grave has divided us — at least for a little while."
Ah, in the last half of that sentence, there was a cheering truth involved, and the old man felt its sweet influence steal over him.
"For a little while! — yes, we shall meet again. They will not return to me — but I shall go to them. I sorrow not as others without hope, for I know that those who sleep in Jesus, God will bring with him — and so shall we ever be with the Lord. In this world of partings, how delightful is the assurance of a speedy and lasting re-union with all those dear friends who have departed in the true faith of Christ!"
Like the sunshine bursting through a dark cloud, this bright anticipation almost dispelled the old man's sadness; and it was followed by a thought so full of consolation and joy, that he speedily forgot the unpleasant circumstance which had lately agitated his feelings.
"Yet it is still more delightful to remember that I have an ever-living, an almighty Friend! The best earthly friends may change or die — but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will never leave me, he will never forsake me. Oh, why should I mourn over the loss or the inconstancy of earthly friends — when my kind and sympathizing Savior is ever with me?"
Reader, you cannot have advanced thus far in the experience of life without having learned, like this aged pilgrim, that instability and uncertainty are associated with all human affections. You have doubtless mourned over those friends whom time or circumstances, or death have parted from you; but have also rejoiced in the assurance of Christ's perpetual and never-changing friendship? Ah, there are many who have been deceived and disappointed in the trust which they have reposed in their fellow-creatures — and who have also never sought that Heavenly Friend with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning! There are many who have hewn out to themselves broken cisterns which could hold no water — who have yet refused to turn, when weary and dissatisfied, to the Fountain of living waters.
"O you who driest the mourner's tear,
How dark this world would he,
If, when deceived and wounded here,
We could not fly to Thee!"
And it is dark to those who, in their hours of sorrow and desertion — have no confidence in the Savior, no reliance on his love and sympathy. The heart that has none on earth or in Heaven around whom to entwine, must indeed be a desolate and drooping heart! God grant that it may never be ours! Nor can it if we are united by a simple and living faith to Christ, for we are then linked with those whom he graciously calls his "friends;" and are assured that we possess at all times and under every circumstance, his tender and unwavering regard. How cheering and all-sustaining, amidst the separations, the imperfections, and the declensions which mark the fairest of earthly friendships — is the consciousness that we have an unchanging and unfailing Friend, who is always ready to impart to us his sympathy and his support.
We would not undervalue the preciousness of earthly love. It is one of the choicest gifts which God bestows upon a fallen world. It is a relic of Paradise and a type of Heaven. Yet still we are taught by experience, how precarious is the tie which binds us to the dearest and most beloved earthly friend. It is impossible to help feeling — without the least inclination towards misanthropy — that our affections are sometimes misplaced, that our dependence is often productive of disappointment. Imperfection and uncertainty are stamped on all the objects and relationships of earth; for "this is not our rest — because it is polluted!" Micah 2:10. We are destined for a better country, the bright inhabitants of which are linked in pure and immortal friendship.
And while we anticipate with gladness, the period which shall unite us with that wholly and happy brotherhood — we will remember our best Friend — the Friend that sticks closer than a brother — and fearlessly anchor our troubled and unsatisfied hearts in his deep and changeless love. That resting-place for the heart never has failed — never can fail. The circumstances which enfeeble, suspend, and terminate many of the friendships which are formed between man and man — possess no influence over the emotions which the Savior feels towards his chosen friends, and are incapable of altering the position in which, if Christians, we stand with regard to Christ.
For instance, it frequently happens that the distance which intervenes between some friend and ourselves diminishes, and at length, perhaps, closes our friendship. He does not intend, when separated, to forget us — but absence gradually lessens the strength of his attachment; his correspondence almost imperceptibly declines, or, through unavoidable circumstances, is hastily ended; and as time rolls on, he grows more and more indifferent towards us. Had he always remained near us, and continued the personal fellowship which once subsisted between us, he might not have changed; but in his removal, he verifies the truth of the old adage, "Out of sight — out of mind." Our aged readers can doubtless confirm by their own experience, the truth of this statement. They can recall to mind some, it may be several, of their early acquaintances thus geographically divided from them, who have for many years been as strangers to them.
But the Savior, although personally absent from his people, never for one moment forgets them. From the time when he departed from his disciples at Bethany, where a cloud received him out of their sight — he gave them the most indisputable and uninterrupted proofs of his unchanged affection. He ascended then as a triumphant conqueror to Heaven, and was enthroned at the right hand of God; but the glory which as the Mediator was bestowed upon him could not intercept from his view the few poor fishermen of Galilee; nor could the songs of angelic adoration which he received, hush the earnest supplications that rose from that little band who were assembled in an upper chamber at Jerusalem. No, his love was the same in Heaven — as it had been on earth; and the rich and abundant gifts which were poured forth upon his faithful disciples were the immediate results of his exaltation and intercession. He consoled and guided them by his Spirit, and strengthened them for the avowal and defense of his truth.
In his remonstrance with the persecuting Saul, he distinctly identified himself with his people, estimating the injuries done to them as if inflicted upon himself: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
But it is unnecessary to multiply proofs, either from the early or subsequent history of the Church, of the unvarying character of that regard which the ascended Redeemer cherishes for all those who through grace, have accepted his gracious overtures of friendship. We need only appeal to yourselves, dear readers, as witnesses to the cheering fact that the love of Christ — that love which surpasses knowledge — is unaffected by the withdrawal of his personal presence from among us. His continued intercessions on our behalf, his rich impartation to us of all needful grace, and his preparation of a place for us in his Father's house — are sure evidences of his perpetual and affectionate remembrance.
Again, one of the causes which render human friendship so variable, is alteration in worldly circumstances. When competency is exchanged for poverty; when, in the expressive language of Scripture, we are "made low" — what a change passes over the little world in which we dwell! That friendship is indeed true and valuable, which will stand such a testing-time; for while many gather round us in prosperity — few cleave to us in adversity.
It is a bitter trial to find ourselves neglected and forsaken when we are most in need of support and comfort; but it is a sanctified trial if it teaches us that it is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man; if it endears to us that Heavenly Friend, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich. Lowly indeed was his lot on earth; he had nowhere to lay his head; and his chosen friends and associates were from the humblest ranks of society. It was to "the poor" that he especially proclaimed the blessings of his gospel; and the sarcastic designation of his opponents, which styled him "a friend of publicans and sinners," was, in reality — beautifully expressive of his true character.
By his own position in the world, by his mingling chiefly with those who were poor and despised of men, and by the low and obscure situations in which the majority of his disciples have served him — poverty has been elevated and dignified. Not many noble, not many mighty, does the Savior call; but he chooses the poor in this world, and makes them heirs of that glorious kingdom which he has promised to those who love him.
The wealthy and the fashionable may grow cold and distant — when poverty and distress enter our home; but Christ makes our season of affliction — only the means of drawing us more closely to himself. Our loss of property or income, instead of raising a barrier between him and us — links us more firmly together! He soothes our spirit, sympathizes with our grief, and promises that he will never forsake us.
Or it is possible that the natural infirmities of old age and a long-declining state of health — may gradually narrow the circle of our friends. Deafness, or blindness, or immobility, or sickness — makes our society less attractive than formerly. It is wearisome, perhaps, for them to sit beside us day after day and strive to interest us; and, therefore, some who were once warm and even sincere in their professions of attachment to us — grow tired of the society of an aged invalid, and their visits become few and far between. We feel sometimes, when contrasting the present with the past, that we are forsaken and alone in the world, that we are a burden to ourselves and to others. Old age brings with it a sensitiveness on this point which occasions much mental disquietude, and frequently produces a fretful and repining spirit.
Let us endeavor, in moments of loneliness and depression, to tranquilize and divert our thoughts — by dwelling upon the steadfastness of Christ towards us. He does not cast us off in the time of old age, nor forsake us when our strength fails; he is not weary of listening to the oft-repeated narrative of our needs and ailments, nor reluctant to cheer the solitude of life's evening; but he beautifully fulfills to us his own promise, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!" Isaiah 46:4
As we walk with trembling steps through the valley of the shadow of death, as we miss from our side the friend on whose arm we might have leaned for support and protection; the Savior bids us to fear no evil, because he is with us; his rod and his staff will comfort us; and his presence shall perpetually abide with us. Our weakness and our infirmity may tend to loosen some of our earthly ties — but cannot diminish his kind sympathy with us. Friends may fail us — but Jesus will never leave us.
And even should our friends prove faithful, should they retain in old age, the affection which they manifested towards us in youth — yet how suddenly and irrevocably may they be parted from us by death! "Our days on earth are like a passing shadow — gone so soon without a trace!" 1 Chronicles 29:15.
The dearest ones around whom our affections are so firmly entwined, may soon be summoned into the presence of their Maker, and leave us to tread the remainder of our lengthened journey alone. We may have to see the grave opened for those whose hands we imagined would tenderly close our eyes at the last. Have we not already seen this? Have not the separations of the tomb, been painfully realized in our past history? The green hillock, the marble tablet — are they not cherished memorials of the departed, who still live in our hearts and are enshrined in our recollections? More eloquent than the preacher's words, more powerful than the written admonition — are the vacant seats in our households — yes, and at our firesides!
Ah! the stern precept, "Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?" — has received frequent and practical illustration in the events of bygone days. The tolling bell has mournfully reminded us that change and decay are stamped upon all the things of earth. This has darkly shadowed forth the solemn truth that "In the midst of life we are in death."
Well, be it so; we will not murmur that God gathers the ripest fruit and the choicest flowers from our gardens — since he gives us himself as our portion. We will not forget, as we sorrow over the dead, that "the Lord lives!" While thinking of the friends whom the last enemy has snatched from our grasp, we will gratefully remember that Savior from whom neither death nor the grave can part us. Around our desolated hearths, and in our solitary evening, his voice is heard sweetly saying unto us, "Fear not — for I am with you!"
Yes, Lord, you are with us — our firm, our changeless, our undying Friend! "You are the same, and your years shall have no end." Death cannot divide you from your people, for that vanquished foe has no power over its almighty Conqueror; and it cannot separate them from their Savior, for its touch will only usher them into his immediate and visible presence. "There is no death; what seems so, is transition."
Oh, we are "persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature — shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
Then let us comfort one another with this thought. Let the recollection of our indissoluble union with Christ, and of his eternal and unchanging affection for us, solace and refresh our spirits. "Having loved his own who were in the world — he loved them unto the end." Yes, neither external circumstances, nor the decay of nature, nor even continual infirmity and sinfulness — can alienate the heart of the Savior from those whom he has loved, chosen, and called, and blessed. Heaven and earth may pass away — but his Word — that Word which assures us of the freeness and perpetuity of his love — abides forever.
Aged Christian! dwell much on the character and conduct of this mighty and faithful Friend! "Casting all your care upon him — for he cares for you." As life declines — let his preciousness increase. As the associations of earth gradually lessen — cling more closely and confidingly to him. Think of him as preparing a place for you in the Heavenly mansions, and as coming to receive you unto himself, that where he is — there you may be also. And if, while now you see him not, you can rejoice in him with joy that is unspeakable and full of glory — what will be the rapture of your emancipated spirit when you are admitted to full and uninterrupted communion with him! If now, while you only behold him as through a glass darkly, he is in your apprehension the fairest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely one — then how will your admiration be increased when you behold him face to face! If now, while you know him but in part, your acquaintance with him is the source of purest and inexpressible pleasure — then who shall estimate the happiness and the delight which shall result from your knowing even as you are known?