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—I SAMUEL 20:30-42.—AUGUST 23.—
HISTORY does not record a more touching story of love than that which existed between Jonathan and David. Both were noble characters, capable of loving deeply, intensely, although in many respects they were men of entirely different stamp. David was the more versatile, His is the broadest character on record; says Charles Reade:—
"In holy writ Moses, Elijah and Paul; in profane history Solon, Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon and others excelled David in one quality or another. But David presents a greater number of distinct and striking features than any one of those great men; and that is why I style him the widest character on record—a shepherd, a soldier, a courtier, a famous friend, a fugitive, a captor, a marauder, a general, a king, a statesman, an exile, a priest, a prophet, a saint, a criminal, a penitent, and nothing by halves. His character was a harp of many strings."
Jonathan, the son of King Saul and heir apparent to the throne of Israel, had also noble qualities. He was a faithful son, who alone could comfort his father in his times of disappointment. He showed himself an able warrior and displayed great faith in God; and his religious nature was apparently as fully developed as was that of David. Evidently these elements of honesty and devotion and reverence for God which these two men perceived in each other, constituted [R4223 : page 247] the basis of the great friendship which so spontaneously knit their hearts together in a wonderful bond of friendship—love. Indeed, according to the entire account, Jonathan would seem to have been the larger of these two great souls and his love the greater. From this standpoint alone, since love is the principal thing in the world, Jonathan may be considered to be one of the grandest characters in the world; for he loved much and against his own interests.
At times friendships spring up based upon mutual admiration, and often with a measure of selfishness in cooperation. But in the instance under consideration selfishness would have operated against the friendship; it is, therefore, a sample of disinterested love. Every success and honor that came to David raised him as a popular idol to the place which Jonathan to a considerable extent had held. Every advancement of David meant the preparation of the people to receive him instead of Jonathan as Saul's successor. The king saw this, so did Jonathan; but they were reversely affected by it. The king was made jealous, angry; Jonathan, reversely, loved his rival, and that from the time of their first meeting, on which occasion he gave to David his armor and court robes. (1 Sam. 18:4.) We read, "The soul of Jonathan was knit unto the soul of David"; their natures interwove, intermixed—a beautiful description of the purest and truest of love. Alexander White says:
"Had I read, 'Jonathan loved David as his own soul,' for once only I should have passed it by as hyperbole,...but as I read again the rest of the story, I found myself saying to the sacred writer, 'Lo, in all this speakest thou plainly, and speakest no hyperbole.'"
Friendship love is not a miracle, but results from certain combinations. The one we love need not of necessity be just like ourselves, but rather would appeal to us more as a counterpart possessing qualities which we admire, but do not so strongly possess. Darkness, however, never loved the light; the light never loves darkness. Hence for friendship-love on a noble plane both friends must have high ideals, noble aspirations, even though they may have these in different measure. Each should see in the other something to esteem and to look up to; although in the case of the Almighty this cannot be true; his love for us must be chiefly along the lines of sympathy for us and appreciation of our endeavors to attain to his character standards. We may be sure, too, that in Jonathan's case reverence for the Lord had much to do with estopping any feeling of rivalry and with encouraging his admiration for his rival. Who will not admit that such an appreciation of the divine will and providences would be a help to all friendship, a hindrance to all spirit of rivalry and in general a most valuable uplift in every Christian character? How much it means to us in the way of contentment to know that our heavenly Father is at the helm as respects all the affairs of his people! How much rest it permits in our own hearts! How much meekness, gentleness, kindness and love it prompts toward others, both to realize that they as well as ourselves are subjects of divine care, and to have a heart so fully submitted to the Lord as to desire that his will shall be done irrespective of our own temporal interests or those of others.
Undoubtedly this was the good basis of Jonathan's love; and undoubtedly it is the fruitful soil out of which all proper love amongst the Lord's people will be developed. We must love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength before we shall be prepared to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to wish for him the same riches of grace that we desire for ourselves under the Lord's providences. Still more is it necessary to have this supreme love for God before we could in any measure approximate the degree of love which the Lord set before his followers as a new commandment, saying, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you." Jonathan's love approximated this Christian love, this self-sacrificing love which so loved his neighbor as to delight to see that neighbor have the Lord's blessing upon him, even while this meant his own loss of honor, prestige and kingly power. Oh, that such love as this might more and more prevail in the hearts of the New Creation! It is to such that the Apostle says, "Let the brother of high degree rejoice in that he is abased, and the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted"—under the Lord's providences.
It is not necessary for us to form a society for the propagation of the Jonathan and David bond of love amongst us as the Lord's people. We have this organization which inculcates a love that is even greater. The head, the chief, the center of this organization is our Lord Jesus Christ, who not only exhorted us to the highest conceptions and practices of love, but exemplified this in himself when he laid down his life, not only for his friends, but also for his enemies. "Greater love hath no man than this." This greatest of all lovers, our Lord Jesus Christ, has organized an association of lovers, and has made membership therein dependent upon the willingness of his followers to take up the cross and follow him, to lay down their lives for the brethren.
Only those who have made such a consecration of faithfulness to the Captain, faithfulness to the spirit of love, faithfulness to one another as members of the Body of the Anointed—only these are admitted to membership in this exclusive society, "The Church of the Living God, whose names are written in heaven." And more than this, the founder of our society has told us that he is the Vine and we are the branches; and that every branch in him that beareth not this fruit of love will be taken away, cut off from the Vine, disassociated from membership in this blessed Church. He assures us further, that our faithfulness to our covenant with this true Vine will bring upon us purgings, prunings from the great Husbandman, that he may develop in us more and more the fruits of the Spirit, the fruit of the Vine—meekness, gentleness, brotherly kindness, love; that these graces may be in us and abound; that thereby the Father may be glorified and blessed, and that we may be made ready, "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."
David, the younger man of the two, as we have seen, possessed by nature a deep, generous character, capable of intense love, but apparently time was required for its development. And as we perceive Jonathan's love for him, the brighter and more intense at first, we find that David's love was drawn forth, that he loved in return, just as God's love [R4224 : page 248] was first toward us and subsequently our love drew out toward him increasingly. Our lesson tells us how Jonathan endeavored to preserve peace between the king and David, but finding his father intent upon killing his friend, he took occasion to forewarn David that he must flee, as matters had come to that pass where his life would be unsafe anywhere near the king. This warning was given by a previous arrangement in a field at a distance from the palace. David was hidden behind a great rock. As an excuse, Jonathan went forth to practice archery, with a lad accompanying him to bring back the arrows. His real mission, however, was to advise David whether or not he must flee that vicinity. His words to the lad, "Make speed, haste, stay not," while appropriate to the arrows, were really intended for David, that he might know the urgency of the situation. Then, sending the boy with the weapons to the palace, Jonathan concluded that he must risk a few moments with his friend. By this time David was realizing the depth of Jonathan's love, which had been proved in so many ways and now finally in his willingness to protect David's life, when it would have been to his own interest to permit his father to wreak vengeance upon David. Such a love is rarely known, except amongst the saints; and alas, we fear not too much experienced even amongst these. When, however, we do find a friend who sticketh closer than a brother, we properly appreciate him all the more because of the rarity of his kind.
At this meeting David bowed himself three times to the earth, an eastern custom expressive of humility and appreciation. The friends kissed each other and wept one with another, David ultimately appearing to be the more heartbroken of the two. Although confident in the Lord, he was leaving his home to be an outcast—an outlaw. He not only was losing the companionship of his dear friend Jonathan, but he would be considered by many of the people of his own nation as a traitor, because of the king's opposition and the necessity it would put upon him for becoming a kind of brigand. Then it was that Jonathan said to him, "Go in peace; forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord shall be between thee and me and between thy seed and my seed forever." They parted, according to the record, and never met again except once, a year or two later, when David was pursued by Saul. Then Jonathan went again to his friend to comfort him and "strengthened his hand in God."—1 Sam. 23:16.
A glimpse of David's estimation of Jonathan and his love is given in what is termed "The Song of the Bow," David's touching lament at the death of his friend Jonathan. He exclaims, "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan. Very pleasant hast thou been unto me; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." (2 Sam. 1:26.) But we, dear friends, know of a still more wonderful love than this, of which we sometimes sing,
Love begets love; and so the Scriptures tell us that it was not that we first loved God, but that he first loved us and manifested his love for us in the gift of his Son. So it was the love of Jesus that attracted us and drew forth our love in response. And day by day, as we come to appreciate more and more the heights and depths and lengths and breadths of the love of God and of Christ, which passes all human understanding, the more our love toward them will increase and abound. And as it increases we ourselves become more Godlike and correspondingly also from us proceeds a love for others who love us not; and our love for them will excite the love of some in return, and lead them to a greater appreciation of this principle which stands in opposition to the spirit of the world, the love of the world, the selfishness of the world. Let us then seek to cultivate this godlike quality. Let us notice not only that the Scriptures declare love to be the principal thing in the world, but that it is the very essence of the divine character, the very essence of the divine law which is fulfilled in this one word, Love. Let us remember then that in the exercise of this quality we are preparing ourselves for the glorious possibilities to which we have been invited, and which by our Lord's grace we are seeking to obtain by making our calling and election sure.
In the Scriptures sharp contrasts are drawn; and while this love of Jonathan, and the love of the Father and of the Son are set forth as worthy of emulation, another kind of character is also pictured, as when our Lord is represented in the Psalms as saying respecting Judas, "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." (Psa. 41:9.) Let us see to it that this spirit of love, our spirit of friendship, proceeds, from the fountain of love itself; for God is love. Let us also have in mind the Apostle's declaration that there are only two great sources: a sweet fountain cannot send forth bitter waters, nor a bitter fountain send forth sweet waters. (James 3:11.) Let us, therefore, settle it in our hearts that any spirit of treachery toward a friend, toward a brother, is not in any sense of the word connected with the spirit of love, but in opposition to it. Let us remember that a sweet fountain, a pure fountain, a love-fountain, cannot send forth bitter waters of hate, of malice, of envy, of strife. We must recognize such a stream of evil as coming from a different quarter, a different fountain, from the enemy of God and man. These qualities are therefore set forth in the Scriptures as works of the flesh and of the devil. Let us remember, too, that a radical change from an attitude of love and friendship to an attitude of bitterness and enmity is not an instantaneous but a gradual work. In the case of Judas we see a gradual deflection, which at first merely murmured because others had honors bestowed from the Lord; yet that spirit of murmuring increased, until within a week it took delight in betraying the Friend of all friends, who was even then laying down life on his behalf. Let us remember that by nature we have seeds of evil, of selfishness, received from the Adversary through heredity, through the fall; and that we need continually to be on guard to uproot all such roots of evil, and need continually to be cultivating the tender plant of love, that its fragrance may fill our entire lives and prepare us for association with him who is love and with him who is the friend above all others.
Well has the wise man said that a friend loveth at all times. He who merely loves at a time when he thinks it will be to his own advantage to love knows not love. He who loves, and is a brother in prosperity merely, and whose love and friendship wither under the heat of persecution and adversity, has never known love in its true sense, but merely a certain brand of selfishness—the love of the world.
As God commended his love toward us and showed us that not through selfishness, but generosity, at a great cost [R4224 : page 249] to himself, he provided us release from our prison, and gave us privileges of sonship, so true love will be willing to sacrifice. Let us judge then of our love for others, for the Lord, for the brethren, for our families, for our neighbors, for our enemies even, by our willingness to sacrifice in their interest and for their highest welfare. If we find ourselves sacrificing nothing in the interest of the Lord's cause, let us not delude ourselves by saying that we love the Lord. If we find ourselves unwilling to endure, to sacrifice in the interests of the brethren and others dear to us, let us not mistake the matter and call it love. If we find ourselves unwilling to do kindness even to our enemies when they are in need, let us make no mistake; for the Lord hath declared that a course of goodness and mercy and self-denial is the only index of a loving heart. If once we can see that such a love of heart is essential to a place in the Kingdom it will make us doubly earnest in the attainment of such a character. If still farther than this, we see that none will ever gain eternal life in this age or that which is to come, except as he or she shall possess a heart of love, it will help to awaken us to realize that love indeed is the principal thing, the most important thing to be attained and cultivated by ourselves, yea, by all.
Note Canon Farrar's earnest words: "My brethren, the love that sees goodness and beauty in all human nature, helps to make goodness and to make beauty in human nature. To those who love, even a common person is a human soul, who walks in the transfiguring glory of their affection. You think a person dull. Why? That is because you are dull. An angel has been with you and you have known it not; and I imagine that to a spirit full of malice and self-conceit an angel would be very dull. Each human soul is like a cavern full of gems. The casual observer glances into it through some cranny, and all looks dark, sullen and forgotten. But let light enter into it; lift a torch up to the walls; let God's sunlight fall into it and flood its open recesses; and lo, it will flash with crystals and with amethysts, and each separate crystal will quiver under the touch of brightness with a transporting discovery of its own nature. If souls do not shine before you it is because you are bringing them no light to make them shine. Throw away your miserable, smouldering, fuming torch of conceit and hatred; lift up to them the light of love, and lo! they will arise and shine; yea, flame and burn with an undreamt glory."