By Clovis G. Chappell
I Samuel 23:16
"And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David into the wood and strengthened his hand in God." "Going visiting" is a very commonplace occurrence. Oftentimes the visits we make are thoroughly trivial and unimportant. But there are other times when our visits take on a profound significance. There are times when they mark a crisis. There are times when they set in motion influences that tell on the entire future of those whom we visit. There are times when they mean the making or the marring of a human soul.
Now, this visit about which we are to study to-day is no ordinary visit. I think it is one of the most beautiful stories to be found in literature. This visit was made many centuries ago. It was made in an obscure corner of the earth, and yet it has never been forgotten. It never will be. The Inspirer of the Word saw in it too much of worth and winsomeness to allow it to slip out of the memories of men. It is remembered to-day, not because Jonathan left his calling card on David's center table. It is remembered because the visit was so blessedly beautiful.
It is a great privilege that God has given us in allowing us to visit each other. We can help so much by it if we will. Wasn't that a lovely visit that the old school master made to Marget that time in "Beside the Bonny Briar Bush" when he came to tell her that she had a "laddie of parts"? And wasn't it still more beautiful when he came later, rugged old Scotchman that he was, to burst into tears of wild joy over the good news he brought her that her son had won first prize in the great university?
Wasn't that a lovely series of visits that a kindly old man made to the room of the little laddie who had swept the street crossing before he had been crippled in the discharge of his duty? A city missionary went in to see him and asked him if he had had anybody to visit him. "Oh, yes," was the answer. "A good man comes every day and talks to me, and sometimes he reads the Bible to me and prays." "What is his name?" asked the missionary. And the little fellow studied a moment and said, "I think he said his name was Gladstone." England's grand old man appears to us in many a charming role, but in none is he more manly and commanding than in this of visiting a little crippled waif in a London attic.
Florence Nightingale was a lovely visitor. Do you recall that exquisite bit of poetry in conduct on the field of Crimea? A soldier was to go through a painful operation. An anaesthetic could not be administered and the doctor said the patient could not endure the operation. "Yes, I can," said the patient, "under one condition: if you will get the 'Angel of the Crimea' to hold my hand." And she came out to the little hospital at the front and held his hand. Glorious visit. No wonder the man went through the operation without a tremor.
But the visit of our text,--to me it is more wonderful still. The truth of the matter is, I know of but one other visit that ever took place that is finer and more beautiful. You know what visit that was. It was the visit that One made to a manger in Bethlehem nineteen centuries ago. That was a visit that remade the world. It was so wonderful that a star pointed it out with finger of silver, and our discordant old earth was serenaded with the music of that land of eternal melody. But aside from that one visit, I think this the most beautiful one ever recorded.
What is the secret of its beauty? First, it was beautiful in its courageous loyalty. You know who Jonathan was. He was the King's son. He was popular, handsome and courageous. So lithe, athletic and graceful he was that they called him "the gazelle." He was a prince. He was heir-apparent to the throne of Israel.
And you know, also, who David was. He was at that time in disgrace. He was under the frown of the King. He was being hunted from one refuge to another like a wild beast. To be his friend was to be the enemy of the King. To smile upon him was to meet the frown of the King.
But notwithstanding the fact that these men were so far apart, one a favorite prince and the other an outcast peasant, yet we find the prince visiting the peasant. You say they were friends. Yes, that is true, deeply true. But their friendship had started in other days. When David and Jonathan first met they met under altogether different circumstances. You know when Jonathan first saw David. It was when David returned from his fight with Goliath, with the bloody head of the giant in his hand. He met him amidst the hurrahs and the wild enthusiasm of the people. He met him on one of the great red letter days of David's life, when he sprang suddenly from obscurity to be a national hero.
It does not seem so surprising, therefore, when we read that on this day "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David." David was courageous. David had shown himself a hero. David was a favorite with the King and a favorite with the people. It took no great effort to love him then. It took no great courage to be his friend. But all is changed now. The King no longer loves him, but hates him and seeks his life. The sun of his popularity has gone into eclipse. We wonder if Jonathan's friendship will stand the test.
And again we turn and read the text: "And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David into the wood and strengthened his hand in God." What beautiful loyalty. What fine fidelity. How blessed is David in the friendship of a man who can love him in the sunshine and who can love him no less in the midst of the shadows. How blessed he is in the friendship of one who can stand by him when many lips praise him and who can also stand by him when many abuse him, and many criticise him and many lift their hands against him. Truly this man loves David for himself alone.
Second, this visit is beautiful because of its fine and costly sympathy. Jonathan really sympathized with David in his trials and his difficulties. He did not express that sympathy in any cheap and distant way. He might have sent David word that if he needed anything just to let him know. He might have dispatched a servant to comfort David in his sore trials. But he did not try to express his sympathy at long distance. He went to David. He came to handclasp with the man that he wished to help.
Now, I am perfectly aware of the fact that much of our sympathy must be expressed at a distance. For instance, we cannot all go to the foreign field. We must express our interest in those who have not had our opportunities by our gifts. Much of the service we render in our own land must be rendered in the same way. But when that is said, the fact still remains that there is nothing that will take the place of our hand-to-hand dealing with those who need us. We cannot perform all our charities by proxy. We must come in personal contact with those whom we would help.
There is one poem I think that we have a bit overworked:
"Let me live in my house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by. They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish--and so am I. So why should I sit in the scorner's seat, Or hurl the cynic's ban? Let me live in my house by the side of the road, And be a friend to man.
"I see from my house by the side of the road, By the side of the highway of life, The men that press on with the ardor of hope, And the men who are faint in the strife. But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears, Both parts of an infinite plan. Let me live in my house by the side of the road, And be a friend to man.
"I know there are brook gladdened meadows ahead, And mountains of wearisome height. And the road passes on through the long afternoon, And stretches away to the night. But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice, And weep with the strangers that moan, Nor live in my house by the side of the road, Like one who dwells alone."
Now that is good, but after all,--
"It's only a half truth the poet has sung Of the house by the side of the way. Our Master had neither a house nor a home, But He walked with the crowd day by day. I think when I read of the poet's desire That a house by the road would be good, But service is found in its tenderest form As we walk with the crowd in the road.
"So I say let me walk with the men in the road, Let me seek out the burdens that crush; Let me speak a kind word of good cheer to the weak Who are falling behind in the rush. There are wounds to be healed, there are breaks we must mend, There are cups of cold water to give, And the man in the road by the side of his friend, Is the man who has learned how to give.
"Then tell me no more of the house by the road, There is only one place I can live. It is there where the men are toiling along, Who are needing the help I can give. 'Tis pleasant to dwell in the house by the road, And be a friend, as the poet has said, But the Master is bidding us, Bear ye their load, Your rest waiteth yonder ahead.
"So I can not remain in the house by the road, And watch as the toilers pass on, Their faces beclouded with pain and with shame, So burdened, their strength nearly gone. I will go to their side, I will speak in good cheer, I will help them to carry their load. And I'll smile at the man in the house by the way, While I walk with the crowd in the road.
"Out there in the road that runs by the house Where the poet is singing his song, I'll walk and I'll work midst the heat of the day, And I'll help falling brothers along. Too busy to dwell in the house by the way, Too happy for such an abode, And my glad heart will sing to the Master of all, Who is helping me serve in the road."
And the beauty and glory of this lovely visit that Prince Jonathan made to David, the outcast, was that he walked with him in the road. He did not dwell in his princely palace and send him some money. He did not allow him, as Dives allowed Lazarus, to gather up the crumbs. He went to him. And because he went to him he helped him. Oh, heart, that is the secret of the salvation wrought by our Lord. He came to us. Had He merely come for the day and gone back to Heaven at night, He would never have saved us. He came into personal contact with us. That is how He lifts us.
This visit was beautiful, in the third place, because of its high and holy purpose. I see Jonathan as he is turning his face toward the forest where David is hiding. I say to him, "Prince Jonathan, you are going down to see David, I understand. Why are you going?" This is his answer: "I am going down to strengthen his hand in God. You know David has had a hard time recently. He has been sorely tried. He has been bitterly disappointed. He has passed through one great sorrow after another. I am afraid his faith is going to be destroyed. I am afraid he will lose his grip of God unless I go to see him and help him and strengthen his hand in the Lord. And that is why I am going."
And so Jonathan hurries on. And the angels must have crowded the windows of heaven to behold him as he walked upon this glorious errand. I would go a bit out of my way any time to get to see a man who is going to see his friend, not to ask for help, but going for the one big purpose of making the man whom he is to visit a little stronger, a little better, a little more loyal to his Lord.
And not only did Jonathan go for that purpose, but he succeeded in it. When he left David, he left him a stronger man. I do not know what he said to him. That is not recorded. I do not know that he quoted scripture to him or even prayed with him. He may have. He may not have. It is not absolutely necessary to have prayer always in order to strengthen our friend in the Lord. Sometimes all we need to do is just to talk to him and let him talk, and convince him that we sympathize with him, that we are interested in him. And having done that, somehow he comes more and more to believe in God's interest.
But whatever Jonathan said, David was stronger and better and braver after he had gone. I think I can hear him as he looks after the retreating figure going through the forest. And what he is saying to himself is this, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name." And I think when the books are balanced in Heaven that Jonathan will get quite a bit of credit for David's exquisite music. There are terrible clashes in his songs. "He that did eat of my bread hath lifted up his heel against me." Jonathan did not inspire that. But there is many a blessed passage that might never have been written but for the loyal and loving and constant friendship of Prince Jonathan.
And last of all, this visit was beautiful in its self-forgetfulness. Its beauty reached its climax here. Just think of the circumstances. Samuel, the prophet, has declared that David is to be king. But in everybody's mind, the throne by right belongs to Jonathan. David is in perplexity. He is on the point of losing his faith. If he loses it he never will be king. This will give Jonathan his chance.
Now, why, I wonder, didn't Jonathan feel about this matter as many of us would? Why did he not hold aloof and say, "If David fails and loses his chance it is no fault of mine. If he fails it will only mean that he will not take away the throne that by right belongs to me." No attitude would have been more human than this. I do not know how many nights Jonathan spent in prayer to be delivered from the bondage of his selfishness. But I do know this, that he was delivered.
And I want you to watch him as he goes down into this forest to see David to-day to strengthen his hand in God. I said we do not know his conversation with David. We do know a bit of it, and that is this, that he encouraged David to believe God, to believe this one particular promise at least, that God was going to see to it that David was king. And when you see Jonathan going thus into the woods he is going for the deliberate purpose of taking the crown off his own brow and putting it upon the brow of another. He is abdicating the throne in behalf of this outcast friend of his who is hiding here in the forest.
You will doubtless agree, therefore, that this old world has not been blessed with many visits so beautiful as this. Watch this Prince as he goes into the wood. His stride is like that of another:
"Into the woods my Master went, Clean forspent, forspent; Into the woods my Master came, Forspent with love and shame. But the olive trees were not blind to Him, And the little gray leaves were kind to Him, And the thorn tree had a mind to Him, When into the woods He came.
"Out of the woods my Master went, And He was well content; Out of the woods my Master came, Content with death and shame. When death and shame would woo Him last, From under the trees they drew Him last, 'Twas on a tree they slew him--last When out of the woods He came."
Yes, Jonathan went into the woods to uncrown himself! to empty himself for his friend! Truly "the spirit and mind was in him that was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not a thing to be clung to to be equal with God, but emptied Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
But the "practical" man stands aside and looks on and says, "Jonathan, you have made a great mistake. You never wore a crown and you never wielded a scepter. You took your opportunity for earthly greatness and threw it away. It was a great mistake." And we take the words of Judas and say, "Why this waste?"
But after all, was it a mistake? He lost his crown, but he won his friend. He helped banish the discord and increased the melody of the world. He threw aside his scepter of temporal power to lay hold on an eternal scepter. He threw aside the crown that he might have worn for a day to lay hold on a crown that will last forever more.
If ever I get to Heaven I expect to give particular attention to the Visitors' Gallery. I think there is going to be an especial place, a very choice place in Heaven for the visitors. Not, you will understand, for those who are visiting Heaven, but those who were good at visiting here. For mark you, the Lord has spoken of a special reward that He is going to give to those of whom He could say, "Ye visited me." And about the handsomest, the loveliest face I expect to find among the immortal and blood-washed visitors is the face of this man Jonathan.
And now, will you hear this closing word? Jonathan uncrowned himself for his friend. And he won his friend and he won an immortal crown. But there was another who gave up infinitely more than Jonathan. And He came to you and me when we were in an infinitely worse plight than that in which David was. He came to us when we were dead in trespasses and in sin. And what He says to us this morning is this, "I have called you friends. Ye are my friends."
The Prince who did that for us was not the son of Saul, but the Son of God. Through His renunciation He was crowned. By His stooping He was forever elevated. "Wherefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name." But what I ask is this: Have you responded to His friendship as David responded to that of Jonathan? He has been a friend to you. Have you, will you be a friend to Him? That is what He is seeking. That is what He is longing for to-day as for nothing else in earth or Heaven.
You know why He came. You know why He is here now. Why did Jonathan visit David in the gloomy wood that day and uncrown himself for him? It was just this reason: It was because he loved him. Again and again the story had said that Jonathan loved David as his own soul. I thought it was a mere hyperbole at first. I thought it might be a kind of poetic way of putting it, but it was only sober truth. And David spoke sober truth in that noble and manly lamentation when he said, "Thy love was wonderful to me, passing the love of women."
And it is love that seeks you and me to-day. It is a love that longs to gain our friendship. It is a love that had been told to us, but at last was shown to us in the death of the cross. And we know it is true. David responded to the love that was shown him. He did not disappoint his friend. May the Lord save you and me from disappointing our Friend. "For He is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother."