The Love of Jonathan, and the Love of Jesus
“Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”— 2 Samuel i. 26.
DAVID was a poet; and when he found that his best-beloved friend had fallen by the arrows of the Philistines, he wept greatly, and then he cheered his heart by writing the very fine elegy, which in after years was called “The Song of the Bow.” Even if David’s lamentation is judged according to the canons of literary taste, it must be placed among the first of poetical compositions. Thus David tried to keep his friend’s memory green; the song was meant to be a memorial of him. Such friends as Jonathan are not common; and when we have had them, we must not forget them.
It is sad that, in these days, friendship is proverbially a frail thing. Friends are like swallows, that are with us in our summertime, and gone when the damps of autumn begin to gather. When a man has a faithful friend, let him grapple him to his side with hooks of steel; and when he loses him, let him know that he has lost what will be very hard to replace, and let him not forget his friend though he be buried beneath the sod. True friendship likes to fashion memorials of the departed. We keep mementoes of the loved ones we have lost, we like to think of the happy days of communion we have had together, and we will not allow the cherished name to be blotted out from the memory of men.
When I thought of this subject, I said to myself, “I shall see many to-night who are lovers of the Lord Jesus Christ; I shall be face to face with thousands who love him as they love their own soul.” I believe that is my happiness now. Well then, beloved friends, let us who love Christ keep him ever in memory. If you can speak of his name, be not silent. If you can make melody, in honour of Jesus, in the great congregation, take down the minstrel’s harp, and lay your fingers among the strings, and bring out sweetest music to his dear name that thousands may hear; but if you have a feebler instrument, sing or play to the two or three, and let those who love you know that you love your Lord best of all. Or if thy tongue fail thee, use thy pen to let men know who Jesus is. Say, with the psalmist, “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the King.”
What shall we do to keep Christ’s name before the sons of men? Let us be inventive, and often make the winds and waves to bear the story of his life and love to those who know it not. I would whisper in the ear of someone, “If thou lovest Jesus, how is it that thou art never at his table?” If there be any way of keeping him in memory, which is better than every other, it is the one which he has himself chosen, “This do in remembrance of me.” How do you excuse yourselves, ye lovers of Christ, who have never kept up this feast of love? This is one of his dying requests, “Meet and remember me”; and yet, though you say that you love him, and I will not challenge the truth of what you say, you have never yielded obedience to his loving request, and come to eat the bread and drink of the cup which are the memorials of his broken body and his poured-out blood. David, thou couldst sing of Jonathan, though there was no law that thou shouldst do so; what wilt thou say of some who love the Christ of God better than thou didst love Jonathan, and yet have never remembered him in the way in which he asked to be remembered, but have cast behind their back the sweet forget-me-not of the table of communion?
Let that stand as a preface. May the Lord put our hearts in tune now while we think upon two things! The first is the small type, Jonathan’s love to David; the second is the infinite anti-type, Christ’s love to men. Perhaps it will be sweetest to-night if we can each one say, “Christ’s love to me. He loved me, and gave himself for me.” That expression will be in harmony with the words of the text, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
I. First, then, we have to think a little about JONATHAN’S LOVE TO DAVID.
Jonathan’s was a singular love, because of the pureness of its origin. Jonathan loved David out of great admiration of him. When he saw him come back with the head of Goliath in his hand, he loved him as a soldier loves a soldier, as a brave man loves another brave man. He felt that there was the right kind of metal in that young man; and though Jonathan was the king’s son, and heir-apparent to the throne, we find that he “stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” He felt that such a hero, who could so trust his God, and so expose his life, and come off so victorious, deserved his utmost love. It did not begin in self-interest, it did not begin in relationship; but it began in the likeness that Jonathan saw between his own nature, and that of David. It was one brave man loving another brave man.
Jonathan’s love proved also to be most intense. It is said that “he loved him as his own soul.” He would at any moment have sacrificed his life to preserve the life of David; in fact, I do not doubt that Jonathan thought David’s life much more valuable than his own, and that he was quite willing to expose himself to peril that David might be preserved. Jonathan’s was a very intense love. May we see more of this kind of love among Christian men! May they love each other for Christ’s sake, and because of the love of God which they see in one another, and may they be intense in their affection!
Jonathan’s love was very disinterested; because, as I have said, Jonathan was heir-apparent to the throne, but David had been anointed king by Samuel. The kingdom was to be taken from the house of Saul, and given to the house of David. Very naturally, the young prince Jonathan might have felt first envy, and then hatred of David, who was to supplant him; but instead of that, he said to him one day, very touchingly, “Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.” He meant to be his friend, and his helper, taking joy in seeing David wear the crown which might have adorned his own brow. Happy Jonathan, to be able to put himself in the background like that, and to feel that, if David was first, it was what he himself desired. That friendship, in which a man can set himself on one side for the sake of another, is not yet so common that we can hawk it in the streets.
Jonathan’s was a love which bore up under all opposition, for he soon found that Saul, his father, in his black heart, hated David. He could, not bear the thought that another man should take the place which he coveted for himself, though he did not himself deserve to keep it. He wished to see David dead; and because Jonathan took David’s part, Saul was exceedingly angry, and made Jonathan’s lot hard to bear; yet Jonathan did not cast off his friend, he clung to David through good report and through evil report. Jonathan was faithful to his father, and very obedient to him; but still he would not give up his friend David, and he would sooner be in jeopardy of the javelin of Saul than end the friendship that existed between himself and God’s chosen servant.
And this love was very active, for you know how he pleaded for David with his father. He went out into the field, and took counsel with David. He arranged plans and methods for David’s preservation; and, on one occasion, we find that he “went to David in the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.” Yes, his love was not a matter of mere talk, it was real, practical, active; it was a love which never failed. When the arrow of the Philistine went through the heart of Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, it struck the name of David that was engraven there.
“He loved him long, and loved him well,
And loved him to the death;”
so that David could truly say, “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Now, dear friends, do you not think that, when wo read a story like that of Jonathan and David, it should stir up in us the desire, not so much to have such a friend, as to be such a friend as Jonathan was to David? Any man can selfishly desire to have a Jonathan; but he is on the right tack who desires to find out a David to whom he can be a Jonathan. There is great joy in life with real friendship on both sides. Some people expect friendship to be always heaping its treasures upon them; but true friendship has two hands, and two feet, and two eyes. You cannot have a real friendship that is all for taking, and never for giving. David loved Jonathan as Jonathan loved David. May that blessed Spirit of God, who teaches us to love even enemies, help us to cultivate sanctified friendships, and to be willing to help those who are our brethren in Christ in time of need!
I shall say no more upon that part of my subject; but I hope it will rebuke some who are no friends at all. Oh, how often have we met with such! They are very friendly when their legs are under your mahogany; but they are not so friendly when you have no mahogany, and have hardly a deal table left. They think all the world of you while you can be a ladder by which they climb the wall of prosperity; but when they are on the top of the wall, they too often say that they never saw that ladder in all their lives, and you may take it away. We continually see that kind of thing among men of the world. May it not be so among Christians! May we be true to all who are our friends, as we would be generous even to any who are our foes, if such persons are in existence!
II. But I want now to talk of something more sweet, and more sure. THE LOVE OF CHRIST TO ME, using the first personal pronoun, because it is in the text: “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
I hope that many here will be helped to use that same pronoun each one for himself or for herself. I do not wish to preach to-night; I want rather to be a sort of fugleman, just to go through the exercises that others may do the same. I am to speak of love which I trust many feel, which I hope they may feel even more than the speaker does; and let it be the ambition of every one of us to love Christ more and more. Let us think of Christ as present here to-night, for so he is, according to his promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” There he stands. With closed eyes, faith perceives him, and she cries, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
I think that we feel this most when we see our Saviour die. Sit down at the foot of the cross, and look up. Behold that sacred brow with the thorny wreath upon it. See those blessed eyes, red with weeping; mark those nailed hands, that once scattered benedictions; gaze on those bleeding feet, which hurried on errands of mercy; watch till you can peer into that gaping side, how deep the gash, how wide the breach, see how the water and the blood come streaming forth! This is the Lord of life and glory, who thus dies amid derision and scorn, suffering the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. Oh, if you can picture Christ on the cross, and believe that he died for you, you will be led to cry, “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of mothers or of wives. Thy love to me was— I cannot describe what it was— it was wonder-ful— as full of wonders as the heavens are full of stars, or as a forest is full of leaves. Thy love, as I see it in thy death, was wonderful.” Do you picture David saying this as he thinks of the body of Jonathan pierced with the arrows of his enemies, “Thy love to me was wonderful”? Will you not stand so to-night, in imagination, over your Saviour’s body, as you see it wrapped in spices, and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea? Ere yet the stone is rolled to the cave’s mouth, will you not look on that mangled form, and say, “In very truth, thy love to me was wonderful”?
Beloved friends, sometimes we feel as if our love to our departed ones would know another great flood-tide if they could come back again. You have lost— no, I will not harrow up your feelings,— you have all lost those most dear, and your sorrow was great as you laid them in the grave ; but if to-night, when you reached your home, you should find, sitting in that room of yours, the beloved one come back, I think that your love would suddenly leap up into an ecstacy, and it would be greater than ever it was before. “Has my husband returned to me? Has my spouse come back to me? Has my mother, my child, been restored to me?” Oh, what a feast of love our souls would have if there could be such a reunion in our bereaved households! Well, remember that he who died for us rose again.
“He lives, the great Redeemer lives,”
lives with our love still within his heart, lives to love us as much in his eternal glory as he did in the shame and spitting while he was on earth. Come, give your love room and space to-night, as you remember him as dead, but rejoice in him as living.
I think, also, that we sometimes feel the greatest love to dear friends when we find others doing them despite. When David found that Jonathan’s body had been dishonoured by the Philistines, that they had taken away the bodies of King Saul and his sons to hang them on the wall of Beth-shan, then was he sorely troubled, and his love broke forth again in sighs, and cries, and tears. And I must say to-night that I love my Lord all the more because of the insults others heap upon him. When I have lately seen books written against his atoning sacrifice, when I meet with men, calling themselves Christians, who speak lightly of the sacred expiation, and even of the divine Person of the great sacrifice, my heart first burns with indignation against the traitors, — true successors of Judas, — and then my soul cries, “My Saviour, by the dishonour that they put on thee, I love thee all the more. By the shame that they again cast on thee, as though thou wert a hundred times crucified, I vow to serve thee with a hundredfold energy and force of concentrated love, for thy love to me was wonderful.” Some can speak lightly of Christ; mayhap they never knew such love as he has shown to me. Some can despise his blood; possibly they were never washed from such sins as mine. Some think lightly of his faith; perhaps they have never had such communion with him as my heart has known; but I must say of him, “Thy love to me was, is, and ever shall be, wonderful, passing all loves supposable in heaven or earth besides.”
Now let me briefly tell the story of that love, — it is a long story, — the love of Christ to me. Part of its wonder lies in the object of this love, that it should be bestowed upon me: “Thy love to me.” Dear brother, dear sister, will you only talk about it just now to yourself? “It is a wonder that Christ should love anybody; but is it not the greatest wonder of all that he should love me? Who am I, and what is my father’s house, that Christ should love me?”
“What was there in you that could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?”
Thy love to me! There was special undesert; there were many reasons why love should have passed me by; but thy love to me was wonderful that thou shouldst single out me. Tell it in heaven that there is no greater wonder there than that Christ should love me; and when you get there, say to all the bright spirits before the throne, “There is no greater wonder in the salvation of you all than there is in my salvation. Thy love to me, my Lord,” and you will bow adoringly at Christ’s feet as you say it, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
Then throw the emphasis on the first word, “Thy love to me,” and you have another part of the wonder, that is, in the Giver of this love. For a man to love me, well, should not men love their kind? But for God to love me, for the Infinite, for the inconceivably lovely One, whose ideal of that which is loveable must be far beyond human conception, for him to love me, this is a miracle indeed. Can you imagine it, that God who is greater than immensity, whose life is longer than time, that God the all-boundless One, should love you? That he should think of you, pity you, consider you, this is all very well; but that he should love you, that his heart should go out to you, that ho should choose you, that he should have graven you on the palms of his hands, that he should not rest in heaven without you, that he should not think heaven complete until he brings you there, that you should be the bride, and Christ the Bridegroom, that there should be eternal love between him and you, oh, as you think of it, lift up your hands with adoring wonder, and say, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
Now begin, if you can, to consider the commencement of this love. When did God begin to love his own elect? There was a time when he began to make the worlds; but from eternity he has loved his chosen. Before the first flash of light illumined the primeval darkness, God loved his people. Before the first pulsation of life came into human bodies, long ere there were such beings as men and women, he loved his own. He saw them in the glass of predestination and foreknowledge, and he loved them then; his delights even then were with the sons of men. His love had no beginning, it was like himself, self -existent, starting from itself, and there never was a time when God did not love his own people. Think of that wonder of grace, that such a speck of dust as you are should have been loved from eternity, that such a handful of ashes as I am should have been loved from before all worlds! Tell it as with voice of trumpet, for God hath said it, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”
Christ’s love, then, is wonderful in its beginning; and when it began to work on me, it was still wonderful, for what did I do? I refused it. When Christ came in robes of love to me, and presented himself as a candidate for my heart’s acceptance, I told him that I would not have him. There was a wanton world that had my heart. There was the devil himself, in all manner of sinful shapes; and he had my hand, and I was his. Was it not so with some of you, that Christ wooed you many a year, and you would not have him? He came to you sometimes threatening, and sometimes inviting; he came to you by providences, by preachers, by books, by his good Spirit; yet though you turned your back on him, he never turned his back on you; he would not take “No” for an answer.
“Determined to save, he watched o’er my path
When, Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death.”
Think of a man, who used to come staggering out of a public-house late at night, yet he is loved of God! Or of a thief, whose hair was cut short in the prison, yet he was loved of God, and here he is to-night sitting at Jesus’ feet, rejoicing in that love! Oh, what songs there will be in heaven concerning the love of Christ to his own, and the rebuffs which the dear Lover of our souls received by the sad, sad usage of ungodly, wilful men! “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
And when Christ’s love led him to come here, and take our nature, was it not wonderful? He reigned enthroned in heaven; seraphim and cherubim gladly did his bidding. He was God, and yet he came down from yonder royal palace to that stable at Bethlehem, and to the manger where the horned oxen fed. ‘Tis he! ‘Tis he! But as George Herbert reminds us, he hath unrobed himself, and hung his azure mantle on the sky, and all his rings upon the stars; and there he lies, a babe in swaddling bands, taking human nature into union with his divinity because he loved us. Truly, thou blessed Child, whom I would take into mine arms as Simeon did, and say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation;” thy love to me was wonderful! Behold Christ with the sceptre of heaven in his hand, and then see him sitting on the edge of a well, talking to an adulterous woman. Gaze on him with the harps of angels ringing out his praise, and then see him with all the riff-raff of Jerusalem scoffing at him, and bidding him come down from the cross. If he stooped to become a man like ourselves, and stooped lower still, even unto death, truly may each saved one cry to him, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
There is one thing that makes the love of Christ more wonderful than anything else, and that is, that he not only took our nature, but he took our sin. There, scrape it up together, the filthy stuff that has made God himself to sicken at the thought of man, I mean, the sin and the pollution of our lives. Behold, the Lord hath gathered it up together in one foul heap, enough to putrefy the universe, and he hath laid it all on Christ, and the great Sin-bearer takes it upon himself as though it were his own, though it was not. He suffers for it, he bears the sentence of justice on account of it, and then he hurls it all away into the abyss of oblivion, where it shall never be found again. My Saviour, didst thou bear my sin in thine own body on the tree? Wast thou condemned for my condemnation? Then, in very deed, thy love to me was wonderful.
I do not know how to break my text up so as to bring it home to each believer; I wish that everyone here, who really has known Christ’s love, would help me by a personal thought upon the brotherly and condescending character of this love. Times have been when we, who love Christ’s name, have been in trouble, and he has been very near to us. Times have been when we have been misrepresented, and abused, and he has smiled, oh, so sweetly on us! Times have been when bodily pain has made us very faint, and he has put underneath us the everlasting arms. Speak as you find, beloved; how have you found the Lord Jesus in your dark days, in your heavy days, in your weary days? Have you not found him a matchless Friend? I can bear my own witness that there is no comfort like his comfort, there is no smile like his smile, there is no touch of help like his delivering hand. “Thy love to me was wonderful.” Sometimes, when I have told the story of God’s goodness to me, a Christian friend has said, “Have you not written all that down?” “No, I have not,” I have replied. “Will you not take care, before you die, that it is all written down?” I have said, “No, I do not know that I shall.” Now perhaps your life’s story will die out with yourself, yet have there not been very marvellous touches of Christ’s love in it? Have there not been windows of agates, and gates of carbuncle, through which you have seen your Lord’s face; and can you not say to-night, looking over your pilgrim path from the first day until now, “Lord, thou hast been ever with me; thy love to me was wonderful in condescending, helpful fellowship in the time of my need”?
Think, also, of the comforting and thoughtful provisions of Christ’s love. Sometimes you have been well-nigh slipping, not merely as to trouble, but as to sin. Our lives are not all to our credit; there have been sad moments, when unbelief has crept in on the back of thoughtlessness, and you have been almost a sceptic. There have been evil moments, when sin has insinuated itself into the imagination, and you have almost done that which would have been your ruin. Have there not been times in your life when you have been smitten, and, if there had not been some One to uphold you, you would have fallen, almost unconsciously fallen, and there have lain down to die? But oh, how Jesus has watched over you, and cared for you! Never mother nursed her babe with such care as Christ has given to you. When you look back, sometimes, and see the pit from which you have been preserved, into which you might have fallen; when you meet with some old friend, who used, years ago, to be singing at your side, but is now a drunkard or profane, and you say, “Why should he be like that any more than I should? Who hath made me to differ? What but the grace of God has kept me until now?” ah, then you see how Christ’s love to you has been wonderful, passing the love of women!
But the love of Christ to us is most of all wonderful in its plans for the future. You know not, and you cannot conceive, what he will yet do for you. You are in trouble, are you? Well, joy cometh in the morning. Just now, you have to drink the bitter cup, and God gives you pills that you do not like. Take them at his hand, for they are meant for your good. ’Tis but a little while, and then sorrow and sighing shall for ever flee away. Has any redeemed man here any notion of what God has prepared for them that love him? You shall stand among the perfected, and go in and out amongst the holy. You shall be where no trouble shall ever reach you, or even the noise and dash of a wave of sorrow ever reach your ears. You shall be where it shall be your felicity to serve God without mistake, without transgression, and without omission. You shall behold the face of the King in his beauty, not now and then, but for ever without a cloud or a veil between. You shall find it your delight to praise him; and your voice shall be heard amid the choirs of the glorified as you adore the Lamb whose love to you has been so wonderful. And what will be your employments in heaven? Ah, that I cannot tell you; but they shall be employments that shall be equally honourable and delightful!
I have told you before what I sometimes dream shall be my lot in glory, to stand not here, and preach to a handful of people, though it be verily a large handful ; but to stand upon some starry orb, and preach of Christ to whole constellations at once, and thunder out my remembrances of his sweet love to myriads of beings who have never heard of him as yet, for they have never sinned, but who will drink in all the tidings of what Jesus did for sinful men. And each of you, according to your training for it, shall make known to angels, and principalities, and powers, the manifold wisdom of God. There is plenty of room for you all, for God’s universe will need millions upon millions of messengers to go through it all, and tell out the story of redeeming love. And we, I believe, are here in training for that eternal work of making known to illimitable regions of space, and countless myriads of intelligent beings whom God has created, but who have never fallen, the story of this little planet, and of the God who loved it so that he came here, and died that he might save his people from their sins.
Get ready, brethren, for the eternity which is so near. Within about a hand’s breadth, you and I shall be in eternity. Even if we live to be eighty or ninety, or fulfil the tale of a hundred years, it is but a little while, and we shall have quitted these dark shores, and landed in the everlasting brightness of endless glory, that is, if we know the love of Christ to-day, and trust in Christ to-day. We shall go on and on for ever and for ever experiencing more and more of this great truth, “Thy love to me was wonderful.”
Now let each one answer this question, — Can you say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me”? If not, you are an unhappy man. God make you even more unhappy until you come and look to Jesus Christ, as men looked to the brazen serpent; and as by their looking they were healed, so by your looking may you be made to live to-night! Remember that—
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner— look unto him, and be saved—
Unto him who was nail’d to the tree.”