The shadow stands out blackest when the sun is out brightest. It will help here if we can get a clear, simple definition of just what love is, and so of what friendship is. There is nothing discussed more, and maybe understood less. There is no word harder to find a definition of, and yet no word that can be more simply defined.
Love is the thoughtful outgoing of one's whole nature to another. It is really an act of the will, though most times unconsciously so. It belongs distinctly in the realm of choice. It is not essentially an emotion merely, though it sweeps all the emotional power of a man like the whirlwind sweeps down the valley. It is not of the heart primarily, though it absolutely controls the heart. It is wholly in itself a matter of choice. The will gathers up all the information at hand, and displays it skilfully before the heart until it is enraptured and completely swept along as the will meant it should be.
"—When a soul, by choice and conscience, doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both
Make mere life, love. For life in perfect whole
And aim consummated, is love in sooth,
As nature's magnet-heat rounds pole with pole" (Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)
This does not mean at all that a man usually thinks of love that way;' nor that he is conscious of doing the thing in this way. Yet this is what is done in greater or less degree wherever there is love; and it is the greater degree where the love grows strong. Of course this is talking about the real thing, as it grew up in the heart of God, and grows up in human hearts.
We must remember that there are the immature stages of love. There is a great deal of what may, for lack of a better word, be called "chance" or "unchoosing" love. That is to say, an attachment or liking grows up between two who are thrown together constantly, without any element of choosing entering in. So brothers and sisters grow up side by side. They have no choice in being there in the same family with the others. Mere contact brings this "chance" or "unchoosing" love, in which choice plays no part. Though this may at any point begin to grow up into the real love that chooses, and of course does so constantly, in countless numbers of instances.
Many marriages are made, in which, while each of course chooses the other, yet the element of mere chance, an unchoosing nearness and liking, plays by far the larger part, and so sooner or later they are separated because that sort of love can't stand the brunt of real life. The easy modern courts furnish no end of illustrations here. Yet all this so-called "chance" or "unchoosing" love furnishes fertile soil for the coming of the real thing. Out of it there is constantly growing, usually by imperceptible stages, a choosing love. This may be called an immature stage of real love.
Then there are things that are merely like love. The word "love" is constantly used in daily talk for that which is not love, though it has a near likeness to it. The word "like" is a really strong word. It is even given by the dictionaries as a synonym for love, and is so used constantly. Yet it suggests only the impression that things or persons make upon us, but with no answering suggestion of what we may choose to do as a result of that impression. Therein it is radically different from love. It should be used much oftener where the word "love" is now commonly used. Yet this is not meant at all to criticise the usage, but only to help us to clearer thinking, and so into the clover fields of real love.
And then, even more than these, there is the constant mixture of love, real love, with base, bad motives and emotions. Much that is not pure and good gets so mixed up in the human heart with real love, that it is impossible for the human eye to see the line between. Selfishness is a foul poison ivy that has overspread all life until we even fail to recognise it as a poison. Its tendrils are very small and thin, but of remarkable toughness, and with a peculiarly tenacious, clinging clutch. Its lean, pointed fingers run in everywhere. They reach in, and coil themselves around the purest, holiest things, and into the most hallowed corners of the saintliest of hearts. Selfishness takes on the colour of its surroundings until the keenest eye is deceived, and the most thoughtful heart befooled. No corner, and no thing seem quite free of its subtle slimy touch.