Friendship with Christ
J. R. Miller, 1905
"Having loved His own who were in the world—He loved them unto the end!" John 13:1
The ideal Christian life—is a personal and growing friendship with Jesus Christ. Yet some people have difficulty in understanding how a personal friendship can be formed with one they cannot see, whose voice they cannot hear, whose touch they cannot feel. But friendship with Christ is not dependent on sight or touch or hearing. He can make Himself known to our hearts in spiritual revealings. One saintly man said, "I know no other friend—so well as I know Jesus Christ."
We may find much in human friendship that will make friendship with Christ plain to us. It is more than mere acquaintance. There are many who have superficial ideas about friendship. They will talk to you about their "group of friends." But no one can really have a group of friends. A quaint minister used to say that he could fill the meeting-house with those who were friendly to him—but that the pulpit would hold all his friends. People tell you that this man and that one and the other are their friends. What they might say truthfully, is that these men are their acquaintances. They meet them now and then in business or socially, and their relations are cordial and kindly. But that is not friendship. It may be something very beautiful, very charming, very inspiring and helpful. Mere friendliness has its blessings. Acquaintanceship has its cheer, its inspirations, its influence in our lives. But friendship is something far deeper. It knits lives together closely and indissolubly.
There are many who call themselves friends of Christ—who likewise are little more than mere acquaintances. They know Him only in a superficial way. They are not bound to Him by any strong tie. They easily drift away from Him. That is not friendship. You do not want for your friend—one who is with you today and off tomorrow. A friend is one who loves and does not cease to love. Christ having loved His people—loves them unto the end. His ideal of friendship was—once a friend, always a friend. "If the friendship ceases or breaks—it never was a friendship."
Friendship with Christ should carry the whole heart and life with it, and nothing should ever weaken it or wear it out. Then it should be close, tender, intimate. It is not enough to have a mere distant acquaintance with Christ—He wants us to be His heart-friends. It is not enough to know a great deal about Christ—we must know Him by personal knowledge and affection.
One quality of true friendship, is trust. Not only do you love to be with your friend—but in his presence you have no fear. You do not have to be on your guard when with him, lest you say a word too much or too little. You have no fear that he will misunderstand you. Out in the world, you have to be most careful always, for sometimes those about you are watching to see something to criticize in you, or to use against you. The enemies of Jesus watched Him to discover something with which to accuse Him. But there was none of this atmosphere of suspicion about Him, when He went into the home of Martha and Mary. The moment He entered that door—He was safe. He did not need then to be on His guard.
In one of Mrs. Craik's books, is a sentence which gives an exquisite picture of this phase of friendship. "Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words—but only to pour them all right out just as they are—chaff and grain together—knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away!" What could be more sacred than this comfort of feeling safe with a person, absolutely safe? That is the kind of friend Jesus is. You may always feel safe with Him. You may confess all your sins to Him. You may tell Him all your faults and your failures—how you denied Him the other night, how you failed to be true to Him, and all the evil thoughts of your heart; and He will be just as tender and gracious—as if you never had sinned. He loves unto the end!
None of us would want to have our hearts photographed and the picture held up before the eyes of our neighbors! We would not want even our best friends to see a full transcript of our secret life—what goes on within us—the jealousies, the envyings, the bitter feelings, the impure thoughts, the meannesses, the selfishnesses, the suspicions, the doubts and fears! Yet Christ sees all this unworthy inner life, and loves us still. We need never be afraid to trust Him with the knowledge of the worst that is in us! We do not need to hide our weaknesses from Him. His friendship knows all—and yet loves us better than it knows. He never withdraws His love. That is Christ's side. We may trust Him absolutely and forever!
But how about our friendship for Him? Can He trust us as absolutely? May He always be sure of finding us loyal and true wherever we are? When He has placed us anywhere, at any post, to do any duty—may He know that He will find us there, whatever perils may sweep round us? Did you ever think that Christ trusts you? You trust Him—and you know that He will never fail you. Not one of His words ever can pass away. You may lean upon Him in time of danger, and He will sustain you, and hold you up.
But do you ever think that He trusts you also? He gives you a duty, and He depends upon you to perform it. He sets you to be His witness at some point, and He expects you to be loyal, faithful, even unto death. He sends someone to be guarded by you, cared for, guided, protected. Are you always faithful to your trust?
A general blamed the defeat of his army, in a great battle, on one commander who failed to hold a certain point, as was expected of him. His failure compelled the whole army to retreat. Jesus sets each one of us to stay at a certain point—to hold it for Him. Our failure may bring disaster to some great plan, may lead to the defeat of a whole division of His army and the harming of His cause in a whole community. Christ trusts us and entrusts to us great interests and destinies. Let us never fail Him. We may always trust Him. But may He trust us always? Are His interests safe in our keeping?
Another quality in true friendship is readiness to serve. A friend keeps nothing back when there is need for help. A prize was offered for the best definition of a friend. Many people competed—but the definition which was adjudged the best and to which the prize was awarded was, "A friend—the first person who comes in—when the whole world has gone out."
Some of us know the truth of this definition by experience. There was a time when we needed a friend, and one by one our acquaintances and those who called us friend, passed by and passed on and away—cold, unsympathetic, unheeding, leaving us to struggle alone with our burden, our need, or our responsibility. Then when all had gone out—there came one, cheerful, brave, strong, unselfish, speaking the word or doing the deed which brought us relief, so that we could go on our way without failing.
It is such a friend that Christ is to us—when all the world has gone out, and no one is ready to help—He comes in; when all human friends have failed us—He stands beside us, strong and faithful. Human love may be true—but at best its power is limited. It can go only one short mile with us, and then must fall out, fall behind, leaving us to go on alone. It has no wisdom to help beyond the merest borders of experience. We are powerless in the presence of any great human need.
Yet true friendship can do much. One wrote to a friend—that whenever he crossed the friend's threshold with a grief—he always went away without it. He had never come heart-hungry, without being fed and having his sorrow comforted. Never had the friend's door been closed to him, for even one little day. Yet there came a day when even that door was closed, when that friendship gave no help, no response, no consolation, no comfort. Human friendship is wondrously sweet—yet there come experiences when the truest, strongest human friend—can do nothing. But when all the world has gone out—Christ will come in. He is an unfailing, an eternal Friend.
Here again, however, we must think of our side of this friendship. Christ is ready always to serve us, even to the uttermost. There is nothing He will not do for us in our time of need. But are we as ready to serve Him? Do we ever drop out when the duty becomes hard, when the burden grows heavy, when danger is before us? It should be true of us that when all others fail Christ—we shall come in with our service, our self-sacrifice.
Sometimes the best proof of friendship, is in its asking hard things. In war, the commander does not shield his friend from danger. There is a story of a great general who called for someone to lead a forlorn hope—when his own son volunteered. The old soldier's eyes lighted with love and pride. Handing the standard to his boy, he said, "There is your task. Yonder is the enemy. Go forward!" One can conceive of love that would have withheld the boy from the splendid heroism, because of the peril in it. But that would not have been soldierly love. The father was glad to encourage the bravery in his boy whatever the cost might be.
Just so, the friendship of our Master does not restrain us from hard tasks, from costly sacrifices, and we must be as ready for these severer tests of friendship, as for the easier ones. The more heroic the service to which we are called, the greater is the honor conferred upon us, and the more careful must we be not to fail or disappoint our Lord.
Another quality of true friendship, is its longing for companionship, for fellowship, for communion. Many of us know the wretchedness which comes because of necessary separation from those who are dear to us.
It grieves our Master to have us absent from Him. Yet do we never leave His side? We grieve Him if we drift away from Him. We please Him if we yield our whole life to Him in the perfect abandonment of love and trust. Then wherever we go, amid whatever struggles or temptations, or into whatever worldly experiences, we shall be kept at one with Him, His heart and ours knit together, His life and ours blending in one.