The need of friendship is the deepest need of life. Every heart cries out for it. Perhaps no shortcoming is so common in otherwise virtuous lives as the failure to be a true friend to those about us. Jesus Christ gave us the pattern for all beautiful life, but in nothing did He show us more plainly and more urgently the way to live than in His wonderful friendliness to man. We begin to be like Christ only when we begin to be a friend to everyone, embodying the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39)
Jesus was the friendliest man who ever lived in this world. Many human friendships are narrow, exclusive, selfish. Toward a few people they are intense, devoted, loyal, self-denying, wondrously beautiful—but all the rest of the race they shut out. They have no thought of extending the privileges and blessings of their friendship beyond a limited circle. Christ’s friendship was broad, generous, unselfish. He wished all men to accept it and to be helped by it. One of the ancients said that his aim was to have his house by the side of the road and be “a friend to man.”1 It was thus that Jesus lived. He did not hide away in caves or mountains so that men could not find Him. He lived among people. He did not hedge Himself about with rules and conventionalities to protect Himself from unwanted intrusions. He was always accessible. He ever sought to be among men and to reach men. He accepted invitations to social functions at men’s homes so that He might get near to those who needed to be helped. He did not confine Himself as the friend of the few—the men of education, culture, refinement, rank, power. He was just as approachable to the poor, the ignorant, the crude, and the obscure as He was to the great and noble.
Jesus loved the common people, and went about continually among them, because they were conscious of their needs and were ready to accept the help He was so eager to give. Indeed, few other kind of people came to Him or were numbered among His friends, for the proud and exclusive did not want Him. To the poor the gospel was preached. Most of His disciples were peasants or lowly ones. He was the friend of men. He lived “by the side of the road,” where the throngs were ever passing, and He was always helping somebody.
Jesus was friendly not only to the good, the respectable, the moral, but also to the disreputable, the outcast, the fallen. One of the charges brought against Him by His enemies was that He was “a friend of publicans and sinners.” (Matthew 11:9) To them, this was grave condemnation. But this was actually part of the glory of Christ’s life. He said He had “come to seek and to save [the] lost” (Luke 19:10)—that is, the worst. He spoke of Himself as a physician (Mark 2:17). Think of a physician refusing to go among the sick or to be their friend! His mission is to those who need Him. One minister had the motto, “The man who wants me is the man I want.”2 That is what Jesus would have said. He was a friend to men—to every man. He had an errand to every man. He had something He wanted to give to every man, a blessing He wanted to bestow on everyone. He loved every man.
Some have suggested that a colony be established that would exclude all ignorant and obnoxious people. That was not the thought of Christ in founding His church. He was not in quest of pleasure and congeniality when He went among men, but of helpfulness to others, uplifting, taking the unworthy, the unholy, the outcast, and making them children of God. Therefore He was a friend to the worst, that He might make them fit to be among the best.
We must remember that Jesus Christ was the revelation of God to men. God could not be understood, coming as a spirit; could not get near to men, could not make Himself known to them. So He came in human form, in human flesh, with human touch, human sympathy and human speech. The friendship which Christ offered to men, was more than human friendship, even the richest and the best; it was divine friendship, with infinite blessing and good in it.
We think then of Jesus as a friend to man. We speak of friends as those with whom we form close and unique relations. Nearly everyone has one or more close friends who come into the inner circle, who become sharers of the joys and sorrows, the cares, the blessings of his life. We tell young people that they must be most careful in choosing their friends. They must not offer themselves on every altar. They must not open the door to everyone who knocks. Intimate friendship is a most sacred relation. We are to love all men and to seek to do them good—but we are not to naively befriend all with our intimacy and trust.
In speaking of the friendships of Christ, we must keep in mind this distinction. He also had His near and intimate friends, to whom He revealed His whole heart, whom He took into the closest relations. “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you,” (John 15:15) He said to His disciples. In this sense He was exclusive in His friendships—but there was a sense in which He was everybody’s friend.
The same should be true of all who are the friends of Christ. We are to take into our inner heart those who have entered into the sacred things of life with us. And, like Him, we should also be the friend of everyone, ready to do the offices of friendship to all.
As we read the story of our Lord’s life, we see Him going among people everywhere with a heart full of interest and sympathy. Most men are kindly disposed to certain people, and are willing to do what they can to help them—but they select those to whom they would thus be friendly, and then close their hearts upon others. Christ never shut His heart on anyone! He was ready to give love to everyone. It is usually not the one who is most congenial who most needs our friendship. It is easy to be a friend to one who is agreeable, who is bright and sunny, who is brilliant and entertaining in conversation, who can give as well as receive. We all enjoy being a friend to such a person. It lays no burden upon us. But are we ready and willing to be a friend to those who are unattractive and uncongenial, even disagreeable, who have nothing to give to us in return, who have only needs, cares, and burdens to share with us, to those we have to lift and carry? That is where friendship is tested.
When we say to someone, “I will be your friend,” we never know what this promise is going to cost us before life ends. When a man and a woman at the marriage altar pledge their loyalty, promising to love and cherish each other till death shall separate them, they do not know what they are promising. In our common relations in life, what is called friendship does not always mean willingness to be a friend to anyone who needs our help, whatever the cost may be. In fact, it may be only a very narrow, selfish, unworthy thing—not ready to make any sacrifice, to bear even the smallest burden, to endure the least suffering.
But with Christ, friendship meant the acceptance of any cost of self-denial, pain, and sacrifice which might be required in doing love’s duties. He did not choose to be a friend only to those who would bring delight and cheer to Him, who would lighten His burdens, or at least not make His load heavier. But rather He offered to become a friend to all men, regardless of their ability to serve Him or to be a comfort to Him. His offer of friendship was unlimited, without reserve, universal. The people who flocked to Jesus were chiefly those who were poor, who were sick or lame or blind, or had some weakness or trouble. Every one of them, even the unworthiest or the most disagreeable, found in Him a friend. He was gracious to them in their distress. Trouble was the key to his heart. He had compassion on grief and all kinds of need. This is always true of Christ. He chooses those to whom He will be a friend, and He especially chooses those who need Him. Need is always that which attracts His attention.
That is what true human friendship should always do: think of those who most need to be helped or cheered. If there are two homes to which you may go some evening—one where all is gladness and song, and the other in which there is sickness or sorrow, or over which some shadow has fallen—it is easy to know to which home Christ would go if He were in your place. Need was the magnet which drew Him.
Christ had also His special friendships. While He built His house by the side of the road where people were always thronging and was a friend to all men, eager to help any who needed help, He craved—just as every noble heart craves—a few close personal friends, to whom He gave His affection, in whose love He lived, with whom He shared the most holy intimacies of His heart. While He was always feeding others, He needed Himself to be fed. While He poured out love in constant streams to bless those who came to Him with their cravings, He needed to have His own heart warmed and filled continually with love’s inspirations.
The apostles were chosen by Christ to be with Him in the inner circle. He chose them thoughtfully, deliberately, carefully. It was after they had been with Him as companions and followers for months, that He selected the twelve from the larger company of disciples, so that He might have them with Him all the time.
Before He chose them, we are told that He spent the whole night in prayer. So much depended on this choice, it was so important that no mistake should be made, that He must be sure of His Father’s approval of the friends He was to take into His inner life. At no time do we more need divine wisdom in our experience, than when we are deciding whether or not we shall accept this or that person as our intimate friend. All our future will be affected by the decision, and all our life colored by it. Many a career is blighted by a hasty, prayerless choice of a personal friend.
What Christ was to the twelve as a friend is theme great enough for a volume. Think, for example, what He was to Peter. Peter came to Him as a man full of faults, rude, undisciplined, unlettered, rash, and impetuous. Nobody ever thought of the old fisherman as having any promise of beauty or good, or any power or greatness in him. But the moment Jesus saw him He said, “Thou art Simon: thou shalt be called Peter” (John 1:42). He saw the possibilities in this man of the fishing-boat—possibilities of large-heartedness, of noble leadership, of great influence, of apostleship. We know what Peter was when Christ was through making him. He is known all over the world today. If Christ had not found him, he would never have been anything but Simon, a rough, swearing fisherman, casting his nets for a few years into the Sea of Galilee, then dying unhonored and being buried in an unmarked grave by the sea. His name never would have been known in the world. Think what Peter is today in history, in influence upon the countless millions of lives that have been blessed through him. All this is because Christ found him and became his friend.
Think what Jesus was to John. John was little more than a boy when he first met Jesus that afternoon by the sea. He, too, was a fisherman. We do not know much of his home or family. It is generally supposed that he was of a resentful disposition. He wished to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that refused shelter to Jesus and His disciples. John and his brother James were called Boanerges, “sons of thunder,” the name perhaps indicating the vehemence and the severity of their disposition. Yet John became the apostle of love. He was the most beloved of all our Lord’s disciples. He lay on His breast at the last supper. To him Jesus entrusted His mother when He was dying on the cross. The influence of John in the Christian church is most gentle and softening. Paul has far more to say in his epistles about love than John has in his writings, but the personality of John as it lives today in the world has made an atmosphere like that of a genial, fragrant summer, an atmosphere next to that of the Master’s own name and life, an atmosphere of sweetness, of love, of tenderness. All this in the John we know was made through the friendship of Christ. John lived near the heart of Christ and the love of that great heart permeated his life and transformed him.
Always the friendship of Christ discovered the best that was in men. He saw possibilities in them that none had ever dreamed of but the One who put them there. Then He set about to develop these possibilities.
Outside the disciple family, Jesus had also other close friends. Take the members of the Bethany family for example: “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) We never can understand what Jesus was to this home. The record shows us a picture of His first welcome there. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to be ready to entertain strangers, and then reminds us that in doing so some have hereby entertained angels unawares. Martha’s hospitality was honored far more that day when she received Jesus Christ into her home: she entertained the very Son of God. Mary sat at the feet of this holy Guest, drinking in His conversation, and we little know what those wonderful words meant to Mary’s life. They transformed her into marvelous spiritual beauty.
Paul once wrote to some distant friends that he longed to see them so that he might impart to them some spiritual gift. This was a lofty wish of friendship, and a worthy pattern for us to follow. Jesus imparted to Mary the richest spiritual gifts in His visits with her. If women today but knew what this divine Friend has to give to them, and how His words would bless them, they would sit every day at His feet and listen while He talks to them. No other culture is so fine as that which comes from communion with Jesus Christ.
We sometimes commit the mistake of trying to make life easy for our friends. We think that is the way to show our best kindness to them. We seek to shelter them from every rough wind. We do things for them to relieve them and to save them from stress and strain. We carry their loads for them. This seems to us to be friendship’s sacred duty. But Jesus was wiser than we in His friendships. He was making men, and ofttimes it was better that the stress should not be lessened, the burden not lightened; that the storm should be allowed to blow and the struggle to go on.
In this home at Bethany we see what Christ’s friendship did in the day of sorrow. The brother fell very sick. Jesus was away at the time. A messenger was sent to tell Him, “He whom thou lovest is sick.” (John 11:3) We would suppose that He would start instantly, to get to His friends, in their trouble, at the earliest possible moment, but the record reads strangely indeed: “When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” (John 11:6) “Therefore”—because He loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus—He waited two days after hearing of His friend’s illness before He started to their home. Notice it that He delayed because He loved them. Someday when you are in sorrow or trouble and send for Christ, He may delay to come—delay till it seems too late to come at all. Remember, then, that it is because He loves you and yours that He delays. We must learn to trust Christ’s friendship even when it seems to fail us. We must wait till we see the end of His dealing with us.
The story of this Bethany sorrow, when finished, left no disappointment. The moment Jesus came was just at the right moment. There was no failure in His friendship. He was not indifferent or neglectful when He waited. There was just the same love in His delaying as there was at the last when He came. It will always be so in Christ’s dealing with you.
Scarcely a day passes but someone speaks of the strange mystery of some sorrow. “How can Christ love me and not come to me with relief in my distress?” He does love you. It is just because He loves you that He does not answer you as you thought He would—He has a better way. Then in the end the blessing He gives is far greater than if He had taken your way. We may be glad we don’t have to understand.
“In the center of the circle
Of the will of God I stand:
There can come no second causes,
All must come from His dear hand.
All is well! for ’tis my Father
Who for me my life hath planned.
“Shall I pass through waves of sorrow?
Then I know it will be best;
Though I cannot tell the reason,
I can trust and so am blest.
God is love, and God is faithful,
So in perfect peace I rest.
“With the shade and with the sunshine;
With the joy and with the pain;
Lord, I trust Thee! both are needed
Each Thy wayward child to train.
Earthly loss, did we but know it,
Ofttimes means our heavenly gain.”3
[I. G. W.]
Some people read the story of the life of Christ as a bit of ancient history. It happened two thousand years ago. Perhaps they wish that they had lived in that golden age of the world when Jesus was here among men. But this story is far more than a story of the past. And it is just as true today as it was then that Christ has His house by the side of the road and is a friend to men. The most wonderful and the most real thing in the world now is the friendship of Christ. True, we cannot see Him. Some say, “If I could see Him as I see my human friend, I would take Him as my friend and trust Him.” Have you ever thought that human friendship, too, is a matter of faith, not of sight? A deep friendship goes far beyond the surface. You cannot see in your friend that which you trust. The qualities in him which mean so much to you are invisible. They are qualities of his heart. They are not his physical beauty, his culture, his money, his gifts, his position. The things you trust are his truthfulness, his manliness, his honor, his faithfulness, his thoughtfulness, his gentleness—and you cannot see these. You cannot be with your friend all the while to see with your own eyes that he is always loyal to you. You do not watch your friend to see that he is good and true and faithful wherever he goes. You do not set spies to follow him whenever he is away from you. Yet you never doubt him. Evil tongues may whisper foul insinuations about him, but you refuse to believe them. Even if evidence is given that is hard to explain otherwise, you still stand by him. There must be some mistake, you say. These things cannot be true. You believe in your friend and you trust him absolutely. Your friendship is not of sight, but of faith.
Can we not in the same way also believe in Christ and in His friendships? Can we not love Him whom we have not seen? A sorrow comes; you cannot understand it. But why must you understand? Indeed, I am convinced we would be far happier if we can trust without trying so hard to understand things. One writer says: “There are some very devout people who know far too much. They can explain the whole secret of pain and evil and death in the world. They prate about the mystery of things as though they were God’s spies. It is far humbler and more Christian to admit that we do not fully discern a reason and method in this long, slow tragedy of human existence.”4 Paul reminds us, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) And Jesus Himself said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me…. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2) Someday we shall have all the mysteries made known, but now is it not enough for us to know that Christ is our Friend? He understands. Our lives are safe in His keeping. Nothing ever goes wrong if we are living with Him.
We have hints and glimpses in the New Testament story of what Christ’s friendship meant to those who accepted it when they knew Him as a man, even though there was so much mystery in it, so much that seemed severe, wanting in sympathy, in kindness. In the end all became plain, and then there was love seen in every line. It is the same today.
Let us seek, then, to believe in and realize the friendship of Christ, just as Peter did, just as John did, just as Martha and Mary did. It is as real to us as it was to them. The fact that He has passed into heaven does not make His friendship any the less close or tender, nor the less human. It will mean just as much to us as it did to them. What, for example, would Matthew, the publican, ever have been if Christ had not become his friend? Only a hated tax collector, a sordid, greedy, grasping Jew. Christ made him a man, a big-hearted man, an unselfish, loving man, then an apostle, the writer of a Gospel, whose name shines over all Christendom. The friendship of Christ will make every man who accepts it noble and strong. None will ever walk worthy of the Lord till He lifts them up to it.
As friends and followers of Christ, it is ours to imitate His friendships on the earth, to be to others in our way and measure what He has been to us. We should build our house by the side of the road where people throng and surge and be a friend to men. They need us—they need love and sympathy and help.
Those of us who have been most highly favored, who have known much of love and love’s sweet revealings, who have had many friends to brighten our lives in all circumstances, cannot understand the emptiness of many lives which do not know anything whatever of the meaning of sweet human affection, who really never have had a friend. There are many who have scarcely ever received a real kindness in their whole life. To such it is a holy hour when one says to them, “I am going to be your friend.” A teacher said this to a boy who had never heard such a word before. His lot was most dreary. He had been badly treated, receiving only hard knocks, hearing only sharp and bitter words, no one ever having said to him anything gentle. When this teacher, his heart touched by the boy’s forlorn loneliness, laid his hand on his shoulder and looking into his sad face, said, “Cheer up, my boy, I am going to be your friend,” it was as if Christ Himself had spoken to him. A new light flashed into the boy’s face as he looked up eagerly a little later and said, “Did you mean what you said to me a moment ago—that you would be my friend? If you are going to be my friend, I can be a man.” That was what the friendship of Christ meant to His disciples. There are many people all about us, to whom we can bring uplifting, widening, and enlarging of life, and for whom we can make the world new simply by becoming their friend.
There are certain times when our friends are apt to think there is no need for their keeping near us or letting us know they think of us or remember us. “Friendship will shine out when the roads are rough, and the fare is scant, and the winds are chill, and the great, hard desolation settles down upon life. Then friendship is the stay and furtherance of the soul.” But then there come times in our lives when we have no obvious needs. All things are bright about us, there are no shadows over us, we have no trouble, and we are not in any distress. Our friends are as true and faithful to us then as ever, but they do not come to us with assurance of friendship, with sympathy or with help—there seems no need. But really we need our friends then too—we need them at all times. There is never a day when it will not do us good to have our friends tell us of their love and stand close to us in gentle affection. The common saying is, “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” and that is certainly true, but there is always need for friendship. Henry Van Dyke puts it well:
“ ‘A friend in need,’ my neighbor said to me—
‘A friend, indeed, is what I mean to be:
In time of trouble I will come to you,
And in the hour of need you’ll find me true.’
“I thought a bit, and took him by the hand:
‘My friend,’ said I, ‘you do not understand
The inner meaning of that simple rhyme—
A friend is what the heart needs all the time.’ ”
Every day, every hour, is a time of need with us. We may not need certain forms of material help all the time, but there is never a time when we do not need love, sympathy, cheer; when we do not need to be thought about, when we do not need the consciousness of one standing by. It is not material help that ordinarily means most to us; it is the knowledge that we have the friend, that he is ours and that he will be ready and true, that, turn to him when we may we shall always find him close beside us, strong and wise, a rock in the weary land.
Many of the sweetest and truest manifestations of friendship, are made in almost imperceptible ways—a look, a smile, some simple thoughtfulness, an expression of sympathy which is scarcely conscious, a kindness done in silence, without any mention. Ofttimes friendship’s best service is rendered when there would seem to be no need. Destinies have been changed by a word or a kindness when all seemed bright. It is thus the friendship of Christ serves us, not only when we are crying for help, but also when we seem to have all things, lacking nothing. The friendship of Christ never fails.
Much of the failure of human friendship is from neglect—in not doing the things that ought to have been done. We are not unkind to our friends—but neither are we are kind. We do nothing to harm them, but neither do we do the things which would do them good. I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat. We remember that most moving experience of Christ’s, when His heart hungered for the love, sympathy, and fellowship which His friends could have given him—but failed to give. Again and again He came to them in His agony and found them asleep! Do our friends in hours of bitterness and longing for love, ever come to us hoping for sympathy, and find us sleeping? Or do those who are to us God’s angels of ministering love, year after year, fail to receive appreciation from us until they have finished their service and slipped away?
Life for all of us is full of opportunities for being kind, for showing the friendship of Christ—but how many of us fail to note the opportunities, to understand the needs, the heart-hungers, and to be the friend in need!
No doubt you have had some human friendships which have meant a great deal to you. But the significant question that concerns every one of us is this: “Do you know the friendship of Christ?” He wants to be your friend. No other human being can be to you the friend Christ can be. He loves you like no other, He knows your needs like no other, and He longs to help you like no other. The best of human friends may be able to inspire the best in you—Jesus can remove the evil hidden in your heart and replace it with the goodness of God. He longs to save you from your sins and failures, to turn your life inside out and right side up, to bring you into the circle of heavenly fellowship and friendship that He enjoys with His Father. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks, and wants to enter in to fill you with love.
Someone asked a noted preacher the secret of his life of beauty, love, gentleness, and service. He answered, “I had a friend.”5 Indeed, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Do you know Christ as your friend?
“One there is, above all others,
Well deserves the name of Friend;
His is love beyond a brother’s,
Costly, free, and knows no end!”*