J. R. MILLER, D. D.
AUTHOR OF "SILENT TIMES," "MAKING THE MOST OF LIFE," "THINGS TO LIVE FOR," "BLESSING OF CHEERFULNESS," ETC.
One friend in that path shall be, To secure my steps from wrong; One to count night day for me, Patient through the watches long, Serving most with none to see. BROWNING.
THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.
BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY.
George MacDonald said in an address, "The longer I live, the more I am assured that the business of life is to understand the Lord Christ." If this be true, whatever sheds even a little light on the character or life of Christ is worth while.
Nothing reveals a man's heart better than his friendships. The kind of friend he is, tells the kind of man he is. The personal friendships of Jesus reveal many tender and beautiful things in his character. They show us also what is possible for us in divine friendship; for the heart of Jesus is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.
These chapters are only suggestive, not exhaustive. If they make the way into close personal friendship with Jesus any plainer for those who hunger for such blessed intimacy, that will be reward enough.
J. R. M.
I. THE HUMANHEARTEDNESS OF JESUS II. JESUS AND HIS MOTHER III. JESUS AND HIS FORERUNNER IV. JESUS' CONDITIONS OF FRIENDSHIP V. JESUS CHOOSING HIS FRIENDS VI. JESUS AND THE BELOVED DISCIPLE VII. JESUS AND PETER VIII. JESUS AND THOMAS IX. JESUS' UNREQUITED FRIENDSHIPS X. JESUS AND THE BETHANY SISTERS XI. JESUS COMFORTING HIS FRIENDS XII. JESUS AND HIS SECRET FRIENDS XIII. JESUS' FAREWELL TO HIS FRIENDS XIV. JESUS' FRIENDSHIPS AFTER HE AROSE XV. JESUS AS A FRIEND
All I could never be, All men ignored in me, This I was worth to God. BROWNING.
But lead me, Man divine, Where'er Thou will'st, only that I may find At the long journey's end Thy image there, And grow more like to it. For art not Thou The human shadow of the infinite Love That made and fills the endless universe? The very Word of Him, the unseen, unknown, Eternal Good that rules the summer flower And all the worlds that people starry space. RICHARD WATSON GILDER.
THE FRIENDSHIPS OF JESUS.
THE HUMANHEARTEDNESS OF JESUS.
O God, O kinsman loved, but not enough, O man with eyes majestic after death, Whose feet have toiled along our pathways rough, Whose lips drawn human breath;
By that one likeness which is ours and thine, By that one nature which doth hold us kin, By that high heaven where sinless thou dost shine, To draw us sinners in;
By thy last silence in the judgment hall, By long foreknowledge of the deadly tree, By darkness, by the wormwood and the gall, I pray thee visit me. JEAN INGELOW.
There is a natural tendency to think of Jesus as different from other men in the human element of his personality. Our adoration of him as our divine Lord makes it seem almost sacrilege to place his humanity in the ordinary rank with that of other men. It seems to us that life could not have meant the same to him that it means to us. It is difficult for us to conceive of him as learning in childhood as other children have to learn. We find ourselves fancying that he must always have known how to read and write and speak. We think of the experiences of his youth and young manhood as altogether unlike those of any other boy or young man in the village where he grew up. This same feeling leads us to think of his temptation as so different from what temptation is to other men as to be really no temptation at all.
So we are apt to think of all the human life of Jesus as being in some way lifted up out of the rank of ordinary experiences. We do not conceive of him as having the same struggles that we have in meeting trial, in enduring injury and wrong, in learning obedience, patience, meekness, submission, trust, and cheerfulness. We conceive of his friendships as somehow different from other men's. We feel that in some mysterious way his human life was supported and sustained by the deity that dwelt in him, and that he was exempt from all ordinary limiting conditions of humanity.
There is no doubt that with many people this feeling of reverence has been in the way of the truest understanding of Jesus, and ofttimes those who have clung most devoutly to a belief in his deity have missed much of the comfort which comes from a proper comprehension of his humanity.
Yet the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels furnishes no ground for any confusion on the subject of his human life. It represents him as subject to all ordinary human conditions excepting sin. He began life as every infant begins, in feebleness and ignorance; and there is no hint of any precocious development. He learned as every child must learn. The lessons were not gotten easily or without diligent study. He played as other boys did, and with them. The more we think of the youth of Jesus as in no marked way unlike that of those among whom he lived, the truer will our thought of him be.
Millais the great artist, when he was a young man, painted an unusual picture of Jesus. He represented him as a little boy in the home at Nazareth. He has cut his finger on some carpenter's tool, and comes to his mother to have it bound up. The picture is really one of the truest of all the many pictures of Jesus, because it depicts just such a scene as ofttimes may have been witnessed in his youth. Evidently there was nothing in his life in Nazareth that drew the attention of his companions and neighbors to him in any striking way. We know that he wrought no miracles until after he had entered upon his public ministry. We can think of him as living a life of unselfishness and kindness. There was never any sin or fault in him; he always kept the law of God perfectly. But his perfection was not something startling. There was no halo about his head, no transfiguration, that awed men. We are told that he grew in favor with men as well as with God. His religion made his life beautiful and winning, but always so simple and natural that it drew no unusual attention to itself. It was richly and ideally human.
So it was unto the end. Through the years of his public ministry, when his words and works burned with divine revealing, he continued to live an altogether natural human life. He ate and drank; he grew weary and faint; he was tempted in all points like as we are, and suffered, being tempted. He learned obedience by the things that he endured. He hungered and thirsted, never ministering with his divine power to any of his own needs. "In all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren."
In nothing else is this truth more clearly shown than in the humanheartedness which was so striking a feature of the life of Jesus among men. When we think of him as the Son of God, the question arises, Did he really care for personal friendships with men and women of the human family? In the home from which he came he had dwelt from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, and had enjoyed the companionship of the highest angels. What could he find in this world of imperfect, sinful beings to meet the cravings of his heart for fellowship? Whom could he find among earth's sinful creatures worthy of his friendship, or capable of being in any real sense his personal friend? What satisfaction could his heart find in this world's deepest and holiest love? What light can a dim candle give to the sun? Does the great ocean need the little dewdrop that hides in the bosom of the rose? What blessing or inspiration of love can any poor, marred, stained life give to the soul of the Christ?
Yet the Gospels abound with evidences that Jesus did crave human love, that he found sweet comfort in the friendships which he made, and that much of his keenest suffering was caused by failures in the love of those who ought to have been true to him as his friends. He craved affection, and even among the weak and faulty men and women about him made many very sacred attachments from which he drew strength and comfort.
We must distinguish between Christ's love for all men and his friendship for particular individuals. He was in the world to reveal the Father, and all the divine compassion for sinners was in his heart. It was this mighty love that brought him to earth on the mission of redemption. It was this that impelled and constrained him in all his seeking of the lost. He had come to be the Saviour of all who would believe and follow him. Therefore he was interested in every merest fragment or shred of life. No human soul was so debased that he did not love it.
But besides this universal divine love revealed in the heart of Jesus, he had his personal human friendships. A philanthropist may give his whole life to the good of his fellow-men, to their uplifting, their advancement, their education; to the liberation of the enslaved; to work among and in behalf of the poor, the sick, or the fallen. All suffering humanity has its interest for him, and makes appeal to his compassion. Yet amid the world of those whom he thus loves and wishes to help, this man will have his personal friends; and through the story of his life will run the golden threads of sweet companionships and friendships whose benedictions and inspirations will be secrets of strength, cheer, and help to him in all his toil in behalf of others.
Jesus gave all his rich and blessed life to the service of love. Power was ever going out from him to heal, to comfort, to cheer, to save. He was continually emptying out from the full fountain of his own heart cupfuls of rich life to reinvigorate other lives in their faintness and exhaustion. One of the sources of his own renewing and replenishing was in the friendships he had among men and women. What friends are to us in our human hunger and need, the friends of Jesus were to him. He craved companionship, and was sorely hurt when men shut their doors in his face.
There are few more pathetic words in the New Testament than that short sentence which tells of his rejection, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." Another pathetic word is that which describes the neglect of those who ought to have been ever eager to show him hospitality: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Even the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven had warmer welcome in this world than he in whose heart was the most gentle love that earth ever knew.
Another word which reveals the deep hunger of the heart of Jesus for friendship and companionship was spoken in view of the hour when even his own apostles would leave him: "Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone." The experience of the garden of Gethsemane also shows in a wonderful way the Lord's craving for sympathy. In his great sorrow he wished to have his best friends near him, that he might lean on them, and draw from their love a little strength for his hour of bitter need. It was an added element in the sorrow of that night that he failed to get the help from human sympathy which he yearned for and expected. When he came back each time after his supplication, he found his apostles sleeping.
These are some of the glimpses which we get in the Gospel story of the longing heart of Jesus. He loved deeply, and sought to be loved. He was disappointed when he failed to find affection. He welcomed love wherever it came to him,—the love of the poor, the gratitude of those whom he had helped, the trusting affection of little children. We can never know how much the friendship of the beloved disciple was to Jesus. What a shelter and comfort the Bethany home was to him, and how his strength was renewed by its sweet fellowship! How even the smallest kindnesses were a solace to his heart! How he was comforted by the affection and the ministries of the women-friends who followed him!
In the chapters of this book which follow, the attempt is made to tell the story of some of the friendships of Jesus, gathering up the threads from the Gospel pages. Sometimes the material is abundant, as in the case of Peter and John; sometimes we have only a glimpse or two in the record, albeit enough to reveal a warm and tender friendship, as in the case of the Bethany sisters, and of Andrew, and of Joseph. It may do us good to study these friendship stories. It will at least show us the humanheartedness of Jesus, and his method in blessing and saving the world. The central fact in every true Christian life is a personal friendship with Jesus. Men were called to follow him, to leave all and cleave to him, to believe on him, to trust him, to love him, to obey him; and the result was the transformation of their lives into his own beauty. That which alone makes one a Christian is being a friend of Jesus. Friendship transforms—all human friendship transforms. We become like those with whom we live in close, intimate relations. Life flows into life, heart and heart are knit together, spirits blend, and the two friends become one.
We have but little to give to Christ; yet it is a comfort to know that our friendship really is precious to him, and adds to his joy, poor and meagre though its best may be—but he has infinite blessings to give to us. "I call you friends." No other gift he gives to us can equal in value the love and friendship of his heart. When Cyrus gave Artabazus, one of his courtiers, a gold cup, he gave Chrysanthus, his favorite, only a kiss. And Artabazus said to Cyrus, "The cup you gave me was not so good gold as the kiss you gave Chrysanthus." No good man's money is ever worth so much as his love. Certainly the greatest honor of this earth, greater than rank or station or wealth, is the friendship of Jesus Christ. And this honor is within the reach of every one. "Henceforth I call you not servants ... I have called you friends." "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
The stories of the friendships of Jesus when he was on the earth need cause no one to sigh, "I wish that I had lived in those days, when Jesus lived among men, that I might have been his friend too, feeling the warmth of his love, my life enriched by contact with his, and my spirit quickened by his love and grace!" The friendships of Jesus, whose stories we read in the New Testament, are only patterns of friendships into which we may enter, if we are ready to accept what he offers, and to consecrate our life to faithfulness and love.
The friendship of Jesus includes all other blessings for time and for eternity. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's." His friendship sanctifies all pure human bonds—no friendship is complete which is not woven of a threefold cord. If Christ is our friend, all life is made rich and beautiful to us. The past, with all of sacred loss it holds, lives before us in him. The future is a garden-spot in which all life's sweet hopes, that seem to have perished on the earth, will be found growing for us.
"Fields of the past to thee shall be no more The burialground of friendships once in bloom, But the seed-plots of a harvest on before, And prophecies of life with larger room For things that are behind.
Live thou in Christ, and thy dead past shall be Alive forever with eternal day; And planted on his bosom thou shall see The flowers revived that withered on the way Amid the things behind."
JESUS AND HIS MOTHER.
Sleep, sleep, mine Holy One! My flesh, my Lord!—what name? I do not know A name that seemeth not too high or low, Too far from me or heaven. My Jesus, that is best! * * * Sleep, sleep, my saving One. MRS. BROWNING.
The first friend a child has in this world is its mother. It comes here an utter stranger, knowing no one; but it finds love waiting for it. Instantly the little stranger has a friend, a bosom to nestle in, an arm to encircle it, a hand to minister to its helplessness. Love is born with the child. The mother presses it to her breast, and at once her heart's tendrils twine about it.
It is a good while before the child becomes conscious of the wondrous love that is bending over it, yet all the time the love is growing in depth and tenderness. In a thousand ways, by a thousand delicate arts, the mother seeks to waken in her child a response to her own yearning love. At length the first gleams of answering affection appear—the child has begun to love. From that hour the holy friendship grows. The two lives become knit in one.
When God would give the world a great man, a man of rare spirit and transcendent power, a man with a lofty mission, he first prepares a woman to be his mother. Whenever in history we come upon such a man, we instinctively begin to ask about the character of her on whose bosom he nestled in infancy, and at whose knee he learned his life's first lessons. We are sure of finding here the secret of the man's greatness. When the time drew nigh for the incarnation of the Son of God, we may be sure that into the soul of the woman who should be his mother, who should impart her own life to him, who should teach him his first lessons, and prepare him for his holy mission, God put the loveliest and the best qualities that ever were lodged in any woman's life. We need not accept the teaching that exalts the mother of Jesus to a place beside or above her divine Son. We need have no sympathy whatever with the dogma that ascribes worship to the Virgin Mary, and teaches that the Son on his throne must be approached by mortals through his more merciful, more gentle-hearted mother. But we need not let these errors concerning Mary obscure the real blessedness of her character. We remember the angel's greeting, "Blessed art thou among women." Hers surely was the highest honor ever conferred upon any woman.
"Say of me as the Heavenly said, 'Thou art The blessedest of women!'—blessedest, Not holiest, not noblest,—no high name, Whose height misplaced may pierce me like a shame, When I sit meek in heaven!"
We know how other men, men of genius, rarely ever have failed to give to their mothers the honor of whatever of greatness or worth they had attained. But somehow we shrink from saying that Jesus was influenced by his mother as other good men have been; that he got from her much of the beauty and the power of his life. We are apt to fancy that his mother was not to him what mothers ordinarily are to their children; that he did not need mothering as other children do; that by reason of the Deity indwelling, his character unfolded from within, without the aid of home teaching and training, and the other educational influences which do so much in shaping the character of children in common homes.
But there is no Scriptural ground for this feeling. The humanity of Jesus was just like our humanity. He came into the world just as feeble and as untaught as any other child that ever was born. No mother was ever more to her infant than Mary was to Jesus. She taught him all his first lessons. She gave him his first thoughts about God, and from her lips he learned the first lispings of prayer. Jewish mothers cared very tenderly for their children. They taught them with unwearying patience the words of God. One of the rabbis said, "God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers." This saying shows how sacred was the Jewish thought of the mother's work for her child.
Every true mother feels a sense of awe in her soul when she bends over her own infant child; but in the case of Mary we may be sure that the awe was unusual, because of the mystery of the child's birth. In the annunciation the angel had said to her, "That which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God." Then the night of her child's birth there was a wondrous vision of angels, and the shepherds who beheld it hastened into the town; and as they looked upon the baby in the manger, they told the wondering mother what they had seen and heard. We are told that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. While she could not understand what all this meant, she knew at least that hers was no common child; that in some wonderful sense he was the Son of God.
This consciousness must have given to her motherhood an unusual thoughtfulness and seriousness. How close to God she must have lived! How deep and tender her love must have been! How pure and clean her heart must have been kept! How sweet and patient she must have been as she moved about at her tasks, in order that no harsh or bitter thought or feeling might ever cast a shadow upon the holy life which had been intrusted to her for training and moulding.
Only a few times is the veil lifted to give us a glimpse of mother and child. On the fortieth day he was taken to the temple, and given to God. Then it was that another reminder of the glory of this child was given to the mother. An old man, Simeon, took the infant in his arms, and spoke of him as God's salvation. As he gave the parents his parting blessing he lifted the veil, and showed them a glimmering of the future. "This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against." Then to the mother he said solemnly, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also." This was a foretelling of the sorrow which should come to the heart of Mary, and which came again and again, until at last she saw her son on a cross. The shadow of the cross rested on Mary's soul all the years. Every time she rocked her baby to sleep, and laid him down softly, covering his face with kisses, there would come into her heart a pang as she remembered Simeon's words. Perhaps, too, words from the old prophets would come into her mind,—"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows;" "He was bruised for our iniquities,"—and the tears would come welling into her eyes. Every time she saw her child at play, full of gladness, all unconscious of any sorrow awaiting him, a nameless fear would steal over her as she remembered the ominous words which had fallen upon her ear, and which she could not forget.
Soon after the presentation in the temple came the visit of the magi. Again the mother must have wondered as she heard these strangers from the East speak of her infant boy as the "King of the Jews," and saw them falling down before him in reverent worship, and then laying their offerings at his feet. Immediately following this came the flight into Egypt. How the mother must have pressed her child to her bosom as she fled with him to escape the cruel danger! By and by they returned, and from that time Nazareth was their home.
Only once in the thirty years do we have a glimpse of mother and child. It was when Jesus went to his first Passover. When the time came for returning home the child tarried behind. After a painful search the mother found him in one of the porches of the temple, sitting with the rabbis, an eager learner. There is a tone of reproach in her words, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." She was sorely perplexed. All the years before this her son had implicitly obeyed her. He had never resisted her will, never withdrawn from her guidance. Now he had done something without asking her about it—as it were, had taken his life into his own hand. It was a critical point in the friendship of this mother and her child. It is a critical moment in the friendship of any mother and her child when the child begins to think and act for himself, to do things without the mother's guidance.
The answer of Jesus is instructive: "I must be about my Father's business." There was another besides his mother to whom he owed allegiance. He was the Son of God as well as the son of Mary. Parents should remember this always in dealing with their children,—their children are more God's than theirs.
It is interesting to notice what follows that remarkable experience of mother and child in the temple. Jesus returned with his mother to the lowly Nazareth home, and was subject to her. In recognizing his relation to God as his heavenly Father, he did not become any less the child of his earthly mother. He loved his mother no less because he loved God more. Obedience to the Father in heaven did not lead him to reject the rule of earthly parenthood. He went back to the quiet home, and for eighteen years longer found his Father's business in the common round of lowly tasks which made up the daily life of such a home.
It would be intensely interesting to read the story of mother and son during those years, but it has not been written for us. They must have been years of wondrous beauty. Few things in this world are more beautiful than such friendships as one sometimes sees between mother and son. The boy is more the lover than the child. The two enter into the closest companionship. A sacred and inviolable intimacy is formed between them. The boy opens all his heart to his mother, telling her everything; and she, happy woman, knows how to be a boy's mother and to keep a mother's place without ever startling or checking the shy confidences, or causing him to desire to hide anything from her. The boy whispers his inmost thoughts to his mother, and listens to her wise and gentle counsels with loving eagerness and childish faith—
"Her face his holy skies; The air he breathes his mother's breath, His stars his mother's eyes."
Not always are mother and boy such friends. Some mothers do not think it worth while to give the time and thought necessary to enter into a boy's life in such confidential way. But we may be sure that between the mother of Jesus and her son the most tender and intimate friendship existed. He opened his soul to her; and she gave him not a mother's love only, but also a mother's wise counsel and strong, inspiring sympathy.
It is almost certain that sorrow entered the Nazareth home soon after the visit to Jerusalem. Joseph is not mentioned again; and it is supposed that he died, leaving Mary a widow. On Jesus, as the eldest son, the care of the mother now rested. Knowing the deep love of his heart and his wondrous gentleness, it is easy for us to understand with what unselfish devotion he cared for his mother after she was widowed. He had learned the carpenter's trade; and day after day, early and late, he wrought with his hands to provide for her wants. Very sacred must have been the friendship of mother and son in those days. Her gentleness, quietness, hopefulness, humility, and prayerfulness, must have wrought themselves into the very tissue of his character as he moved through the days in such closeness. Unto the end he carried in his soul the benedictions of his mother's life.
The thirty silent years of preparation closed, and Jesus went out to begin his public ministry. The first glimpse we have of the mother is at the wedding at Cana. Jesus was there too. The wine failed, and Mary went to Jesus about the matter. "They have no wine," she said. Evidently she was expecting some manifesting of supernatural power. All the years since his birth she had been carrying in her heart a great wonder of expectation. Now he had been baptized, and had entered upon his work as the Messiah. Had not the time come for miracle-working?
The answer of Jesus startles us: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." The words seem to have in them a tone of reproof, or of repulse, unlike the words of so gentle and loving a son. But really there is in his reply nothing inconsistent with all that we have learned to think of the gentleness and lovingness of the heart of Jesus. In substance he said only that he must wait for his Father's word before doing any miracle, and that the time for this had not yet come. Evidently his mother understood him. She was not hurt by his words, nor did she regard them as a refusal to help in the emergency. Her words to the servants show this: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." She had learned her lesson of sweet humility. She knew now that God had the highest claim on her son's obedience, and she quietly waited for the divine voice. The holy friendship was not marred.
There is another long period in which no mention is made of Mary. Probably she lived a secluded life. But one day at Capernaum, in the midst of his popularity, when Jesus was preaching to a great crowd, she and his brothers appeared on the outside of the throng, and sent a request that they might speak with him. It seems almost certain that the mother's errand was to try to get him away from his exhausting work; he was imperilling his health and his safety. Jesus refused to be interrupted. But it was really only an assertion that nothing must come between him and his duty. The Father's business always comes first. Human ties are second to the bond which binds us to God. No dishonor was done by Jesus to his mother in refusing to be drawn away by her loving interest from his work. The holiest human friendship must never keep us from doing the will of God. Other mothers in their love for their children have made the same mistake that the mother of Jesus made,—have tried to withhold or withdraw their children from service which seemed too hard or too costly. The voice of tenderest love must be quenched when it would keep us from doing God's will.
The next mention of the mother of Jesus is in the story of the cross. Ah, holy mother-love, constant and faithful to the end! At length Simeon's prophecy is fulfilled,—a sword is piercing the mother's soul also. "Jesus was crucified on the cross; Mary was crucified at the foot of the cross."
Note only one feature of the scene,—the mother-love there is in it. The story of clinging mother-love is a wonderful one. A mother never forsakes her child. Mary is not the only mother who has followed a son to a cross. Here we have the culmination of this mother's friendship for her son. She is watching beside his cross. O friendship constant, faithful, undying, and true!
But what of the friendship of the dying son for his mother? In his own anguish does he notice her? Yes; one of the seven words spoken while he hung on the cross told of changeless love in his heart for her. Mary was a woman of more than fifty, "with years before her too many for remembering, too few for forgetting." The world would be desolate for her when her son was gone. So he made provision for her in the shelter of a love in which he knew she would be safe. As he saw her led away by the beloved disciple to his own home, part of the pain of dying was gone from his own heart. His mother would have tender care.
The story of this blessed friendship should sweeten forever in Christian homes the relation of mother and child. It should make every mother a better woman and a better mother. It should make every child a truer, holier child. Every home should have its sacred friendships between parents and children. Thus something of heaven will be brought down to our dull earth; for, as Mrs. Browning says,—
In the pure loves of child and mother Two human loves make one divine.
JESUS AND HIS FORERUNNER.
Where is the lore the Baptist taught, The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue? The much-enduring wisdom, sought By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among? Who counts it gain His light should wane, So the whole world to Jesus throng? KEBLE.
The two Johns appear in many devotional pictures, one on each side of Jesus. Yet the two men were vastly unlike. The Baptist was a wild, rugged man of the desert; the apostle was the representative of the highest type of gentleness and spiritual refinement. The former was the consummate flower of Old Testament prophecy; the latter was the ripe fruit of New Testament evangelism. They appear in history one really on each side of Jesus; one going before him to prepare the way for him, and the other coming after him to declare the meaning of his mission. They were united in Jesus; both of them were his friends.
It seems probable that Jesus and the Baptist had never met until the day Jesus came to be baptized. This is not to be wondered at. Their childhood homes were not near to each other. Besides, John probably turned away at an early age from the abodes of men to make his home in the desert. He may never have visited Jesus, and it is not unlikely that Jesus had never visited him.
Yet their mothers are said to have been cousins. The stories of their births are woven together in an exquisite way, in the opening chapters of the Gospels. To the same high angel fell the privilege of announcing to the two women, in turn, the tidings which in each case meant so much of honor and blessedness. It would have seemed natural for the boys to grow up together, their lives blending in childhood association and affection. It is interesting to think what the effect would have been upon the characters of both if they had been reared in close companionship. How would John's stern, rugged, unsocial nature have affected the gentle spirit of Jesus? What impression would the brightness, sweetness, and affectionateness of Jesus have made on the temper and disposition of John?
When at last the two men met, it is evident that a remarkable effect was produced on John. There was something in the face of Jesus that almost overpowered the fearless preacher of the desert. John had been waiting and watching for the Coming One, whose herald and harbinger he was. One day he came and asked to be baptized. John had never before hesitated to administer the rite to any one who stood before him; for in every one he saw a sinner needing repentance and remission of sins. But he who now stood before him waiting to be baptized bore upon his face the light of an inner holiness which awed the rugged preacher. "I have need to be baptized of thee," said John; but Jesus insisted, and the rite was administered. John's awe must have been deepened by what now took place. Jesus looked up in earnest prayer, and then from the open heaven a white dove descended, resting on the head of the Holy One. An ancient legend tells that from the shining light the whole valley of the Jordan was illuminated. A divine voice was heard also, declaring that this Jesus was the Son of God.
Thus it was that the friendship between Jesus and the Baptist began. It was a wonderful moment. For centuries prophets had been pointing forward to the Messiah who was to come; now John saw him. He had baptized him, thus introducing him to his great mission. This made John the greatest of the prophets; he saw the Messiah whom his predecessors had only foretold. John's rugged nature must have been wondrously softened by this meeting with Jesus.
Brief was the duration of the friendship of the forerunner and the Messiah; but there are evidences that it was strong, deep, and true. There were several occasions on which this friendship proved its sincerity and its loyalty.
Reports of the preaching of John, and of the throngs who were flocking to him, reached Jerusalem; and a deputation was sent by the Sanhedrin to the desert to ask him who he was. They had begun to think that this man who was attracting such attention might be the Messiah for whom they were looking. But John was careful to say that he was not the Christ. "Art thou Elias? ... Art thou that prophet?" He answered "No."—"Who art thou, then?" they asked, "that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?"
This gave John an opportunity to claim the highest honor for himself if he had been disposed to do so. He might have admitted that he was the Messiah, or quietly permitted the impression to be cherished; and in the state of feeling and expectation then prevailing among the people, there would have been a great uprising to carry him to a throne. But his loyalty to truth and to the Messiah whose forerunner he was, was so strong that he firmly resisted the opportunity, with whatever of temptation it may have had for him. "I am a voice," he answered—nothing but a voice. Thus he showed an element of greatness in his lowly estimate of himself.
True, a voice may do great things. It may speak words which shall ring through the world with a blessing in every reverberation. It may arouse men to action, may comfort sorrow, cheer discouragement, start hope in despairing hearts. If one is only a voice, and if there be truth and love and life in the voice, its ministry may be rich in its influence.
Much of the Bible is but a voice coming out of the depths of the past. No one knows the names of all the holy men who, moved by the Spirit, wrote the wonderful words. Many of the sweetest of the Psalms are anonymous. Yet no one prizes the words less, nor is their power to comfort, cheer, inspire, or quicken any less, because they are only voices. After all, it is a great thing to be a voice to which men and women will listen, and whose words do good wherever they go.
Yet John's speaking thus of himself shows his humility. He sought no earthly praise or recognition. He was not eager to have his name sounding on people's lips. He knew well how empty such honor was. He wished only that he might be a voice, speaking out the word he had been sent into the world to speak. He knew that he had a message to deliver, and he was intent on delivering it. It mattered not who or what he was, but it did matter whether his "word or two" were spoken faithfully or not.
Every one of us has a message from God to men. We are in this world for a purpose, with a mission, with something definite to do for God and man. It makes very little difference whether people hear about us or not, whether we are praised, loved, and honored, or despised, hated, and rejected, so that we get our word spoken into the air, and set going in men's hearts and lives. John was a worthy voice, and his tones rang out with clarion clearness for truth and for God's kingdom. It was his mission to go in advance of the King, and tell men that he was coming, calling them to prepare the way before him. This he did; and when the King came, John's work was done.
The deputation asked him also why he was baptizing if he was neither the Christ nor Elijah. Again John honored his friend by saying, "I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred be fore me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose." John set the pattern for friendship for Christ for all time. It is,—
"None of self, and all of thee."
It is pitiable to see how some among the Master's followers fail to learn this lesson. They contend for high places, where they may have prominence among men, where their names shall have honor. The only truly great in Christ's sight are those who forget self that they may honor their Lord. John said he was not worthy to unloose the shoe-latchet of his friend, so great, so kingly, so worthy was that friend. He said his own work was only external, while the One standing unrecognized among the people had power to reach their hearts. It were well if every follower of Christ understood so perfectly the place of his own work with relation to Christ's.
Another of John's testimonies to Jesus was made a little later, perhaps as Jesus returned after his temptation. Pointing to a young man who was approaching, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." It was a high honor which in these words John gave to his friend. That friend was the bearer of the world's sin and of its sorrow. It is not likely that at this early stage John knew of the cross on which Jesus should die for the world. In some way, however, he saw a vision of Jesus saving his people from their sin, and so proclaimed him to the circle that stood round him. He proclaimed him also as the Son of God, thus adding yet another honor to his friend.
A day or two later John again pointed Jesus out to two of his own disciples as the Lamb of God, and then bade them leave him and go after the Messiah. This is another mark of John's noble friendship for Jesus,—he gave up his own disciples that they might go after the new Master. It is not easy to do this. It takes a brave man to send his friends away, that they may give their love and service to another master.
There is further illustration of John's loyal friendship for Jesus. It seems that John's disciples were somewhat jealous of the growing fame and influence of Jesus. The throngs that followed their master were now turning after the new teacher. In their great love for John, and remembering how he had witnessed for Jesus, and called attention to him, before he began his ministry and after, they felt that it was scarcely right that Jesus should rise to prosperity at the expense of him who had so helped him rise. If John had been less noble than he was, and his friendship for Jesus less loyal, such words from his followers would have embittered him. There are people who do irreparable hurt by such flattering sympathy. A spark of envy is often fanned into a disastrous flame by friends who come with such appeals to the evil that is in every man.
But John's answer shows a soul of wondrous nobleness. He had not been hurt by popularity, as so many men are. Not all good people pass through times of great success, with its attendant elation and adulation, and come out simple-hearted and lowly. Then even a severer test of character is the time of waning favor, when the crowds melt away, and when another is receiving the applause. Many a man, in such an experience, fails to retain sweetness of spirit, and becomes soured and embittered.
John stood both tests. Popularity did not make him vain. The losing of his fame did not embitter him. He kept humble and sweet through it all. The secret was his unwavering loyalty to his own mission as the harbinger of the Messiah. "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven," he said. The power over men which he had wielded for a time had been given to him. Now the power had been withdrawn, and given to Jesus. It was all right, and he should not complain of what Heaven had done.
Then John reminded his friends that he had distinctly said that he was not the Christ, but was only one sent before him. In a wondrously expressive way he explained his relation to Jesus. Jesus was the bridegroom, and John was only the bridegroom's friend, and he rejoiced in the bridegroom's honor. It was meet that the bridegroom should have the honor, and that his friend should retire into the background, and there be forgotten. Thus John showed his loyalty to Jesus by rejoicing in his popular favor, when the effect was to leave John himself deserted and alone after a season of great fame. "He must increase, but I must decrease," said the noble-hearted forerunner. John's work was done, and the work of Jesus was now beginning. John understood this, and with devoted loyalty, unsurpassed in all the bright story of friendship, he rejoiced in the success that Jesus was winning, though it was at his own cost.
This is a model of noble friendship for all time. Envy poisons much human friendship. It is not easy to work loyally for the honor and advancement of another when he is taking our place, and drawing our crowds after him. But in any circumstances envy is despicable and most undivine. Then even in our friendship for Christ we need to be ever most watchful lest we allow self to creep in. We must learn to care only for his honor and the advancement of his kingdom, and never to think of ourselves.
So much for the friendship of John for Jesus. On several occasions we find evidences of very warm friendship in Jesus for John. John's imprisonment was a most pathetic episode in his life. It came from his fidelity as a preacher of righteousness. In view of all the circumstances, we can scarcely wonder that in his dreary prison he began almost to doubt, certainly to question, whether Jesus were indeed the Messiah. But it must be noted that even in this painful experience John was loyal to Jesus. When the question arose in his mind, he sent directly to Jesus to have it answered. If only all in whose minds spiritual doubts or questions arise would do this, good, and not evil, would result in every case; for Christ always knows how to reassure perplexed faith.
It was after the visit of the messengers from John that Jesus spoke the strong words which showed his warm friendship for his forerunner. John had not forfeited his place in the Master's heart by his temporary doubting. Jesus knew that his disciples might think disparagingly of John because he had sent the messengers with the question; and as soon as they were gone he began to speak about John, and to speak about him in terms of highest praise. It is an evidence of true friendship that one speaks well of one's friend behind his back. Some professed friendship will not stand this test. But Jesus spoke not a word of censure concerning John after the failure of his faith. On the other hand, he eulogized him in a most remarkable way. He spoke of his stability and firmness; John was not a reed shaken with the wind, he was not a self-indulgent man, courting ease and loving luxury; he was a man ready for any self-denial and hardship. Jesus added to this eulogy of John's qualities as a man, the statement that no greater soul than his had ever been born in this world. This was high praise indeed. It illustrates the loyalty of Jesus to the friend who had so honored him and was suffering now because of faithfulness to truth and duty.
There is another incident which shows how much Jesus loved John. It was after the foul murder of the Baptist. The record is very brief. The friends of the dead prophet gathered in the prison, and, taking up the headless body of their master, they carried it away to a reverent, tearful burial. Then they went and told Jesus. The narrative says, "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart." His sorrow at the tragic death of his faithful friend made him wish to be alone. When the Jews saw Jesus weeping beside the grave of Lazarus they said, "Behold how he loved him!" No mention is made of tears when Jesus heard of the death of John; but he immediately sought to break away from the crowds, to be alone, and there is little doubt that when he was alone he wept. He loved John, and grieved over his death.
The story of the friendship of Jesus and John is very beautiful. John's loyalty and faithfulness must have brought real comfort to Jesus. Then to John the friendship of Jesus must have been full of cheer.
As we read the story of the Baptist's life, with its tragic ending, we are apt to feel that he died too soon. He began his public work with every promise of success. For a few months he preached with great power, and thousands flocked to hear him. Then came the waning of his popularity, and soon he was shut up in a prison, and in a little while was cruelly murdered to humor the whim of a wicked and vengeful woman.
Was it worth while to be born, and to go through years of severe training, only for such a fragment of living? To this question we can answer only that John had finished his work. He came into the world—a man sent from God—to do just one definite thing,—to prepare the way for the Messiah. When the Messiah had come, John's work was done. As the friend of Christ he went home; and elsewhere now, in other realms perhaps, he is still serving his Lord.
JESUS' CONDITIONS OF FRIENDSHIP.
But if himself he come to thee, and stand * * * And reach to thee himself the Holy Cup, * * * Pallid and royal, saying, "Drink with me," Wilt thou refuse? Nay, not for paradise! The pale brow will compel thee, the pure hands Will minister unto thee; thou shalt take Of that communion through the solemn depths Of the dark waters of thine agony, With heart that praises him, that yearns to him The closer through that hour. Ugo Bassi's Sermon.
Every thoughtful reader of the Gospels notes two seemingly opposing characteristics of Christ's invitations,—their wideness and their narrowness. They were broad enough to include all men; yet by their conditions they were so narrowed down that only a few seemed able to accept them.
The gospel was for the world. It was as broad as the love of God, and that is absolutely without limit. God loved the world. When Jesus went forth among men his heart was open to all. He was the patron of no particular class. For him there were no outcasts whom he might not touch, with whom he might not speak in public, or privately, or who were excluded from the privileges of friendship with him. He spoke of himself as the Son of man—not the son of a man, but the Son of man, and therefore the brother of every man. Whoever bore the image of humanity had a place in his heart. Wherever he found a human need it had an instant claim on his sympathy, and he was eager to impart a blessing. No man had fallen so low in sin that Jesus passed him by without love and compassion. To be a man was the passport to his heart.
The invitations which Jesus gave all bear the stamp of this exceeding broadness. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." Such words as these were ever falling from his lips. No man or woman, hearing these invitations, could ever say, "There is nothing there for me." There was no hint of possible exclusion for any one. Not a word was ever said about any particular class of persons who might come,—the righteous, the respectable, the cultured, the unsoiled, the well-born, the well-to-do. Jesus had no such words in his vocabulary. Whoever labored and was heavy laden was invited. Whoever would come should be received—would not in any wise be cast out. Whoever was athirst was bidden to come and drink.
Some teachers are not so good as their teachings. They proclaim the love of God for every man, and then make distinctions in their treatment of men. Professing love for all, they gather their skirts close about them when fallen ones pass by. But Jesus lived out all of the love of God that he taught. It was literally true in his case, that not one who came to him was ever cast out. He disregarded the proprieties of righteousness which the religious teachers of his own people had formulated and fixed. They read in the synagogue services, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," but they limited the word neighbor until it included only the circle of the socially and spiritually elite. Jesus taught that a man's neighbor is a fellow-man in need, whoever he may be. Then, when the lost and the outcast came to him they found the love of God indeed incarnate in him.
At one time we read that all the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. The religious teachers of the Jews found sore fault with him, saying, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." But he vindicated his course by telling them that he had come for the very purpose of seeking the lost ones. On another occasion he said that he was a physician, and that the physician's mission was not to the whole, but to the sick. He had come not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. A poor woman who was a sinner, having heard his gracious invitation, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden," came to his feet, at once putting his preaching to the test. She came weeping, and, falling at his feet, wet them with her tears, and then wiped them with her dishevelled hair and kissed them. Then she took an alabaster box, and breaking it, poured the ointment on his feet. It was a violation of all the proprieties to permit such a woman to stay at his feet, making such demonstrations. If he had been a Jewish rabbi, he would have thrust her away with execrations, as bringing pollution in her touch. But Jesus let the woman stay and finish her act of penitence and love, and then spoke words which assured her of forgiveness and peace.
"She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair Still wiped the feet she was so blest to touch; And he wiped off the soiling of despair From her sweet soul, because she loved so much."
This is but one of the many proofs in Jesus' life of the sincerity of the wide invitations he gave. Continually the lost and fallen came to him, for there was something in him that made it easy for them to come and tell him all the burden of their sin and their yearning for a better life. Even one whom he afterward chose as an apostle was a publican when Jesus called him to be his disciple. He took him in among his friends, into his own inner household; and now his name is on one of the foundations of the heavenly city, as an apostle of the Lamb.
Thus we see how broad was the love of Christ, both in word and in act. Toward every human life his heart yearned. He had a blessing to bestow upon every soul. Whosoever would might be a friend of Jesus, and come in among those who stood closest to him. Not one was shut out.
Then, there is another class of words which appear to limit these wide invitations and this gracious love. Again and again Jesus seems to discourage discipleship. When men would come, he bids them consider and count the cost before they decide. One passage tells of three aspirants for discipleship, for all of whom he seems to have made it hard to follow him.
One man came to him, and with glib and easy profession said, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." This seemed all that could have been asked. No man could do more. Yet Jesus discouraged this ardent scribe. He saw that he did not know what he was saying, that he had not counted the cost, and that his devotion would fail in the face of the hardship and self-denial which discipleship would involve. So he answered, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." That is, he painted a picture of his own poverty and homelessness, as if to say, "That is what it will mean for you to follow me; are you ready for it?"
Then Jesus turned to another, and said to him, "Follow me." But this man asked time. "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." This seemed a reasonable request. Filial duties stand high in all inspired teaching. Yet Jesus said, "No; leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God." Discipleship seems severe in its demands if even a sacred duty of love to a father must be foregone that the man might go instantly to his work as a missionary.
There was a third case. Another man, overhearing what had been said, proposed also to become a disciple—but not yet. "I will follow thee; but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house." That, too, appeared only a fit thing to do; but again the answer seems stern and severe. "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Even the privilege of running home to say "Good-by" must be denied to him who follows Jesus.
These incidents show, not that Jesus would make it hard and costly for men to be his disciples, but that discipleship must be unconditional, whatever the cost, and that even the holiest duties of human love must be made secondary to the work of Christ's kingdom. Another marked instance of like teaching was in the case of the young ruler who wanted to know the way of life. We try to make it easy for inquirers to begin to follow Christ, but Jesus set a hard task for this rich young man. He must give up all his wealth, and come empty-handed with the new Master. Why did he so discourage this earnest seeker? He saw into his heart, and perceived that he could not be a true disciple unless he first won a victory over himself. The issue was his money or Jesus—which? The way was made so hard that for that day, at least, the young man turned away, clutching his money, leaving Jesus.
Really, a like test was made in every discipleship. Those who followed him left all, and went empty-handed with him. They were required to give up father and mother, and wife and children, and lands, and to take up their cross and follow him.
Why were the broad invitations of the heart of Jesus so narrowed in their practical application? The answer is very simple. Jesus was the revealing of God—God manifest in the flesh. He had come into this world not merely to heal a few sick people, to bring back joy to a few darkened homes by the restoring of their dead, to formulate a system of moral and ethical teachings, to start a wave of kindliness and a ministry of mercy and love; he had come to save a lost world, to lift men up out of sinfulness into holiness.
There was only one way to do this,—men must be brought back into loyalty to God. Jesus astonishes us by the tremendous claims and demands he makes. He says that men must come unto him if they would find rest; that they must believe on him if they would have everlasting life; that they must love him more than any human friend; that they must obey him with absolute, unquestioning obedience; that they must follow him as the supreme and only guide of their life, committing all their present and eternal interests into his hands. In a word, he puts himself deliberately into the place of God, demanding for himself all that God demands, and then promising to those who accept him all the blessings that God promises to his children.
This was the way Jesus sought to save men. As the human revealing of God, coming down close to humanity, and thus bringing God within their reach, he said, "Believe on me, love me, trust me, and follow me, and I will lift you up to eternal blessedness." While the invitation was universal, the blessings it offered could be given only to those who would truly receive Christ as the Son of God. If Jesus seemed to demand hard things of those who would follow him, it was because in no other way could men be saved. No slight and easy bond would bind them to him, and only by their attachment to him could they be led into the kingdom of God. If he sometimes seemed to discourage discipleship, it was that no one might be deceived as to the meaning of the new life to which Jesus was inviting men. He would have no followers who did not first count the cost, and know whether they were ready to go with him. Men could be lifted up into a heavenly life only by a friendship with Jesus which would prove stronger than all other ties.
Religion, therefore, is a passion for Christ. "I have only one passion," said Zinzendorf, "and that is he." Love for Christ is the power that during these nineteen centuries has been transforming the world. Law could never have done it, though enforced by the most awful majesty. The most perfect moral code, though proclaimed with supreme authority, would never have changed darkness to light, cruelty to humaneness, rudeness to gentleness. What is it that gives the gospel its resistless power? It is the Person at the heart of it. Men are not called to a religion, to a creed, to a code of ethics, to an ecclesiastical system,—they are called to love and follow a Person.
But what is it in Jesus that so draws men, that wins their allegiance away from every other master, that makes them ready to leave all for his sake, and to follow him through peril and sacrifice, even to death? Is it his wonderful teaching? "No man ever spake like this man." Is it his power as revealed in his miracles? Is it his sinlessness? The most malignant scrutiny could find no fault in him. Is it the perfect beauty of his character? Not one nor all of these will account for the wonderful attraction of Jesus. Love is the secret. He came into the world to reveal the love of God—he was the love of God in human flesh. His life was all love. In a most wonderful way during all his life did he reveal love. Men saw it in his face, and felt it in his touch, and heard it in his voice. This was the great fact which his disciples felt in his life. His friendship was unlike any friendship they had ever seen before, or even dreamed of. It was this that drew them to him, and made them love him so deeply, so tenderly. Nothing but love will kindle love. Power will not do it. Holiness will not do it. Gifts will not do it—men will take your gifts, and then repay you with hatred. But love begets love; heart responds to heart. Jesus loved.
But the love he revealed in his life, in his tender friendship, was not the supremest manifesting of his love. He crowned it all by giving his life. "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." This was the most wonderful exhibition of love the world had ever seen. Now and then some one had been willing to die for a choice and prized friend; but Jesus died for a world of enemies. It was not for the beloved disciple and for the brave Peter that he gave his life,—then we might have understood it,—but it was for the race of sinful men that he poured out his most precious blood,—the blood of eternal redemption. It is this marvellous love in Jesus which attracts men to him. His life, and especially his cross, declares to every one: "God loves you. The Son of God gave himself for you." Jesus himself explained the wonderful secret in his words: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." It is on his cross that his marvellous power is most surpassingly revealed. The secret of the attraction of the cross is love. "He loved me, and he gave himself for me."
Thus we find hints of what Jesus is as a friend—what he was to his first disciples, what he is to-day. His is perfect friendship. The best and richest human friendships are only little fragments of the perfect ideal. Even these we prize as the dearest things on earth. They are more precious than rarest gems. We would lose all other things rather than give up our friends. They bring to us deep joys, sweet comforts, holy inspirations. Life without friendship would be empty and lonely. Love is indeed the greatest thing. Nothing else in all the world will fill and satisfy the heart. Even earth's friendships are priceless. Yet the best and truest of them are only fragments of the perfect friendship. They bring us only little cupfuls of blessing. Their gentleness is marred by human infirmity, and sometimes turns to harshness. Their helpfulness at best is impulsive and uncertain, and ofttimes is inopportune and ill-timed.
But the friendship of Jesus is perfect. Its touch is always gentle and full of healing. Its helpfulness is always wise. Its tenderness is like the warmth of a heavenly summer, brooding over the life which accepts it. All the love of God pours forth in the friendship of Jesus. To be his beloved is to be held in the clasp of the everlasting arms. "I and my Father are one," said Jesus; his friendship, therefore, is the friendship of the Father. Those who accept it in truth find their lives flooded with a wealth of blessing.
Creeds have their place in the Christian life; their articles are the great framework of truth about which the fabric rises and from which it receives its strength. Worship is important, if it is vitalized by faith and the Holy Spirit. Rites have their sacred value as the channels through which divine grace is communicated. But that which is vital in all spiritual life is the friendship of Jesus, coming to us in whatever form it may. To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge is living religion. Creeds and services and rites and sacraments bring blessing to us only as they interpret to us this love, and draw us into closer personal relations with Christ.
"Behold him now where he comes! Not the Christ of our subtile creeds, But the light of our hearts, of our homes, Of our hopes, our prayers, our needs, The brother of want and blame, The lover of women and men."
The friendship of Jesus takes our poor earthly lives, and lifts them up out of the dust into beauty and blessedness. It changes everything for us. It makes us children of God in a real and living sense. It brings us into fellowship with all that is holy and true. It kindles in us a friendship for Christ, turning all the tides of our life into new and holy channels. It thus transforms us into the likeness of our Friend, whose we are, and whom we serve.
Thus Jesus is saving the world by renewing men's lives. He is setting up the kingdom of heaven on the earth. His subjects are won, not by force of arms, not by a display of Sinaitic terrors, but by the force of love. Men are taught that God loves them; they see that love first in the life of Jesus, then on his cross, where he died as the Lamb of God, bearing the sin of the world. Under the mighty sway of that love they yield their hearts to heaven's King. Thus love's conquests are going on. The friendship of Jesus is changing earth's sin and evil into heaven's holiness and beauty.
JESUS CHOOSING HIS FRIENDS.
He seeks not thine, but thee, such as thou art, For lo, his banner over thee is love. CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI.
If you loved only what were worth your love, Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you. Make the low nature better by your throes! Give earth yourself, go up for gain above. BROWNING.
Nothing in life is more important than the choosing of friends. Many young people wreck all by wrong choices, taking into their life those who by their influence drag them down. Many a man's moral failure dates from the day he chose a wrong friend. Many a woman's life of sorrow or evil began with the letting into her heart of an unworthy friendship. On the other hand, many a career of happiness, of prosperity, of success, of upward climbing, may be traced to the choice of a pure, noble, rich-hearted, inspiring friend. Mrs. Browning asked Charles Kingsley, "What is the secret of your life? Tell me, that I may make mine beautiful too." He replied, "I had a friend." There are many who have reached eminence of character or splendor of life who could give the same answer. They had a friend who came into their life at the right time, sent from God, and inspired in them whatever is beautiful in their character, whatever is worthy and noble in their career.
We may not put our Lord's choice of his apostles on precisely the same plane as our selecting of friends, as those men were to be more than ordinary friends; he was to put his mantle upon them, and they were to be the founders of his Church. Nevertheless, we may take lessons from the story for ourselves.
Jesus chose his friends deliberately. His disciples had been gathering about him for months. It was at least a year after the beginning of his public ministry that he chose the Twelve. He had had ample time to get well acquainted with the company of his followers, to test them, to study their character, to learn their qualities of strength or weakness.
Many fatal mistakes in the choosing of friends come from unfit haste. We would better take time to know our possible friends, and be sure that we know them well, before making the solemn compact that seals the attachment.
Jesus made his choice of friends a subject of prayer. He spent a whole night in prayer with God, and then came in the morning to choose his apostles. If Jesus needed thus to pray before choosing his friends, how much more should we seek God's counsel before taking a new friendship into our life! We cannot know what it may mean to us, whither it may lead us, what sorrow, care, or pain it may bring to us, what touches of beauty or of marring it may put upon our soul, and we dare not admit it unless God gives it to us. In nothing do young people need more the guidance of divine wisdom than when they are settling the question of who shall be their friends. At the Last Supper Jesus said in his prayer, referring to his disciples, "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me." It makes a friendship very sacred to be able to say, "God gave it to me. God sent me this friend."
In choosing his friends, Jesus thought not chiefly of the comfort and help they would be to him, but far more of what he might be to them. He did crave friendship for himself. His heart needed it just as any true human heart does. He welcomed affection whenever any one brought the gift to him. He accepted the friendship of the poor, of the children, of those he helped. We cannot understand how much the Bethany home was to him, with its confidence, its warmth, its shelter, its tender affection. One of the most pathetic incidents in the whole Gospel story is the hunger of Jesus for sympathy in the garden, when he came again and again to his human friends, hoping to find them alert in watchful love, and found them asleep. It was a cry of deep disappointment which came from his lips, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" Jesus craved the blessing of friendship for himself, and in choosing the Twelve expected comfort and strength from his fellowship with them.
But his deepest desire was that he might be a blessing to them. He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister;" not to have friends, but to be a friend. He chose the Twelve that he might lift them up to honor and good; that he might purify, refine, and enrich their lives; that he might prepare them to be his witnesses, the conservators of his gospel, the interpreters to the world of his life and teachings. He sought nothing for himself, but every breath he drew was full of unselfish love.
We should learn from Jesus that the essential quality in the heart of friendship is not the desire to have friends, but the desire to be a friend; not to get good and help from others, but to impart blessing to others. Many of the sighings for friendship which we have are merely selfish longings,—a desire for happiness, for pleasure, for the gratification of the heart, which friends would bring. If the desire were to be a friend, to do others good, to serve and to give help, it would be a far more Christlike longing, and would transform the life and character.
We are surprised at the kind of men Jesus chose for his friends. We would suppose that he, the Son of God, coming from heaven, would have gathered about him as his close and intimate companions the most refined and cultivated men of his nation,—men of intelligence, of trained mind, of wide influence. Instead of going to Jerusalem, however, to choose his apostles from among rabbis, priests, scribes, and rulers, he selected them from among the plain people, largely from among fishermen of Galilee. One reason for this was that he must choose these inner friends from the company which had been drawn to him and were already his followers, in true sympathy with him; and there were none of the great, the learned, the cultured, among these. But another reason was, that he cared more for qualities of the heart than for rank, position, name, worldly influence, or human wisdom. He wanted near him only those who would be of the same mind with him, and whom he could train into loyal, sympathetic apostles.
Jesus took these untutored, undisciplined men into his own household, and at once began to prepare them for their great work. It is worthy of note, that instead of scattering his teachings broadcast among the people, so that who would might gather up his words, and diffusing his influence throughout a mass of disciples, while distinctly and definitely impressing none ineffaceably, Jesus chose twelve men, and concentrated his influence upon them. He took them into the closest relations to himself, taught them the great truths of his kingdom, impressed upon them the stamp of his own life, and breathed into them his own spirit. We think of the apostles as great men; they did become great. Their influence filled many lands—fills all the world to-day. They sit on thrones, judging all the tribes of men, But all that they became, they became through the friendship of Jesus. He gave them all their greatness. He trained them until their rudeness grew into refined culture. No doubt he gave much time to them in private. They were with him continually. They saw all his life.
It was a high privilege to live with Jesus those three years,—eating with him, walking with him, hearing all his conversations, witnessing his patience, his kindness, his thoughtfulness. It was almost like living in heaven; for Jesus was the Son of God—God manifest in the flesh. When Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," Jesus answered, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Living with Jesus was, therefore, living with God—his glory tempered by the gentle humanity in which it was veiled, but no less divine because of this. For three years the disciples lived with God. No wonder that their lives were transformed, and that the best that was in them was wooed out by the blessed summer weather of love in which they moved.
"He chose twelve." Probably this was because there were twelve tribes of Israel, and the number was to be continued. One evangelist says that he sent them out two and two. Why by two and two? With all the world to evangelize, would it not have been better if they had gone out one by one? Then they would have reached twice as many points. Was it not a waste of force, of power, to send two to the same place?
No doubt Jesus had reasons. It would have been lonely for one man to go by himself. If there were two, one would keep the other company. There was opposition to the gospel in those days, and it would have been hard for one to endure persecution alone. The handclasp of a brother would make the heart braver and stronger. We do not know how much we owe to our companionships, how they strengthen us, how often we would fail and sink down without them.
One of the finest definitions of happiness in literature is that given by Oliver Wendell Holmes. "Happiness," said the Autocrat, "is four feet on the fender." When his beloved wife was gone, and an old friend came in to condole with him, he said, shaking his gray head, "Only two feet on the fender now." Congenial companionship is wonderfully inspiring. Aloneness is pain. You cannot kindle a fire with one coal. A log will not burn alone. But put two coals or two logs side by side, and the fire kindles and blazes and burns hotly. Jesus yoked his apostles in twos that mutual friendship might inspire them both.
There was another reason for mating the Twelve. Each of them was only a fragment of a man—not one of them was full-rounded, a complete man, strong at every point. Each had a strength of his own, with a corresponding weakness. Then Jesus yoked them together so that each two made one good man. The hasty, impetuous, self-confident Peter needed the counterbalancing of the cautious, conservative Andrew. Thomas the doubter was matched by Matthew the strong believer. It was not an accidental grouping by which the Twelve fell into six parts. Jesus knew what was in man; and he yoked these men together in a way which brought out the best that was in each of them, and by thus blending their lives, turned their very faults and weaknesses into beauty and strength. He did not try to make them all alike. He made no effort to have Peter grow quiet and gentle like John, or Thomas become an enthusiastic, unquestioning believer like Matthew, He sought for each man's personality, and developed that. He knew that to try to recast Peter's tremendous energy into staidness and caution would only rob him of what was best in his nature. He found room in his apostle family for as many different types of temperament as there were men, setting the frailties of one over against the excessive virtues of the other.
It is interesting to note the method of Jesus in training his apostles. The aim of true friendship anywhere is not to make life easy for one's friend, but to make something of the friend. That is God's method. He does not hurry to take away every burden under which he sees us bending. He does not instantly answer our prayer for relief, when we begin to cry to him about the difficulty we have, or the trial we are facing, or the sacrifice we are making. He does not spare us hardship, loss, or pain. He wants not to make things easy for us, but to make something of us. We grow under burdens. It is poor, mistaken fathering or mothering that thinks only of saving a child from hard tasks or severe discipline. It is weak friendship that seeks only pleasure and indulgence for a loved one. "The chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do the best we can."
Jesus was the truest of friends. He never tried to make the burden light, the path smooth, the struggle easy. He wished to make men of his apostles,—men who could stand up and face the world; men whose character would reflect the beauty of holiness in its every line; men in whose hands his gospel would be safe when they went out as his ambassadors. He set for each apostle a high ideal, and then helped him to work up to the ideal. He taught them that the law of the cross is the law of life, that the saving of one's life is the losing of it, and that only when we lose our life, as men rate it, giving it out in love's service, do we really save it.
It is not easy to make a man. It is said that the violin-makers in distant lands, by breaking and mending with skilful hands, at last produce instruments having a more wonderful capacity than ever was possible to them when new, unbroken and whole. Whether this be true or not of violins, it certainly is true of human lives. We cannot merely grow into strength, beauty, nobleness, and power of helpfulness, without discipline, pain, and cost. It is written even of Jesus himself that he was made perfect through suffering. There was no sin in him; but his perfectness as a sympathizing Friend, as a helpful Saviour, came through struggle, trial, pain, and sorrow. Not one of the apostles reached his royal strength as a man, as a helper of men, as a representative of Jesus, without enduring loss and suffering. No man who ever rises to a place of real worth and usefulness in the world walks on a rose-strewn path. We never can be made fit for anything beautiful and worthy without cost of pain and tears. Always it is true that—
"Things that hurt and things that mar Shape the man for perfect praise; Shock and strain and ruin are Friendlier than the smiling days."
How about ourselves? Life is made very real to our thought when we remember that in all the experiences of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, success and failure, health and sickness, quiet or struggle, God is making men of us. Then he watches us to see if we fail. Here is a man who is passing through sore trial. For many months his wife has been a great sufferer. All the while he has been carrying a heavy burden,—a financial burden, a burden of sympathy; for every moment's pain that his wife has suffered has been like a sword in his own heart,—burdens of care, with broken nights and weary days. We may be sure of God's tender interest in the wife who suffers in the sick-room; but his eye is even more intently fixed upon him who is bearing the burden of sympathy and care. He is watching to see if the man will stand the test, and grow sweeter and stronger. Everything hard or painful in a Christian's life is another opportunity for him to get a new victory, and become a little more a man.
It is remarkable how little we know about the apostles. A few of them are fairly prominent. Peter and James and John we know quite well, as their names are made familiar in the inspired story. Matthew we know by the Gospel he wrote. Thomas we remember by his doubts. Another Judas, not Iscariot, probably left us a little letter. Of the rest we know almost nothing but their names. Indeed, few Bible readers can give even the names of all the Twelve.
No doubt one reason why no more is told us about the apostles is that the Bible magnifies only one name. It is not a book of biographies, but the book of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each apostle had a sacred friendship all his own with his Master, a friendship with which no other could intermeddle. We can imagine the quiet talks, the long walks with the deep communings, the openings of heart, the confessions of weakness and failure, the many prayers together. We may be very sure that through those three wonderful years there ran twelve stories of holy friendship, with their blessed revealings of the Master's heart to the heart of each man. But not a word of all this is written in the New Testament. It was too sacred to be recorded for any eye of earth to read.
We may be sure, too, that each man of the Twelve did a noble work after the Ascension, but no pen wrote the narratives for preservation. There are traditions, but there is in them little that is certainly history. The Acts is not the acts of the apostles. The book tells a little about John, a little more about Peter, most about Paul, and of the others gives nothing but a list of their names in the first chapter.
Yet we need not trouble ourselves about this. It is the same with the good and the useful in every age. A few names are preserved, but the great multitude are forgotten. Earth keeps scant record of its benefactors. But there is a place where every smallest kindness done in the name of Christ is recorded and remembered.
Long, long ages ago a beautiful fern grew in a deep vale, nodding in the breeze. One day it fell, complaining as it sank away that no one would remember its grace and beauty. The other day a geologist went out with his hammer in the interest of his science. He struck a rock; and there in the seam lay the form of a fern—every leaf, every fibre, the most delicate traceries of the leaves. It was the fern which ages since grew and dropped into the indistinguishable mass of vegetation. It perished; but its memorial was preserved, and to-day is made manifest.
So it is with the stories of the obscure apostles, and of all beautiful lives which have wrought for God and for man and have vanished from earth. Nothing is lost, nothing is forgotten. The memorials are in other lives, and some day every touch and trace and influence and impression will be revealed. In the book of The Revelation we are told that in the foundations of the heavenly city are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The New Testament does not tell the story of their worthy lives, but it is cut deep in the eternal rock, where all eyes shall see it forever.
On the lives of these chosen friends Jesus impressed his own image. His blessed divine-human friendship transformed them into men who went to the ends of the world for him, carrying his name. It was a new and strange influence on the earth—this holy friendship of Jesus Christ started in the hearts and lives of the apostles. At once it began to make this old world new. Those who believed received the same wonderful friendship into their own hearts. They loved each other in a way men had never loved before. Christians lived together as one family.
Ever since the day of Pentecost this wonderful friendship of Jesus has been spreading wherever the gospel has gone. It has given to the world its Christian homes with their tender affections; it has built hospitals and asylums, and established charitable institutions of all kinds in every place where its story has been told. From the cross of Jesus a wave of tenderness, like the warmth of summer, has rolled over all lands. The friendship of Jesus, left in the hearts of his apostles, as his legacy to the world, has wrought marvellously; and its ministry and influence will extend until everything unlovely shall cease from earth, and the love of God shall pervade all life.
JESUS AND THE BELOVED DISCIPLE.
My Lord, my Love! in pleasant pain How often have I said, "Blessed that John who on thy breast Laid down his head." It was that contact all divine Transformed him from above, And made him amongst men the man To show forth holy love. CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI.
Love is regenerating the world. It is the love of God that is working this mighty transformation. The world was cold and loveless before Christ came. Of course there always was love in the race,—father-love, mother-love, filial love, love for country. There have always been human friendships which were constant, tender, and true, whose stories shine in bright lustre among the records of life. Natural affection there has always been, but Christian love was not in the world till Christ came.
The incarnation was the breaking into this world of the love of God. For three and thirty years Jesus walked among men, pouring out love in every word, in every act, in all his works, and in every influence of his life. Then on the cross his heart broke, spilling its love upon the earth. As Mary's ointment filled all the house where it was emptied out, so the love of God poured out in Christ's life and death is filling all the world.
Jesus put his love into human hearts that it might be carried everywhere. Instantly there was a wondrous change. The story of the Church after the day of Pentecost shows a spirit among the disciples of Christ which the world had never seen before. They had all things common. The strong helped the weak. They formed a fellowship which was almost heavenly. From that time to the present the leaven of love has been working. It has slowly wrought itself into every department of life,—into art, literature, music, laws, education, morals. Every hospital, orphanage, asylum, and reformatory in the world has been inspired by the love of Christ. Christian civilization is a product of this same divine affection working through the nations.
Perhaps no other of the Master's disciples has done so much in the interpreting and the diffusing of the love of Christ in the world as the beloved disciple has done. Peter was the mightiest force at the beginning in the founding of the Church. Then came Paul with his tremendous missionary energy, carrying Christianity to the ends of the earth. Each of these apostles was greatest in his own way and place. But John has done more than either of these to bless the world with love. His influence is everywhere. He is likest Jesus of all the disciples. His influence is slowly spreading among men. We see it in the enlarging spirit of love among Christians, in the increase of philanthropy, in the growing sentiment that war must cease among Christian nations, all disputes to be settled by arbitration, and in the feeling of universal brotherhood which is softening all true men's hearts toward each other.
It cannot but be intensely interesting to trace the story of the friendship of Jesus and John, for it was in this hallowed friendship that John learned all that he gave the world in his life and words. We are able to fix its beginning—when Jesus and John met for the first time. One day John the Baptist was standing by the Jordan with two of his disciples. One of these was Andrew; and the other we know was John—we know it because in John's own Gospel, where the incident is recorded, no name is given. The two young men had not yet seen Jesus; but the Baptist knew him, and pointed him out as he passed by, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God!"
The two young men went after Jesus, no doubt eager to speak with him. Hearing their footsteps behind him, he turned, and asked them what they sought. They asked, "Rabbi, where abidest thou?" He said, "Come, and ye shall see." They gladly accepted the invitation, went with him to his lodgings, and remained until the close of the day. We have no account of what took place during those happy hours. It would be interesting to know what Jesus said to his visitors, but not a word of the conversation has been preserved. We may be sure, however, that the visit made a deep impression on John.
Most days in our lives are unmarked by any special event. There are thousands of them that seem just alike, with their common routine. Once or twice, however, in the lifetime of almost every person, there is a day which is made forever memorable by some event or occurrence,—the first meeting with one who fills a large place in one's after years, a compact of sacred friendship, a revealing of some new truth, a decision which brought rich blessing, or some other experience which set the day forever apart among all days.
John lived to be a very old man; but to his latest years he must have remembered the day when he first met Jesus, and began with him the friendship which brought him such blessing. We may be sure that as at their first meeting the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul, so at this first meeting the soul of John was knit with the soul of Jesus in a holy friendship which brought unspeakable good to his life. There was that in Jesus which at once touched all that was best in John, and called out the sweetest music of his soul.
"Thou shall know him when he comes Not by any din of drums, Nor the vantage of his airs; Neither by his crown, Nor by his gown, Nor by anything he wears. He shall only well-known be By the holy harmony That his coming makes in thee!"