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Personal Friendships Of Jesus by Elizabeth Miller

CHAPTER IV. 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.

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