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Personal Friendships Of Jesus by Elizabeth Miller


He seeks not thine, but thee, such as thou art,
For lo, his banner over thee is love.

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.

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.

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