The Perfect Friendship

John 15:15.---' No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you.'

When Christ says to His disciples, 'No longer do I call you servants,' He is not canceling the relationship which has hitherto subsisted between Him and them. He is setting aside none of His dignity and authority. 'Ye call me teacher, and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.' These titles retain all their force. And the Apostles never cease to glory in the fact that He is for ever the Master, and they for ever servants. 'Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.' 'James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.' And when John was spending his years of exile in the island of Patmos, and there received glimpses of the unseen and eternal world with its conditions, it was revealed to him that the old relationship to Christ is enduring. 'And his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads.' We therefore dismiss the idea that Christ thinks of rescinding an iota of His lordship.

But what He does say is that lordship is not all. He is about to send His disciples out into the vast world to undertake the greatest task ever entrusted to human beings---the foundation of His Kingdom on earth. He commissions them to go to humanity, with all its sin, all its culture, all its ancient faiths and superstitions, and to conquer it for Him. And before He sends them away, He assures them that they go not only as His servants but as His friends. He gives them all the joy and power of this revelation. He wishes their ministry to be for ever irradiated by a Divine friendship.

It was Christ's purpose that His friendship with all His followers should be based upon a perfect mutual understanding. 'I have called you friends,' He said to His disciples, 'for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you.' He makes a clear distinction between two things which are both admirable---service and friendship. He never utters a disparaging word about service. He says elsewhere that it is good and faithful servants who enter into the joy of their lord. But He plainly indicates that there is something higher than service. There is a nearer and dearer relationship, into which it is the privilege of all His disciples to enter. To this He bids them aspire. A servant is one who receives his instructions at the beginning of the day, is expected to carry them out to the letter, whether he understands their scope and purpose or not. He may or may not sympathize with his master's aims; in either case his obligation is perfect obedience. And Christianity has often been illustrated by the familiar words, "Theirs not to reason why, theirs not to make reply." The soldier's life of service certainly displays the absolute ideal of implicit, unquestioning obedience. But there is something higher than that. With all reverence the followers of Christ may say, 'Ours is to reason why, ours is to make reply.' Their Lord Himself so wills it. He is their teacher as their Master, and they know that while they dare not set aside any moral imperative which He addresses to their conscience, a blind, unintelligent submission is the last thing that He desires of them. During His years of familiar communion with the Twelve, He listened to a thousand questions and answers. He encouraged them to state all their difficulties and reason everything out. He sought to make His revelation perfectly clear to their minds: He wished their service to be based on an ever increasing enlightenment. They were students at once of His life and of His teaching, to whom He told all His secrets, explained all His purposes, unfolded all His ideals, in so far as they were 'able to bear' the instruction; and at the end He could say to them, 'No longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard of my Father I have made known to you.' Christ wishes every follower of His to consider the facts of Christianity again and again till they become the fullest persuasion in his own mind. Thus the servant of Christ becomes His friend.

Scarcely any words are adequate to represent the effects of this Divine friendship. It is redeeming, uplifting, purifying, transfiguring. Human friendship at its best has always something redemptive in it. Christ advised us to choose those things whom we shall reverence as well as love, whose example will encourage and stimulate us to whatsoever things are true and lovely and of good report. We naturally and inevitably become like that which we sincerely and cordially admire. And if a human friendship does so much, what can a Divine friendship not do? If we abide in uninterrupted fellowship with Christ, we come to have the mind of our Divine Friend. It has often been noted that the husband and wife who have shared each other's inmost thoughts and feelings for half a lifetime grow like each other. Christ calls all His followers to participate in a Divine friendship which consummates itself by making them partakers of His Divine nature.

This Divine and redeeming friendship is, of course, lasting. It is everlasting. On the day after Christ said to His disciples, 'I have called you friends,' He died. But that could not terminate the sweet and holy relationship. For a brief space His death interrupted it, but He rose again to renew and perfect it. Probably all pure love is in its very nature enduring. Christs victory over death confirms that instinctive conviction. In spite of many waters and floods, Divine love is unquenchable. The friends of Christ share all the power of His resurrection-life. He will not let them be resolved into a handful of dust and cease to be. His covenant of friendship cannot be broken.

After having initiated His disciples into this new relationship, Christ was confident that He could send them into all the earth to found His Church, to establish His Kingdom. Without it the task would have been impossible, but with it the issue could not for a moment be doubtful. The Church of Christ is just the communion of His saints, the fellowship of His friends. It cannot rest on a foundation of abstract dogma, however strong; it cannot win the world by an artistic ritual, however impressive. The secret of its strength and permanence is a human friendship which is the invariable accompany of a Divine friendship.

Christ is the Center of the new humanity, which with all its diversities is one family. On a twofold friendship---that of Christ to His disciples, and that of His disciples to one another---the One Church of God is broadly and deeply based. Christ was justified in His expectation. He sent His servants, whom He glorified as His friends, that they should bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain. They multiplied the friendship a thousand fold. They proved throughout the great world that Jew and Gentile, barbarian and Scythian, bond and free, are all unified in Christ Jesus.

Our Lord in this passage puts His finger upon what is lacking in the service of many of his followers. They are absolutely conscientious; they have a strong, unflinching sense of duty; they would no more neglect their obligations to God than their responsibilities to their own flesh and blood. They live ever in the Taskmaster's sight. Still they have the unpleasant feeling that they have not discovered the secret which makes the yoke easy and the burden light. They confess to themselves, if not to others, that they find the service of God somewhat irksome. They scarcely realize the meaning of the words, 'To do thy will, O Lord, I take delight.' But Christ has something more to give them. Christianity is not merely a Divine Service; it is a Divine Service transfigured by a Divine Friendship. Nothing but the alchemy of love ever transmutes a leaden service into a golden.

Christ's service is perfect liberty. No one can grow weary in well-doing who lives in the light of a friendship which changes all duties into delights. When Christ says, 'Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you,' the condition is added not to chill and daunt, but to encourage and inspire.

This perfect friendship is the realization of one of Plato's noblest dreams. "What if man had eyes to see the true beauty---the Divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed? . . . Do you not see that in that communion only . . . he will be enabled to bring forth not images of beauty, but realities . . . and bringing forth and nourishing virtue, to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may?

In Christ, timothy. maranatha