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Another criterion by which each of us should carefully measure himself is, Am I now a friend of God? That is a most pertinent and necessary inquiry, for, as was shown under a considerable variety of expressions when defining the meaning of reconciliation, that term signifies the bringing together of two persons who have previously been alienated, the changing of a state of enmity and hostility unto one of amity and friendship. By nature and by practice I was the enemy of God, hating and opposing Him; but if a work of grace has been wrought in my soul then I am now the friend of God, loving and serving Him. As this is a matter of deepest importance, both practically and experimentally, we propose to canvass it in some detail, endeavoring to do so along lines so clear and simple that no exercised soul should have any uncertainty in determining to which class he belongs. “Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” ( James 2:23).
It seems passing strange that scarcely any of the commentators perceived the force of that last clause, interpreting it quite out of harmony with its setting. Most of them see in God’s styling Abraham His “friend ” an amazing instance of His sovereign grace and condescension, while a few regard the expression in the light of the extraordinary and intimate communion which the patriarch was permitted to enjoy with Jehovah. But what is there in the context which paves the way for any such climax? It was in no-wise the design of the Holy Spirit in this epistle to portray the wondrous riches of Divine grace, nor to describe the inestimable privileges they confer upon their recipients; rather was it to expose a worthless profession and supply marks of a valid one. James was not moved to refute the legality of Judaism, which insisted that we must do certain things in order to our acceptance by God, but was repelling Antinomianism, showing the worthlessness of a faith which bore no fruit.
In the days of the apostles, as in all succeeding generations, there were those bearing the name of Christians who supposed that a mere intellectual belief of the Gospel was sufficient to secure a passport for Heaven. There is not a little in the N.T. which was expressly written to refute that error, by an insistence upon holiness of heart and strictness of life being necessary in order to evince a saving faith in Christ. The principal design of James was to show that when God justifies or reconciles a sinner to Himself, He also works in that person a disposition which is friendly toward Him, a spirit and attitude which reciprocates His own benignity. In a genuine conversion an enemy is transformed into a friend to God, so that he loves Him, delights in Him, and serves Him. No one has any right to regard himself as a friend of God unless he has the character of one and conducts himself accordingly. If I am the friend of God then I shall be jealous of His honor, respect His will, value His interests, and devote myself to promoting the same; in a word, I shall “show my self friendly .”
The apostle’s scope is clear enough both from what immediately precedes and follows. In verse 20 he says, “But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead,” and in verse 24, “You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
A bare mental assent to the Gospel is worthless, for it effects no change in the heart and walk of the one exercising it. Fair words on the lips are downright hypocrisy unless they are borne out in our daily conduct. A faith in Christ which conforms not to His image is not the faith of God’s elect.
Saving faith produces good works. In verses 8 to 14 the apostle had insisted that the Gospel requires a sincere respect unto all the Divine commandments, while in verses 15-25 he shows what a real faith in them brings forth. This he illustrates first by the illustrious case of Abraham. It is to be duly noted that reference is not here made to the initial act of his faith when the Lord first appeared unto the patriarch in Ur of Chaldea, but rather to that memorable incident on mount Moriah recorded in Genesis 22.
Faith is not a passive thing but an active principle, operating powerfully within its possessor. “Faith works by love ” ( Galatians 5:6). Let those words be carefully pondered. “Faith works :” it is the very nature of it to do so, for it is a new, living and powerful energy, imparted to the soul at regeneration. “Faith works by love :” not by fear or compulsion, but freely and gladly. Such was the faith of Abraham: his faith “wrought with his works ” ( James 2:22), and it wrought by love, for it was love to God which moved the patriarch, in obedience to His behest, to lay his dear Isaac upon the altar; and in this way he attested his friendship to God. “Friendship is the strength of love, and the highest improvement of it. ‘Your friend ’ says Moses, ‘who is as your own soul ’ ( Deuteronomy 13:6). Friendship is common to and included in all relations of love. A brother is (or ought to be) a friend; it is but friendship natural. Husband and wife are friends: that knot is friendship conjugal. In Song of Solomon we have an instance of both: Christ called His church Sister, and then Spouse; and not contented with both, though put together, He added another compellation as the top of all, ‘O My friends ’ (v. 11).”
In its first working faith comes to God as an empty-handed beggar to receive from Him, yet if it is a sincere and spiritual faith it will necessarily form the soul of its possessor unto a correspondent and answerable frame of heart unto God; thus if I come to Him for pardon and peace, and receive the same, the reflex or consequence will be the exercise of a filial and friendly spirit in me toward God. Faith is made the grateful recipient of all from God, yet on that very account it becomes the worker of love in the soul. In James 2:21-23 the apostle shows what a powerful working thing faith is: it molded Abraham’s heart into friendship with God. A friend is best known or most clearly manifested in a time of trial. Thus it was in Genesis 22: the Lord there put Abraham to the proof, bidding him, “Take now your son, your only Isaac, whom you love... and offer him there for a burnt offering.”
And God so approved of his ready response as to own him as His “friend ” from this time forward: see 2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8. And since He only calls things as they actually are, Abraham had truly conducted himself as such.
Let it next be pointed out that Abraham’s case is not to be regarded as an exceptional or extraordinary one, but rather as a representative and typical one. As Romans 4:11 and 16 plainly teaches, Abraham is a pattern and father unto all believers. Those who are his spiritual children ( Romans 9:7,8) and seed ( Galatians 3:7,29), “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham ” ( Romans 4:12) and “do the works of Abraham ” ( John 8:39), and they too are owned by the Lord as His “friends ” ( John 15:14). Observe that in both 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8 it is “the seed of Abraham Your friend ,” while in James 2:21 Abraham is expressly presented in that passage as “our father .” Thus, this blessed appellation pertains to all his spiritual seed. For one to be owned by God as His “friend ” imports that person has a friendly disposition of heart and deportment of life toward Him, as one friend bears unto another.
Wherever a saving faith exists it frames the heart of its possessor into a friend-like temper and brings forth a friend-like carriage in our life. “He was called the friend of God .” While that indeed is a title of unspeakable dignity and honor, yet—though scarcely any appear to have perceived it—it is also (and chiefly) expressive of the inward disposition of a saint toward God, describing his love for Him and his bearing toward Him. By our carriage and conduct we exemplify and ratify that character.
The faith which justifies a sinner before God is one that works by love and is expressed in an obedient walk, earnestly endeavoring to please God in all things, and therefore the character and carriage of a Christian is appropriately expressed under the notion of friendship. In a truly marvelous way had God befriended Abraham, and the patriarch manifested his appreciation by conducting himself suitably to it. It is the law of friendship to answer it again with friendship: “A man that has friends must show himself friendly, and there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother” ( Proverbs 18:24), and to Him we must show ourselves supremely friendly, doing nothing to displease or dishonor Him, but exercising subjection to Him, delighting in Him, and promoting His interests.
We will pass now from the general to the particular and consider some of the more obvious characteristics and marks of friendship, together with the duties and offices to be performed as are proper and suited to such a relationship—friendship too combines both privilege and duty, and we should be dishonest if we confined our remarks to one of them only, First of all then, between two friends there necessarily exists a close bond of union, a oneness of nature or at least similarity of disposition, so that they share in common the same likes and dislikes—not perhaps in every detail, but generally and essentially so. There can be no congeniality where there is no singleness and harmony of nature. It is the gift and dwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Christian which is the bond of union, and which capacitates him to hate what God hates and love what He loves. It is that oneness of nature and disposition which causes two persons to have a mutual regard and affection, and to look favorably on one another, in which the very essence of friendship consists. From all eternity God set His heart upon him, and now the reconciled one has given his heart to Him.
One has a very high regard for an intimate and proved friend. That God greatly values and esteems those whom He reconciles to Himself is clear both from His declarations concerning them and what He has done for them. He prizes them above the world and orders all things in its governance for the furthering of their good. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One in Israel, your Saviour.
I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honorable, and I have loved you” ( Isaiah 43:3,4).
What a wondrous and blessed testimony is that! “He delivered me because He delighted in me” ( 2 Samuel 22:20). “How fair and how pleasant you are, O love for delights” ( Song of Sol. 7:6) is His language respecting His Spouse, and She in return declares, “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste” ( 2:3).
Since real and warm friends highly value and delight in one another it is their chief pleasure to share each other’s company, being happiest when together. Thus it is between the reconciled soul and his heavenly Friend: “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” ( 1 John 1:3).
In nothing can the Christian more fitly evince his friendship with God than by a diligent endeavor to maintain a constant and intimate communion with Him. In addition to the regular tribute of his daily worship, if the soul of the believer is in a healthy condition, he will take occasion to frequently come into God’s presence on purpose to. have communion with Him.
Friendship is best maintained by visits, and the more free and less occasioned by urgent business, the more are they appreciated. David, owned as “a man after God ’s own heart ”—the equivalent of Abraham’s being called His “friend ”—said, “O God, You are my God, early will I seek You... To see Your power and Your glory, so as I have seen You in the sanctuary.
That was the language of pure friendship.
Intimate converse and close communications characterize the dealings of one warm friend to another. Things which I would not discuss with a stranger, personal matters I would be silent upon to a mere acquaintance, I freely open to one I delight in. It is thus between God and the reconciled soul. It is so on His part: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” ( Psalm 25:14).] “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face (without restraint or reserve) as a man speaks unto his friend” ( Exodus 33:11).
Thus Scripture makes this freedom of communication one of the marks of spiritual friendship. So too we find the Lord Jesus saying to His beloved apostles, “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you” ( John 15:15).
Do you, my reader, know anything of this experience? Are you in such close touch with Him as to make this (morally) possible? It is through His Word God now speaks to us: do you know what it is for your heart to “burn ” while He talks with you by the way and “opens ” to you the Scriptures ( Luke 24:32)?
Yet this intimate conversation is not one-sided, but is reciprocal: the reconciled one finds liberty in opening his heart unto his heavenly Friend, as he does to none other. This is his holy privilege: “trust in Him at all times, you people, pour out your heart before Him” ( Psalm 62:8).
How do you treat your best earthly friend? When you have not seen him for a season, how warmly you welcome him, how freely you express your pleasure at meeting him again, what utterances of good will and delight do you make! Equally free should the saint be with his Lord. He should pour out his heart with joy and gladness. He should unrestrainedly avow his delight in the Lord. He should bring with him a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of his lips, giving thanks ( Hebrews 13:15). Such will not only be acceptable unto Him, but it will give Him pleasure: it is on these occasions that He says, “Your lips, O My Spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under your tongue”( Song of Sol. 4:11) —such communications are sweet unto Me.
True, yet that only affords occasion for another attribute of friendship to be exercised, namely, to freely unburden his heart unto him. Thus it is with the reconciled soul and God: he will speak to Him more freely and make mention of things which he would not to his nearest and dearest earthly friend. This is the Christian’s privilege: to ease his heart before God. Said the Psalmist, “I poured out my complaint before Him, I showed before Him my trouble” ( <19E202> Psalm 142:2), and He deems Himself honored by such confidences. The more communion there is between God and us over our distresses, the more will He discover our secret faults, and the more will we disclose again to Him. The one is a sure consequence of the other. After speaking of our fellowship with God in 1 John 1:3, it is added, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins .” One great part of our friendship with God is the taking of Him fully into our confidence, as on His part it is to pardon us.
Having confidence in a friend we freely seek his help and advice. When describing a close friend David said, “we took sweet counsel together ” ( Psalm 55:14). And that is how we ought to treat our heavenly Friend, making use of Him, counting upon His favor and help in all our concerns.
That is both our privilege and duty: “in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” ( Proverbs 3:6) —seek His counsel, give yourself up to His guidance. That little (and large) word “all ” includes small things as well as great! In this the friendship of God excels that of others. We are loath to trouble an earthly friend about trifles, but we may spread the smallest matter before Him who has numbered the very hairs of our head. In this we honor Him, for it is an acknowledgement on our part that He rules all things, even the very least.
One is very careful in seeking to avoid giving any offence unto a dear friend and doing all in our power to please him. Apply that Godwards and it has reference to our obedience. Therefore do we find Christ saying, “You are My friends if you do whatsoever I command you” ( John 15:14).
That “if ” is addressed to responsibility and is the testing of our profession.
It is by obedience we evidence and approve ourselves to be His friends.
Obedience goes much further than resisting sin and abstaining from wicked works: “cease to do evil , learn to do well ” ( Isaiah 1:17). It is not sufficient to forbear the commission of sin if we perform not our duty. The fig tree was cursed not because it bore evil fruit, but because it was barren.
There are many who, like the Pharisees, pride themselves on negations: I am not profane, immoral, irreligious. But that gives them no title to regard themselves as friends of Christ. Are they actually doing the things He has enjoined—this is the crucial test and characteristic mark of the reconciled.
Observe it is not “you shall be ” but “you are My friends if you do .” It is the doers of His Word whom the Lord owns as His friends: they who are as diligent in practicing His precepts as in shunning what He hates. And their obedience is not that of mercenary legalists nor the forced work of slaves, but is the voluntary and joyful response of loving and grateful hearts. An action may have the appearance of friendship when there is nothing of good will behind it. But none can impose upon the Lord—He knows when there is inward conformity to His will as well as outward compliance, when a person’s “good works ” are those of the formalist or of a loving heart. If they are the latter, we shall not pick and choose between His precepts, but “do whatsoever He commands ?” “whatever your soul desires , I will even do it for you ” ( 1 Samuel 20:4) said Jonathan to his friend. That is indeed the longing and aim of every reconciled soul but his infirmities and distempers often cause him to go halting.
Another characteristic or mark of friendship is confidence: “My own familiar friend in whom I trusted ” ( Psalm 41:3) said David. Nothing more readily undermines friendship than the harboring of suspicions. It is because we have proved the staunchness and affection of another that we count him our friend, and rely upon him. Thus it is with a reconciled soul and God. He has ‘shown Himself to be graciously disposed unto me, giving me innumerable proofs of His lovingkindness and faithfulness, and that draws out my heart in confidence toward Him. The more I trust in Him and look to Him for help, the more is He pleased and honored by me, and the more do I show myself to be His friend. “Cast your burden upon the Lord ” is His blessed invitation, for He desires not His child should be weighted down by it. “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” ( 1 Peter 5:7).
God would have His people act toward Him with holy familiarity, confiding in Him at all time, counting upon His goodness, reposing themselves in His love, making known their requests with thanksgiving, expecting Him to supply all their need. That is both our privilege and duty if we sustain to God the relationship of friends.
Where there is full confidence in a tried and trusted friend we place a favorable construction upon even those actions of his which may puzzle and perplex us. We refuse to impute evil to or harbor suspicions against him. Any fancied slight he has given, any apparent unconcern or unkindness he has shown, anything in his letters which we do not understand, we leave until we again see him face to face, quietly assured that a satisfactory explanation will be forthcoming from him. Thus it is with the saint and his heavenly friend. Some of His dealings sorely try and exercise him, yet he doubts not that He is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. Some of His dispensations are exceedingly trying to flesh and blood, but a believing soul will “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense , but trust Him for His grace ,” realizing that “behind a frowning providence , He hides a smiling face .” Thus it was with Job, “Though He slay me , yet will I trust Him .” Love “thinks no evil ” but favorably interprets the most mysterious of God’s ways, knowing that He is making all things work together for our good.
There is no real reason why any one of ordinary intelligence should remain in doubt as to his spiritual state. If you faithfully examine yourself and honestly measure yourself by the different criteria we have mentioned in these articles, you should have no difficulty in determining whether you be still alienated from God or reconciled to Him. If you are at peace with Him then you are making common cause with Him, warring against His foes— the Devil, sin, the world. If you are reconciled to God, then you are His friend, evidencing the same by a friend-like disposition and deportment, conducting yourself toward Him, treating Him, as one friend with another.