A godly, faithful friend is one of the greatest treasures upon earth. If a friend is valuable in secular matters, how much more a spiritual friend! The book of Proverbs tells us that as “Iron is sharpened by iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (27: 17)––that is, just as by friction one metal instrument is sharpened and polished by contact with another, so as Christians we may be a spiritual help to each other by interesting and profitable exchange of thought. A recluse is always a very one–sided man. Man was not made to live alone, but in company with others: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and who hath not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one alone be warm? And if a [man] overpower the one, the two shall withstand him” (Ecc. 4: 9–12). The Egyptians in their hieroglyphics expressed the unprofitableness of a solitary man by a single millstone, which on its own cannot grind corn.
Now though man is inclined to friendship by the bent of his nature, we are not friends with all. We choose our company and, generally speaking, like is attracted to like. This is because friendship, to a large extent, depends on a harmony of minds. Thus the godly have special love to the godly: “I am the companion of all that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119: 63). Every man shows his character by his company. The birds of heaven flock together according to their kind: you do not see doves flocking with ravens. In the same way nor do those who are awaiting God’s Son from the heavens (see 1 Thess. 1: 10) find pleasure in the company of those that live to eat, drink and be merry (see Luke 12: 19; 1 Cor. 15: 32). Those that love God delight in those that love him––those that are most likely to stir them up to the consideration of Christ and his things.
If our friends are not like us, then intimacy and converse will make us like them. Every man is profoundly affected by his company: “He that walketh with wise [men] becometh wise, but a companion of the foolish will be depraved” (Prov. 13: 20). As a man that walks in the sun can be tanned without realising it, so, if we are not aware, we adopt the manners and customs of unsuitable friends, especially in evil. In the types of the law, that which was clean became unclean by touching the unclean, but the unclean were not purified by touching the clean (see Hag. 2: 13). We are quickly habituated into the same frame of spirit as those we have chosen for our companions: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and go not with a furious man: lest thou learn his paths, and get a snare to thy soul” (Prov. 22: 24, 25). How careful then we should be to converse with those set an example for piety and provoke us to more love to God and zeal for his glory!
The friendship that is built around Christ is the most durable and lasting of all. Certainly there is a confederacy in evil, as between thieves––“Cast in thy lot among us, we will all have one purse” (Prov. 1: 14)––but the tie there is a love of money, or some other lust, not love to one another. Worse still is the bond of iniquity when men conspire against the Lord and his interests––divided in outlook but united in hatred––as when the Pharisees and Herodians made a league (see Mark 3: 6). Such alliances rarely last. Other friendships have rather more virtue––those that centre in some recreational or intellectual interest, for example––but even these are only for a time. Sooner or later, death intervenes. The godly, however, are everlasting companions. These, surely, are the kind of friendships we ought to be cultivating!
Now though we owe friendship to all that fear God (see 1 Thess. 4: 9; 1 John 5: 1), this does not alter the fact that only a few can be chosen our special intimacy. This intimacy we see very clearly with David and Jonathan: “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18: 1). Yet if a friend is to be intimate then we must exercise great caution in our choice. How many have been led astray by companions that did not share the same high ideals of devotion to Christ and his things! Our friends should be those who are most likely to be faithful, and not as Job judged his companions to be: “My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a stream, as the channel of streams which pass away” (Job 6: 15, 16)––bubbling brooks one moment, but dried up the next. Such seem to be great friends when things are going well, thus heightening our expectation, but fail us in our hour of need! “A broken tooth, and a tottering foot, is confidence in an unfaithful [man] in the day of trouble” (Prov. 25: 19). Instead of help and comfort, they only give us grief and pain. How imperative it is then that we should seek God to direct us in the choice of intimate friends!
David recounts his disappointment in a friend: “For it is not an enemy that hath reproached me––then could I have borne it; neither is it he that hateth me that hath magnified himself against me––then would I have hidden myself from him; but it was thou, a man mine equal, my intimate, my familiar friend ...” (Ps. 55: 12–13). Thus a deceitful friend may become our greatest foe, and, when they abuse their trust and the familiarity they had with us we feel their ingratitude so much more than the injuries of others.
Yet if there are disappointments in friendship, there are also joys: “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart; and the sweetness of one's friend is [the fruit] hearty counsel” (Prov. 27: 9). As sweet perfumes are reviving, so to be supported and guided in our path before the Lord by a faithful friend is a great encouragement, especially in a day of trouble. Thus we read that “Jonathan Saul’s son arose and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God” (1 Sam. 23: 16). Just for a friend to be there is often enough: “Luke alone is with me” (2 Tim. 4: 11).
Reproofs, though not pleasant, are also an integral part of friendship: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend: but the kisses of an enemy are profuse” (Prov. 27: 6). A faithful friend's wounds are a more sincere testimony than an enemy's kisses, and so on reflection will they be regarded afterwards: “He that rebuketh a man shall afterwards find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue” (Prov. 28: 23). How often have we been turned back from a wrong course by a friend who truly had our interests at heart!
Finally, we must remember that our friends are but an outward help, which God can continue or withdraw at his pleasure; and that our chief comfort, and counsel comes from God alone. The friendship of David and Jonathan ran deep but ultimately ended in heartbreak. Friends may fail us, and those that have been acquainted with the very secrets of our souls may grow strange to us, but He abides faithful. When we are deserted of men, we must learn to trust in God, who never fails us: “For had my father and my mother forsaken me, then had Jehovah taken me up ... Look on the right hand and see; there is no man that knoweth me: refuge hath failed me; no man careth for my soul. I cried unto thee, Jehovah; I said, Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Ps. 27: 10; 142: 4, 5).