A friend in need is a friend indeed. Our Lord Jesus was our friend in our need. It was a desperate need. It could not be worse. We had been badly hurt by sin. The hurt was so bad that we could do nothing without help. Our Lord Jesus came to our help.
It was not easy for Him to be our friend. Friendship is sometimes very costly. His reputation went, and then His life. But He never flinched. He was thinking of us. Our need controlled Him. There were two controlling words in our Lord Jesus' life -- passion and compassion. He had a passion for His Father. He had compassion for us. The two dovetailed perfectly. The Father had an overwhelming compassion for us. The passion for the Father in our Lord's heart included the throbbing, sobbing compassion for us. The compassion was the manward expression of the passion for the Father.
It was this compassion that controlled Him those human years. It drove Him hard along the road we've been looking at. He was driven into the Wilderness, through the years of sacrificial service, out into the grove of the olive trees, up the steep hill of Calvary, down into the depths of Joseph's tomb. Step-by-step He pushed His way along, for He was thinking of His Father and of us. The passion for the Father meant a compassion for us. Things proved worse in realization as He came up close to them, as they began to touch His very life. But He never wavered. He never flinched, for He was thinking of us. He was our Friend, our Friend in our desperate need. A friend in need is a friend indeed. It was by deeds that He met our needs.
But friendship is mutual. It has two sides, its enjoyments and its obligations. That word "friendship" has two meanings. It means fellowship. Two who are congenial in thought and aim and spirit can have sweet fellowship together as they make exchange with each other of the deep things of their spirits. This is one meaning, and a sweet, hallowed meaning, too. Then there is the other. You are in some sore need. It is a desperate emergency in your life, and out of the circle of your friends one singles himself out, and comes to your aid. At real cost or sacrifice to himself perhaps, he gives you that which meets and tides over your emergency.
This is the deeper, the rarer meaning of the word, rarer both in being less frequent and in being very precious. Fellowship friends may be many; emergency friends very, very few. And if circumstances so turn out that this man who has so rarely proven himself your friend, is himself in some emergency, and you are now in position to help him, as once he helped you, you count it not only an obligation of the highest sort, but the rarest of privileges. And with great joy you come to his help without stopping to count the cost in the doubtful, questioning way. Friendship is mutual.
Now this second, this deep, rare meaning, is the one we're using just now. It comes to include the fellowship meaning, so enriching the emergency friendship yet more. But the emphasis is on the emergency meaning of the word friendship. Our Friend was a friend in this deepest, rarest way, in the desperate emergency of our lives.
And now this Friend of ours is in need, a need so great that it is an emergency. And this seems a startling thing to say. You may think I'm indulging some rhetorical figure of speech merely. He, the Lord Jesus, in need! He is now seated at the Father's right hand in glory. He is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion." He is the sovereign ruler of our world. How can it be said, with any soberness of practical meaning, that He is in need, and in desperate need? Yet, let me repeat very quietly, that it is even so.
He needs our co-operation. He needs the human means through which to work out His plans. The power of God has always flowed through human channels. And His plans have waited, have been delayed because He has not always been able to find men willing to let Him use them as He will. This is the only explanation of the long, weary waiting of the earth for His promised Kingdom. This, only, explains centuries of delay in the working out of His plans. The delay, the dark centuries, the misery, -- these have been no part of His plan, but dead set against His plan.
"The restless millions wait the Light,
Some unknown friend, on seeing the statue of General Gordon, as it stands facing the great desert and the Soudan at Khartoum, made these lines:
"The strings of camels come in single file,
I see the clouds of dust rise in the plain,
They set me brooding o'er the desert drear,
Our Friend is in need. The world's condition spells out the desperateness of that need. The world's need is His need. It is His world. This world is God's prodigal son. It is the passion of our Lord Jesus' heart to win His world back, and save it. That passion has been revealed most, thus far, in His going to the great extreme of dying. That passion is still unsatisfied. Yonder He sits, with scarred face and form, expecting. Bending eagerly forward with longing eyes He is expecting. He is expectantly waiting our response, expectantly waiting the day when things will have ripened on the earth for the next step in the great plan.
And down from the throne comes the same eager cry He used when amongst us on earth, "Follow Me." This is the one call, with many variations, that runs through the seven-fold message to His followers in the book of the Revelation.
But He calls for real followers. He needs Calebs, who are willing, if need be, to face a whole nation dead-bent on going the other way, and yet who never flinch but insist on following fully. Caleb's following was so unflinching, so against the current of his whole time, that it stands out with the peculiar emphasis of a six-fold mention.
Those who follow "wholly" seem scarce sometimes. I was struck recently with an utterance by a man prominent in business circles and in Christian activity for years. He was speaking of how he had been active in a certain form of Christian activity, and declared that it had never occasioned him any loss, or been a detriment to him in his business. The words had a strange, suspicious sound. The Master told those who would follow fully that they might expect much loss and detriment.
The Master was very careful to give the "if's" a prominent place. "If any man would come after Me." "If any man would serve Me let him follow Me." Those "if's" are the cautionary signals. They mean obstacles needing to be considered before one decides. We must determine whether we will take them away or not. Half-way following, part-way following, has become very common in some of the other parts of the world, where we don't live. I'll leave you to judge how it is in your own neighbourhood.
I have seen people start down this "Follow Me" road with great enthusiasm and real earnestness, singing as they go. Then the road begins to narrow a bit. The thorn bushes on the side have grown so thick and rank that they push over the sides of the road, and narrow it down. You can't go along without the thorns scratching face and hands badly as you push through.
And then you suddenly find a knife, a sharpedged knife, being held out across the road, by an unseen hand back in the bushes. The cutting edge is toward you. It is held firmly. It is clearly impossible to go on without a clash with that knife. The real meaning of that "Follow Me" is beginning to be seen now. Just ahead beyond the knife stands the Master, looking longingly, beckoning earnestly, calling still. But that knife! It takes your eyes, and the question is on in real earnest.
And it is very grievous to say that some stop there. They pitch their tents this side the knife. They may have had the courage to push through the thorns, but this knife stops them. They're not honest enough to back clear out of the road. So they hold meetings on the roadway, conferences for the deepening of the Christian life, with earnest addresses, and consecration meetings, and soft singing. And if perchance some one calls attention to the Master standing ahead there, beyond the knife, beckoning, -- well, they sing louder and pray longer so as to ease their consciences a bit, and deaden unpleasant sounds, but they make no move toward striking tents and pushing on.
And many coming up along the road are hindered. The crowds, the meetings, the singing, the earnestness, -- these take hold of them and keep them from discerning that all this is an obstruction in the way. The Master's ahead yonder, past that cutting knife. In a very clear voice that rises above meetings and music, He calls, "If any man would serve Me, let him follow Me, let him get in behind Me, and come up close after Me." He who would serve, he who would help, must not stop here, but push on to where the Master is beckoning, -- yes, past the knife!
But there are big crowds at the half-way place, this side the knife. And there are still larger crowds looking on and sneering, sneering at those whose following hasn't got much beyond the singing stage. The outside crowd does love sincerity, and is very keen for the faults and flaws in those who call themselves followers.
The Tuning-Fork for the Best Music.
But some push on; they go forward; and as they reach the knife they grasp it firmly by the blade. Yes, it cuts, and cuts deep. But they push on, on after the Master. They turn the knife into a tuning-fork. Do you know about this sort of thing? The steel in a knife can be used to make a tuning-fork. The touch of obedience brings music out of sacrifice.
This is the only tuning-fork that can give the true pitch for that sweetest music we were speaking of a little while ago. This is a bit of the power of obedience. It can change a challenging knife into an instrument of music. This is a bit of the strategy of obedience, the fine tactics of sacrifice. The tempter with the knife would hold us back. We seize his knife from his grasp. He can never use that knife again. And we use it to make sweet music to help the marching. What was meant to hold us back now helps us forward.
This is the tuning-fork the Master used. He would have us use it, too. But each one must take it himself, out of the threatening hand that would hold us back. As the call to follow comes we must go on, no matter what it involves. No circumstance, no possible loss, no sacrifice, must hold us back, for a moment, or a step, from following where our Friend calls; only so can we be His friend.
Shall we go on all the way? Or, shall we join the company at the half-way stopping place? Well, it's a matter of your eyes, how you use them. If the knife holds your eyes, you'll never get past it. That knife is like the deadly serpent's glittering eye. If the cobra's eye can get your eye, you are held fast in that awful, deadly fascination.
If you'll lift your eyes, to the Master's face! -- ah, that's the one thing, the only thing, that can hold our eyes with gaze steadier than any serpent eye. The face of Christ Jesus, torn by thorns, scarred by thongs, but with the wondrous beauty light shining out, and those great patient, pleading eyes! This it was that held that young Indian aristocrat steady, while he sold all -- bit by bit, of such precious things -- sold all.
This it was that held steady the young Jewish aristocrat, Paul. He never forgot the light on that caravan road north, above the shining of the sun. He never could forget it. It blinded him. He "could not see for the glory of that light." Old ambitions blurred out. Old attachments faded, and then faded clear out before the blaze of that light. Family ties, inheritance, social prestige, reputation, old friendships, old honoured standards, -- all faded out in the light of Jesus' face on that northern road.
How to Follow.
Shall we take a look at that face? a long look? Shall we go? Practically going means three things, a decision, a habit and a purpose; a thoughtful, calculating decision, a daily unbroken habit, an unalterable north-star sort of purpose.
Go alone in some quiet corner where you can think things out. Look at what it may mean for you to follow, so far as you know now. Most of it you don't know, and won't know, can't know except as it works out in your life. Take a long, quiet, thoughtful look at the road. Then take a longer, quieter, steadier look at Him, Christ Jesus, once crucified for you, now seated in glory with all power, and asking you to-day to be a channel for His power. Then decide. Say, "Lord Jesus, I will follow Thee. This is my decision. By Thy help, I follow Thee, I'll follow Thee all the way." That's the first step, the decision.
As I entered the tent at Keswick one morning, a friend handed me these lines, which came to her pen at the close of a previous meeting:
"I will follow Thee, dear Master,
Enter in, Lord, cleanse Thy temple,
Use me, Master, for Thy glory,
Keep me trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
Then plan your work and time so as to get a bit of time off alone every day with the Book and with the Master. The chief thing is not to pray, though you will pray. It is not for Bible study, though that will be there too. The chief thing is to meet with the Lord Jesus Himself. He will come to you through the Book. He will fit its messages into your questions and perplexities. He Himself will come to meet with you when you so go to meet with Him. You won't always realize His presence, for you may sometimes be tired. But you can recognize His presence. You can cultivate the habit of recognizing His presence.
This is your bit of daily school-time, with the Book and the Master. It will keep your spirit sweet, your heart hot, and your judgment sane and poised. This is the second thing, the habit. It is the thing you cannot get along without. It must go in daily. Without it things will tangle; your heart will cool, your spirit sometimes take on an edge that isn't good, your judgment get warped and twisted, and your will grow either wabbly or stubborn. This second thing must be put in the daily round, and kept in. It helps to hold you steady to the first thing.
Then the third is the purpose to be true to whatever the Master tells you, to be true to Himself; never to fail Him. You may flinch within your feelings. You probably will. Yet you need never flinch in action. Follow the beckoning Figure just ahead in the road, regardless of thorny bush or cutting knife. Keep your spirit sweet, your tongue gentle and slow, your touch soft and even, your purpose as inflexible as wrought steel, or as granite, as unmovable as the North Star. That's the third thing, the purpose.
And the three make the three-fold cord with which to tie you fast and hard to the Lone Man ahead. He is less alone as we follow close up. The three together help you understand the meaning of obedience. The decision is the beginning of obedience; the habit teaches you what you are to obey and gives you strength to do it; the purpose is the actual obedience in daily round, the holding true to what He has told you.
Years ago, a young Jewess, of a wealthy family, that stood high in the Jewry of New York, heard the call of the despised Nazarene. It came to her with great, gentle power, and she decided that she must follow. Her father was very angry, and threatened disinheritance if she so disgraced the family. But she remained quietly, gently, inflexibly, true to her decision. At last the father planned a social occasion at the home to which large numbers were invited. And he said to his daughter, "You must sing at this reception, and make this your disavowal of the Christian faith." And she quietly said, "Father, I will sing."
The evening came, the parlours were filled, the time came for her to sing, and all listened eagerly, for they knew the beauty of her voice. With her heart in both eyes and voice, she began singing:
"Jesus, I my cross have taken,
Perish every fond ambition,
And she passed out into the night of disinheritance on earth, "into an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." This was her decision. She had seen His face! All else paled in its light.
Shall we go, too?