I wish to thank the Host Society of this year’s convention for the privilege of speaking to our young people. I enjoy speaking to young people not only; but I find the subject which was assigned me interesting and important.
The calling to holiness in friendship is not an idle question. There is no doubt about it that especially the years of youth are years when friendship is very important. No man can live alone; every man needs friends. But what is universally true is emphatically true of young people. Besides, friends are a major influence on one in these formative years of life. It is not only true, as the old adage expresses it, “Birds of a feather flock together”; but it is also true that birds of a feather have tremendous influences upon one another—for good or for bad. The choice of one’s friends is an important choice. Finally, in speaking of the command to be holy in the unique relationships of covenant youths, the communion of the saints is a critical factor to be considered. For all these reasons and others, this question is important.
Before we enter specifically into the question at hand, there are a few points that ought to be made.
It is not necessary for us to enter into the question of the meaning of holiness; Prof. Hoeksema accomplished this last night at our mass meeting. I only want to emphasize that the basic idea of holiness is the idea of separation. One who is holy is separated. He stands apart. This separation consists in being a separation from the desecration of the world; a separation by sanctification through the blood of the cross; separation to dedication and consecration in the service of God.
In the second place, I want to call your attention to a very prevalent danger of our day that bears directly on our subject of holiness. I refer to what is called “The new morality.” This new morality is being widely discussed today and sadly enough, is being especially espoused by educators and leaders in the Church. To define what this new morality is, I quote from a recent article in a leading Protestant theological journal: “The central conception of Christian ethics that runs through all the various expressions of the ‘new morality’ is a complete rejection of any divine sanction for any specific law, rule or regulation.” The meaning of this is clear enough. This new morality teaches that there is no objective standard of what is right and what is wrong. The ten commandments are old-fashioned and out dated, not at all suited to our modern age. There is, in fact, no law above us to tell us what we may do and what we may not do. Rather, there is only one real rule that governs our life; and that rule is, “Is it good for me?” I, of course, determine for myself whether any particular action is good for me or not. And so, if by doing something I do not happen to harm myself, nor do I intentionally harm my fellow man, it is all right for me to do this.
This is not some far out view that is being discussed miles away from the sphere of the Church among those who are fully committed to a life of sin. This is a view which is finding increasing support among Church leaders and pedagogues in our educational institutions.
Yet even we come perilously close to this view many times. I am reminded of it for example when I hear young people try to support their worldly conduct with the words, “Why can’t I do it? Everybody else does.” Or, “What is the harm in it?” Again you come perilously close to this view when you try to condone evil conduct by hiding behind the excuse of Christian liberty.
Yet, there are many evils to this view, evils which I have not the time to point out tonight.
It is, basically, a complete rejection of God as the One Who alone possesses the sovereign right over against His creatures to determine for them what is good in His sight and what is sin. It is the culmination of the lie of the devil in Paradise, “Ye shall be as God knowing good and evil.” It is a rejection of sin as sin against God and a defense of sin as a moral and social fault. Under the cover of this theory all kinds of immorality is condoned as long as no one is harmed by it; even gross immoral conduct is approved of as the thing to do under certain circumstances. The end of this view can only be moral ruin and complete chaos.
Over against this view therefore we must maintain that a life of holiness is governed by an objective moral standard. This objective moral standard is the law of God. God alone possesses the sovereign right to determine our conduct. Something is right or wrong because God says so; nothing else. Sin is sin against God first of all. To Him must be given account of every deed. And He punishes the transgressor. Holiness means therefore, that we bow in humility before this mighty and sovereign God with fear and trembling, confessing His authority over our life and asking, Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?”
Thirdly, there is one other point which needs to be made. That is this: a holy life is always rooted in the knowledge of the truth. I make this point because there are strong tendencies to deny it among us. So often I hear that we must make a distinction between doctrine and practice. I am not sure exactly what is meant by this distinction; but it has something to do with a divorce between the truth of Scripture and our outward conduct. The cry often goes up that we are subjected to too much doctrinal preaching; the plea is made loudly and with emphasis that we must have more practical preaching.
Whatever those who make this plea may mean by this distinction in which they divorce doctrine from life, the fact of the matter is that holiness is rooted in the truth. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. If we would neglect doctrinal instruction, we would do so only to our destruction. Just as soon as the young people become interested only in “life”, in “practical living” to the exclusion of sound doctrine, the result is not a holier life, but a very worldly and carnal life. Just as soon as sound doctrine is corrupted, the truth denied, compromised and sacrificed; just as soon as men stray away into error or grow indifferent to it, the result is godlessness and worldliness in the church.
This can be illustrated in a thousand ways. The “new morality” e.g., is founded upon a thoroughly liberal and modern view of God and Christ. Modernism has led to this devilish threat to our moral life. The same is true of the theory of common grace. It was a departure from the truth. It has led and is leading to worldliness and moral decay—as any of you can see with but little investigation.
The fact is that if we wish to live holy lives, we must, at all costs, maintain the truth of God’s Word. Holiness will only and ever be rooted in a clear conviction of the truth.
Finally, when we speak of holiness, we do not refer, as many do today, to some mere external outward reform of conduct. So often in our superficial age, holiness is equated with mere external reformation of life. Holiness is little more than good manners. Holiness is only a way of living externally a pious life. It is made synonymous with closing saloons, emptying jails and walking in freedom marches.
But holiness is rather a matter of the heart. It is a change in the innermost depths of our being. It is a holy walk that comes from a pure heart. It is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Only when we seek inner purity will our life in all its aspects be conformable to God’s holy law.
To turn now to this question of friendship, I would remind you first of all that friendship is a deeply spiritual concept. It is a deep impulse in man’s being which God Himself has placed there. No one likes to live alone; or, if he does, he is odd. Normal life is a life in which we associate with others.
That this is true is evident from the fact that this need for friendship was to be found already in Adam. He was not created to live alone; he was formed to live with others. And this soon became evident to Adam when he named the animals. They all had their mates, but Adam had no helpmeet. His very creation was adapted to the need for companionship. He was given the gift of knowledge, of speech; the power to communicate with others. But all in order that he might have fellowship with others like himself.
Basically this fellowship for Adam was to be found in his relationship with God. Friendship is fundamentally friendship with God. True friendship is only possible when one is a friend of God. Adam could only have fellowship within the bond of friendship when both he and his mate were both God’s friends.
This was ruined through sin, for sin meant that man became God’s enemy. And in a world of sin no true friendship is possible. There are imitations, caricatures; but man, totally depraved, is a selfish man seeking only his own advantage. This absolutely precludes the possibility of friendship.
Thus the friendship of which we speak tonight is possible only because God has once again become our Friend through Jesus Christ and made us His friends. There is no higher blessedness than this—to be a friend of God. It is always extolled in Scripture as being of the very essence of the covenant and man’s highest good. The saints in Scripture are sometimes called the friends of God; and Scripture makes it clear that nothing more wonderful can happen to a man than this. Our friendship with one another is therefore, always rooted in and always flows forth from our friendship with God. The implications of this shall presently become evident.
If we ask what the meaning of friendship is, the answer must be given that it is a covenant idea. Friendship is a bond that unites people together. And this bond is a mutual relationship in which friends share each other’s lives. They are bound together in a bond so that, to a certain extent, their lives merge and intertwine. Friends share with each other life’s experiences; life’s problems, life’s joys. Friends speak to each other of the deepest secrets of their sojourn and experiences. They speak together of their troubles and their triumphs, of their happiness and their sorrow. Friends bear each other’s burdens; help to make life richer through sharing the loads of life’s weary griefs.
You can see how, in the deepest sense of the word, friendship is rooted in our relationship to God. God shares with us His life, His love, His blessedness, the secrets of His eternal counsel. And only when this is a living reality in the lives of you and me, can we truly be friends.
It stands to reason then that this relation of friendship is an exclusive relationship. At bottom in this matter of friendship is the relationship which we call the communion of the saints. It is only within the sphere of the communion of saints that any kind of friendship is possible. Holiness in friendship? That means friendship in the sphere of God’s people.
How does the apostle James put it? “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever would be a friend of the world, is an enemy of God.” It is always one or the other. Being friends of God, we have room in our friendship only for God’s people. There is no room for a third party. If we make friends with those who hate God, we become necessarily God’s enemies and friendship becomes an impossibility.
I have been asked by the Convention Committee to apply this in a two-fold way: first of all to our friendships with others of our own sex; secondly to the question of friendship with those of the opposite sex.
To turn first of all then to the matter of friendship with those of our own sex, the conclusions seem to me to be obvious. Our friends should be of those who are one with us in the faith. To find our friends among ungodly people, or even those who do not agree with us in the truth means that we sacrifice the holiness that we claim. We turn our backs then, on those who are one with us in our confession and walk. We deny the principle of separation and consecration. We deny the friendship we have with God. “How shall two walk together except they be friends?”
I am aware of the fact that this is a difficult problem oftentimes. Perhaps in this area where we have several of our own Churches the problem is not too great. But I am conscious of our smaller congregations isolated oftentimes from fellowship with our other Churches and the problems they face in finding their friends. Two things about this: 1) If you find your friends among those who are not one with you in your faith, your friendship will be limited by your disagreements. Your friendship will take on the character of debate concerning questions of life and truth more than anything else. And sooner or later you will part your ways, he to go his and you to go yours. There is an inevitability about this. 2) It is better to be alone, and forego the pleasures of friendship and necessary and pleasant as they may be, if your friendship with others leads you in their evil ways. And you must never forget that they will influence you for bad rather than you influence them for good if you persist in their friendship when they have shown themselves to be enemies of God.
To turn then to the question of friendship with those of the other sex, really the same principles apply and I will be brief.
There is no one relation of friendship which is as intimate, as wonderful as the relationship of marriage. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that marriage especially is an earthly picture of the relationship of friendship between God and His people through Christ. Because it is ordained to be a picture of this heavenly friendship of God’s covenant, there is nothing quite like it on earth.
And dating stands connected to marriage in an inseparable tie. I know this is often denied. There are so many instances of this in our own lives that it hardly needs my emphasis. Young people go out on dates (to quote them): “Only for a good time,” “Because everyone in my class at school has dates.” “I want to play the field before I settle down,” etc. I make no apologies for insisting that this is all wrong. If dating is to have a place in our lives at all, it must have as its purpose to find the one whom God has chosen to be my life’s partner. Prayerfully, humbly, spiritually, we must seek to find the one whom God has chosen for us to complete in our lives this heavenly picture of Christ and His Church. Apart from this marriage, dating has no purpose. And much of the frightening immorality of our times and the ghastly looseness of morals can be traced back to the fact that dating has become little more than a plaything.
You can see what this means. Dating is serious business. And to find our friends of the opposite sex with marriage as our goal will surely have its influences on how we date.
It will have as its result first of all that we seek our marriage partners from our own Churches. I make no apologies for insisting on this either. It seems axiomatic. The relation of marriage as a picture of Christ and His Church is possible only when both marriage partners confess the same truth and agree together in their calling in life. When they can and do worship together, pray together, instruct their children in perfect agreement, then and then only does their marriage reflect the unity of that heavenly marriage which is given to us of grace.
Once again, I am deeply aware of the fact that it is not always possible to find a marriage partner within the sphere of the Church. This is especially true of our isolated congregations. How serious this problem really is, I do not know. I sometimes think it is not as bad as is claimed. Sometimes it seems only as if “the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.” But the problem does exist. To you who face this problem therefore, I can only say that this matter of church affiliation is of paramount importance. It must be settled quickly. Perhaps you think the first date is too early to begin to discuss these questions. Maybe it is. But surely be the second or third date, the issue ought to be brought up. And only when this question is settled can you proceed with dating. If it cannot be settled, marriage ought to be out of the question. Experience is replete with examples of those who have lived a long life time of misery because of the foolishness of youth. But when you are one in the truth of the gospel, then your marriage is a friendship that grows richer with the years and will be filled with the blessings of God. When you are not only husband and wife, but brother and sister in Christ, both part of Christ’s elect bride, then you will know what friendship means in its richest sense.
Thus holiness in friendship means that we seek the friendship of those who are friends of God. Shun evil companions; they wait to lead you to hell. They are determined to take you from your God. Seek your friendship among God’s people. You and the Church to which you belong will be blessed.