The Importance of Friendship
The New Testament knows nothing of solitary Christianity. One of the great sources of spiritual strength is Christian friendship and fellowship. John Calvin, who has had the undeserved reputation of being cold, harsh, and unloving, knew this well and had a rich appreciation of friendship. The French Reformed historian Richard Stauffer reckoned that there were few men at the time of the Reformation “who developed as many friendships” as Calvin. Two of his closest friends were his fellow Reformers Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. Calvin celebrated his friendship with these men in his preface to his Commentary on Titus, where he stated:
I do not believe that there have ever been such friends who have lived together in such a deep friendship in their everyday style of life in this world as we have in our ministry. I have served here in the office of pastor with you two. There was never any appearance of envy; it seems to me that you two and I were as one person.
This brotherly friendship is well revealed in the extensive correspondence of these three men. In their letters to one another, not only are theological problems and ecclesiastical matters frankly discussed, but there is an openness in relation to the problems of their private lives.
Here is but one example: On Jan. 27, 1552, Calvin wrote to Farel and chided him for reports he had heard—true reports, one must add—about the undue length of Farel’s sermons. “You have often confessed,” Calvin reminds his friend, “that you know this is a fault and that you would like to correct it.” Calvin went on to encourage Farel to shorten his sermons lest Satan use Farel’s failing in this regard to destroy the many good things being produced by his ministry.
Another example of the importance of friendship for Reformed believers can be found in the diary of Esther Burr, the third of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ eight daughters and a Christian housewife living in Colonial New Jersey. In the mid-1750s, Esther unequivocally declared: “Nothing is more refreshing to the soul (except communication with God himself), than the company and society of a friend.”
The wife of Aaron Burr Sr., president of what would become Princeton University, and the mother of two small children, Esther earnestly sought to know the presence of God in the hurly-burly of her daily life. As she did so, she came to appreciate the fact that friends are a divine gift. Writing in her diary on Jan. 23, 1756, she said she was convinced that “‘Tis… a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this world be without ‘em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all creatures be miserable in this Life—‘tis the Life of Life.” For Esther, Christian friends were one of this world’s greatest sources of happiness. Why did Esther put such a value upon friendship? Surely it was because she realized that Christian friends and conversation with them are vital for spiritual growth.
Similar convictions are found in something she wrote the previous year on April 20, 1755, to her closest friend, Sarah Prince:
I should highly value (as you my dear do) such charming friends as you have about you—friends that one might unbosom their whole soul to.… I esteem religious conversation one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul, excepting secret devotion, I don’t know but the very best—Then what a lamentable thing that ‘tis so neglected by God’s own children.
Notice the connection between friendship and what Esther calls “religious conversation.” For the Christian, true friends are those with whom one can share the deepest things of one’s life. They are people with whom one can be transparent and open. In Esther’s words, they are people to whom one can “unbosom [one’s] whole soul.” In the course of conversation about spiritual things, the believer can find strength and encouragement for living the Christian life. In referring to spiritual conversation with friends as “one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul,” Esther obviously viewed it as a means of grace, one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit keeps Christians in fellowship with the Savior.
This excerpt is taken from Michael Haykin’s contribution in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke.