Devotions on the road to Oxford
Why have we been doing what we are doing for the last two weeks? Why go to all the trouble and expense to see all that we have seen and experienced in the UK and Normandy the last days? If we could boil it all down, there might be no better way of putting it than to say it the way the writer of Proverbs put it. "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm."
I wonder if Shakespeare was thinking of this verse and this pervasive biblical truth about human nature when he created Falstaff and Prince Hal, making concerted schemes to become a companion of fools, and then to imagine that he could be with them and not suffer harm in doing so? I think Shakespeare got this right, on some level.
The Apostle Paul put it better to the Corinthians, "Bad company corrupts good morals."
Most of us nod in agreement, but I wonder if we take the Scriptures as seriously as we should here. Clearly the Enemy does not want us to take it very seriously. Remember what Lewis has Screwtape tell his nephew regarding tempting the patient with new friendships? Make him believe that his friendship with these bright, witty, sophisticated, superficially intelligent folks is "trivial and revocable." No big deal, what's wrong with... In other words, whatever you do, don't let him "be cautious in friendship."
Elsewhere in Proverbs we are told that "the righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the foolish leads him astray."
The Apostle James tells us that if we want to be friends with the world we become enemies of God. Enemies. Jesus often referred to his disciples as children and as his friends. That is an amazing thing, isn't it, to be called a friend of One who made the universe, who humbled himself, came to earth, lived a life in perfect obedience to his Father's will, imputed that perfect righteousness to my account, and then laid down his perfect life for my wretched and unworthy life?
"He who walks with the wise grows wise." That is what we have been doing for these important days in your lives. We have been walking with the venerable dead, the truly wise, though far from perfect, from previous centuries. Rehearse back through them in your mind... Bunyan and Bilney, bishop martyrs we will be thinking about in a few hours time in Oxford, Lewis, French Huguenots, Knox and the Covenanters, and now our dear and very much living friends in Newmilns, Scotland.
Friendship with the wise, with the people of God costs something. It cost many of the heroes of the faith their lives. But make no mistake about it, friendship with the world costs you something too. It costs eternity.
John Owen, the Calvin of England, whose grave we saw at Bunhill Fields London said that for most of us our problem is not a lack of instruction, but a lack of careful consideration and application of instruction. We want you to consider and apply all that you have learned about this reality: friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God, that the companion of fools suffers harm, that if you walk with the wise you will grow wise, that bad company corrupts good morals.
So what do we do with it all? How do we consider this? How do we apply this experience so that it sticks, it works, it lasts, it actually changes you?
Last night Pastor Kenneth Ross called you to be faithful, urged you to faithfulness. But do you remember what he said next? If you look to yourself you will not be faithful. Recall Ian Hamilton last Lord's Day in Cambridge: stop looking within yourself, look out and up to Jesus Christ.
What does that actually mean to look to Jesus? Jesus on every page, the whole of the Bible is one story, the story of Jesus Christ. And that means that the book of Proverbs is about Jesus Christ too. We could hear these words of instruction about being cautious in friendship from Proverbs and take a deep breath, clench our teeth, and try harder, make new resolves, become more self disciplined, determine to be more upright. But it won't work. You will be back to your old ways and friends and influences soon enough. I promise you this. It will not work.
And then there is the still worse outcome. Resolving to change and be good, setting about on your own self-salvation enterprise, you actually do make moral progress, you do appear on the outside to become wise. Why is this worse than going back to the trough of worldy friends and influences? Because it will make you become like the self-righteous elder brother, externally obedient and faithful but as Jesus put it, "a white-washed tomb," looking good on the outside but internally dead, rotten, putrefying, and lost.
Proverbs is about gaining wisdom, but, remember, we make an enormous mistake when we read the book if we don't realise, on every page, that wisdom comes down from above, that Jesus himself is the wisdom that has come down to save us, that wisdom is not a thing you add to yourself by self-discipline. Wisdom is a Person, the God Man, Jesus Christ.
The Lord must have things for us to learn in the book of Hebrews. Uncoordinated by us, but orchestrated perfectly by the Providence and wisdom of our Heavenly Father, last Sunday in Cambridge and here again in Newmilns we heard sermons on Hebrews. Chapter 6 and chapter 10.
Consider with me for a moment what chapter 11 is all about. It gives us a panoply of heroes of the faith; we are shown the great cloud of witnesses we are surrounded by, or put another way, the friendships we are to have if we are to be wise. But who are these people? Are they great models of virtue? Abraham, Noah, David...? The history of redemption in which they appear reveals them as pretty messed up folks. So to what are they witness?
Grace. They desperately needed grace and so do we.
And then comes chapter 12 of Hebrews. "Fix your eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of faith."As if to say, don't stop at merely looking at Abraham or David, mere me who miserably failed to obey and be faithful; look beyond them to the one who fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant for us, on our behalf, for our salvation.
"He who walks with the wise grows wise..." Why have we done all this these two weeks? To give you wise friends for life, certainly, but only as a means to a far more important end. Knox, Latimer, Bunyan, Newton--the only thing that made these men worthy objects of our travels was they grasp of the grace of Jesus Christ in the gospel. Why are we doing this. So that you, like all of these, might know, as it says in Proverbs,the "Friend who sticks closer than a brother," Jesus Christ.
Look out and up to him, eyes off of you, eyes off of the world, your heart, soul, strength, and mind agog with the Wisdom that has come down from above, in love with the friend of sinners, slack-jaw in wonder--all your days--at the Saviour, Jesus Christ.