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Friendship as a Means of Grace: an Excerpt from Eight Women of Faith Book

Friendship as a Means of Grace

One of the most important things that Esther prized in keeping her near to God was spiritual conversation with close friends such as 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 too. . . . 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 Gods own children.[1]

Note 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.” And 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 views it as a means of grace, one of the ways that God the Holy Spirit keeps Christians in fellowship with the Savior. As another New England Christian, Nathanael Emmons (1745–1840), a theologian who was mentored by close followers of Jonathan Edwards, put it in one of his favorite maxims: “A man is made by his friends.”[2]

This is the way Esther put the same thought on another occasion where she stresses the importance of Christian friendship as a means for walking with God:

Nothing is more refreshing to the soul (except communication with God himself) than the company and society of a friend— One that has the spirit of, and relish for, true friendship—this is becoming [to] the rational soul—this is God-like.[3]

And Sarah was such a friend, as Esther’s entries for October 11, 1754, and June 4, 1755, reveal:

It is a great comfort to me when my friends are absent from me that I have ’em some where in the World, and you my dear for one, not of the least, for I esteem you one of the best, and in some respects nerer than any Sister I have. I have not one Sister I can write so freely to as to you the Sister of my heart.[4]

Consider my friend how rare a thing tis to meet with such a friend as I have in my Fidelia—Who would not vallue and prize such a friend above gold, or honour, or any thing that the World can afford?[5]

Esther was convinced that such friendship was a gift from heaven. As she put it in two journal entries—the first from October 5, 1754, and the second from February 15, 1755:

Mrs. Smith and I were talking . . . and determined that whatsoever had been spoken in Confidence whiles there was supposed to be a friendship aught to be kept secret. Altho the friendship was at an end, yet the obligation was as strong as ever, and Mrs. Smith thinks stronger. . . . I look on the ties of Friendship as sacred, and I am of your mind, that it aught to be a matter of Solemn Prayer to God (where there is a friendship contracted) that it may be preserved.[6]

You will think I am not so very indifferent to everything in the world nither, but to tell the truth when I speak of the world, and the things that are in the World, I don’t mean friends, for friendship does not belong to the world. True friendship is first inkindled by a spark from Heaven, and heaven will never suffer it to go out, but it will burn to all Eternity.[7]

A year later, on January 23, 1756, she stated again her conviction about the vital need for Christian friends:

Tis my dear a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this World be with out ’em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all Cretures be missarable in this life—Tis the Life of Life.[8]

Note the way that Esther prizes Christian friends. For her, they are one of this world’s greatest sources of happiness. Why did Esther put such a value upon friendship? Well, surely because she realized that Christian friends and conversation with them is vital for spiritual growth.

 

 

 

[1] Karlsen and Crumpacker, eds., Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 112

[2] Cited in The Works of Nathanael Emmons, D.D., ed. Jacob Ide (Boston: Congregational Board of Publication, 1861), 1:115.

[3] Entry for January 23, 1756, in Karlsen and Crumpacker, eds., Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 185.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] Ibid., 118.

[6] Ibid., 50.

[7] Ibid, 92.

[8] Ibid., 185.


Content taken from Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin, ©2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

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