Most of us are familiar with the term “means of grace.” Means of grace are the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to lead us into holiness. You might think of them as the “channels” through which sanctifying grace flows from God to his people.
Most prominently he does this through Scripture, prayer, and the ordinances of baptism and Lord’s Supper (or, more broadly, through the unique ministry of the local church). But did you know that historically some people also understood Christian friendship to be a means of grace?
They did not mean that friendship actually bestows grace, but that it is a means through which God accomplishes his work of sanctification. Whether or not friendship can rightly be categorized as a means of grace, these believers certainly understood the importance and benefits of close, brother-to-brother, iron-sharpening-iron relationships.
Such friendships are the theme of Michael Haykin’s new book Iron Sharpens Iron: Friendship and the Grace of God. His purpose in the book is not to provide a theology or philosophy of friendship as much as it is to provide historical examples of friendships—examples that focus on a pair of fascinating eighteenth-century characters: Andrew Fuller and John Ryland.
“Iron Sharpens Iron is about the specific way that friendship functioned as a means of grace for two eighteenth-century men.”
It’s an interesting way of going about his task and one that is effective since, as the old saying goes, some things are better caught than taught so that we sometimes learn better by vivid example than straight-up instruction.
Modern Western culture is not particularly friendly to friendship and for quite a number of reasons it seems to have fallen on hard times. “Such friendships take time and sacrifice, and the West in the early twenty-first century is a busy, busy world that, generally speaking, is far more interested in getting and possessing than sacrificing and giving.”
Then there is the culture that places self ahead of others and the sexual revolution that perhaps makes men afraid of relational intimacy lest it somehow convey the existence of sexual intimacy. The cards are stacked against it.
Yet Christian friendship remains important and a blessing—a means of grace, even—to those who commit to it and experience its joys. It’s my hope that Iron Sharpens Iron will foster more precious friendships that the Lord will use for the good of his people and the glory of his name.