Disciples, Friends, Witnesses

John 15:16

Discples, Friends, Witnesses. These are the words that stand out arrestingly in this great chapter. It is the Lord Himself that speaks of His disciples in this threefold relationship with Himself. "My disciples, " "My Friends" "Ye shall bear witness." And He sets forth in them the qualities of the faithful servant whom He loves and approves. The honours will not be withheld from the youngest Christian, yet they must be won, for it will be noticed that they are conditional, and the order in which they are placed in the Lord's words are the order in which we shall come at them in our experience. May I call them the preliminary, the intermediate and the final to full graduation in our responsible life for the Lord.

First we must learn the supremacy of our Lord. He says "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." That lies behind all else: it reveals His sovereign grace, but it also calls for subjection to His sovereign will. "Ye are Christ's." Whatever weakness there may be on our side as to this will react disastrously in our lives for Him. That popular superficial Christianity that sings lustily, "Jesus is mine, " does not fit in here. Many things are ours, indeed so enriched are we who belong to Christ, that the Scripture says "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come all are yours." And may we not add, "and best of all Jesus is ours?" No, we may not, for that is not the way Scripture speaks, what it says is "And ye are Christ's." "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." He is Master, He is Lord; His claim is paramount, His will must be supreme.

He has chosen us and ordained us with a great end in view. "that ye should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain." I would urge that upon those who have recently come under the gracious authority of the Lord. If His purpose in choosing and ordaining you is realised you will not have lived in vain. You might spend your time and talents on the world and climb high on the ladder of fame, but all that would come to nothing, for the earth also and all the works that are in it shall be burnt up, but if you are subject to the Lord's will your fruit will remain; time shall not spoil it, death will not destroy it, it will abide for ever. For this you have been chosen and ordained.

But the Lord who chose us must also cleanse us, or we shall not be vessels sanctified and meet for His use, and here He says, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you" (v. 3). This is not judicial cleansing, the blood of Jesus Christ alone secures judicial cleansing; this is moral cleansing, which His word brings about. By it the whole bent of the life is changed and a nature compatible with Himself is produced within us. It is a great help if we can find an illustration of a statement not far away from it, and I find these words of the Lord illustrated in chapter 6 of our Gospel. The test came for a multitude of would-be, fairweather, disciples; they did not like the path that the Lord clearly indicated for them and they turned away from Him. Then He said to the twelve "Will ye also go away"? And Peter answering for the rest spoke out and said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." We can see what those words of eternal life had done for Peter. Once he had gone to the temple and the priests and the sacrifices for his soul's need, and looked to his own efforts for righteousness, and had sought in the world or among his friends for some substantial thing to fill his heart and life. Now he had turned his back on all else but Jesus; everything else had failed, but Jesus had not, every need of heart and soul were met and satisfied by Him, He had become the one supreme and only Object of his faith and affection. It was the word of the Lord that had brought about that transformation; that had cleansed him from every other confidence and hope and drawn out his whole life to Himself. He was born again. It is that that the Lord meant when He said, "Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken to you." The choosing and the cleansing go together. They are the work of the Lord and must go before anything that we can be for Him.


The disciple is one who bears fruit. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be MY DISCIPLES" (v. 8). Fruit is nothing less than the life of Jesus manifesting itself in those who are His, as the life of the vine is manifested in the fruit that the branches bear. Now everybody knows that unless the branch abides in the vine it cannot bear fruit, "no more can ye, " says the Lord, "except ye abide in Me, " for "without Me ye can do nothing." This does not mean that you have a good knowledge of Scripture, valuable as that is, but that you are in constant, continual dependence upon your Lord. You have no resources, no power apart from Him, but you have all you need in Him, as Peter confessed when he said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." You need the Scriptures; they testify of Him, we could know nothing about Him apart from the Scripture; but this dependence upon Him, this abiding in Him, brings in true prayer, and could not be apart from the indwelling Spirit of God. It is by the Spirit that we are in vital association with Christ. And we must test ourselves as to this. What is the bent of our lives? Is it towards the world or towards self, or towards Christ? What cheer and strength there is in those words. "If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done to you." What possibilities are within the reach of the dependent soul! "So shall ye be My disciples." The one thing needful for discipleship is dependence.


The disciple is one whose confidence is in the Lord, he depends upon Him at all times, but what an advance is made when the Lord calls His disciples His friends; in this He confides in them and depends upon them. It is a wonderful thing. "Ye are My friends, " but mark well the condition, "if ye do whatsoever I command you." We delight in the Lord as our Friend, the One to whom we can tell our deepest secrets and be sure that He, knowing all, will never betray the trust we put in Him, but will make all things work together for our good. But now He turns round to us, if we are obedient to His commands, and calls us His friends. He identifies us with His interests, communicates His thoughts to us and entrusts us with some precious charge for Him. Can we find this illustrated in this Gospel? We can. "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother… When Jesus therefore saw His mother and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He says to His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then says He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home" (John 19). Of all the disciples there was one who was the friend of his Lord, and to him He could commit a precious legacy. That disciple had leaned his head on the Lord's bosom at the supper. He wholly trusted in the Lord; unlike his friend, Peter, he was without self-confidence, and having leaned upon the bosom of Jesus, he could stand by the cross; he was maintained by divine power in his faithfulness to his Lord, a friend of Jesus, one whom his Lord could trust. How highly honoured and honourable was John!

Afterwards, when Peter had been delivered from his pride and self-confidence by a terrible fall, the Lord made him His friend also, and committed to him His sheep and lambs, and these still need to be shepherded and cared for, and if we are obedient to the Lord's word He will bestow upon us the high honour of having an interest in them; He will communicate to us His thoughts and feelings about them, and sharing these thoughts with Him we shall love them and care for them also. If dependence on the Lord is the secret of discipleship, the secret of friendship is obedience.


The disciples having been with the Lord from the beginning were very special witnesses. They had heard with their ears, and seen with their eyes, and with their hands had handled the Word of life, they bore witness to what they had heard and seen, the Holy Ghost being the power by which they did it. We may thank God for their witness, for we now can have fellowship in those things that they heard and saw, and have recorded for us. But we are not excluded from this witnessing, for we may keep our Lord's company and speak of that that we learn experimentally with Him. A witness may preach, but not every preacher is a witness. A witness is one who has been impressed by what He has seen and heard as he has kept company with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 explains it, "We all beholding the glory of the Lord … are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;" and Stephen was the outstanding example of it, not when he exposed the obdurate hearts of the Jews, but when he prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge, " when they were battering him with stones in their murderous hatred.

For this witnessing the Holy Ghost is indispensible. He has come from Christ in glory, and He bears witness to His glory, and makes Him real to us whom having not seen we love. The revelation to us of His victory over death by resurrection, and His exaltation to the Father's throne has set all things for us in a new and true light, and it is that light shining in and shining out that constitutes us witnesses to and for Him. The secret of witnessing is Company with Him.

These great things, the highest honours that the Lord can bestow upon mortal men may be ours now, in this brief life, and in this sordid world. May we have grace from God to seize the opportunity and be disciples, friends and witnesses to the end.