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Our friends have a great deal to do with determining our character. The friendships that we form create an intellectual, moral and spiritual atmosphere that we are constantly breathing, and our spiritual health is helped or hindered by it. Every young Christian should have a few wisely chosen friends, intimate friends, with whom he can talk freely. Search out for yourself a few persons of about your own age with whom you can associate intimately. Be sure that they are spiritual persons in the best sense. Persons who love to study the Bible, persons who love to converse on spiritual themes, persons who know how to pray and do pray, persons who are really working to bring others to Christ.
Do not be at all uneasy about the fact that some Christian people are more agreeable to you than others. God has made us in that way. Some are attracted to some persons and some to others, and it proves nothing against the others and nothing against yourself that you are not attracted to them as you are to some people. Cultivate the friendship of those whose friendship you find helpful to your own spiritual life.
On the other hand, avoid the friendships that you find spiritually and morally hurtful. Of course, we are not to withdraw ourselves utterly from unconverted people, or even of bad people. We are to cultivate oftentimes the acquaintance of nonspiritual people, and even of bad people, in order that we may win them for Christ; but we must always be on our guard in such friendships to bear always in mind to seek to lift them up or else they will be sure to drag us down. If you find in spite of all your best effort that any friendship is doing harm to your own spiritual life, then give it up. Some people are surrounded with such an atmosphere of unbelief or cynicism or censoriousness or impurity or greed or some other evil thing that it is impossible to associate with them to any large extent without being contaminated. In such a case, the path of wisdom is plain; stop associating with them to any large extent. Stop associating with them at all except in so far as there is some prospect of helping them.
But there are other friendships that mold our lives besides the friendships of living persons. The books that we read are our friends. They exert a tremendous influence for good or for evil. There is nothing that will help us more than a good book, and there is nothing that will hurt us more than a bad book. Among the most helpful books are the biographies of good men. Read again and again the lives of such good and truly great men as Wesley and Finney and Moody. We live in a day in which good biographies abound. Read them. Well written histories are good friends. No study is more practical and instructive than the study of history, and it is not only instructive but spiritually helpful if we only watch to see the hand of God in history, to see the inevitable triumph of right and the inevitable punishment of wrong in individuals and in nations.
Some few books of fiction are helpful, but here one needs to be very much on his guard. A large portion of modern fiction is positively pernicious morally. Books of fiction that are not positively bad, at least give false views of life and unfit one for life as it really is. Much reading of fiction is mentally injurious. The inveterate novel reader ruins his powers of close and clear thinking. Fiction is so fascinating that it always tends to drive out other reading that is more helpful mentally and morally. We should be on our guard in even reading good literature, that the good does not crowd out the best; that is that the best of man’s literature does not crowd out the very best of all—God’s Book. God’s Book, the Bible, must always have the first place.
Then there is another kind of friendship that has a tremendous influence over our lives, that is the friendship of pictures. The pictures that we see every day of our lives, and the pictures that we see only occasionally, have a tremendous power in the shaping of our lives. A mother had two dearly loved sons. It was her dream and ambition that these sons should enter the ministry, but both of them went to sea. She could not understand it until a friend one day called her attention to the picture of a magnificent ship in full sail careening through the ocean that hung above the mantel in the dining-room. Every day of their lives her boys had gazed upon that picture, had been thrilled by it, and an unconquerable love for the sea and longing for it had thus been created, and this had determined their lives. How many a picture that is a masterpiece of art, but in which there is an evil suggestion, has sent some young men on the road to ruin. Many of our art collections are so polluted with improper pictures that it is not safe for a young man or a young woman to visit them. The evil thought that they suggest may be but for a moment, and yet Satan will know how to bring that picture back again and again and work injury by it. Don’t look for a moment at any picture, no matter how praised by art critics, that taints your imagination with evil suggestion. Avoid as you would poison every painting, or engraving, every etching, every photograph that leaves a spot of impurity on your mind but feast your soul upon the pictures that make you holier, kinder, more sympathetic and more tender.