Ye are my Friends, To Save from Fear

A Summary by Michael Edwards

Working Copy: First published bound together: Quaker Home Service, London, February 1979, 15 pp.

Ye are my Friends (3 pp.)

This was first given as an address to the Student Christian Movement in 1929 (not 1943 as stated in the publication). Macmurray takes as his motto or text a passage from the 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Henceforth I call you not servants … but … friends.”

The centrally arresting idea that Macmurray is concerned to put forward in this essay is that the business of the Christian is not service but friendship. He fairly obviously expected his audience to find this idea shocking or surprising, and I think he was right in this. But I also think he was right in his interpretation of Jesus’ view of the matter. I find Macmurray’s interpretation unstrained, with the hallmark of much profound truth i.e. it looks obvious once pointed out. (Not that everybody sees it. I recall being ridiculed by a professional philosopher at a conference for sharing Macmurray’s view that it was more heartwarming to receive a hospital visit out of friendship than out of mere duty.)

There was a liberation in astronomy and cosmology when Copernicus discovered the true centre of our bit of the universe. Similarly, a religious revolution was possible once Jesus had discovered the true centre of human life. So, service, duty, self-sacrifice, martyrdom might all sometimes be necessary in the cause of bringing more abundant life to men. But they are not centrally important or explanatory. Friendship is. To be a friend is to be yourself for another person. The rest is secondary.

To Save from Fear (10 pp.)

This was first given as a series of four Lenten talks on BBC Radio in 1964. The central matter here is Macmurray’s own discovery that when Jesus used the term ‘faith’ he most commonly opposes it not to unbelief (in e.g. items in a creedal list) but to fear, as when he says, “Why are you so fearful? Why is it that you have no taith?” Macmurray thought that Jesus considered that Man needed salvation not so much from sin (he dealt with that by forgiving it) but from fear. Fear is Man’s arch-enemy.

There is a fourfold structure to the paper, presumably reflecting the original four talks.

The first section, Fear and Faith, states the position summarized above and concludes that the mission of Jesus as he saw it was to conquer fear in the hearts of men and replace it by confidence and trust.

In the second section, Faith and Love, Macmurray points out how natural it is for human beings, especially children, to trust one another, until, that is, adult experience and fears foul the process up; when they fall back upon being on the defensive about certain, or all, aspects of life. Macmurray’s understanding of Jesus’ programme is that Jesus looked to love to restore trust. And people often will love if they are loved first. There tends to be a natural reciprocity in these matters. Like all things human it is not 100% certain but it is the normal expectation.

The New Society. When Jesus realised that his mission would be rejected and that he would be killed, he set about training his immediate band of followers in the ways of the Kingdom-of-Heaven-on-Earth, so that they could continue his mission in his absence. They would be his ‘church’.

The world today. In the early sixties Macmurray thought we were in a paradoxical position. We were within sight of the pacification and unification of mankind. And yet we were paralysed by fear, using our recently acquired scientific and technological skill defensively, to stockpile weapons of mass destruction which could never be used without endangering the whole species and natural world.

And we have sunk further in our stupidities and been overtaken by more events since then. But this puts us in more need of Jesus’ solution than ever, not less. And Macmurray cannot see any better agency for effecting this solution than the Church, in spite of its obvious faults. The problem is primarily a religious one, not a political one, and requires a religious solution. Macmurray sees the Church doing its work not as a college set up to give the world a course of lectures, but as a community which, by the quality of its own personal life, will both show how it is done as well as do its own bit towards it. At the moment the Church lames itself for this task by its own disunity. Hence the importance of the efforts to repair this, to achieve not bureaucratic homogeneity but personal unity.

Related Reading

(see corresponding mini-summaries)

Search for Reality in Religion 1965

The Philosophy of Jesus 1973

Adventure (Chs II and V) 1928

The Structure of Religious Experience 1936