Who can tell the future other than God? Some times we can to a degree. A wise sage once said, “Tell me with whom you spend time and I’ll tell you your future.” The company we keep can well foretell the profound impact others likely will have on our lives and our possible impact on others. Here are two examples:
John Wesley and William Wilberforce
Often an admired mentor becomes a close friend. Such friendship emerged for a young William Wilberforce with the older John Wesley (JW). Wilberforce (1759–1833) was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. He was spiritually mentored by John Wesley (1703-1791), his senior by forty-two years. At age thirty-two, while visiting Wesley on his deathbed, he was encouraged by Wesley to continue the fight in Parliament he had started. That fight was to abolish slavery throughout England and the United Kingdom. Following JW’s passing, Wilberforce went on for forty-two years to politically mobilize pressure on the British Parliament to change the law. Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured. As a mentor and confidant, Wesley helped his young friend shape the future. He was the company William Wilberforce kept.
Stanley Jones and Martin Luther King
The company we keep can be alive and physically present, but it can also be someone whose writings we read. Martin Luther King (MLK, 1929-1968) was a divinity student at the Boston University in the 1950s. At the time he began reading E. Stanley Jones’ (ESJ, 1884-1973) writings (Christ of the Indian Road, Christ of the American Road, The Word Become Flesh, and other Jones’ books) found in the school of theology library. ESJ was a Methodist missionary to India for fifty five years, throughout most of the twentieth century. He always wrote about Christ. Christ was at the center of his ministry and writing. Jones also wrote extensively about his long time, intimate friend, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1944). MLK discovered his books on the shelves in the Boston University Theology library and began (indirectly) spending spending time with Gandhi. The intimacy of ESJ’s friendship with Gandhi and the discipline of writing books had a lasting impact on Martin Luther King. Jones was the literary company MLK kept. As a result, King came to know, appreciate, and emulate the civil disobedience strategies of the Gandhi whom he never actually met.
John Wesley, William Wilberforce, E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were all influenced by the company they kept and that they became. Through human agency God occasioned a long-standing, redemptive impact on untold millions of others. With whom do we spend our time? Tell me the company we keep, but also the company we become, and together we may see God at work shaping the future.
“Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)