Divine Warning and Encouragement for "The Last Days"

Jude  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 12
In the first propagation ' of Christianity and earliest history of the church, there were markedly displayed two master-forms of evil, against which it had to contend. There was the self-righteousness of the Jew built upon his religion of heaven-appointed ordinances (" a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ "); —and the atheistic wisdom of the Greek; a wisdom tenaciously clung to by the whole civilized, and as it is called, " Christian world "; which modifies their philosophy, ethics, and divinity, and has stamped its features on the whole range of their literature; and by which they would now correct and mold the precious revelation of God! Though the voice of inspiration declares concerning it, " The world by wisdom knew not God." (1 Cor. 1:2121For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21).)
Accordingly, the preaching of Christ crucified was " unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness"; but where faith overcame these obstacles, it is added, " unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." And in vain is' God's power and God's wisdom, henceforth sought in dissociation from the cross. There alone is its illustration and display, in the person and work of HIM Who " was crucified through weakness, yet liveth by the power of God." (2 Cor. 13:44For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. (2 Corinthians 13:4).)
But before the canon of the New Testament is closed, the Spirit of revelation is found in conflict with evil of altogether another type.
The elements of Judaism, and the principles of Gentile philosophy, working separately or coalescing in the church of God, may have produced the primary features of this evil; but the evil itself has a generic character; marked as " the mystery of iniquity;" " a falling away," or apostasy; " departing from the faith," through " giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons." And it is to be remarked, that in order to forewarn and arm the faithful against this corruption of Christianity, the stream of revelation, in the latter epistles of the New Testament, leaves its accustomed channel, and flows entirely in another course. A single glance at the epistle of Jude is sufficient to show that the subject it treats of has no counterpart in the earlier portions of the New Testament. It is not occupied with the unfolding of divine doctrine, nor the enforcement of the details of practice, nor even with arming the believer against the common unbelief and wickedness of the world; but its entire instruction turns upon the characteristic evil, the course and issue of which it describes briefly giving this reason for its character, in the fourth verse, " For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained unto this condemnation; ungodly men turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ."
It may be no pleasant task to ponder this character of the epistle of Jude, and of other Scriptures which present a concurrent testimony, that in the very bosom of Christianity there should arise a defined and progressive system of evil—commencing in apostolic days—which no revival in the church ever sets aside, and no reformation ever eradicates; but which works on until the ripened iniquity brings the Lord Himself in judgment upon the dispensation of Christianity, as surely as the corruption of the old world brought upon it the judgment of the flood; or the apostasy of Israel brought their overthrow in the wilderness.' Yet this corruption, which has for its seedbed the very bosom of the church, is most necessary to be noted by the saints of God, if they would have God's estimate of the scene through which they must have their course; or if they would possess the only torch of guidance through the darkened labyrinth. It is necessary to follow the Spirit's course when it ceases to treat of "the common salvation," because of the necessity of "earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints," and which is referred to by the Holy Spirit, in the 20th verse, as "your MOST HOLY faith," in spite of all the failure on the side of man's responsibility The terms church and world, in the New Testament, are characteristically opposed; and are in their proper application as distinct as light and darkness: but alas! in practical Christianity this distinctiveness no longer exists. It is not within the limits of a boundary line that truth and error are now coined-though " the foundation of God abideth sure." But it is not now as once it was-the Jew, outside the profession of Christianity, " ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish his own righteousness, and not submitting to the righteousness of God; " nor is it the Gentile, apart, scoffing in proud derision at the preaching of "JESUS and the resurrection," or persecuting and imprisoning those who bore His name; but it is within the limits of a professed Christianity, that the mystery of iniquity works; and therefore the need of the precious exhortation on the one hand, and, on the other, "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."
There was one who could say, " I have kept the faith 1 " But through what contests had he to carry the sacred deposit, and by what incessant wiles was he tempted to betray his (trust? The Lord give to His people courage, "earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints; " and grace to "keep themselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life!" For then, the onward progress of corruption, instead of staggering the soul, will give but additional confirmation to the truth, as its lamp brightens amidst the increasing gloom. It is in the darkness of the night that the beacon-fire flashes most brightly, and warns of hidden dangers; and it is in the night that the light of the prophetic word, whether to direct or to warn, has its most special use. " We have also, a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark [‘squalid’' Rev. Ver. marg.] place until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:1919We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: (2 Peter 1:19).)
The peculiarity of the epistle of Jude is, that it deals with the general and comprehensive principles of all apostasy, or departure from God, instead of dwelling exclusively on any particular feature of evil by which it may be characterized. And solemn indeed is the reflection that all these principles will find their field of action in that sphere where grace at first recorded its triumphs, and which should have been consecrated to' holiness and to God! " If the light that is in thee be darkness how great is that darkness!" There is no middle position between being espoused to Christ, as "a chaste virgin "—the true character of the church—and being allied to " the great whore " of Christendom's corruptions, " the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."
Hence, in giving the moral characteristics of the " men who had crept in unawares," he says, with a " woe unto them," they have " gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core"! Thus associating their principles with every form of corruption which God will judge, For in Cain is presented the first apostate amongst men, in the way of infidelity and hatred of righteousness. Balaam is the selected example of corruption in religion for reward. Core is the head of revolt.
But though Cain stands as the illustration of the infidel heart and ways of man, under the evil spirit of infidelity, and necessary hatred of righteousness, yet, as may be clearly seen in the example, these may consist with the self-chosen forms of a religion that excludes the recognition of sin in the presence of God, and reliance for acceptance on the, blood of atonement.
In Scripture, Balaam stands in bad preeminence as a man who used his character as a prophet to gain the rewards of the powers of the world, and against the true people of God. He would have used the revelations of God to this end, if they could have been brought into such subserviency; but, in the failure of this, his heart, set upon "the wages of unrighteousness," directly uses, for the ends of corruption, the light he had in the ways of God. Memorable and instructive are the words to the Church in Pergamos-" thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication"
" The error of Balaam for reward "—"having men's persons in admiration because of advantage "—and, " through covetousness shall they, with feigned words, make merchandise of you "—are exponents.
of evil that need no eye, of a seer to give them their application.
As to " the gainsaying of Core," it will be seen in the history, that it is no intrusion into sacerdotal functions, by one who had no ostensible call to them, as it is often viewed by those who are prone to see all Scripture through' the medium of an established order; for Corah was a Levite—of the very tribe and order set apart to sacred offices.
Corah alone is mentioned in this gainsaying; but " Dathan and Abiram, with two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, and men of renown," were joined in this rebellion against Moses and Aaron, of which Corah was the instigator.
And thus will it be found, at last, that the corrupt ecclesiastical power, as " the false prophet," will be the evil adviser and instigator of the beast and his armless, in the final rebellion against the kingly and priestly authority of Christ; of which the rebellion and judgment of Corah is given as a type. " These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords and King and kings " (Rev. 17:1414These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)). " And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against HIM that sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image.
This is the result, when the issue is joined at last, between Him who " shall sit as a priest upon His throne," and the last daring usurper of His rights, in the person of him who " has said in his heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the North: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the Most High."
But spiritual blindness, by whatever cause induced, can alone hinder the perception of this character of evil, as pervading, in a greater or less degree, the entireness of the ecclesiastical arrangements of Christendom. The intrusion into the prerogatives of Christ, by the assumption of a sacredotal character and lordship over the conscience in the papal usurpation, asks no comment. Corah, dissatisfied with his Levitical service, seeks to invade the office Aaron, who was “the priest of the Lord," and to be equal with "Moses, who was king in Jeshurun."
But are there not other systems around us in Christendom, which while the ac-,credited doctrines are in entire antagonism with the horrid dogmas of Rome, still it cannot be concealed or denied that the sin of Corah covertly lurks, asserting the prerogative of priestly authority, so " lording it over God's heritage," the incipient working of Corah's sin?
In correspondence with this general character of the epistle, is the association of " these dreamers, who defile the flesh," with Israel's destruction in the wilderness, after the people had been saved out of the land. of Egypt (ver. 5); with the apostasy of the angels—the characteristic of which is given in the expressive words—" who kept not their first estate" (ver. 6); and, also, with ' the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the judgment that followed their natural apostasy, in the corruption of the flesh (ver. 7). With such beacons has the Spirit of the Lord planted the downward course of the apostasy of the present dispensation. Reasons for " contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," and warnings against the danger of the Church's not keeping " her first estate," are thus drawn from every range that apostasy has ever taken; while heaven, earth, and the realms of darkness, are cited as witnesses of the true judgment of God that must follow in its wake.
The immediate moral features that are dwelt on, and expanded in their action through the epistle, are given in the fourth verse—" turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness "—unholiness of practice with a profession of grace, and denying (not as a point of doctrine, but practically) the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Master and Lord.
From these principles flow, legitimately, insubjection to all constituted authority; for grace, and subjection to the authority of Christ, are the only curb to the wantonness of man's self-will. And if men fancy, and would teach, that, by " despising dominion [or ' authority ], and speaking evil of dignities," they exalt themselves, the Christian is taught how to estimate these things, by the spirit in which an "archangel" acted.
" These are spots in your feasts of charity ['love '], when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear; clouds without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead [dead naturally, and dead after a profession of life], plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." " Spots in your feasts of charity," alas! tells us where this evil began. And when it is said, " Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these," we learn, that in the very place where the evil arose there its judgment will fall. Nor is the 19th verse any exception to this—" these be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit" For it should be observed, that the words do not indicate the action of schismatics; nor even, as it is said in the Epistle of John, " they went out from us." The general condition of the Church was now so low, that they could remain, and " mark themselves off, or distinguish themselves," as the, expression is. But, with this assumption of separation, and claim to superior sanctity, they are declared to be “ natural men, not having the Spirit; " in contrast to that which characterizes the true saint, who is a "spiritual man;" and in contrast with the only spring of holiness, Be beautifully presented in the 20th verse " But, ye beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of OUR Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
But I now turn to the blessed encouragements, amidst the evil, presented in the commencement and the close of the epistle. Nothing can exceed their preciousness. The address of the epistle (ver. 1) is, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, called." Thus presenting God's calling and power in connection with their association with Christ, as the true and abiding and only ground of their security; while, at the same moment, it places them (ver. 2) in connection with the very Spring-Head of mercy, peace and love.
In verses 14, 16, Enoch's prophecy is given not more as a token of warning against the evil on which he predicts that judgment will fall, than as a stay to the faithful, in the certain knowledge, that, as the evil is seen rising to its flood-mark, so certainly will the power of Christ's judgment be interposed to put it down.
Verses 17, 18 recall the minds of the faithful—the " beloved "—to the concurrent testimony of " the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ," concerning these days of evil, for a confirmation of their faith; than which nothing can be more gracious, as showing that nothing is occurring unforeseen.
But, 'besides this, the characteristics of the evil would be by no means complete, without this concurrent testimony; consequently, the warnings and encouragements for " the last days " would be incomplete, if confined to the features of this epistle.
2 Thessalonians presents, amongst other delineations, the mystery of iniquity" " [Or lawlessness '], and " the man of sin; from whose delusions, and " the deceivableness of unrighteousness," there is no escape, but in "receiving THE LOVE of the truth."
2 Timothy gives the moral characteristics of " the last days " and the " perilous times,” in the self-love, and boasting, and spirit of fierce democracy, which still have their place amongst those who have " a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof "; and preservation to the " man of God " is pointed out in the exhortation, " but continue thou in the things which thou hast learned "; and in the assertion of the inspiration of all Scripture, and its perfectness, "that [thus] the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
2 Peter goes over the same subject, as to its main features, as Jude, with the same result in judgment upon the evil. But there is this characteristic difference, that it dwells on the comparison between " the false prophets" of a former dispensation—the leaders in Israel's apostasy—and the " false teachers," who are presented as the active instruments of the more fearful evil in this. But, whilst these " false teachers" are leading the van in corruption, and the " scoffers ' are saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?" the saint is called to listen to the words, "ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To HIM be glory both now and for, ever. Amen!"
1 John predicts " the coming of antichrist," and gives,, as his ecclesiastical or religious character, that he will deny the Father and the Son. But, that it might not be imagined that the springs of this evil were altogether future, it is added, "even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Here, again, the place 'of security is marked in the most simple and perfect way—" If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father." Neither " antichrist," nor the " many antichrists," could harm them there.
The epistles to the seven churches, in the Revelation, in their moral bearing, evidently present the same general progress of decay, while the prophetic part opens into a wider scene: and in them blessing, and safeguard, and overcoming, are connected with an " ear to hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches "—and, if it might be, a recovery of "first love."
But there are yet to be noticed one or two points in the beautiful closing verses of Jude. Verses, 21, 22, present the practical, every-day business of a saint; and the more -so as the evil day comes on: Ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith" (that is its character, in contrast with " turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness "), "praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life." Like Enoch, the prophet of the epistle, "walking with God," in the quiet and holy intimacy of one who has the attestation that " he pleased God;" though, for a while, in the midst of all the evil, whose coming judgment he predicted, but waiting for his own translation to a sphere alike above the evil and the judgment, which the coming of the Lord with ton thousands of His saints would execute.
Verses 22, 23, give the blessed and necessary action of grace, which, not satisfied with self-preservation, seeks, to the end, the rescue of others. " The Spirit and the bride say, Come." And they also add, " Let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."
But there is also this beautiful character in grace, that, while it compassionates the entangled and lingering, as the angels did Lot, it maintains the most uncompromising separation from the evil-" hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." In Christ are the two presented in their perfectness; a compassion that knows no limits to the sinner, combined with infinite separation from the sin.
How divinely perfect is the word of God! And how increasingly precious to the saint, as the night of error and corruption is darkening every ray of light around!
One is not sent to the happiest saint of God, to learn, from the testimony of his experience, what are the privileges and hopes to which he is called by the grace of God. These are alone learned in their perfectness from the Scriptures of truth, illustrated in the blessed Person of Christ, and revealed in living power to the soul by the Holy Ghost.
Neither is it necessary to go to the men who are wise in the affairs of the world—for the world it is still, despite its formal adoption of the name of Christ—to learn its character and course. The true reflections of things in heaven and on earth are alone to be found in the divine mirror of the word. The saint, apart from the world, with the Bible in his hand, as one shut up in a camera obscura, sees brought beneath his gaze every movement and figure in the busy complicated scene around him, with a clearness that none of its actors can discern. Thus, and thus only, is it safe to know the world: " For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." (1 John 2., 16, 17.)
" Now unto HIM that is able to keep you from falling [or ' stumbling'], and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.