The Epistle of Jude

Jude  •  27 min. read  •  grade level: 12
 
It is affecting to think that the darkness and error, the corrupt wanderings of the human mind and consequent estrangement from all true knowledge of God, which it was the purpose of the gospel to dispel, and which it did dispel wherever it was effectually received, and put to shame even where the light only externally shined, should find their way back again, through the corruption of the truth, into that very sphere of light from which by its brightness they were originally expelled.
It is scarcely possible to conceive the extent to which every true notion of God had become eclipsed, and every fragment of traditional truth had become overlaid with error, and how every notion of religion only served more effectually to debase the heart, and in many instances to nourish directly its grossest lusts, when the gospel came to shed its light on all the forgotten and perverted relations of man towards God, and of God towards man. For the gospel, as light, dispersed the surrounding darkness, as well as revealed the way of deliverance from Satan's usurping power over man by a God of infinite goodness coming down to man in compassionate love.
In the narrative of the gospels, we find in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, apart from His atoning work, the perfect light in contrast with the darkness of the world, and in conflict with it: " The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not." To this the system of Judaism, now become formal and effete, presented no exception: for "the light [which was in Israel] had become darkness."
In the Acts of the Apostles we find the planting of churches as so many spheres of light, through the power of the truth and the operation of the Holy Spirit, apart from the deadness of Judaic ordinances, and the darkness and corruption of surrounding heathenism. In the earlier epistles, which are occupied in unfolding and establishing the divine foundations of the Christian faith, the abominations of heathenism are only glanced at or sketched in brief but wonderful outline, and condemned; as in the first chapter of the Romans. In Eph. 2 their condition Godward [" dead in trespasses and sins," applies alike to Jew and Gentile] is summed up in the energetic words, " Without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." But in the later epistles, the very evils of heathenism, which in the earlier ones had been so emphatically denounced, are presented as having obtained a lodgment in the Church, and the very worst forms of moral corruption are presented as having their development in the bosom of Christianity itself.
In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians the evil for the most part is matter of prophetic testimony, though the apostle could then say, " the mystery of iniquity doth already work." But in the Second Epistle to Timothy, it had so far advanced as to give occasion to the apostle to describe what would be the character of the last days of Christianity as a profession here in the world. In doing this it is striking to notice that the Spirit employs almost the same terms as those used in depicting heathenism in the Epistle to the Romans, to which allusion has already been made.
In the Second Epistle of Peter, where the same ground is gone over as that in Jude, the instruments of this evil are more especially before the Spirit's mind; and false teachers, answering to the false prophets of a previous age, are denounced as bringing in destructive heresies and corruptions, which are represented as spreading wider and wider until arrested by the hand of judgment. The practical application to believers is given in the words, " Seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness."
In the Epistle of John, Antichrist, or the Antichrist, is foretold as coming, and the " little children" of the epistle are warned that already "there are many antichrists." This, even in John's day, gave to the profession of Christianity the characteristic of " the last time." Because there, where the claims and authority of Christ should alone have place, the corruption had already begun which would issue in the development of Antichrist himself. But in John these corruptors of the truth are exhibited as leaving the holy association of the Church and going out as, deceivers into the world. In Jude, on the contrary, they are presented as having " crept in unobserved," and remaining in, so as to endanger the apostasy and consequent judgment of Christianity as a responsible profession in the world. Both, alas! are true.
In the prosecution of his subject Jude adduces, as examples of warning, the people of Israel, the apostate angels, Sodom and Gomorrha and the surrounding cities of the plain; and in application he shows that the judgment he was announcing, had been marked out beforehand, as that which would fall on these " ungodly men." Moreover, he declares that Enoch's prophecy would have its accomplishment in the judgment of these men whom he-traces- through the whole course of Christianity, from the time of their introduction in apostolic days until its close in the coming of the Lord with His holy myriads to execute the judgment announced.
It is a very common thing in commentators to treat these scriptures as referring only to the old heresies of the early ages of the Church and thus, of course, to cut off the continuous use of the warnings and instructions they contain. But the smallest attention to this epistle will show that there has been no such lapse in its instructions. The " ungodly men that had crept in unobserved" the apostle declares were corrupting the profession of Christianity when he wrote, and that they, in their corresponding types, would be within the limits of its profession when the Lord comes to execute judgment on all the. ungodly. Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than that they are there now. And it is most important as regards our walk with the Lord through the world, that we should be able to recognize them as there. The evil would, doubtless, become more developed in its course, but the elements of it were so marked when Jude wrote, that the Spirit could trace it on, and depict it in its final consummation and judgment.
The first thing that is noticed of these ungodly men is, that they turned " the grace of God into licentiousness," and denied the authority of Christ as the only Master and, Lord. The grace of God was not denied, but it was turned into an occasion for the indulgence of the flesh and dissoluteness of walk. It is not formal infidelity, however it may issue in that and coalesce with it. It is the acknowledgment of the grace of God apart from holiness of life as its legitimate fruit. For what can man, with an unchanged nature, do with " the grace of God," which, as a doctrine, he acknowledges, but in one way or other, corrupt it? It is only the renewed man that understands how " the grace of God which brings salvation teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope," &c. But these men not only denied the holiness of the grace of God, but also the rights of our Lord Jesus Christ in His sovereign unlimited authority. They would not own subjection to Him as the only Master (δεσποτης) and Lord. But where there was not walking according to the flesh the apostle could say " the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
But it is apostasy that is warned against though this is its commencement.
The tendency of any principle that is not of God can never be known, nor even suspected, apart from the light of the divine word. The Spirit of God sees things in their commencement and their final issues. At first those who are denounced in the Second of Timothy are marked out as persons that " creep into houses and lead captive silly women." But these beginnings of error are shown to result in the utter corruption of Christianity in " the last days " and " perilous times." And in this epistle (it ought not to be forgotten by us) the first point of divergence from the truth is marked as consisting in laxity of conduct in connection with the profession of grace, and the refusal to submit the heart and will unreservedly to the authority of Christ. But the nonrecognition of these claims of Christ, which are absolute, is the assertion of the right to pursue my own will. But this is the principle of direct and absolute apostasy. " The king shall do according to his will."
The examples of apostasy that are adduced are exceedingly solemn, and they can only be lightly contemplated by those who lightly esteem the authority of the word of God. Learned men occupy themselves with discussions as to the sources whence these examples were derived, but to the simple mind there will be little difficulty. Whatever floating traditionary notices of truth, amidst the general wreck of the knowledge of God after the flood, were preserved, God could use. And that many of these notices were existent is plain, however much they might be mixed up with the corruption and fable that abounded in the leading nations of the Gentile world. But God could arrest and fix these elements of truth, which seemed to be held in solution by the corruption with which they were associated; and He has doubtless done so here, and also in that part of the Second Epistle of Peter that is similar in purpose to that of Jude. There seems to be nothing more futile than the discussions of commentators as to which epistle was the prior written and to be considered original, and which quoted from the other. These traditions, from the days of Noah, were all floating in the common mind, mixed up with all sorts of fable and perversion; but the Spirit of the Lord could separate them and direct the mind of each writer to that which was suited to the specific object of each epistle. If man's mind is viewed as inditing Scripture, the difficulties connected with the subject are endless; if God be the author all difficulties vanish.
But there are other characteristics to be noticed of these " ungodly men." In verse 8, they are called " dreamers," indicating that, as not being guided by the truth, all their thoughts and speculations, their hopes and confidence, were but idle dreams. For what are the thoughts of men's minds in regard to the things of God, whether they be learned or ignorant, if they are not guided by the word and the Spirit of God, but the dreams of their own imaginations? The power of God is not in these, nor the restraints of His grace, in a renewed nature; consequently there is no curb to licentiousness, nor any yoke or chain for the pride which disdains the restraints of authority and spurns with irreverence and contempt everything that is above itself. " They defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities."
This haughtiness in a fallen and impotent nature is contrasted with the spirit of an archangel, and condemned.
The head of the highest order of created beings of which we know, when in conflict with Satan did not assume, as belonging to himself, the right to bring against him a railing accusation, but said, " the Lord rebuke thee." That is, in this loftier nature, just in proportion to his nearness to God, there was the reverence which is ever due from a created being to the Creator, which was absent from these proud men, who were near to God in profession, but strangers to Him in heart. Nothing so hardens the spirit as occupation with religion without the heart having been brought to God by it.
" But these speak evil of those things which they know not; but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves." Whatever things they did not know, that could not be brought within the range of their understanding, these things they utterly contemned. It is the error (rife enough) of reducing everything in God's revelation to the standard of human reason, and speaking against everything that pretends to rise above it, as coming from a higher source. Man's mind is the measure of all that be will receive in a revelation from God! But what these same men know naturally, as the unreasoning animals, in these things they perish. For what has man in the highest reach of his nature that does not perish? It is not that man in his nature is here reduced to the scope of a beast's knowledge, but that, in his own sphere, with all that, he possesses naturally, he perishes in the pursuit, and the possession, and the enjoyment of these things. " Man that is in honor and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish."
In pronouncing their woe in verse 11, three new examples, taken from the historic scriptures, are cited as together giving the embodiment of the principles by which these " ungodly men," yet professing Christianity, were swayed.
" 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." " The way of Cain" is natural unbelief, accompanied by hatred of righteousness: the first developed form of evil in man, after the fall. It is nature proudly refusing to own the ruin of sin, and to take God's revelation as the only means of man's knowledge of his relations toward God; with, that which always follows, hatred of those who are in the enjoyment through grace of the divine favor. " Balaam" is the embodiment of the principle of religious corruption. He possessed the truth, but used it for corrupt ends. It was not the rejection of God's revelation, but the employment of the light he possessed without the exercise of conscience, and without seeking God's ends. He used the light only for self-advancement, and as the means of securing his own advantage through it. " He loved the wages of unrighteousness; " and hence, notwithstanding his pretended seeking to God for guidance, he did not scruple to use his knowledge to corrupt directly the people of God. In the Revelation, when speaking of some who held the doctrine of Balaam, it is added, " who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." " Corah " was a Levite who joined himself with the heads of Israel in rebellion against Moses and Aaron, seeking to usurp the kingly and priestly authority which God had in their persons set up. It is a type of the last phase of apostasy; when the ecclesiastical and civil power will be found in open revolt against the kingly and priestly rights of the Lord Jesus Christ; like the beast and the false prophet of Revelation. The three examples present the progressive character of apostasy, and the principles by which it is wrought, and the foreshadowing of the judgment -which will fall upon it in connection with God's final revelation.
Then follows with intense energy the further description of these men. They were spots in their feasts of charity, (or perhaps sunken rocks endangering shipwreck;) clouds without water; trees without fruit, twice dead and plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, &c. They were present in their feasts of charity-the agape or love-feasts of the early Christians. It was with no godly purpose, however, of cultivating feelings of holy fellowship; for they were only feeding themselves without fear in the pastures of the faithful.
But judgment would overtake them, as Enoch's prophecy (ver. 14, 15) showed. For the Lord with His holy myriads would come and execute judgment, and convict all that were ungodly amongst them, &c.; showing that the evil which began in apostolic days would be present within the scope of the profession of Christianity when the Lord comes to judgment. Other scriptures show that the true Church, the body of Christ, will have been taken out of this scene by Christ before this takes place; as it said, " when Christ who is our life shall be manifested, we shall be manifested with him in glory;" and also in this prophecy of Enoch, " Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment," &c. When judgment is executed the saints come with the judge.
But the unbridled license of the tongue, which is next noticed as a characteristic of these ungodly men, should not be passed over without remark. There were the hard speeches of these ungodly sinners, who were saying, in principle, " Our tongues are our own, who is Lord over us?" There were the murmurers and complainers, the great swelling words of those who had men's persons in admiration for the sake of profit, and the mockers of the last times, when there would be a confluence of all the evils warned against in the epistle.
It is a dreadful picture of the various features in which the self-will and self-exaltation of man will eventually display itself in connection with the profession of discipleship to Him who emphatically said, " Take my yoke upon you and learn of ME, for I am MEEK and lowly in heart," and which, in all its essential features, we are warned is working now. But the evil having been foreseen and described, in its actual coming in, only serves to confirm the faith of those who are guided by the divine word, and seek to walk in subjection to the light it gives.
It remains but to notice, in the warning part of the epistle, verse 19: " These be they who separate themselves, sensual, not having the Spirit." This is not a separation for any purpose, holy or otherwise, from the professing body; but while they were in it, as " spots in their feasts of charity," they drew a line of distinction around themselves-perhaps by a claim to the only prescriptive right to minister in the Church as in the line of succession from the apostles-but the Spirit of God disowns altogether their claim by saying, they are " natural men (φυχικοί) not having the Spirit." The contrast to them in every point is presented in the exhortation to believers, " 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." With them was the power of true holiness, or separation to God, as it is said, " they were sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ." The faith they held was "their most holy faith;" and so far from not having the Spirit, they were to be found " praying in the Holy Ghost," &c.
Having gone through the subjects of warning in the epistle, it is exceedingly comforting to notice how the Spirit of the Lord, in thus denouncing the evil, while traversing the whole course of apostasy in order to warn the more solemnly by the examples it affords, preserves untouched the blessing and standing of believers, and says not one word that could rightly disturb the confidence, or the true grounds of confidence, of the feeblest saint in the family of God.
This is presented with divine perfectness in the commencement and the close.
In the commencement there is the distinctive address of the epistle. It is to those who, having been called, were " sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ." They were in the effect of Christ's prayer in John 17 " Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me." And thus sanctified and kept, they were exhorted " earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." The apostle's purpose was to write to them of the " common salvation," but he was turned aside from that by the presence in their midst, as a professing body, of the germs of that evil which we have already noticed, and which gives its special character to this epistle. It was now no longer a question of enlarging the boundaries of their faith, but of zealously guarding the divine deposit they had already received. It is a great thing, when the tide of corruption sets especially against the integrity of divine revelation and the living association of believers with God through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He should be able to say to us, " Thou hast kept my word and past not denied my name."
" The faith once delivered to the saints " is the sum of christian truth, as presented in apostolic teaching, the record of which is preserved to us in the New Testament, and especially in the Epistles. This they were to contend for, or, in other words, were to maintain inviolate, at all costs. It is by this faith which was once for all delivered to the saints that the soul is put into direct communication and association with God.
The conscience is purged from guilt and there is the living action of the new man in a recognized relationship with Him. For we are begotten by the word; and there is a real life of God through union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Where this living power is not known there is no safeguard for the soul. It is not that God will not keep His own but that which gives a vital power against error, in the living possession of all that divinely meets the need of the soul, is not present. Error finds its place in the heart that is not at rest in God-the heart that has something yet to seek, and is not in the position where it has only to enjoy and to advance in the knowledge of that which is possessed. The Apostle John says, " That which we have seen and heard declare we urn o you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." And it may be added that it was their most holy faith on account of its bringing the soul into association with God in the light even as He is in the light.
It is a ruinous thing to stop at the truth of doctrine as doctrine and not to go on to the blessed reality of the truth in the enjoyment and responsibilities of that position in relationship with God to which the truth is designed to bring us.
" Praying in the Holy Ghost" assumes the normal position of the believer to be that of having the Spirit, in contrast with those who are characterized as " natural men having not the Spirit." But it is not the doctrine of the Holy Spirit here, but rather the recognition of the known and blessed privilege of those who are born of God, that they are " born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit," and have the indwelling of the Spirit, as the blessed link of their corn-minion with God. Neither is it the laying the foundations of the faith nor enlarging its scope for the general profit of the saints. On the contrary, the perfectness of its revelation is assumed, and the exhortation is to maintain it in-corrupt. The doctrine of the Holy Ghost is abundantly given in other scriptures; here it is presented in a practical way as the only power of communion with God, the blessed link of connection with Him as the source of light and holiness when all was being corrupted around.
" Keep yourselves in the love of God." This is the true element of the present life of God in believers and is the result of their building themselves up in their most holy faith and praying in the Holy Ghost. By the occupation of the heart with the blessed revelations God has given of His character and of His infinite grace in Christ Jesus, and by turning, under the influence of these truths, to intercourse with God, from whom the truth comes, the soul is kept by the power of the Holy Spirit in the brightness of that love which is characteristic of God and which never changes however little apprehended by us, in its divine perfectness. But this can never be known by the mere workings of the human mind nor indeed in any other way than through the faith of the believer in the divine word and in the operation of the Spirit of God in the soul.
" Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Deliverance was to be looked for out of all around them that would be judged, into the full enjoyment of that eternal life, which is at once the present and future inheritance of the saints. It was mercy in the sense of deliverance from the apostasy and corruption which the coming of the Lord would judge, but much more so in the sense of having been morally separated by grace from what was so contrary to God, and truth, and holiness, in that wide spread sea of evil which under the guise of Christianity was pouring its waves around.
This completes their own personal position, but there was something else. If we have the truth for our own salvation and joy, and the light for guidance along our heavenly road, we have it also that we may be witnesses for God and for Christ, as long as we remain in the world. Hence, in the midst of evil, which cannot be restrained, charity is still to have its exercise; not indeed by the relaxation of the holiness of our own walk, but in the ability which walking in the light gives to help others who may not thus be in the light. But there is a difference to be made between those who are deceived and misled by others, and those who are discerned to be themselves deceivers and active corrupters of the truth. Towards the one compassion is to be exercised; but with the other there is to be no kind of association, but in any attempt to deliver them, there is to be the exercise of that fear which is the only preservative of the soul from their contagion. " 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."
The apostle now turns in heart and address to God as the only unfailing stay and safeguard of His people. He may warn, and exhort, and encourage, but the power of evil would over-pass every barrier, were it. not for the sustaining and restraining hand of God.
" His eyes run to and fro in all the earth to show himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are perfect toward him." For whatever may be the power of the enemy, or the broken condition of the Church here in the world, the power of Christ does not cease to be exercised in its behalf; and it is certain that God has linked the well-being of every soul that trusts in Him with His own eternal counsels. It is not only, as the apostle Peter says, that their inheritance is reserved in heaven for them, but believers, as heirs of the inheritance, are " kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation." " God is faithful," says the apostle Paul, " by whom ye are called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ."
But how wonderful is the issue of the exercise of that power and grace to which the apostle turns as to the source of all his confidence for the saints! Apostasy has been the subject of his epistle: examples the most solemn have been passed in review for the warning of the faithful: the evils which gave
rise to these warnings were already_ in the midst of their assemblies, and were seen by the ken of the prophetic Spirit in darkening features going onward until arrested by the coming of the Lord to judgment; still he can say, " Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, 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. Amen."
There is no mischief that a will not subject to Christ is not capable of; and there is no remedy for the evil in the Church of God, but in the full recognition of Christ's absolute rights over us. He is more than Lord. He is Master, (δεσποτης,) with absolute, unlimited authority. God has " given him power over all flesh;" and " He is the only Lord and Master." But there is nothing that gives such rest to the heart as the full recognition of this absolute supremacy. There is a supreme will, an absolute authority, to which
we must needs be subject. But who is this absolute Master, with unlimited rights over us? It is God, and the Lord Jesus Christ! Then, I reply, my destinies for time and eternity are in the only hands to which my soul, if it could choose, would absolutely entrust them.
"My times are in thy hand,
Father, I wish them there;
My life, my soul, my all, I leave
Entirely to thy care."
Until this is practically owned, the will, in one way or another, will seek to assert itself. But what of necessity is the moral character of a will in action that does not implicitly bow in everything to the Lord Jesus Christ, this epistle has fully shown. An independent will is of necessity an opposing will. But the exhortation of the Spirit to us (and all our blessing hangs upon it) is, " Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the
form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen."