The Catholic Epistles.

The Epistle of Jude.


We have come now to what, apart from the epistles incorporated in the Book of Revelation, — of which we have to speak in connection with it, — is the closing epistle of the New Testament. It has all the character of this, a solemn one indeed, as speaking of the close of the Christian dispensation itself, which morally had already come. Already there were those who had crept in privily into the Christian profession, while they turned the grace of God into lasciviousness and denied the only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Thus there were already the people marked out, of whom Enoch long before had prophesied, that the Lord would come with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment upon them. Their history is given here from beginning to end. "They have gone in the way of Cain," (the way of natural unbelief, whatever the profession,) have given themselves up to the error of Balaam for reward, (the ecclesiastical departure,) and have perished (he speaks, no doubt, prophetically here, according to the style of the old prophets, seeing already before them that which, in fact, had not yet taken place) — "perished in the gainsaying of Korah." This was the open resistance of divine authority in those who represented it: in Moses' time, resistance to himself and Aaron; in the present time, resistance to Christ in the double character represented in these, of King and Priest. Jude thus speaks of apostasy; not, indeed, of the one great apostate, who is not manifested until the Day of the Lord is fully come, but that which leads on to this final form of it, when the Lord has taken the Church to Himself.

There is, no doubt, something intended, as always, in the name of him who writes the epistle — Jude or Judah, the name of the head of Israel's royal tribe, and thus of the kingdom of Judah afterwards, from which comes the Jew, so called, now. The name has descended to us in the awful history of Judah (or Judas) Iscariot, the son of perdition, himself the representative of the nation in its denial of Christ, for which at the present time it is rejected. Judah is here, however, "the bondman of Jesus Christ," as the nation yet will be in days to come; and it is as a Jew, a believing Jew, he seems to be a witness here of the second apostasy of the professing people of God, as he had been a witness also of the first. His mention of himself as the brother of James, or Jacob, connects him still more with those twelve tribes to which James addressed himself, by Jude no longer distinctly specified as such. The actual link is for the present broken, although the suggestion of it, as one may say, remains. How solemn indeed is such a connection here! To think of one who in his own lifetime could see for himself this double apostasy, man thus fully proved in his utter incompetency, all hope to be given up as to him, except in God!

Here, indeed, the hope remains only the more stedfast, from the deliverance from mere human hope. All that abides in God will of necessity abide; and so Jude writes here to the called ones, "beloved of God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ." As called, they are preserved. God could not be unfaithful to His own call, or give up His purposes of love towards the objects of it. His salvation has all the full assurance of this: "Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied."

He begins now by telling them that while his heart was busy with the subject of "the common salvation," and he was giving "all diligence" to write to them about this, he had to break off from it in order to exhort them to contend earnestly "for the faith once delivered to the saints," now in danger. "Once delivered" implies once for all delivered. There is to be no departure from this, no addition, even, which would alter its character. The faith is now complete; it is not simply that which the Lord spoke upon earth, but that which the Holy Spirit, according to His promise, has added as no less from Him. "I have many things," He said, "to say unto you; but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth: for He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you." Thus, those who would listen to the Lord's voice in the Gospels must of necessity listen to what He claims to be His voice afterward, as given through the apostles and prophets raised up and qualified by the Spirit, the witness of His full, accomplished work and the glory resultant. Already this was all being called in question. There were "certain men crept in privily, men who of old were marked out beforehand to this condemnation" (Jude evidently refers to the prophecy of Enoch which he cites afterwards), "ungodly persons, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying their only Master and Lord: "the grace they laid hold of, yet perverted to give liberty to their own lusts which broke out against the authority of the Lord of Him through whom alone grace could come to men. We have seen already in Peter and others this character of the last days declared. It was not mere error, the wandering of men's minds, but a spirit of rebellion, the complete refusal of authority by unsubject hearts. Jude puts them in remembrance, therefore, as those indeed who have once for all known all these things: "that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those that believed not;" and that "angels who kept not their right estate, but left their own habitation, He is keeping in eternal chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." Peter speaks of these as "the angels that sinned." Jude speaks of them as apostates having left their own habitation — left the place to which God had assigned them at the beginning. So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around, which imitated them in the unbounded lasciviousness of a corrupt life, had been made an example of, to put as it were before men's eyes the judgment which it naturally spoke of — a judgment of eternal fire. Thus had God already given needed witness of that which will manifest itself in a more awful manner in the time to come. Spite of it all, those of whom Jude speaks were recklessly following exactly in the same path. By their dreaming, as those that had lost the truth of God, justifying themselves in the imaginations of their own hearts, they defiled the flesh, despised lordship, and railed against dignities. He brings forward a remarkable example in witness against such railing, when even Michael the archangel, contending with the devil about the body of Moses, did not yet dare to bring a railing judgment against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee." Moses, as we know, died, and the Lord buried him, and no one knows of his sepulchre to this day. One can easily see, with the tendency to idolatry which was strong in Israel, why the sepulchre of their great deliverer might be hidden from them. Satan, as it would seem, would needs bring to light what God had hidden. Yet, even then Michael had not taken it upon himself to pronounce judgment upon him, but referred it to the Lord. This belongs, no doubt, to other testimonies, such as that of the Book of Job, which assure us that the judgment of Satan himself waits for that time when the great question of good and evil will find its final settlement. Satan in the meanwhile may come up amongst the angelic "sons of God," and put in his accusation on the plea of righteousness against the people of God. He still does this, and the patience of God goes on, using all this for blessing to His people themselves, and allowing things to work out to their necessary result without hastening them, as our impatience would so readily demand. We have seen in Job's case the end of the Lord, and that it was in His wisdom to suffer what would at last show how that He was indeed exceeding pitiful and of tender mercy. God has the sickle put in when the field is ripe, and not before; and when that time of ripeness shall arrive is known to Himself alone. It is far otherwise with those of whom Jude is speaking. They rail against things which they know nothing about, while in the things which they understand naturally they act like creatures without reason, corrupting themselves by means of it; for man cannot become as a beast without debasing himself far below the beast; and that which only testifies in the beast to the absence of a moral element, in man will testify to the presence of an immoral one. Jude gives the whole course of these apostates: first, "they have gone in the way of Cain." Cain had his own natural religion, knew God after his fashion, was a monotheist, not atheist, nor an infidel; would approach God after his own fashion in that which ignored what sin is before Him, and could bring the fruit of a sin-cursed earth, the labor of his hands, without acknowledgment of the sin which had wrought the curse, or of the work of his hands being defiled by it. It is the way of how many still who have no use for atonement, no faith in "a religion of blood," as they call it; who believe in the independent mercy of God, and in themselves also as being rather the victims of their own necessity than as the free, responsible agents, of which yet they speak. The ecclesiastical error follows the natural one. They have given themselves up to the error of Balaam for reward. They can make merchandise of the things of God, owning the true God and becoming prophets of the truth also, in a certain sense, while their hearts are set on their own covetousness. This is the ecclesiastical evil which we shall see figuring so largely in the epistles to the churches in the Book of Revelation. Jude follows them all beyond this. They have "perished," he says, "in the gainsaying of Korah." This is, of course, prophetic. It is, in fact, the apostasy in which all will end. Individuals may have gone that length. No doubt many had in Jude's time. John thus speaks of many antichrists who have gone out from us, he says, but were not of us. These were but individual anticipations of the end, which we can see now so close at hand, of this whole class. It is only the ripe fruit of what has been their character all along. "They were not of us," says John. To have pretension to Christianity while it lasts only the more suits the enemy. Gone out, they would have left the body of Christians undefiled by their presence; remaining among them, they remained but to drag down all the rest, so far as it was possible to give, alas, an evil character to the profession of Christianity at large. As a fact, although individuals might have gone out, as a class they had not. There they were in the Christian love-feasts, "sunken rocks," as Jude calls them, ready to bring everything to shipwreck; "feasting together without fear" of rebuke, hardened by a seared conscience; being their own shepherds, with all the pretence and all the wilfulness of this, able to take care of themselves, to find their own pasture, if not to lead others also; "clouds without water," with a promise, not the performance, and yet with the threatening of storm — "carried along by winds; autumn trees," in the season of fruit, but without fruit; "twice dead," once in nature, then in the pretension of what was beyond nature; "plucked up by the roots," again looking on to what was their natural destination, those dead roots that had never taken hold of that from which faith draws, at last to be exposed for what they were; "wild waves of the sea," with the foam of their shame upon them, a lawless condition, boiling over at any check or rebuke; "wandering stars" — meteors which might be even brilliant for the moment, but suddenly going out, and gone forever, gone out into the blackness of darkness.

Jude multiplies metaphors to show us his horror of it all; and here already was that class of which Enoch had prophesied long since. So thoroughly had the Spirit of God anticipated the evil, and with so great a horror — the outbreak of man's will against all the light and love and truth of God, brought in for his deliverance. Enoch, "the seventh from Adam" was, as we know, himself the type of heavenly saints removed before the time of the great flood of judgment, closing himself the history of man in brief from the beginning; one who, walking with God, was able to see across the gulf of time that yet was to intervene between himself and that of which he spoke. As to these he prophesied: "Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of them of all their works of ungodliness which they have wrought ungodlily" (how he repeats these epithets in the intensity of his feeling with regard to them!), "and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." All other characters as it were are merged in this, that it is a revolt against God; at last a plain, open revolt, as we know it will be when the man of sin, the son of perdition, "exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped," putting himself in the very place of God, in defiance of Him. Never will man's will in this respect come out so manifestly as in those days when judgment smites it; and it is of God to permit it to come out — to take away the merciful restraint upon the evil in order to exhibit it in its full, awful form, before He sweeps it into the destruction that awaits it.

"The holy ones" of which Enoch speaks may be saints, or angels, or both of these, as in fact they will come together. It will be the sudden manifestation of the unholy and of the holy ones at once, and in opposition to one another, The "holy ones," misconceived and downtrodden for so long, will then be with the Holy One who is Lord of all. As they have been with Him in His longsuffering patience, so they will at last be with Him in the righteous display of His wrath upon the ungodly.

Jude returns to his description of them: — "These are murmurers, complainers." How certain a sign of those away from God, who either do not see His hand in things, or else fret against His hand; walking after their own lusts, they can do no other, for God is not with their lusts to prosper them; and if His mercy come in, it must be to thwart and disappoint them. These, as they have left God out of their thoughts, must have man in them, and thus those who are most independent of God, their mouth speaking in this way "great swelling words of false pretension," will have men's persons in admiration for the sake of their own advantage — slaves most of all, as they are, in that independence to which they pretend. Jude reminds those whom he is addressing that he is only in the line of the testimony of the apostles of Christ before him, who had never ceased to warn that at the end of time there would be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. Notice how the two things go together; their scoffing infidelity is but the outburst of the corruption lurking within them at the time of their most zealous profession; natural men, separating themselves, as unable really to mingle with the company of God's people. It does not seem as if he meant exactly any self-righteousness, for these are not Pharisees of whom he is speaking, but rather of the Sadducean order, and who walk apart, as having after all no common tastes or sympathies with the Lord's people, of whom nominally they are part; but they are natural men, "psychical," soul-led men, according to the meaning of the word which we have had elsewhere, men in whom the instinctive, appetitive soul is not governed by the Spirit — "not having the Spirit," says Jude; but he is not, as we might perhaps expect, speaking of the human spirit here, but the Spirit of God. In fact they are not Christians: "For if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." But then, this is connected also with the spirit of man being once more in its proper place as the intelligent governor of emotions, affections, and appetites. Only the gift of the Spirit of God really puts it back into this place, lost in the fall, but when now recovered is brought into a higher condition than at first, with the understanding of God and an aptness for communion with Him beyond anything that even unfallen Adam could have known.

Here, then, is the full tale told of these apostates, and this is what Christianity dispensationally is going on to — apostasy. Every dispensation has ended after this manner: before the flood, as it is itself witness to us; after the flood, when the world got away into idolatry and Abraham had to be called out of it to walk alone with God; then, Abraham's seed brought into a place of special favor with God, and enriched with a revelation from Him to deliver them from the tide of traditional evil, these, alas, in their captivity in Babylon, found the end of covenant, and were scattered amongst the Gentiles; a few being permitted to go back into their land to wait there for the Messiah to come — in the manifest condition of those who had lost everything and must be indebted to divine grace in Him for all that they could know. Yet when He came, only to be rejected and crucified, to be given up into the hands of the Gentiles, His people choosing for themselves no other king than Caesar, and receiving that recompense of their error that was meet. Now, alas, in the vision of the apostle here, the end of the last testimony committed to faith had already come, far off as it might yet be as to the final issue, in which Gentiles as well as Jews, partakers together of the most wonderful blessing, the wonder of eternity, were to prove themselves naturally as incapable, as hopeless as ever. Jude sees it; yet with stedfast eyes that see above and beyond it, God over all, and God at last having His own way, accomplishing His own blessed purposes, and faith foreseeing it can rest in the mean time, nourished by that which God has provided for it, meat that endureth to eternal life." We have seen the same thing in the last epistle of the apostle of the Gentiles, in whom the joy of the overcomer breaks out while still in the battlefield — the joy of one who has "not received the spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." So Jude exhorts here that we should "build ourselves up on our most holy faith" — upon all that which God has revealed to us, and in which the power of the truth to sanctify will make itself known for those who really receive it. Notice that it is not merely a faith that is to be kept, but a faith on which the soul is more and more to find its upbuilding, its edification, far removed above all storms, and indeed a house of God, "the temple of the living God," those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.

Yet here, too, is the consciousness of weakness, the assurance of the need of Him who alone can suffice for it. Thus "praying in the Holy Spirit" goes with the building up; prayer, in its full and proper character, being the evidence of the Holy Spirit's advocacy in us — prayer which is, according to God, going beyond even natural knowledge, in groanings which cannot be uttered, but in which, nevertheless, God finds the mind of One who is greater than man. Thus we are to keep ourselves in the love of God, (in the assurance of it,) which, alas, tends to be weakened as we look upon a scene of ruin come in there where God at last seemed to have something for Himself, in that Church which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself, "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."

How different that which faith anticipates from that condition of things here, which one cannot but realize to be the fact! Yet the love of God abides, and will have its way, the mercy of Christ bringing us through to that eternal life in all its fulness, which has already begun in us, spite of our present weakness and which no power of the enemy can extinguish, weak as it may seem to be. How clearly, as we realize what we are (men, naturally just what others are around us), does this mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ make itself fully felt! But thus we may abide upon our Rock of refuge, and may help some, too, out of the rising flood which is carrying off so many, "making a difference," as Jude says here — learning to distinguish conditions that even look very much alike and yet may be far removed from one another. "Of some having compassion; others saving with fear, snatching them out of the fire," in the nature of things just ready to kindle upon them, and with the hatred of the garments spotted with the flesh, which is but the necessary other side of love to God.

Jude closes with an ascription of praise — most appropriately in keeping with his name, "praise" — a praise how sweet and solemn as we stand amidst the wreck of all that can be wrecked, the shaking of all that can be shaken, with the confidence of those who know that God is able, nevertheless, to keep us from stumbling, and to set us blameless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. Whose joy is that? Not simply our own, that "exceeding joy," although we share in it and it reflects itself in us; but the "exceeding joy" is the joy of the Father who has got back the lost, now found, the one dead, now alive again, and He makes the whole house ring with the music that is in His own heart first.

"To Him the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might and authority from before the whole course of time and now unto all the ages!" In the sweep of all events from the beginning on into the future, which is manifestly in His hands entirely, He abides all through, the same; Master, as He must and should be; working throughout, according to the counsel of His own will, for the display of what He Himself is, that all may know Him. This is His true glory, that which He does not acquire from anything else, but which radiates from Himself, the shining out of what He is, for the full blessing of eternity, whatever the ages yet to come may discover of Him in their turn.