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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Jude 1

 

 

Verse 3

IN DEFENCE OF THE FAITH

‘Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’

Jude 1:3

It has become the fashion to deprecate controversy, but this Epistle shows us that there may be occasions when not merely controversy but earnest contention is necessary.

I. It must be positive witness.—‘For the faith’: too much of present-day discussion is concerned with cold negations.

II. To the old faith—the faith of the Catholic Church. Every age has its own special ‘New Theology.’ But we keep to the Truth as it has come down to us through the ages from Jesus Christ—‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’ When that faith is attacked we must bear witness, even to the point of ‘earnest contention,’ to its vitality, its power, its unchangeableness.

III. By word and life.—Such contention through pen and paper or by word of mouth is good, but it is powerless unless the life goes with it. Let men see that the old faith has power over our lives, power for restraint, power for edification, power for holiness. May it be ours to hold in our own experience the true faith of Christ and His Church, and to guard and defend it as a sacred deposit.

Illustration

‘St. Jude had two surnames—Lebbæus and Thaddæus—names somewhat uncertain, but, derived from the Hebrew, are generally interpreted as “one that praises” and “a man of heart.” He was brother of James the Less, son of Mary—sister to the Virgin Mary, and therefore of our Lord’s kindred. He was called to the Apostolate with the eleven others; and is specially mentioned in St. John’s Gospel as asking Jesus, “Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” Evidently, he not only saw and knew Jesus, but He was formed in his heart as “the hope of glory.” How precious, therefore, must those words have been to him, “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” No wonder that when “the truth as it is in Jesus” was assailed by the Gnostics, St. Jude wrote his Epistle to exhort and encourage Christian believers to avoid their grievous heresies, and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” and also to “keep themselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” All this he did himself; until, after labouring in Judæa and Galilee, and in Samaria and Idumæa, his end came, and he entered into “the joy of his Lord.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

ESTABLISHED FACTS

It is our duty to keep an open mind to the discoveries of theologians and scholars; but this does not mean that we should consent to regard all the articles of the Christian faith as open questions.

I. On the great subjects our mind is made up.—The facts we know, and under God we have to transmit the knowledge of them to coming generations.

(a) We are willing, if necessary, to revise definitions, but can accept no definition which obscures the Divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Creator, Brother, Lord, Redeemer of the human race.

(b) We are prepared to discuss theories of the Atonement, but can accept no theory which would dislodge our hearts from their sure confidence in Christ, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins according to the riches of God’s grace. Theories of justification may be reconstructed, but we can receive no theory which does not rest on the fact that we are in Christ, and that His relations to the Father determine our own.

(c) We are not irrevocably committed to any theory of what theologians have called the depravity or corruption of human nature; but any theory which does not explicitly and fully acknowledge the awful reality of sin, and maintain that only in the power of the supernatural life can man escape from spiritual ruin, is for us an impossible theory, we know that the facts are against it.

(d) We confess that the mystery of the eternal life of God transcends our science; that the terms of the Creeds must be inexact; that they point towards august truths, but do not reach them; and yet, with reverence and awe we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God, blessed for evermore; and in the knowledge of God we have eternal life.

(c) We are ready to revise and correct, when adequate cause is shown, the traditional belief of the Church concerning the dates at which the books of the Old Testament and the New were written, concerning the kind of relation between the books and the authors to whom they are attributed; we are ready to revise theories of inspiration; but in these books we ourselves have found the record of the supreme revelation to mankind of the righteousness, the mercy, the grace, and the will of God; what we ourselves have found in them has been found by millions of men of many races, many tongues, and many forms of civilisation; by simple and unlearned men; by men of noble genius; by humble penitents; by glorious saints; and whatever conclusions and theories assume that this discovery is an illusion we vehemently reject.

II. The substance of the faith delivered once for all to the saints of the first age has been verified in the experience of the saints of every succeeding generation, and has, in these last days, been verified in our own. Theologians have not to create new heavens and a new earth, but to give a more exact account of that spiritual universe whose mysteries and glories have environed the saints from the beginning. A theology which quenches the fires of the sun and the splendour of the stars—whatever temporary triumphs it may win—is destined to failure. It is an account of another universe than that in which the saints are living, and the faith of the Church has authority to reject it.

Illustration

‘While men were still living who had received the gospel from Apostles, the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints was in peril. Even in those early days, as St. Jude tells us, there were some who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Nor was it their creed only that was corrupt. They were guilty of the foulest sensual sins, and sheltered their immoralities under perverted conceptions of the gospel of Christ, and perhaps under such theories of the relations of the flesh and the spirit as assumed a more definite and elaborate form during the first fifty years of the second century.’


Verse 4

SOUND DOCTRINE AND HOLY LIVING

‘Ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.’

Jude 1:4

Sound doctrine leads to holy living. Perverted doctrine goes with unholy living. Let us look into this.

It is not a popular doctrine. People are always ready to say that if a man’s life be good—what matters it what he believes? But the point which people commonly lose sight of is that, as a matter of fact, all true teaching has holiness for its object, and that wherever you find unholy-living men you will also find neglect of sound doctrine. Errors as to Christian doctrine do lead directly to errors in life, and there is no single point in the true doctrine of Christ’s Church which does not tend to correct the vices of ungodly men. Sound doctrine is the means to holy living: and to talk of holy living without sound teaching is to speak of flying without wings, or of being cured of sickness without medicine. Let us illustrate this.

I. Look at the doctrine of our Lord’s Incarnation.—There is, of course, a very true sense in which this includes nearly all Christian doctrine, and therefore I can only refer to one or two points in it. It is an essential element in this doctrine that our Lord was ‘perfect God and perfect man,’ or, as it would be more accurately rendered, ‘complete in His Godhead, and complete in his manhood.’ This involves that, in his manhood, He went through every item of every stage of human experience—infancy, childhood, boyhood, etc.—completely, as we do, sin only excepted; that He did this, among other purposes, as our example, and as exhibiting to us the pattern and standard of what humanity is intended to be; and, moreover, in order that all mankind, at every age and in every circumstance, might feel and know that in praying to Him for help they were praying to One Who had been through their own difficulties and trials. Now contrast this with the popular notion that it does not much matter what children are or do, that perhaps it is not much amiss for young people to sow a few ‘wild oats’ before they learn to become steady.

II. See how the true doctrine of Holy Baptism teaches the same lesson, and leads to the same result, i.e. tends to holiness, and to lead people away from sin and carelessness. Baptism tells you that a child is God’s child from the first. It tells you that Christ receives him in his earliest infancy for His own: gives the child His Holy Spirit before he can speak or think; surrounds him with His care and holy influences even in the cradle; so that as soon as ever the child’s intelligence dawns there is the power of God within him to answer to all that good teaching and good training can do to bring up the child in holy ways. When we bid a child to be good, and patient, and obedient, and truthful, and unselfish, we do so because we know that there is already God’s Holy Spirit in the child to enable it to be all that we try to teach it to be; and so we are not afraid to try and lead him or her on in goodness.

III. Look at the true doctrine of the other sacrament, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Here again we have the same contrast prevailing. We have false doctrine leading to ungodliness; we have true Christian doctrine leading to holiness. The common notion is that the Holy Communion is only to be taken by persons who are, as people say, thoroughly good; that if a man receives it, it is the same thing as publicly professing himself to be better than others, and that he has altogether overcome sin, and that none but such persons ought to come to it. Christian doctrine says that it is intended for all men to strengthen them to resist sin, that the more a man feels unable in himself to do right and resist temptation, the more he ought to come and seek Christ’s grace in Christ’s own way; and that every penitent soul, that all who believe and repent, are invited to it. What are the consequences of the two doctrines? Why, the consequence of the false doctrine is that thousands of souls which might have been strengthened to become thoroughly settled in good ways are kept back from this spiritual food, and deprived, perhaps, for nearly all their lives of its spiritual grace, while many others, perhaps, fall back just when they were beginning to do well, and never advance at all. The true doctrine says to a man who is finding out his own needs and his sinfulness—You cannot persevere of your own self, you have not the spiritual strength, but Christ offers you the precise spiritual food you require. What is the address in our Communion Service? ‘Ye that do truly and earnestly repent … Draw near with faith.’—‘Ye that intend to lead a new life, walking from henceforth in God’s holy ways, draw near with faith.’ It does not say—‘Ye that have been for a long time settled Christians, and profess yourselves to be better than other people.’ What it does say is—‘Ye that intend to lead a new life, draw near with faith, and make your humble confession ‘that in time past you have not lived as you ought. And then what follows? Why, that the penitent sinner is brought very near to his God as soon as he repents; that no sooner does he truly repent than he comes and receives grace to bring his repentance to good effect, and is strengthened to live henceforward a different life from that life of which he is repenting, and so is led on towards real holiness. So the true doctrine of Holy Communion leads a man towards holiness, while the false doctrine keeps a man back from holiness.


Verse 11

WISE IN HIS OWN CONCEIT

‘The way of Cain.’

Jude 1:11

Cain stands before us as the example of one wise in his own conceit and wedded to his own way. This appears:—

I. In his refusal to offer to God the appointed sacrifice for sin.—God had specially appointed the offering of animal sacrifices by men. The strongest proof is given in Hebrews: ‘By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.’ Faith has always respect to a testimony borne by God or a command enjoined by Him. If there had been no Divine prescription of animal sacrifices, Abel’s offering could not have been the result of faith. Cain’s unbelief was manifested in preferring his own way, and bringing only the fruits of the ground. The spirit of Cain is manifested by all who refuse to accept redemption through Christ’s blood, of which Abel’s offering was the primeval type.

II. In his enmity toward Abel and in its tragic result.—In all cases of self-sufficiency there are two distinguishable phases: undue appreciation of one’s self and undue depreciation of others. The one is vanity, the other is envy. The sin of murder sprang originally from the root of wounded self-esteem. We have not now the murdering of individuals for their faith, but all who seek to injure the reputation of those who are serving the Lord are going the way of Cain.

III. In his disregard of the warning given him by God.—Cain thought he could take care of himself. He had firmness enough to resist temptation. He went on defiantly in self-confidence, and was at length hurried to the murder of his brother.

IV. In his repudiation of responsibility for Abel.—His motto was, Let every man take care of himself. He was utterly careless about his brother.


Verse 19

THE SIN OF SEPARATION

‘These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit.’

Jude 1:19 (R.V.)

I am afraid that that which we find in the Epistle of St. Jude exhibits a spiritual degradation all too common in our varied pastoral experience.

I. Spiritual degeneration.—Multitudes who have crept into the Church perhaps by the lax administration of Holy Baptism in these days, many others who were once established by the reception of Confirmation, have been at no pains at all to live by and from the graces which in those Holy Sacraments they received. Having received the Spirit, having tasted the heavenly gift, and being made partakers of the Holy Ghost, they have become as if they never had received it at all. They have lived, not from the Spirit, which by the grace of God was made theirs, but by and from their own natural instincts, or their self-acquired knowledge, according to the higher refinements of civilisation that has gained much from the reflex influence of Christianity upon it—from these they have lived, and not from the grace of God. They have continued to live the animal, the intellectual, the natural life. Their whole being is conducted on the plane of the natural order. They are earthly, they are sensual, as St. Jude calls them, having no longer the Spirit which in the Church they received, and which, as they have not cherished and hallowed it, has died down where once it was. As St. Paul would put it, they have fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind.

II. There are two sorts of men then, the sensual and the spiritual.

(a) In outward form they have a similar appearance to the eye of man. We cannot detect the origin of actions, yet God can, God does, and God will do so. Admirable may be the acts of virtue within the range of nature, and virtue may have its great rewards in the natural order, for virtue is ever its own reward; but, beyond that, in relation to the supernatural, beyond the temporal, away in the eternal, it has no range; it belongs to the sphere of human nature. It is not of grace, it lacks Divine life, it is mere human virtue. The fact is that the man of nature, sensual, sensuous, animal, intellectual, affectionate, is but the man begun. Yet he may, by the grace of God, become glorious as the risen and glorified Christ.

(b) A man of grace is by grace brought into vital contact with the supreme object of superhuman existence, man’s chief end, God. His soul is in communion with the common good, God perfects His nature. He has found salvation, the common corporate salvation. He has been born into a society, the Divine society, the society of God’s Church, where the Son of God reigns, where the Holy Ghost operates, and the whole society mutually help each other onwards and upwards, a company of heaven, where the spirits of just men are perfected.

III. For the avoidance of this declension, for the avoidance of this separation from the love of God, and for our encouragement in spiritual life and progress, St. Jude sets before us three specific points:—

(a) Build up yourselves on your most holy faith—edify yourselves upon the faith.

(b) Pray in the Holy Ghost. Prayer is the great evidence of spiritual life; it exists only in that atmosphere, and so becomes the evidence of it. It is the element of virtue and strength. If you have any tendency towards the spiritual declension or separation in any form, ask yourselves the question whether it may not be that you have ceased or been slack to pray.

(c) Keep yourselves in the love of God. The love of God is the great grace, the grace of the graces that He has to give. To your sensual animal nature He adds His own pure love, differing in quality and character entirely from that love which may be between the dearest of human relationships.

So steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, rooted in charity, there can be no separation.

—Rev. J. H. Anderson.

Illustration

‘Let a man begin once to pick and choose about the faith communicated once and for ever to the Church, let him pick and choose about what he will believe or disbelieve out of that which Christ has revealed, which God has delivered, then he separates himself; and the ugly name for that kind of personal separation, altogether apart from any disciplinary action of the Church, is heresy. Let a man under a specious appearance of liberalism and broad-mindedness exhibit a sort of dignified patronage to every competing and perhaps contradictory religious organisation, ancient or recent, human or Divine, then, thus forgetting the one Holy Communion of the Saints, thus forsaking the common corporate administration of salvation, he makes for separation; and the ugly name for that kind of work is schism. Let a man take leave of religion altogether, let him negative the faith of God, the Apostles’ Creed, let him turn his back for ever upon that, the Sacrament of unity expressed in the one Bread and the one Cup, let him assume a cynical disregard for all the gracious creations of a Saviour’s love, and then he separates himself, he promotes by bad example the separation of other Christians; and the specific name for that particular form is the ugly word “apostasy.”’


Verse 21

IN THE LOVE OF GOD

‘Keep yourselves in the love of God.’

Jude 1:21

There are many places and relationships in our human life in which it is honourable and a privilege to be—how suggestive to bring them one and all into comparison with this position, the position of being ‘in the love of God.’ This is supremely best.

I. What the love of God is.—Far, infinitely far from being a word only, or a vague profession, it is so great a necessity, that if it were once withdrawn in every sense our own hold on life would be lost. Through many a channel it streams. There is the love which He has for all He has made; for us, as He made us, and as He would see us again. It is a creative, parental, guardian love. How good it is to be—at present still inalienably—in this love! There is the pitying love which He has for us as sinners, for a whole saddened, suffering, sinful world—and this love, so real, so commanding, outweighs all. How good to have the resort and refuge of this love! There is the fostering, welcoming love, which He has, to receive and to help first repentant conviction, first penitent tearfulness, first practical endeavour, first symptoms of the returning prodigal. Oh, how good to have the help of this love! There is the love which He has to those who have strayed from the Lord, who have fallen, who have denied Him! and whom He would receive again, with tenfold pitying grace. There is the love which He has to a company of brethren and sisters in the truth, in Christ. Oh, how needed is this love!

II. The fulness of sense in which we may be in it.—The love of God is so vast, that there is no risk of not being entirely surrounded by it, safely wrapped in it—bathed in it. The love of the creature has danger in it; but in and to the love of God you may literally give yourself up, ‘spirit, soul, and body,’ with a safe and a blessed abandon. The love of God has no fickleness, no uncertainty about it. ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ Nothing ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.’

III. We may keep in it for ever.—Of all else that is innocent, honourable, good, and great, in which we may rest, we have to say (as when some morning awakes us), it is time to be getting up! But never, never so, if our place of folding is ‘in the love of God.’ In it, work and rest, sleep and wake, day to day, and night to night, while you live even here below; and when you last lie down to sleep ‘in’ it, let the morn awake you, it will be still to find you ‘in’ it; ‘in’ it satisfied; ‘in’ it ‘clad in bright and deathless bloom’; ‘in’ it, for ever supremely blest! So then, ‘keep yourselves in the love of God’—in the one only way of doing so, by giving yourself afresh to Him Who alone can ‘keep you.’

Illustration

‘This very short Epistle is for vigour surpassed, perhaps, by no portion of any other. Its matter and tenor are most striking, and in large part awfulness is the tone of it. Short as it is, it finds room for some statements not found elsewhere in Scripture, or only darkly intimated, such as those respecting the angels who lost their first estate, and Michael the archangel, and the fresh particulars respecting Enoch and Balaam. Its warnings are of the most thrilling and unqualified character. As we read through the short, sharp, incisive sentences we wonder how they must have smitten the ear of those to whom they were originally addressed. Yet the outcome of all is a sentence breathing tenderest solicitude and the warmth of love itself. It seems that a fearful apostasy was in the very air all around, and the writer of the Epistle trembled with fear lest it should find a harbour in the heart of those whom he now so earnestly warns.’


Verse 24-25

ABLE TO KEEP AND TO SAVE

‘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 Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.’

Jude 1:24-25

There is a notion among some persons that the soul once converted and justified is secure against all danger—is safe for ever; but half the warnings and promises in Scripture, addressed to pardoned believers, are grounded on the supposition that they are in the utmost danger. And so they really are. We, of ourselves, are prone to fall. What God said of His people of old He might say of us, ‘They love to wander.’

I. If we have any right knowledge of our own hearts, we shall say the same of ourselves. We are assailed continually from without; there are those around us who want us to fall. What is Satan doing with us? What is the world doing with us? Leading us on to heaven? Holding us up on the way to it? On the contrary, Satan and the world are doing all they can to throw us down. Now laying one snare for our feet, and now another. Business, pleasure, society—all slippery ground. It is hard work sometimes to move about even for a day without a stumble. Which of us can for one moment stand, if left to ourselves? You cannot keep yourselves; nor can others keep you.

II. God can keep you.—He deals with you as you do with children who cannot walk alone. As you hold them, so He holds you. And if the Lord occasionally lets you stumble, it is to teach you the difficult lesson—a sense of your own weakness. But if you are true believers, He will not let you fall to your ruin, but, as with St. Peter when sinking on the waters, that you may look the more to Him for support, and more earnestly utter the prayer, ‘Lord, save, or I perish.’ Well, therefore, do we need the caution, and especially young believers, to look alone to Christ for strength. Draw your strength from much secret communion with your Maker and Saviour. Seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Devoutly study the inspired Word. Remember that you are not your own, but that you are bought with the most precious blood of Christ your Lord. Beware of seducing spirits. Avoid those who teach false doctrines, shun irreligious companions. And in all that you do for your salvation, learn to look off from yourselves, and from all human aids, and look to Christ alone. Some, from not acting thus, have, like David, their spirits wounded, their hearts bruised within them all their days.

III. But we are to view the Divine power in another aspect.—We are to view it not only in present grace, but also in future salvation. The Lord is able to preserve you by His grace, through this life, and then, when your spirit enters eternity, ‘He will present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.’ What a richness and a fulness have we here. He will present you before the presence of His glory! The glory of the Lord will shortly be present. Now we look upon it as distant. But it is very near. This glory is now the object of your faith. It will then be the object of your sense. You believe in Christ now, your eyes will behold Christ in all His glory then.

IV. The Divine glory.—‘To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.’ Now this glory of God will appear.

(a) He is the only wise God. How vast is the Divine wisdom as seen in redemption!

(b) The glory of God will be manifested in His eternal praise. The ascription of praise which the Holy Spirit teaches us to make now will be the same in heaven. You will then indeed praise God for His redeeming love, His preserving grace, and for His wise guidance, praising Him that sitteth on the throne.

Rev. Dr. E. J. Brewster.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jude 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/jude-1.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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