The Epistle of Jude

Introductory Lectures

William Kelly

We enter now on the last of those letters as they stand in the common Bible, THE EPISTLE OF JUDE. I will take this opportunity of instituting briefly a comparison with part of the second Epistle of Peter, which, you may remember, I passed over with a partial notice when discoursing on that subject. Doubts have been entertained, as most are aware, by men of some learning. From their similarity in various ways they have conceived that Peter must have borrowed from Judas or Judas from Peter; and that, in point of fact, if one is inspired, the other cannot be.

Brethren, this sort of thought and speech is the result of nothing but unbelieving speculation. And I will go even farther (for it is a serious thing thus to treat scripture): I say that the speculation is as shallow as it is unbelieving. Although no doubt there are those who consider themselves to show their superior wisdom by their doubts, I must take the liberty of saying that to dispute the inspiration of either 2 Peter or Judas demonstrates their ignorance of both. I do not mean at all to affirm that those guilty of such license are ignorant on every subject. Far from it. A person drawn into such views may be possessed of large and superior information in what has occupied his life, and there may be even certain portions of the word of God in which he is really taught of the Spirit of God. But for all that these doubts are as unfounded as they are dangerous, and dishonouring to the Holy Ghost. I am aware that some names of great weight among Protestants, as well as others quite opposed in position, have yielded to these unworthy questionings of scripture. To this I refer that those who are present may understand that it is not for want of examining their objections, and weighing well what they say against the truth, that I have ventured to express a severe judgment on their opinion.

I hope to show that Judas has not borrowed from Peter any more than Peter from Judas, but that both were inspired men, who wrote in the direct order and power of the Holy Spirit. I do not at all mean to imply by this that one did not write before the other, and that one may not have read what the other wrote. Whether this were so or not matters little really to the question. It is plain and demonstrable that the Spirit of God, if one did know of the other's communication, has taken good care, while giving a great deal that is common to both, to give points of difference of the most essential kind. In point of fact, therefore, the criticism that comes to the conclusion that the one is borrowed from the other simply betrays its own blind incompetence. The differences are as striking at least as the resemblances, and abundantly show that Judas has not borrowed from Peter, and that Peter has a line as peculiarly his own as that of Judas, and not more so.

We have seen in the Epistles of Peter that the leading truth, besides the bringing out of the grace of Christ, is the righteous government of God under which the saints are placed. We have seen that this righteous dealing does not merely affect the saints, but will most seriously bring the world under its weight before God has closed the matter. Thus in the second Epistle of Peter, naturally, where we see the future judgment carried on even to the end of the thousand years, with the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, the point from which the Holy Ghost views matters is men judged according to the principles of God's righteous government. In the case of Christians all of course flows from and through grace; but those that have despised the grace of God will not be able longer to despise His government.

The second Epistle, accordingly takes this up, and shows that as among the Jews there were false prophets, so now there are false teachers. Of these the Spirit of God gives some very solemn traits. It is said that they have brought in damnable heresies, even denying the sovereign Master that bought them. A word on this may relieve the minds of persons, to whom it often seems harsh that the Lord had bought false teachers avid heretics. You must distinguish between being bought and being redeemed.

It is never taught in Scripture that the Lord redeemed a heretic, or any other man that was not saved. There is not a syllable in God's word that enfeebles the certainty of eternal life for the believer; but it is none the less clearly taught there that the Lord has "bought" every man whatever, saved or not, and believer or not. The result for man has nothing to do with the Lord's purchase. He has bought the world and everything that belongs to it. This is the doctrine everywhere, whether in parable or in doctrine, whether in gospel or epistle; and this is the constant statement of the Spirit. Of course, therefore, these bad people were bought as well as the rest.

But redemption is another thought, and so far from purchase being the same as redemption, the two things are decidedly in contrast. The object of redemption is to deliver a person from the power of the adversary, to bring one who is a captive out of slavery, to set him free by the ransom paid. This is only true of the believer; he alone is brought out of captivity and made free. It is an efficacious not a nominal deliverance, and belongs only to faith. It is not merely that there is purchase‑money; this is not enough for redemption, which is a question of setting a slave or prisoner free, and this is never the case unless a soul believes in Christ. But it is a different thing with purchase: you may buy that which is inanimate, and that which is bought belongs to you indeed, but possibly for harm and shame. Supposing you could purchase a person, what is the effect of the transaction

You make him a slave: thus it is the very reverse of redemption. Redemption makes the slave free, but purchase makes what you buy your property or your slave.

These two facts are both true of Christians, and meet in Christ's blood. The Christian is both redeemed and purchased., but he alone is redeemed. But besides being redeemed, he is bought by the blood of Christ, and therefore it is that he becomes Christ's slave. He is a bondman of Christ Jesus. Perfectly freed by redemption, he is made thoroughly a slave by purchase; and this is precisely the anomaly the natural man never understands. As for the theologians, some of them are not natural men; but one might ask in despair, what it is they ever seem to understand? The fact is that they have so confused the two things as to make the subject hopeless in their hands.

It is clear that the dispute between those called Calvinists and the so‑called Arminians turns much on this point, which is then very important. Both of them agree in the error that redemption and purchase mean the same thing. The consequence is that they never can settle the question. The Calvinist is quite right in his premise that redemption belongs solely to the household of faith; the Arminian is no less right in his premise that purchase belongs to every creature under the effects of sin. But they are both equally mistaken in assuming them to be the same thing; and there they wrangle, as they might for ever, without advancing an inch toward settling the matter, because each holds a truth that the other denies. The truth in this question, as in many others which have distracted Christendom, is that faith receives that which the contending parties lose in the dispute; faith bows to the whole truth, instead of being shut up to a part of it. Here then in 2 Peter 2 it will be seen that it is only a question of purchase, which does not imply that these men were ever born of God.

In the next place we are given to see the effects of their teaching and conduct: - "And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." Next their covetousness is brought before us, and, more than this, the certainty that sure judgment awaits them - that their destruction does not slumber, but is near and sure. Then Peter says (mark the expression), "For if God spared not angels that sinned" - it is simply a question of sinning in this epistle, of righteousness and unrighteousness - "but cast them down to hell, and delivered them to chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah, one of eight, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly," etc. These are the topics with Peter, even sin and unrighteousness. Hence he speaks of God who, "turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot" (it is righteousness again), "distressed with the filthy conversation of the godless: (for the righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds)." Nor is this more than the beginning, not the end. They were accordingly reserved for a still greater punishment by and by. This is what is traced more particularly throughout the Epistle on the vastest scale, and finally in the next chapter.

But in Judas we may see a wholly different character of evil. "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to the called that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ mercy to you, and peace, and love, be multiplied." Though professedly the epistle of Judas is to the saints at large, the Holy Ghost brings in the same wish of mercy as is more usually addressed to an individual soul. In fact this Epistle does individualize the saints, and it is of the utmost importance to look at truth for the individual in this place, and to lay hold of it for our own souls. "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." This is not so much the case with Peter; he does not speak of any such contention. "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old marked out for this sentence, ungodly men." Mark, it is not merely sin, or unrighteousness: here are seen "ungodly men, turning the grace of our God;" for it is not men's righteousness here, nor His righteous government. The evil is "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying" the only Sovereign Master, "and our Lord Jesus Christ."

Thus the measure of likeness makes the real difference between the Epistles far more striking than if this Epistle had been written without any points of contact with the other. Of one thing we may be sure, that whether or not Peter referred to Judas, or Judas to Peter, the Holy Ghost had both in view, and distributed to each as He would; and there are no finer samples of the action of the Holy Ghost in the touching of similar lines of truth, and at the same time of converging with the most consummate wisdom, and the most admirable delicacy of expression as well as of truth, than these two Epistles, that treat of the existent and coming evil under different points of view. Supposing two persons take totally different lines, it is evident that nothing is easier than for each to pursue his own line; but supposing they come continually close together, it is plain that there is far more difficulty to preserve intact the truth that is given to each. The latter is the case with Peter and Judas: but the Holy Ghost has done the work to perfection.

"I will therefore put you in remembrance, though once for all knowing all things, how that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, in the second place destroyed them that believed not."

There is not a word about this in Peter. Why here? Because what the apostle Judas is showing is not merely unrighteousness in conduct, but the abandonment of a position of grace, and the virtual turning it into lasciviousness. In fact the grand subject of Peter in his second Epistle is unrighteousness; the distinctive subject of Judas is not this but apostacy (that is, a departure from the place that the grace of God gives at any given time to His own people). Accordingly the warning is founded on a saved people in the next place destroyed, as with Israel brought out of Egypt. It was not persons that behaved badly, but a deadlier evil; they did not believe; they abandoned His truth and ways. "And angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath in keeping in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."

There again it is the same principle. This makes it all the more striking, inasmuch as Peter speaks of angels too, but not at all from the same point of view. In Peter's case it is simply said that God spared not the angels who sinned, without a word about leaving their first estate or not keeping it. Judas speaks of "angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation." They apostatized also, and in this case the terms are excessively strong, as the guilt is yet worse.

And now comes another example from among men, and this too used by Peter. When I say used by Peter, I do not pretend to attempt to decide the time when the two Epistles were written; nor does it signify that I am aware of. Peter says, "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly." Whereas Judas has it: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after other flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the judgment of eternal fire." In this case it is evident that it is a breaking out, not merely into sin, but into that which was beyond measure flagrant, not evil alone, but contrary even to fallen nature. This is what is spoken of here. The very same persons are described in a different manner, according to the object of the Holy Ghost.

So again as to the conduct of the angels. By Peter it is said, "Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord." Judas gives us the more specific charge rather than their general delinquency: "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee."

Thus it is evident that in every instance Peter takes up the broad ground of righteousness and unrighteousness, while Judas singles out the special character of departure from the truth and perversion of the grace of God (that is, apostacy in short).

But there is another difference too. They both treat of the coming of the Lord: only Peter, true to his character, takes the largest and most expansive aspect possible. He, and he alone, embraces within the day of the Lord the whole of the millennium, and even that which is just before the millennium, and that which is just after it. He looks at what immediately precedes the millennium, because that day really includes divine judgments in Jerusalem and neighbouring and even distant lands, as various steps of the preliminary judgment of the quick (or men found in more or less open rebellion against the Lord, and despite of His people) before the reign for a thousand years, properly speaking, begins. The millennium follows this epoch, - it may be only a little while after, but still it is after. So again the dissolution of the heavens and the earth does not fall within the millennium but afterwards. There will be a short subsequent space, during which Satan will muster all born during the thousand years who are not born of God. Fire will devour the assembled rebels, - the bursting forth of divine judgment once more on man, until the eternal judgment takes its final course, and the heavens and the earth, then completely consumed, have given place to the new heavens and the new earth in their fullest sense. All these vast events are comprehended within (not the millennium, but) the day of the Lord, either a little before it in the one case, or a little after it in the other.

This illustrates the immense breadth of Peter. So he treats moral questions and dispensational changes, regarding all in this extensive way. But it is otherwise with Judas, whose pen makes every thing precise, just as he, and he alone, gives us in a few brief words the very gall and venom, as it were, of the apostacy. "Woe to them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and. perished in the gainsaying of Core."

The only part of this evil that Peter takes up, because he merely looks at it broadly and as a question of righteous government, is the following of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. But here, although Judas seems to give us more, it is in point of fact all defined with the greatest possible nicety, the brief moral history of the apostacy. "These are spots (more probably, sunken rocks) in your feasts of love, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried along by winds; trees of late autumn, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots: raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shames: wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for eternity. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied as to these, saying, Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all the ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlily committed, and of all the hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage. But ye, beloved, remember the words spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, walking after their own lusts of ungodliness."

Thus it is not the day of the Lord as in the very comprehensive application of Peter; but the fact of His coming and executing judgment on those seized as it were in flagrant sin, caught in the very act. Judas looks at a dealing suited and due to apostates.

But there is another point of precision that, absent from 2 Peter, is peculiar to Judas. He does not merely resent the mocking taunt, "Where is the promise of his presence?" nor explain the delay by His long suffering and saving of sinners; he does not merely call on the saints to walk becomingly in holy conversation and godliness, waiting for the new and eternal scene wherein dwells righteousness. The characteristic word of Judas savours of special grace. "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." This is distinct Christian privilege, and not merely the necessary godliness which is always binding.

"And of some have compassion, making a difference."* Some complain if there be a making a difference. I believe, brethren, that, though grace and wisdom be eminently needed for it, yet there can be no sounder principle than this. I repeat, however, that necessarily spiritual discrimination is wanted for each case. God is faithful, who withholds no good thing, and to the humble gives more grace. In the long run divinely-given wisdom becomes more and more apparent in these matters. "But others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."

*It is right to notice, if only in a note, that the manuscripts here are singularly in conflict as to the readings. The Sinai and the Vatican, with the corrector of the Rescript of Paris, read ejlea'te, which is only another form of the common reading ejleei'te, "compassionate." But there is the awkward repetition of the same word again as a later clause; for the older manuscripts present a threefold division in the sentence. According to the weightiest authorities, it would seem, on the whole, that it should stand thus: kai; ou}" me;n ejlevgcete diakrinomevnou", ou}" de; swvzete ejk puro;" aJrpavzonte", ou}" de; ejlea'te ejn fovbw/, misou'nte" kai; to;n ajpo; th'" sarko;" ejspilwmevnon citw'ma. "And some convict when contending, but others save, snatching them from the fire, and others compassionate in fear, hating even the garment that is spotted by the flesh." It is curious that Dr. E. Wells, in his "Help for the more easy and clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures" (the part containing these Epistles being published at Oxford, in 1715), adopted this text substantially, which he thus translated: "And some being wavering, rebuke; and others save, pulling them out of the fire; and of others have compassion with fear," etc. he rejected the twofold division, and. corrected the form of single words mainly on the authority of the Alexandrian MS., with some others of less weight, confirmed by the Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Ethiopic Versions. With the exception of the error already pointed out, the oldest uncials agree, we may say, in the text here presented, save that the Vatican makes, to my mind, a mess by omitting the first ou}" de;, which seems to have been an unintentional slip, as the clause is thereby rendered scarce translatable or intelligible. Insert the words with the Sinai and other ancient MSS., and all is plain. Hence this is the form of the sentence preferred by Tischendorf and other modern editors. The nom. diakrinovmenoi of the received text (which the English Version follows) can hardly be traced higher than the ninth century: if it were preferable, the meaning would be as given there. But if the more ancient reading in the accusative stand, verse 9 of this Epistle supplies the probable sense here.

In verse 25 movnw (without sovfw brought in from Rom. 16: 29) is the right reading... Copyists are apt to enlarge and assimilate; they do not so often, as here, omit.

Then he winds all up by bringing before us our own blessed position in a manner altogether different from Peter. "But to him that is able to keep you* from falling." It is not merely that He is able to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth, which of course is common to all the people of God, to the righteous of all times; but here we have the special inner blessedness of those that wait for Christ, and are caught up to be with Him where He is. "But to him that is able to keep you (?) from falling, and to present faultless before his glory with exultation, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, from before all eternity, and now and to all the ages. Amen."

*Those who idolise a few of the most ancient MSS., to the practical exclusion of other witnesses and internal evidence, would do well to ponder the fact that the Sinai MS. here joins the Parisian Rescript, and the Passionei MS. with very many cursives and most versions in reading 'hema', "you;" whilst the Alexandrian reads hJma'", "us," and the Vatican and the Moscow MS. of Matthaei with more than thirty cursives give aujtou;", "them," to which modern editors incline.

This is the Lord, not coming to deal with the wicked, but to take us up to be with Himself. It is not the judgment of the unrighteous, nor the righteous government of the nations on the earth, but specifically the coming of our Lord Jesus for His saints. Now he understood how Jesus could manifest Himself to His own as He does not to the world, not only in the power. of the Holy Ghost while He is away (compare John 14: 22), but when He comes again to receive us to Himself, to be where He is in the Father's house.

I have thus closed this sketch of the so‑called Catholic or general Epistles, which, I may be allowed to say, seems a not very appropriate classification; for James expressly addressed the twelve tribes who are in the dispersion, as Peter the elect sojourners scattered in Asia Minor, his second Epistle being expressly said to be written to the same as the first. Then what is called the first Epistle general of John has more the air of a treatise than of an epistle; nor is it clear that it too did not primarily contemplate believers from among the Jews, though undoubtedly, like the rest, meant for the direct instruction of the entire assembly of God. His second and third Epistles are as distinctly personal in address as the Epistle of Paul to Philemon. This may have been Calvin's reason for not including them in his exposition of the Catholic Epistles: why he did not write on them at all is less intelligible. It is certainly not because they are not worthy in themselves, or of slight value to the Christian, not to speak of the homage due to the revealed word of our God. Why he did not write on the Revelation is plain enough: neither he nor any of the Reformers had any real understanding of the book as a whole, though they were not wrong in applying Babylon to Rome, and this in good earnest. The Epistle of Judas is in itself at least as general as any of those so classed; but there seems no reason to doubt that he, like his brother James, and like Peter, had the circumcision for the immediate circle of his ministry. John affords most ground for the inference that the Lord employed him to be the vehicle of divine messages among the Gentiles also. (See Rev. 1‑3)

May the Lord bless His own word, and enable us to prize every tittle of it; and may it have both attraction and authority over our souls, who desire to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Himself!

William Kelly