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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Jude 1



Verse 3



Jude 1:3

‘The common salvation.’- Jude 1:3.

‘The common faith.’
- Titus 1:4.

Jude was probably one of Christ’s brothers, and a man of position and influence in the Church. He is writing to the whole early Christian community, numbering men widely separated from each other by nationality, race, culture, and general outlook on life; and he beautifully and humbly unites himself with them all as recipients of a ‘common salvation.’ Paul is writing to Titus, the veteran leader to a raw recruit. Wide differences of mental power, of maturity of religious experience, separated the two; and yet Paul beautifully and humbly associates himself with his pupil, as exercising a ‘common faith.’

Probably neither of the writers meant more than to bring himself nearer to the persons whom they were respectively addressing; but their language goes a great deal further than the immediate application of it. The ‘salvation’ was ‘common’ to Jude and his readers, as ‘the faith’ was to Paul and Titus, because the salvation and the faith are one, all the world over.

It is for the sake of insisting upon this community, which is universal, that I have ventured to isolate these two fragments from their proper connection, and to bring them together. But you will notice that they take up the same thought at two different stages, as it were. The one declares that there is but one remedy and healing for all the world’s woes; the other declares that there is but one way by which that remedy can be applied. All who possess ‘the common salvation’ are so blessed because they exercise ‘the common faith.’

I. Note the underlying conception of a universal deepest need.

That Christian word ‘salvation’ has come to be threadbare and commonplace, and slips over people’s minds without leaving any dint. We all think we understand it. Some of us have only the faintest and vaguest conception of what it means, and have never realized the solemn view of human nature and its necessities which lies beneath it. And I want to press that upon you now. The word ‘to save’ means either of two things-to heal from a sickness, or to deliver from a danger. These two ideas of sickness to be healed and of dangers to be secured from enter into the Christian use of the word. Underlying it is the implication that the condition of humanity is universally that of needing healing of a sore sickness, and of needing deliverance from an overhanging and tremendous danger. Sin is the sickness, and the issues of sin are the danger. And sin is making myself my centre and my law, and so distorting and flinging out of gear, as it were, my relations to God.

Surely it does not want many words to show that that must be the most important thing about a man. Deep down below all superficialities there lies this fundamental fact, that he has gone wrong with regard to God; and no amount of sophistication about heredity and environment and the like can ever wipe out the blackness of the fact that men willingly do break through the law, which commands us all to yield ourselves to God, and not to set ourselves up as our own masters, and our own aims and ends, independently of Him. I say that is the deepest wound of humanity.

In these days of social unrest there are plenty of voices round us that proclaim other needs as being clamant, but, oh, they are all shallow and on the surface as compared with the deepest need of all: and the men that come round the sick-bed of humanity and say, ‘Ah, the patient is suffering from a lack of education,’ or ‘the patient is suffering from unfavorable environment,’ have diagnosed the disease superficially. There is something deeper the matter than that, and unless the physician has probed further into the wound than these surface appearances, I am afraid his remedy will go as short a way down as his conception of the evil goes.

Oh, brethren, there is something else the matter with us than ignorance or unfavorable conditions. ‘The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.’ The tap-root of all human miseries lies in the solemn fact of human transgression. That is a universal fact. Wide differences part us, but there is one thing that we have all in common: a conscience and a will that lifts itself against disliked good. Beneath all surface differences of garb there lies the same fact, the common sickness of sin. The king’s robe, the pauper’s uniform, the student’s gown, the mill-hand’s fustian, the naked savage’s brown skin, each cover a heart that is evil, and because it is evil, needs salvation from sickness and deliverance from danger.

For do not forget that if it is true that men have driven their rebellious chariots through God’s law, they cannot do that without bringing down God’s hand upon them, and they ought not to be able to do it; and He would not be a loving God if it were not so. There are dangers; dangers from the necessary inevitable consequences, here and yonder, of rebellion against Him.

Now, do not let us lose ourselves in generalities. That is the way in which many of us have all our lives long blunted the point of the message of the Gospel to our hearts. That is what we do with all sorts of important moral truths. For instance, I suppose there never was a time in your lives when you did not believe that all men must die. But I suppose most of us can remember some time when there came upon us, with a shock which made some of us cower before it as an unwelcome thing, the thought, ‘And I must.’

The common sickness? Yes I ‘Thou art the man.’ Oh, brother, whatever you may have or whatever you may want, be sure of this: that your deepest needs will not be met, your sorest sickness will not be healed, your most tremendous peril not secured against, until the fact of your individual sinfulness and the consequences of that fact are somehow or other dealt with, stanched, and swept away. So much, then, for the first point.

II. Now a word as to the common remedy. One of our texts gives us that-’ the common salvation.’

You all know what I am going to say, and so, perhaps, you suppose that it is not worth while for me to say it. I dare say some of you think that it was not worth while coming here to hear the whole, threadbare, commonplace story. Well! is it worth while for me to speak once more to men that have so often heard and so often neglected? Let me try. Oh, that I could get you one by one, and drive home to each •ingle soul that is listening to me, or perhaps, that is not listening, the message that I have to bring!

‘The common salvation.’ There is one remedy for the sickness. There is one safety against the danger. There is only one, because it is the remedy for all men, and it is the remedy for all men because it is the remedy for each. Jesus Christ deals, as no one else has ever pretended to deal, with this outstanding fact of my transgression and yours.

He, by His death, as I believe, has saved the world from the danger, because He has set right the world’s relations to God. I am not going, at this stage of my sermon, to enter upon anything in the nature of discussion. My purpose is an entirely different one. I want to press upon you, dear brethren, this plain fact, that since there is a God, and since you and I have sinned, and since things are as they are, and the consequences will be as they will be, both in this world and in the next, we all stand in danger of death-death eternal, which comes from, and, in one sense, consists of, separation in heart and mind from God.

You believe in a judgment day, do you not? Whether you do or not, you have only to open your eyes, you have only to turn them inwards, to see that even here and now, every sin and transgression and disobedience does receive its just recompense of reward. You cannot do a wrong thing without hurting yourself, without desolating some part of your nature, without enfeebling your power of resistance to evil and aspiration after good, without lowering yourself in the scale of being, and making yourself ashamed to stand before the bar of your own conscience. You cannot do some wrong things, that some of you are fond of doing, without dragging after them consequences, in this world, of anything but an agreeable kind. Sins of the flesh avenge themselves in kind, as some of you young men know, and will know better in the days that are before you. Transgressions which are plain and clear in the eyes of even the world’s judgment draw after them damaged reputations, enfeebled health, closed doors of opportunity, and a whole host of such things. And all these are but a kind of premonitions and overshadowings of that solemn judgment that lies beyond. For all men will have to eat the fruit of their doings and drink that which they have prepared. But on the Cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore the weight of the world’s sin, yours and mine and every man’s. There is one security against the danger; and it is that He, fronting the incidence of the Divine law, says, as He said to His would-be captors in the garden, ‘If ye seek Me, let these go their way.’ And they go their way by the power of His atoning death.

Further, Jesus Christ imparts a life that cures the sickness of sin.

What is the meaning of this Whitsuntide that all the Christian world is professing to keep today? Is it to commemorate a thing that happened nineteen centuries ago, when a handful of Jews for a few minutes had the power of talking in other languages, and a miraculous light flamed over their heads and then disappeared? Was that all? Have you and I any share in it? Yes. For if Pentecost means anything it means this, that, all down through the ages, Jesus Christ is imparting to men that cleave to Him the real gift of a new life, free from all the sickness of the old, and healthy with the wholesomeness of His own perfect sinlessness, so that, however inveterate and engrained a man’s habits of wrong-doing may have been, if he will turn to that Saviour, and let Him work upon him, he will be delivered from his evil. The leprosy of his flesh, though the lumps of diseased matter may be dropping from the bones, and the stench of corruption may drive away human love and sympathy, can be cleansed, and his flesh become like the flesh of a little child, if only he will trust in Jesus Christ. The sickness can be cured. Christ deals with men in the depth of their being. He will give you, if you will, a new life and new tastes, directions, inclinations, impulses, perceptions, hopes, and capacities, and the evil will pass away, and you will be whole.

Ah, brethren, that is the only cure. I was talking a minute or two ago about imperfect diagnoses; and there are superficial remedies too. Men round us are trying, in various ways, to stanch the world’s wounds, to heal the world’s sicknesses. God forbid that I should say a word to discourage any such! I would rather wish them ten times more numerous than they are; but at the same time I believe that, unless you deal with the fountain at its head, you will never cleanse the stream, and that you must have the radical change, which comes by the gift of a new life in Christ, before men can be delivered from the sickness of their sins. And so all these panaceas, whilst they may do certain surface good, are, if I may quote a well-known phrase, like ‘pills against an earthquake,’ or like giving a lotion to cure pimples, when the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. You will never cure the ills of humanity until you have delivered men from the dominion of their sin.

Jesus Christ heals society by healing the individual. There is no other way of doing it. If the units are corrupt the community cannot be pure. And the only way to make the units pure is that they shall have Christ on the Cross for their redemption, and Christ in the heart for their cleansing. And then all the things that men try to produce in the shape of social good and the like, apart from Him, will come as a consequence of the new state of things that arises when the individuals are renewed. Apart from Him all human attempts to deal with social evils are inadequate. There is a terrible disillusionising and disappointment awaiting many eager enthusiasts to-day, who think that by certain external arrangements, or by certain educational and cultivated processes, they can mend the world’s miseries. You educate a nation. Well and good, and one result of it is that your bookshops get choked with trash, and that vice has a new avenue of approach to men’s hearts. You improve the economic condition of the people. Well and good, and one result of it is that a bigger percentage than ever of their funds finds its way into the drink-shop. You give a nation political power. Well and good, and one result of it is that the least worthy and the least wise have to be flattered and coaxed, because they are the rulers. Every good thing, divorced from Christ, becomes an ally of evil, and the only way by which the dreams and desires of men can be fulfilled is by the salvation which is in Him entering the individual hearts and thus moulding society.

III. Now, lastly, the common means of possessing the common healing.

My second text tells us what that is-’ the common faith.’ That is another of the words which is so familiar that it is unintelligible, which has been dinned Into your ears ever since you were little children, and in the case of many of you excites no definite idea, and is supposed to he an obscure kind of thing that belongs to theologians and preachers, but has little to do with your daily lives. There is only one way by which this healing and safety that I have been speaking about can possibly find its way into a man’s heart. You have all been trained from childhood to believe that men are saved by faith, and a great many of you, I dare say, think that men might have been saved by some other way, if God had chosen to appoint it so. But that is a clear mistake. If it is true that salvation is a gift from God, then it is quite plain that the only thing that we require is an outstretched hand. If it is true that Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross has brought salvation to all the world, then it is quite plain that, His work being finished, we have no need to come in pottering with any works of ours, and that the only thing we have to do is to accept it. If it is true that Jesus Christ will enter men’s hearts, and there give a new spirit and a new life, which will save them from their sins and make them free from the law of sin and death, then it is plain that the one thing that we have to do is to open our hearts and say ‘ Come in, Thou King of Glory, come in!’ Because salvation is a gift; because it is the result of a finished work; because it is imparted to men by the impartation of Christ’s own life to them: for all these reasons it is plain that the only way by which God can save a man is by that man’s putting his trust in Jesus Christ. It is no arbitrary appointment. The only possible way of possessing ‘the common salvation ‘ is by the exercise of ‘the common faith.’

So we are all put upon one level, no matter how different we may be in attainments, in mental capacity -geniuses and blockheads, scholars and ignoramuses, millionaires and paupers, students and savages, we are all on the one level. There is no carriage road into heaven. We have all to go in at the strait gate, and there is no special entry for people that come with their own horses; and so some people do not like to have to descend to that level, and to go with the ruck and the undistinguished crowd, and to be saved just in the same fashion as Tom, Dick, and Harry, and they turn away.

Plenty of people believe in a ‘common salvation,’ meaning thereby a vague, indiscriminate gift that is flung broadcast over the mass. Plenty of people believe in a ‘common faith.’ We hear, for instance, about a ‘national Christianity,’ and a ‘national recognition of religion,’ and ‘Christian nations,’ and the like. There are no Christian nations except nations of which the individuals are Christians, and there is no ‘common faith’ except the faith exercised in common by all the units that make up a community.

So do not suppose that anything short of your own personal act brings you into possession of ‘ the common salvation.’ The table is spread, but you must take the bread into your own hands, and you must masticate it with your own teeth, and you must assimilate it in your own body, or it is no bread for you. The salvation is a ‘ common,’ like one of the great prairies, but each separate settler has to peg off his own claim, and fence it in, and take possession of it, or he has no share in the broad land. So remember that ‘the common salvation’ must be made the individual salvation by the individual exorcise of ‘the common faith.’ Cry,’ Lord! I believe!’ and then you will have the right to say, ‘ The Lord is my strength; He also is become my salvation.’

Verse 20-21



Jude 1:20-21.

Jude has been, in all the former part of the letter, pouring out a fiery torrent of vehement indignation and denunciation against ‘certain men’ who had ‘crept’ into the Church, and were spreading gross immorality there. He does not speak of them so much as heretics in belief, but rather as evil-doers in practice; and after the thunderings and lightning, he turns from them with a kind of sigh of relief in this emphatic, ‘But, ye! beloved.’ The storm ends in gentle rain; and he tells the brethren who are yet faithful how they are to comport themselves in the presence of prevalent corruption, and where is their security and their peace.

You will observe that in my text there is embedded, in the middle of it, a direct precept: ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’; and that that is encircled by three clauses, like each other in structure, and unlike it- ‘building, ‘‘praying,’ ‘looking.’ The great diamond is surrounded by a ring of lesser jewels. Why did Jude put two of these similar clauses in front of his direct precept, and one of them behind it? I think because the two that precede indicate the ways by which the precept can be kept, and the one that follows indicates the accompaniment or issue of obedience to the precept. If that be the reason for the structure of my text, it suggests also to us the course which we had best pursue in the exposition of it.

I. So we hare, to begin with, the great direct precept for the Christian life.

‘Keep yourselves in the love of God.’ Now I need not spend a moment in showing that ‘ the love of God’ here means, not ours to Him, but His to us. It is that in which, as in some charmed circle, we are to keep ourselves. Now that injunction at once raises the question of the possibility of Christian men being out of the love of God, straying away from their home, and getting out into the open. Of course there is a sense in which His ‘tender mercies are over all His works.’ Just as the sky embraces all the stars and the earth within its blue round, so that love of God encompasses every creature; and no man can stray so far away as that, in one profound sense, he gets beyond its pale. For no man can ever make God cease to love him. But whilst that is quite true, on the other side it is equally true that contrariety of will and continuance in evil deeds do so alter a man’s relation to the love of God as that he is absolutely incapable of receiving its sweetest and most select manifestations, and can only be hurt by the incidence of its beams. The sun gives life to many creatures, but it slays some. There are crawling things that live beneath a stone, and when you turn it up and let the arrows of the sunbeams smite down upon them, they squirm and die. It is possible for a man so to set himself in antagonism to that great Light as that the Light shall hurt and not bless and soothe.

It is also possible for a Christian man to step out of the charmed circle, in the sense that he becomes all unconscious of that Light. Then to him it comes to the same thing that the love shall be non-existent, and that it shall be unperceived. If I choose to make my abode on the northern side of the mountain, my thermometer may be standing at ‘ freezing,’ and I may be shivering in all my limbs on Midsummer Day at noontide. And so it is possible for us Christian people to stray away out from that gracious abode, to pass from the illuminated disc into the black shadow; and though nothing is ‘ hid from the heat thereof,’ yet we may derive no warmth and no enlightening from the all-pervading beams. We have to ‘keep ourselves in the love of God.’

Then that suggests the other more blessed possibility, that amidst all the distractions of daily duties, and the solicitations of carking cares, and the oppression of heavy sorrows, it is possible for us to keep ourselves perpetually in the conscious enjoyment of the love of God. I need not say how this ideal of the Christian life may be indefinitely approximated to in our daily experiences; nor need I dwell upon the sad contrast between this ideal unbrokenness of conscious sunning ourselves in the love of God, and the reality of the lives that most of us live. But, brethren, if we more fully believed that we can keep up, amidst all the dust and struggle of the arena, the calm sweet sense of God’s love, our lives would be different. Nightingales will sing in a dusty copse by the roadside, however loud the noise of traffic may be upon the highway. And we may have, all through our lives, that song, unbroken and melodious. That sub-consciousness underlying our daily work, ‘like some sweet beguiling melody, so sweet, we know not we are listening to it,’ may be ever present with each of us in our daily work, like some ‘hidden brook in the leafy month of June,’ that murmurs beneath the foliage, and yet is audible through all the wood.

And what a peaceful, restful life ours would be, if we could thus be like John, leaning on the Master’s bosom. We might have a secret fortress into the central chamber of which we could go, whither no sound of the war in the plains could ever penetrate. We might, like some dwellers in a mountainous island, take refuge in a central glen, buried deep amongst the hills, where there would be no sound of tempest, though the winds were fighting on the surface of the sea, and the spindrift was flying before them. It is possible to ‘keep ourselves in the love of God.’ And if we keep in that fortress we are safe. If we go beyond its walls we are sure to be picked off by the well-aimed shots of the enemy. So, then, that is the central commandment for the Christian life.

II. Now let me turn to consider the methods by which we can thus keep ourselves in the love of God.

These are two: one mainly bearing on the outward, the other on the inward, life. By ‘ building up yourselves on your most holy faith’: that is the one. By ‘praying in the Holy Ghost’: that is the other. Let us look at these two.

‘Building up yourselves on your most holy faith.’ I suppose that ‘faith’ here is used in its ordinary sense. Some would rather prefer to take it in the latter, ecclesiastical sense, by which it means, not the act of belief, but the aggregate of the things believed.-’ Our most holy faith,’ as it is called by quotation-I think misquotation-of this passage. But I do not see that there is any necessity for that meaning. The words are perfectly intelligible in their ordinary meaning. What Jude says is just this: ‘Your trust in Jesus Christ has in it a tendency to produce holiness, and that is the foundation on which you are to build a great character. Build up yourselves on your most holy faith.’ For although it is not what the world’s ethics recognize, the Christian theory of morality is this, that it all rests upon trust in God manifested to us in Jesus Christ. Faith is the foundation of all supreme excellence and nobility and beauty of character; because, for one thing, it dethrones self, and enthrones God in our hearts; making Him our aim and our law and our supreme good; and because, for another thing, our trust brings us into direct union with Him, so that we receive from Him the power thus to build up a character.

Faith is the foundation. Ay! but faith is only the foundation. It is ‘the potentiality of wealth,’ but it is not the reality. ‘All things are possible to him that believeth’; but all things are not actual except on conditions. A man may have faith, as a great many professing Christians have it, only as a ‘fire-escape,’ a means of getting away from hell, or have it only as a band that is stretched out to grasp certain initial blessings of the spiritual life. But that is not its full glory nor its real aspect. It is meant to be the beginning in us of ‘all things that are lovely and of good report.’ What would you think of a man that carefully put in the foundations for a house, and had all his building materials on the ground, and let them lie there? And that is what a great many of you Christian people do, who ‘ have fled for refuge,’ as you say,’ to the hope set before you in the Gospel’; and who have never wrought out your faith into noble deeds. Remember what the Apostle says, ‘Faith which worketh ‘; and worketh ‘by love.’ It is the foundation, but only the foundation.

The work of building a noble character on that firm foundation is never-ending. ‘Tis a life-long task ‘ till the lump be leavened.’ The metaphor of growth by building suggests effort, and it suggests continuity; and it suggests slow, gradual rearing up, course upon course, stone by stone. Some of us have done nothing at it for a great many years. You will pass, sometimes, in our suburbs, a row of houses begun by some builder that has become bankrupt; and there are mouldering bricks and gaping empty places for the windows, and the rafters decaying, and stagnant water down in the holes that were meant for the cellars. That is like the kind of thing that hosts of people who call themselves Christians have built. ‘But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith . . . Keep yourselves in the love.’

Then the other way of building is suggested in the next clause, ‘praying in the Holy Ghost’-that is to say, prayer which is not mere utterance of my own petulant desires which a great deal of our ‘ prayer’ is, but which is breathed into us by that Divine Spirit that will brood over our chaos, and bring order out of confusion, and light and beauty out of darkness, and weltering sea:-

‘The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
If Thou the Spirit give by which I pray.’

As Michael Angelo says, such prayer inspired and warmed by the influences of that Divine Spirit playing upon the dull flame of our desires, like air injected into a grate where the fire is half out, such prayers are our best help in building. For who is there that has honestly tried to build himself up ‘for a habitation of God but has felt that it must be ‘through a Spirit’ mightier than himself, who will overcome his weaknesses and arm him against temptation? No man who honestly endeavors to reform his character but is brought very soon to feel that he needs a higher help than his own. And perhaps some of us know how, when sore pressed by temptation, one petition for help brings a sudden gush of strength into us, and we feel that the enemy’s assault is weakened.

Brethren, the best attitude for building is on our knees; and if, like Cromwell’s men in the fight, we go into the battle singing,

‘Let God arise, and scattered
Let all His enemies be,’

we shall come out victorious. ‘Ye, beloved, building and praying, keep yourselves.’

III. Now, lastly, we have here in the final clause the fair prospect visible from our home, in the love of God.

‘Looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.’

After all building and praying, we need ‘the mercy.’ Jude has been speaking in his letter about the destruction of evil-doers, when Christ the Judge shall come. And I suppose that that thought of final judgment is still in his mind, coloring the language of my text, and that it explains why he speaks here of ‘ the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ’ instead of, as is usual in Scripture, the mercy of God.’ He is thinking of that last Day of Judgment and retribution, wherein Jesus Christ is to be the Judge of all men, saints as well as sinners, and therefore he speaks of mercy as bestowed by Him then on those who have ‘kept themselves in the love of God.’ Ah! we shall need it. The better we are the more we know how much wood, hay, stubble, we have built into our buildings; and the more we are conscious of that love of God as round us, the more we shall feel the unworthiness and imperfection of our response to it. The best of us, when we lie down to die, and the wisest of us, as we struggle on in life, realize most how all our good is stained and imperfect, and that after all efforts we have to cry ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

Not only so, but our outlook and confident expectation of that mercy day by day, and in its perfect form at least, depends upon our keeping ourselves ‘in the love of God.’ We have to go high up the hill before we can see far over the plain. Our home in that love commands a fair prospect. When we stray from it, we lose sight of the blue distance. Our hope of ‘the mercy of God unto eternal life’ varies with our present consciousness and experience of His love.

That mercy leads on to eternal life. We get many of its manifestations and gifts here, but these are but the pale blossoms of a plant not in its native habitat, nor sunned by the sunshine which can draw forth all its fragrance and colour.

We have to look forward for the adequate expression of the mercy of God to all that fullness of perfect blessedness for all our faculties, which is summed up in the one great word-’ life everlasting.’

So our hope ought to be as continuous as the manifestation of the mercy, and, like it, should last until the eternal life has come. All our gifts here are fragmentary and imperfect. Here we drink of brooks by the way. There we shall slake our thirst at the fountainhead. Here we are given ready money for the day’s expenses. There we shall be free of the treasure house, where lie the uncoined and uncounted masses of bullion, which God has laid up in store for them that fear Him. So, brethren, let us hope perfectly for the perfect manifestation of the mercy. Let us set ourselves to build up, however slowly, the fair fabric of a life and character which shall stand when the tempest levels all houses built upon the sand. Let us open our spirits to the entrance of that Spirit who helps the infirmities of our desires as well as of our efforts. Thus let us keep ourselves in the charmed circle of the love of God, that we may be safe as a garrison in its fortress, blessed as a babe on its mother’s breast.

Jude’s words are but the echo of the tenderer words of his Master and ours, when He said, ‘As My Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love.’

Verse 25



Jude 1:21, Jude 1:25

I Pointed out in a recent sermon on a former verse of this Epistle that the earlier part of it is occupied with vehement denunciations of the moral corruptions that had crept into the Church, and that the writer turns away from that spectacle earnestly to exhort the Christian community to ‘keep themselves in the love of God,’ by ‘building themselves upon their most holy faith, and praying in the Holy Ghost.’ But that is not all that Jude has to say. It is wise to look round on the dangers and evils that tempt; it is wise to look inward to the weaknesses that may yield to the temptations. But every look on surrounding dangers, and every look at personal weakness, ought to end in a look upwards ‘ to Him that is able to keep’ the weakest ‘from falling’ before the assaults of the strongest foes.

The previous exhortation, which I have discussed, might seem to lay almost too much stress on our own strivings- ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God.’ Here is the complement to it: ‘Unto Him that is able to keep you from falling.’ So denunciations, exhortations, warnings, all end in the peaceful gaze upon God, and the triumphant recognition of what He is able to do for us. We have to work, but we have to remember that ‘ it is He that worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.’

I. So I think that, looking at these great words, the first thing to be noted is the solitary, all-sufficient stay for our weakness.

‘To the only wise God our Saviour.’ Now it is to be noticed, as those of you who use the Revised Version will observe, that the word ‘wise’ seems to have crept in here by the reminiscence of another similar doxology in the Epistle to the Romans, and was probably inserted by some scribe who had not grasped the great thought of which the text is the expression. It ought to read, ‘to the only God, our Saviour.’ The writer’s idea seems to be just this-he has been massing in a dark crowd the whole multitudinous mob of corruptions and evils that were threatening the faith and righteousness of professing Christians. And he turns away from all that rabble, multitudinous as they are, to look to the One who is all-sufficient, solitary, and enough. ‘The only God’ is the refuge from the crowds of evils that dog our steps, and from the temptations and foes that assail us at every point.

This is the blessed peculiarity of the Christian faith, that it simplifies our outlook for good, that it brings everything to the one point of possessing the one Person, beyond whom there is never any need that the heart should wander seeking after love, that the mind should depart in its search for truth, or that the will should stray in its quest after authoritative commands. There is no need to seek a multitude of goodly pearls; the gift of Christianity to men’s torn and distracted hearts and lives is that all which makes them rich, and all which makes them blessed, is sphered and included in the one transcendent pearl of price, the ‘only God."

I have been in Turkish mosques, the roofs of which are held up by a bewildering forest of slender pillars. I have been in cathedral chapter-houses, where one strong stone shaft in the centre carries all the beauty of the branching roof; and I know which is the highest work and the fairest. Why should we seek in the manifold for what we can never find, when we can find it all in the One? The mind seeks for unity in truth; the heart seeks for oneness in love; no man is at rest until he has all his heart’s treasures in one person; and no man who foolishly puts all his treasures in one creature-person but is bringing down upon his own head sorrow.

Do you remember that pathetic inscription in one of our country churches, over a little child, whose fair image is left us by the pencil of Reynolds: ‘Her parents put all their wealth in one vessel, and the shipwreck was total’? It is madness to trust to but one refuge, unless that refuge is the only God. If we, like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, are wise, we shall lift up our eyes and ‘see no man any more, save Jesus only.’ He can be our solitary Stay, Refuge, Wealth, and Companion, because He is sufficient, and He abides for ever.

But there is another peculiarity that I would point out in these words, and that is the unusual attribution to God, the Father, of the name ‘Saviour’-’the only God our Saviour.’ The same various reading which strikes out ‘wise’ inserts here, as you will see in the Revised Version, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ But although the phraseology is almost unique, the meaning is in full harmony with the scope of New Testament teaching. It is a fault of evangelical and orthodox people that they have too often spoken and thought as if Jesus Christ’s work modified and changed the Father’s will, and as if God loved men because Christ died for them. The fact is precisely the converse. Christ died because God loved men; and the fontal source of the salvation, of which the work of Jesus Christ is the channel, bringing it to men, is the eternal, unmotived, infinite love of God the Father. Christ is ‘the well-beloved Son,’ because He is the executor of the Divine purpose, and all which He has done is done in obedience to the Father’s will. If I might use a metaphor, the love of God is, as it were, a deep secluded lake amongst the mountains, and the work of Christ is the stream that comes from it, and brings its waters to be life to the world. Let us never forget that, however we love to turn our gratitude and our praise to Christ the Saviour, my text goes yet deeper into the councils of Eternity when it ascribes the praise ‘ to the only God our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

II. And now notice the possibility of firm standing in the slippery present.

‘To Him that is able to keep us from falling.’ Now the word that I rendered ‘from falling’ is even more emphatic, and carries a larger promise. For it literally means’ without stumbling,’ and stumbling is that which precedes falling. We are not only kept from falling, we are kept even from stumbling over the stumblingstones that are in the way. The metaphor, perhaps, was suggested by the words of Isaiah, who, in one of his lovely images, describes God as ‘leading Israel {e 3 through the depths as a horse in the desert, that they stumble not.’ Do you not see the picture? The nervous, susceptible animal, slipping and sliding over the smooth rock, in a sweat of terror, and the owner laying a kindly hand and a firm one on the bridle-rein, and speaking soothing words of encouragement, and leading it safely, that it stumble not. So God is able to lay hold of us when we are in perilous places, and when we cry, ‘My foot slippeth,’ His mercy will hold us up.

Is that rhetoric? Is that merely pulpit talk? Brethren, unless we lay firm hold of this faith, that God can and does touch and influence hearts that wait upon Him, so as by His Spirit and by His Word, which is the sword of the Spirit, to strengthen their feeble good, and to weaken their strong evil, to raise what is low, to illumine what is dark, and to support what is weak, we have not come to understand the whole wealth of possible good and blessedness which lies in the Gospel. This generation has forgotten far too much the place which the work of God’s Holy Spirit on men’s spirits fills in the whole proportioned scheme of New Testament revelation. It is because we believe that so little, in comparison with the clearness and strength of our faith in the work of Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice, that so many of us find it so foreign to our experience that any effluences from God come into our hearts, and that our spirits are conscious of being quickened and lifted by His Spirit! Ah! we might feel, far more than any of us do, His hand on the bridle-rein. We might feel, far more than any of us do, His strong upholding, keeping our feet from slipping as well as ‘falling.’ And if we believed and expected a Divine Spirit to enter into our spirits and to touch our hearts, the expectation would not be in vain.

I beseech you; believe that a solid experience and meaning lies in that word ‘able to keep us from stumbling.’ If we have that Divine Spirit moving in our spirits, molding our desires, lifting our thoughts, confirming our wills, then the things that were stumblingstones-that is to say, that appealed to our worst selves, and tempted us to evil-will cease to be so. The higher desires will kill the lower ones, as the sunshine is popularly supposed to put out household fires. If we have God’s upholding help, the stumbling-stone will no more be a stumbling-stone, but a stepping-stone to something higher and better; or like one of those erections that we see outside old-fashioned houses of entertainment, where three or four steps are piled together, in order to enable a man the more easily to mount his horse and go on his way. For every temptation overcome brings strength to the overcomer.

Only let us remember ‘Him that is able to keep.’ Able! What is wanted that the ability may be brought into exercise; that the possibility of which I have spoken, of firm standing amongst those slippery places, shall become a reality? What is wanted? It is of no use to have a stay unless you lean on it. You may have an engine of ever so many horse-power in the engine-house, but unless the power is transmitted by shafts and belting, and brought to the machinery, not a spindle will revolve. He is able to keep us from stumbling, and if you trust Him, the ability will become actuality, and you will be kept from falling. If you do not trust Him, all the ability will lie in the engine house, and the looms and the spindles will stand idle. So the reason why-and the only reason why-with such an abundant, and over-abundant, provision for never falling, Christian men do stumble and fall, is their own lack of faith.

Now remember that this text of mine follows on the heels of that former text which bade us ‘build ourselves,’ and ‘keep ourselves in the love of God.’ So you get the peculiarity of Christian ethics, and the blessedness of Christian effort, that it is not effort only, but effort rising from, and accompanied with, confidence - in God’s keeping hand. There is all the difference between toiling without trust and toiling because we do trust. And whilst, on the one hand, we have to exhort to earnest faith in the upholding hand of God, we have to say on the other, ‘Let that faith lead you to obey the apostolic command, "Stand fast in the evil day . . . taking unto you the whole armour of God."‘

III. Further, we have here the possible final perfecting in the future.

‘To Him that is able ... to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.’ Now that word rendered ‘faultless’ has a very beautiful meaning. It is originally applied to the requirement that the sacrificial offerings shall be without blemish. It is then applied more than once to our Lord Himself, as expressive of His perfect, immaculate sinlessness. And it is here applied to the future condition of those who have been kept without stumbling; suggesting at once that they are, as it were, presented before God at last, stainless as the sacrificial lamb; and that they are conformed to the image of the Lamb of God ‘without blemish and without spot.’ Moral perfectness, absolute and complete; va standing ‘ before the presence of His glory,’ the realization and the vision of that illustrious light, too dazzling for eyes veiled by flesh to look upon, but of which hereafter the purified souls will be capable, in accordance with that great promise, ‘ Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ }*’ with exceeding joy,’ which refers not to the joy of Him that presents, though that is great, but to the joy of them who are presented. So these three things are the possibilities held out before such poor creatures as we. And miraculous as it is, that all stains should melt away from our characters- though I suppose not the remembrance of them from our consciousness-and be shaken off as completely as the foul water of some stagnant pond drops from the white swan-plumage, and leaves no stain; that perfecting is the natural issue of the present being kept from stumbling.

You have seen sometimes in a picture-dealer’s shop window a canvas on which a face is painted, one half of which has been cleaned, and the other half is still covered with some varnish or filth. That is like the Christian character here. But the restoration and the cleansing are going to be finished up yonder; and the great Artist’s ideal will be realized, and each redeemed soul will be perfected in holiness.

But as I said about the former point, so I say about this, He is able to do it. What is wanted to make the ability an actuality? Brethren, if we are to stand perfect, at last, and be without fault before the Throne of God, we must begin by letting Him keep us from stumbling here. Then, and only then, may we expect that issue.

Now I was going to have said a word, in the last place, about the Divine praise which comes from all these dealings, but your time will not allow me to dwell upon it. Only let me remind you that all these things, which in my text are ascribed to God,’ glory and majesty, dominion and power,’ are ascribed to Him because He is our Saviour, and able to keep us from stumbling, and to ‘present us faultless before His glory.’ That is to say, the Divine manifestation of Himself in the work of redemption is the highest of His self-revealing works. Men are not presumptuous when they feel that they are greater than sun and stars; and that there is more in the narrow room of a human heart than in all the immeasurable spaces of the universe, if these are empty of beings who can love and inquire and adore. And we are not wrong when we say that the only evil in the universe is sin. Therefore, we are right when we say that high above all other works of which we have experience is that miracle of love and Divine power which can not only keep such feeble creatures as we are from stumbling, but can present us stainless and faultless before the Throne of God.

So our highest praise, and our deepest thankfulness, ought to arise, and will arise-if the possibility has become, in any measure, an actuality, in ourselves-to Him, because our experience will be that of the Psalmist who sang, ‘When I said, my foot slippeth, Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.’ Let us take the comfort of believing, ‘He shall not fall, for the Lord is able to make him stand’; and lot us remember the expansion which another Apostle gives us when, with precision, he discriminates and says, ‘Kept by the power of God through faith, unto salvation.’


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Jude 1:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

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