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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 85 - Jude 24, 25 - Preservation and Presentation Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius

Index

LXXXV.

 

Preservation And Presentation.

 

     "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. Amen."-Jude 24, 25.

 

 

     Jude, 'the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, speaks to us in the tone of an ancient prophet. His voice is that of Elijah or John the Baptist.

     It is 'the voice of one crying in the wilderness.'

     He speaks to the declining churches of his day. He speaks to the Church of the last days. It is against the evils within the Church that he specially warns; and what a picture does he draw of error, licentiousness, worldliness, spiritual decay, and ecclesiastical apostasy! Who could recognize the image of the primitive Church in the description he gives of prevailing iniquity? The world had absorbed the Church, and the Church was content that it should be so. The earth had helped the woman, and the woman had become earthly by reason of this help.

     It is a picture for the Church in our day to study; for we are rapidly becoming part of the world, and falling into the snares of 'the god of this world.' Nay, and we glory in this as 'progress,' and 'culture,' and 'enlightenment;' as freedom from the bigotry of other centuries, and the narrowness of our half-enlightened ancestors, who did not know how to reconcile contraries, and to join what God has put asunder; how to believe everything alike; how to combine earth's pleasures and gaieties with the joy of God; how both to pray and to dance; how to revel and to weep for sin; how to wear both the 'white raiment' and the jeweled ball-dress; how to maintain friendship both with God and with His enemies; how both to pamper and to starve the flesh; how to lay up treasure both on earth and heaven; how to drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; how to be partaker of the Lord's table and the table of devils.

     The names which he applies to these inconsistent brethren will seem to some hard and strange. 'Spots in their feasts of charity;' 'clouds without water;' 'trees whose fruit withereth;' 'twice dead, plucked up by the roots;' 'raging waves of the sea;' 'wandering stars;' yet naming the name of Christ, and numbered among His disciples! O darkness of the human heart! O subtlety of the flesh! O deceitfulness of sin! What is there that a man will not profess when it suits his purpose? What contradictions of life, and creed, and conscience will he scruple at, when ambitious of position, or fame, or wealth? O Church of the living God on earth, how art thou disfigured and defiled by those on whom thy name is written! How many are in thee who are not of thee, nay, who hate thee in their hearts while wearing thy livery; for whom the revellings and banquetings of earth have charms far beyond thy simple bread and wine; who are at home in the gay lighted hail of midnight mirth, but out of place in the upper chamber of thy Lord and Master; for whom the fair faces of earth have an attraction which thy holiness and beauty inspire not; for whom the luxuries of the social feast have a relish which they cannot find in that which is to thee better than angels' food, that 'flesh which is meat indeed, and that blood which is drink indeed!'

     In this day of half-discipleship, of double service, of religious worldliness, and worldly religiousness, how needful it is that the awful words of the apostle be studied by the Church of God! We need them now; and ere long we shall need them more. Every day do we see, or read, or hear of things and scenes in connection with professing churches of Christ which make us ask, 'The Church or the world, which is it?' Are we not often constrained to say to ourselves, 'Are Christ's words no longer true? Have the broad and the narrow ways become one? Is there now no Church, or is there now no world?'

     Not as if all this were strange and new, either in our days or in the apostle's. The germs of this apostasy were seen before the flood. It was of such men that Enoch prophesied when he proclaimed a coming judgment and a coming Lord (verse 14). 'Ungodly deeds,' 'hard speeches,' 'great swelling words,'-these were in Enoch's day; and they were swept off by the avenging flood of water. They are now again coming up in the last days, in wider and more awful development, waiting to be consumed by the flood of the devouring fire, with which the Lord when He comes is to purge this polluted earth, that He may bring out of it the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Greater, indeed, and more hateful, must be the wickedness of the last days; for, while it is written of antediluvian days, 'It repented the Lord that He had made man upon the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart,' it is written of the last times, 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure' (Psalm 2:4, 5). The way of Cain, the error of Balaam, the gainsaying of Korah, will be all combined and repeated in the wickedness of the last days; for then the human heart shall, unchecked, be permitted to overflow. And do we not see the beginnings of this overflow in our own times? Nor are these beginnings the less evil because men deceive themselves and delude others, by calling evil good and good evil, by putting light for darkness and darkness for light.

     Then, turning round to the few names who in the evil day had not defiled their garments, the apostle says, 'But ye; beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God' (verse 20). In verse 22 and 23 he tells these beloved ones how to treat these erring ones. They are of two classes: some not so far gone, with whom they might associate for good ('of some have compassion,' ?λεε?τε; go among them, 'doing deeds of mercy'); others so far gone, that they must stand aloof from them, lest they be polluted or burned. They must treat them as one does some article or person that has fallen into the fire, snatch it hastily out, 'hating even the garment spotted with the flesh.' Then lifting up his eyes to heaven, he closes with the magnificent doxology, 'Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling.'

     Let us mark here the preservation, the presentation, and the praise.

     I.  The preservation.-The word 'keep' (Φνλ?ξαι) refers to watching and guarding; indicating not merely the fact of the keeping, but the mode,-vigilance, protection, and deliverance, in spite of dangers and enemies.

     (1.) We need to be kept from falling.-We are not yet in the paradise of God, where no foot shall stumble, no enemy assail us, no snare be laid for us, no weakness overtake us. We are in the desert, in the land of danger, and darkness, and hostility, and rugged paths. We need perpetual keeping. We are ever falling, yet ever kept; cast down, but not destroyed; troubled, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken.

     (2.) We cannot keep ourselves.-Self-help and self-reliance will do nothing for us in such a 'keeping.' We have no strength, no skill, no wisdom. Yet not the less are we commanded to watch, and strengthen the things that remain, and fight and press onward; for in so doing the true help comes in. It is to them that have no might that God 'increaseth strength.'

     (3.) It takes divine strength to keep us.-It is by 'the power of God' that we are kept (1 Peter 1:5; here the word 'kept' is (Φρονρονμ?νονς), garrisoned). Nothing short of this will do for us, considering the strength of sin, the weakness that is in us, the power of creature will for evil, the malice of our enemies. Only a divine arm can hold us up, and a divine shield protect us. No man, no angel, no Church, can keep us. Friends, ministers, teachers, can do much for us; but they cannot 'keep' us. He who is God our Saviour only can.

     (4.) God is willing as well as able to keep us.-'The only wise God our Saviour' is He who keeps us (verse 1, preserved in Christ, (τετηρημ?νονς). His wisdom, His love, His power, His salvation, are all engaged in our behalf. He who saved us keeps us,-keeps us wisely, keeps us powerfully, keeps us every moment, keeps us to the end. He who keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. He kills, yet He makes alive; He bringeth down to the grave, yet bringeth up; He maketh poor, and then maketh rich; He bringeth low, and then lifteth up; He keepeth the feet of His saints (1 Samuel 2:6-9; Psalm 41:2). 'Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,' is the story of each Christian's life. The glory for which we are kept is to be revealed when He who is our life shall appear.

     II. The presentation.-The word 'present' means 'set,' or 'place,' as when one, having finished some great work or piece of art, sets it in some conspicuous place to be seen of all; as we read, 'that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church' (Ephesians 5:27); or as we read again, 'I will set him on high, because he hath known my name' (Psalm 41:14).

     (1.) Of whom.-Of those who have been 'kept,'-kept for this end, that they might be presented. They were once sinners, perhaps amongst the worst; perhaps those who were pulled out of the fire; reclaimed backsliders as well as consistent saints, with nothing in their original history or character to give them any claim to the keeping or the presentation; obscure on earth, perhaps; of small esteem; 'dying,' 'chastened,' 'unknown,' 'sorrowful' (2 Corinthians 6:9); men of afflictions, necessities, distresses, perhaps of stripes and imprisonments (2 Corinthians 6:4), much in labours, and watchings, and fastings; men delivered unto death for Jesus' sake (2 Corinthians 4:2); 'coming out of great tribulation;' men often 'in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness;' men with 'thorns in the flesh,' and buffeted by 'Satan's messengers' (2 Corinthians 12:7, 10);-yet 'kept' in the midst of all these, nay, 'presented' at last without spot or wrinkle, or any trace of their earthly tribulation and shame, God wiping away all tears from their eyes. It is 'the kept' who are presented. The night of discipline breaks into the day of glory.

     (2.) By whom.-They are presented by Him who kept them,-by 'the only wise God and our Saviour.' Jesus keeps, Jesus presents; it is with Him that we have to do from first to last, if, indeed, we can speak of 'last' in reference to a glory that is for ever. He leads us in at the strait gate; He leads us along the narrow way; He leads us into the paradise of God; He leads us up to the throne, there to exhibit us as the trophies of His wisdom, and power, and love.

     (3.) Where.-They are presented before the presence of His glory. The glory dwelt in the innermost shrine; and into the presence of that glory the Redeemer carries those whom He has kept. No outer court will do for such a presentation. Jewels such as these, thus 'made up' (Malachi 3:17), are fit for the royal palace; no meaner place will do; no place less holy, less heavenly, will suffice. Their sparkling luster must be laid beside the gold of the mercy seat, above which the glory dwelleth,-the gems, and the gold, and the glory, helping each to bring out the other's splendor. It is His glory before which we are to be set,-the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father; the glory of the holy of holies,-a glory which shall shed down its eternal radiance upon those who are thus kept and thus presented, changing them into the same image from glory to glory, in that realm where all is glory, and from which every trace of imperfection shall have vanished, leaving nothing behind but what is divinely fair and 'perfect.' Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.  The 'tree of life' and the 'crown of life' are theirs (Revelations 2:7,10); the hidden manna, the 'white stone,' the 'new name,' and the new song, are theirs (Revelations 2:17); the 'morning star' is theirs (Revelations 2:28); the 'white raiment' is theirs; a home in the heavenly temple is theirs; Christ's throne is theirs (Revelations 3:5, 12:21); the holy city, with its jasper wall, and golden pavement, and jeweled foundations, and crystal river, and unsetting sun, is theirs (Revelations 21:18, 22:1-5). Nothing less than this is implied in this presentation before the presence of His glory. They behold His face in righteousness, and are satisfied when they awake with His likeness (Psalm 17:15).

     4.  How.-In two respects: 'faultless,' and 'with exceeding joy.' And are not these the two perfections of eternity?

     (a) Faultless.-It is ?μ?μος here, internally pure and unblemished; not simply ?νεγκλ?τος, unchallengeable in law (1 Corinthians 1:8). This is the perfection of holiness in store for those whose name from the first has been 'saints of God.' Without any inward stain or blemish; without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. 'Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee' (Song 4:7 Ephesians 5:27). Legally and judicially this faultlessness becomes ours when we believe; but internally and morally it is reserved for a more perfect day. Yet let us keep in mind that it is written, 'Be ye holy, for I am holy.' The day of spotlessness and perfection is at hand; and how will the light of that day display the utter vanity of those ideas of present perfection and holiness in which many boast themselves? Ye who think that ye have lived months and years without sin, how will ye stand the test of that all searching day?

     (b) With exceeding joy.-The word is a strong one, like those of the Old Testament, 'leaping for joy.' This is the fullness of the 'joy unspeakable and full of glory.' This is what David sang of: 'In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore' (Psalm 16:2). The days of the mourning of these saints are ended. This is the day of resurrection, and therefore they are glad. It is the day of the Master's long looked for appearing, and therefore they are glad. It is the day of reunion with the dear and lost, and therefore they are glad. It is the day of the Lamb's marriage, and the Bridegroom's coronation, and therefore they are glad. Then that shall come to pass which is written, 'The King's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions shall be brought unto thee. with gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter the King's palace' (Psalm 95:12-15). They 'shall return and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away' (Isaiah 35:10).

     III. The praise.-This is comprised in four well-known words, 'glory and majesty,' 'dominion and power.'[11] All excellency, personal and official, regal and priestly, is here ascribed to 'the only wise God our Saviour;' for He whose name is Saviour is 'the God only wise' (Romans 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17). On these words of praise, which make up this divine anthem, we do not dwell. Each of them contains something special, which it is difficult exactly to define or fully to unfold; and all of them taken together make up a doxology, to whose vast compass no voice nor instrument can give full effect, even in the heaven of heavens. Similar doxologies we find in the Psalms (Psalm 145:3-13); and in the Revelation (ch. 4:9-11, v. 12, 14, 7, 12). These various words of praise, scattered throughout Scripture, are but so many precious gems, of which, with our dim eyes, we can see here little beyond the outside sparkle. The full inner beauty and sublimity are in reserve for the day when, with purged vision, we shall look upon His surpassing excellence, and with loosened tongue celebrate His glory in the everlasting kingdom, amid the sound of the many waters, and the mighty thunderings, and the voice of harpers harping with their harps (Revelation 14:2).

     The whole of this epistle is full of solemn thought for us. It is very similar in tone to the apocalyptic epistles to the seven churches, and seems almost like a preface to them. Its warnings against declension from truth and holiness, against worldliness and luxury, against inflated self-sufficiency and boastfulness, against profligacy and carnality, against a fruitless religion and an empty name, are very appalling, and sound like a prelude to the last trumpet,-a voice from heaven so loud and penetrating, that it would seem as if even the dead would awake under its terrible thunder. What sins it exposes in the Church of God! what departures from first love! what debasement in evil! It takes up and echoes the apostolic warnings of earlier days. Here we find the summary of the sins and apostasies of Christendom. The 'strong delusion,' which believes the lie, is here (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The fatal friendship between God and the world is here (James 4:4). The often denounced fellowship between the clean and the unclean is here (1 Corinthians 10:21). Here is represented to us the last great lapse to the Christian Churches, and with it the ending of the times of the Gentiles; the commixture of religion and irreligion, of error and truth, of fleshly lusts and a confident profession, of antinomian laxity and a high profession, the alliance (political, or philosophical, or scientific, or ecclesiastical) between Egypt and Israel, between Babylon and Jerusalem (2 Timothy 3:1-7). Here we see the Church absorbed in the world, and the world in the Church, each delighted with the other; the sons of Belial sitting at the 'feast of charity' and at the supper of the Lord; error the companion of truth, and truth the ally of error; the fine arts (music, painting, sculpture) all made to minister, not to religion, but to the production of religious sensations, which make men believe that they are religious, when they are mere admirers of the beautiful and solemn in sight and sound.[12]

     Thus does Jude warn us, as Paul did, against the perilous times of the last days.

     The Church of our age may not be chargeable with such declension as in the days of Jude. The fine gold may have become dim, but is not altogether dross. Yet modern Christianity has in it but little of the miracle or magnificence of early times. It is not so holy, so prayerful, so joyful; nor yet so high, so noble, so splendid. The grandeur of apostolic saintship has disappeared. How poor is much of the religion we see around us!  How hollow and superficial! Sullen in some, flippant in others, showy in others, bustling and talkative in others, worldly and political in others, sensational and sentimental in others,-in all, second-rate, even when sincere and true.

     One of the most sorrowful things amongst us is the going back of many who 'did run well;' who were once zealous and sound in the faith, but have been swept into the torrent of 'progress.' They boast of keeping abreast of the age, and mistake the snares of Satan as 'an angel of light' for the 'leadings of providence' and teachings of the Holy Ghost; leaving their first faith and love; taking one of earth's meteors for the heavenly pole-star. Politics, pleasure, gaiety, business, philosophy, science, have come between them and the glory, if not between them and the cross. Leanness of soul, lowness of spirituality, lukewarmness in everything but outward religious bustle, describe their present condition. They do not thrive, nor bear fruit. They have come to be once more in love with this present evil world, from which they had been delivered; they have become stagnant in the routine of external service and conventional talk; they have thrown themselves into the spirit of the age in its full breadth,-a breadth too narrow to include the glory of earth's coming King and the power of the Holy Spirit, but broad enough to contain in it the dark subtleties of anti Christian error, at least in their germ or idea, which in its full development will not only deify humanity, and worship creature intellect and power, but will enthrone force, and numbers, and money, and commerce, and art, with all that is called 'nature' and 'natural laws,' as the true regalities of earth, the true elevators of the race, and accomplishers of the destinies of man!

     That any of Christ's sheep shall perish, we do not believe. God's eternal purpose secures them forever.

     But we see strange things in our time. Men believe one thing today, another tomorrow, and a third the next, and they call it progress! The voice of the age is reckoned the voice of God! Truth has become flexible, and principle as pliant as wax. Men who looked as like Christians as any could look, turn back into error or worldliness. They did run well, but they have been 'hindered that they should not obey the truth' (Galatians 5: 7); they have been 'bewitched' (fascinated, βασκα?νω, Galatians 3:1), so as no longer to obey the truth; they began in the Spirit, and they are trying to perfect themselves by the flesh. Some who once preached the gladness of the glad news have plunged into the gloom of Popery or ritualism. Others, who seemed to live in prayer, and were absorbed in the study of the one blessed book, now think prayer needless, because of God's universal Fatherhood, and the Bible, though the best of books, only one of an ascending series, all of them inspired; who look on novels and newspapers, depicting what they call 'life and character,' as our true text-books for daily study; who are persuaded that this world is not so evil as some narrow Christians think it, and that its feasts, and luxuries, and gaieties are good things, which a Christian ought not to abjure but to enjoy.[13]

     When we see these things, we stand in awe, perplexed as to what next may happen, asking, 'Are there few that be saved?' and alarmed at finding how closely an unbeliever may resemble a believer, and how far down a Christian may be permitted to sink without totally falling away.

     Let us not be deceived by the vain show in which men are walking. In spite of all fancied progress, that word is still true, 'We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.' No amount of 'culture' can change the natural man. 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh,' and the 'progress' of the flesh, however goodly it seems, must be ever downward.

     When that which is perfect is come, and that which is in part has been done away; when the kingdom which cannot be moved has been set up, then the world's true progress begins, and the divine 'culture' will take the place of the human. Then, as we look back, we shall be astonished at the shallow thing which men call progress now, and see in it man's last proud effort to enter heaven without being born from above; to be a god to himself, and by his own intellect and energy to rectify the world which he has ruined,-a world which can only be restored by the power of the Holy Ghost, and the enthronization of its long absent King.