Then (ver. 2) we have, “mercy unto you, and peace and love be multiplied.” This is the only place where mercy is wished to the saints generally. When writing to individuals, to Timothy and Titus, for instance, the apostle says “Mercy,” but when to the saints generally, “Grace and peace.”
Why does Jude bring “mercy” in here? Because they deeply needed the comfort. An individual ought always to feel the deep need of mercy, especially in the face of danger, and also in the sense of personal unworthiness; and now Jude gives the comfort of it to all these saints because of their imminent danger. I do not know any saints more in danger than ourselves, because grace has given us to feel for Christ’s honour and name, and to have confidence in the scriptures as the word of God. We should not look at a single word in them as a dead letter. I do not suppose that there is a single person here present—brother or sister—that has a doubt of a single word that God has written. It would be difficult now-a-days to find yourself in such a company generally. People think inspiration is a very lively term, and that we must allow for the errors of those good men who wrote the Bible. What could we expect from such men even if learned? They judge by themselves, not by God, nor by the Holy Ghost. Many of these men have not, I think, abandoned Christianity; but they are darkened by the spirit of unbelief. The spirit of the present day is as bad or worse as in any age since the Lord died and rose. There is one thing that marks it, and, that is lawlessness. A want of respect for everything that is above self, and a determination to have one’s own way—that is lawlessness. I do not know anything worse. It is what will characterise the whole of Christendom. Now it works in individuals, and it also works largely in whole companies, but it will soon become the reigning spirit. And that is the distinctive name of the anti-christ, “the lawless one.” Christ was the Man of righteousness, Christ is the Man that gives everything its place according to God, and Christ is the One that gives God His place. As to everything and every person, He was the Man of righteousness; lawlessness has nothing but self as its great ambition, a fallen self—man fallen from God. The danger is great in the present day, and so it was when Jude wrote his Epistle. Therefore it is “mercy,” not only “peace and love,” but “mercy” be multiplied. It is a very emphatic word. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (ver. 3). It is addressed to those that have learned the value of “the faith.” He does not refer to personal faith but to the deposit that the faith holds. It is the thing believed, not merely the spiritual power that believes the testimony. It is therefore called “the faith,” distinct from “faith” When did that faith come? The Epistle to the Galatians shows us when faith came and redemption and the Holy Ghost. It is found in 3:25: “For after that faith is come.” “I live by the faith of the Son of God.”; “Received ye the Spirit by the hearing of faith?” is a distinct thing (2:20; 3:2). “The scripture hath concluded all under sin” (Jews or Gentiles—the Jews under transgression, but all under sin) “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came we were kept under law,” (3:22, 23). The law was there until the cross of Christ, but then it was affixed to the tree; not only was Christ crucified, but the law came thereby to its end, as far as God’s people were concerned. We are now placed under Christ. We are now regarded as being “in the Spirit,” for Christ is our life and the Holy Ghost is the power of that life. Well, here then he says that it was needful that he should exhort them to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” This is what is on my heart to speak about. How great is, not only “conversion” such as the O.T. people knew before faith came but, the “salvation” which is now, as the apostle Paul says in Ephesians (1:13), “the word of truth, the gospel of your (not conversion but the gospel of your) salvation”! This is what was added consequent upon redemption. Nobody could have been delivered from hell without being converted; but the “gospel of our salvation” is to make us perfectly happy on earth, to bring us into cloudless peace and liberty while here in this world. It is this that is new, from the cross of Christ. Why, beloved friends, it is new to many children of God now ! They are not sure at all, even those that are most real; with many it is only a “humble hope.” But through God’s mercy, I take it for granted that we have all learned this, more or less, the more the better. I do say that this is an all important thing. Sometimes, when persons are seeking to come into fellowship, there is an idea of the importance of their understanding the church. How they are to understand the church I do not know. I did not understand it when I first began to break bread. I never saw any that did. I have seen persons that thought they did, and they had to correct their thoughts afterwards. We should not expect this knowledge. Possibly, of the saints in communion who have been in fellowship for forty years, there may be many who have not even yet arrived at a true knowledge of what the church is. But to ask it from a dear soul that has not long been saved! Ah, that is the point—not only “converted,” but brought into liberty and peace. I do say we ought to look for that before we get them to the table of the Lord; and we are not on proper Christian ground till we know that we are saved. This is what the gospel gives. It is not a hope of being saved, but knowing it in a simple straightforward, intelligent, Christian manner. However, the word “intelligence” might leave room for our active brethren to find difficulties! I do not want to put difficulties in the way of any, still less in the way of a soul that is trembling and uncertain.
The great requirement for souls seeking fellowship, and, I think, the only requirement, is that they should be settled firmly on Christ and Christ’s salvation as a known present thing. Perhaps we find a person that cannot stand that. I recommend them to hear the gospel. There are plenty of saints who want to hear a full gospel. I do not say a free gospel. A full gospel does not convert many souls. A free gospel may do so. A free gospel may be used to awaken many, to cause exercise, but a full gospel will bring the answer to all these difficulties. Peter, I may say, preached a free gospel, and Paul a full one. Most of the children of God have not got a full gospel. It is essential that they should, before they can take their place as members of the body of Christ. Suppose they come in without it: perhaps the first hymn that is given out is an expression of thanksgiving that every question is settled for ever, and they are thus called to sing about themselves what they do not believe, and do not know about. They sing (in, what I call, a slipshod manner, without any conscience) what may not be true of their state, what is too much for them. Well, all that is a very unhappy state of things, and ought not to be. But if they are brought into the liberty of Christ, before they are received, not expecting from them clearness of intelligence, but knowing that their souls are set free (and nothing less than that should be looked for), then things go on happily. They learn quite fast enough when they come in, provided they have liberty in their souls. The lack of it is the barrier against learning. If I have difficulties about my soul with God for ever, it is no good to tell me about other things; and, therefore, wherever that is passed over lightly, there is a barrier. But as to everything else, well, one thing at a time is quite as much as we can bear, and people who grasp everything at the same moment, I am afraid, grasp nothing. All is apt to be cloudy in their minds, and that is not “the faith that was once delivered to the saints.”
“The faith” is not a mere mist. Mysteries are not mists or clouds. Mysteries are the firmest things in the Bible. The N.T. is full of mysteries—mystery “concerning Christ and the church,” “the mystery of God,” “the mystery of the gospel,” “the mystery of the faith.” Mystery means what was not revealed in O.T. times; now it is. That is just our privilege. Even Christ Himself, in the way that we receive Him now, is a mystery. Do we simply believe on Him as the Messiah? “Great is the mystery of godliness; God [or, He Who] was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit, seen of angels, preached among Gentiles, believed on in [the] world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). This is Christ as we know Him now. Everything is mystery in Christianity, even the way Christ is received. He was not known so before. It takes in the gospel, “the gospel of our salvation,” the clear riddance from all hindrances. Is not the assembly a mystery? Is it not a truth of the greatest moment for every member of the body of Christ to know? And when you have your convert, when the soul is there brought to know the gospel, then show him what the church is, as best you can. Take trouble with him. Do not imagine he knows what he does not know. Where is he to learn if not inside? He will never learn by staying away. The church of God is not only the great place of incomparable blessing and enjoyment, it is also the great school. Well, the soul wants to go to school. Will he find a better school outside?
Even the best of those who are outside—that is, those that are not gathered to the name of the Lord, they are mostly occupied about salvation for themselves, or if not that, about work for others. What can you expect better? They do not know the relationships into which they are brought. Take the question that is now so uppermost in people’s minds—priesthood. What an Evangelical would say to meet priestly pretension is, that it is all a mistake to suppose that there are any priests but Christ. Is that where you are? The truth that God has shown us is, that all Christians alike are priests. When you are only on Evangelical ground, it is not the assertion of positive possession of privilege, it is merely denying an error, a negative way of looking at things. Many would indeed admit that we are all priests, but they do not see how it is applied. If they are all priests unto God, they should be allowed to express their praise, and others join (Heb. 10:22) “Let us” (not you, he puts himself along with those to whom he was writing—let us) draw “near” into the holiest. Were this really applied, people might want to express their audible praises to God sometimes, and this would be considered disorderly. Do you think that we are always as careful as we ought to be? There are two words of moment in the First Epistle to the Corinthians—the first is, “in order,” the other is, “to edification.” All things should be done “in order,” and “to edification” (1 Cor. 14:26, 40). How are we to judge of what is done? It is laid down in this very chapter. Why do we forget it sometimes?
A question was put to me, whether it is according to scripture that, at what is called an assembly meeting, or other meeting of a similar character, more than two should speak. What is laid down as to this? That two, or at most three, might speak (1 Cor. 14:27, 29). Where there are more, I should be disposed to get away as fast as possible. You are mistaken about your liberty. We have only liberty to do what the Lord says; and I can see the wisdom of this limitation. There might be plenty of time for half a dozen speakers, but still the order is clear, “two, or at most three.” There can be no question about the meaning. It certainly does not mean that there might not be half a dozen prayers by different people, but that formal speaking, even of prophets, had its limits. And surely the lesser gifts have not a greater liberty than the greater ones! The prophets had the highest gift, and yet it is said, they were only to speak two or three. The plain meaning of it is that there never ought to be, under any excuse, more than two or three. Too much of a good thing is as bad as too little. If you have too much of what is even good, it is apt to make you sick: you must leave room for proper digestion. Hence the wisdom in the restriction as to numbers.
So it is—what seems to me to be so very plain—that we have not got merely the facts given and the commandment of the Lord, but good reason given. There is perfect wisdom, there is not such a thing as an arbitrary word in all the Bible. All the rules and regulations, commandments and precepts, are pregnant with divine wisdom.
It is a long while since “brethren” first began; but there never was a time when we are more called to see whether we are really “contending earnestly for the faith once for all (not “once on a time,” but, “once for all”) delivered to the saints.” May God forbid that we should ever swerve in the least degree! We are not competent to say what a little beginning of divergence may lead to. It might be apparently a little beginning, but alas, a little beginning of a great evil.
The Lord give us simple fidelity, and in all love to our brethren. I never think of my brethren being merely such as are gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus; and I feel most deeply the undermining that is going on everywhere of things that were once undisputed.