“These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their lusts, and their mouth speaketh swelling things, admiring persons for the sake of profit. But ye, beloved, remember ye the words that were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they said to you, In [the] end of the time shall be mockers walking after their own lusts of ungodliness. These are they that make separations, natural (or, soulish), not having [the] Spirit” (vers. 16-19).
“These are murmurers. “Murmuring is a more serious sin than many think. It could not but be that among Christians there are many things that do not go according to what we like. Suppose it to be even a man of sound wisdom; but if people are not very well founded they are always apt to be disappointed at something in him. It is natural for people to begin to murmur. The Israelites were constantly at that kind of work.
Now, he says, “There are murmurers,” and he adds, “complainers”—not content with their lot (the strict literal meaning of the word). They are persons who like to be something more and greater than they are, than God ever called them to be. They want to be somebody.
“These are murmurers, complainers”; and what is the cause of that? “Walking after their own lusts.” Lust is not to be supposed to be merely gross lusts. There are refined lusts—vanity, pride, ambition; what are all these but lusts? They are all lusts. The lusts of the devil. These are not the same kind of lusts as the lusts of the flesh. Satan was lifted up with pride, and we are warned against falling into the fault or “condemnation” of the devil. It appears that the things mentioned in this verse are very much the same thing “their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” They are fond of having a party, particularly if they can number some rich among the party, “because of advantage.”
What I particularly draw your attention to is this. Enoch prophesied of these. I do not know anything more striking than that. There are the same persons now as in Enoch’s day. There can be no doubt that these people lived in the time of Enoch. But Jude carried us on to the coming of the Lord. The people who are on the earth when the Lord comes will be the same kind in their wickedness as in the days of Enoch and of Jude. Evil, you see, goes on. Evil retains its own terrible character—malignancy and rebellion against God, and all self-sufficiency, and all the terrible things that are so entirely opposed to Christ. Enoch prophesied of these and of the judgment coming upon them.
“But ye, beloved, remember ye”—to confirm this—“the words that were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that they told you that there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts” (vers. 17,18).
Well, we have at least two of these apostles. Surely, that is quite enough. Very likely the other apostles taught the very same things by word of mouth. But we have this warning about these characters, written down by two besides Jude; one the apostle Paul, the other Peter in both his Epistles. In his First, Peter says that the time is coming when judgment must begin at the house of God, and judgment on just this kind of ungodliness then working up; but in his Second Epistle there is a deal more. And I think that Jude goes still further, and that his Epistle was written after Second Peter, and for this reason, that there is an advance of evil. Peter speaks of unrighteous men, Jude speaks of men that once seemed to have the truth, and through their bad life, bad ways, pride, vanity, or whatever it was, they lost it. That is quite a common thing. By common, I do not mean that any very great numbers break off in this way, but that it is a sin which every now and then breaks out. Why, even since “Brethren” began there have been the most terrible cases of people giving up all the truth. The greatest infidel of modern days was one of the early “brethren.” He was a very clever man, and gave up his fellowship at Balliol to go to the Eastern world, among Arabs and Persians and the like, with the gospel. He seemed to be devoted to the Lord. But even on his way out he betrayed that he was not a true believer at all. How! By doubting about the full proper Deity of the Lord Jesus; and when he came back brethren enquired into it. There had been whispers of it before his return, but then he was out of the way, so that till his return it was not possible to deal with him fairly or to examine him fully, not merely whispers. When he came back he was seen and written to, and his words were the words of an unbeliever; he was therefore refused any place in our fellowship. After this, he went among the dissenters, who welcomed him most heartily, and he preached in their chapels and was most acceptable among them, particularly as he ran down the “brethren” pretty hotly. At this time, he still appeared to be pious in his outward ways and manner, and still read the Bible. But he gradually gave up everything and gave an account of it in a book which he wrote bearing a very anomalous title indeed, for it would appear that he really never had faith. He was a man who was very impressionable, and he easily took the colour of those with whom he was. He valued and was charmed with the sound of the truth, and thought he had it, but I am afraid he never had. So he lived, and so, I fear, he died. There have been others of no such prominence who have had a similar end; not so marked, perhaps, but as sad. Some had once been in fellowship, and seemed to be very honoured persons for a time, before they were really known. And this kind of thing falls in with what we have here.
There were such persons among them; and not merely the teachers. Peter speaks about teachers, but Jude looks at them more widely; they are evidently responsible even though they are not teachers. If others dishonour the Lord who are not teachers, they are responsible. There is this character in Jude: they are apostate from the truth, and have not gone out of fellowship yet. That is the very thing he says. There they are, although it is likely that no one but Jude who saw these persons could speak of them; and Peter saw them where he was. They appeared fair enough just as there were many such at the time when the person referred to was in fellowship. Many would not believe a word of it. They thought he was a very good man, and that it was a scandal to speak hardly about him. They never could see till the thing came out thoroughly. We are not all “eyes” in the body. We may have an important place. The hand or the foot can do a work that the eye cannot, and there are those who can see far before others; and it is important for people to make use of those who have proved their special competence. Otherwise we are apt to get wrong.
It is an immense thing to say that we have not only teachers now and preachers to spread the truth in spite of their weakness and their liability to err, but we have also those that were kept from error in what they have written, absolutely kept from error; and these are here brought before us as the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were men of like passions as we are ourselves, but the peculiarity in the case of those apostles and prophets is, that in the midst of their weakness they were preserved—it was not, it is true, like Christ, absolute perfection—but there was the perfect preservation from error in what they wrote. And it was all the more remarkable that this was in one generation only. It was not like the succession that there was in the old dispensation of God. There we have prophets raised up at all times, wherever they were needed; but the great peculiarity for the church and for the Christian is that we have not merely words that were perfect for their purpose, and words that were given faithfully by God in the midst of all the errors of Israel, but now we have a perfect revelation in all respects, by men themselves imperfect, but nevertheless kept and empowered by the Holy Ghost to say the truth without error whatever.
Now, there are two things in the words of the apostles; the first is the mind of God for the glory of Christ; and this we have in all the books of the New Testament. But in the midst of these words, and more particularly in the latter times of giving these words we have the most solemn warnings that are given in any part of the Bible. It was not at all that all these characters of evil came out so that the Christian could discern them, but they came out sufficiently for the apostles to discern them.
Thus we have our lessons for practical guidance in the words of the apostles. They are the persons through whom we have received the full truth of God. There was not an error that ever crept into the church but is provided for here. There is not a good thing that God had to reveal but what is revealed here.
For we are not meant to be inventors, we are not meant to make discoveries, like the men of science. The reason why there are inventions in the arts, and discoveries in science, is, because all is imperfect. But perfection is what marks the word of God—not merely relative perfection, relative to the state of Israel at different times, but—absolute perfection. What brought in absolute perfection? Christ. There is the key to all that is blessed, to all that is most blessed. There is what explains what is most of all peculiar. It was according to Christ that all the truth should be brought out, unstinted, and perfectly providing for everything that might be through the ages that follow down to the present time. And this in order that we might never have to look outside scripture for the proof of any error, and this also for the provision of everything good. All is in the word; this word that we have got. The Old Testament is full of value, but, nevertheless, it is only general. Our special instructions are in the New Testament, for we can easily understand that there was no such thing as a Christian in Old Testament times. They were believers, but not Christians. A Christian is a man who is not merely looking for the promises, but who has the promises—accomplished in Christ. Well, of course, the Old Testament saints had not got this, and the church was an absolutely new thing. It was not merely promises accomplished, but the mystery revealed: the mystery that was hid in God up to that time. There was no revelation of it in the Old Testament whatever. Now it is revealed, and it is given to us. And how? By these perfect writings of the New Testament, that left nothing to desire, nothing for faith to desire; plenty for unbelief to add, still more for unbelief to depart from; but nothing for faith to desire. We have all here, and it is only for our faith to discern it, and to practise it.
Now for this reason all came out in one generation. John, the very last of all, was the one that saw the Lord from the beginning. He was, not only one of the apostles, but, one of the first two that ever followed the Lord Jesus and entered into living relationship with Him here below. And he was kept here, beyond others, in the wisdom of God. But we have another, also, of those who were eminently favoured, and were conspicuously used. Although Jude wrote a short Epistle, what a great deal there is in it!
Now, turning to what we have already touched upon—“But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; that they said to you, In [the] end of the time shall be mockers walking after their own lusts of ungodliness”; that there should be, not merely unrighteous men, or lawless men, but, one of the worst features of evil, “mockers.” Why, in the Old Testament, when it was only a question of children that could not resist giving way to their humour—I may call it very bad humour, and very bad manners—but still they mocked the old prophet, they mocked Elisha. And even he, the man of grace, was no doubt led of God to call forth the bears that tore them all.
Here we find that it is not little children in their folly (for we know that “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child”), but the case of men who claimed wisdom; and the way they showed it was by “mocking”! “Mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts”—their own lusts of ungodly things. It is rather stronger. Their lust was after ungodliness. This is what characterised their lust. It is not a mere vague term; it is a very succinct term—“lusts of ungodliness.” Now this is an awful thing. And resulting from what? I will not say it results from Christianity, from the truth. God forbid. But it resulted from the fact that they were there, and that their hearts got tired of it, and they became the enemies of it. There is nothing more blessed than a Christian man walking in simplicity. There is nothing more awful than a Christian man who casts off Christianity, and who becomes a mocker after the lusts of his own ungodliness. This is what is described here, and what the writer prepares us for. No one could have believed that in early days.
These mockers once looked fair. They once spoke fairly. They were received, they were baptised; they remembered the Lord Jesus, taking part in the assembly, no doubt. They may have been preachers, very likely; but here it was evident they were given up to their own lusts of ungodliness and they were mockers; accordingly, they therefore turned with the greatest spite and hatred upon that truth that once separated them from the world. They were professedly believers, but it is evident they were in reality the emissaries of Satan. And the Epistles (some of the last in the Bible), as well as the apostles of our Lord, laid down this: that these mockers were to come in the last time. The last time was therefore to be a peculiarly evil time, and it is a very solemn thing that we are in that time most fully now. I do not say that it may not be lengthened—that is entirely a question of the will of God. The lengthening of evil may be just as much as the lengthening of tranquillity. There is the tranquillity for one, and it may end in greater departure than ever, or it may be the means of repentance, and extrication from these toils of the enemy.
But here at any rate he declares, “These are they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (ver. 19). It is important to understand this verse, for there are various kinds of separations mentioned in the New Testament. Sometimes, it is separation within; sometimes, it is separation without; sometimes, it takes the character of parties as yet joined with the rest in outward observances, but their spirit alienated. Those are the persons the apostle refers to in Romans 16: persons “which cause divisions and stumbling blocks, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (ver. 17). That doctrine was that we should walk, not only outwardly together but, inwardly, with real love. It is true it may not always be approving of what each may do and say, but with earnest desire that things might go well, and that those even who are in any way caught by the enemy might be delivered.
Now, the persons in Romans 16 were not to be “put away, “but avoided; and the object of that avoiding was to make them feel and reflect upon what they were about. Suppose they were preachers or teachers, avoiding such would be not to invite them, or if they invited themselves, not to accept their offer. Of course, you can understand that they would not like it, unless they were really broken in spirit. In this case all would terminate happily, but if they were bent on doing their own will they ought to be avoided as the apostle says, and if they do not like this avoiding, and grow bitter under it, the effect would be that they would make a division “without” if they could, instead of “within.” They would “go out” themselves, and try and lead away others.
There are these kinds of spirits. First, they have an alienated mind within, and are self seeking; and because this is blamed by all that have the good of the saints at heart, and the glory of the Lord before them, they resent it strongly, and, instead of breaking down and judging themselves, they become worse, and then it is not a division “within,” but “without,” that they make. The former is called a schism, the latter a heresy. For I particularly press it on every one here who may not have observed it—that “heresy” in scripture does not mean bad doctrine at all. There may be bad doctrine, of course, along with it; but this is rather heterodoxy—strange doctrine. There are proper terms for all forms of evil: falsehood, deceit, blasphemy and the like. But heresy means the self-will that does not care for the fellowship of the assembly in the least, and is so bent on its own object that it goes outside. This is what is called heresy. Now that is what the apostle means in 1 Cor. 11. He says, “There are divisions (or, schisms) among you. For there must be also heresies (or, sects) among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (vers. 18:19).
But there is no “must be” in reference to heterodoxy. People might remain, and like to remain, with their heterodoxy, but heresy does not mean bad doctrine, although this might go along with it. It means that people might get too hot in their zeal, and, being reproved for their party spirit, they refuse to stand it any longer, and they get away. They break loose from fellowship and form some new thing which has not the sanction of the word of God. That is what, in scripture, is called heresy. The doctrine might be sound enough in a general way. There might be no blasphemies, nor heterodoxy, strictly speaking, but there is the heart entirely wrong and seeking its own things instead of the things of Jesus Christ.
So in the verse before us, “These be they who separate themselves” means those that separate themselves “within,” not “without,” at all. This is very evident from the early part of this Epistle: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (ver. 4). Certain men crept in. They are the same people that Jude is talking about all through. Unawares, they had “crept in,” not “gone out.” Now this is what gives the true force of the words—“those that separate themselves.” We can easily understand it if we bear in mind the Pharisees. The Pharisees never separated themselves from Israel, but the very name of a Pharisee means “a separatist.” They were separatists within Israel. These were separatists within the church, and in both cases it was not going out, but it was making a party of pride and self-righteousness within. And who are they? Ungodly men; these were the men that were proud of themselves; these men who had these wicked lusts. They were the persons who assumed to be pre-eminently faithful; and, I believe, you will generally find that it is so, that, when persons are given up to delusion, they always have a very high opinion of themselves. No matter how violent they may be, no matter how evil in their spirit, they claim to be more particularly faithful, and they have no measure in their denunciation of every one that stands in their way. This is exactly the class here described.
“These be they who separate themselves.” And what sort of men were they? “Sensual.” The word “sensual” is important to understand. Every man has got a soul, converted or not. Now, when we believe, we receive a nature that we never had before; we receive life in Christ. These men here described had nothing but their natural soul. They had not received life in Christ. They were merely “natural” men. “Sensual,” in our language, is very often taken to mean people who are abandoned to immoral ways. These people may have been so, but it is not the meaning of the word. The meaning of the word is that they were just simply “natural” men. It is the same word which, in 1 Cor. 2:14, is translated “natural man,” and contrasted with the “spiritual man.” So he adds here, “not having the Spirit.”
Now, having not the Spirit is to lack the great privilege of a Christian. This is the great difference between a believer now resting on redemption, and an Old Testament believer. They were waiting for the Spirit in the days of the Messiah. Although the Messiah is rejected, the Holy Ghost has been poured down on us, but not on those that are still waiting for the Messiah. The Jews are still waiting, and have not the Spirit. These men, although they had taken their place in the church, had not the Spirit. They were natural men. We are therefore given this further development of the terrible evil that had come in even then, although the great mass of the saints, you may be sure, very little understood it, very little perceived it; and therefore it was of the greatest moment that the apostles should. And that there should be inspired men, or, at any rate, inspired instruction given upon what people otherwise would not have been in the least prepared for, and would have counted it a very fierce and terrible picture without any good ground for it; they would think it was making the worst of everything instead of the best. But the Spirit of God does give the truth just as it is.