Now we come to a passage which I feel to be unusually difficult to expound; and the reason is this. The original authorities and the best authorities are all in confusion about it. This is very rarely the case in the New Testament, but it is the case here. All the great authorities are at sixes and sevens in the testimony they give of these two verses (22, 23). And, to show you how great that is, our Version—the Authorised, so-called—looks at two cases only, “And of some have compassion, making a difference”—that is one class; “and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh”—this is the second class.
Now I believe there are three classes, and not two only. That will show how uncertain it is. Although, as I have said, I am very far from presuming to give more than my judgment as far as the Lord enables me to form one. I am certainly open to anything that might be shown to the contrary, but as yet no one has shown it. No one at all. I think that those who know best about it are those that have spoken most cautiously as to it. Many who trust themselves are apt to speak more confidently.
First of all Jude says, “And some convict when contending.”4 That is the idea—“when they dispute”; not, “making a difference,” as of the man that shows compassion. The fact is, compassion belongs to another class, not to this one at all, as far as I am able to judge, which depends upon looking at all the authorities and using one to correct another. That is what it comes to in this singular case, which is a very exceptional thing in the great original witnesses; but God has been pleased in this particular instance not to hinder their difference.
Some then “convict when they dispute.” I think that is the meaning of it. “Making a difference,” as in the Authorised, should rather be, “when they dispute.” It is the people that are being convicted who of course make the dispute, instead of the person that shows compassion making a difference among them. It is quite a different idea. The first class, in this twenty-second verse, has been given (in my belief) very wrongly indeed.
Well, then, the next is, instead of “convicting” people so as to leave them without any excuse for their disputatious spirit, another class is looked at—“others save, pulling them out of [the] fire”; then, a third class, “and others pity with fear5, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (ver. 23).
These then are the three classes: a disputatious class to be convicted and silenced—then, those that are to be saved, snatched out of the fire—and, others to be compassionated with fear, hating the garment spotted by the flesh. So that this all tends to complete the picture of the danger to souls. There is the all-importance of grace in the midst of it, but the truth maintained in all its power. And, you observe, it is for the same persons who are building up themselves on their most holy faith to do this. It is work that is thrown on the responsibility of those that were thoroughly happy and walking with God. These are the persons that would be able to silence the disputatious if they would be silenced by any one. But even apostles could not always do that. The apostle John speaks of the “malicious words” of Diotrephes. These words were directed against himself, and even an apostle could not alter that. The apostle Paul complained of “evil workers” who pretended to be quite as much apostles, if not more so, as himself. He refers to them in very trenchant terms in 2 Corinthians 11. He could not hinder that. And when there was the great meeting in Jerusalem, where all the apostles were present, there was a deal of disputation and discussion there. It was only after it burst out in a noisy meeting at first, that Peter, as well as Barnabas and Paul, gave their testimony, and then James summed up the decision of the assembly (Acts 15).
I only mention it to show that a like state of things existed at that time as now. We often look on the apostles as the painters represent the Lord. If you look at the pictures of the Lord Jesus, He is generally represented as going about with a halo of glory about His head. Well, if that were true, one might expect all the multitude to be down on their knees looking up to the man with this golden halo around him. But that is just what imagination does. It puts a halo around the Lord, and it puts a halo around the apostles; so that people do not realise at all the terrible evils that had to be faced by them. This was the portion, too, of those that were serving God, even in the best of times. How much more may we expect it now! As the Psalmist said, Time was when the work of the sanctuary was regarded as a good thing for a man to have put his hand to: all that fine carved work, all that grandeur of gold that gleamed in the sanctuary; but now it came to that pass, that a man was prized because he brake it all to pieces (Ps. 74).
Well, this is what we have in the increasing lawlessness of Christendom, but let us not be downcast. Let us remember that the prize is coming; that the Lord puts especial honour on those that are faithful to Him in an evil day. The Lord grant us that great privilege.
4 ἐλέγχετε AC*, the best cursives, and Vv., διακρινομένους אABC, good cursives, Vulg., Syrr., Arm. —Text. Rec. ἐλε'ειτε διακρινόμενοι KLP, etc.
5 σώζετε ἐκ πυρός ἀρπάζοντες אABC, best cursives, Vulg., Memph., Arm., Aeth., οὓ δὲ ἐλεᾶτε ἐν φόβω אA (ἐλεεῖτε) B, Vulg., Memph., Arm., Aethiop.—Text. Rec. ἐν φόβω σώζετε ἐκ ττου~ πυρο῟ς ἀρπὰζοντες KLP, etc