We are arrived at those days now of which the Epistle of Jude speaks. I might say we are further, for the Epistles of John, although they are put before this Epistle, imply from their own contents that they were after. The order of the books in the N.T., we know is entirely human, and, in fact, is not the same in all Bibles. In English ones it is, but abroad it is not so, and in the more ancient copies of the Scriptures there was another order, in some respects even less correct than that which we have; because these Epistles of Jude and John are put before the Epistles of Paul. I need not say that there was no divine wisdom in that. I only mention it for the purpose of emphasising the absolute need of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is no matter what it is. The people in early days, it might have been thought, would have had a good sound judgment of how to arrange the books of Holy Scripture, but they had not. I am speaking now of a time long after the apostles, and we are still more distant. But we are at no disadvantage because of this, for the reason that the Holy Ghost Who was given, still abides. The ruin of the church does not affect that gift. It is a very solemn fact, and it does greatly bear upon the practical answer of the church to the glory of the Lord Jesus, and it makes not a small difference for the members of Christ. But the Lord provided for everything when He sent down the Holy Spirit; and He made known through the apostles that this was the sad history which awaited the church. It is the apostles who tell us what disasters were to flow in with a strong tide—nobody more so than the apostle Paul, who says, “I know that after my decease shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Oh, what characters! What successors! Apostolic successors!—there are none. The successors were to be grievous wolves and perverse men. Nevertheless, he commended the saints none the less confidently “to God and to the word of His grace.”
Well, we have this; and I do not think that the word of His grace has ever been so deeply enjoyed, as it is now, for many hundreds of years. But then, Who is it that enjoys the “word of His grace”? We cannot say that all the saints do. All saints ought to do. Can we say that all our dear brethren and sisters enjoy the word of His grace as it becomes them? I would to God it were so; and it is of all moment therefore that, knowing the need, we should be most earnest not merely about work—I allow that this has a great place for all true workers, and I admit that many can help the workers who are not exactly workers themselves—but, beloved friends, the first of all duties is that God should have His rights. This is forgotten, even by saints of God. The first fruits belong to Him always, it does not matter what it is; and we are never right when it is merely love working outwardly. The first thing is that love should work upward. Is not God infinitely more to us than any converts—as could be said to poor Naomi, who had lost her sons—“better to thee than seven sons”? Is not He worth more than a hundred thousand converts? What a poor thing it is, merely to be useful to other people and not to be growing ourselves in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ! How can this be done except by God and the word of His grace? How does God act now? By His Spirit. Time was when the great truth was God manifesting Himself by His Son. Well, that abides; the word and Spirit of God abide for ever. But now the Holy Ghost is sent down from heaven. He is that divine Person with Whom we have to do habitually, and we are either honouring Him, or failing to do so. The great test of honouring Him is that Christ becomes all. This is a truth that got greatly clouded even in apostolic days. It may be a very small comfort; it is a very solemn and saddening comfort, too, if I may use such a conjunction of thoughts, but so it is when we think how everything tends to failure and towards decline, not excepting the testimony of God which was committed to His children.
It is a very solemn thing that the apostles had the very same experiences themselves. The last of them had to face the fact that the very best of the churches—that which had been the brightest—became the object of the Lord’s warning, and the last of the churches of the Lord’s threatening; a warning of what soon came to pass, and a threatening to be surely executed viz.—to take away the candlestick of the one, and to spue the other out of His mouth (Rev. 2:3).
Now, is that meant to weaken confidence? It was revealed in order to enforce the need of dependence upon the Lord, to encourage us to look up from the earth and things that are here—but not to give up. We are never free to give up anything that is of God. We are never at liberty to plead the state of ruin for carelessness about any expression of God’s will. The ruin of the church has nothing to do with weakening our responsibility. It brings in the necessity of greater watchfulness, of more prayer; and particularly the necessity of God and the word of His grace to deal with the difficulties altogether above man. But are they above the Spirit of God?
Now, it is in this very spirit that Jude writes—“a servant of Jesus Christ.” For he does not appear to have been the apostle Jude. Most take it for granted that it was only an apostle wrote this or any of the Epistles. This is a mistake. Many of the apostles never wrote any inspired writing, and some that were not apostles wrote both Gospels and Epistles. It is a question of inspiration, a question of a particular work of God, of which vessel the Holy Ghost would use. Out of the four who wrote the Gospels, two were apostles, and two were not apostles; so with the Epistles, as it appears to me, for I should not wish to press a thing that is so very much doubted by many persons. But then it is well to remember that almost everything is doubted now-a-days!
It is of interest to consider who is speaking to us in this Epistle. We are told it is “Jude, servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” He is not the brother of James the son of Zebedee—John was his brother. That James was cut off from very early days indeed, and John was left latest of all; so different was the issue for these two sons of Zebedee. There was another James (as also another Jude or Judas, besides the Iscariot), “son of Alphaeus,” who is named “James the Little” (Mark 15:40). I do not think that this is the James referred to here, but rather that he is the one who has been called “James the Just”; and I presume that this title was given to him because of his practical preeminence. He was a hater of evil and a lover of all that was morally pleasing to God. He comes before us too, in Acts 15, though not for the first time there. In that chapter he takes a great place. He, as far as one can so say, presided, and that is a very proper scripture word. Those “that rule well” means those that preside well. There is nothing wrong in presiding if a man can do it; it is a mistake if a man cannot, and assumes to do it; and it is one of the worst things possible when done now by an official, whether there is power or not. But there is such a thing as “ruling” or “presiding” recognised, though it is never confined to one person, “them that have the rule (or, preside) over you” (Heb. 13:17): there we have several.
But we are not anxious about the matter. One might be more prominent on one day, another on another day, but James seems to have been prominent habitually, and this appears to have been quite recognised by the elders at Jerusalem. We find Paul going up to see James, and all the elders were present (Acts 20:18). This is the man who wrote the Epistle, who also calls himself “a servant of…Jesus Christ.” Of course, this is true of all, and is said by almost all. The apostle Paul calls himself that continually, and of course so do Peter and John, although the latter calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” rather, but still he calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ in the Revelation (1:2)—“to His servant John.” So you see that it is only a question of the propriety of the case where this word is put forward; and it certainly was very appropriate in the book of the Revelation, and there accordingly it is. Elsewhere, in his Gospel especially, John dwells rather on the Saviour’s love, and in that book he does not call himself anything. We only know by internal evidence that he must be the man whom he describes, not as John, but, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
But James was not a “disciple”; he was one of the Lord’s brethren who did not believe all the time the Lord was living here below; “neither did His brethren believe on Him” (John 7:5). “His brethren” were sons of Mary after His own birth. Of course we can understand that Romanists have been anxious to make out that they were sons of Joseph and not of Mary. But they were sons of Mary and of Joseph. They would like to make them out sons of a former marriage of Joseph. We do not know anything of a former marriage, nor do they. We do know that scripture is quite plain.
Take Mark 6:3 for instance, and there you will find that what I have just stated is fully acknowledged: speaking of our Lord, it says, “Is not this the carpenter the son of Mary, and brother” (not the cousin, you see) “of James and Joses, and of Juda and Simon?” We do not know what particular place God gave to Joses and Simon, but we do know that James and Judas, or Jude (it is the same name), were both called to an eminent service.
Now if we look at the first of Acts we get more. It appears there were sisters also, but we need not now pursue that subject. In Acts 1:13 we read, “And when they” (i.e. the apostles) “were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter and James” (that James is the son of Zebedee), “and John” (his brother), “and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus” (that is, James the Little) “and Simon Zelotes” (to distinguish him from Simon Peter and from Simon the Lord’s brother), “and Judas [the brother] of James.”
Now, in my judgment, the last two names are brought before us in the opening verse of our Epistle, “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.” But we further read in the same chapter of the Acts, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (ver. 14). Who these “brethren” are, we have already seen from Mark 6. James and Jude were two of the Lord’s brethren. Simon and Joses were two others. But we do not need to dwell on these, because Scripture does not do so. Yet it says a deal about James; not so much about Jude. As already noticed, although they were unconverted all the time the Lord was on earth they were evidently converted after the Lord died and rose; so that there they were with Mary their mother, and the eleven, all living together and given up to prayer, and waiting for the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is certain they were not unconverted now. Nothing would have been more contrary to their mind had they not been believers, but now they are believers for the first time. And very beautiful it is to see that God broke them down by the very thing that might have stumbled them for ever. The crucifying of the Lord might have entirely hindered, but God used that and the Lord’s resurrection, not only to awaken their souls, but to bring them in, so that they were there, full of the same expectation of the Holy Ghost as the apostles themselves.
Consequently, when James, the son of Zebedee, was killed (Acts 12.), we find another James, who is not described as the son of Alphaeus, and who is the one that has evidently stepped forward, by God’s guidance, into a kind of foremost place. For when all the apostles were there, Peter and John amongst the rest, they did not take that place, much less any other of the twelve. James did, and to show you that I am not incorrect in this, I will give you another scripture, (Galatians 1:15-19), which is very convincing and satisfactory. The apostle Paul is showing how he had been kept from mixing up with any other of the apostles in particular, at the time he was brought to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. “But when it pleased God, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called [me] by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord’s brother” (not the Lord’s “cousin”).Apparently, James, the son of Alphaeus, was the Lord’s cousin. Now we all know that the word “brother” is sometimes used loosely, but in that case it is always corrected by some other parts of scripture. But this is not corrected by any; and I do not see any reason why—if the Spirit of God calls Mark, not exactly the nephew, but cousin of Barnabas (the word there used is “cousin”),—James should not be so called here, if he were not really the “brother” of our Lord.
It is true James does not call himself “the Lord’s brother,” but “the Lord’s servant”; and this is very beautiful. Had there been any self-seeking he would have been the one to say, “I am the Lord’s brother! You must not forget I am the Lord’s brother.” But that would have been anything but of the Spirit of God, because when he was the Lord’s brother, he was an unbeliever. He had been an unbeliever during all the life of our Lord. Indeed, he was so until His death and resurrection. He, therefore, with beautiful grace, never brings up that which was his shame—that he was the Lord’s brother after the flesh. The Lord Himself put all that sort of thing down, when He declared that it was not so much the blessed thing to be the woman that bare Him, as it was to hear the word of God and keep it. This is what the writer of this Epistle had done; he had heard the word of God and kept it. He had received the truth of Christ’s Person not as son of Mary but as the Son of God, as the Messiah, the Lord of all. Here then Jude was glad to say, not that he was the Lord’s brother, though he was so, but, “a servant of Jesus Christ,” and he adds, to make it perfectly clear who he was, “brother of James.”
So we have here the plain fact that this James was not the son of Zebedee, who had been killed many years before; neither was he James the little. We may call him rather, James the great, because he takes such a foremost place wherever mentioned. Acts 15 puts it in a very striking manner which I had better not pass over. After Peter had given his very important testimony, and Paul and Barnabas their evidence, about the reception of the Gentiles, we come to another person (ver. 13); “James answered, saying.” You see the others are regarded as speaking, but James answers, “Men, brethren” (that is the proper way to read it; “and” has nothing to do with it). They were not merely men, but men who were brethren. “Men, brethren, hearken unto me. Simon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name…Wherefore my sentence is…” (vers. 13-19). No one can doubt the place that he took, and that the Spirit of God sanctions his taking it. James was the one who, after having heard all the facts, summed up the mind of God, and quoted a decisive scripture. And this is a very interesting thing that, though they were inspired men, they did not do without the scriptures. When you have facts in the light of scripture, you are then entitled to draw therefrom the truth—what he calls here “my sentence,” and what was written in the nineteenth and following verses.
The other striking place where James appears is in Acts 21 where Paul goes up to Jerusalem. “And the day following”—that is after the arrival—“Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present” (Ver. 18). It is evident that this was the great central place of meeting for strangers at Jerusalem, and that the elders also were accustomed to be present on those occasions. These facts give it evidently a very official character, which was perfectly compatible with the position of James at Jerusalem. Tradition makes him the bishop of the church in Jerusalem, but scripture never speaks of “the” bishop, but of “bishops”: and scripture also shows that there were more important persons than the bishops; and James had a place of evident superiority to any of the “elders” (these were the bishops), a place that none of the elders possessed to the same degree. And this James is the one that wrote the Epistle that bears his name, as that of Jude was written by his brother.
It is instructive to see how God allowed the unbelief of the family of our Lord Jesus. It was not like people plotting together. If you look at the great leader of the Eastern apostasy, Mahomet, it was so. His family were persons whom he induced to take their place along with him, to defend him and stand by him. But in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, God allowed that His own brethren should not believe on Him all the time that His mighty works were being done. But there was another work, the greatest of all, and God made that work irresistible. Not indeed the works of His life, but that of His death and resurrection; and these brethren that had stood out so stubbornly against Him were brought out to believe on Him through His work of sin bearing. There was a reason for their unbelief. There are always moral causes, which act particularly in unconverted persons to prevent their reception of the truth. Sometimes it is the fleshly mind, sometimes the worldly mind, sometimes both. In the case of these brethren, their worldly mind came out strongly in John 7:4, 5, when they said, “If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world. For neither did His brethren believe on Him” The Lord was infinitely far from doing this. He was not of the world, and tells us we are not. He never sought the world in any form. He only sought to do good to souls in it by delivering them out of the world to make them know the true God, and Himself equally the true God and Life eternal.
Well now, we have this fact so full of interest—that James gives us, according to the spiritual character that was formed in him, a most complete setting forth of practical righteousness in everyday life, in our tempers, in our words, as well as our ways. All this is unfolded by James more than by any other, and it is only from want of understanding it, that some do not like his Epistle. Sometimes great and good men have kicked at the plainness of speech in James. They have not liked it; but it was a great loss to them, for had they heeded what he wrote it would have corrected many a fault in themselves.
Now in Jude there is another subject altogether. Righteousness is not the point in Jude; not even the way in which Peter brings it in. Jude does not look at it for personal walk simply, apart from the ruin of those that give it up. He merely shows righteousness to be a necessary thing for every saint. If a man has not got it, he is not a saint at all. But Peter in his Second Epistle looks at it in a large way among the people of God—whether they as His people walk righteously, and more particularly whether the teachers are indifferent to righteousness and are favouring unrighteousness. Therefore his Second Epistle is levelled most strongly at these—the false teachers who, not content with being personally so themselves, encourage others to similar lack of righteousness. Now, this is not what Jude takes up at all, though there is much that is common to them both. It could not be otherwise.
Jude looks at grace. There is nothing like grace; but what if grace be abused? What if grace be abandoned? What if grace be turned to licentiousness? Now that is what Jude takes up. Consequently, his Epistle is one of the most solemn in the word of God. There is only one writer who is more so—John. John looks at not merely the departure from grace, but the denial of Christ, of the Father and the Son. Well, it is impossible to conceive of anything worse in scripture than denying the glory of Him unto Whose name I may have been baptised, and through Whom I have professed to receive every blessing that God could give. After all that, for a man to be induced by his intellect, or from whatever cause, to deny the Lord, to deny that He was the Christ and the Son of God—there is nothing more deadly—there is nothing more terrible than the state of such a one. And it fell to the lot of him who loved the Lord most, to John, to write about this denial. So that you see that there is a beautiful propriety in all the Epistles.