“Jude, servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are (not exactly, ‘sanctified,’ but) beloved.” This may surprise many who have been accustomed to the Authorised Version, but it is not a question of what we have been accustomed to, but of what God wrote. The Authorised Version is an admirable one. Our translators did not mistake the meaning of the Greek word in the text before them; but the text which they had was the common text, and this text is as faulty in its way as the common English Version. This text was transcribed by a number of different hands, and if the writing was not very clear there was always a tendency for the copyist to make mistakes.
I have had a deal of writing pass through my hands, but I hardly have seen any, where there is not some mistake made. Particularly when the writing is a copy of another, it is almost always so, and more particularly when the man whose thoughts and words are copied is above the common people. The way to find out the best Greek text is to go up to the oldest of all, and to compare the oldest of all with the different translations made in ancient times, and if these agree, then you have the right one. But they often disagree, and then comes the question, Which is right? Here the all important question is the guidance of the Spirit of God. We can never do without Him, and the way in which the Spirit of God leads persons who really are not only indwelt by Him, but led by Him, is,—does it express the current of the Epistle? Does it fall in with the line of the apostle’s writing?
Well, you see the word “sanctified” may be correct in itself, but the word here should be, “to those that are called, beloved,” etc. You observe that the word “called”occurs at the end of the verse. This word “called” is very emphatic. Then he describes them in two different ways. First, here, in the A. V., it is “sanctified,” but as now generally accepted by those who have studied the text fully, it is “beloved1 in God the Father.” “In” is very often equivalent to (indeed, it is a stronger expression that) “by.” But I now give it literally, “beloved in God the Father.” I confess myself that not only is this reading the most ancient, the best approved by the highest witnesses that God has given to us of His word, but it is beautifully appropriate to the Epistle. The assurance of being “beloved in God the Father,” or “by God the Father,” comes into special value under two sets of circumstances. If I am a young man very young in the faith, when one is proving the persecution of the world, the hatred of men, Jews full of jealousy, the Gentiles full of scorn, and both animated by hatred against the Lord and those that are the Lord’s—what a comfort it is to know that I am beloved “in God the Father.” This is the way the apostle Paul addressed the Thessalonians as a company, the only one that he ever addressed in this way. They were experiencing persecution, not in a gradual way as most of the other assemblies had done, but from the very start, from their conversion. We know the apostle himself had to flee because of the persecution that had set in there. “These men that have turned the world upside down have come here also,” and a deadly set was made upon them, and so the apostle had to escape. The church there had to bear the brunt of it, and in the very first Epistle that Paul ever wrote, the First to the Thessalonians—that was his first inspired writing—you will find that such is the manner in which he describes them. “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the assembly of Thessalonians in God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 2:1). And that this was studiously meant is shown by the same presentation of the truth in the opening verse of the Second Epistle, where we find there was still the persecution and the danger of their being shaken by that persecution and the error that had come in through false teachers taking advantage of it to pretend that “the day of the Lord” was actually on them, making out that this persecution was the beginning of that “day,” and so greatly alarming the young believers there.
Hence the apostle had to write a second letter to establish them clearly in the bright hope of Christ’s coming, and in the lower truth of the day of the Lord. Well, in that Second Epistle we have “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the assembly of Thessalonians in God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:1). Now I conceive that the object of the Spirit of God there, by the apostle, was, that as they were so young and so exposed to such an assault upon themselves, which reminded the apostle of the assault which had been made upon himself and his friends, that they should be comforted by the reminder that they were “in God the Father.” What could harm them if this were the case? The apostle would not have ventured from himself to say such a thing. None upon earth would have done so. It was God Who inspired the apostle to let them know that wonderful comfort. There are many people who read this and do not get any comfort from it, because they do not apply it to themselves. They have no idea what it means. You will remember that John, writing in his First Epistle, separates the family of God into three classes—the fathers, young men and the babes (for I give the last word as it should be, literally). They are all “children” of God, but the babes are the young ones of the children of God. The young men are those that have grown up, and the fathers are those that are mature and well established in Christ. Well, it is to the babes-—and this will help us to understand what I have been saying—he says, “I write unto you babes” (the proper full force of the word), “because ye have known the Father” (1 John 2:13).
Well, so it is with this young assembly in Thessalonica. It is described by the Holy Ghost as being “in God [the] Father and in [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Jude we have the other side. They are not young saints now. It is addressed to comparatively old saints. There might be young ones among them; there would be such, undoubtedly. But he is looking at them as having gone through a sea of trouble and difficulty, and he is preparing them for worse still. He, as it were, says things are not going to get better but worse, and it is to end in the actual appearing of the Lord in judgment, and what is more, the very kind of people who are to be the objects of the Lord’s judgment when He comes have crept into the church already. This is a very solemn thing, and it might be alarming unless people were well read and grounded in the truth, and in love. So, therefore, writing at a comparatively late time (not early as in the case of the Thessalonians, but late), Jude writes in these terms—“to them that are called.” You observe that I transpose that word, which is a little spoiled by the interpolation of the conjunction “and” before “called.” “To them that are called, beloved in God the Father, and preserved.” It is not exactly “preserved in” It may be “by” or “for.” These are the two alternatives for that word. I do not see how it can be “in”; so that you see it little differs from what we read here. It brings in another idea, and it is perfectly true either way. We are preserved by Christ, and we are preserved for Christ. I have not made up my mind which of the two in this instance is right, because they cannot both be the intention of the Spirit of God. One must be right rather than the other, but I cannot say that my judgment is yet formed as to the choice of these two prepositions, whether it should be “preserved for Jesus Christ,” or “by” Jesus Christ, He being the great One that does keep us. But in either case, how beautifully it is suited to a time of extra danger, and of danger too that he was not warranted to say would pass! We say the storm rages now, but the sun will shine shortly. No; it is to be that blackness of darkness of evil which is now coming in among the professors of Christ to get denser and darker until the Lord comes in judgment on them.
Well, how sweet is the assurance, “beloved in God the Father, and preserved by (or for) Jesus Christ” (either way is full of brightness—and the Lord may give us to learn some day which of the two thoughts is His meaning). But there it is, and full of comfort and sweetness, and eminently suited to the circumstances portrayed in this Epistle beyond any Epistle in the New Testament—an Epistle that shows the departure of Christians, i.e., of professing Christians—of those who were once thought to be as good as any. Sometimes, the people who turn away are those that have been very bright. We should not be surprised at that. It is not always the best fruit that ripens most quickly. Sometimes the earliest becomes rotten very soon. This is often the case with those that seem so bright all at once.
I remember being struck with this in the case of a young woman in the Isle of Wight, some forty years ago. Charles Stanley, our dear brother, in his zeal for the gospel was somewhat in danger of fancying people were converted when they were not. At times of revival, people are often apt to slip in; their feelings are moved, they are quickly affected. According to the word in the Gospel, “they hear the word, and anon with joy receive it; yet have they no root in themselves, but endure for a while: for when trial or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they are offended” (Matt. 13:20, 21); so that we ought not to be surprised. The young woman of whom I speak was employed in a shop, and I was brought to see her as one of these conversions. In a moment she assured me that the old man was all gone, “dead and buried,” and other such language she used. This would have been all very sweet had there been any real spiritual feeling; but she had merely caught the truth in her mind, at best.
Now, a real convert having confessed the truth of Christ for the first time, would be greatly tried by many things, failings, shortcomings, and the like. The soul of such a one would be greatly alarmed to think that, even after having received Christ, he found so little that answered to His love, so easily betrayed into levity or carelessness, or into haste of temper, and ever so many difficulties that a young believer is tried by. But the young woman of whom I have been speaking had no conscience about anything at all. All she had was merely an intellectual idea of the truth that seemed delightful to her, and, indeed, it is delightful. It is like those described in Heb. 6:5, they “have tasted the good word of God,” and there they are, “enlightened” by the great light of the gospel, without being truly born of God. There might be a powerful action of the Spirit of God, and there may be all this without being truly born of God. People who are really born of God are generally tried, and there is a great sense of sin, and they have to learn their powerlessness. All this is a very painful experience; and it is to this state that the comfort of the gospel applies the knowledge of entire forgiveness and clearance from all that we are; not only in spite of what we are, but because of what we are, because of all that God has given us—a new life where there is no sin. There never is anything like this true comfort except in those that have felt the need of it, and that sense of need is what goes along with conversion to God. The Old Testament saints were in that state; and they never got out of it. The New Testament saints began with conversion and came into blessing that was impossible with the law—because the mighty work of redemption was not done. But now it is done; and can we suppose it does not make an essential difference for a New Testament believer? Well! “if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” Here you have this invaluable comfort for those that have passed through such serious experiences and who have proved their own weakness in meeting it—the liability to be affected by appearances which come to nothing. Fair and smooth words where there is no reality at all—this is what is so trying. And the Epistle shows that people are going to get worse than this.
1 ἠγαπημένοις (beloved) אAB and several cursives, all the Ancient Versions, Origen, etc. ἡγιασμένοις (sanctified) KLP etc.