Jude, then, was in full expectation of a departure from “the faith,” and that it would be necessary to defend the faith. He evidently had had it on his heart to speak to them of comforting things, things that are always bright and sweet to the believer; but the circumstances called for alarm, for solemn warning. This is never very acceptable to people. They prefer things smooth; but the apostle himself, or the writer, whether an apostle or not—the writer’s whole heart would have delighted in dwelling on all that was comforting and strengthening to the soul. But, my brethren, what is the good of that if the foundations are being undermined? This is what you must look at. Therefore he draws attention to the fact that the faith was “once for all delivered.” “Once” is an equivocal word. It might mean “once on a time,” once at a particular moment; but this is not the force of the word here at all. It means “once for all.” And what a blessing it is that we have in this book (and more particularly in the books of the New Testament), the holy deposit which we are called upon to believe, given us in full, “once for all.” There is not a truth to be received that is not revealed in the word of God. There is not a difficulty nor a departure from the truth which is not in one way or another there guarded against. We, therefore, never require to go outside the revelation of God; and this explains why God permitted, in the early apostolic days, that there should be a deal of evil. Does it surprise us that there should have been gross disorders among the Corinthians, for instance, even at the table of the Lord? Well, one is naturally struck at first sight by such a fact. How was it that when there was such power of the Holy Ghost, that when there were miracles wrought, that when there were prophets prophesying (the highest form of teaching), that at the same time and place, the saints that gathered on the Lord’s Day, broke out into a disorder that we never find even in the present day, or very rarely? How could God more guard us than by allowing it then? It is always a very delicate matter to deal with evil, either of doctrine, or practice, or service, or government, or worship, or anything that you can speak of. It was of the very greatest moment, therefore, that God, in view of the evils that would, some time or another, appear in the church, should allow the germ of the evils to appear then; and, for this reason, that we might have divinely given directions for dealing with the evils when they did appear. Consequently, we are not taking the place of setting up to legislate; but we are not at liberty to depart from the word. This has been given us by the Holy Ghost. We are called to find therein everything that becomes us as saints, and for every part of our work to find a principle, and example too, sufficient to guide us; so that we may never set up any will of our own about a matter, and that we may always find God expressing, in one form or another, His will. What we have to do is to seek to learn from Him, and to apply the result, either to ourselves for our own correction, or to other people for their warning.
Now that is the reason why there is such great moment in Jude’s calling to mind that the faith was “once,” and “once for all,” delivered to the saints. And, as a point of fact, I do not think we shall ever find in scripture such a thing as a mere repetition. Sometimes you may have scriptures that approach very closely, and in the New Testament you could hardly have it more than in these two Epistles of Peter and Jude. But I am about to point out to you, what will appear as I go along still more completely, that, while there are resemblances between these two writers, who are both speaking of the terrible evil that was about to flood the church; and who naturally approach each other, yet there is a marked difference between them. It is always the difference that is the special lesson for us to learn. Where the two approach, it confirms. We can say, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” But where there is a divergence, and a distinction is to be seen in the lessons that they convey, we have evidently more than we might have had if we had only had one of the writers. The same thing is true, not merely in these two Epistles, but in Ephesians and Colossians for example. The resemblance there is so great that a favourite theory of the Rationalists is that the Epistle to the Colossians is the only one that Paul ever wrote, and that the one to the Ephesians is only an enlarged and inflated copy (written, perhaps, by a contemporary of the apostle); and, accordingly, that the latter has not the same divine (though I ought not, perhaps, to use that word) value—that it has not Paul’s value. These men do not believe in divine value, they do not believe in God having written these Epistles; but some of them do believe that Paul wrote that to the Colossians, but deny his having written the one to the Ephesians. A very learned man, who translated all the Bible (and, indeed, his is one of the best of the German translations), is one of this school. So that you may learn from this, that there are persons who have laboured all through their lives on the Bible, who nevertheless did not believe the Bible—i.e., really and truly. He, of course, would have entirely objected to such an account being given of him. But what matters what people object to, if it is true! He was a leading man in his day, and I hope that he was not without looking to Christ before his decease. But at any rate, what he did during his life was a sad departure from the truth of God, from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Having then already dwelt a little upon what is one important and primary element of “the faith” I add, further, that believers are brought into great relationships. Not only are we “converted” and “saved,” being brought into peace and liberty, but we are called to realise also that we are no longer merely English persons or French, Jews or Gentiles, but that we are children of God, and that we are such now. We, therefore, turn our backs on our boasting in our nation and our city, and our family, and all these various forms of men’s vanity, which is merely boasting of something of the flesh. We are called out of that now. This is also part of “the faith once delivered.” In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free (Gal. 3:28). What does this mean? It means just what I have been saying.
Well then, again, we are made members of Christ’s body; and this is a relationship which so many of God’s children are so slow to believe. They think and talk of their being members of the Wesleyan body, or Presbyterian body, or Baptist, of this body, or that body, no matter what it is. Well, they say, to be sure we are members of Christ’s body, too! Yes, but if people valued the truth of their membership of Christ’s body, what would the other be in their eyes? Simply nothing at all. Where do you find the Presbyterian body, or the Episcopal body, or the Congregational body in the N.T.? Where do you find the Baptist body in the N.T.? There was an approach to this party spirit in the very earliest days—“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas” (1 Cor. 1:12). Well, there you have the germ of it. And these germs never perish. It is not only that blessed germs of truth do not perish and are meant to take root and bear fruit, and consequently they are perpetuated here and there; but alas, evil germs do the same. And what is more, another thing is not a germ exactly, but is a leaven—a corrupt and a corrupting thing that is very palatable, making the wheaten bread to be lighter to the taste and pleasanter for some palates to partake of. And, at any rate, this leaven, whatever may be the case with the bread, is the corrupting influence at work among the saints in two forms. In Corinth it was the corruption of morals; in Galatia it was the corruption of doctrine. There you have it at work. When our Lord was here He confronted the same thing in the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees were the great corruptors morally; the Pharisees were the great religionists, or rather were strong for doctrine. But the Sadducees were sapping all doctrines by denying the truth. There you have the two things again—doctrinal leaven and corrupting leaven; at any rate there was “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” however you may describe it. There were also the Herodians—a worldly leaven, a pandering to the Roman court, not merely accepting the Romans as having power and authority from God, but trying to please them in order to make their own position better and their circumstances easier. So that you see what a very weighty truth is this, calling for earnest examination, to take care that we do not infringe upon or weaken our certainty in that faith which was “once delivered to the saints.” Are we indifferent about it? Have we an interest in it? Have we only partially received it, and are we content with that? Or are we resolved by the grace of God to refuse everything that is not the faith that was once for all delivered? Are we resolved to receive and maintain that faith in all its integrity? That is what we are called to do.