“But these rail at whatever things they know not; but whatever they understand naturally, as the irrational animals, in these things they corrupt themselves (or, perish). Woe unto them! because they went in the way of Cain, and rushed greedily into the error of Balaam’s hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah” (vers. 10,11).
“But these speak evil”—referring now to the persons who, notwithstanding that they had been baptised and had taken their place in the church, were now yielding to every form of corruption, were abandoning the very things that they professed. I do not say that they were outside. This is the difference between Jude and John. When we come down to John’s Epistle they went out; but the corrupting thing in Jude is that there they are poisoning others.
Now it is remarkable that in the Second Epistle of Peter we have only Balaam, and Michael we have not at all; so that nothing can be more superficial than the idea that the one writer has copied the other. It is true that there is much that is common to both Epistles, but the differences between Jude and Peter are the striking thing; the points of resemblance are easily accounted for. In the position in which Jude and Peter were, there must have been the closest friendship, and a very near companionship; and there must have been strong links of love between these two elder servants of the Lord. Would they not communicate their thoughts and judgments to each other, even if they are looked at as servants of God? This is nothing, therefore, at all surprising. Nothing more likely than that Peter should communicate a good deal to Jude, and, on the other hand, that Jude should communicate a good deal to Peter; and, besides, the Spirit of God giving them to look at the same, or kindred evil, would give them similar judgments and thoughts. You find that in people who have never met or spoken to one another, if they have to do with the same evil, they often say things very much alike; substantially alike they are sure to be, if guided by the Spirit of God, but there are often surprising verbal resemblances. But this is not where the beauty and the striking nature of the two Epistles of Jude and of Second Peter show themselves. It is in the differences between them.
Now Peter is particularly occupied with wicked teachers—men that privily brought in, what he calls, “heresies,”or sects. The word “heresy” in scripture means “a sect.” It never means heterodoxy, as we use the word in its modern sense. That is not the scriptural sense at all. No doubt in the sect there might be heterodoxy, and there might be a sect without heterodoxies, or there might be one with a great deal of heterodoxy. So that “sect” admits of all kinds, or shades, of evil and error; but Peter is looking particularly at false teachers, and these false teachers covetous men; greed of gain is one marked feature which he specifies. Well now, where could you get an Old Testament example of greed so marked as Balaam? Consequently, we find Balaam in Peter, just where it should be. It falls in entirely with his purport, and with that Second Epistle and second chapter.
But here, Jude, in this very much shorter Epistle—and far more compact, far more compressed, and far more vehement—writes as in a tempest of hatred of all these bad men. Indeed, I do not know stronger language. Some do not like strong language. But that should entirely depend upon how it is used. Strong language against what is good is infamous, but against what is bad is thoroughly right; and I do not know stronger language anywhere than in this very Epistle of Jude in which he speaks out against railing. But strong language and railing are not the same thing. Railing is abuse of what is good; but here we have the pithiest, the most vehement, and most cutting exposure of what is evil; and instead of this being a thing to regret, it is a thing that we ought to feel and go along with heartily. But I know it does not suit the present age. The present age is an age for trying to think that there is nothing so good but what there is bad in it, and nothing so bad but what there is good in it. The consequence is that all moral power is at a deadlock, and people have no real, burning love for what is good—only a calm, quiet, lukewarm state. They are neither strong for good nor strong against evil; and that is a state which, I believe, the Lord hates—at any rate, it does not agree with either Peter or Jude.
“Woe unto them! because they went in the way of Cain, and rushed greedily into the error of Balaam’s hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” In the Epistle of Peter there is not a word about Cain, not a word about Korah. But here you see that Jude, having a different object, compresses in this most wonderful verse—for it is a most wonderful verse—an amount of moral truth, spiritual truth, divine truth, that was here entirely departed from, grace being altogether hated and abused. All this is found in this short verse. He goes up to Cain.
“These are spots (or, hidden rocks) in your love-feasts, feasting together, fearlessly pasturing themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumnal trees without fruit, twice dead, rooted up; raging sea-waves, foaming out their own shames; wandering stars for whom hath been reserved the gloom of darkness for ever” (vers. 12,13).
I cannot conceive any but an inspired man venturing to use such decided and solemn language about those that were within the church. That is a marked point of the Epistle. Peter looks at the unrighteousness of man generally, even since Christianity is come, because he is occupied simply with iniquity. This of course is common to both writers; but Jude looks specially at those who took the place of salvation, those that were gathered to the name of the Lord. In this latter case, therefore, the matter had yet more seriousness for the spiritual mind. There is nothing more dangerous than a departure from the faith, the Christian faith. It is not only what man is and has done, but also what grace has made known, for which we are responsible, most of all if we turn from it in unbelief. What is so evil as apostasy?
There are many things that cause truth to lose its power with men. Nothing hastens it more than moral disorder in ourselves, which results from forgetting or abusing grace. We turn our backs on God’s authority, as well as our relation to our Lord Jesus; this is followed by our taking up objects that are loved so as to become practically our idols. It is clear that these things have been substantially so from the beginning, as it is also clear from this Epistle that things will go on worse and worse, until the Lord comes in judgment. As to this point we shall have to weigh what is yet stronger than what we have already considered, when it will be ours to seek a divine impression of the words already read. Manifestly they are of the darkest character and full of energy.
Observe here the word, “Woe.” I do not know it anywhere in the New Testament except in the very different application which the apostle makes to himself, if he did not make the glad tidings known (1 Cor. 9:16). Here it is, “Woe unto them.” I am not of course speaking of the Gospels, but of the Epistles; where the Spirit of God is testifying of the Saviour and His work to man, or dealing with those who bear the Lord’s name. In the Gospels, even our Lord could not but say, “Woe”; but then He was warning those that represented a favoured nation, which was then through unbelief passing under divine judgment. The same One Who began His ministry with Blessed, blessed, blessed, ended it with Woe, woe, woe! Nothing was further from His heart than to pronounce that sentence, but as He said, so was He to execute it in due time. He pronounced it as a Prophet when on the earth, if peradventure they might take it to heart, and He will pronounce it as a Judge on the great white throne when heaven and earth pass away.
What, then, is the explanation of this utterance of Paul, “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel”? Paul, who had been a poor deluded soul, by the grace of God had a fearful warning to do His will in preaching, but he does not say “Woe” to them, like Jude. He might have had his great fears for some when he let the Corinthians know how possible it was for a man who preached the gospel nevertheless to become a reprobate (1 Cor. 9:27). I think there is no doubt that that word “reprobate” means one lost; because salvation does not go with preaching, it goes with believing; and it is quite possible for those who preach to destroy the faith which once they preached. We have known that ourselves from time to time, and it has always been so. But the apostle had such a solemn sense of his responsibility to proclaim the gospel to perishing souls everywhere, that “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel.” Yet he preached it in the spirit of grace beyond any man that ever lived. Here, however, in Jude it is a very different case. “Woe unto them,” he says, “for they have gone in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.”
It is a most remarkable picture of the history of Christendom on its blackest side. There cannot be anything more graphic. It is not the mere order of history. If it were the order of history then the error of Balaam would be put last. It is a moral order, the order of men’s souls. It is what presented itself to the apostle in the Holy Ghost. Jude begins with the first root of what is wrong, and I think he is referring to a man (Cain) that ought to be a brother in affection, and who ought to have been a holy brother, because he took the place of being a worshipper. Cain brought his offering to Jehovah, and it was that very bringing of his offering to Jehovah that brought out his wickedness. How little people know what may be the turning-point of ruin for their souls! Cain no doubt went forward with confidence and with a step of assurance in his offering of fine fruit and other productions of the earth that he had cultivated, no doubt, with care. We may be sure he had chosen the very best because man would not fail in that. A man of the world is often very careful indeed as to outward appearances. Cain sees nothing defective in the offering itself—in the materials that composed the offering; but there was this vital defect which completely ruined him, that there was no faith. There is no mention of either God on the one hand, which must be, nor, on the other hand, was there any judgment of his own sinfulness. He failed therefore completely as to the inner man, for God never calls upon men who put on any appearance before Him. This is what was done here; perhaps no great depth of it, but still Cain took the place of a worshipper and he brought his offering to Jehovah, with no consciousness of his own ruin by sin, nor of God’s grace, or of the need of it. But that was not all.
On the same occasion, Abel brought his offering, which was acceptable; his offering was of the first-born of the flock. Not only was it blood that he offered, the acknowledgment of the necessity of death, and of the Saviour to meet his sins, but there was also the sense of the excellency of the Saviour before God—he brought “of the fat thereof.” Consequently there was a most decided effect in the case of Abel when he brought his offering before God. His very name shows what was very true of his character, no confidence in himself, for the word “Abel” refers to that which passes away like smoke, whereas “Cain” has the signification of “acquisition,” very much like the word “gain” in our language. Abel was a man entirely dependent upon grace, upon the Seed of the woman of whom he had no doubt heard over and over again from both father and mother, with other truths which he had never forgotten. God took care that these truths should be most prominent from the very earliest day, but it made no impression on Cain, and the reason was because he had never judged himself before God, and had no sense of his real need whatever. The opposite of all this was true of Abel, and his offering Jehovah accepted. This at once drew out the character of Cain; plain enough before to God, but it now came out openly in his hatred of his brother. What had his brother done to arouse that wickedness? You may be sure that the general character produced by faith in Abel had shown itself in every way of tender affection to his elder brother; but Cain could not brook that God should accept Abel and his offering, and not look at Cain’s. Nevertheless God deigned to expostulate with him and his lack of faith, in order to save him, if it could be, from what his wicked heart was rushing into. But no; Cain failed both before God and man, and what is more, before his brother. Now this is the first great beginning of the ruin of Christendom, and this showed itself in early days. We find such a thing quite common in our own days. We cannot doubt but that there was a powerful impression made on the world by the new life and ways of real Christians; yet there always were persons who have not only no sympathy with God’s love, but who even despise it, and who are irritated by it, more especially if they are dealt with faithfully by those that know it. This is another reason why our minds are blinded towards our brothers. There comes a still worse feeling towards God, but this order was reversed in Cain’s case. In the root of the matter, I suppose that all evil feeling towards one another springs from a previous feeling towards God. Our feeling in the presence of God breaks out in the presence of one another. Certainly this was the case with Cain.
Here we find the first woe. “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain.” It is a departure from faith, it is a departure from love, it is a departure from righteousness. It was the spirit of a worldly man, and therefore he was the first man who began open worldliness. Before that time there was great simplicity. It would be very untrue to say that there was the least of what was savage in Adam and Eve. There was everything that was sweet and beautiful in what God gave them; but still there were not the delights of civilisation, there was none of those things that people seem particularly to enjoy in modern times. It cannot be wise to disguise from our eyes that the progress of worldliness is enormous. I do not doubt that all the recent discoveries of gold and silver have greatly added both to the covetousness of men, and the desire for “display” one before another according to their means; whereas Christianity has nothing at all to do with “means”; it has everything to do with faith. If we care to do so there is always a use for what God gives, that is, to use it to His glory; but to turn it all to a selfish account, or to a display before others, is a mere vulgar kind of selfishness. This is the kind of thing that we find in Cain. There were, of course, the pleasures of stringed and wind instruments from the very beginning of civic life, and there was also then the beauty of poetry, which began, no doubt, rather poorly. It was all man, and man’s reasoning. This is all man’s enjoyment, and it is practically very much what we have at the present day. No doubt many things have been invented since the early times. There is always development in human things, and there is our development in divine things, but there is no obedience in development. There is nothing divine in development, but there is obedience in doing what the Lord sets before us in His word; yet the moment you add to that word in any way, or take away from it, it is the reverse of God’s teaching. It is setting up to be wiser than God, and this we can do without His power. All this idea that we can do something that will do His work better is the work of unbelief, and is an idea destructive of a Christian’s peace, and destructive of the simple principle of obedience contained in the word of God. Oh, what a privilege it is to own and teach this principle! to hear and do His will! We are always learners, and should we not always be coming to a better knowledge of the word by faith? Where there is not faith we do not come to this knowledge.
However, we see in the case of Cain a very fit and proper beginning of the woe that is coming on and the terrible sin that calls for the woe. Now the solemn thing is that it also refers to the present time. Evil never dies out, but gets darker and more opposed to God—becomes more hardened against God, without the least compunction of conscience.
Taking events out of mere historical order so as to make them exactly suit the truth, we have, as the next thing, the case of Balaam. The incident which brought out the nature of Balaam and the fact of his being a typical enemy of God is a further sample of what was to be in Christendom. This was when he uttered the most glorious truths; and I suppose, they were the only truths which he had ever uttered in his life. Well, Balaam was drawn to curse Israel, and he was induced to do so by the offers of gold and silver and honour of every kind. And I will even say that he tried to make out that he did not care for money; he said he was entirely above such a paltry consideration. The sin of Balaam is a very solemn thing. He went out to sin, he went out to meet (as our translators have put it) Jehovah—to “meet the Lord,” but there was nothing of “the Lord” in it, the words being merely added (Num. 23:15). The fact is, he went to meet the devil, whom he had been accustomed to meet. He went out to seek enchantment—that is the devil, of course. Our translators have put in “the Lord” (Jehovah), but the fact is it was the enemy of the Lord, the source of all Balaam’s wickedness and wicked power. Balaam knew that it was a divine power that compelled him to speak about what he had no thought of speaking about; but when he did so, his vast capacity for eloquence went along with his speaking.
God did not refuse to allow this man’s mind to be displayed. This is the way in which God sometimes works by all the writers He employs. The man must be uncommonly dull not to see a difference of style in comparing the different books of the Bible. If it were merely the Spirit of God it would be the same style in all, but it is the Spirit of God causing a man to bring out the truth of God and to give it out with that style and feeling which should justly accompany it. So in the case of Balaam: although he was much moved by the thought of dying the death of the righteous, yet there was not one single working of his soul in communion with God. He was the enemy of God, and the one who came to curse the Israel of God, but he was compelled to give utterance to most glorious predictions. The wonderful effusions of this wicked prophet glorified the coming of the Lord Jesus. There is something of that kind now in Christendom. Sometimes the most wicked of men can preach eloquently, and what is extraordinary too, God has often used the words of unconverted men for the conversion of others. I have no doubt that this is the case at the present time, and it has always been so. Of course, it is altogether one of the side features of ruin. The normal manner is for those that are saved to be the messengers of salvation to others.
The error of Balaam was that he was the willing instrument of the devil to destroy Israel, and as he could not curse them he did not give it up, yet it was a vain attempt to do so. Jehovah turned it into a blessing. Balaam thought to employ the women of Moab to draw the Israelites after idolatry. He could not turn Jehovah away from Israel, so he tried to turn Israel away from Jehovah. I have no doubt a great many souls throughout Christendom have been converted by these utterances of Balaam. Balaam’s eyes were fixed upon Israel—he wanted to damage them; they were the people he hated, they were the persons he wished to bring down, they were the persons he maligned and misrepresented with all his might, but he did not know that they were the people of Jehovah. But God knew.
Then with regard to Moses and Aaron: Moses represented God, and Aaron represented the intercession of the grace of God; but Korah would not submit to such a thing for a moment (Num. 16). In the case of Korah, what makes it the more atrocious is that he had a very honourable place; he belonged to the highest rank of the Levites, to that honoured section of the Levites to which Moses had belonged. Moses had first the call of God, Who lifted him up, beyond all question; but Korah belonged to the most honoured of the three families of the Levites who were servants or ministers of the sanctuary, and, as I have said, Korah belonged to the highest of the Levites; but nothing satisfied him. Why? Because he hated that Moses should have a place that belonged to him beyond any other. Satan blinded his eyes, which he always does so that people may feel like this. Korah’s object was to achieve what pertained only to Moses and Aaron. There are always many good reasons for bad things, and the reasons sound well, but they are words that strike at God and at Christ. There was a punishment not only of Korah but also of his family, other Levites, and all their families. And the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up in a way that had never happened on any other occasion since the world began. There may have been something resembling it, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrha, where it rained fire and brimstone and consumed the wicked, but the converse was the case here. The earth opened and swallowed them up. We find further a remarkable thing: the children of Korah were not consumed. He was the leader of the rebellion against Jehovah, but God in the midst of His judgment showed mercy to the sons. They did not perish through the plague that afterwards set in amongst the congregation. These sons of Korah are referred to in the Psalms, for there is the fact recorded that there are “the sons of Korah,” and the right persons to sing such psalms. Well, all these things perish that do not depend upon the grace of God—things like the error of Korah, things that war against God, that cause all those uprisings of falsehood. I think all such things such as the Oxford movement, are wrong. I do not mean the Ritualistic one only, which is extremely vulgar. But what is the error of the Oxford movement? It is very nearly the same error as Korah’s. Korah wanted to be priest as well as minister. That kind of thing is what men are doing now who maintain that they are sacrificing priests. It is true that the sacrifice is a perfect absurdity: the sacrifice is the bread and the wine. How could this be a sacrifice? If they called it an offering it would be a better term; but they not only call it a sacrifice, but they fully believe that Christ personally enters the bread and the wine. Therefore they are bound to worship the “elements,” as they call it. Such an idea is lower than heathenism, for the heathens never eat their God. These men are sanctimonious and exceedingly devoted to the poor. Yes, and they are most zealous in attending their churches, and in attending to their monstrous developments. This is of the same character as that described with reference to Korah. But the only sense in which these men should preach is when they become really sons of God, redeemed Christians, because that is the only sense in which they will be received; but all this false doctrine of the Oxford School denies that all Christians are priests, and infringes and overthrows the real work of Christ, and substitutes this continual sacrifice, which is a sin. So that no wonder Jude says, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.”
Then note the tremendous words that follow: “These are spots in your love-feasts.” Think of it. There were such men at that time in the church. Therefore we ought never to be surprised at anything evil that may break out in the world; the only thing is for believers to fight the good fight of faith. There is another rendering—“Hidden rocks in your love-feasts, feasting together, fearlessly pasturing themselves; clouds” they are, and it should be noted they are “without water,” without the real work of the Spirit of God, the rich refreshment of it—“carried along by winds.” As I said before, I will not deny that God may use any person in a solemn way which is thought to be a good deal of honour in the priesthood, but it is deadly work for themselves who preach. “Autumnal trees without fruit, twice dead, rooted up; raging waves of the sea foaming out their own shames: wandering stars for whom hath been reserved the gloom of darkness for ever.”
May God preserve His saints, and may we by watchfulness and prayer be carried safely through such dangers as these.