Well, now we come to a very comforting word. “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in [the] Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in [the] love of God, awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto life eternal” (vers. 20,21).
So then we are not to be cast down, we are not to be disheartened, even by these terrible pictures of evil. They are revealed in order that we should not be deceived, that we may really know what the actual state of Christianity is before the eye of God, instead of yielding to false expectations and wrong and imperfect judgments of our own. But even in the face of all that, there is this call to these beloved saints to build up themselves on their most holy faith. This is very carefully worded. There is nothing at all said in this Epistle about leaders, or guides, or rulers, or preachers, or teachers either. In a general way, as far as there were any, they have a very bad character, not of course that all who preached or taught were so, but that there were many of this class that were so especially. The saints themselves are here exhorted directly. They are not to give up their privileges, or to imagine, that because it is a day of such abounding evil, they are not to be very happy. They are comforted with this; that the blessing is perfectly open to them, and they are called to have more faith than ever. There is no time when faith shines brighter than in the dark day, and there is no time when love is more evidently discerned than when there are not many to love, not many that do love, but where there is the reign of selfishness and indifference, and people care for other objects, and put them before that which is imperishable.
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” This is the only place in all the New Testament where faith is called our “most holy faith.” It might have been thought that when things are so evidently wrong we must not be too stringent, that we must not be too exacting, that we must not look for such care as on the day of Pentecost. Why, so far from that being so, we require more care. And instead of its being now called merely the holy faith, or precious faith, Jude calls it, “your most holy faith.” The saints, in short, are encouraged to cleave to the truth in all its sanctifying power. We cannot think too much of “the faith of God’s elect.” I am not speaking now of faith looked at in the saint, but of “the faith” looked at in itself. It is the thing that we believe, which is the meaning of it here. It is not crying up individuals, but what these individuals receive from God. That is what he calls it—“the faith.” There is a great difference between faith and “the faith.” Here it is “the faith.” Faith is a quality of you, and me, and every believer. But that is not the sense here, which is, “the faith once delivered to the saints,” as he says in this very Epistle.
Well, thus you must look at it. When it came, you may say, It came down from God out of heaven, revealed through the apostles—Christ Himself of course in particular. There, was “the faith”: what we are called to believe; that which separated us to God from everything here below. So here, we have the same faith, only—it is not now said, “once for all delivered to the saints,” although this remains true. Here it is called “most holy.” What! has it not got tainted? Has it not got lowered now? Woe to those that say so! “The faith” is just the same faith now as on the day of Pentecost, the same faith that Peter preached, and also Paul, and all others of the apostles. And we have Peter and Paul, i. e. we have their words. We have the most careful words they ever spoke. We have the words that they were inspired to write from God. We do not therefore merely listen, as some of the early fathers talk about a man that saw the apostle and heard the apostle; and it appears that the man that did so was a poor foolish old man! Very likely. Well, and what have you got by putting a poor foolish old man between you and the apostle? Little or nothing. But Peter and Paul and Jude were not foolish, and whatever they may have been in themselves, there was the mighty power of the Holy Ghost Who gave them the truth of God absolutely intact; and here it is His word now, and we come into personal contact with it by faith. We that believe receive that “most holy faith,” and what is more, we are called, every one, to act upon it now.
And what are we to do with it? It is not only that we impart it to others, we “build up ourselves on our most holy faith.” Nothing, therefore, can give a more delightful picture of the resources of grace for as bad a time as can well be conceived as what we have here. “Ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith”; it is not to be on a little bit of the faith, not on the faith that was given to you through the intervention of a poor foolish old man. No, here it is, fresh from God, kept fresh and holy, unmixed with anything that could lower it.
“Praying in the Holy Ghost.” What can be better than this? There were men who spoke with tongues in the Holy Ghost. Do you think that is half as good as “praying in the Holy Ghost”? Why, the apostle Paul says that the men that spoke with tongues in the Holy Ghost were to hold their tongue, unless there were an interpreter there present so as to give what they spoke in a tongue in a form intelligible to others. It was a real power of the Spirit of God, but it was not to be exercised unless there were an interpreter. But think of the apostle silencing a man praying in the Holy Ghost! No, the very reverse. There is a great deal of prayer that is not in the Holy Ghost. And we are not at all called upon only to pray in the Holy Ghost. Happy is he who does, and happy are they that hear prayer in the Holy Spirit. And where there is prayer in the Holy Spirit all is thoroughly acceptable to God, every word is so. Every word of such prayer expresses perfectly what God means at that time. But there are prayers that begin in the Spirit and do not end in the Spirit. Prayers are often rather mixed, and this is true even of real believers; and sometimes we pray foolishly, sometimes we pray unintelligently! This is never in the Holy Ghost.
And, what is more, we are encouraged to pray at all times, even supposing we say what is foolish. Very well, it is better to say it, than to be silent. Much better. Because prayer is the going forth of the heart to God, and it may be like the words of a prattling child to its father or mother. It is all right that the child should prattle, far better than that the child should be dumb. But the best of all is when it is really prayer in the Spirit of God; yet that is a thing rather to desire than to presume that we have attained to. We have to be very careful indeed that we do not give ourselves credit for more activity in the Holy Ghost than we really possess. This supposes entire dependence, and no thought of self, and no opposition to this or to that. These are things that, alas! may be, and they all weaken and hinder “praying in the Holy Ghost.” But here you see the very same grace that encouraged the saints, even in the darkest day, “to build up themselves on their most holy faith,” instead of having the notion, Oh, it is hopeless to look for that now; when Peter or Paul was there we might have the most holy faith, but how could it be guaranteed now? Well, there it is in this precious word. And those that cleave to this precious word will find it out, and if their heart is full of it, their mouth will abundantly speak of it; and there is no ground to be discouraged, but the very contrary.
So, in this twentieth verse, we have two of the most important things possible—the one is, the standard of truth not in the least degree lowered, but maintained in all its highest and holiest character, even in that dark day; and, the second, the most spiritual action that could be in any believer here below, viz., “praying in the Holy Ghost.” Why, this is even more than preaching or teaching, because the heart is sure to be in the prayer. A man that can speak well and knows the truth—this may often be a snare. There is a danger in such a case to say the truth, and speak it out, and earnestly too, without there being present the power of the Spirit of God. But to pray in the Holy Ghost is another thing altogether. This cannot be without the immediate action of the Spirit in this most blessed way.
“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Here Jude is looking at the practical result of these two things. “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Now, could we keep ourselves in anything better? Was there ever anything higher than the keeping ourselves in the love of God? Love is of God, and we are to keep ourselves in it, instead of being provoked by the evil things around us, instead of yielding because of others yielding. This necessarily supposes great confidence in God, and delight in what God’s own nature is—the activity of His nature. Light is the moral character of God’s nature; love is the active character of God’s nature. Light does not allow any impurity; love goes out to bless others. We are called to keep ourselves, not merely in the light of God—we are there, we are brought there as Christians—but, in the love of God. We are not meant to have that doubted. We are to keep ourselves fresh and simple and confident in His love.
And he further adds, “Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” I think that mercy is brought in here especially because of the great need, because of the distress, because of the weakness, because of everything that tended to cast people down. No, he says, do not be downcast, look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it only by the way? No, it is all along the way, to the very end—“unto life eternal,” the great consummation. This could not be unless they already had life eternal in Christ now; but this mercy of God, “of our Lord Jesus Christ unto life eternal,” looks at the full heavenly consummation.