May 10, 2023
Unpacking Jude’s exhorting letter, Alistair Begg reminds us that we must defend the faith in every generation. After introducing his theme, Jude addressed it not with condemnation but with consternation, pointing to three examples from biblical history: Israelites who experienced the exodus but disbelieved, angels who overstepped God’s appointed boundaries, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who gave themselves to wide-ranging sexual immorality. We must heed the warning their sad stories issue and hold fast to God’s Word.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, we join those in the past who stood by night in the house of the Lord and declared your glory and your majesty and your power, who looked down through the pathways upon which they had already walked and declared your faithfulness, and reminded themselves of the wonder of your redeeming grace, that took them from where they were and brought them into a new place and a wide space.
And we this morning join the hosts of heaven in declaring that you are a holy God. We are part of a tiny company of a vast congregation throughout the entire world today—men and women, boys and girls, students going about their studies and their business and in their hearts declaring that you are worthy of all of our praise and seeking to live to your glory. We thank you so very, very much for your goodness to us in these past hours, and we come this morning with a combined sense of regret that we end so soon and need to go and yet the joyful anticipation of happy reunions and the opportunity to go back into the everyday events of our lives to live to the praise of your glory.
And so, meet with us now as we have this time again in your Word. Help us, Lord. We rely upon you entirely. Guard our thinking. Guard my words. Soften our hearts to your truth. Stir our minds. Channel our wills in the direction that you have appointed for us.
And we ask these things in the name of Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Well, let’s turn to Jude together again, and let me just read verses 5, 6, and 7. Jude writes,
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
I come to this this morning with a mixture of concerns, and so I might as well be honest with you. It’s important for us that we remember that we’re dealing with a letter. Jude would be surprised if we were to isolate, really, any part of it—perhaps easier to go to the introduction as we did. But then I think he would say, “But wait a minute. You must make sure that although I began by exhorting you to contend for the faith, what I then gave to you was a lesson from history and, in light of that, to exhort you to make sure that you yourselves keep yourselves in the love of God and keep going.”
Now, I say all of that because I feel duty bound to do something with verses 5, 6, and 7, but I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees, if you like—so that we’ve got to get to the close one way or another. And so, let me pick it up from what we said yesterday in passing, and that is that we recognize that although Jude is writing to a very different place and in a very different time from ours, it is the privileged responsibility of all of us in every generation to make sure that we are prepared to make a robust defense of “the faith … once … delivered to the saints,” and that that must take place in every generation.
History does help us with this. And I was thinking, actually, earlier this morning about the fact that Booth—William Booth of the Salvation Army—Spurgeon, and Dwight L. Moody were all born within seven or eight years of each other. So they were contemporaneous with each other. Well, what were they saying at the end of the nineteenth century?
Well, this is the response of William Booth to a question. They asked him, “What are your concerns for the church of Jesus Christ going into the next century?”—into the twentieth century. And this is what he said: “In answering your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: religion without the Holy Ghost; Christianity without Christ; forgiveness without repentance; salvation without regeneration; politics without God; heaven without hell.”
Spurgeon, who was caught up in what we know now historically as the Downgrade Controversy, was concerned along the very same lines. And indeed, the parallelism between contemporary evangelicalism and the period of theological declension through which Spurgeon lived is actually quite striking. Because as you know, it was a period during which the authority and the sufficiency of the Bible was vigorously attacked. He was abused for his commitment to upholding the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. He was ridiculed for such a thing. And instead of the church actually holding the line, it, influenced largely by the Enlightenment, sets rationale, human thinking, over against divine revelation. And so he was confronted by the fact that there was a capitulation to a kind of rationalistic unbelief.
And, of course, Spurgeon, in his own inimitable fashion, was prepared to address it. And in many ways akin to some of the statements of Jude, he writes as follows: “These destroyers of our church[es] appear to be as content with their work as monkeys with their mischief. That which their fathers would have lamented they rejoice in.” “Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith.” He’s saying the same thing: “You don’t worry about the secularism that is coming to us from outside. That is not as big an issue as the loss of conviction regarding the doctrine of Scripture, the singularity of Christ, his work of atonement, and so on.”
Now, Spurgeon’s candor actually is quite striking, isn’t it? It’s deemed inappropriate in many circles—some of the circles in which we move. And in the same way, the pungency, if you like, of Jude’s articulation is actually a little bit uncomfortable to read and to articulate. And yet, he doesn’t come to it out of a spirit of condemnation. I think the word that would be true to him would be consternation, not condemnation. The English language is really good, isn’t it? It’s not a spirit of condemnation. “It may sound like what I want to do is condemn people.” He says, “I don’t want to condemn people. I am greatly concerned.” It is consternation that drives him in that way.
And then, of course, he speaks very clearly. He’s going on to talk about these people: they’re like “waterless clouds,” “fruitless trees,” “wild waves,” “wandering stars,” “unreasoning animals,” “loud-mouthed boasters.” Doesn’t sound very politically correct. And as I said yesterday morning, let us beware if we find that any of that appeals to us.
I thought I could just try and write, do my own paraphrase of Jude. I gave up on it fairly quickly. But I wrote it like this: “I’m writing like this not because I want to but because I must and because I love you and long to see you—long to see you kept and keeping on. Let me remind you of these sad and powerful examples from history that make my point. And remember that we were told to expect this kind of thing. Keep your chins up. Stay steady. Be gracious. Serve others. Rest in God. He has everything under control.” And then I wrote, “Nah, nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah.” (I just saw Mrs. Prime again.)
How do we explain the present-day declension and confusion if at least 50 percent of what we are asked to believe in the press is true of the state of the Anglican Church? Many of our friends have been and are part of that. John Stott’s influence has been immense, and Dick Lucas. And we could go down through the line—a lot of them.
Do you know that the biggest problem at the moment in the Anglican Communion is not with the average congregation or even, actually, with the average vicar but with the bishops? The bishops. So I went to my Book of Common Prayer to see: What is it the bishops, when they are set apart to the bishopric by the archbishop, what is it that they are asked, and what is it that they affirm?
The archbishop addresses them, “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach or maintain nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same?” The answer that is to be given: “I am so persuaded and determined, by God’s grace.”
Question two: “Will you then faithfully exercise yourself in the same holy Scriptures, and call upon God by prayer, for the true understanding of the same; so that you may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers?” “I will do so by the help of God.”
I won’t go all the way through this. One more: “Be you ready…” “Be you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same?” Answer: “I am ready, the Lord being my helper.”
So what in the world happened? “Certain people … crept in unnoticed.” I was with some of my friends ten days ago now, and they were explaining to me that they were ordained to the gospel ministry by bishops who actually do not believe the vast majority of the affirmations that they were asked to make. Either they have lost confidence along the way, or they told lies in their ordination. But the circumstances are largely as those identified here by Jude.
And so he says to them, “I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…” In other words, he’s doing the same thing that I’m trying to do with us now: I’m saying, “This was the end of the nineteenth century. Listen to Booth. Listen to Spurgeon. Think about this.” And Jude is doing the same thing. He says, “Now, look: I’m urging you in this direction, and now let me give you three examples to begin with.” And now he provides three examples from history. And I’m not going to spend a tremendous amount of time on this. I hope I do enough to prove that I have at least studied but also enough to make sure that you will go on and perhaps do a series on Jude yourself—and please send me your recordings so that I can benefit from them later on.
But let’s just notice these things: “I want to remind you that although you once fully knew it”—“although you once fully knew it”—“here it is, and this is what you must be making sure that you’re paying attention to. I want to remind you of these three things,” he says.
“First of all, I want to remind you about the people who came out but didn’t go in.” The people who came out but didn’t go in. “Jesus,” interestingly, “saved a people out of the land of Egypt.” I wonder: Did you ever think about that? That Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, present in preincarnate form as we find him again and again in the Old Testament, is the only Savior. He’s the only Savior. So it’s no surprise that Jude identifies it in this way.
Of course, he’s referring to the exodus—Exodus 13, the day when the Lord by a strong hand had brought them out of the land of Egypt. And that is exactly what they had known, and all of the formality and the structure that had gone along with it to make it absolutely memorable for them so that they would never, ever forget—signs and signals of the amazing reality of God’s redeeming power.
But he said this same Jesus “afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” And if, like me, you’ve been reading Numbers at the moment in the morning—we got to chapter 19 this morning. But back in 13 and 14, it’s there that we read, for example, Numbers , around verse 22: “None of [those] who have seen my glory … and yet have put me to the test … shall [enter] the land.” “None of those who’ve seen my glory and now have grumbled against me and have declared their unbelief in me—they will not enter the land.”
It’s the story that we learned at Sunday school, isn’t it? That “twelve men went to spy in Canaan,” and “ten were bad,” and “two were good. Some saw the leaves in clusters fall; some saw the giants, big and tall.; two saw that God was in it all. Ten were bad,” and “two were good.” And that’s all he’s doing. He’s saying, “You know your history. You know that that’s exactly what happened: they did not believe.”
Now, what he’s doing is he’s sounding a warning, and then he’s going to go on after verse 7 to show how, in a contemporaneous way, although those lessons are familiar to these people, still, nevertheless, they went ahead and did the very same thing that the warning is sounded about.
Now, we don’t want to be able to stand back from this. I certainly don’t want to. I found myself immediately, in thinking along those lines, going to words that have already been quoted by our brothers here this week:
I do[n’t] want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and [that] Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
You see the urgency of the tone of Jude here? He’s not playing with people’s emotions in any way. He’s writing out of the fullness of his heart. It’s the same thing as the writer to the Hebrews—full of warnings, full of wonderful promises, but Hebrews 3: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
I found a picture last week, actually, from a long time ago in Ireland. And in that picture was Gordon Bridger, an Anglican; Alec Motyer, whom we know or knew, a dear brother, as an Anglican; Derek Prime, as a member of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches; a fellow who I didn’t recognize (don’t know how he got in the picture); and myself; and Roy Clements. I won’t forget his talks at that convention. And yet today, by his own testimony, he disavows so much of what on that occasion he taught me and I learned. I hope there’s no tone of judgment in my voice; it’s not there. “See to it that none of you has an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
You see, this is what Jude is on about. And the great danger is that we want to, as it were, do what we were learning in our first talk and say, “This is a tremendous piece of material for a number of other people, but it really has got nothing to do with me at all. I’m not one of those people.” “See to it,” he says, “that you’re not one of those people.” They were in the crowd, but they were rebels in their hearts against God’s rule, and they were reluctant to believe his promises, and they were unprepared to trust his judgments. And now, he says, they face judgment.
Being part of the visible people of God is no guarantee of eternal security. Being part of the visible people of God is no guarantee of eternal security if it is not combined with a living, personal, ongoing trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And, of course, before we finish, Jude is going to go on and say, “I want you to make sure that you keep yourselves.”
So, that’s the first historical note: those who went out but who didn’t go in. Then he says, “And let me remind you of those angels who did not stay within their own position of authority”—the angels who didn’t stay in place.
Now, this is a dangerous verse if you’re doing a home Bible study group, because some bright spark will tell you they know all about this and take the Bible study off in a horrible direction that you may never even recover from. And so, let’s not allow our imaginations to wander. I think it would be fair to say that Jude’s initial readers would have been far quicker to get to the point of this than some of us are, not because they simply knew their Bibles better but also because they understood parallel texts in Jewish tradition—the book of Enoch and so on—and that Jude, in writing in this way, and certainly as you read on in the central part of it, you realize that he is quoting sources that would be familiar to the initial readers in a way that wouldn’t be obvious to us.
However, with that said, I take it that what he’s referring to is the incident in Genesis chapter 6—which, again, is a real challenge, and not only in a home study group, but is a challenge to deal with. Let me give you my take on it, and you are sensible people; you can examine the Bible and see for yourself. Maybe we should just look at Genesis 6 for a minute, because some of you are nudging one another, going, “What’s in Genesis 6?”
So: “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to [him], the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive. And they took as their wives any [that] they chose.” It raises the big question of “the sons of God.” But I take it that the reason Jude is referring to it in this way is because clearly, the angels left their assigned spot given to them by God. They crossed divinely appointed boundaries to engage in sexual immorality. So they had been assigned a position, they overstepped the boundary, and they do what they want to do. In other words, their privileged position became the springboard for their perverse activity.
Now, again, if you allow your mind to run forward in the text, you realize what Jude is doing. He is going to address the fact that these people that have “crept in among you,” this is one of the features of what they do: they are very influential, they are very striking in their influence, and they know how to overstep their boundaries.
Now, I’m going to leave you to ponder all the notions of preternatural angelic beings, and you can talk about that on your long ride home to Indianapolis. What is described here is beyond the ordinary course of nature. It’s beyond the ordinary course of nature: that these sons of God derive their existence from God, but their rank, if you like, is superhuman. Yeah. Get a concordance and have a great afternoon, all right?
When angels appear on the earth, interestingly, they always appear in human form, don’t they? When angels appear on the earth, when they appear in Genesis 18, they’re not like “Whoo!” No. They said, “Do you got anything to eat here?” And so they have a meal together. [Motyer], who’s always good to quote, says what we’re dealing with here is the “inruption of angelic beings, copulating with human [females],” which actually is an expression of the cosmic extension of human sin. He says what you have in this incident is actually a climax to the decline that has begun in Genesis chapter 3—so that as soon as sin enters into the world and the whole reality of things is immediately spun out of its orbit, there is virtually no end to what can ever happen. And sin has disrupted everything in that dimension. And it is in relationship to that that we face these things.
It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? And when we talk to people, we have to constantly guard against succumbing to an entirely rationalistic worldview ourself that dismisses things as inadmissible. Hamlet has to tell his friend Horatio, he said, “Horatio, you just don’t get carried away”: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
I don’t think we have to really worry about this. Because if you remember that old movie—it’s an old movie now—that James Cameron of Titanic fame did, Avatar, and if you ever went to that Avatar movie, the thing that was striking to me was not what happened in the movie but what happened afterwards. I remember. I know where I was, and I remember: some people were coming outside and going, “Oh, isn’t that amazing?” I mean, people were actually moved to tears. I’m saying to myself, “You bought this, with these strange creatures, and their tails, and they stuck ’em into trees, and whatever happened to them?” I don’t know what else happened to them. People were saying, “Oh, it’s amazing! Whoa! Oh, I’ll never be the same again.” Well, I’d like to tell you about Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the incarnate God! “Oh, no, we couldn’t believe that. Don’t be ridiculous! No. No, are you crazy? No, we believe this stuff with the tree.”
We don’t have to apologize for one thing in the Bible. This is not irrational; this is suprarational. This takes us into a realm that ultimately is only explained in terms of God’s divine revelation. We didn’t argue ourselves into faith. He made it known to us. He disclosed himself. And it is in that spirit of faith that we both come to the Bible as individuals and we seek to teach it too.
Bottom line: the angels did not keep their assigned proper place. And now, he says, they are finding themselves “kept,” living “in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of [that] great day.” What’s his point? It’s the same point: judgment is inescapable. God’s patience is not unlimited. These “certain” ungodly people will not ultimately get away with it.
Thirdly: “Not only do I want to remind you of those who came out but didn’t go in and of the angels who overstepped the boundaries of God’s appointing, but what about Sodom and Gomorrah?” he says. “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, [who] likewise…” “Likewise.” This goes back to what he’s saying earlier: they are guilty of aselgeia, of a debauchery, of a form of sensuality that is so comprehensive that it covers about every kind of erotic notion that you could ever come up with in your mind. That’s how vast that word is. And he says, “In the same way…” “I’m teaching you,” he says. “I’m reminding you of history. You know what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah: the destruction of a city set in a beautiful position, well-watered everywhere, described as being like the garden of the Lord. And yet what happened to it is a classic illustration of a day that will come—a day of judgment.”
Now, once again, if we’re going to be honest with our friends and neighbors in personal conversation and in our public proclamation, let’s learn from the apostolic example. Sure—and we’ve made mention of it, I think: Acts chapter 17, he’s able to quote the poets. He’s able to refer to things that are, if you like, extrabiblical. He’s aware of what’s going on around him, and he’s dealing with the people starting from where they are, and so on. But he doesn’t miss the point, does he? He says, “And by the way, I should tell you before I finish that this God who controls human history, who orders your destiny, who is responsible for the movement of peoples throughout the universe—this God has set a day when he will judge the world. He’s set a day when he will judge the world. It’s a day that is fixed in the mind of God. It is a judgment that will be absolutely fair, and it is a decision that will be absolutely final. And he has given proof of the fact that he’s going to do that by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” And when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, the crowd began to break up. Perhaps they were saying, “Oh, here we go, the same old stuff,” or whatever they might be saying. A number believed, and some of the women too.
“The men of Sodom” and Gomorrah—Genesis 13—“were wicked”; they were “great sinners against the Lord.” Probably should just turn to Genesis 19. It’s painful, isn’t it, to go back to it and to let the text ring in our ears? But the reason Jude brings it up is so that the readers of his letter might acknowledge what happened: “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.” And “when Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and [he] said, ‘My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.’” (“Yeah, you can stay, but I hope you’re going to leave early in the morning.”) “[Oh,] no,” they said, “we[’ll] spend the night in the town square.” Well, I’m not going to work my way all the way through it. He says, “Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea”: “He pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread,” and so on. And before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city, “both young and old, … surrounded the house.” And they began to shout from outside, “Where are these men? Bring them out so that we can have sex with them. Bring them out so that we might know them.” Lot then makes a pathetic offer of his daughters as a possible substitute for their activities. And the fact that he does so… “If you want to know somebody, at least, perhaps, you do it in a heterosexual fashion.” That’s what he’s saying. No. They had interest only in one thing: a homosexual gang rape.
“Of course,” he says, “you will remember Sodom and Gomorrah, won’t you?” The Lord rained sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed it. It became a smoldering ruin. And the picture of Lot’s wife captures, actually, in a single frame the fate of “those who shrink back and are destroyed.” And again, you remember, that’s Hebrews again, isn’t it? “We are not … those who shrink back and are destroyed,” but we are those who continue and are saved.
It’s alarming, isn’t it? This is not an easy thing to teach to our congregation. Because why would he use such graphic illustrations? And why is there so much sex in them, incidentally—both in terms of the angels and now in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah? Because the issue that he’s facing, that he’s contending for in relationship to the faith, actually has to do with when the structure of God’s plans and perfect purposes are completely overturned and a period in history or a culture begins to putrefy. One of the most graphic ways in which it becomes apparent is in the great denial of the absolute perfect plan of God.
I presume that Jude is writing in the awareness of the fact that some of the people who were disrupting the congregations were themselves, in their quest for freedom—“Come and join us, and you’ll be free! You don’t have to listen to this old stuff. You should come where we are! The grace of God that makes you free sets you free from boundaries, sets you free from rules, just sets you free. You can be what you want. You can do what you want.” It’s very appealing. They perverted the grace of God.
And so, what Jude is doing is not simply sounding out these as illustrations as much as pointing to the fact that there is a day that is still going to come. And as I say to you, we won’t get here, but when you go look at verse 8 for just a moment, what is he doing with this? “I said to you, I want you to contend for the faith. Let me give you three illustrations from history.” And he goes on: “But realize this: that the very people that I’m warning you about, the creeps, they’re not paying any attention to this at all.”
The gentleman who asked the question last night—and I brought it with me. I’m not sure I gave a very good answer to it. But that would be true of most of the questions. But let me come back to you, because I think the question was asked purposefully, and the point that Schaeffer was making was equally purposeful. And Schaeffer in his book was quoting Luther. And, you know, Luther is saying the true Christian soldier is the soldier who’s there at the point of antagonism: “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield[s] besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Now, let me ask you: Where is the battle for the Bible being fought right now in our generation? In the question of human sexuality. People are not arguing about the rationalism of scientific theory. They are not arguing even about the challenges of pluralism. They are actually arguing at a level that is beyond the imagination—that the cultural shift has been so dramatic, so swift, involving so few, that it is very difficult to agree with any view other than the view that behind this is the great spirit of darkness about which Paul talks in the man of lawlessness in  Thessalonians 2; in other words, that there is a great delusion that has gripped people.
And so I think Luther is good. I think Schaeffer is right on this point. And so I think that we have to be brave enough to teach the second half of Romans 1: to point out that homosexual activity that is endorsed and encouraged is a feature of a society in decay—not, again, in a spirit of condemnation but in order to say, “God’s way is the right way. God’s way is the perfect way. God knows. And he did send us with Maker’s instructions, for those of you who are asking. He did! You came with the instructions.”
Because then we’re able to go, as we must—in our teaching, we go to 1 Corinthians 6, and we point out that this is not some diatribe against people who are wrestling with their confusion about who they are and what they are. Because actually… And Ralph Davis has such a wonderful quote: he says Jesus is such a friend of sinners, he gets his church from the wrecks in Satan’s landfill. He gets his church from the wrecks in Satan’s landfill. And that’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 6. He says, “These guys won’t be there, won’t be there, they won’t be there, and they won’t be there. But remember, that’s what some of you used to be. That’s what some of you used to be. But the grace of God transformed you.” I was talking with a friend yesterday. He told me about a situation of an amazing transformation in the life of a couple in his church. It turned from darkness into light, turned from bondage into freedom.
And the warning is a warning that needs to be sounded. The angels had the blessings of heaven, the Israelites the blessings of the church (with apologies to all dispensationalists). Sodom had all the blessings of the world, of humanity. It was the best place you could possibly live. It was the Montecito, you know, where Harry and Meghan live. It was just fabulous. The angels lost heaven, the murmuring Israelites were shut out of Canaan, and the Sodomites were, together with their fruitful land, destroyed.
Evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse …. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing [those] from whom you learned it and how from [infancy] you have [known] the [Holy Scriptures, that] are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in [Jesus] Christ.
Now, I feel I need to spend just the final minutes trying to get us to a more uplifting conclusion. Incidentally, when Jude finishes up in this way, he’s not having remorse about his first sixteen verses. It’s not that his wife said to him, “You know, you might want to tone it down here before you finish this thing up”—although we do need our wives to say that to us with great frequency. I constantly ask her, “Am I getting that dreadful tone in my voice?” Because the tone of the whole thing, to end where we began, is that of consternation and not one of condemnation. Eric Alexander, who was here with us years ago and has now gone on to glory, talking along these lines, he says, “I tremble for any man who will go to bear the Word of God without being burdened by the prospect.” There’s a real challenge in that, isn’t there?
I don’t know if I brought my little book with me. I hope I did, because you get that in Baxter, in the seventeenth century, where Baxter says, you know, “I seldom come out of my pulpit without being struck by how easy it is for me to get this wrong.” Now, let me give you his exact quote:
I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smite[s] me that I have [not been] more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an un[whole]some word.
I’m encouraged by that.
But it asketh me, “How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Dost thou believe what thou sayest? Art thou in earnest, or in jest? … Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should[st] not thy tears interrupt thy words? …” Truly, this is the peal that conscience doth ring in my ears …. O Lord, … do that on our own souls which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others.
There’s great danger of familiarity with the material, even familiarity with the text. You know, in Hamlet, which I quoted earlier, when they come on the gravedigger scene—and, you remember, it’s a sort of humorous interlude that Shakespeare puts into the play, because most of us are already falling asleep, and we need something to keep us, and so he says, “Let’s put a funny bit in.” And so the gravediggers are coming. They’re singing, and they’re whistling. And Hamlet says to Horatio, “Has this fellow no feeling of his business, that he sings at grave making?” (“Has he no feeling of what he’s actually doing?”) And Horatio says, “Custom”—or routine—“has made it in him a property of easiness.” He’s done it so many times. He’s preached the thing so often that it’s almost like water coming off a duck’s back—people beginning to feel that somehow or another, their teacher, their pastor, their leader has either adopted a position to himself that is beyond and out and gone, or he’s actually just stopped reading his Bible, stopped keeping himself.
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible actually tells us that we can save ourselves? Don’t look at me like that! If you don’t know your Bible, you won’t know that. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save … yourself.” (“Oh, goodness! The thing’s gone south in the final talk.”) “Persist in this, for by so doing, not only you will save yourself; you’ll save your congregation.”
Now, of course, we set it the context, don’t we? It’s the very same thing that he’s saying here: “You’d better remember this, loved ones.” “I intend always to remind you of these [things]”—2 Peter. And he goes back through it: “We would expect these things that I’ve just written to you about—the people that cause divisions. They’re worldly people. They’re devoid of the Spirit. But you—but you, beloved,” agapetoi, “beloved”—the “beloved” that he began with: “You are beloved in God.” “God loves you, and I love you too,” he says. “And the reason that I love you and you’ll know that I love you is because I was prepared to do something that I wasn’t really wanting to do. I wanted to do something vastly different. It would be far easier for me just to talk in generic terms about salvation, but I felt I must urge you to earnestly contend for the faith. Now, remember, beloved. Remember. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” How do you keep yourself in the love of God? Well, it says in 24 that God keeps us. But verse 24 and 25 don’t exist in a vacuum. God doesn’t keep us apart from the keeping of ourselves. It’s the old farmer’s prayer in Scotland: “O Lord, keep me kept.” We have a part in this. How do you keep yourself in the love of God? We have to learn to constantly hate the sin—constantly hate the sin, not fiddle with it, play with it.
We need to remind ourselves the vital importance of the company of people in whose company it becomes easier to love God, to love the praise of God, and to love telling others about God. The people that we hang with are crucial to us—the influences on our lives, the people we listen to on the podcasts, whatever it might be. Choose your company well. My dad, he would always tell me as a child, he’d said, “Son, if you go with the crows, you’re sure to be shot.” There’s not a question about it. There are people in whose company it’s easy to be good. There are people in whose company it’s easy to be bad. Relationships are seldom neutral. They’re seldom neutral. We’re either tending up and on, or we’re tending down and back.
And you keep yourself in the love of God. Beware of isolation. Beware of isolation. I guarantee you, if we go through the existence of those who have declined from the faith in a dramatic way that we all know about, part of that puzzle was, number one, pride, and number two, the isolation that accompanied it. Beware of isolation. Beware of isolation.
It’s true in relationships in general. You know, Johnny Cash:
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine;
I keep my eyes wide open all the time;
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.
Well, there’s a sense that that’s it with Jesus. Jesus says, “I love you. I died for you. I gave you my Spirit to fill you. Keep yourself. Keep yourself. Keep a close watch on your heart, your friendships, dealing with sin, attending to the means of grace, increasing in our loves for one another.”
And when our hearts are filled in that way, then we will be better enabled to share the mercy that we know has been poured out lavishly upon us. You think about Paul: when he gives his testimony, he says, “But to me there was shown mercy.” “To me there was shown mercy.” “I,” he says, “the chief of sinners, was shown mercy.” He speaks very clearly, doesn’t he, in his letters? Wonderfully, as we saw last evening.
“[Now],” he says, “[you should] have mercy on those who doubt.” “Have mercy on those who doubt.” In other words, our church family ought to be a place where people actually have the freedom to say, “I don’t understand this,” or where we’ve got the freedom to say, “You know, I found myself on Tuesday afternoon—I don’t know where it came from, but I was doubting that I was even a Christian. I didn’t even know if I believed the Bible by the time I got up on Monday morning.” Say, “Don’t say that in here! This is the company of the redeemed. This is the company of the understanding people, you know. You should go some other place and tell that story if you have that story.” It’s very easy to create a climate like that, isn’t it? “No,” he says. “You keep yourself, and have mercy on those who doubt, and snatch others out of the fire.” “Out of the fire.” Wow!
Thomas Manton: “When a fire is [located] in a City, we do not say …, yonder is a great fire, I pray God it do no harm.’” Of course you don’t! And he says, “In times of publique defection, we are not to read tame Lectures of contemplative Divinity.” “Let me read you a tame lecture.” What happened to people? Theologically vague talks, harmlessly accommodating talks—dismissed, and justifiably so.
Well, it’s time to stop, so stop we shall, but in this way: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” Good. Well, that’s encouraging. “And to present you blameless.” That’s fantastic! “Before the presence of his glory.” We saw that: suffering, glory. We’ve had that. It’s been fantastic, hasn’t it? And this is going to be “with great joy.” “With great joy.” “Glory, majesty, dominion, … authority, before all time … now and forever” and ever—the story of grace enabling us to rejoice in hope, to bow in worship.
I’ll finish this with an illustration that came to mind. But perhaps, borrowing from Paul—and let’s allow Paul to be our summary of all of these ramblings—you know, in Philippians 1, where he says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”—“your manner of life,” the tenor of your life, the conduct of your life, the tone of your life, “be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or [I] am absent, I may hear of you that you[’re] standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” So when it gets to next Sunday and all of us have our responsibilities to which we return, to the extent that we can, as it were, conjure up this picture again and say, “We’re all going to the task,” we’re saying to one another, “Courage, brothers. Do not stumble. Come on. Some will love thee. Some will hate thee. Some will praise thee. Some will slight. Cease from man, and look above thee. Trust in God, and do what’s right.”
Now, I gave Booth a word, and I gave Spurgeon a word. And they were both British, and I know some of you Americans get really annoyed that I was going to leave out the American in the trio. But I’m not.
Moody conducted a campaign during the World’s Fair in Chicago, which was in 1893. I remember it well. (Incidentally, there’s a fantastic book by Erik Larson—that’s Erik with a k, and Larson, L-a-r-s-o-n—called The Devil in the White City. All of Larson’s five books are worth reading.) Anyway, so, in that event—which, of course, remember, within a short order, there was a disease that swept through it, there was a huge fire that raged, and so on—but Moody was right at the heart of it, and he was preaching away. And as he preached every day, he came back in the evening to the company that were his support team. And it was customary for them to read a passage of Scripture and sing a hymn together. And they sang the hymn on this particular evening, “I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord.” One of the team that was with Moody was an English guy called Henry Farley. He himself was one of the sort of supplemental evangelists. And as the hymn ended, he just said to the group, he said, “You know, I actually need him every moment, not just every hour.” And they all separated and went to their bed.
Well, one of the other people that was there was a fellow called Daniel Webster Whittle, who had been involved in the Civil War. And that thought he couldn’t get out of his mind. And he went up to his bedroom, and he thought, “You know, that is an interesting thing—the idea that we need him. Sixty seconds a minute, the future comes in. We do need him.” And that’s when he sat down and wrote,
Moment by moment I’m kept in his love;
Moment by moment [with power] from above
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.
Never a trial that he is not there,
Never a burden that he [cannot] bear,
Never a sorrow that he [doesn’t] share;
Moment by moment, I’m under his care.
Father, thank you for the immense promise that you will keep us to the end. Despite all of our silly thinking, our foolish wanderings, our self-assertiveness, whatever it might be, thank you that the comprehensive work of your grace in the wonder of salvation is beyond our ability to ever fathom. Sometimes it’s best if we just sing it. So, Lord, make our songs be songs that affirm again for us the need to learn from history, the need to take a stand, and the need to keep ourselves as we are kept by you in your amazing grace and goodness. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 See Psalm 134:1.
 Jude 3 (ESV).
 Attributed to William Booth in, for instance, Record of Christian Work 22, no. 3 (1903), 145. Paraphrased.
 Quoted in Russell H. Conwell, Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The World’s Great Preacher (Philadelphia: A. T. Hubbard, 1892), 474, 473.
 Jude 12–13 (ESV).
 Jude 10 (ESV).
 Jude 16 (ESV).
 “The Consecration of Bishops,” in the Book of Common Prayer, https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/ordaining-and-consecrating-1.
 Jude 4 (ESV).
 Numbers 14:22–23 (ESV).
 “Twelve Men Went to Spy Out Canaan.” Lyrics lightly altered.
 1 Corinthians 10:1–5 (ESV).
 Hebrews 3:12 (ESV).
 Jude 21 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 6:1–2 (ESV).
 See Genesis 18:1–5.
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 216.
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.5.
 See Genesis 13:10.
 See Acts 17:28.
 Acts 17:31 (paraphrased).
 See Acts 17:32–34.
 Genesis 13:13 (ESV).
 Genesis 19:1–4 (ESV).
 Genesis 19:5 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 10:39 (ESV).
 Martin Luther, quoted in The God Who Is There, in The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 11.
 See 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12.
 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 3:13–15 (ESV).
 Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor; or, The Duty of Personal Labors for the Souls of Men (New York: American Tract Society, 1829), 288.
 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.1.
 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV).
 1 Timothy 4:16 (paraphrased).
 Jude 17 (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 1:12 (ESV).
 Jude 18–20 (paraphrased).
 Jude 1 (paraphrased).
 Jude 3, 20–21 (paraphrased).
 Jude 21 (ESV).
 Johnny Cash, “I Walk the Line” (1956).
 1 Timothy 1:15–16 (paraphrased).
 Jude 22 (ESV).
 Thomas Manton, A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition with Notes on the Epistle of Jude (London, 1658), 458.
 Jude 24–25 (ESV).
 Philippians 1:27–28 (ESV).
 Normal MacLeod, “Courage, Brother! Do Not Stumble” (1857). Paraphrased.
 Robert Lowry and Annie S. Hawks, “I Need Thee Every Hour” (1871).
 Daniel Webster Whittle, “Moment by Moment” (1893).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.