May 15, 2013
When the truth of the Gospel is threatened by those who have crept into the church, contending for the faith is essential. As Alistair Begg reminds us, though, contending for truth is only one part of the pastor’s charge to care for his congregation. As we contend for the faith, we must also keep watch over ourselves and show mercy to one another, understanding that God’s power preserves His people moment by moment.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn again to Jude, and let me read a few verses from there, from verse 17:
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
I gathered my remarks in our first study on Monday under the phrase that is found in verse 3, “I found it necessary…” I didn’t say to you at the time that that was my heading, and I’m not sure that it mattered very much even now, but nevertheless, that’s what appeared in my notes. I had written down simply “Jude 1–7” and under the heading “I Found It Necessary.”
And we noted then that the presence and the influence of these “certain people” to whom he refers in verse 4 had been the compelling reason for Jude’s decision to write this letter as he did. And he is calling his readers to move off from any temptation they have to stand on the sidelines, and to enter into the fray, and to fight with every fiber of their being. The terminology that he uses there about contending for the faith is kind of “hyper” terminology. He is asking that these folks will be prepared, no matter what they are like by nature—and many of them would have been peaceable by nature. Some of them would have been naturally timid and fearful and would want to shrink from things. And so he has said to them, “I want you to step up and engage.”
The people that are opposing them have mixed an ugly and a harmful potion—a potion that is a combination of moral and doctrinal error. And Jude recognizes that it is imperative that those to whom he writes will not drink any of this dreadful lemonade, lest they themselves become caught up in the error that is before them. And in terminology that is akin to what we find in 2 Peter—and if you’ve studied Jude at all, you will know that there all constant links between these two letters—so, in terminology that is familiar, as we find it in 2 Peter, he is not telling these folks to whom he writes things that they have never known so much as he is reminding them of things that they must never forget. And you know, that’s good for us just to note that, because that is largely the role of the pastor. It is a dreadful tyranny to feel that somehow or another we have to always be innovative, creative, coming up with new ways of doing things, and so on, when in actual fact, what our people really need from us is for us to reiterate for them the basics of the Christian faith.
And so, for example, Peter says that it is very, very important that these folks to whom he writes should be stirred up by way of reminder: “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder.” In other words, “As long as I am alive,” he says, “you can expect me to be saying the same things over and over again.” And he comes back to it in the third chapter of 2 Peter: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them”—and here we go again—“I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.” And that is exactly what Jude is doing here. Verse 5: “I want to remind you, even though you once fully knew it.” The same thing that Peter is doing. “I want to remind you of this; even though you know it, you’re convinced of it, nevertheless, it is important.” And that is something that we dare not miss.
And the language that Jude uses is representative of the gravity of the problem that he’s confronting. There’s no one would accuse him of painting in muted tones of gray or beige. Contemporary interior designers, if you read the Wall Street on a Saturday or on a Friday—I can’t remember which day it is—but they always have the mansions in there. I like to look at them. And often they will have a piece on interior design. And I’ve noted how much it is fairly trendy for people to make their houses look gray and make them look beige. It doesn’t seem very attractive to me.
Well, there’s nothing beige or gray about this. He’s providing for us in these twenty-five verses a canvas that is filled up with vivid colors and with unmistakable images. Was it Van Gogh who did his self-portraits in those primary colors of red and royal blue and everything, and thereby leaving to us a vivid picture of what this character must have looked like? Well, the gravity of the circumstances that are before Jude are such that he would do a disservice to his readers if he were to take on the challenge with muted colors.
No, he realizes that the readers need to be able to recognize “these people”—“certain people,” verse 4. And he has “these people” in his sights all the way through. You will notice that he comes back to them again in verse 8: “In like manner these people…” Again, in verse 10: “these people.” Again, in verse 12, “these”—inference being, “these people.” Again, in verse 14, “It was also about these” people. Verse 16: “These [people] are…” Verse 19: “It is these [people] who cause divisions.”
So, he’s not writing some sort of generic piece. And in relationship to the question that was posed earlier, he has chosen, for whatever reason, not to give them names. In certain cases, he’s identified them as being along the line of Cain or along the line of Korah, but he’s not actually telling us who they are, the immediate context to which he writes. Clearly, they are there. Clearly, they existed. Clearly, they would have had names and identities. But he is describing them simply in this way. And I think very purposefully, because it allows us, as I said on Monday, to recognize that the characteristics of these people, these kind of people who are marked by these things, are not unique to the first century, but they’re alive and well throughout the history of the church.
You don’t need me to reread again all those sections. You’ve got it in front of you; you can allow your eyes to scan it and see the way in which they are identified. These folks have managed, you will notice from verse 4, to have crept in undetected. They have been able to creep in undetected. That is remarkable in itself, isn’t it? That people who could be identified by these very graphic images must have had a remarkable disguise, must have been using all the right language, must have been using the terminology that would have made people feel, “No, they’re kosher. No, they are definitely part and parcel of our group.” Either they had a tremendous disguise or the people amongst whom they went were peculiarly clueless—or actually, a combination of the two. For clueless Christians in every generation will always be easy prey for clever charlatans. Clueless Christians, easy prey for clever charlatans.
Now, let me pause for just a moment and say something homiletically about the way we’re approaching this. Because some of you have been frowning, I think, at my approach to Jude from Monday, and others of you have been smiling at the “creative” approach that I’ve taken. Wherever you find yourself on the continuum, you will have noticed that I sought on Monday to address essentially the opening, and now I’m coming back to the close. I’m taking a leaf from many who are far greater than me, whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. For example, Eric Alexander at St George’s Tron in Glasgow many years ago began a series on the book of Romans. He preached all the way from Romans 1 to the end of Romans 8, went on vacation for a month, and came back and picked it up at Romans 12. I personally thought that was a stroke of genius, and I’ve made a mental note of it, and I’m applying it here.
I’m not at all deterred by my brother Thabiti’s concern regarding me passing the third point on to you for homework. In fact, I hope you’ve done a little of your homework, because I want you to learn from this as preachers as well, if I may say a word to you. You can learn from this. Because there is a difference in the way that one would expound the twenty-five verses of Jude if one were beginning a series on a particular Lord’s Day and having an opportunity of the subsequent weeks of Sundays and Sundays—perhaps months, depending on how much patience our congregation may have. But there’s an entirely different way that we would approach it, given that opportunity, than in coming to it in a context like this, where you only have two chances to say something. And if we were to approach Monday and Wednesday in the way that we would have approached a series of consecutive expositions, then actually, we would have fallen in upon ourselves.
So what I’m suggesting to you is that it is the principle of planned neglect. The principle of planned neglect. I have done this study, but I planned to neglect the central section of it, because I want us to get the message of the letter. I want us to ask, “What is this letter?” Read the twenty-five verses and say, “Okay, what is he saying?” And we can then say, “How has he decided to convey that? And can I stand back from it, read it, and get it?” And the answer is, of course, yes, you can.
Would it be possible for us to delve into the vegetation that is there between essentially verse 5 and verse 16 into the series of Old Testament allusions and extrabiblical references? Yes, perfectly fine. And I would warn you against it, unless you’re particularly good. And even if you are, I would still warn you. Because it is possible for us to go in there, as it were, with a large machete, hacking our way through the vegetation, trying to get to verse 17 and thinking that we’re bringing our people along with us, when in actual fact, they have not been with us for a considerable amount of time. We’re hacking our way through on our own. And they are absolutely failing to see any kind of straight path through the material.
Now, you’ll remember that Spurgeon had a lot to say about this to his students. I mean, he said to them, “It’s better for you to drive in one tenpenny nail then a bunch of pin tacks that will fall out within the hour.” What is he saying there? He’s saying that you must be able to get the melody line through the passage. You need to understand what is being said. You need to understand the intention of the author. And if you don’t understand it, there’s no way in the world that your listeners will understand it.
And so, I want us to understand. What is he saying? “Brothers, I was going to write to you about salvation, but we got a big problem. Here’s the big problem: you’re gonna have to contend for the faith. If you want to know how significant the problem it is, read a little bit of history. I’ve written it for you here; you should consider it. And remember this: that in light of that, here are the things that follow.”
Spurgeon, you remember, classically said,
I have a very lively, or rather a deadly, recollection of a certain series of discourses on the Hebrews, which made a deep impression on my mind of the most undesirable kind. I wished frequently that the Hebrews had kept the epistle to themselves, for it sadly bored one poor Gentile lad. By the time the seventh or eighth discourse had been delivered, only the very good people could stand it; these, of course, declared that they never heard more valuable expositions; but to those of a more carnal judgment it appeared that each sermon increased in dullness.
Grace alone could enable hearers to edify under the drum—drum—drum of some divines. I think an impartial jury would bring in a verdict of justifiable slumbering in many cases.
It’s a great phrase, isn’t it? Justifiable verdict: I hear “a verdict of justifiable slumbering … where the sound emanating from the preacher lulls to sleep by its reiterated note.”
Yeah, I could impress you with how much I know about the story of Cain and of Korah and everything else. I could just as quickly depress you, as well, with it. And you would go out of here saying, “Well, that was fascinating, all that stuff that he ferreted around in there and found.” But it would have been a lot quicker if you just went back and read the same books that I have read, wouldn’t it, since you have them on your shelves? So I’m doing you a big favor. Do you get it? You understand?
So, what is he saying? Number one, you’ve got to contend for the faith; that’s verses 1–4. Verses 5–16: learn from the past. Because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, “These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” That’s 1 Corinthians 10, speaking about those who faltered and stumbled. So in other words, in order that we might make sense of what we face in the present, we have to pay attention to what has gone on in the past.
So, take a leaf out of my old art teacher at the grammar school in Ilkley. His wife taught me English; he taught me art. She had an easier task than he did. I was absolutely, brutally hopeless at art. He would assign homework where you had to draw a chair. There’s no way in the world that I could draw a chair. Nothing looked remotely like a chair. No one would have guessed it was a chair. And I always used to say to him, “Will you please help me with this?” And somewhat reluctantly, he would sit down beside me, and he would take the pencil, and he would look at me, and he’d say, “Begg, I’ll get you started, but I’m not going to do this for you.” “I’ll get you started, but I’m not gonna do this for you.”
That’s an important principle, isn’t it? If you’re gonna teach, it’s an important principle. If you teach your children, you can’t intervene and finish everything for them. If you finish everything for them, then they’ll never know what they’re doing. And part of our responsibility in teaching the Bible is not simply to disburse information, but it’s to help our congregation learn how to cook—not simply to cook sermons and deliver them and impress people with the way in which we’ve been able to set them up but in order to let them know that if they come to this Bible, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, they will be able to create wonderful menus themselves and delectable dishes for themselves. And one of the encouragements that we can give to them is just that—by acknowledging that we don’t know everything, either! And that there are parts of it that are just hard to stomach.
So, we’ve got these final verses. What are we going to do with them? Well, let me summarize them under four headings.
First of all, out of verse 17: “You must remember.” “You must remember.” And you’ll notice again the tenderness of his tone: agapetoi, “beloved.” “Beloved.” Again, as we mentioned in the Q and A session, the notion of loving those whom we teach is imperative. Says Jenkyn, “The work and labour of a minister should proceed from love to his people. … Love should be the fountain of ministerial performances.” “You must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You remember Jesus sent out his apostles as sheep among wolves. He promised to them that when the Spirit came, they would be led into all truth. They in turn have spoken and written the authoritative Word of God to us, and Jude, with a measure of humility, says, “I think it is best if you just check what the apostles have said.”
Now, we don’t need to belabor that. We can go, for example, to Paul in the Pastorals. First Timothy 4: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits.” When he writes in his second letter, as Thabiti showed us yesterday: “Understand this: there will be those who come creeping into households and taking captives.” When he took his leave of the Ephesian elders, remember—Luke records it in Acts chapter 20—he gives the same warning. Jude is saying, “If you pay attention to what the apostles have told you, I need to remind you that they warned about these things.” And Paul says, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you.” Well, that’s bad enough, isn’t it? That there will be the encroachment from outside. But he takes it a step further when he says, “And from among your own selves…” “And from among your own selves will arise [many] speaking twisted things.” So it is phenomenal naivety on the part of Christian leadership to think that some kind of theologically vague and harmlessly accommodating theology will be sufficient to guard and keep our people in light of the attacks which come not only from outside but which may well arise from within.
I mentioned to you Jenkyn on Jude, and it is a very helpful book. It’s a big book. It’s got hundreds of pages, and it’s got… You know, it’s dense. And his points are dense as well. But I thought I’d give you just a flavor of it, in case you’d like to get a copy of it. On this heading, he says this:
Great should be the care of the ministers of Christ to warn the church of approaching evils, especially of seducers. The apostles of Christ foretold the coming of these seducers among the Christians: Paul “warned every one night and day with tears,” [that’s Acts 20 again]. They are watchmen, and it is their duty to give warning of every enemy. They should be unfaithful to your souls, if they should be friends to your adversaries. Their loving and faithful freeness herein creates them many enemies; but they can much more easily endure the wrath of man here for discharging, than the wrath of God hereafter for neglecting their duty. It is better that the lusts of seducers should curse them awhile, than the souls of their people to all eternity. Ministers must defend as well as feed their flock, and keep away poison as well as give them meat; drive away the wolf as well as provide pasture. Cursed be that patience which can see the wolf, and yet say nothing. If the heresies of seducers be damnable, the silence of ministers must needs be so too.
“You must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, [who follow] their own ungodly passions.’ … [They] cause divisions.”
The work of the pastor is to edify the saints, as we know from Ephesians 4, to equip so that they might do works of ministry, “so that the body of Christ [might] be built up until we all reach [the] unity in the faith,” right? So this unity in the faith is the objective that God has for us in pouring out his gifts upon us as pastors and teachers and giving us the privilege of leading and feeding and watching and warning those who are under our care. And so, it ought to be obvious to us, when people are the cause of division, that they do not tie in with the purposes of God for his church.
And these dangerous characters are described in verse 19 as those who “cause divisions.” Back in verse 12, you have the picture of “hidden reefs”: “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts.” The picture of stones in a lake that lie just below the surface, just far enough below the surface to be undetected, and yet capable of wreaking absolute havoc if any vessel runs into them. He says, “These people are just like that. They show up at the feasts. They’re present. They’re apparently correct. But as they feast with you, they do so without fear. They are,” he says, “like waterless clouds. They are like fruitless trees. They are,” he says in verse 19, categorically “devoid of the Spirit.”
“And the reason we know this,” he says, “is because sensuality, which is the product of their teaching, and sanctity…” Sensuality and sanctity do not share the same pillow. Sensuality and sanctity are not bedfellows. So anybody who then wants to turn the grace of God into some kind of antinomian opportunity to do what I want, when I want, with anyone I want, and just retreat constantly to 1 John 1:8–9, as if it were a mantra, is a dangerous individual.
So, “You must remember.”
Second heading: “Keep yourselves,” verse 21. “Keep yourselves.” Now, let’s not step back from this. He’s saying exactly what he’s saying. And once again, he’s saying things in a tone that is similar to Peter himself. Remember 2 Peter 1? “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” That sounds as if I have to do something. That’s exactly right! “Brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” That sounds like I have to do something. That sounds like I’m not allowed just to walk around going, “You know, I’m elect; therefore, I can do what I like.” That’s not apostolic teaching. No! You’d better make sure you are. You certainly got a big mouth and a big book and a big store of Reformed theology, but what about your life? Verse 14 of 2 Peter 3: “Beloved, since you[’re] waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” The patience of God with us when we sin should not be regarded as permission by God to sin. He is patient with us when we sin. He does not grant us permission to sin.
And the diligence that is described here in Peter is reiterated here in Jude. And that’s why, by means of this history lesson, he has warned in order that now he might exhort. There is a positive activity that is required of believers who hope to stand firm to the end. I can’t say that strongly enough. There is a positive activity that is required of the believer if they’re gonna stand firm to the end. That’s why he says what he says: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
“Oh,” you say, “yeah, but wait a minute. You’re jumping… What about what he says in the doxology at the end?” What he says in the doxology at the end is fundamental. Of course, I understand that. But we’re not there yet. We’re here right now. So don’t jump forward to “It doesn’t matter; he keeps me.” He doesn’t. He keeps you because you keep yourself. And your keeping of yourself is an evidence that he is a keeping God.
So when we wander, when we sin, when we backslide, when we use the grace of God as an excuse for our lasciviousness, for granting us freedom to go on websites which are displeasing to God, which we would be embarrassed for anybody ever to know, and we use that in terms of the fact, “Oh, just as well that I’m who I am,” you know. No, every time you go there, you’re calling in question whether you are who you are. “Keep yourself.” “Keep yourself in the love of God.”
Jenkyn says—and ’cause he’s got about twenty-seven points on everything, but I’ll just give you these, because I think they’re very helpful. And you know, when you go to a phrase like “Keep yourself in the love of God,” and you go, “Well, how do you keep yourself in the love of God? What would be involved in that?” If you go to the Puritans, they’ll always help us. They’ll always have about seventeen ways that you can do it. You’ve sat with your Bible and your notes, and you can’t think of one. And so you say, “Well, I can’t just say, ‘Well, keep yourself in the love of God,’ and then say, ‘Keep yourself in the love of God,’ and ‘Why don’t you keep yourself in the love of God?’” You know, the people are going, “Okay, that’s good, thank you. I’ve coulda read that myself. In fact, I did read it myself.” No. Here’s Jenkyn. This is what he says. And this is just a selection.
To keep ourselves in the love of God, to preserve ourselves in the love of God, we must, number one, keep “ourselves in a constant hatred of all sin.” “In a constant hatred of all sin.” He says, “As love to sin grows, love [for] God … decay[s].” When I start to love sin, play with sin, toy with sin, encourage it, allow myself to be titillated by it, then my love for God inevitably decays. And he uses the picture of the buckets in the well. I haven’t seen these in a long time, but you know, as the one is filled up, then it is at one place, and then it goes like this. He says if we fill ourselves up with sin, then the bucket of our love for God is inevitably emptied. When we’re filled with our love for God then the bucket of sin is tipped out. Keeping yourself in a constant hatred of sin.
Secondly, “keeping ourselves in the delight of God’s friends.” Bad company corrupts good morals. If you go with the crows, you’re sure to be shot. You go to Christian conferences, and there’re all kinds of little groups there. And there are some that are… You shouldn’t really go and spend any time with them, I honestly don’t think. I go to my bedroom many times. I can’t trust myself in their company. You say, “That’s a strange thing to say about a Christian conference.” Well, I’m telling you. There are people in whose company it’s easy to be good. There are people in whose company it’s easy to be bad. And relationships are seldom neutral. And if I want to really love God, then I need to cultivate friendships with those who love God, because they will help me to love God. And when my love for God grows cold, I may be warmed up by their obvious affection. So to keep myself in the love of God means that I need to keep myself in the presence of those who love God, and those who love God will hate sin, ’cause the bucket’ll be emptied, and that will be of encouragement to me.
Thirdly, he says, keep yourself “in [the] delight of the ordinances” of God. Keep yourself “in the delight of the ordinances” of God.” This is where many of us in the Free Churches just fall flat on our faces. Our communion services are almost trivial in the way we approach them. It’s not my point to get off on the sacraments right now, but it is clear that if Jesus laid it down as a command and as a necessity and as a point of meeting with us in a peculiar way, then it would be impossible for me to keep myself in the love of God when disengaging myself from the ordinances that he has given to me in order that I might know his love and love him too. “If a man loves me, he will keep my commandments, and I too will love him, and I will show myself to him.” And he shows himself to us in the celebration of communion. “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen.” And some of us, in our obvious endeavors to make sure that we are lining up directly behind Zwingli, have managed to do so to such a degree that the ordinance means very little to us at all.
The fourth thing—and this is, again, a selection of many—he says we need also to keep increasing in our love of the brethren. And I think that came out in our Q and A, didn’t it?
So, “Keep yourself.” “You must remember,” and “Keep yourself.” The surrounding verses, I think, are crucial in this regard too. Because if you are looking at it, you say, “Well, you just jumped into ‘Keep yourself.’ What about ‘building’ and ‘praying’ and so on?” Well, just look at the verbs. “But you, beloved”—agapetoi, again, “you guys that I love”—“make sure you’re building yourselves up.” “Oh, I gotta build myself up? I thought I just sat in a chair, and he built me up. I thought the key to it all was doing nothing. I just sit in a chair, and he builds me up.” Have you tried that as an exercise program, physically? How does it work? Everything atrophies, doesn’t it? It all atrophies. You just sit there.
That’s why the Bible has so much to say about diligence. “Don’t be weary in doing good.” “Be zealous for good deeds.” And here: “Build yourself up.” Notice, it is a constant activity; it’s a present participle that he uses here in the original: “building yourselves up.” In other words, it is a constant activity, it’s an ongoing activity. You don’t go, “Okay, I built myself up; now I can stop that.” You give a testimony: “I was about eighty-two when I built myself up, and the last few years I’ve just been riding along.” No. It’ll last to the end of our lives.
It is constant, and it is corporate. It is corporate. The building up of ourselves does not happen by ourselves. We come to Christ individually; we do not live in him solitarily. You remember, again, Peter; he says, “Like living stones, [you] are being built [up] into a spiritual house.” So how do I keep myself in the love of God? Well, as I’m being built up, as I’m building myself up—constantly, corporately, crucially.
And that building up does not happen absent “praying in the Holy Spirit.” “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” Here’s a beezer of a phrase for a home Bible study group, isn’t it? Especially if you got some of your charismatic friends in there. You’ll go south within about a minute and a half, and you’ll have to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom and then slip out the back door and never come back. Because the people will try and take you off here like a crazy person. If in doubt, just quote Calvin and keep moving. This is what Calvin says: “Such is the coldness of our make-up, that none can succeed in praying as he ought without the prompting of the Spirit of God.” All right? You read some of the commentaries, they say, “This praying in the Spirit is of course glossolalia; it’s praying in tongues.” The only way you can get to that in Jude is you’ve already decided that’s what it is before you get here. But if you hadn’t decided what it was before you got here, when you got here, you can never really get there. And I say that with the greatest respect to my brothers.
So if we’re gonna keep ourselves in the love of God, we will be “praying in the Holy Spirit.” Praying for those who have recently become Christians, that they will be quickly rooted and grounded in the faith. Praying for those who are our teachers, that they will be kept from error. Praying for those who have drifted into error, that they will be restored to the faith, or perhaps that they will be converted. Keeping yourselves in the love of God as you’re building, as you’re praying, and then, in the second part of verse 21, as you’re “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
Somebody gave me a lovely CD last night. I’ve been playing it in my car as I went home and then again as I came this morning. And it’s three young ladies singing a cappella and introducing me to some songs that I’ve known for a long time but hadn’t heard in a while. And I was singing along as I came this morning,
There is a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For our Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We will meet on that beautiful shore.
As we keep ourselves in the love of God. As we build ourselves up. As we pray in the Holy Spirit. As we wait for his mercy.
Because we live in the experience of the now, with the prospect of the not yet. And so the Christian is described as a groaner—not a moaner, but a groaner—and classically in Romans 8: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.” Why would we be groaning inwardly? Because we’re eagerly awaiting—we’re eagerly awaiting—“for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Now we have a new status in Christ. Now we have a new nature. Now we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. But we recognize that there is more that yet awaits us. And you will notice that if it is grace that groans, then the desire of fairness, to pick up from Kevin last night—if we’re wearing his glasses last night, the grace ones, then we say, “We’re groaning in anticipation of the completion of the purposes of God in his mercy.” But you will notice that grace groans and fairness moans. Verse 16 here in Jude: “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires.” That’s what we are by nature: just grumblers and moaners and malcontents. And it is only the enabling power of God that fixes us. And we need fixed, again and again and again. I do! I don’t know about you.
So, “You must remember.” “Keep yourselves.” Thirdly, “To others show mercy.” Verse 23: “To others show mercy.” Now, I’m using that phrase—I’ll try and massage it into position here—but I’m using it as my third heading, and purposefully so. The winsomeness, the tenderness, of Jude, which we tried to consider as we began on Monday, extends beyond the ranks of those who are doing well. He’s concerned for his beloved; he mentions them again and again. But he also wants to make sure that his readers, whom he’s asked very strongly to make sure that they are contending for the faith, will also be those who are showing mercy. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it?
“You want me to stand up and fight with all my might?”
“And you want me to be merciful and show mercy?”
“Okay, I’m gonna try that. Okay, I’ll give that a go. Do you mean what Paul meant at the beginning of Galatians 6? ‘Restore him who has fallen in a spirit of gentleness’?”
“Or what Paul says to Timothy: ‘correcting his opponents with gentleness.’”
“Yes. You’re on track with that.”
Now, don’t go wrong here. It’s very easy to go wrong here—especially some of us of a particular personality type. What we want to say is, “You know, Jude started off real strong. He’s very ‘Contend, contend, contend!’ But as he went through his letter, he started to change his tune. And by the time he was wrapping it up, he really thought, ‘Nah, just be nice to everybody; it doesn’t really matter.’” Nah, that’s not what he’s saying. He has described these people as ungodly; he’s described them in such a way, and having so forcibly spoken concerning them, we ought not to think that he has now, in a fit of remorse, changed his tune, and he’s now winking at the very sins and errors he has just described and condemned. That would be absolutely ridiculous, wouldn’t it? No, rather, what he’s urging these folks to do is that since they are so convinced, then they need to help those who doubt: “You’re really convinced, so help the doubters. You’re on a solid footing; well, intervene in the lives of those who are playing with fire. God has saved you and kept you and been good to you. Well, go and pull some people out of the pit, but make sure you don’t fall in the pit yourself.” See?
So look at the phraseology: “Have mercy on those who doubt.” “On those who doubt.” That’s straightforward, isn’t it? Some of our churches are so strong on contending—and we’ve tried to put that in its place—that we’ve created an environment in which it is well-nigh impossible for anybody to doubt. I mean, if anybody asks a question that is a slight, you know, deviation or shows any vulnerability at all, then we’re gonna contend, and contend as strongly as we can. So it doesn’t create a climate in which they can really ask their questions, they can really say, “How does that work ?” and they can really say, “Well, I don’t really understand that,” or “Could you help me with that?” They’re not challenging the faith; they’re just not there. And so we need to be merciful to those who doubt. We need to help people to doubt their doubts. And you can’t do that by just saying, “Hey, read a book!”
And the people who’ve helped us are the people who’ve been honest enough themselves, aren’t they? I mean, I’m getting old now and repeating myself horribly. I used an illustration on Sunday; my daughter told me, said, “If you use that illustration one more time, Dad, I’m never coming back to the church.” And I thanked her for her encouragement, but…
I mean, when I went off to study, and they told me I had a Greek exam that you had to do—you had to know thirty-two chapters of J. W. Wenham’s [Elements of New Testament Greek]—I thought, “That’s just… They’re just trying to rattle our cage. They’re just trying to get us to buy books. You don’t have to do that. I’m not gonna do that. I’m going there to learn that! I’m not gonna learn it before I go.” And then I got there, and the very first thing it said on the board was, “There is a New Testament Greek exam that will be at two thirty in Room C.” And I realized, “This is not going to be good.” You know, I can’t even write my name in Greek. I can’t do anything. So, “Name,” wrote my name in. Then I just sat there.
And then a hand went up, and I said, “Oh-ho, wait a minute.” And a voice said—a very polite girl’s voice—said, “Mr. Jackson? I’m sorry, I can’t do any of this.” I said, “This is my new best friend. I love this girl.” And he said, “Just sign your name and leave.” I said, “This is magnificent.” And then another fellow with a South African accent, with a Rhodesian accent, said, “Mr. Jackson, I can’t do it either.” He said, “Sign your name and leave.” So I said, “Hey, sign my name and leave. This is beautiful.” And the questions and the uncertainties and the doubts we all gathered together in our bottom group of New Testament Greek for the next year and exhorted and encouraged each other and bemoaned the fact that we had not paid attention to what we were told, that we had not kept ourselves in the love of Greek. But Mr. Jackson was very kind to us in our doubts and in our uncertainties.
“Be merciful to those who doubt. Snatch others from the fire.” Here’s more homework for you; we don’t have time to go to this. This is a picture from the book of Amos. You’ll find it in Amos 4. Says Thomas Manton, another of the boys, “When a fire is kindled in a city, we do not say …, Yonder is a great fire, I pray God it do no harm. In times of public defection we are not to read [these] lectures of contemplative divinity.”
Snatch them from the fire. Be merciful to those who doubt. And “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” That also is an Old Testament picture. You can do it for yourselves. It’s Zechariah chapter 3: a picture of cleansing and of forgiveness and of transformation. A picture that foreshadows the magnificent picture in Revelation 7: “Who are these,” the question is asked, “who are wearing these white robes?” They are those who have been cleansed and who have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Genuine repentance means a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of direction, a change of life, a change of lifestyle. And from all of these things, the person who has been snatched and been saved, has been brought out of a life, brought out of a lifestyle—the gospel has saved them from it. And, says Green, “We must show no compromise. We cannot lower God’s standards in the hope that if the terms are easier, more people will repent. That is to love the clothing and to hate the sinners, because it denies the seriousness of their plight.”
“You must remember.” “Keep yourselves.” “To others show mercy.” And finally, “To God be the glory.” “To God be the glory.”
The doxology in verses 24 and 25 is familiar territory. We needn’t go through it. He basically goes full circle, doesn’t he? He began in verse 1, “To those who are called, who are loved, and who are kept.” And now he rounds it out: “To him who is able…” You might not feel able, but he is “able to keep you from stumbling.”
I lift my eyes to the hills—
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who makes heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved—
He who watches over us
Neither slumbers nor sleeps.
He is able to keep you from falling. Some of us can testify to that, can’t we? All of us can. “And to present you blameless.” Blameless. Faultless. How in the world could we ever stand faultless before him? Unless we stood in the righteousness of another. Unless someone was covered in shame so that we would be covered in glory. Unless someone was forsaken in order that we might be forgiven. Unless someone had the face of the Father turned from them in wrath in order that we might be able to look into that face and rejoice.
When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in him be found.
[Clothed] in his righteousness alone,
[And] faultless to stand before the throne.
We stand in grace. We rejoice in hope. We bow in worship. “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord … glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.” Pretty well covers it, doesn’t it? There’s nowhere you can go to escape from the overarching commitment of God to bring to completion the good work that he has begun in us. This is not high-sounding theology. This is actually intensely practical.
And again it struck me this morning, and with this I will close: most of my life I’ve been saved and helped and kept by good hymns. When I haven’t understood a passage, there’s usually been a hymn to help me. And as I was listening to this CD again this morning as I came here, I was reminded of another hymn. And I’ve known it all my life, as far back as I can remember. It is the hymn with the refrain “Moment by moment I’m kept in his love.” And so I just googled it. I said, “I wonder who wrote that hymn. I wonder if it was the person I thought it was.” It wasn’t the person I thought it was. And this is what I discovered.
The occasion was the World’s Fair in Chicago. Moody had been doing an evangelistic campaign. At the end of the evening, at the end of the day, they gathered together in the evangelists’ rooms, a group of them, in order to pray and to sing to God. Somebody gave out the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and they sang it together. And then one of the men who was there visiting from England, a fellow called Henry Varley, said, “You know, I’m not sure that hymn really does it.” Somebody said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, I don’t just need him every hour. I need him every moment of my life!”
And there was a man there called Major D. W. Whittle, whom I also googled, to discover that his name was Daniel Webster Whittle, that he served in the Northern forces in the Civil War, that he rose to the rank of major serving in the Civil War, and that he was a devout Christian. And so, having sung “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and Varley having said, “I need him every moment,” Old Major Whittle went up to his room. He was good with a turn of phrase, and he had written a number of hymns, one of which we sang yesterday:
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me he has made known,
Or why, unworthy as I am,
He sought me for his own.
That was Whittle. And he sat down, and he wrote,
Moment by moment I’m kept in his love;
And moment by moment with power from above;
And looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.
And here’s one verse from it which may be yours to take away, may be yours to just grab hold of. This may be it all. This may be the whole thing, the coalescing of every conversation around the table, every address, every song, everything all incapsulated in this, for you, as you drive home. I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t know what you face. But the God who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus keeps us moment by moment. And the major wrote,
Never a trial that he is not there,
Never a burden that he cannot bear,
And never a sorrow that He doesn’t share,
’Cause moment by moment, I’m under his care.
Well, let’s just pray:
Lord, we’d be telling lies to ourselves and to each other if we were to say that there are no trials that we have faced or anticipate, that there are no burdens that we have borne or bear or will, that we’ve in Christ been removed from the realm of sorrow and heartache. That would just be stupidity. And so it means everything to have Jude remind us: “You’re called. You’re loved. You’re kept. Look out. Learn. Be reminded. Watch yourself. Keep yourself. Build yourself. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Wait for his mercy. And when you put your head on the pillow and when you awaken to a new day, marvel that all of your sins have been dealt with at the cross, and that whether we anticipate joy or sorrow, grief or delight, that in Christ, the affairs of our souls are safe not only for time but for eternity too, before all time and now and forever.”
Thank you, gracious God, for such an immense salvation. Help us to live in the light of it and to proclaim it freely and joyfully. For the sake of your Son, Jesus, we ask it. Amen.
 2 Peter 1:13 (ESV).
 2 Peter 3:1 (ESV).
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Sermons—Their Matter,” in Lectures to My Students (1875–94; repr., Banner of Truth, 2011), 85. Paraphrased.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “On the Choice of a Text,” in Lectures to My Students (1875–94; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2011), 106.
 Spurgeon, “On the Voice,” in Lectures, 126.
 Spurgeon, 126.
 1 Corinthians 10:6 (ESV).
 William Jenkyn, An Exposition upon the Epistle of Jude [1839?], 53.
 See Matthew 10:16.
 See John 16:13.
 1 Timothy 4:1 (ESV).
 2 Timothy 3:1, 6 (paraphrased).
 Acts 20:29–30 (ESV).
 Jenkyn, Jude, 326.
 Ephesians 4:12–13 (NIV).
 2 Peter 1:5, 10 (ESV).
 See 1 Corinthians 15:33.
 John 14:21 (paraphrased).
 Horatius Bonar, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face” (1855).
 Jenkyn, 345.
 Galatians 6:9 (paraphrased).
 Titus 2:14 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 2:5 (NIV).
 John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. III, and the Epistles of James and Jude, trans. A. W. Morrison, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 334.
 Sanford F. Bennett, “In the Sweet By and By” (1868).
 Romans 8:22–23 (ESV).
 Galatians 6:1 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 2:25 (ESV).
 A Practical Commentary; or, An Exposition, with Notes, upon the Epistle of Jude, in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton (London: James Nisbet, 1871), 5:306.
 See Zechariah 3:1–5.
 See Revelation 7:13–14.
 Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Coming, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995), 229.
 Jude 1:1 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 121:1–4 (paraphrased).
 Edward Mote, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less (The Solid Rock)” (1834).
 See Philippians 1:6.
 Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Whittle, “Moment by Moment” (1893). Lyrics lightly altered.
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.