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by Thomas Coke
THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JUDE.
THE author of this Epistle calls himself by a name which was common to all the apostles, and the rest of the ministers of the Gospel, the servant of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul has done at the beginning of his Epistles to the Philippians and to Titus; and also by a name peculiar to himself, the brother of James; consequently he was a near relation to our Lord Jesus Christ, as will appear by comparing Mat 10:3 with John 19:25. The origin of this Epistle is most apparently divine: it is quoted and received as canonical in the writings of the oldest fathers of the church; and all the Greek manuscripts of this Epistle begin with these words, Jude the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, which can mean no other than Jude or Judas, for the name is the same in Hebrew and in Greek; and he is also called Lebbeus and Thaddeus, Matthew 10:3.
In this Epistle, which, like those of St. Peter, was primarily written to the Jews dispersed in Asia, St. Jude opposes in particular the corruptions of the heretics of that time, of whom the ecclesiastical history gives us a dreadful account. For the devil, the better to proceed in the design which he has ever had of destroying or diminishing the church, has attacked it on all sides, by the most monstrous errors against its doctrines, and by scandalous maxims for corrupting its morals, and opening a door to the most shocking impurities. And hence St. Jude, speaking of these heretics, says, that they defile and corrupt themselves as brute beasts, &c. And he warns the faithful to beware of such people; and to keep so clear from vice, with such zeal for holiness, as to be found faultless through the power and grace of Christ, when he should present them before the presence of his glory: for the nearer we are brought unto God by the redemption we obtain in Christ, the more should we be careful to walk in sobriety and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14.
False teachers are crept in to seduce them; for whose damnable doctrine and manners horrible punishment is prepared: whereas the godly, by the assistance of the holy Spirit, and prayers to God, may persevere and grow in grace and keep themselves, and recover others out of the snares of those deceivers.
THE design of this epistle is to describe the character of the false teachers, and to point out the divine judgments which persons of such a character had reason to expect. As St. Peter, in his Second Epistle, describes the false teachers as yet to come, which St. Jude mentions as already come, it is obvious that this epistle was written after that of St. Peter: but how long after is very uncertain.
After inscribing his letter to all who were sanctified, and preserved, and called, St. Jude, after the example of his brethren apostles, gave to the faithful his apostolical benediction, Jude 1:1-2.—then told them, that he judged it necessary, in the then state of the church, to exhort them strenuously and more particularly to contend for the faith formerly delivered to the holy apostles and prophets, and by them to the disciples of Christ, Jude 1:3.—because certain ungodly men, under the mark of being inspired, had come in among the faithful, and from the goodness of God in pardoning men's sins, through the merits of Christ, as published in the gospel, had inferred that God would not punish sinners, and by thus perverting the mercy of God, had encouraged their disciples in all manner of lascivious practices. Moreover, when in danger of suffering for their faith, they had not scrupled to deny both God the Father and his Christ, vainly fancying that God would not punish them for so doing, Jude 1:4.—But, to shew how ill-founded the doctrine of these deceivers was, St. Jude put the faithful in mind how God, having saved the people of Israel from Egypt, afterward utterly destroyed the whole of them in the wilderness for their sin of unbelief, except Caleb and Joshua, Jude 1:5.—Also, how he bound the rebellious angels with everlasting chains, under darkness, in order to their being punished at the judgment of the great day, Jude 1:6.—Moreover, he told them, seeing the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha and of the neighbouring cities, who had given themselves up to unnatural lusts, as the false teachers likewise did, are, in the punishment which was inflicted on them, set forth as an everlasting example of God's just indignation against such crimes, Jude 1:7.—So in like manner, said he, these wicked teachers and their disciples shall assuredly be punished, who, having lost all sense of holiness and virtue, defiled their bodies with unnatural lusts, and despised the office of magistrates, and reviled those who exercised it, because they punished them for their misdeeds, Jude 1:8.—With this insolence of the heretical teachers towards the heathen magistrates, the apostle contrasted the behaviour of the Archangel Michael towards the Devil. For that great and holy Angel, when contending with the Devil about the body of Moses, which the Angel was to bury privately, but which the Devil would have revealed, he did not attempt to revile even that apostate spirit, but said to him mildly, the Lord rebuke thee, Satan, Jude 1:9.—whereas the wicked teachers who are now gone abroad, speak evil of magistrates, the origin and end of whose office they do not understand; and corrupt themselves by the only knowledge they possess; namely, that knowledge of the use of their body, which is suggested to them by their natural appetites, and which they have in common with brute beasts, Jude 1:10.—The apostle, therefore, declared the misery which was awaiting these impious teachers, whose wickedness, in slaying the souls of men by their false doctrine, he compared to that of Cain who slew his brother; and whose excessive love of money he compared to that of Balaam, who, to obtain the hire which Balak promised him, cursed the Israelites, contrary to his conscience: and whose miserable end, for opposing Christ and his apostles, he compared to that of Korah and his companions, for opposing Moses and Aaron, Jude 1:11.
These wicked teachers, the apostle told the faithful, were spots in their love-feasts, being guilty of gluttony and drunkenness; so that even if they had taught true doctrine, they would have rendered it ineffectual by their bad example. For which reason, he compared them to clouds without water, and to trees absolutely dead, Jude 1:12. And because by their wicked practices they disgraced themselves, he called them raging waves of the sea foaming out their own shame; and meteors which were to be extinguished for ever, Jude 1:13.—Further, to terrify these wicked men, he declared that Enoch prophesied, not to the antediluvians only, but to them also, when he said, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his holy angels, Jude 1:14.—to inflict condign punishment on all the ungodly, both for their impious speeches, and for their wicked practices, Jude 1:15.—And, that the faithful might be at no loss to know them, he mentioned it as a trait in their character, that they murmured against God, and complained of the unequal distribution of the good things of this life, as if their share of them was not proportioned to their merits; for they wished to indulge all their own lusts without restraint. And, to persuade their disciples to supply them with money for that end, they spake in the most pompous manner in their own praise, and pretended to have the utmost respect for the rich, and flattered them with the hope of salvation, without anyregard to their experience, character, and actions, Jude 1:16.—Now, that the success of these impostors might not occasion too much grief to the faithful, St. Jude, by observing that their rise and progress had been foretold, insinuated that they were permitted in the church for wise purposes.—But, beloved, said he, remember the words which were before spoken by the apostles, Jude 1:17.—how they foretold that before and after the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth, scoffers were to arise in the church, who, ridiculing the holy precepts of the gospel, would follow the direction of their own ungodly lusts, Jude 1:18.—and, at the same time, would separate themselves from the real disciples of Christ, on pretence that theywere ignorant of the true doctrine of the gospel, and void of the Spirit: whereas they themselves were mere animal men, utterly deserted of theSpirit of God, Jude 1:19.—But the faithful, shunning to associate with these impostors, were to build one another firmly on their most holy faith by the means of pious conference; and by praying with the holy Spirit, which neither the false teachers nor their disciples could do, Jude 1:20.—They were through grace to keep one another effectually in the love of God: and then their prayers, dictated by the Spirit, would be an evidence to them of God's presence: and, being conscious of their loving God, they might on good ground expect the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ exercised towards them, accompanied with eternal life, Jude 1:21.—And as their love to God would lead them to attempt the reformation of those who erred, whether they were teachers or private Christians, the apostle desired them to make a distinction in their manner of treating them. They were to exercise compassion toward those who erred through ignorance and weakness; that is, they were to instruct and reclaim such by the gentle method of persuasion, Jude 1:22.—But the others who erred wilfully through corruption of heart, they were to save from destruction by the power of terror, reproving them sharply, and censuring them severely, that they might snatch them out of the fire of the wrath of God, which was ready to devour them. But, in doing them this friendly office, they were to shun all familiarity with them, as carefully as they would shun touching a garment spotted by the flesh of a person who had a plague sore, lest they should be infected by their vicious conversation, Jude 1:23.
Having thus finished what he judged necessary for their instruction and direction, the apostle encouraged the faithful to persevere in the true doctrine and practice of the gospel, by a solemn ascription of praise to him, who was both able and willing to keep them from falling into error, and to present them faultless at the day of judgment with exceeding joy to themselves, Jude 1:24.—even to the only wise God our Saviour, whose glory as God and Saviour will last through all ages. Then to shew his indubitable persuasion of all the things which he had written, the apostle concluded his epistle with an Amen, Jude 1:25.
the Second Week of Advent