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DIVINE WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT
FOR “THE LAST DAYS."
(Epistle of Jude). In the first propagation of Christianity and earliest history of the church, there were markedly displayed two master-forms of evil, against which it had to contend.
There was the self-righteousness of the Jew built upon his religion of heaven-appointed ordinances—the “shadows of things to come, (while] the body is of Christ;" --and the atheistic wisdom of the Greek; a wisdom tenaciously clung to by the whole civilised, and as it is called, “ Christian world”; which modifies their philosophy, ethics, and divinity, and has stamped its features on the whole range of their literature; and by which they would now correct and mould the precious revelation of God! Though the voice of inspiration declares concerning it, “the world by wisdom knew not God.”
Accordingly, the preaching of Christ crucified was * unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" ; but where faith overcame these obstacles, it is added, “unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And in vain is God's power and God's wisdom, henceforth sought in dissociation from the cross. There alone is its illustration and display, in the person and work of Him who “was crucified through weakness, yet liveth by the power of God."
But before the canon of the New Testament is closed, the spirit of revelation is found in conflict with evil of altogether another type.
The elements of Judaism, and the principles of gentile philosophy, working separately or coalescing in the church of God, may have produced the primary features of this evil; but the evil itself has a generic character; marked
as " the mystery of iniquity;"_"a falling away," or apostasy; a "departing from the faith," through “ giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons." And it is to be remarked, that in order to forewarn and arm the faithful against this corruption of Christianity, the stream of revelation, in the latter epistles of the New Testament, leaves its accustomed channel, and flows entirely in another course. A single glance at the epistle of Jude is sufficient to show that the subject it treats of has no counterpart in the earlier portions of the New Testament. It is not occupied with the unfolding of divine doctrine, nor the enforcement of the details of practice, nor even with arming the believer against the common unbelief and wickedness of the world; but its entire instruction turns upon the characteristic evil, the course and issue of which it describes :— briefly giving this reason for its character, in the fourth verse “ For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained unto this condemnation: ungodly men turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.'
It may be no pleasant task to ponder this character of the epistle of Jude, and of other scriptures which present a concurrent testimony, that in the very bosom of Christianity there should arise a defined and progressive system of evil-commencing in apostolic days—which no revival in the church ever sets aside, and no reformation ever eradicates; but which works on until the ripened iniquity brings the Lord himself in judgment upon the dispensation of Christianity, as surely as the corruption of the old world brought upon it the judgment of the flood; or the apostasy of Israel brought their overthrow in the wilder
Yet this corruption, which has for its seed-bed the very bosom of the church, is most necessary to be noted by the saints of God, if they would have God's estimate of the scene through which they must have their course; or if they would possess the only torch of guidance through the darkened labyrinth. It is necessary to follow the Spirit's course when it ceases to treat of “the common salvation,” because of the necessity of contending for the “ faith once delivered to the saints.”
The terms church and world, in the New Testament, are characteristically opposed; and are in their proper application as distinct as light and darkness: but alas ! in practical Christianity this distinctiveness no longer exists. It is not within the limits of a boundary line that truth and error are now confined-though " the foundation of God abideth sure.” But it is not now as once it was the Jew, outside the profession of Christianity, "ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish his own righteousness, and not submitting to the righteousness of God;” nor is it the Gentile, apart, scoffing in proud derision at the preaching of “ Jesus and the resurrection," or persecuting and imprisoning those who bore his name; but it is within the limits of a professed Christianity, that the mystery of iniquity works, and therefore the need of the precious exhortation on the one hand, and, on the other, “ But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”
There was one who could say "I have kept the faith!” But through what contests had he to carry the sacred deposit, and by what incessant wiles was he tempted to betray his trust? The Lord give to his people courage
earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints;" and grace to “keep themselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life!" For then, the onward progress
of corruption, instead of staggering the soul, will give but additional confirmation to the truth, as its lamp brightens amidst the increasing gloom. It is in the darkness of the night that the beacon-fire flashes most brightly, and warns of hidden dangers; and it is in the night that the light of the prophetic word, whether to direct or to warn, has its most special use. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts."
The peculiarity of the epistle of Jude is, that it deals with the general and comprehensive principles of all apostasy, or departure from God, instead of dwelling exclusively on any particular feature of evil by which it may be characterised. And solemn indeed is the reflection that all these principles will find their field of action in that sphere where grace at first recorded its triumphs, and which should have been consecrated to holiness and to God! “ If the light that is in thee become darkness how great is that darkness!” There is no middle position between being espoused to Christ, as “a chaste virgin "-the true character of the church-and being allied to "the great whore” of Christendom's corruptions, "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."
Hence, in giving the moral characteristics of the "men who had crept in unawares," he says,
woe unto them," they have "gone in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core”! Thus associating their principles with every form of corruption which God will judge. For in Cain is presented the first apostate amongst men, in the way of infidelity and hatred of righteousness. Balaam is the selected example of corruption in religion for reward. Core is the head of revolt.
But, though Cain stands as the illustration of the infidel heart and ways of man, under the evil spirit of infidelity, and necessary hatred of righteousness, yet, as may be clearly seen in the example, these may consist with the self-chosen forms of a religion that excludes the recognition of sin in the presence of God, and reliance for acceptance on the blood of atonement.
Balaam stands in scripture in bad pre-eminence, as a man who used his character as a prophet to gain the rewards of the powers of the world, and against the true people of God. He would have used the revelations of God to this end, if they could have been brought into such subserviency; but, in the failure of this, his heart, set upon “ the wages of unrighteousness," directly uses, for the ends of corruption, the light he had in the ways of God. Memorable and instructive are the words to the Church in Pergamos—" thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
“ The error of Balaam for reward ”—“ having men's persons in admiration because of advantage" — and,
through covetousness shall they, with feigned words, make merchandise of you”—are exponents of evil that need no eye of a seer to give them their application.
As to “ the gainsaying of Core,” it will be seen, in the history, that it is no intrusion into ecclesiastical functions, by one who had no ostensible call to them, as it is often viewed by those who are prone to see all scripture through the medium of an established order; for Corah was a Levite—of the very tribe and order set apart to sacred offices.
Corah alone is mentioned in this gainsaying; but “ Dathan and Abiram, with two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, and men of renown,” were joined in this rebellion against Moses and Aaron, of which Corah was the instigator.
And thus will it be found, at last, that the corrupt ecclesiastical power, as "the false prophet,” will be the evil adviser and instigator of the beast and his armies, in the final rebellion against the kingly and priestly authority of Christ; of which, the rebellion and judgment of Corah is given as a type.
6. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them : for he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. xvii. 14). “ And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse and his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev. xix. 19, 20).
This is the result, when the issue is joined at last, between Him who “shall sit as a priest upon his throne, ” and the last daring usurper of his rights, in the person of him who has said in his heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: