John H. McComb
"Contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 4).
One is almost tempted to believe that Jude had present day conditions exclusively in his mind when he wrote his brief letter, so applicable are his words to the modern world. Of course there have been other spiritual declensions in the history of the Church, but it is difficult to imagine a time which fits Jude's description as well as the present. Many years ago Cowper wrote of the attitude of men toward Christ in His day, saying: "They now are deemed the faithful and are praised, Who constant only in rejecting Thee, Deny Thy Godhead with a martyr's zeal." But Cowper's words are far more applicable to our day than to his.
Jude by no means speaks of the situation as hopeless. He knew, as all those who trust God know, that God will by no means permit His Church to be destroyed, and that He has at all times those who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Instead of evidencing pessimism, Jude's words are a trumpet call, urging true believers to "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." The present day is not a time for pessimism and defeatism in the service of God, but rather a time for strenuous and effective activity on the part of the people of God.
1. Jude makes perfectly clear those whom he urges to do the"earnest contending for the faith."
He addresses his letter "To them that are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ." The people whose duty it is to contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints are all who have been called by God into His Church, who are beloved by God because of His marvelous grace, and who are kept by God for Jesus Christ through His marvelous power.
Jude does not merely address the elders of the Church and the other leaders therein; he addresses every member of the body of Christ in this sweeping introduction and urges them "To contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints." In short, each one of us, be we inconspicuous or prominent, be we preachers or occupants of the pew, has a work to do and a part to play in the defense of the Gospel we love. The work simply cannot be carried on effectively by a few leaders unless there is wholehearted support from all true believers. John Calvin would never have accomplished his mighty work in Geneva unless the people in Geneva who are described by Jude's introduction had joined with him in opposition to everything that claimed to be religious and yet was contrary to the Word of God and in the support of the great teachings of Scripture; nor would Knox have revolutionized Scotland unless the people of Scotland who were called, beloved by God the Father and preserved for Christ Jesus, had joined with him to "Contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Mighty work was done in obscure places by earnest men who combated Popery and proclaimed the truth fearlessly.
2. Nor does Jude call upon believers to contend for the faith in their own strength.
He knew, as every mature believer knows, that results come not by "might nor by power," but by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore Jude wishes that mercy and peace and love might be multiplied or richly allotted to each one of us. There is of course a relationship between these words. Mercy is God's favor. Believers have already experienced it in their salvation, but Jude, thinking of the work which lies before us, prays that God's favor may be so abundant toward us as to fit us for the task of contending for the Faith. Blessed, with God's favor we shall have peace. Jude wants us to enjoy to an even greater degree the glorious peace of God that passes understanding and steadies us amid opposition. He also wants us to enjoy the love of God-God's love to us to an even greater degree than we have ever known. The more conscious we are of God's love the more that consciousness will nerve us to contend earnestly for the Gospel regardless of the cost of such heroism. Men dare much for human love, but the love of God has inspired the greatest heroisms in history.
3. Jude is equally definite in indicating the faith for which he desires believers to contend.
He urges them to "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." He is not asking them to contend for religion, or for a few isolated tenets, but as the Revised Version indicates, Jude means that the faith was once for all delivered unto the saints in its complete form. There is no need that anything be added to the faith; it is expressly forbidden that anything should be added or taken away from it. The faith is perfect as it stands in the Bible. There is no need that God should say more than He has said for He has told us all that we need to know for our salvation.
Jude means therefore that we should contend for the great body of doctrine contained in the Word of God. This body of doctrine constitutes "The faith once for all delivered unto the Saints." We are to contend for: the literal truth and infallibility of the Bible itself; for the belief in a God who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all His attributes as He has revealed Himself in the Bible; for the fact that man is a sinful fallen creature who has forfeited every claim upon God's mercy; for the fact that God, out of the mass of sinful humanity has chosen or elected a multitude greater than any man can number to be recipients of His salvation; for the fact that He gave these elect ones to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; for the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, equal with God the Father in power and glory, took upon Himself a human body and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, dying there as the substitute for us; wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father; for the fact that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, applies to believers the blessings which Christ purchased for us on the cross; for the fact that some day the Lord Jesus will return in visible form to receive the Church unto Himself, to raise the dead, to judge His enemies and establish His kingdom; for the fact that those who believe these things should be careful to maintain good works. This is a bare outline of the faith once for all delivered unto the saints-the faith for which we should contend earnestly.
It is important to note again that this faith was "Delivered once and for all unto the saints." It was not delivered to the theologians alone, nor to Church Councils alone, nor to Church Commissions, but unto the saints, and their duty it is to defend it.
4. Jude also states why it is so urgent that we contend earnestly for the faith.
"There are certain men crept in privily [unnoticed] even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ."
There could be no more accurate description of what has taken place in the Church than this. While God's people slept, certain men have crept into the pulpits of our Churches, into the secretaryships of our boards, into the directorates of our colleges and theological seminaries, into the professorships of the same, into our various missionary enterprises at home and abroad, until the whole professing Church of Christ is honeycombed with unbelief and scorn for "the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints."
Jude describes the characteristics of these men for us: they are "ungodly men"; they do not, in other words, worship the God of the Bible. They do not recognize a God who is infinitely holy and infinitely powerful and infinitely just. Their God is like themselves-fallible, able to overlook sin, unjust. The sooner we come to recognize the truth of what the Christian Century once said, that the Fundamentalists and Modernists worship different Gods, the better off we will be, and the closer to an understanding of what Jude means, and of the urgency of his appeal.
These men are not only "ungodly"; they "also turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." If they themselves are not actually immoral, they encourage immorality in others by denying the great doctrinal truths that alone can form a basis for morality. We cannot have Christian morality without Christian doctrine, for "Truth is in order to Holiness." These men, by destroying Christian doctrine or modifying it to suit themselves are actually perverting God's grace into sin and encouraging sin. That they themselves are given to evil ways is sometimes painfully evident. I met not long ago a prominent critic of the New Testament, noted for his opposition to orthodoxy. He had recently divorced his wife and married another woman almost immediately. He gave a lecture in which he described his visits to many European monasteries in search of manuscripts, and in which he actually boasted of his carousals with the monks! Even if these unbelievers happen to be respectable, they by no means refute God's Word. A personally respectable saloon keeper who runs a house that corrupts men is an encourager of sin. Just so, a respectable Modernist who preaches unbelief is a minister of Satan. These men are also characterized by denial of the only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. They are agreed on their opposition to His claims. They refuse to believe in His deity or in His saving work on the cross, or in His bodily resurrection, though they profess to cling lovingly to His moral teachings in many instances. They are one in contradicting all His claims about Himself. This is Jude's description of them, and their existence and activity are the reasons for his plea to us that we should earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints
5. Jude does not go into great detail as to how we are to contend for the faith, although the word he uses-epagonidzomai is most expressive.
As one Greek Lexicon puts it, it means to fight, standing upon a thing that is assaulted which the adversary desires to take away. What a picture that gives us of our duty! We are to take our stand upon the Word of God and fight for it like soldiers defending a mighty rock or an impregnable citadel.
Perhaps Jude did not go into greater detail regarding the various ways in which we should contend for the faith, because those ways are indicated elsewhere in God's Word with sufficient clearness for all who are truly eager to have part in the work.
The first requisite, if we would contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints, is a thorough knowledge of the faith itself. It is useless to contend for beliefs with which we are not familiar. It is like a soldier trying to defend a position, the precise nature of which he is ignorant. It was for this reason that Paul said to Timothy, the young minister; "Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed." The saints in Old Testament times were commanded to let God's Word be "In their hearts," and to think of it continually and to talk of it.
When, after the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Hancock was sent to the front lines by Meade to take command in the stead of Reynolds, who had been killed, Hancock was unfamiliar with the position of the Union troops and of the enemy. Through that hot summer night, as he rode forward to the front in an ambulance, he pored over a map by the light of a lantern, until the position of every unit was fixed in his mind and the strength of the two armies clear to him. After such careful study, he was qualified to command the army when he reached it.
We Christians must so familiarize ourselves with our own position and with that of the enemy that we can be of service in the great conflict to which Jude calls us. We would have had more qualified contenders for the faith if we had had more doctrinal preaching during the last generation. Then too, if we would contend for the faith, we must seize every opportunity to let people know where we stand. When the Word of God is under fire, every silent Christian is counted with the enemy. Psalm 107:2 says; "Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so." God honors such testimony in surprising ways. It bears more fruit than we have any idea it will. Too often the people in the pews take the attitude that the minister is paid to do the testifying and that there is no need for them to exert themselves in that direction. It is a great privilege to speak a word for Christ, and we must avail ourselves of the privilege in the home, in the circle of friends, in the office, in the Church-wherever God gives an opportunity. If the Redeemed of the Lord would testify to their faith a little more frequently, perhaps it would be found that the true Church of Christ is far larger than it seems, and that Modernism has not gained the ground it supposes it has gained. When a child is born into this world and utters no sound, we fear it is dead. When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his redemption through Christ, we have reason to suspect that he never has been born again. Of course the Christian must see to it that his personal life in no wise belies his testimony. He that seizes every opportunity to testify for his Lord must so live that there is no question in the minds of those about him who his Lord is.
Then too, if we would contend for the faith, we must argue for it. I used to be very much afraid of argument in the cause of religion, but God tells us to argue, and how we are to do it. He tells us in I Peter 3:15 that we are to be ready always to give every man that asks us a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and Godly fear. We read that Paul "reasoned" out of the Scriptures and that he "confounded" the Jews. The Christian must of course be mild and gentle and humble, but this does not mean that he is to avoid controversy. I think on the other hand he is to be ready continually for it. Humbly, but nevertheless with clearness and force, he is to argue for the truth, giving a reason for the hope that is in him. We must not shun controversy, for Christianity has had, and will have continual conflict with those who do not believe and with those who are ignorant. Instead of fleeing controversy, we must contend earnestly for the faith. There has not been enough logical reasoning out of the Scriptures in these last years-not enough clear cut presentations of what the Bible actually teaches. It has been easier to describe sunsets and current events and to have musical concerts on Sunday evenings than to "Contend for the faith." No wonder God has sent leanness into our souls.
Then too, if we would contend earnestly for the faith, we must teach our children what the faith is. God stresses the necessity of child training in His Word. He told the people in the Old Testament; "These words that I command thee shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children." (Deut. 6: 6-7.) He instructed the people what they should say when their sons asked them the meaning of the various rites and ceremonies. That Christians are to do the same goes almost without saying. The best place to teach Christian doctrine is in the home. A child, at a very early age, can comprehend the substitutionary work of Christ, the truth of God's Word, the power of God, the necessity of faith and the other great truths. If we are to contend effectively for the faith, we must forestall the Modernists with our children by instructing them from infancy in the great truths of our faith. I believe in the Shorter Catechism, and I also believe in simple, straightforward explanations of the great doctrinal truths which illumine the meaning of the Catechism and the Scriptures. We ought to read the Bible to our children before they can themselves read. They ought to be filled with a love of the Book and its teachings to such a degree that no scoffing professor can shake their trust in the faith. A General who neglects to defend his home is foolish in the extreme, yet many Christians are neglecting the home front altogether and are leaving the work of fortifying their children against unbelief to incompetent Sunday School teachers, who may have no very deep understanding of the truth themselves.
If we would contend for the faith, we must be unhesitating and open in our opposition to anyone, be he preacher or teacher, or missionary or secretary, or whatever he is who in any wise alters the Gospel message or countenances those who do attempt to alter it. Those believers who find themselves in Churches with unbelieving ministers should make it their constant duty to testify publicly against the false teaching. When congregational meetings for the calling of ministers are held, those who are believers should not absent themselves for fear of opposition, but should go prayerfully determined to testify publicly against all candidates whose beliefs are not sound. The prophets of old did not countenance idol worship, nor did they hesitate to preach against it. It is not difficult to learn where a man stands in regard to the Bible truths. It is the duty of Christians to find out and to publish to the congregations the facts they have learned. There would be fewer Modernists called if those who know the faith once for all delivered to the saints would insist on orthodoxy as well as personality and executive ability, and a wife capable of being a pack horse for the Ladies' Aid.
Lastly, if we would contend for the faith, we must continue instant in prayer. To say that is obvious, and yet obvious as it is, there is too little of it. Paul urges the people of Philippi "To strive together for the faith of the Gospel," and I am sure he means striving in prayer. In the letters to the Thessalonians, he requests prayer for himself and his work. How wonderful it would be and how effective it would be if every Church had in it a group of fundamental believers who would pray systematically together for the triumph and maintenance of the Gospel and would continue instant in prayer for the same objective. We would have more triumphs to rejoice in. The faith would be honored, believed and professed openly; barriers would fall, and attacks against our leaders would crumble, to the discomfiture of the enemies of the Truth.
These are some of the many ways that the Bible points out we can effectively contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints. We can do so by gaining a thorough knowledge of the faith; by seeking every opportunity to testify of it; by arguing for it with meekness and Godly fear; by teaching our children faithfully; by testifying fearlessly against those who teach another Gospel which is not another; by refusing to support those Boards and Agencies which tolerate Modernism; by continuing instant in prayer for the maintenance and triumph of the faith.
I repeat that if God's people were willing to do these things continually, the gains of the Modernists would soon disappear, and many who have been brought under the spell of unbelief would be recovered to Christ.
Jude appeals to you and to me to all whom God has called into the fellowship of His Son-to all who are beloved of the Father and are being kept for Christ, to contend thus for the faith.
He reminds us that He promises grace abundant to make possible effective service.
He urges us thus because God has given us a glorious body of doctrine in His Word, which is true and shall ever remain so, and which has been the source of eternal blessing to all who receive it.
He urges us to contend for the faith because there are ungodly men who have slipped in unawares-men who are undermining the faith and are seeking to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, even denying the only Master and Lord Jesus Christ.
Will you students in your preparation, you teachers in your presentation, you ministers in your preaching, you individual believers in your daily round of duties, heed Jude's words and seek by every means God gives you to "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints"?
Actually these words are not Jude's. They are the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Jude was but the mouthpiece through whom this urgent message has come to us. It is Christ Himself who commands us to "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." Will we obey Him?
An address delivered at the opening exercises of Westminster Seminary on October 2, 1935. Reprinted from The Presbyterian Guardian Volume 1, Number 2 October 21, 1935 and Volume 1, Number 3 November 4, 1935.
© 2023 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church