Originally published in 1912 as part of The Living Messages of the Books of the Bible. Edited slightly for length and modern spellings.
Turning then to the abiding appeal; we have first the inclusive statement. Jude wrote exhorting us to "contend earnestly for the faith" (verse 3). The one word translated "contend earnestly" occurs nowhere else in Scripture. The root of the word is found in the New Testament in other applications; where it is said for instance that Epaphras strove in prayer (Col. 4:12), we have the same word, which might be rendered as "agonizes". Here the word is intensified by its context, consequently our translation is, "contend earnestly."
There is not the slightest suggestion of argument. We are not asked to defend the faith by arguing for it. What then is the thought of the word? It is that of passionate and determined effort. The word really has in it the thought of the abandon and cautiousness of the athlete. "Contend earnestly for the faith." The apostle did not mean, "Lecture on Christian evidences." That may be a perfectly proper thing to do in its place. He did not mean, "Form a league for the defense of the Bible." He did not mean, "Argue with every man you meet that these things are so." The final argument for faith in the world is not the argument of words, but the argument of life. What he meant was this: "Put into the business of your defense of this great faith passionate and determined effort; let there be the abandon and cautiousness of the athlete."
In the closing verses we have the exposition of the way in which we are to obey the command to contend earnestly for the faith, "building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (verses 20-21). We are to keep ourselves in the love of God; not to put ourselves there, we are in the love of God; being there, we are to keep ourselves in that love; which again does not mean that we are to remain there, but seeing that we are there, we are to behave as we ought to behave. We are in that love; therefore we are to respond to it, obey it.
How are we to do that? By building, praying, looking. "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith," that is by answering the claim of the faith we possess, carrying it into all the activities of our everyday life so that we become stronger and grow perpetually. "Praying in the Holy Spirit;" if our personal effort is that of building; our perpetual consciousness is that of dependence, praying. All this is with the goal in view, "looking," the eye ever fixed upon the ultimate consummation, the glorious issue. If we desire to contend for the faith, that is how we are to do it. The profoundest argument, indeed the only argument in favor of faith, is life homed in the love of God, building itself up on faith, forever praying in the Holy Spirit, and forevermore looking for the mercy of our Lord unto age-abiding life.
Find the man or woman, youth or maiden, boy or girl, professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, holding in that sense the faith of Christianity, who stays in the love of God, builds up the life upon faith, never undertaking any enterprise save as it is conditioned by the underlying facts of Christianity, living forevermore under the Holy Spirit, in dependence upon that Spirit's cooperation, looking ever for the ultimate perfecting; such a one is doing more for the defense of the faith than all wordy argument. The faith is contended for by the whole business of life, by consecration characterized by caution and courage; the putting out of our lives of all the things that are contrary to the will of the Lord and Master, refusing to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness; never denying, but forevermore affirming in life, the Lord and Master of us all.
There is something else. We cannot contend for the faith and keep ourselves, save as we help others. How are we to help them? "On some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (verses 22-23).
Finally, what is the inspiration of this life in which we contend for the faith? "Now unto Him that is able to guard you [as with a garrison] from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, before all time, and now, and forevermore" (verses 24-25). The inspiration is the certainty that the Master is able to guard us from stumbling, and at last to set us before the presence of God with exceeding joy and without blemish.
But He cannot guard us from stumbling if we deny Him. He cannot guard us from stumbling if we are apostate, if we deliberately continue in unbelief as in the case of Israel; in speculative attempts to act on our own behalf as in the case of the angels; in descent towards sensual things and fornication as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah; in self-righteous satisfaction even in our worship as in the case of Cain; in greed as in the case of Balaam; in presumption as in the case of Korah. If in any of these things we are guilty of apostasy, He cannot guard us from apostasy. If we are abiding in the love of God, building on faith, praying in the Spirit, looking for mercy, then all hell cannot make us stumble, because He is able to guard us, as with a garrison, from stumbling.
A final word by way of application. First to the Church: what is the faith for which we are to contend? The faith once for all delivered to the saints; that is, the whole system of truth. What is the system of truth? That truth is centered in a Person-Jesus Christ. He is the Person of these New Testament revelations; the Person of the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles. He is seen in the flesh in the first four pamphlets; but is interpreted by the Spirit in the apostolic writings. That is the faith. It is that truth embodied in the Person of Christ, operating in grace and holiness, for which we are to contend. Then to the individual: what is the contending which defends the faith? Constant loyalty to Christ; ceaseless caution in the presence of things contrary to His will; courage and confidence.
By these things we shall indeed defend the faith. It is possible for a man to attempt to defend the faith by argument, and successfully by argument to state the facts of the faith, while instead of defending it, he is actually destroying it by his own life, by his own character. Faith, and contending for the faith by obedience to the claims of the faith will forevermore make apostasy impossible.
George Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) was a prominent pastor, theologian, and evangelist. Born in Gloucestershire, England, he was taught at home by his parents and tutors because of his frailty. He had a quick mind and an insatiable desire for knowledge. He became a powerful Bible commentator and one of the greatest expositors of the Word in the early part of the twentieth century. At age 35 he was called to preach at the Fifth Presbyterian Church in New York City. But it was at the Westminster Chapel in London that he preached his famous sermons later published in the eleven volumes of The Westminster Pulpit.