And of some have compassion, making a difference:…
I need hardly tell you that, although it is only of one class that the minister is bidden to "have compassion," the meaning cannot be that he is not to compassionate any other class. He would be wanting in the sensibilities of a man, to say nothing of those which his very office is adapted to cherish, if he could be indifferent to the condition of a single transgressor. And hence it cannot be the design of St. Jude to divide sinners into classes, for one of which the minister is to feel compassion, but not for the other: he must be referring to the difference in treatment, rather than to a difference in sentiment. And yet whilst there is a great sense in which every sinner is to be an object of compassion, undoubtedly the characters and circumstances of some are more adapted to the exciting pity than those of others. Behold that young person whose family is irreligious, who, with perhaps a secret sense of the necessity of providing for the soul, is laughed out of all seriousness by those who ought to be urging him to piety. I could not treat that young person sternly; I could not fail in any intercourse with him to bear in mind his peculiar disadvantages. I could indeed weep over one who had so much against him in the saving of the soul. Or behold, again, that man in distressed circumstances, on whom are pressing the cares of a large family, and who is tempted to gain the means of subsistence through practices which his conscience condemns — Sunday trading, for example. Could I go to that man in harshness and severity? I must not, indeed, spare his fault; I must not allow that difficulties are any excuse for his offence; but surely when I think on his peculiar temptations, and hear the cry of his young ones who are asking for bread, you will expect me to feel concern for the man, and to show it in the manner "in which I reprove his misdoing. Oh! I know very well how easy it is for a man to deceive himself in the beginnings of sin, how many things commonly conspire to facilitate the entrance on an evil course, and to hide alike its peril and its wrongness. And whenever, therefore, we see a man just venturing his foot on a forbidden path, we would address him in the language of the text: language which would show that we make every allowance for what may be called the naturalness of his error, even as we would if we saw him entering a field the flowers round whose margin gave him no warning of the fatal marsh into which he would soon sink. Or once more — and here you have the exact case that appears to be contemplated by St. Jude — a man of no very strong intellect, and of no very great reading, is thrown into the society of sceptics, men perhaps of brilliant powers and of no inconsiderable acquirements. He will be no match for these apostles of infidelity. Towards a man thus seduced our prevailing feeling will be compassion — a feeling which you cannot expect to extend towards those who seduced him. So that if there be amongst you the man or the woman who can only please God by displeasing relations, or with whom close attention to religion seems likely to shut up the channels of subsistence, or who is unavoidably associated with those who half force him to be sceptical, or who is living upon what we may call the border-line where vice tries to pass for virtue, why, we would not class that individual with the reckless and the obdurate, who are sinning with a high hand, and "doing despite to the Spirit of grace." Without disguising the nature of sin, of whatever degree or complexion, we may still show that we put a difference between sinners, just as the physician between patients, who may be all sick of diseases which tend directly to death, but who require, nevertheless, very different remedies. And there are gentle remedies which we would try with those cases we have endeavoured to describe. We feel for you — ah, that is little, very little. The Redeemer Himself feels for you. He knows your dangers and your difficulties — in how attractive a form temptation has come — how much you will have to give up, how much to encounter, if you come boldly out and embrace His discipleship. He bids me speak to you in tenderness. Go not away and say that Christianity is harsh and repulsive. You shall have our entreaties, if they will move you to run no further risks; you shall have our expostulations, our affectionate expostulations, if they will induce you to take the Saviour at His word. But it is time that we advanced to the consideration of the other part of the apostle's directions. There is to be stern treatment as well as gentle. "Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire." There can be no very great difficulty in deciding what the cases are which St. Jude may be supposed to have here had in view. They are the cases of hardened and reckless men, of the openly dissolute and profane — men living in habitual sin, and showing an unblushing contempt for the authority of God. The apostle refers to men who cannot possibly be in any doubt as to the wrongness of their conduct, who cannot plead ignorance in excuse, or the suddenness of temptation, or the pressure of circumstances, but who, out of a decided preference for iniquity, a settled determination to gratify their passions, or aggrandise their families, pursue a course against which conscience remonstrates, and of which they would not themselves venture to advance any justification. How am I to act towards such men? Must I show them that I pity them? Oh! yes, that I pity them; for if ever men were within a hair's-breadth of destruction, these are the men. But the pity must be mixed with indignation. What mean you by thus persisting in iniquity? Is the Bible a forgery? is death annihilation? is hell a phantom? is heaven a day-dream? What mean you, young persons, with your delay; elder persons, with your avarice; men of pleasure, with your licentiousness; men of business, with your underhand transactions; men of argument, with your sceptical theories? We may pity you, but at the same time we hardly know how to keep down a righteous scorn. There is no excuse to be offered for you, no extenuation. And what treatment does the apostle bid us try with such? "Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire." Oh! beautiful words, notwithstanding all their harshness! The apostle speaks, you see, of "saving" these men. Then they may yet be saved. We are not to despair of any one amongst you. We have yet again to bring to you the message of pardon. We are sent to you once more with the touching words — "Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?" But, then, whilst directed to make every effort to save you, and therefore assured that you are not past recovery, the terms are very peculiar in which the direction is conveyed. "Save with fear, pulling them out of the fire." The apostle considers you as already in the fire. So perilous is your condition, that he speaks of you as though you had taken the last step and plugged into perdition. And the expression goes even beyond this. It is of danger to the man who seeks to save, as well as of danger to the perishing man, that the apostle would admonish us. And here is a fact which well deserves the being seriously pondered. We may say generally, that if our wish to convert the sinful bring us into intercourse with the sinful, there is a risk of our learning their vices whilst labouring to communicate our principles. Association, under whatever circumstances, with dissolute men is full of peril. There is one more clause of the text which, though it may not perhaps actually convey any new sentiment, is so strong in its expression as well to deserve separate notice — "Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." You would be very cautious in giving assistance to a man in the fire, fearing that you yourselves might be burned. You would be equally cautious in giving assistance to a man seized with the plague, fearing that yourselves might be infected. You should deal with them as with parties who cannot be approached without risk of contamination; who are hot only radically diseased, but to whom there can belong nothing which may not be a vehicle for conveying disease; their very dress — language which is the dress of thought — manners, which are often a fascinating garb, being not unlikely ultimately to act as a conductor, so that secretly and stealthily you may get the poison into your own veins.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And of some have compassion, making a difference: