These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear; clouds are they without water, carried about of winds, trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Jude 12.
These are [treacherous] reefs in your love-feasts, boldly feeding themselves, feasting gluttonously along with you, waterless, wind-driven clouds, barren, late-autumn trees, having died off twice, having been uprooted. Translation.
In the former verse Jude describes apostates by examples, here he does so by figures of speech. In II Pet. 2:13, the word spots is used. Here a different word appears, meaning reefs. “These (apostates) are (treacherous) reefs (causing rifts, I Cor. 11:21) in your love-feasts.” These feasts were fellowship suppers provided in connection with, though not necessarily part of, the Lord’s Supper. The pastor and office bearers with the members were present, an elder presiding with reading of Scripture, the singing of a psalm and prayer. At the close of the feast, a thank offering was collected for widows and orphans, the poor, prisoners, or for any of the members in need of financial aid. “These love-feasts, during the first three centuries, were held in the church without scandal or offence;” but later the heathen guests and the crypto-libertines corrupted them. So measures of reform were taken, (1) to omit the kiss of charity between the different sexes and (2) to abandon the use of the ancient recliner-couches at the tables. [Buck’s Theological Dictionary, Art., Agapae]. Paul had opposed serious abuses arising at these agapae: I Cor. 11:21. John Gill says that some of these abuses came in through the early judaizers who in these feasts introduced Jewish imitations of the Passover. Lenski says, “They were eventually dropped and were never revived; the Lord’s Supper was celebrated at the public Sunday services without a meal preceding” (or following, RCH).
These sensuous, seductive apostates were like treacherous reefs which caused divisions (schisms) in love- feasts in the church, making shipwreck of decent, proper conduct. Jude uses this word reefs. Peter describes them, “Spots are they and blemishes,” taking his figure evidently from Moses in Deut. 32:5, “They have corrupted themselves; their spot is not the spot of His children.” They do not bear the mark of Christians, but the image of the devil. “These are not the children of God.” They must not be tolerated in the church or they will turn the company of saints into a pack of “adulterers and adulteresses” (Jas. 4:4).
“They feast with you, feeding themselves without fear,” or, “boldly feeding (shepherding) themselves” and not the flock. “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?. . .neither did My shepherds search for My flock; but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not My flock” (Ezek. 34:2, 8). “. . .feasting gluttonously along with you.” They debased the charity feast into a gourmet luxury banquet. They developed paunches at the expense of the church. “They. . .serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” (Rom. 16:18). So that their “god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). They worship a belly god. One of these is Buddha, often depicted as nearly all belly. (“They that make them are like unto them.”) At many a banquet the devil shows up with his own dish. He dishes out gossip, slander, barbed humor, salacious jesting. This is done aphobos, “without tear,” that is, without fear of God. Do we sometimes eat our meals without a real thought of God? These “slow bellies” as they wolfed down their food did not think of God. They hardly thought even of the food they were eating. Like those who eat while watching television, they ate with their mouths full, their stomachs packed tight and their heads empty. But “when thou hast eaten and art full, beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God” (Deut. 8:10, 11).
Libertines live to eat and deaden conscience. To them, to accomplish that is to attain perfection. Their idea of perfection is preciseness in sinning, choking conscience with lusts and carnal delights and to become so inebriated with pleasure as to fear no penalty. Christians must learn to eat to live, taking their food as medicine, to strengthen and repair the body, not to weaken and sicken it. The throat is so slippery a canal that filthy man drinks iniquity like water (Job 15:16).
“Clouds are they without water,” or, waterless, arid clouds. Jude has just pointed out that these false shepherds are of the “me first” society (Matt. 8:21), out only for themselves. Now he shows that they are of no benefit to others. It is not that they keep all refreshing moisture to themselves, but that like empty clouds in drought they have not a drop for themselves or anyone. Their teaching of “common grace”, which is said to be “a non-saving grace,” is a cloud without water, that is a “blessing” without grace, really a “grace” without grace. An arid cloud is a contradiction; so is “common grace.” The true evangelical doctrine is not to be found at all in the theory of common grace. For what the evangel necessarily requires and complements is the general proclamation of a particular gospel. So this theory looks like clouds promising rain, boasting of gospel light and knowledge, while being destitute of such mercy-drops. “Common grace” is a waterless cloud. “He that boasteth of a false gift (which exactly describes “common grace”) is like clouds and wind without rain” (Prov. 25:14). But pure grace soaks to the heart to freshen, nourish and make it fruitful – three things “common grace” never does. For it is the very opposite with genuine grace, as the Lord Himself taught, “When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, ‘There cometh a shower,’ and so it is.” (Lk. 12:54). There are many local Protestant churches which are like clouds without water. Refreshing spiritual “showers of blessing” are no more to be found in them than in the worthless staging of Roman Catholic masses. Christian Science and Mormonism pretend to great heights of discovery, promising translation to the third heaven, but their prophets never get anyone off the ground, except in fantasy. But Jehovah’s “doctrine shall distil like the dew, and My speech like the small rain” (Deut. 32:2).
“Clouds are they without water, carried about of winds.” These winds must not be allowed to blow from our pulpits and across our congregations. Some of these winds of doctrine, against which our doctrinal standards warn us, are sacerdotalism (priest craft; baptized humanism), autosoterism (salvation by self-effort), free-willism, universalism, Pelagianism, Arianism, Arminianism, Romanism (low Arminianism), Wesleyanism (high Arminianism), to name a few. The winds of the deistic colleges and atheistic universities originate spiritual tornadoes to sweep away souls easily moved in the first place. But ye, “be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).
“Trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit,” or, “late autumn trees, barren.” Trees in late autumn, at harvest time, are expected to have been laden with fruit, but these harvest trees are barren, incapable of bearing fruit! They are even bare of sere and yellow leaves. Therefore the ax is set to the roots. This is in keeping with the final apostasy yet to come in the autumn of these last days before the winter of judgment. From this we learn that hypocritical apostate teachers do not last long and shall not stand in the judgment. Professing Christ and His truth while being barren and unfruitful is a reeking hypocrisy. Our profession must be sound and orthodox, or we expose the way of the Lord to suspicion; yet at the same time we must “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8), lest there be no marked difference between us and the apostates. They are in the church and they are corrupt, but the church is not to be judged by the occasional discovery and exposure of false brethren any more than a beautiful street is to be condemned because it has gutters and sewers. The city of Geneva was a beautiful, well-ordered city, adorned with godliness, enjoying the freedom of the gospel under Calvin; yet its peace was often disturbed by the pestilential libertines. They infiltrate church and state today, disrupting both spheres with their insatiable lusts and infectious, incurable diseases.
“Trees. . .without fruit, twice dead!” These barren trees withered and died, then were uprooted; so they “died off twice.” The unregenerate sinner not only died with all mankind in the Fall of Adam, but is also dead in trespasses and sins, that is. dead in a false, fruitless profession of religion, having a name that he lives, but is dead while he lives. (I Tim. 3:6; Rev. 3:1).
These dead trees are also “plucked by the roots.” This shows that it is hopeless with them, that their apostasy is incurable and that they are not of God, for “every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13). For “every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away. . .(and it) is cast forth (“It is a dreadful thing to be cast out of the true church.”) as a branch (“for unbelief they were broken off,” Rom. 11:20) and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (Jn. 15:2, 6).
What will ever preserve us from the apostasy of a Joash or a Judas? There are no insurance companies that insure character. No one could afford the payments anyway. Besides, what company would take such a risk on mere man? But our Mediator, true God and true man, has paid the price, Himself the sacrifice to redeem us with His own blood and righteousness from all the power of the devil. Believing this with all my regenerated heart, I can say I am “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:5).