Saints Guarded from Stumbling
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”— Jude 24, 25.
THE point and pith of what I may have to say will lie in the alteration of this text caused by the revision of the New Testament. The Revised Version runs thus, “Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling.” I am not going to speak at any length upon the rest of the text; but shall dwell mainly upon this remarkable alteration, which certainly gives the meaning of the original better than the rendering in the Authorized Version.
To begin, then, here is a doxology. Jude is writing upon very practical subjects indeed; his short epistle is of the most practical kind; but he cannot finish it without a doxology of praise. Is there any work which we should complete without praise to God? Prayer should always have praise mingled with it. The preaching of the gospel, or the writing of it, the teaching of the young, and every other form of Christian service, should be combined with the spirit of praise. I think that I may say of praise what we read of salt in the Old Testament, “salt without prescribing how much.” You cannot have too much of praise. “With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt,” and “with all thine offerings thou shalt offer praise.” It seems delightful to me to notice how the apostle Paul stops almost in the midst of a sentence to bow his knees, and utter a doxology of praise to his God. And here Jude, with burning words denouncing sin, and urging believers to purity, cannot conclude his epistle without saying, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Beloved friends, we may well continue to praise God, for our God continues to give us causes for praise. If we will only think, we shall begin to thank. If we will only consider even the mercies of the present, we shall break out with ascriptions of praise to him. At this very moment, every believer here has a reason for a doxology. My text begins with “Now”, and closes with “now and ever.” The praise of God should be given at the present time; and it is to be perpetually carried on, therefore now is the time for it to be rendered: “both now and ever. Amen.”
Consider, then, dear brother or sister, thou hast at this moment a cause for ascribing praise to God, and thou hast this reason for it, at any rate, that he is able to guard thee from stumbling; his ability is to be employed for thy good; his power is intended for thy keeping. Oh, sing unto the Lord a new song to-night, with heart and soul bless him, who is able to guard thee from stumbling, and to present thee faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy!
I. Coming to the text at once, I shall notice, first, THE DANGER TO BE DREADED. It is “stumbling.” What is that?
Well, first of all, it is a lesser form of falling. A horse may stumble and not fall; yet it is a sort of falling. If there is much stumbling, it will be a fall. Now, there are faults, to which the child of God is very liable, which do not amount to actual falling; but they are stumblings. Like David, we have to say, “My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.” We are not actually down; it is a wonder that we are not. We have not broken our knees; but we were within an inch of doing so; a little more, and we should have fallen to our serious hurt. The text speaks of “Him that is able to guard you from stumbling,” to preserve you from the smallest form of grieving the Spirit, or the faintest trace of sin, which would not amount to a fall. The Lord can keep you from that which is not a fall, but which might lead to it. I want to set a high standard before you tonight. Jude does not say that you are able to guard yourselves from stumbling, for you are not; but the ascription of praise is to him who is able to guard you even from stumbling, and to present you, not only pardoned, but faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
Stumbling is, next, not only a form of falling, and a matter therefore to be grieved over, but it is a prelude to falling. Oftentimes, we first stumble, and then, after a while, down we go. If we could recover ourselves from the stumble, we should not have to gather ourselves up from the fall. Long before the child of God falls into public sin, and injures his character, those who watch him will have perceived his stumbling. He kept up, just kept up; but you wondered that he did. He kept on, perhaps for months; but as you looked at him, you said to yourself, “I am afraid that he will come to something worse. I feel sure that he will have a stumble, and another stumble, and then another stumble, and he will be down by-and-by.” Ok, that a child of God could notice his own stumblings, then he would soon be delivered from them! But it is too often with us, to change the metaphor, as Hosea says, “Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not.” He is getting feeble, he is becoming prematurely old; but he has not seen the change in the colour of his hair. He has not looked in the glass of the Word lately, so he is unconscious that he is declining. If Satan cannot conquer Mansoul by storming it, he sometimes triumphs by sapping and mining, gradually undermining the walls, and getting a secret entrance in that way. May the Lord make us very watchful, that we may not be ignorant of Satan’s devices, and may our Saviour guard us even from stumbling, for then we shall be kept from falling!
I think that I can put this matter pretty plainly. You must have known, you must have read of, or you must have seen, some people, whom you believe to be true and real Christians; and in their lives there is nothing glaringly wrong, nothing that is so offensive that they can be excluded from the church, or for which their Christian friends would condemn them as hypocrites; yet, somehow, their lives are, to say the least, questionable, doubtful. There is good in them; but that good is blotted. We trust that there is in them a true desire to be right; but there are so many sad failures in their lives that they seem to stumble to heaven rather than to run there. Now, our desire is that our life may not be of that kind; and therefore we would lay hold upon this text, and plead it before the throne, “Lord, thou art able to guard us from stumbling, be pleased to do so, to the praise of the glory of thy grace!”
You will see that stumbling is itself a form of evil, if you think of another phase of it. There were some who stumbled at the doctrine of Christ in his own day. He had a number of followers who kept with him up to a certain point; but when the Saviour said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,” they went back, and walked no more with him. They could not understand what he meant, and they murmured, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So, being staggered and stumbled at the depth of this great mystery, they turned aside, and walked no more with him. Beloved, we want God so to uphold us and guard us that, whatever the teaching of his Holy Word may be, we shall receive it without a demur. I know that there are some Christian people who stumble at one doctrine, especially if they hear somebody denounce it; and there are others who are staggered at another doctrine, because they have met some very wise man, who knows better than the Word of God, and says that it cannot be true. In these days, there is very great liability to this kind of stumbling, especially among Christians who do not read their Bibles much; and I am sorry to say that there are plenty of such Christians. They read magazines, or perhaps works of fiction, rather than the sure Word of God; and they are thus easily caught in the snare of the fowler. Many professing Christians do not know what God’s Word really teaches, so they are not established in the faith; they do not know even the elements of the doctrines of Christ, they have not examined the immutable foundations of the faith, and they are staggered. And truly, the mysteries of the kingdom are so deep, and the teachings of Christ are so contrary to the reasonings of flesh and blood, that we need not wonder if some are stumbled. Let us cry to him who is able to guard us from stumbling that, with steady step, we may press on in the way of life, and never be ashamed of truth, lest truth should be ashamed of us. Let us believe what the Bible says, however difficult the believing may be, because God has said it. This should ever stand for us as the grand master-argument, not the reasonableness of the doctrine, not because it commends itself to our judgment, but the fact that God hath said it; that ends all debate. Christ is able to guard from stumbling as to doctrine.
Many others are stumbled at the cross. Strange to say, the cross of Christ has always been the stumbling-stone to the ungodly, and to mere professors. What! the cross of Christ an occasion of stumbling? Why, it is the very centre of apostolic teaching: “We preach Christ crucified.” Nowadays, there are two great points of attack; the one is the inspiration of Scripture, and the other is the substitutionary work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The enemies of the cross will not have a crucified Saviour; they stumble at that which is the very foundation of our faith. The Lord will keep us from stumbling at Christ’s cross, I am quite sure. It is the rock of our refuge, the pillar of our hope.
The cross that Christ carried involves one for us to carry. No sooner does a Christian man become a believer, and confess Christ in baptism, than he is sure to meet with some who straightway revile him. He has to take up his cross. A working-man among sceptical companions, a young girl in a book-folding warehouse, a wife who has an ungodly husband, as soon as they come out boldly on the side of Christ, straightway they have a cross to carry; and this causes a great many to stumble. Persecution and ridicule are too much for them; by-and-by they are offended, that is, they stumble at the cross. They would have Christ, but not any shame for Christ’s sake; they are like Mr. Pliable, who set out to go to the Celestial City, but when he tumbled into the Slough of Despond with Christian, he said that, if he could only get out on the side nearest to his own house, Christian might have the Celestial City all to himself, for he could not go through a slough to get there. How many there are of this kind, fearful ones; cowardly ones! But there is a God who is able to guard us from stumbling, and I trust that he will do so. May we never be stumbled by anything that happens to us for Christ’s sake! May we take joyfully the spoiling of our goods, if need be; yea, and suffer death itself, if it should ever come to that, sooner than turn aside from bearing the cross after the crucified Christ!
And this stumbling sometimes happens, not only at the doctrine of Christ, and at his cross, but at the precepts he has given. If we are to be Christ’s, we must obey him. “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” But one will stagger at one command of Christ, and another at another. Though Christ bids us love one another, there are some who can do anything but love. They can give their bodies to be burned, but they have no charity. When Christ bids us walk in integrity before all mankind, there are some who can do many good things, but they like little sly practices in trade, and they stumble at Christ because of those evil ways. You know there are many ways in which people try to be as little Christians as they can be, so as just to get into heaven. Miserable wretches, they want to save their souls, and yet after all to follow the ways of the world. So they stumble at the precepts of the Holy Christ. They cannot put up with commands like his, which lay the axe at the root of the tree. If you are kept by him who is able to guard you from stumbling, you will love every way of Christ, and every word of Christ, and your prayer will be, “Teach me thy statutes,” and your heart will willingly obey every precept of the Lord.
Once more, there are some who are staggered by the experience of believers. I speak now especially to young beginners. You have begun to be believers in Christ, and you have been very, very happy. I am very glad that you are. Long may your happiness continue! But there is another who has been, perhaps, in the way of the Lord for a few months; and suddenly a depression of spirit has come over him, and he says to himself, “Oh, dear me, is this the way of God’s people?” I remember that, within a week after I had found joy and peace in believing, I began to feel the uprisings of inbred sin, and I cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” I did not know that such a sigh and cry never could come out of an unbelieving heart, that there must be a new heart and a right spirit within the man to whom sin is a burden, and who loathes it. I did not know that then; and I wondered whether I could be a child of God at all. Oh, there are strange experiences for those who are on the road to heaven! You remember how John Newton sings—
“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
“I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
“Instead of this he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.”
The good man began to discover more and more his own sinfulness, and he said, “Lord, is this the way to holiness?” and he was stumbled for a moment. O beloved, it is only the grace of God that can make us feel that, whatever experiences we have within us, our faith looks to a living Christ, who never changes, and we rest in his finished work. Whether we are up or whether we are down, whether we sing or whether we sigh, we look beyond our changing moods unto him who loved us, and gave himself for us. Yet many have been stumbled by their own inner experiences, not understanding them. There is only One who can guard us from such stumblings.
So, then, dear friends, to close this description of stumbling, if we are guarded from stumbling we shall certainly be kept from falling. This is an inclusive blessing. It includes preservation from all falling into outward sin; and especially all final falling, all fatal falling. Christ is able to guard us from stumbling; much more is he able to preserve us from falling away, from utterly departing from the faith. But we should do that if it were not for his guardian care. There is nothing that the worst of men have done which the best of men could not do if they were left by the grace of God. Do not think so much of yourself as to imagine yourself incapable of even the greatest crime. That very thought proves that you are capable of committing any crime. I think that it is Mr. Cecil who says, “I thought myself humble, one day, when I said that I did wonder that I should have sinned as I had done in such a way; whereas,” said he, “if I had been truly humble, I should not have wondered that I sinned like that; I should have wondered at the grace of God that kept me from even greater sin; and I should have understood that my natural tendencies all went towards evil, and that the marvel was that they did not master me, and lead me farther into evil than I had gone.” Oh, beloved, we must be kept by God himself, or else stumbling, falling, foully and fatally falling, will be our lot! From that, however, the Lord will preserve us who are truly his.
So much, then, upon the danger to be dreaded.
II. Now, I must be somewhat more brief on the second point, THE PRIVILEGE TO BE ENJOYED: “Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling.”
Well, beloved friends, it is a great privilege to be guarded from stumbling, for it is a privilege that we greatly need. I was thinking of the many things that make us in danger of stumbling. There is, first, our weakness. It is the weak horse, you know, that stumbles and falls. It is out of condition, out of health, and down it goes. And we are weak, very weak. Then, consider the many roads that we have to travel. Here is a man who is a preacher, a husband, a father, a master. Some of you are tradesmen, or workmen; and beside your daily occupation, you have all your domestic relationships on you. Now, what you need is to be guarded all round from stumbling. We have heard of one who was all right at home, but he was very queer outside his house. I have heard of another who was an excellent man in the church; but if you had asked his wife about him, she would not have liked to describe him. A man may be a very good man at a prayer-meeting; but he may be a very poor hand when you get him at his work. I have known some move very slowly indeed at that time; nobody would have liked to pay them by the day. Now, it is an evil thing when a Christian is bad anywhere; but it is a grand thing, and only God can enable us to attain to it, when we do not stumble in any one of the ways which we have to go, but are kept walking uprightly always.
And then, you know, it is the pace that makes some people stumble. See the pace we have to go at now. When I think of our dear old fathers in the country, I almost envy their quiet lives; not up too early, and seldom going to bed very late, not much to do, leading very steady sort of lives. They travelled by broad-wheeled waggons, and we fly over the ground by express trains, and want to go twice as quickly as we can, and all the while we have so much to do.
And, then, it is not only the pace, dear friends, but it is the loads that some of you have to carry. Oh, the weights that are piled upon some of God’s people in their business! Only God can keep an overloaded heart from stumbling; and the ways are very rough just now. You hardly meet anybody in trade who does not say, “Ah, we have a rough bit of ground to travel over now; stone in plenty, and no steam roller!” But there is One who is able to keep you from falling.
Perhaps there are some of you who have not to travel over a rough bit of road; your path is very smooth; you have all that heart can wish for, and every comfort that you could desire. You want to be guarded from stumbling, for you are on a very slippery road. If there has been a thaw, and then a frost comes on at night, the road may be very pretty to look at, but it is very bad for a horse’s feet; and so prosperity is a very slippery way for God’s people. The Lord must keep them from falling, or they will go down with a crash.
Then there is the length of the road as well as the other things I have mentioned. If we had to serve God only for a short time, one might easily do it; but we may have to go on for fifty years, sixty years, seventy years, eighty years. I think, sometimes, that if martyr days were to come, and they would burn me quickly, I could endure it; but it would be a terrible trial to be roasted at a slow fire; yet our lives are often so prolonged, and filled with trial and temptation, that it is like being roasted alive by a slow fire. The road is long, and the pace has become very trying, so we may easily stumble; but the text gives us good cheer, for it tells us of him that is able to guard us from stumbling.
It is not only needful for us to be kept, but it is very gracious on Christ’s part to keep us. Beloved, what if you should have this text fulfilled in you, so that, through a long and trying life, you should so live that, when your enemies wanted to find fault with you, they would not know where to begin? Live so that if they look you up and down, they will have to say of you as they said of Daniel, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” Oh, if you should go down to the grave faultless,— not that we can any of us be in ourselves faultless in the sight of God,— but if you live such blameless lives that no one shall be able to say evil of you, but shall be compelled to confess that in you the life of Christ has been reflected in your measure, what a privilege it will be! And this is the privilege set before you in the text, that you shall not be stumbled.
What distress you will be saved from if you are guarded from stumbling! A stumbling Christian has to be a sorrowing Christian. When a child of God stumbles, and knows it, he very soon takes to weeping, and humbling himself in the presence of his God. But if you are kept by the grace of God, you will be saved from many a bitter pang, and helped to go from joy to joy, and grace to grace.
What a blessing such a person is to other people in the Church of God! Without saying anything against our fellow-Christians, we know where our respect and confidence usually go. When we have seen brothers and sisters, who have been upheld and sustained in trial and temptation, and have not stumbled, we take delight in them. Those of us who are younger and weaker, go and hide, as it were, under the shadow of their wing.
And what a blessing such people are to the world! Those are the true saints who help to spread the gospel of Christ. A holy life is a missionary enterprise. An unstumbling life is an incentive to others to run along the heavenly road, trusting in the divine power to guard them also from stumbling.
Best of all that I have to say is this, that this privilege is attainable: “Unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling.” “Oh!” says one, “if I just get to heaven, it will satisfy me.” Will it? I pray you, do not talk so. Just to get in, like a tempest-tossed barque, waterlogged, or like a wreck just towed into the harbour at last,— well, it is a great mercy to get to heaven anyhow; but that is a poor way of getting in. Better would it be to steam into the harbour, with a full cargo, and plenty of passengers on board, and all the flags flying to the honour of the Great King and Pilot, who has guarded you through the storm, that “so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” May it be so with you! Oh, that we may not have to send off the tugs, and tow you into the harbour; but that instead thereof, you may come in, with a fleet of little ships behind you, able to say, “Here am I, and the children that thou hast given me”! This is a privilege worth having, and it cannot be attained except through him who is able to guard you from stumbling.
III. Now I will lead you on, in the third place, with great brevity, to remember THE POWER WHICH BESTOWS THIS PRIVILEGE.
To be guarded from stumbling throughout a long life, is not of ourselves. It is not to be found in our own experience; not even in the means of grace alone. That same power that made the heavens and the earth, and keeps the earth and heavens in their places, is needed to make a Christian, and to keep him standing before the sons of men.
“Unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling.” God has this power. He has power over all circumstances. He can so arrange the trials of your life that you shall never be tempted beyond what you are able to bear; he has power also over Satan, so that, when he desires to have you to sift you as wheat, the Lord can keep him back. God will not allow him to overcome you.
Best of all, God has power over our hearts. He can keep us alive with holy zeal; he can keep us so believing, so loving, so hoping, so watching, so fully obedient, that we shall not stumble at his Word, or stumble at anything else.
Jude speaks of “the only wise God”, so that, God’s power is joined with wisdom. He knows your weakness, and he can guard you against it. He knows your tempters, and he can thrust them aside, or help you to overcome them. It is the wise God, as well as the strong God, who is able to guard you from stumbling, He knows where the stumbling-stones are, and where your weakness is; and he can and he will bring you safely through.
Yet once more, the One who guards us from stumbling is our Saviour as well as the only wise God. It is his business to save you. It is his office to save you, and save you he will. Commit yourself to-night to his guardian care, and walk with him. That is a high favour, that you may not only be kept from falling, but even be guarded from stumbling, to the praise and glory of his grace.
I have been very brief where I should have liked to enlarge.
IV. I finish with this point, THE GLORY WHICH IS DUE TO CHRIST FOR THIS PRIVILEGE. If we are guarded from stumbling, we may take no credit to ourselves; but we must lay the crown at the feet of him to whom the power belongs.
If he has kept us from stumbling until now, let us praise him for the past. Oh, what a mercy to have had this keeping year after year! Notwithstanding many imperfections and follies, which we have had to confess, yet we have been kept from any grievous stumbling that would have dishonoured the holy name of Christ. Bless God to-night that you have been kept from stumbling to-day. I do not know where you have been; but I have no doubt you have been where you might have slipped if you had been left by the Spirit of God. You have been in the shop; you have been in the home; you have been in the street; you have been on the Exchange; you have been among ungodly men. Ay, and even among Christian men, you can soon commit yourself, and trip up. If you have been kept to-day, do not say, “How good I am!” No, no, no; say, “Now unto him who has guarded me from stumbling, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.”
Now, will you begin to praise him for the future as well? You have not experienced it yet; but remember that verse which we often sing,—
“And a new song is in my mouth,
To long-loved music set;
Glory to thee for all the grace
I have not tasted yet.”
Begin to thank the Lord that he will keep you from falling in the future. Bless him that he will present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
And the next time that danger comes to you, praise him that he can guard you from stumbling. To-morrow morning, perhaps, you have a difficult task before you. You are looking forward, in the course of the week, to something that will be very trying. Well, praise God now, that he is able to guard you from stumbling. But oh, what a song we will give him when we are once over the river! When we climb the celestial hills, when we enter heaven, and find ourselves among the white-robed, blood-washed throng, I wonder which of us will praise him most. Well, let us not wait till then; but let us begin here; let us rehearse the music of the spheres now. Let us say, “Now unto him that is able to guard us from stumbling, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.”
This sermon does not belong to all of you, I am sorry to say. I wish that it did; but remember, dear hearer, that he who can keep the saint from stumbling, can bring the sinner into the right way. The same grace that can preserve the child of God from falling into sin can bring you out of sin; and as we have to look wholly to Christ, certainly you must do so. May the Lord lead you to look to-night out of yourself, and your feelings, and your doings, and trust to the Lord Jesus, who died, but lives again, and lives to save guilty men! Whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life; and he will bring them into his way, and keep them from stumbling, and present them among the rest of his blood-washed, to praise his name for ever. The Lord bless this meditation, for Christ’s sake! Amen.