The Garment Spotted by the Flesh

by Glenn Conjurske

“And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 23).

The first thing which must be understood here is that this admonition is addressed to the evangelist, not to the sinner. It is not addressed to the one who needs to be saved, but to the one who labors to save him. The application of the passage to lost sinners is productive of great doctrinal confusion, as well as great practical difficulty. When sinners are told that they must hate their sins in order to repent and be saved, they are really set upon an impossible task, which must lead them to despair at last, if they are honest with their own hearts. Though men of course hate the consequences of sin, yet they love the sin, and are generally willing to risk the consequences in order to cling to the sin. This is the precise reason why there are few that are saved. But be that as it may, God does not require the sinner to hate his sins, but to forsake them—-to forsake them in spite of the fact that he loves them. He must cut off his right hand, though he loves it. He must pluck out his right eye, though he loves it, and cannot help but love it. This is the Bible doctrine of self-denial. And here, indeed, we see the great divide between the soul and the spirit. In his soul, which is the seat of the emotions, a man may be ever so much attached to his sin, and have no power to hate it, yet in his spirit he has the power to choose to forsake it, and this it is that God requires of him.

It is the evangelist who is to hate the garment spotted by the flesh—-to treat the sin as the loathsome and destructive thing that it is, to make no excuse for it, and no compromise with it. This is a most wholesome and necessary direction to evangelists in particular, who are wont to be so filled with tender love and compassion for erring souls, and to so yearn to pour out that love and compassion upon them, that they may be very naturally inclined to deal softly with the sinner’s sins. And there is often a great plenty in the plight of the convicted sinner to rend the very heart of a loving child of God, and to so strengthen his yearning pity that he is powerfully tempted to pass lightly over the sin—-to fail to probe the wound as it needs, but proceed at once to the application of the healing balm.

He sees the sinner heavy laden under the burden of his guilt before God. He sees him crushed under the shame which he must bear if he comes clean before man. He sees him involved in complex wrongs which implicate others besides himself, but from which he must wrench himself free if he is to return to God. He sees him quail before the consequences which he must face if he forsakes his wicked way—-perhaps public exposure, perhaps prison, perhaps the loss of his position or livelihood, perhaps the loss of his dearest friend or lover, perhaps a crushing debt to make restitution for his past misdeeds. By all of this the loving heart of the laborer for souls cannot help but be deeply moved, and what a temptation he has to lower the standard a bit, to compromise with the sinner and deal lightly with his sins.

But to deal lightly in such a case is to deal falsely, as Jeremiah says: “From the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:13-14). There is no peace with God until sin is forsaken. That is the main point, and if we apply the healing balm before that is secured, we heal the wound slightly, and deceive the sinner. To “save them with fear, pulling them out of the fire,” is to save them from their sins. If we leave them yet clad in the garment spotted by the flesh, we leave them “yet in their sins,” and so yet in the fire.

We do not advocate any hardness or harshness in dealing with sinners. Love is incapable of that. What we advocate is firmness and strictness in upholding the claims of Christ and of righteousness. This may be done, and ought to be done, with nothing but the most tender-hearted sympathy—-with nothing but gentleness and mildness and pity and tears. And yet it must be done. A most beautiful example of this is seen in the dealings of Gipsy Smith—-one of the greatest evangelists of all time—-with a poor, distraught sinner. The very title of the sermon in which this appears—-“Slay Utterly”—-is very suggestive. Gipsy says,

I was trying to preach on this truth a few years ago, and at the close of the inquiry meeting the wife of one of the ministers came to see me. She said, “There is a young lady there wants to speak to you; she refuses to go away. Nobody seems to be able to help her; she will speak to the preacher.” I said, “I will go with you,” and we went into the room. I went to the other end of the room and spoke to this poor thing. She said, “Sir, I want to confess an awful sin. I am a mother, and I fathered my child on an innocent man. He was a student in one of the theological colleges studying for the ministry, and I blighted his life as well as branded him. I took him through three courts and won my case, but I have a bit of hell inside. He was dismissed and disgraced, and he is as innocent as you are. What am I to do?”

“Do?” I said; “do right.”

She said, “I have no peace.”

“And you may never have peace,” I said, “in this world; but you may have pardon on condition. There is no such thing as peace for you, till you have done right, and undone the wrong.” I could not spare her. I had to be faithful in order to save. I said—-

“You must take off that brand as publicly as you put it on—-just as publicly.”

“Oh, sir!” she said, “he will send me to prison.”

I said, “If it means prison, and you go to prison, you will go with the consciousness that you made an honest attempt to undo the wrong, but for you the way to heaven is viâ that confession, and there is no such thing as joy or peace in God for you without taking up your cross.”

I shall never forget the effect my words made on that poor thing. She bent, she collapsed, and my heart ached for her. Yet I dare not heal the hurt of that poor thing slightly, nor cry “Peace” falsely. I had to be faithful, and as I knelt beside her I said—-

“When you are willing as far as lies in your power to undo the wrong, God will help you, and He will not forsake you.”

Presently she bit her lip till it bled, and, clasping the chair in front of her, she said, “Oh God, I will do it if it means gaol.”

Another of the greatest of evangelists, John Wesley, displays the same wisdom in his “Word to an Unhappy Woman” (a harlot, that is). He says,

So you ask, What shall I do? First, sin no more. First of all, secure this point. Now, this instant, now, escape for your life; stay not; look not behind you. Whatever you do, sin no more; starve, die, rather than sin. Be more careful for your soul than your body. Take care of that too, but of your poor soul first.

“But you have no friend; none at least that is able to help you.” Indeed you have: one that is a present help in time of trouble. You have a friend that has all power in heaven and earth, even Jesus Christ the righteous. He loved sinners of old; and he does so still. He then suffered the publicans and harlots to come unto him. And one of them washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. I would to God you were in her place! Say, Amen! Lift up your heart, and it shall be done. How soon will he say, “Woman, be of good cheer; thy sins, which were many, are forgiven thee. Go in peace. Sin no more. Love much; for thou hast much forgiven.”

So you still ask, But what shall I do for bread; for food to eat, and raiment to put on? I answer, in the name of the Lord God, (and, mark well! His promise shall not fail,) “Seek thou first the kindgom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto thee.”

Settle it first in your heart, Whatever I have or have not, I will not have everlasting burnings. I will not sell my soul and body for bread; better even starve on earth than burn in hell. Then ask help of God. He is not slow to hear. He hath never failed them that seek him. He who feeds the young ravens that call upon him, will not let you perish for lack of sustenance. He will provide, in a way you thought not of, if you seek him with your whole heart. O let your heart be toward him; seek him from the heart! Fear sin, more than want, more than death.

All of this is encompassed in hating the garment spotted by the flesh. But observe, next, this is to be done “with fear.” And this fear is not to be confined to the fear we may feel for the sinner himself. When a man is engaged in pulling another man out of a fire, he has plenty of occasion to fear for himself. “Lay hands suddenly on no man,” says Paul, “neither be partaker of other men’s sins: Keep thyself pure.” (I Tim. 5:22). “Suddenly” is without due care, without due examination of the man’s character. By this means we may be partakers of other men’s sins, and this is surely reason enough to fear for ourselves. And where evangelism is in question, we have reason enough to fear for the church of God and the testimony of Christ. When standards are lowered, or loosely held, or carelessly applied, how quickly the church of God is corrupted. Excuses are made for the garment spotted by the flesh, “converts” are admitted into the church who compromise with sin, and every one so admitted takes the church farther from God. I believe this is one of the primary reasons for the weakness and worldliness of the church in our day. It is just the same today as it was in Israel of old. When the true Israel went up out of Egypt, “a mixed multitude went up also with them,” (Ex. 12:38), and presently their true colors were shown, “and the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting.” (Num. 11:4). But the softness which excuses and tolerates this mixed multitude, in admitting them into the church in the first place, must of course excuse and tolerate their ways once they are inside, and so their ways influence and corrupt the whole church. Here is occasion enough to “save them with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” We cannot expect sinners to take this ground of their own accord. Those who labor to save them must see to it. Most of the religion of the world (and of much of what calls itself the church) consists of compromise with sin—-of finding a way to hold on to sin, while appeasing the conscience, and entertaining a hope of eternal life. It is the evangelist who must hate the garment spotted by the flesh.

“The garment,” of course, is a figure of speech, as is “the flesh.” “The flesh” refers not to the body, but to sin in the heart, and the garment spotted by it is the working out of that sin in the conduct. This figure immediately takes our minds back to the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus. That entire chapter deals with leprosy, the first three quarters of it with leprosy in a person, and the last quarter with leprosy in a garment. Leprosy is a loathsome and deadly disease, and as such it is the well known type of sin in the flesh. Here, then, where we see the garment spotted with it, we may surely suppose that we have the equivalent of Jude’s “garment spotted by the flesh.” Now observe how such a garment is to be dealt with.

“The garment also that the plague of leprosy is in, whether it be a woollen garment, or a linen garment, whether it be in the warp, or woof, of linen, or of woollen, whether in a skin, or in any thing made of skin, and if the plague be greenish or reddish in the garment, or in the skin, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin, it is a plague of leprosy, and shall be SHEWED unto the priest, and the priest shall LOOK upon the plague, and shut up it that hath the plague seven days. And he shall LOOK on the plague on the seventh day: if the plague be spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in a skin, or in any work that is made of skin, the plague is a fretting leprosy: it is unclean. He shall therefore burn that garment, whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or any thing of skin, wherein the plague is, for it is a fretting leprosy: it shall be burnt in the fire.” (Vss. 47-52).

The thing which we observe at once here is the careful examination and scrutiny of this garment, to ascertain with certainty whether it has the leprosy or not. If the plague is found to have spread, the garment is to be rejected without further scrutiny, and burned in the fire. Leprosy is a dangerous thing, not to be trifled with. The garment which is defiled with it is to be hated, and handled “with fear.”

But further, “And if the priest shall LOOK, and behold, the plague be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin, then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is, and he shall shut it up seven days more. And the priest shall LOOK on the plague, after that it is washed, and, behold, if the plague have not changed his colour, and the plague be not spread, it is unclean, thou shalt burn it in the fire: it is fret inward, whether it be bare within or without.” (Vss. 53-55). Observe again the careful looking upon this garment. The plague had not spread, but yet there must be further examination and scrutiny. The leprosy is a dread disease, and cannot be treated with anything other than fear. No garment is to be pronounced clean lightly. Though the plague has not spread, yet if it has not changed, the garment is still unclean—-still to be hated and feared and burned.

And yet again, “And if the priest LOOK, and behold, the plague be somewhat dark after the washing of it, then he shall rend it out of the garment, or out of the skin, or out of the warp, or out of the woof. And if it APPEAR STILL in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in any thing of skin, it is a spreading plague: thou shalt burn that wherein the plague is with fire.” (Vss. 56-57).

What care! what scrutiny, must be exercised over this garment! In the face of leprosy, we must proceed with the utmost caution—-yea, “with fear.” Nothing is to be taken for granted, nothing hazarded, nothing spared. Though the plague has not spread, and though it has changed, yet if a spot remains, we must rend it out, and subject the garment to further scrutiny. This rending out of the spot may well figure some painful and peremptory discipline. If after this action the spot still appears, “it is a spreading plague”—-to be feared and rejected.

But finally, “And the garment, either warp, or woof, or whatsoever thing of skin it be, which thou shalt wash, IF THE PLAGUE BE DEPARTED FROM THEM, then it shall be washed the second time, and shall be clean.” (Vs. 58). “If the plague be departed from them.” This is the only condition upon which the garment may be spared, and that only after the most careful and painstaking scrutiny, that there may be no mistake about it.

This is the original of Jude’s figure. This is the care, the fear, with which we must deal with “the garment spotted by the flesh.” Sin is a more loathsome and dangerous thing than leprosy, and were they to exercise more care about that than we are about this? We dare not. The wicked must be saved “with fear”—-fear for them, fear for ourselves, fear for the church of God, fear for the testimony of Christ. It is the nature of sin to spread. A root of bitterness springing up will defile many. We have no right to allow it in the church of God. We must “look diligently” lest it should spring up. (Heb. 12:15). We have no right to bring it into the church of God. We must insist upon thorough repentance, as the Bible everywhere does. We cannot take anything for granted, but must exercise the most careful scrutiny over the garments of those whom we admit into the church. This means making careful inquiry into the conduct of those who apply for membership in the congregation. While Joshua took too much for granted, the wedge of gold and the goodly Babylonish garment under the tent of Achan turned the face of God away from the camp of Israel. If we fail to exercise that care and scrutiny, we heal the wound slightly. We admit the mixed multitude into the church, and drive God out of it, while we deceive the poor souls we think to save. May God help us to hate the garment spotted by the flesh.

Glenn Conjurske