The Elect Lady.

2 John.

Both the second and the third epistles of John are, as to form, personal letters, but as to their contents they possess an abiding importance for the people of God in all ages. In harmony with the apostle's line they yet contain instructions (not elsewhere found) which furnish guidance for perplexed souls in a day of departure from the truth, and when the signs of the coming apostasy are multiplying on every hand. It is not a little remarkable that the one who has often been termed the apostle of love should be the chosen instrument for the unsparing exposure of false teachers. (See 1 John 2:18 - 23; 4:1 - 6.) We may learn from this fact the immense difference between divine love and that catholicity of sentiment which, passing under the guise of charity, is nothing less than Laodicean lukewarmness and indifference to the truth. The former is of God, the latter is from man.

This characteristic difference is seen from the address to the elect lady and her children, "whom," John says, "I love in the truth; and," as he proceeds to add, "not I only, but also all they that have known the truth." The love therefore which John entertained for this godly saint and her children was both formed and limited (if limits can be spoken of when the subject is infinite) by the truth - by the revelation of God in Christ. Outside of this blessed circle the apostle's heart did not, and could not, flow, in so far as he was controlled by the Holy Ghost. This is at once seen when John adds, "but also all they that have known the truth." Every heart, in other words, that cherishes the truth must love those who are also under its power, and it will be expressed moreover "for the truth's sake which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever." No doubt that human affection, springing from partialities and preferences, is often mistaken for divine love; but such a scripture as this supplies the needed test and corrective. Even the salutation (v. 3) confirms this, inasmuch as it closes with the words "in truth and love," binding these two things together in an indissoluble union.

The aged apostle had been filled with joy in that he had found the elect lady's children walking in truth, "as we have received a commandment from the Father." It was not enough for the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, that these souls were converted. What made him rejoice greatly was, that, having been converted, their lives were governed by the truth. Conversion is indeed an unspeakable mercy, but it is not everything. It is the introduction to a new sphere, in which Christ may be glorified in walk and ways. In order to this the truth must be apprehended, and hence the need of systematic instruction for young believers after they have been brought to the knowledge of Christ as their Saviour. The Lord Himself showed His solicitude for the lambs, as well as for the sheep, in His charge to Peter after his restoration. And the only safeguards for the babes in the family of God, as is taught in the first epistle, in the presence of seductive errors, are the Spirit and the word of God. Let those, then, who are older in the divine life, ever seek to help the younger to be found walking in the truth.

The apostle gives next a commandment, not a new one, but "that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." "From the beginning" will refer, according to John's usage of this expression, to the presence of Christ on the earth, and may consequently be an allusion to the words, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12.) And observe that, as to the spiritual life, this is the only precept John sends to the elect lady. How much, however, is involved in it! There could not be the exhibition of love to the saints without the divine nature, "for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7); and wherever love is thus expressed it is the divine nature in activity. It would not be too much to say, therefore, that for the mutual love of the saints there must be the enjoyment of God's love, and thus necessarily an ungrieved Spirit. Love to one another is love in communion with the heart of God, and is, as Paul teaches, the spring of holiness in walk and conduct. (1 Thess. 3:12-13.)

If, however, the apostle reminds the elect lady of the constant obligation of the divine nature, he will not leave her in any uncertainty as to the real character of love. "And this is love, that we walk after His commandments." He had said in the first epistle, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." (Chap. 5:2-3.) Love which is of God can only flow forth according to the nature of God, and thus in divine channels. Now the commandments of God are the expressions of His nature, of what He is, and are in this way revelations of Himself to us in, and through, the living Word. We have, therefore, infallible directions for the love of which John speaks. Neglecting these, confusion must be produced among the people of God to their spiritual loss and damage. Love edifieth, but only when it is manifested according to God, when, that is, we walk according to His commandments. For if through grace we possess a divine nature, it must express itself after the pattern of its divine original as seen in Christ when down here upon the earth; and then every expression of love to one another becomes, at the same time, a revelation of the heart of Christ. Moreover, "if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us." Into what an infinite circle of divine blessedness then does loving one another introduce us!

Nothing so preserves the saints from erroneous and false teachings as walking in the power of the truth. The nearer we are to Christ the more readily we detect what is not of Him; even as He said, "My sheep hear my voice" - "they know not the voice of strangers." So here the apostle first urges walking in "the commandment," and then warns the elect lady of surrounding dangers. Many deceivers, he says, have entered ("gone out" is a better reading) into the world; but they could be discerned from the fact that they did not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh. It was not so much a denial of the incarnation (although this might be included) as the refusal to own, and bow to, the claims and authority of Christ as "come in the flesh." This John solemnly affirms is the deceiver and the antichrist; that is, we apprehend, the spirit of antagonism to Christ and His claims, which will eventually culminate and find expression in the man of sin. (Compare 1 John 2:18-22.) The final form of hostility to Christ and Christianity may be thus gathered from current teachings. What need for holy vigilance in the power of the Holy Ghost!

In the next exhortation (v. 8) a principle is contained, which is everywhere affirmed in the Scriptures. It teaches that the best preservative against declension, or seduction, lies in the cultivation of our own spiritual condition. (Compare Acts 20:28, 1 Tim. 4:16.) We learn, moreover, that the apostle in his ministry was encouraged by the prospect of enjoying its fruits in glory. He had already alluded to this in the first epistle (chap. 2:28); and here he more formally states it on the positive side, in that he speaks of receiving "a full reward." It is no question of salvation, as the reader will at once perceive; for this is pure and sovereign grace. But the Lord, although He Himself gives the ability for, and the privilege of, service, is pleased to attach a recompense to His servant's fidelity. John therefore exhorted the elect lady and her children to look to themselves, lest, failing under the testing they might undergo, it should turn out that they were only professors, and he should, as to them, have laboured in vain, and so lose his full reward. Not indeed that he had any doubt of their reality, as verses 1 - 4 show, only he would have them fully sensible of the dangers by which they were encompassed.

And it is to be much observed, that false doctrine, and false doctrine concerning the person of Christ, is the special snare he has in view. "Whoever goes forward,* and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." The meaning of the words "goes forward" has been well said to be development. That is, starting from the scriptural teaching of the person of Christ, and reasoning from the truth, new thoughts or inferences are developed and presented in the attractive guise of profounder insight and of a more exalted spirituality, so that unwary souls are readily entangled. John meets the snare by saying that whoever does this "hath not God"; and that, on the other hand, he that ABIDETH in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. To maintain the truth therefore will be to incur the charge of not "going forward"; but what a recompense lies in adhering to the teaching of the Christ - "he hath both the Father and the Son"! Well for us is it that the Lord in His tender care has given such plain and weighty instructions - instructions which can be understood even by the feeblest.
{*This is the generally preferred reading.}

Verse 9 is the foundation of the following exhortation, in which the apostle sets forth what our attitude should be towards false teachers on this subject. It is clear that preachers abounded at this period; and on this account it was necessary to put the saints on their guard. If they brought the truth, if servants of Christ and doing His work, the saints were responsible to receive them and their testimony; "If," however, John says, "there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (the doctrine of the Christ), receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." In such a case there must be no compromise whatever, no consideration for personal character, or for an outwardly blameless walk, which might be associated with a false teacher; nor must there be any hesitation in action. Once it became evident that the teacher did not bring the true doctrine (however alluring his own might be to the natural mind), he must be instantly refused; nor must he be entertained in the saints' houses, or receive even the ordinary courtesies of salutation. For to "greet him" (this is the significance of the word rendered "God speed") would be moral identification with the false teacher, and a becoming "partaker of his evil deeds." Surely this instruction has been almost entirely ignored in the church of God, to her own bitter and sorrowful loss!
{*The "Amen" is probably an ecclesiastical addition.}

The apostle had many things to write; but he forbore for the present, as he trusted soon to see his correspondent, and to speak face to face: "that," he added, as showing how he prized fellowship in the spirit, "our joy may be full." Having put the elect lady on her guard "against all that is equivocal with respect to the person of Christ," he had delivered the message with which he had been entrusted. He therefore concludes his letter with the words, "The children of thy elect sister greet thee."* Who these were, or who the elect lady was, (vv. 1 and 13), has not been revealed. It is to the truth communicated, rather than to the persons, that our attention is directed. May we receive grace to lay it to heart.