Before we come to the details of this short Epistle we may point out several features of a more general nature.
The Author's name is not mentioned. This feature characterizes also
the first and third Epistles, yet in each case there can be no doubt
that John is the writer. The style is identical, agreeing also with the
Gospel that bears his name. It is quite remarkable that not once does
John mention his own name in his writings, save in the Revelation. Yet
there is something very fitting in this. His Gospel and Epistles deal
with such a transcendent theme-God revealed in One, who was no less
than "the Son of the Father"-that the human writer is not noticed in
the glory of that light.
This second Epistle, as also the third, comes in as a kind of
appendix or postscript to the first Epistle. It was evidently in the
first place a communication of a private nature to a certain Christian
lady and her family, but has been brought by God into permanency in the
pages of Scripture, because it supplies very needful instruction not
found elsewhere. It is the only Epistle addressed to a woman, and the
instruction gains force from that fact.
In verses 1 and 2 the greatest possible emphasis is laid upon
Epistle itself gives directions as to the action necessary for the
defence of the truth; and the first thing we find is that all Christian
relationships and affections are founded upon truth, and are to be
governed by it. The love that is proper to Christians is
"in the truth;" since
it springs forth as the fruit of our having been begotten of God, as
the first Epistle has shown us. Being begotten of God we are "in Him
that is true," and love according to truth springs up within our
hearts. Therefore the love, that John bore toward the elect lady and
her children, found a place also in the hearts of all those who had
been brought to a knowledge of the truth, as begotten of God.
But that love not only found its origin in the knowledge of the truth, it also found expression
"for the truth's sake." The
truth is of surpassing importance-since the world is filled with error
and delusion-and we should be ready to suffer for the sake of it. Many
have suffered, even to a martyr's death. Here, however, it is not a
suffering for the sake of the truth, but
the sake of the truth. That bears in two directions: the love must be
sincere and without the partiality which is so natural to the flesh;
and also it must be intolerant of evil, since truth and error can never
agree together. It is the
second of these two considerations which is stated in this Epistle. The third Epistle deals with the
The two statements as to the truth, which verse 2 contains, are very
pregnant with meaning. The truth (1) "dwelleth in us." and (2) "shall
be with us for ever." We connect the two thoughts with two sayings:
that of the first Epistle, "the Spirit is truth," and the saying of our
Lord in the Gospel, "I am the truth."
The truth "dwelleth in us," inasmuch as the Spirit indwells us, and
He is truth. He is not mentioned in this short Epistle, but He is
implied in these words. He is truth
us; for He does not speak "of" or "from" Himself, but He glorifies
Christ who is the truth, and taking of His things He ministers them to
us. Hence every Spirit-indwelt believer has truth
dwelling in him-an immense privilege and preservative in a world of error.
This fact leads us to the conclusion that the detection and refusal
of evil doctrine is not for the believer primarily a matter of
intellect or brainpower. It is primarily a matter of what we may call
spiritual instinct. Mere intellect again and again leads even true
believers astray. All the errors, that have afflicted the church during
her nineteen centuries of history, have been in the first place
launched by men of intellectual prowess. And on the other hand, very
unlettered believers, when false teaching has been pressed upon them,
have been heard to say, "Well, I can't help feeling it is all wrong,
though I don't understand their ideas and cannot criticize them." This
fact justifies the Apostle in writing the instructions of this Epistle
to even a lady and her children.
It is also a fact, thank God, that the truth "shall be
with us for ever," inasmuch as Christ is the truth
and we are never to be separated from Him. Truth as well as grace fully
arrived on the scene when the Lord Jesus came. In Him all that God is
stands fully disclosed. In Him light and truth shine about everything,
and the darkness, the error, the unrealities disappear. As we turn our
eyes upon Jesus we contemplate the One in whom truth is personified.
The truth is "with us," to be considered and adoringly admired, and by
which, as a standard, everything may be tested.
This is of deep importance to us at the present time, while Satan the deceiver is still at large. Yet we shall
the truth personified before our eyes, and He is to be with us for
ever. Let us not forget for present emergencies that He as the truth is
the test for everything that may be presented to us in the way of
doctrine, and that the Spirit who indwells us, forming our instincts,
is truth likewise.
Since Christ is the truth objectively before our eyes all the error
of which Satan is the originator is aimed, whether directly or
indirectly, at Him. Not without reason therefore is His glory so fully
unfolded in verse 3. Jesus is stated to be not only Lord and Christ but
also "the Son of the Father." This is the only place where this exact
expression occurs, though He is frequently called the Son of God. The
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has many families both in heaven and
earth, as we are told in Ephesians 3: 14, 15, yet He is the only One
who has the supreme place of
the Son of the Father-the supreme Object of His love. That is who He is: a little later in the Epistle we shall see
what He became.
The Apostle had much joy because he had found some of the children
of the elect lady walking in truth. They were not mercy confessing the
truth and holding it, but they were walking in it-that is, their ways
and activities were governed by it. The Father Himself has commanded
this: His truth has reached us in order that we may be controlled by
it. Nothing less than this is pleasing to Him. And now, turning to the
elect lady herself, the Apostle beseeches her to proceed on just those
lines; having in view the instruction he is about to give her as to
those who propagate not truth but error.
First of all however, in verse 5, he enforces the great commandment
that we love one another-the commandment with which we are already very
familiar, as having read the first Epistle. He repeats here that this
is not a new commandment, something only now issued. It is the
commandment which we have had from the beginning, from the very first
moment that the true light began to shine in Christ. The love of God
was manifested in Christ, and it demanded and produced love in those
who were the recipients of it.
But then love manifests itself practically in obedience to the will
of God. There may be love on the lips without obedience in the life;
but love in the heart must produce obedience in the life. And in
particular the commandment of love is that we should walk, and continue
to walk, in all that which from the outset has been made known to us in
Christ. The danger now threatening was that under various specious
pretexts some should be moved away to follow and obey ideas which were
foreign to that which had been from the beginning.
In verse 7 John speaks very plainly. Many had "entered" or "gone
out" into the world who were nothing but deceivers. He does not say you
notice, "gone out into the church," but "into the world." He alludes
apparently to the same kind of people as those that he warned us
against in chapter 2 of his first Epistle. Those, he said, "went out
from us," giving up all pretence of being connected with the church.
They turned their backs, it appears, upon the church of God, and they
went forth into the world as missionaries of greater "light" than any
which the church had possessed. Influenced by the powers of darkness
they became heralds of notions which were a skilful blend of heathen
philosophies and Christian terms. They still talked about Christ, but
their "Christ" was not the Christ of God.
All through the nineteen centuries notions of this deadly kind have
been advanced, but the earliest form of them was that which is alluded
to here-the denial of Jesus Christ come in flesh. This particular point
is mentioned also in the opening of chapter 4 of the first Epistle.
When considering that passage we saw that the denial covers both His
Deity and His Manhood; for the fact that He came "in flesh" shows that
He was indeed a Man, and the fact that He existed so as to "come" in
that way shows that He was more than Man, even God. The non-confession
of the truth as to Christ stamped these propagandists as deceivers and
Verse 8 contains a salutary word for all who labour in the word and
doctrine. If saints to whom they minister are turned aside from the
truth they cannot expect a full reward in the coming day. Their reward
is bound up with the faithfulness and prosperity of the saints. In this
note of warning sounded by John there is something which reminds us of
the notable words uttered by Paul, as recorded in Acts 20: 31.
Verse 8, however, is parenthetical, and verse 9 picks up the thread
from verse 7. These anti-christian deceivers were not abiding in the
doctrine of Christ. They were transgressing or going forward, as they
thought, to newer and better things. We have this kind of thing quite
full-blown today in what is known as "Modernism." The Modernist
believes that religion or theology is a human science, and that like
all sciences it must not stand still but advance with the times and
with the increase of all human knowledge. Hence he goes forward with
much confidence to what he conceives to be greater light. No doctrine
is sacred to the out-and-out Modernist. There is hardly one doctrine of
the Scripture which he leaves intact.
And there are forms of modernism which would hardly be classified as
"Modernist" in the religious world. They are not the less mischievous
on that account. They may as yet only "transgress" or "go forward" in
certain particulars. But it is the whole idea of "going forward" that
is wrong. If there may be development as to
some details of the faith, why not as to
There should indeed be growth in our apprehension of the truth. That
is another thing entirely, and it is quite clearly stated and enforced
in 1 John 2. The babe should become the young man, and the young man in
due time become the father. That as increasing apprehension of that
which has been made known from the beginning. The faith of Christ is
divine. It has come from God, and consequently cannot be improved upon
or developed. Let us lay hold upon that fact very firmly.
It is possible of course to hold that the truth has come from God,
and yet not to abide in the doctrine of Christ, because simple faith
becomes swamped in intellectualism and reasoning. This danger specially
threatens those who think more of
talking of truth than
walking in truth. It may in effect lead to just the same departure from the doctrine of Christ.
Now such departure means that the transgressor has not God. He has
neither the Father nor the Son, for it is impossible to have One
without the Other. He who abides in the doctrine-that is, in the
In order that there may be obedience to the commandment, "That, as
ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it," (ver. 6),
there must be a clear-cut refusal of all that denies or does not
confess the truth as to Christ; and verse 10 makes this very plain. The
refusal of evil and error is not inconsistent with love of a Divine
sort, it is rather an expression of it. Even amongst men if the parent
has genuine love for the child that love will be as much expressed in
the refusal of all that would imperil it as in feeding it with all that
So even this lady and her children were to have nothing to do with
the man who came to the house not bringing the true doctrine of Christ.
They were not to give him entrance into the house, not even to bid him
God speed. They were to meet him with the completest possible refusal.
It is very striking that action such as this should be incumbent upon a
lady and her children. Such as these would ordinarily be esteemed as
having less responsibility in such matters than any other saints. The
inference then is obvious: it is a responsibility then which rests upon
all of us as individuals, and which we cannot shelve with impunity.
We are not asked to judge as to his spiritual state, we have only to
judge as to the doctrine he brings. The point is not as to whether or
not he is well instructed as to details, dispensational, prophetic, and
the like. It is just this: does he, or does he not, bring the doctrine
of Christ. A Christian woman or her children are assumed to be capable
of discerning this, and acting rightly.
Notice too that the man who comes is a
travelling preacher. He comes to your door as the herald of something
better than that which you have known. The case contemplated is not
that of a believer of weak understanding, who gets entangled in what is
false as to Christ. All too often in these days, when a multiplicity of
errors are propagated, true saints get confused and waver and fall
under the influence of what is false. Such should be treated
differently, as indicated in Galatians 6: 1, Jude 22, 23, and elsewhere.
When the man who preaches a false Christ comes to your door the
refusal of him and his doctrine cannot be too complete. Even to bid him
God speed is to partake of his evil. We are not to lend ourselves to
the smallest or slightest association with such a thing.
This should teach us how exceedingly precious and valuable a thing
is the doctrine of Christ! It is the corner stone of our most holy
faith, and if that be shaken all will collapse in ruin. It must be
guarded at all cost.
Verse 12 also indicates this. There were many other things that the
Apostle had to say to the elect lady and her children-things, no doubt,
of spiritual importance. He looked forward a little and saw a time not
far distant when he would be able to convey these things by word of
mouth- a much more joyful method. This matter about which he wrote
however brooked no delay. Paper and ink might be a poorer medium, but
it was an urgent matter to put them on their guard in defence of the
Lastly notice that though John does not mention his name he speaks
of himself as "the elder." The Epistle furnishes us with an example of
the kind of service which was rendered by the elders, or presbyters, of
Biblical days. They exercised an oversight of a spiritual sort. They
gave guidance, in the way of practical directions, to those who were
less instructed in the ways of the Lord. They shepherded the flock of
The Apostle John by this brief yet inspired letter was shepherding
the souls of the elect lady and her children, and guarding them from
the threatened ravages of some of Satan's wolves.