2. MAIN DIVISION . Exhortation. Having thus stated what has led to his writing, the apostle passes on to the central portion of the letter ( 2 John 1:5-11 ), which consists of three exhortations: to love and obedience ( 2 John 1:5 , 2 John 1:6 ); against false doctrine ( 2 John 1:7-9 ); against false charity ( 2 John 1:10 , 2 John 1:11 ). The transition to this practical part of the Epistle is indicated by the opening particles, "And now."
If any one cometh unto you. As in 1 John 5:9 , the Greek construction (indicative with ει) , not conjunctive with ἐάν shows that the case is stated as a fact, and not as a mere supposition. "If people of this kind come—and it is well known that they do—do not receive them or give them a welcome." It is of the utmost importance to remember that St. John is here giving a rule for a special case, not laying down a general principle. His words give no sanction to the view that no hospitality is to be shown to heretics, still less to the monstrous mediaeval doctrine that no faith need be kept with them. The apostle is giving directions to a particular Christian household during a particular crisis in the history of the Christian faith. It by no means follows that he would have given the same directions to every household during that crisis, or to any household under totally different circumstances. We may well believe that he would not have followed them himself, but would have endeavoured "to convince the gainsayers." His charity towards them would not have been misunderstood, and his faith would not have been in danger of being subverted. It was otherwise with her and her children, as experience had proved. And before we take this verse as a rule for our own guidance, we must consider the difference, which may well constitute an essential difference, between a time in which those who confessed Jesus Christ coming in the flesh were a despised and persecuted handful, and one in which some courage is required to avow that one denies him.
This Epistle is written by the Apostle John to a Christian family. He, like the Apostle Peter had done before him ( 1 Peter 5:1 ), styles himself a presbyter. His First Epistle was written to a Church or to the Churches. In this, the Second Epistle, we have a priceless fragment of early Christian history, showing us the relation which subsisted between the apostle and a Christian family, and also to how large an extent the new Christian faith was in some instances moulding family life, by leavening it with the truth of God. It is to us surprising to find how many difficulties have seemed to gather round the question—Was the Epistle written to a society or to an individual? The former conclusion was drawn by some owing to the form of address being the second person plural; the latter, owing to the phrase, "to the elect lady." £ We do not adopt either hypothesis, but regard the phrase, "to the elect lady and her children," as a sufficient indication that the letter was written to a Christian family. With this supposition every phrase in the letter harmonizes. We do not know, indeed, the name of the surviving head of the family; but so many particulars concerning the family may be gathered from the letter, that we can retain, after studying it, a fairly clear and distinct impression of Christian family life in the first century. There are several features about it, which one by one may be suggestive of much instruction.
I. IT WAS A FAMILY WHERE " THE TRUTH " WAS RECEIVED AND EMBODIED . (Verses 1, 2.) What the apostle meant by "the truth" none can doubt who know his writings. Nor can any one who has enthroned the Saviour in his heart as the Son of God and the King of men, have any misgiving as to whether he has the truth or no. To him, the life he has in Jesus, and the love of him and from him which are shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, forbid him going any further in search of the truth. He has found it in Christ. It is the "pearl of great price." And where the truth is received in, and is leavening a family with its blessed influence, there is a home on which the eye of the Christian pastor can look with a loving gladness.
II. OVER THIS FAMILY THE APOSTLE HELD THE OFFICE OF PRESBYTER . (Verse 1.) "It is easy to see why St. John would choose such a title, which, while it described an official position, suggested also a fatherly relation" (Westcott, in loc. ). It was to the office of presbyter that the pastoral care belonged ( Acts 20:28 ; 1 Peter 5:2 ) of feeding and tending the flock. Apostles, indeed, were more than presbyters, overseers, and pastors, inasmuch as they sustained larger relations to the whole Church. But this did not annul the relation they bore to the several families in their charge. There is no spiritual bond more sacred than that of the Christian pastor, provided he does not mar the holy influence he is bound to exert, by pretending to an authority with which God's Word does not invest him.
III. To THIS FAMILY THE APOSTLE IS DRAWN BY STRONG AND WARM ATTACHMENT . (Verses 2, 3.) The truth which he had taught and they received knit them together in one. And seeing they were one in Christ, united in him to one common God and Father, there is a warm and glowing forth-pouring of benediction from the aged teacher. John was no cold, heartless official. He once had a strong, fiery, despotic spirit in him. But that has long ago been toned down by Divine grace, and now from him as the elder, just such outbreathings of benevolence are expressed as one Christian might utter for another. "Grace, mercy, and peace be with you," etc.
IV. THIS FAMILY APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN BEREFT OF ITS EARTHLY HEAD , AND TO BE SCATTERED ABROAD . "The elect lady and her children"—no mention is made of the husband and father. The probability is that he was no longer on earth. The surviving head—the widow—had probably been "elected" among the number of widows ( 1 Timothy 5:9 ), or else chosen as a deaconess ( Romans 16:1 ); and, having sustained her position with honour in the Church, was widely known and loved (verse 1). Her children were not all at home. The apostle, in his wanderings among the Churches, appears to have met some of them, and "found of them" εὕρηκα , to his great joy, "walking in the truth." There is no greater joy on earth, whether to parents or pastors, than to find the children of their care staunch to the true and the right. If in the home they have been baptized and trained for God, they are "beloved for the fathers' sakes," and will be surrounded with a special care when far out in the world. The children cannot always be under the home roof. If the grace of God be in them, they are safe everywhere.
V. THEY ALL NEEDED , HOWEVER , TO BEWARE OF SURROUNDING PERILS . (Verses 6-9.)
1 . There were abroad, deceivers, teachers of false doctrine, such as those of whom he had warned the Churches. There were "advance" men even in those early days πᾶς ὁ προάγων . But then, as now, the people who "go forward" too rapidly, let that which is most worth keeping drop as they go! These abode not in the doctrine of Christ.
2 . If the false teachers should succeed in decoying away any of this family, it would be a serious loss to them (verse 8, Revised Version). £
3 . Consequently, they needed to be exceedingly wary and watchful. The danger was not only outward, but inward. "Look to yourselves, that ye lose not," etc.
VI. THE HOUSE WAS TO BE RESERVED AND PRESERVED FOR THE TRUTH ALONE . (Verses 10, 11.) Much needless difficulty has been raised over the apparent exclusiveness of these words, as if no one that did not believe in Christ was to be admitted to the house. £ But the reference plainly is to any one who wishes to come into the house to teach another doctrine, and to draw away the mother and the children from allegiance to their Lord. What would be any Christian mother's duty in such a case? Plainly, to forbid, and that peremptorily, any attempts to tamper with her faith or that of her children. And how could she honestly wish such a teacher "God-speed"? To do so would be to have fellowship in his errors κοινωνεῖ . No. Every Christian parent is bound to lay down as the law of the house—"This home is for Christ. The children are for Christ and for the truth, and I will not imperil their souls, nor lend a hand to the propagation of error, by letting the germs thereof be planted here!"
1 . It is to the laity (to use a common term) that the teachers and preachers of the truth must look to be its conservers, upholders, and defenders. Christian homes are to be its nurseries, in which the weeds of error are not allowed to grow. There are quite enough perils ready to meet the children—from inward corruption and outward temptation, without their being exposed to the additional perils of finding seed-plots of heresy allowed in the home.
2 . This Epistle is of great value as showing us, through the teaching of an inspired apostle, that Christian parents are expected to train their children in the faith which they themselves believe, and to put and keep a holy guard around them, that their young minds may not be harassed by the seductions of any antichristian deceiver. Let every parent say, "My home is for Christ, and for Christ alone!"