Ancient epistles began, as here, with salutation and good wishes: religion consecrates, as far as may be, old forms, and turns compliments into real expressions of life and love. Here we have, as usually,
I. The saluter, not expressed by name, but by a chosen character: The elder. The expression, and style, and love, intimate that the penman was the same with that of the foregoing epistle; he is now the elder, emphatically and eminently so; possibly the oldest apostle now living, the chief elder in the church of God. An elder in the ancient house of Israel was reverend, or to be reverenced, much more he who is so In the gospel Israel of God. An old disciple is honourable; and old apostle and leader of disciples is more so. He was now old in holy service and experience, had seen and tasted much of heaven, and was much nearer than when at first he believed.
II. The saluted—a noble Christian matron, and her children: To the elect lady and her children. A lady, a person of eminent quality for birth, education, and estate. It is well that the gospel ha got among such. It is a pity but lords and ladies should be acquainted with the Lord Christ and his religion. They owe more to him than others do; though usually not many noble are called. Here is a pattern for persons of quality of the same sex. The elect lady; not only a choice one, but one chosen of God. It is lovely and beautiful to see ladies, by holy walking, demonstrate their election of God. And her children; probably the lady was a widow; she and her children then are the principal part of the family, and so this may be styled an economical epistle. Families may well be written to and encouraged, and further directed in their domestic love, and order, and duties. We see that children may well be taken notice of in Christian letters, and they should know it too; it may avail to their encouragement and caution. Those who love and commend them will be apt to enquire after them. This lady and her children are further notified by the respect paid them, and that, 1. By the apostle himself: Whom I love in the truth, or in truth, whom I sincerely and heartily love. He who was the beloved disciple had learnt the art or exercise of love; and he especially loved those who loved him, that Lord who loved him. 2. By all her Christian acquaintance, all the religious who knew her: And not I only, but also all those that have known the truth. virtue and goodness in an elevated sphere shine brightly. Truth demands acknowledgment, and those who see the evidences of pure religion should confess and attest them; it is a good sign and great duty to love and value religion in others. The ground of this love and respect thus paid to this lady and her children was their regard to the truth: For the truth’s sake (or true religion’s sake) which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Christian love is founded upon the appearance of vital religion. Likeness should beget affection. Those who love truth and piety in themselves should love it in others too, or love others upon the account of it. The apostle and the other Christians loved this lady, not so much for her honour as her holiness; not so much for her bounty as her serious Christianity. We should not be religious merely by fits and starts, in certain moods and moons; but religion should still dwell within us, in our minds and hearts, in our faith and love. It is to be hoped that where religion once truly dwells it will abide for ever. The Spirit of Christianity, we may suppose, will not be totally extinguished: Which shall be with us for ever.
III. The salutation, which is indeed an apostolical benediction: Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love, 2 John 1:3. Sacred love pours out blessings upon this honourable Christian family; to those who have shall more be given. Observe,
1. From whom these blessings are craved, (1.) From God the Father, the God of all grace. He is the fountain of blessedness, and of all the blessings that must bring us thither. (2.) From the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also author and communicator of these heavenly blessings, and he is distinguished by this emphatic character—the Son of the Father; such a Son as none else can be; such a Son as is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, who, with the Father, is also eternal life, 1 John 1:2.
2. What the apostle craves from these divine persons. (1.) Grace—divine favour and good-will, the spring of all good things: it is grace indeed that any spiritual blessing should be conferred on sinful mortals. (2.) Mercy—free pardon and forgiveness; those who are already rich in grace have need of continual forgiveness. (3.) Peace—tranquility of spirit and serenity of conscience, in an assured reconciliation with God, together with all safe and sanctified outward prosperity. And these are desired in truth and love, either by sincere and ardent affection in the saluter (in faith and love he prays them from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ), or as productive of continued truth and love in the saluted; these blessings will continually preserve true faith and love in the elect lady and her children; and may they do so!
IV. The congratulation upon the prospect of the exemplary behaviour of other children of this excellent lady. Happy parent, who was blessed with such a numerous religious offspring! I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in the truth, as we have received commandment from the Father, 2 John 1:4. Possibly the lady’s sons travelled abroad, either for accomplishment and acquaintance with the world, or on the account of their own business or the common affairs of the family, and in their travels might come to Ephesus, where the apostle is supposed to have now resided, and might there happily converse with him. See how good it is to be trained up to early religion! Though religion is not to be founded upon education, yet education may be and often is blessed, and is the way to fortify youth against irreligious infection. Hence too let young travellers learn to carry their religion along with them, and not either leave it at home or learn the ill customs of the countries where they come. It may be observed, also, that sometimes election runs in a direct line; here we have an elect lady, and her elect children; children may be beloved for their parents’ sake, but both by virtue of free grace. From the apostle’s joy herein we may observe that it is pleasant to see children treading in good parent’s steps; and those who see this may well congratulate their parents thereupon, and that both to excite their thankfulness to God for, and to enlarge their comfort in, so great a blessing. How happy a lady was this, who had brought forth so many children for heaven and for God! And how great a joy must it be to her ladyship to hear so good an account of them from so good a judge! And we may further see that it is joyful to good old ministers, and accordingly to other good old disciples, to see a hopeful rising generation, who may serve God and support religion in the world when they are dead and gone. We see here also the rule of true walking: the commandment of the Father. Then is our walk true, our converse right, when it is managed by the word of God.