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THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF JOHN - Chapter 2 - Verse 12
Verse 12. I write unto you, little children. There has been much difference of opinion among commentators in regard to this verse and the three following verses, on account of the apparent tautology. Even Doddridge supposes that considerable error has here crept into the text, and that a portion of these verses should be omitted in order to avoid the repetition. But there is no authority for omitting any portion of the text, and the passage is very much in accordance with the general style of the apostle John. The author of this epistle was evidently accustomed to express his thoughts in a great variety of ways, having even the appearance of tautology, that the exact idea might be before his readers, and that his meaning might not be mis- apprehended. In order to show that the truths which he was uttering in this epistle pertained to all, and to secure the interest of all in them, he addresses himself to different classes, and says that there were reasons existing in regard to each class why he wrote to them. In the expressions, "I write," and "I have written," he refers to what is found in the epistle itself, and the statements in these verses are designed to be reasons why he brought these truths before their minds. The word here rendered little children (teknia)is different from that used in 1 Jo 2:13, and rendered there little children, (paidia;) but there can be little doubt that the same class of persons is intended. Some have indeed supposed that by the term little children here, as in 1 Jo 2:1, the apostle means to address all believers —speaking to them as a father; but it seems more appropriate to suppose that he means in these verses to divide the body of Christians whom he addressed into three classes—children, young men, and the aged, and to state particular reasons why he wrote to each. If the term (teknia) little children here means the same as the term (paidia) little children in 1 Jo 2:13, then he addresses each of these classes twice in these two verses, giving each time somewhat varied reasons why he addressed them. That, by the term "little children" here, he means children literally, seems to me to be clear,
(1.) because this is the usual meaning of the word, and should be understood to be the meaning here, unless there is something in the connexion to show that it is used in a metaphorical sense;
(2.) because it seems necessary to understand the other expressions, "young men," and "fathers," in a literal sense, as denoting those more advanced in life;
(3.) because this would be quite in character for the apostle John. He had recorded, and would doubtless remember the solemn injunction of the Saviour to Peter, (Joh 21:15,) to "feed his lambs," and the aged apostle could not but feel that what was worthy of so solemn an injunction from the Lord, was worthy of his attention and care as an apostle; and
(4.) because in that case, each class, fathers, young men, and children, would be twice addressed in these two verses; whereas if we understood this of Christians in general, then fathers and young men would be twice addressed, and children but once. If this be so, it may be remarked,
(1.) that there were probably quite young children in the church in the time of the apostle John, for the word would naturally convey that idea.
(2.) The exact age cannot he indeed determined, but two things are clear:
(a.) one is, that they were undoubtedly under twenty years of age, since they were younger than the "young men"—neaniskoi a word usually applied to those who were in the vigour of life, from about the period of twenty up to forty years, (See Barnes "1 Jo 2:13,) and this word would embrace all who were younger than that class; and
(b.) the other is, that the word itself would convey the idea that they were in quite early life, as the word children—a fair translation of it —does now with us. It is not possible to determine, from the use of this word, precisely of what age the class here referred to was, but the word would imply that they were in quite early life. No rule is laid down in the New Testament as to the age in which children may be admitted to the communion. The whole subject is left to the wise discretion of the church, and is safely left there. Cases must vary so much that no rule could be laid down; and little or no evil has arisen from leaving the point undetermined in the Scriptures. It may be doubted, however, whether tile church has not been rather in danger of erring by having it deferred too late, than by admitting children too early.
There are reasons in all cases now, as there were then, why this part of a congregation should receive the special attention of a minister of religion. The hopes of a church are in them. Their minds are susceptible to impression. The character of the piety in the next age will depend on their views of religion. All that there is of value in the church and the world will soon pass into their hands. The houses, farms, factories; the pulpits, and the chairs of professors in colleges; the seats of senators and the benches of judges; the great offices of state, and all the offices in the church; the interests of learning, and of benevolence and liberty, are all soon to be under their control. Everything valuable in this world will soon depend on their conduct and character; and who, therefore, can over-estimate the importance of training them up in just views of religion. As John wrote to this class, should not pastors preach to them?
Because—oti. This particle may be rendered for, or because; and the meaning may be either that the fact that their sins were forgiven was a reason for writing to them, since it would be proper, on that ground, to exhort them to a holy life; or that he wrote to them because it was a privilege to address them as those who were forgiven, for he felt that, in speaking to them, he could address them as such. It seems to me that it is to be taken as a causal particle, and that the apostle, in the various specifications which he makes, designs to assign particular reasons why he wrote to each class, enjoining on them the duties of a holy life. Comp. 1 Jo 2:21. Your sins are forgiven you. That is, this is a reason why he wrote to them, and enjoined these things on them. The meaning seems to be, that the fact that our past sins are blotted out furnishes a strong reason why we should be holy. That reason is founded on the goodness of God in doing it, and on the obligation under which we are brought by the fact that God has had mercy on us. This is a consideration which children will feel as well as others; for there is nothing which will tend more to make a child obedient hereafter, than the fact that a parent freely forgives the past.
For his name's sake. On account of the name of Christ; that is, in virtue of what he has done for us. In 1 Jo 2:13, he states another reason why he wrote to this same class—"because they had known the Father."
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