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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
John 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-3

THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING

‘And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’

John 9:1-3

How familiar and how natural to us is this question, this puzzle of the Apostles, of physical pain! And our Lord gives His answer.

I. Let us remember, first, how definitely our Lord was accustomed to declare the intimate bond between bodily sickness and spiritual sin.—The entire purpose of His miracles, for instance, was to assert this very truth in its broad form. His miracles—He told the Jews so—were to say that it was the same in either region, whether He said, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ or, ‘Rise up and walk.’ So He would say to men, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ He did connect physical evil in the man with spiritual sin most closely. He declared that they were the same laws working on two levels, spirit and body.

II. And now here is another answer given.—Now at this point, the blind man, He takes a new outlook, a higher level. His answer would say this: Let the past, whatever it be, with all its tangled mystery of pain and wrong, the past, with all its dismal story of ancient dishonour—let the past be dismissed, be discarded, be cast out of the reckoning. The secrets of sad inheritance, the hidden intricacies of unwoven trouble, the agitating questions whence the evil came, and at whose charge, or of what remote origin—all this, with the perplexities it involves, and all these turmoils and interminable anxieties, these may have their truth, which cannot be gainsaid; but now let all this go, let it vanish, pass it all by. Take up a new view of it altogether. ‘Neither this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the glory of God should be revealed.’ Note the expression—‘but that’ the glory of God.

III. The answer given to the Apostles is, after all, our Christian answer to many a doubt and agitating question.—Before our eyes too is the same problem, though now infinitely widened and multiplied. The vast world of physical pain, how it beclouds, how our souls shrink and die within us as we first seriously face it! We can pass it by while it is only known from hearsay, but not from actual experience. But when we touch it, when it lays its hands on us, or, much worse, when it smites down our nearest and dearest, then will the full weight of the curse make itself felt; we are staggered and lose the track; the matter is too awful, too immense for us to calculate, or measure, or define. True, we, as were the Apostles, are right, perfectly right, to cling to our root assumption that all this dreadful scene is undesigned of God. It is not His will. It is the evidence of some dreadful mischance and counter movement. This pain is the curse, is the sign, is the token of an evil sin has brought about. But still, though that connection with direct sin is more plain than we perhaps sometimes allow, yet we, like the Apostles, feel that question still lurking in the face of our assertions, this problem of pain so immense we are quite unable to cover it in broad generalities. We cannot track the connection. Was it he who sinned? was it his parents? Who can say we dare to speak positively?

IV. Let these questions go, these questions of detail.—You cannot answer them. To answer them involves complete and perfect knowledge, and you have not got it. Leave that to come hereafter, when perfect knowledge will be given you. You can know broad rules, but you cannot follow them down into the bewildering intricacies of this immense historic life with its endless responsibilities. Therefore pass beyond them, sweep them out of sight, let them go. You need not discuss God’s justice. He, too, was distressed, was indignant, was pitiful at the sight which you pity so sorely. That suffering became the motive, became the reason, for sending His own Blessed Son to share its sorrow, to redeem its curse, yea, at the cost of His own life, to lay it down that His Father might be glorified. It is the root law of the Incarnation, it is the very principle by which we live.

Canon Scott Holland.

Illustration

‘Oh, what are we,

Frail creatures as we are, that we should sit

In judgment, man on man! and what were we,

If the All-merciful should mete to us

With the same rigorous measure wherewithal

Sinner to sinner metes!’


Verse 4

THE BREVITY OF LIFE

‘I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh.’

John 9:4

It is not merely of the literal shortness of our time, or the possible nearness of death, that our Lord’s words should set us thinking.

I. If we measure our life by the things we should accomplish in it, by the character it should attain to, by the purposes that should be bearing fruit in it, and not by mere lapse of time, we soon come to feel how very short it is, and the sense of present duty grows imperative. It is thus that the thoughtful man looks at his life; and he feels that there is no such thing as length of days which he can without blame live carelessly, because in these careless days critical opportunities will have slipped away irrecoverably; he will have drifted in his carelessness past some turning-point which he will not see again, and have missed the so-called chances that come no more.

II. But even this is only a part of the considerations that make our present life so precious; for this is only the outer aspect of it. What makes our time so critically short, whether we consider its intellectual or its moral and spiritual uses, is that our nature is so very sensitive, so easily marred by misuse, and spoilt irretrievably. The real brevity of the time at our disposal, whether for the training of our mind, or for our growth in character, consists in this, that deterioration is standing always at the back of any neglect or waste. Deterioration is the inseparable shadow of every form of ignoble life.

‘Our acts our angels are, for good or ill,

Our fatal shadows that walk with us still.’

Leave your faculties unused and they become blunted and dulled; leave your higher tastes uncultivated and they die; let your affections feed on anything unworthy and they become debased. To those who do this it may happen that whilst, so far as years go, they are still in all the freshness of youth—

III. They are already dying that death to all higher capacity which is worse than any decay of our physical organism.—The mere possibility of such a fate overhanging any of us should stir us like a trumpet-call to take care that we do not surrender our life to any mean influence.

—Bishop Percival.

Illustration

‘Even while working busily, and working the works of God, we must not forget our own infirmity, we must remember and repeat Christ’s words—for in them He speaks as one of us, and not as our God—“The night cometh, when no man can work.” The day which is so happy to us, and we would fain hope not unprofitably wasted, is yet hastening to its close. It is of no less importance that we should remember that the time is soon coming when we cannot work, than that we should avail ourselves of the time present, to work in it to the utmost.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

You are sent into this world on a mission. A prepared being to do a prepared work. This was the first principle of our Master’s life, and it should be ours.

I. What am I do that I may fulfil the purpose of my creation?—What are ‘the works of Him that sent me?’ I answer—

(a) Secure your own happiness here and for ever.

(b) Then do all that in you lies to make and secure the present and eternal happiness of your fellow-creatures.

In your own happiness, and in their happinesses, your great Creator is pleased and honoured. These two things are the motive and characteristic feature of daily life, to make a true happiness in us and around us, in our own and others’ hearts to the glory of God.

II. How is it to be done?—What is the course of life that will make that ‘work’? I look for the answer to our Master’s life. How did He ‘work the works of the Father who sent Him’? He was a Man of prayer; in constant communion with God. His was a life all dedicated; a life sacrificed; even to the death. We have our pattern, but how can such a life be copied? Is it not too high, too pure, too heavenly—impossible? We can never reach it; but we can follow it. We can pray for it. We can have it always before us.

III. As to what ‘work.’—In the special ‘work’ you are set to do this year, or day, expect to be guided. You will be guided if you seek guidance and act out at once the impulses of your heart after prayer. For ‘the work’ and ‘the worker’ are both predestined. Only do not be satisfied with anything that is vague and general. Nor in some things which you mean to do tomorrow, or by and by. Put no trust in mere intentions; the work must be instant. The constraint which Christ felt to His work was not only very strong but urgent: ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day.’

Illustration

‘The words “day and night” here have a special reference to our Lord’s bodily Presence with His Church. As long as He was visibly with them it was “day.” When He left them it was “night.” It is well to remark that St. Paul uses the same figures when comparing time present with time to come, at the Second Advent. He says, “The night is far spent, and the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12). There the night is Christ’s bodily absence, and the day Christ’s bodily Presence. Melancthon points out what an example Christ supplies to Christians in this place. The hatred, opposition, and persecution of the world, and the failures and infirmities of professing Christians, must not make us give way to despondency. Like our Master, we must work on. Calvin observes: “From these words we may deduce the universal rule, that to every man the course of his life may be called his day.” Beza and others think that there is a primary prophecy here of the withdrawal of light and privilege from the Jews, which was in the mind of our Lord, as well as the general principle that to all men day is the time for work and not night.’


Verse 25

‘ONE THING I KNOW’

‘He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’

John 9:25

We must all have been struck by the simplicity of wisdom exhibited, under these trying circumstances, by this poor and probably unlettered man. It may be profitable to consider the principle on which it was founded. That principle consisted in this, that he would not suffer his knowledge to be disturbed by his ignorance. He might be ignorant on many points, but ‘one thing he knew,’ that his cure had been effected.

I. In our present imperfect state, our ignorance on every subject is much greater than our knowledge, while yet we know quite enough for practical purposes.

(a) Our ignorance may be compared to that of a child. How little does the child know! A favourite toy is of more value in his eyes than an estate. His distinctions are accidental, and his judgments superficial. And yet this little child, ignorant as he is, knows enough for his practical guidance. He does know his parents, and what they are to him. He knows that it is his happiness and duty to submit to them.

(b) The instance of a little child may help us to realise the proportion, which human ignorance must always bear to human knowledge. In our present imperfect state we are all, in this respect, children. The discoveries of science, which justly excite our admiration, are but as so many excursions into the vast unknown regions of nature and Providence, disclosing but a minute portion of the wonders which they contain. As the child, if he be only humble and docile, has sufficient light for his practical guidance, so is it with us all. The mariner may know little of the system of the universe, but he knows enough to take an observation and steer his vessel to the desired haven. The husbandman is unable to explain the secret process of vegetation. But ‘one thing he knows.’ He knows perfectly well that if he wishes for a crop, he must diligently prepare the soil and cast in the grain. And so in everything else.

II. And now apply these considerations to the subject of religious inquiry.

(a) Here, if anywhere, we might expect that these remarks would hold good. There are mysteries in Revelation which we cannot fathom, and questions about the mode in which it has come to us which we cannot answer. And yet we know quite enough for its practical and saving reception and use.

(b) We will suppose our inquirer to be an ‘unlearned and ignorant man.’ A peasant, who has only received the most necessary and elementary education. How may he assure himself of the truth? He knows nothing of history or criticism. He cannot enter into abstract arguments. But ‘one thing he knows,’ that from a child he has been taught to believe and reverence the Scriptures; that the best, and holiest, and happiest human beings with whom he has been acquainted, have loved the Bible, and drawn from it all their strength and consolation.

(c) And now let us suppose an inquirer of a different order. Let him be an educated man, with literary tastes and resources. Let him investigate the evidences of his faith with every aid at hand. Let him be conversant with works of history and criticism. Let him examine the Scriptures in the original languages. Let him, moreover, not be ignorant of the results of scientific investigation. And now he will find it essential to apply the principle of the text; in other words, to take the measure of his own ignorance, and steadfastly to hold fast the truth which he knows. Acquiescence in partial knowledge is clearly our wisdom as finite creatures. This principle will furnish us with a valuable safeguard against all those anxious and perilous questionings by which so many are unsettled in the present day, such as the mystery of vicarious suffering, the eternity of punishment, the origin of evil. Such subjects must ever be to us shrouded in impenetrable obscurity. But ‘one thing we know,’ that ‘the Judge of heaven and earth’ will ‘do right,’ that ‘God is love,’ and that His love has been manifested, beyond all possibility and doubt, by the gift of ‘His only begotten Son.’

III. The best antidote to all misgiving is found in the believer himself.—In the consciousness of his cure, the happy exercise of his newly-found faculty of vision, the poor man in the text had an argument quite beyond the reach of controversy. It was the logic of fact. And in the gift of spiritual discernment, and the manifold blessings of spiritual experience, the humble believer has an answer to speculative difficulties, which he cannot better express than in the words of the text: ‘One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’

—Rev. J. G. Heisch.

Illustration

‘Miss Penley, a lady missionary working at Quartier Militaire, Mauritius, tells the story of a young convert’s life: “He came to me soon after my arrival, looking most sad and miserable, and said he had been baptized more than a year, but did not understand much, and was unable to answer the arguments of Hindus and Mohammedans. He asked how he could get wisdom and knowledge, and stated that he had given up reading the Bible, as he did not understand it. He then began to come every evening for Bible reading. One day he came alone, and, to my surprise, burst into tears, and then poured out the story of his trouble, how he had been persecuted and despised, but, worse than all, had no assurance or peace in his heart, and had been seeking for long, but had got no light. Another day he came, quite early in the morning, in great distress, and asked how he could be saved from sin and from all the evil within and around, and inquired if God would answer his prayers. Each time I exhorted him to pray, and turned him to the Word of God, I myself praying very much for him. A few weeks later I began to notice a change in him: his face began to lose that hopeless, miserable look. One day he was reading with one or two others, and said something like this: ‘Do you not see any difference in me?’ I said, ‘Yes, I see you are looking happier.’ He said, ‘Yes, God has heard my prayers, and a great happiness has come into my heart. I see that Jesus Christ has paid all my debt. I have found Him, and see that in Him I have all. I know I have been a great sinner, have often denied Him, but now I want to serve Him only all my life, and feel that I could give my life for Him. God is showing me wonderful things in His Word; now everything is changed for me. Pray very much for me that I may he a real, true Christian.’ His friends and neighbours all testify to the change in him, and his one great desire is to tell others and bring them to Christ. One man said, ‘He is like a man who has found something.’”’


Verse 35

‘DO WE BELIEVE?’

‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’

John 9:35

The question, ‘Do we believe?’ which excited so long and so interesting a correspondence in a London daily newspaper a few years ago, was first asked by our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the first to ask it, and He did not take it in the general way, ‘Do we believe?’ He put it in a most personal way: ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ This is a very grave and solemn question, which it would be well for every man to answer for himself. It was asked of the man that was born blind, whose eyes our Lord had opened miraculously. The answer of the man was in the form of another question: ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe?’

I. It is a vital question.—It is a vital question because ‘What think ye of Christ?’ is the question which God asks, and it comes sooner or later to us all. When our Lord came into this world, the Jews came to Him and said, ‘What must we do to work the works of God?’ and He said: ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent.’ This, then, is the first step; this is the first requirement. I can never be a Christian until, coming to God, I believe. There are only two classes in the whole world; this is the line of demarcation: the first, those who believe, and the second, those who do not yet believe. Just so many of us here as believe on the Son of God are the friends of God, and so many of us as do not believe on the Son of God are still the enemies of God. I must, therefore, believe for myself. Christ intended to save me—it is not enough to know that He is a Saviour, He must be my Saviour, as He became to this man.

II. It is a personal question.—‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ Religion is altogether a personal thing. If he believes he believes in his soul, and the soul is the man. Therefore it is his own affair. Religion is his own personal question with God, and this, as when our Lord asked it, is the great personal question with the soul and the conscience: ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ Now suppose that Christ were personally present here, as he was long ago upon earth, and as we know He is spiritually, and suppose He were to ask you and me this question which He asked the man who had been born blind: ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ Should we have made the same answer? ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe?’ Who is He? Go back if you can into the very depths of eternity, and out of them there would come this answer: ‘When He made the heavens I was there; when He set the foundations of the earth I was with Him; I was truly His delight.’ This is the all eternal and all Divine Son of God.

Take this question home with you, ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ If you have not yet believed, to your eternal peace and joy, on your knees ask yourself this question to-night: ‘Do I believe on the Son of God?’

—Canon James Fleming.

Illustration

‘Do we believe? If not we must write on our souls what George Whitfield wrote once, long ago, upon the window-pane with a diamond ring. He had been staying in the house of a rich man over night, but he recognised that there was no Saviour acknowledged in that house of wealth and luxury. In the morning—he was a very early riser—before he left his room he wrote in large characters upon the centre pane of glass in the bedroom these four words, one above the other: “One thing thou lackest!” And when the guest was gone the wife came along the corridor, and the door of this bedroom was open. She went in at the open door and looked around at the splendid furniture—everything in keeping, everything in good taste. She looked at the window. She read on the window, “One thing thou lackest!” She was transfixed; she read it again and again. She was glued to the ground, and at last she sent for her husband. He went up to the window and read it. Then she called her two daughters—beautiful girls, twins—and it was read by both. They all read it—the father, the mother, and the twin sisters—“One thing thou lackest!” And God through that window-pane brought them all to Christ. That window-pane was the book through which their hearts were all touched and changed, and they were brought to believe in Jesus Christ as the Eternal Son of God.’


Verse 38

BELIEF AND WORSHIP

‘And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him.’

John 9:38

John supplements the other Gospels. The miracle recorded in this chapter is found nowhere else. But some people say—Miracles are impossible. If Christ has opened your eyes and made all things new for you, you will not say miracles are impossible, for you yourself are a miracle of mercy. What greater thing can God be asked to do than to raise a dead soul?

I. It is wonderful how quickly this man grew in grace.—At first he speaks of Christ as ‘a man that is called Jesus,’ then as a prophet, at last he worships Him as the Son of God.

II. The value of experience.—The Pharisees did not want Christ to have the praise of healing. So they first said the man was never blind at all, but only shamming. When the miracle had to be admitted, then they asserted no man of God would do a work of that sort on the Sabbath. But the man who had been born blind held fast to one fact which could not be gainsaid: I was blind, now I see. Herein lies the value of experience.

III. He was willing to suffer for Christ’s sake.—The Jews had agreed to cast out of the synagogue any who should confess that Jesus was the Messiah. There were three kinds of excommunication. The first two were chiefly disciplinary. If after the second admonition the offender was still unrepentant, the third excommunication was of indefinite duration, he was shut out from all the religious and civil privileges of the Jewish people, and was like one dead. But the man stood firm and would suffer all this rather than deny his Lord.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘In the case of this blind man we have an example of the triumph of faith. You know Bunyan’s parable. “Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter. ‘Then,’ said Christian, ‘What means this?’ The Interpreter answered, ‘This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil: but in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that.’ So he had him about to the other side of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast (but secretly) into the fire. Then said Christian, ‘What means this?’ The Interpreter answered, ‘This is Christ, Who continually, with the oil of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; that is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.’” It is even so. God takes care of the faith He has Himself implanted. Faith is a tender plant and must be preserved in frost and wind and storm. And God does this. Faith goes “through the waters,” and “through the rivers,” and “through the fire” (Isaiah 43:2).’


Verse 39

FOR JUDGMENT

‘And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.’

John 9:39

That is the comment which presents itself to Jesus, as He thinks over this episode of the healing of the blind man. While the blind man had reached belief, the Pharisees had become hardened in unbelief. Christ’s words still remain true, and have a meaning for us now.

I. It still remains true that in respect of our reception or rejection of His message our Lord came into this world for judgment.—He tells us, indeed, that God sent not His Son to judge the world. Christ’s object in coming was not to judge, but to save. But though judgment was not a motive, it was a necessary result of His coming. ‘He that believeth not hath been judged already’ (ipso facto). Ever since Christ’s first coming on earth, the appeal which He has made to men, generation after generation, has thrown a responsibility on all whom it has reached. It is an appeal to which we are compelled to give an answer of one kind or another, and according to the answer which we give judgment inevitably results. That judgment is not published to the world: often, perhaps, it is not known to our fellow-men; sometimes, perhaps, it is not known to ourselves; constantly, no doubt, it is held in suspense because we have not yet given a final answer. Nevertheless, at any moment in our lives there is something true of us—some judgment which any one who knew the facts perfectly could pronounce about us—as regards our attitude towards the appeal of Christianity. Either we see, or we do not see; either we are getting to see more and more clearly, or we are becoming more and more blind.

II. We think perhaps nowadays that we can evade this issue.—We say that we cannot make up our minds about the truth of Christianity. We say that the question of its truth or falsehood is too complex or too obscure for us to decide. We call it hard that we should be judged to be blind because we cannot accept unintelligible dogmas, or because the scientific spirit of our age makes it difficult for us to believe in miracles. Our Lord’s language to the Pharisees often seems hard. It is based on the hard fact that if men cannot train their eyes to see, they must be content to be called blind. Do not let us suppose that we can altogether escape responsibility for our beliefs on the ground of the difficulty which we feel about the evidence. The judgment for which Christ came into the world is not primarily connected with questions of evidence, or with the intellectual basis of Christianity. No doubt we are bound to do our best to make our convictions such that our reason can justify them. We must lay aside prejudice, we must try to be absolutely honest with ourselves, we must strive to reach the truth. Christ says, ‘If thou canst believe.’ He does not wish us to force ourselves to believe against the protests of our reason. But, on the other hand, there is something immeasurably more important than reason. It is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness.

III. It is not difficult nowadays to find examples of both these classes of people.

(a) There are still people who in some respects resemble the Pharisees. They do not possess the Pharisaical self-righteousness or hypocrisy, it may be. But they are leaders of thought and regard themselves as such, and like the Pharisees they feel a pride in their intellectual superiority to the average man. If their views are criticised, their reply is apt to be: ‘Dost thou teach us?’ It is a mark of philosophical insight, in their opinion, to condemn Christianity as an exploded superstition, and to question its claim as a moral influence in life. About all this they have no doubt whatever, and they feel a good-humoured pity for those who think otherwise. Like the Pharisees, they say, We see. But is it uncharitable to suggest that in some respects they are all the while really blind?

(b) What a contrast it is to turn to the opposite type of character, which begins by not seeing and eventually comes to see! Still there are in the world simple, humble-minded natures, the little children whom our Saviour bids us resemble, the babes to whom the Father reveals those things which He has hidden from the wise and prudent. It does not follow that they are unintellectual, though they are modest about their attainments, and recognise the limitations of all human knowledge. It does not follow, on the other hand, that they are always able to grapple with the intellectual difficulties which beset Christianity. But they possess a higher wisdom which justifies them in refusing to be separated from the love of Christ. And then Christ, if they will let Him, finds them in their loneliness and distress, as He found that poor man. And the dialogue between Christ and their soul, like the dialogue between Christ and the newly-seeing blind man, ends with the words, ‘Lord, I believe,’ as they fall down and worship their Saviour.

—Rev. Dr. Woods.

Illustration

‘There is a sense, it has been said, in which this man was the first Christian. He was the first follower of Christ who had wholly severed his connection with Judaism; his religious life was now centred on Christ alone; his faith was grounded on a direct revelation by the witness of Christ Himself to his soul. The casting out of this man by the Pharisees, says Bishop Westcott, “furnished the occasion for the beginning of a new society distinct from the dominant Judaism. For the first time the Lord offers Himself as the object of faith. He had before called men to follow Him; He had revealed Himself and accepted the spontaneous homage of believers; but now He proposes a test of fellowship. The universal society is based on the confession of a new truth. The blind who acknowledge their blindness are enlightened; the seeing who are satisfied with their sight are proved to be blind.”’


Verses 39-41

RESPONSIBILITY AND SIN

‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might he made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words, and said unto Him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

John 9:39-41

A two-fold subject is before us: responsibility and sin. And the text ties the two parts together.

Out of much that is either stated or implied in these momentous words, two luminous points shine. The Incarnation has accentuated human responsibility, and taught us the true nature of sin.

I. What is responsibility?—Responsibility is the condition of being amenable to some tribunal. I am answerable for my actions to some one. If there be no God, then the highest court disappears. Some lower one becomes my highest. What lower one? My fellow-men, or my own conscience? But much of morality has only a very indirect reference to my fellow-men; and, as for conscience, its very name implies community of knowledge between two persons; and, if God be dismissed, it becomes a purely subjective function, and to say that I am answerable to such a tribunal becomes a figure of speech, and has no meaning for an inquirer who insists upon reducing figures to facts. Take we hold, then, of these four unassailable propositions, when invited by the modern materialist, to extend to the moral sphere the same principles of evolution which we were willing to accept to account for the physical:—

(a) A moral sense is ineradicable, universal, and defies analysis.

(b) Morality apart from responsibility is unthinkable.

(c) Responsibility without an external tribunal is equally unthinkable.

(d) A tribunal without a judge is equally unthinkable.

It is not surprising to find that those who deny a moral governor of the universe, decry the Christian’s conception of sin as one of the unhealthy elements of his creed.

II. What is sin?—The Greek word exactly fits its root-meaning. It is a ‘missing of the mark.’ The English words ‘error’ and ‘obliquity’ carry similar significance; a wandering from the path; a falling aside from the erect. Sin is no speculative subject. It lies not apart amid the cobwebs of the brain. Its repulsive features look out at us from the crowd of the hard factors of life; and no reasoning is less rational than that which either ignores it, or tries to fit it into any theory of the orderly evolution of the race. Sin has abounded; and abounds. With head bowed in shame, admit the knowledge. And then lift up the head and the hands that hang down, and admit ‘the light that shone when Hope was born,’ for ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’

—Bishop Alfred Pearson.

Illustration

‘Long years ago Daniel Webster was seated one evening at a crowded dinner-table. A friend asked him what had been the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind? A moment’s silence, and then the great answer came: “The greatest thought that ever entered my mind was that of my personal responsibility to a personal God.’”

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-9.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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