Sin a Disease
I. The instinct that there is a connection between sin and penalty is universal and from God. The grossest forms of sacrifice that have made the name of religion horrible had their root in a true instinct. The revelation of God in Christ came not to uproot this belief, but to interpret it, to guide it, to lead it to bear fruit. Bodily sickness is to a certain extent the lot of all, and we may not show ourselves anxious to connect it with the notion of punishment for specific acts. We have learned, too, since the days of the first Christians, something more of the laws of health than they were acquainted with, and this knowledge tends to reduce within narrower limits the afflictions which we designate as judgments. But the tendency to view sin and punishment as different things and the connection between them as arbitrary, is unhappily not less strong in the full light of the nineteenth century than in the glimmering dawn in which the first Christians walked.
II. Jesus said, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." We are to understand this answer with reference to the question which provoked it. The man had, we are sure, been a sinner and his parents also. But there was no special unrighteousness, either in the parents or the child, which had brought on them this sad calamity.
The works of God were to be made manifest in this man—not one work only; therefore not the miracle of a sudden restoration to sight by itself. The miracle is a sign—a witness, that is, of the nature of Him who wrought it. The incident which opened the eyes of the poor vagrant is one of those which have let in light upon a sin-blinded world.
III. In all evil, in disease and in disorder, is a work of God made manifest; because we see these things to be evil through the light which is His. That sin is seen to be sin; that disease and death are recognised as the enemies of a Divine order; that we are aware, as St. Paul became aware, of a body of death to which we are bound prisoners; that, in fine, we feel the punishment of sin is matter for profound thankfulness. That we know our degradation is, at least, to know the height from which we have fallen. Sin is inextricably bound up with punishment, and if the thought is terrible, there is one more terrible still, and that is the thought of sin without punishment.
A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church.
References: John 9:1-3, S. Cox, Expositions, p. 153, 4th series, p. 163; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 397. John 9:1-7.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xv., p. 349. John 9:1-8.—Homilist, new series, vol. v., p. 136. John 9:1-41.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. x., p. 301.
The Discipline of Sorrow
It is not very easy to see, nor is it necessary for us to determine, in what way the disciples thought that a man could be born blind in consequence of his own sins. They may have supposed that it was done in a kind of anticipatory justice, and that God, knowing beforehand that the man would commit some sin, punished it before it was done, by causing him to be born blind. However this may be, the intention of the whole passage is abundantly clear. Our Lord is checking and rebuking that tendency which is strong in all minds, and very strong in some, so to trace back suffering and sin as to find the cause of their unhappiness in some particular wrong thing which has been done.
I. Let us see how far we are safe to connect any present sorrow with sin, and what is the true view and the right use of a trial. It is mercifully ordered, in the natural body, that when there is any mischief going on in any part, it is almost sure to set up pain. So I would lay it down, that everyone who is in any way distressed, should look first to see if there is anything wrong, of which that pain is meant to be the index and the monitor. But when that is once done, I would not dwell there, but I would turn straight to the future. I would consider, not, For what past thing is this sent? but, What coming thing is this to bring about? To what design of God is this meant to give effect?
II. And this is the way by which a sorrow shall quicken and elevate and ennoble a man. For the danger of sorrow is the want of elasticity. If there were more spring, it would do you more good. And that onward look to some happy expected end, is just that which induces that play of mind, and that hopefulness, without which no sorrow will ever fulfil its mission. To look back, shuts a man to the past, and sets him grovelling in its ashes. To see a dawn of brighter things, to take the darkness as the signal that Christ is near, to have faith in a good tomorrow, to realize the greatnesses that are waiting, and, by believing them, to command the manifestation of the works of God—this is to bring in the covenanted dawn, and cancel the bitterness of the present hour; this is the true office of grief, and this is the secret of a sanctified sorrow and a glorified God.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1868, p. 21.
References: John 9:3, John 9:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 756; vol. xvi., No. 943.
The principle which makes work Christian is the will and the glory of God. In the midst of our working life, in the midst of our religious thought, in our times of devotion, in our hours of prayer, Jesus speaks to us and bears His unflinching testimony, calling upon the Christian to persevere, making his work true.
He does it, I submit to you, in three ways.
I. He does it because He has robed Himself in our humanity. Robing Himself in our humanity, Jesus has added a dignity to our nature. It was made in the image of the Eternal; it was created indeed with that stamp upon it which even original sin could not altogether wipe out. But Jesus, by the Incarnation, has done something more. He has robed Himself—most high God—in that nature; thereby He has added dignity; and by the fact that you have been dignified, by your nature being taken into God, by that fact you are taught that the dignity of that nature is never satisfied, unless entirely you aim in your work to do God's will, and set forth God's glory. So He has borne and is bearing His witness.
II. He bore it further, by Himself toiling and teaching in that nature; He showed to you and me not only its dignity—He showed its power. The power of human nature is all but infinite—all but infinite as seen in the work it can do, when it is assisted by the power which our blessed Master exerted most—by the power of God. You have, in a sense, power to do even as God does, rising up into the life of God.
III. Need I add that He witnessed to it by His death? Not only by being robed in humanity, not only by showing the power of humanity to God; but by dying in this humanity; by exhibiting to us, in this way, the immensity of the value that God placed upon it, He taught us its only end in labour. If the Christian is to do his work, it does not matter about the dimensions of its outward expression; it does not matter about the texture of the material; the great point for you and me to see to, is that the principle lying behind it be real, one that is maintained in its reality by the grace of the blessed Spirit, by the example of our divine Redeemer—that principle being that its aim and object are the will and the glory of God.
W. J. Knox-Little, Characteristics of the Christian Life, p. 1.
Christ's words and Christ's work
In these words of our Lord there is nothing which peculiarly belongs to His Divine nature, nothing even which belongs to Him as a prophet; they were spoken as by One who was in all points tempted like as we are, by One who became fully partaker of our flesh and blood. They are His words spoken as He is our great example. It is no presumption, no claiming to ourselves any portion of His power, if we pray and labour to be able to repeat them ourselves truly.
I. We must work, and that diligently; but not Satan's work or our own, but the works of God. The soil must bear much, but its strength must not be wasted on weeds, however luxuriant; it must bear that which will be kept for ever; we must work while it is day, for the night is coming. 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 in the text—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.
II. One difficulty which arises is this, that in one sense we are working the work of God probably already; for certainly the particular business of our profession, or calling, or situation, is to us the work of God. This seems to me one of the most dangerous snares of all; we are busy, and we are busy about our duty, so that the more we work, we fancy that we are doing our duty more, and the very thing which seems to be our help is unto us an occasion of falling. That it should not be so, two things are to be observed: First, that we say to ourselves that we are busily engaged in our duty, and that our duty is God's work. It would be well if we said this not to ourselves only, but to God in one short prayer: "Lord, I am Thy servant, this is Thy will and Thy work; bless me in it for Christ's sake." The second caution is contained in the latter words of the text. The shortness of our own life bids us remember that we are but God's instruments, appointed to labour for a little while on a particular little part of His great work, but that neither its beginning nor its finishing belongs to us, neither can we so much as understand the vastness of its range.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 164.
References: John 9:4.—J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 367; W. Cunningham, Sermons from 1828 to 1860, p. 303; D. Fraser, Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 305; F. Meyrick, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 208; G. Litting, Thirty Children's Sermons, pp. 43, 67; A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 160; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 354; T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 342; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 35; vol. x., p. 36; vol. xxviii., p. 121; E. H. Ward, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 318; H. P. Liddon, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 84. John 9:4, John 9:5.—S. Cox, Expositions, 4th series, p. 179. John 9:6.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 383; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 340.
If we find that in the exercise of His miraculous power, our Lord in many instances, in a greater or less degree, employs means, the question naturally arises, in what relation do these means stand to the result?
I. Now, in the first place, it is obvious that the means employed, for instance in the miracle related in the text, were of themselves quite inadequate to produce the result by the operation of the ordinary uniform laws of nature. To suppose them so capable would be in fact to eliminate the miraculous altogether.
II. Further, it must be noticed that the means employed by our Lord, although quite inadequate to produce the result, yet seem to have a certain relation of appropriateness to that result. And it is surely more rational to regard them as not indeed either necessary or adequate in themselves to the production of the effect, but yet as real and not merely apparent means tending towards that end, so that the miraculous power may be said in these instances to have been applied in endowing common material things with healing properties which they did not by their own nature possess.
III. In the sacraments, as in the miracles, we have an outward and visible sign, and an inward and spiritual grace, the former being the means by which the latter is conveyed. There are, indeed, two points of distinction between them, which, rightly considered, will only serve to render the parallel more striking. First, the boon conferred by the miracle is itself open and visible, and, therefore needs no pledge to assure the recipient of its existence, while the grace of the sacrament is inward and spiritual, and the outward part of the sacrament is thus not only the means by which the grace is bestowed, but also a pledge to assure the faithful they have verily and indeed received it. And secondly, the miracles being isolated and exceptional applications of Divine power, their conditions are governed by no general law, and it cannot be inferred that in other cases a repetition of the same means will be followed by the same result. On the other hand, the sacraments being given as continued ordinances for man's use during all time as long as the Church is militant here in earth, the supernatural element may be regarded as a permanent and uniform energy, and therefore, if the prescribed conditions, both subjective and objective, are all duly fulfilled, the same result, the same gift of Divine grace, may invariably be expected.
T. H. Orpen, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Oct. 18th, 1883.
References: John 9:6, John 9:7.—S. Cox, Expositions, 4th series, p. 194. John 9:6-24.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. xvi., p. 122. John 9:8-17.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 228. John 9:8-23.—Homilist, new series, vol. v., p. 241. John 9:18-28.—Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 140. John 9:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1393; D. Cook, The Dundee Pulpit, p. 97.
This history is of especial interest, because it gives us so completely the history of the spiritual progress of a man who in the day of our Lord's flesh was privileged to be brought into very near connection with Him, and who was one of the first that was permitted to suffer for His sake.
I. Observe then that the first movement of Christ towards this blind man is clearly one of free grace. There is not even so much as a prayer on the part of the blind man for the purpose of moving our Lord's compassion. So we find here an instance of that which is at the root of all true Divinity, namely, the love of God in seeking those who have no eyes to see Him, the coming of the Son of man, not to wait until the lost sheep come back of their own accord to seek Him, but Himself to seek and to save that which was lost.
II. The first step then towards the illumination of the blind man is on the part of Christ, and the second is the demand of an act of faith in return. Christ anoints the man's eyes with clay, but that does not give them sight. The outward sign of the clay is applied, and seen to be inefficient, until faith has taken the man to the pool of Siloam, when by the command of Christ, the blind man washes and remains blind no longer. The man's knowledge of Christ was eminently progressive; it began with an act of grace, even as baptism is granted us freely without our asking for it, and it was continued by an act of faith.
III. The washing in the pool of Siloam was for this man the new birth of water and the Spirit, which fitted him to go on to perfection in the knowledge of Divine mysteries; the blind man had learned by means of his healing, and had been convinced still more clearly by his arguments with the Pharisees, that his healer must be of God, or He could do nothing; he needs only one step further, namely, to be permitted to see in Jesus not merely a man sent from God, but the Son of God Himself. Jesus announced Himself as such; there was quite enough in what had already occurred to make good the assertion; faith seized with joy upon the announcement of the Son of God actually present in the flesh; "Lord, I believe," said the man to whom Christ gave sight, and he showed his faith by worship. The story shows that there is such a thing as spiritual progress; the knowledge of Christ is a growing, an increasing knowledge: to those that have, that improve what has been given to them, more will be given.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 5th series, p. 202.
References: John 9:24-38.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 163.
I. The text points to the extreme importance of having, in religious matters, the witness to the truth of God within ourselves. There are three easily conceivable attitudes of mind which we can assume with respect to the faith of Christ. We may either accept Christianity by a sort of educational and traditional habit, because we were taught to believe it in our childhood, and because we have never, since then, seen any particular reason for maintaining a contrary opinion; or we may accept it, because we have subjected it, together with its antagonistic systems, to the process of a careful examination and scrutiny, and have found that it satisfies our intellectual requirements in a way which every other system has failed to do. Or yet again, we may accept it, partly perhaps for both of the above reasons, but more than all because, having brought our hearts and lives into contact with the truth which it proclaims, we have felt the power and realized the comfort which they are able to bestow. This last may be called the "experimental," the first two being respectively the "notional" and the "intellectual" modes of belief. Now it is perfectly clear that of the three modes of Christian belief, the last is the only one which will bear any amount of strain and stress that may happen to be put upon it.
II. If I am a Christian from custom and habit, my Christianity is liable to be endangered by many of the adverse influences which are sure to encounter it, as I pass on through life. It will provide me with no security in the hour of temptation. It will fortify me with no principle, and raise me to no height of moral elevation. And if I am a Christian simply from force of reasoning—even then I shall be at the mercy of every antagonist who comes with greater power of intellect than I possess, and with greater display of reasoning, to assail my position. I hold my faith by a merely temporary tenure. We are not safely placed unless our religion is of a personal, experimental character. We may be beaten in argument by a cleverer man, or by one who is better trained in disputation than we are; but no power whatever can argue you out of facts.
G. Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, No. 1016.
References: John 9:25.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 145; W. M. Punshon, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 85; H. P. Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 193.
Truths temporary and truths eternal. The arguments of the Pharisees, both as regards miracles, and as regards the suspicion with which we should look on a doctrine opposed to the settled opinions of our lives, have in fact, in both cases, a great mixture of truth in them; and it is this very mixture which we may hope beguiled them, and also beguiles those who in our own days repeat their language.
I. For most certain is it that the Scripture itself supposes the possibility of false miracles. The case is specially provided against in Deuteronomy. The Pharisees might have said "Here is the very case foreseen in the Scriptures; a prophet has wrought a sign and a wonder, which is at the same time a breach of God's commandments. God has told us that such signs are not to be heeded, that He does but prove us with them to see whether we love Him truly, knowing that where there is a love of Him, the heart will heed no sign or wonder, how great soever, which would tempt it to think lightly of His commandments. Shall we say then that this is not a just interpretation of the passage in Deuteronomy? Shall we say that this is the language of unbelief or of sin? Or rather, shall we not confess that it is in accordance with God's word, and holy, and faithful, and true." And yet this most just language led those who used it to reject one of Christ's greatest miracles, and to refuse the salvation of the Holy One of God.
II. The error lies in confounding God's moral law with His law of ordinances; precisely the same error which led the Jews to stone Stephen. This is the difference between positive ordinances and moral laws; the first serve their appointed number of generations by the will of God, and then are gathered to their fathers and perish; the latter are by the right hand of God exalted, the same yesterday, today, and for ever. The practical conclusion is, that whilst we hold fast, with an undoubting and unwavering faith, all truths which by their very nature are eternal, and to deny which is no other than to speak against the Holy Ghost, we should listen patiently, pass no harsh judgment on those who question other truths not necessarily eternal, while they declare that they are, to the best of their consciences, seeking to obey God and Christ.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 250.
References: John 9:31.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 468; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 145. John 9:32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1065. John 9:35.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 179; Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 49.
This is the very question which Jesus still puts to the conscience of every man, and on the answer given to it does the salvation of every man still depend. How often also is the answer which our hearts would return, the very same with that which was made by the blind man to Christ: "Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?"
I. First, let us see what the question means. It is plain that it means more than a mere nominal belief, like that of a person who had learnt his creed by heart, and had been told in his childhood who Christ was, without having in after life thought about Him at all, and yet without having his old belief overthrown, so that, if he should be put in mind, he would still possess it. Such a belief on the Son of God is no belief at all. We know that the belief spoken of in the text is a true and lively assurance that Christ is indeed the Son of God, from whom we shall receive our eternal sentence of happiness or misery, according as we please Him or no; and any man who does hold such an assurance strongly cannot easily avoid being influenced by it in his conduct.
II. There are many who, in a very strict sense, may be said not to know who the Son of God is: (1) Those who consider Him as a great prophet, but are never led to regard Him with that faith and love and adoration which His character, as revealed in the Scriptures, demands. (2) A second class of persons, who do not know the Son of God, consists of those to whom the expression of the Apostle, that we walk by faith and not by sight, appears, if they would confess the truth, utterly wild and unreasonable. Many of these men attend church, express their belief in the Gospel, and not unfrequently lament and condemn the progress of infidelity. This they do not out of pretence, but thinking themselves very sincere; they have a respect for Christianity, and they propose to themselves, when they think of such things, to profit from its rewards hereafter. But if those labourers in the parable, who were called early in the morning, had passed the day in idleness, resolving to begin their work at the eleventh hour, they would in vain have asked for the wages of their labour. If we live by sight, we must not expect to die by faith.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 146.
References: John 9:35, John 9:36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1088. John 9:35-38.—H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 623, Ibid., Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 58; J. R. Harington, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 211; Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Oxford University Herald, June 20th, 1885; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. i., p. 51. John 9:38.—W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 119. John 9:39.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1798; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 27. Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 261; vol. xix., p. 303; F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 259. John 9:41.—S. Baring Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 8. John 9—G. Macdonald, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 61. John 10:1-10.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 273.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 9". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany