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The man that was born blind restored to sight: he is brought to the Pharisees: they are offended at it, and excommunicate him, but he is received of Jesus, and confesseth him. Who they are whom Christ enlighteneth.
Anno Domini 32.
John 9:1. And as Jesus passed by, he saw, &c.— Some would refer this to the last words of the foregoing chapter, and hence infer the unspeakable benignity of Jesus, which no affronts or indignities of the Jews could weary out, or prevent from dispensing blessings. Others, however, seem with better reason to suppose this event not immediately consequent to what is related in the former chapter.
John 9:2-3. His disciples asked him, saying, &c.— Some have thought that the Jews, having derived from the Egyptians the doctrines of the pre-existence and transmigration of souls, (see Wis 8:19-20.) supposed that men were punished in this world for the sins that they had committed in their pre-existent state. From the account which Josephus gives of this matter, it appears that the Pharisees believed that the souls of good men only went into other bodies, whereas the souls of the wicked, they thought, went immediately into eternal punishment,—an opinion somewhat different from that which the disciples expressed on this occasion. For, if they spake accurately, they must have thought that, in his pre-existent state, this person had been a sinner, and was now punished for his sins then committed, by having his soul thrust into a blind body. Nevertheless, from what they say, we cannot certainlydetermine whether they thought that, in his pre-existent state, this person had lived on earth as a man, which is the notion that Josephus describes; or, whether they fancied he had pre-existed in some higher order of being, which was the Platonic notion. The disciples might possibly have been acquainted with these principles; and might have put the question in the text, on purpose to know our Lord's decision on so curious a subject; though, for my own part, I am rather inclined to think that the disciples were men of too little erudition to have imbibed notions of this sort. "The apostles,"saysTheophylact,afterChrysostom,"hadnotreceivedthosetrifling notions of the Gentiles, that the soul can sin in a pre-existent state, and so be punished in another body for the faults committed ina former one: for, being plain fishermen, it is not to be supposed that they had heard these things, which were the doctrines of the philosophers." Several kinds of diseases, particularly blindness, were esteemed by the Jews to be the punishments of sin; and our Lord's disciples, from the address which he made to the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, ch. Joh 5:14 might be confirmed in this prejudice, and ask him whether, as this man was born blind, he must not be supposed to be punished for the sins of his parents. Another opinion was imbibed by the Jews during their captivity, that all their sufferings descended upon them for the crimes of their fathers, and were wholly unmerited on their part. It was this opinion which drew from the divinely-inspired pen of Ezekiel that severe remonstrance and animated vindication of the ways of Providence in his 18th chapter. Some remains of this opinion might have possessed the minds of the apostles. They fancied that they saw in the man born blind, a case which could not be accounted for, but by supposing him to suffer for a parent's guilt. Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? The question they thought admitted but of one reply; the crime must precede the punishment: the punishment in this case commenced before there could be any personal guilt in the sufferer: it must therefore descend from the parent's sin. But our Lord shewed them that the case admitted of a very different solution; Jesus answered, neither hath this man, &c. "Suffering is not in this case the effect of sin. This private calamity is permitted for a public good, to give me an opportunity of displaying to the world that divine power by which I act." See ch. John 11:4.
John 9:4. I must work the works, &c.— called in the preceding verse the works of God,—while it is day; that is, "while I have an opportunity;" the night cometh, &c.
"death is approaching, which as it puts a period in general to human labours, so will it close the scene of such miracles as these, and remove me, as man, from the converse and society of men." It was now the sabbath-day, and Jesus was about to perform a miracle, in which a small degree of servile work was to be done. Clay was to be made of earth and spittle, and the blind man's eyes were to be anointed with it; wherefore, before he began, he told his disciples, that they need not be surprised when they saw him perform miracles of that kind on the sabbath; for though they might imagine that he could easily defer them till the holy rest was expired, he had so little time to remain on earth, that he judged it expedient to embrace every opportunity of working miracles which offered. Besides, Jesus might choose to work this miracle on the sabbath, knowing that the time when it was performed, would occasion it to be more strictly inquired into by the Pharisees; and of consequence would tend to make it more generally known, as we find was really the case.
John 9:5. As long as I am in the world, &c.— Because our Lord was going to confer sight on a man who was born blind, he thence took occasion to speak of himself, as one appointed to give light likewise to the darkened minds of men. Hence we learn that our Lord's miracles were designed, not only as proofs of his mission, but to be specimens of the power which he possessed as Messiah. For example, by feeding the multitude with meat that perished, he signified that he was come to quicken and nourish mankind with the bread of life, that sovereign cordial and salutary nutriment of the soul. His giving sight to the blind was a lively emblem of the efficacy of his doctrines, to illuminate the blinded understandings of men. His healing their bodies, represented his power to heal their souls; and was a specimen of his authority to forgive sins, as it was a real, though but a partial removal of the punishment of sin. His casting out devils, was an earnest of his final victory over Satan and all his associates. His raising particular persons from the dead, was the beginning of his triumphs over death, and a demonstration of his ability to accomplish a general resurrection;and,togivenomoreexamples,hiscuringall promiscuously who applied to him, shewed that he was come not to condemn the world, but to save even the chief of sinners. Accordingly, at performing these miracles, or soon after, while the memory of them was fresh in the minds of his hearers, we often find him turning his discourse to the spiritual things which were signified by them, as in the case before us. See the Inferences on Matthew 9:0.
John 9:6. He spat on the ground, &c.— We are not to imagine that he did this, because it any way contributed towards the cure. Like the other external actions which accompanied his miracles, it was designed to signify to the blind man, that his sight was coming to him, not by accident, but by the gift of the Person who spake to him. The general reason which Cyril has assigned for Christ's touching the lepers, his taking hold of the dead, his breathing on the apostles, when he communicated to them the Holy Ghost, and such like bodily actions wherewith he accompanied his miracles, may be mentioned here. He thinks that our Lord's body was, by the inhabitation of the Divinity, endued with a vivifying quality, to shew men in a visible manner, that his human nature was by no means to be excluded from the business of their salvation. See the note on Mar 7:32-33 and the Inferences at the end of this chapter.
John 9:7. Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,— Concerning these waters, the evangelist observes, that their name Siloam, or according to the Hebrew orthography, Shiloah, signifies a thing that is sent. This remark, Grotius, Dr. Clarke, and others, think was designed to insinuate that Christ's command to the blind man was symbolical, teaching him, that he owed his cure to the Messiah, one of whose names was Shiloh, the sent of God.—The waters here mentioned, came from a spring that was in the rocks of mount Zion, and were gathered into two great basons: the lower called the pool of fleeces, and the upper Shiloah, Neh 3:15 because the waters which filled it were sent to them by the goodness of God, from the bowels of the earth; for in Judea, springs of water, being very rare, were esteemed peculiar blessings. Hence the waters of Shiloah were made by the prophet a type of David's descendants, and, among the rest, of Messiah; Isaiah 8:6. Christ's benefits are fitly represented by the image of water; for his blood purifies the soul from the foulest stains of sin, just as water cleanses the body from its defilements. Moreover, his doctrine imparts wisdom, and affords refreshment to the spirit, like that which cool draughts of water impart to one who is ready to faint away with thirst and heat. But, beside the emblematical reason mentioned by the evangelist, Jesus might order the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, because there were generally great numbers of people there, who, seeing the man led thither blind, having his eyes bedawbed with clay, must have gathered round him to inquire into the cause of so strange an appearance. These having examined the man, and found that he was stone-blind, they could not but be prodigiously struck by his relation, when, after washing in the pool, they saw the new facultyinstantly imparted to him: especially if his relation was confirmed by the person who led him, as in all probability it would be. For it is reasonable to suppose, that his conductor was one of those who stood by when Jesus anointed his eyes, and ordered him to wash them in Siloam. Accordingly, when he went away, and washed, and came seeing, that is, walked by the assistance of his own eyes, without being led, the miracle was earnestly and accurately inquired into by all his acquaintance, and so universally known, that it became the general topic of conversation at Jerusalem, as the evangelist informs us, John 9:8-9. Nay, it was accurately examined by the literati or doctors there; for the man was brought before them; they looked at his eyes; they inquired what had been done to them; they sent for his parents, to know from them whether he had been really born blind; and they excommunicated the man, because he would not join them in saying that Jesus, who had cured him, was an impostor. The expression at the end of this verse, He came seeing, with eyes so remarkably strengthened that they could immediately bear the light, is a great heightening of the miracle. Perhaps this man had been taught by the example of Naaman, not to despise the most improbable means, when prescribed in the view of a miracle: but the miracle implied a divine energy and interference in every respect.
John 9:8. Which before had seen him, &c.— Who had seen him before, when he was blind.
John 9:9. Others said, He is like him:— The circumstance of having received his sight, would give him an air of spirit and cheerfulness, which would render him something unlike what he was before, and might occasion a little doubt to those who were not well acquainted with him. But see the Inferences at the end of the chapter.
John 9:11. A man that is called Jesus, &c.— It appears from this verse, that the beggar knew that it was Jesus who spake to him. Probably he distinguished him by his voice, having formerly heard him preach; or he might know him by the information of the disciples. Hence he cheerfully submitted to the operation, though in itself a very unlikely means of obtaining sight.
John 9:14. And opened his eyes.— This phrase shews that the man's blindness proceeded not from any fault or defect in the organs of vision, but from his entire want of those organs: his eyelids were grown together, or contracted, as is the case of those who are born without eyes. Hence Jesus is said to have opened the man's eyes, to intimate, that in this miracle he made, rather than recovered, his organs of vision. Dr. Lightfoot has shewn, that anointing the eyes on the sabbath-day with any kind of medicine, was forbidden to the Jews by the tradition of the elders. It was certainlya malicious intention to expose Jesus to the rage of the sanhedrim (who are meant by the Pharisees), John 9:13; John 9:15, &c., which occasioned them to bring the blind man before them.
John 9:16. Therefore said some of the Pharisees,— On hearing the man's account of the miracle, the Pharisees declared that the author of it must certainly be an impostor, because he had violated the sabbath in performing it. Nevertheless, others of them, more just and candid in their way of thinking, gave it as their opinion that no impostor could possibly do a miracle of that kind, because it was too great and beneficial, for any evil being to have either the inclination or the power to perform it. If Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both members of the sanhedrim, were now present, they would of course distinguish themselves on this occasion. Indeed, the observation seems perfectly in their manner. Gamaliel too must have been on their side, on the principles which he afterwards avowed. See Acts 5:38-39.
John 9:17. They say unto the blind man— He is so named after having received his sight, agreeable to the scripture phraseology. Thus Matthew 10:3. Matthew is called the publican, after he had left off that employment; and Matthew 26:6. Simon is called the leper, after he was cured. The next clause should be rendered, What sayest thou of him, since he hath opened, or for having opened thine eyes? This question was proposed to the man, not so much to know his opinion, as to divert the members of the sanhedrim from carrying on their altercation any further. The man's answer, that Christ was a prophet, contained not only a testimony of his being endued with a power of working miracles, but likewise that he had a right to dispense with the strict observation of the sabbath; because a prophet, according to their own traditions, was supposed to be invested with such a power.
John 9:18. But the Jews did not believe, &c.— Nothing is more remarkable than the power and goodness of Providence, throughout this transaction, which turned the malice of the Jews to the praise of HIM, whom they wanted to prove an impostor, and whom they longed to destroy. The neighbours of the man who had known him to have been blind for many years,—his parents,—the blind man himself, though intimidated by the sanhedrim, before whom they were solemnly examined, all unanimously persist in asserting the identity of the man and his former blindness: and some of the sanhedrim likewise, as appears from Joh 9:17 were convinced of the reality of the miracle. By suspending their belief, the Jews brought forth all the proofs which could be brought to establish the truth of the man's evidence, and to clear both him and Jesus from any suspicion or shadow of collusion. Their motive was malice, their intent was destruction; but the result was the establishment of truth, and a glorious vindication of the character of Christ. See the next note.
John 9:22. These words spake his parents because, &c.— As the man who had been born blind, knew who had opened his eyes; without doubt he had given his parents an account both of the name of his benefactor, and of the manner in which he had conferred the great blessing upon him. Besides, having repeated these particulars frequently to his neighbours and acquaintance, Joh 9:11 we can conceive no reason why he should conceal them from his parents. The truth is, they were ungrateful enough to the Lord Jesus, to conceal what they knew, through a pusillanimous fear of the Jews, because by an act of the court it was resolved, that whosoever acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ, should be excommunicated. The Jews had two sorts of excommunication; one was what they called Niddai, which separated the person under it four cubits from the society of others; so that it hindered him from conversing familiarly with them, but left him free at that distance, either to expound, or hear the law expounded in the synagogue. There was another kind of excommunication called Shematta, from shem, which signifies a namein general; but by way of eminence was appropriated to God, whose aweful name denotes all possible perfection. Shematta therefore answers to the Syriac Maranatta,—The Lord cometh, a form of execration used by the apostle, (1 Corinthians 16:22.) and supposed to be derived from Enoch, because St. Jude quotes a saying of his, which begins with the word Maranatta, John 9:14. Behold, the Lord cometh, with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, &c. This kind of excommunication is said to have excluded the person under it from the synagogue for ever. We have the form of it, Ezra 10:7; Ezra 10:44. Neb. Joh 13:25 being that which was inflicted on the Jews who refused to repudiate their strange wives. It seems to have been the censure also which the council threatened against those who should acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah, and which they actually inflicted on the beggar; for the words εξελαλον αυτον, Joh 9:34-35 apply better to this kind than to the other. Probably also it was the shematta which our Lord speaks of, Joh 16:2 when he says to his disciples, αποσυναγωγους ποιησουσιν υμας ;—They shall put you out of the synagogues. According to Selden, the synagogue from which persons under this censure were excluded, was every assembly whatever, whether religious or civil; the excommunicated person not being allowed to converse familiarly with his brethren, although he was not excluded either from public prayers or sacrifices. But in this latter opinion, the learned writer has not many followers. The excommunications of the primitive Christians seem to have resembled those of the Jews in several particulars; for theyexcluded excommunicated persons from their religious assemblies, and from all communion in sacred things; and when they restored them to the privileges of the faithful, it was with much difficulty.
John 9:24. Give God the praise:— "Give glory to God, in whose presence you now are, by making a full confession of your fraud and collusion with this man; for we know that he is an impostor, and have all the reason in the world to believe that you are his accomplice." There could not be a greater insult on the character of our Redeemer, than to be pronounced a known, scandalous sinner by this high court of judicature; an infamy which has seldom, in any civilized country, fallen on any person not legally convicted. But how does this infamy fall upon their own heads when we recollect that they asserted without proof; that they admitted their own blind malice, instead of evidence.
John 9:25. Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not:— In this answer of the beggar there is a strong and beautiful irony, founded on good sense; and therefore it must have been felt by the doctors, through they dissembled their resentment for a little while, hoping that by gentle means they might prevail with the man to confess the supposed fraud of this miracle. See the next note.
John 9:27. He answered them, I have told you already,— The resistance of the rulers to the truth, appeared so criminal to the man, that, laying aside all fear, he spoke to them with great freedom: "I have told you already, and you did not hear, that is, believe; or, as others would read it, did you not hear?—wherefore would you hear it again?" &c. In this answer the irony was more plain and pointed: "Are you so affected with the miracle, and do you entertain so high an opinion of the author of it, that you take pleasure in hearing the account of it repeated, from an inclination of professing yourselves his disciples, who glory in being masters and teachers?
John 9:28-29. But we are Moses' disciples, &c.— Hereby they craftily but most maliciously and falsely insinuated, that there was such an opposition between Moses and Jesus, that it was impossible for the same person to be the disciple of both. We know that God spake unto Moses, say they; but how did they know this?—Was it from the tradition which they had received concerning him?—Was it from the intrinsic proofs that might be drawn from his writings? Or was it from the miracles that he wrought in confirmation of his mission? Consider all these proofs with respect to Jesus: they all looked upon John as a person of integrity, and some indeed honoured him with the title of a prophet; but John testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the beloved Son of the Father, and that he had heard God himself declare as much, when Christ was baptized by him. The doctrines of Jesus were equally worthy of a divine messenger with those of Moses; they were more spiritual, and consequently more highly suitable to the nature of God, who is a Spirit. They were intended not for one particular nation, and therefore particularly suitable to the character of God, considered as the Father of mankind. The religion that he established was not local or temporal, like that of the Jews, nor, on that account, confined to a particular spot, or to be practised under particular circumstances; but to be professed every where, and to be extended throughout the habitable world. What still more confirms our Saviour's divine mission is, that he was predicted in every link of the great chain of prophesies which runs through the Old Testament; and even Moses himself speaks of him as a lawgiver,who should supersede his constitution, and ought to be heard by the latter Jews, as he himself had been by their fathers; yet notwithstanding they say, they knew that God spake to Moses, but had received no credentials to convince them of the divine mission of Jesus. Again, if they believed the mission of Moses on the evidence of miracles, credibly attested indeed, but performed two thousand years before they were born, it was much more reasonable, on their own principles, to believe the mission of Jesus, on at least equal miracles, wrought daily among them, when they might, in many instances, have been eye-witnesses to the facts; and one of which, notwithstanding all their malice, they werehere compelled to own, or, at least, found themselves utterly unable to disprove. Their partiality herein was inexcusable; nor was the inconsistency of this perverse people less glaring: for, at one time, they make their knowing whence Jesus was, an objection to his being the Messiah; and here theyobject to his being the Messiah, from their not knowing whence he was. But it is the nature of malice and of error always to confute and contradict themselves. See ch. John 7:27-28.
John 9:30-31. The man answered— Utterly illiterate as he was!—and with what strength and clearness of reason! Thus God had opened the eyes of his understanding, as well as his bodily eyes. "Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye,—the teachers and guides of the people, should not know that a man, who hath wrought a miracle, the like of which was never heard of before must be from heaven, sent by God; for we, even we of the populace, know that God heareth not sinners, so as to answer their prayers in this manner." This indeed was a truth universally allowed: now they all knew that God had heard Jesus by the work that he had wrought, which had been confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt: therefore it followed by plain consequence, that Jesus was not a sinner, but of God, since otherwise he could do nothing. This argument was irrefragable.
John 9:32-33. Since the world began was it not heard— Philosophers are unanimouslyagreed, that it is impossible to give sight by any natural means to one who is born blind. And indeed the Jewish rabbies themselves reckon it among the characteristics of the Messiah, that he should open the eyes of the blind. The honest courage of this man, in adhering to the truth, though he knew the consequence, Joh 9:22 gives hima claim to the title of confessor; and it is unnecessary to point out to any reader of this portion of scripture the closeness, strength, and clearness of his reasoning. We may however learn from it, that a plain man, void of the advantages of learning and education, but who has honest dispositions, is in a fairer way to understand truth, than a whole council of learned doctors, who are under the strong influence of prejudice.
John 9:35. Jesus heard that they had cast him out;— Many harmonists suppose, that our Lord conferred the faculty of sight on the blind man at the feast of Tabernacles, when he left Jerusalem; and that, returning thither at the feast of Dedication, he was then told that the council had excommunicated the man; at which time he resolved to make him full amends for the injury that he had suffered. Accordingly, having found him, he discovered himself to him as the Messiah, and invited him to believe on him. We have heretofore observed the caution used by our Lord in discovering himself to be the Messiah: here he makes use of a very unusual degree of freedom, Joh 9:37 which may well be accounted for, by considering the extraordinary circumstances of the case, this being the first instance in which any one had incurred the great inconvenience attending a sentence of excommunication out ofzeal for the honour of Christ. No doubt this passed privately between our Lord and the blind man, though presently afterwards others joined the conversation. See John 9:39-40.
John 9:37-38. Jesus said, &c.— This passage of the gospel well deserves serious attention, as it is of great force to prove theDivinity of our Saviour, who here declares himself in express terms τον υιον του Θεου, the true, eternal, only-begotten Son of God, so of necessity equal with God, even upon the concession of the Pharisees; as he abundantly proved himself by this mighty work, openingthe eyes of a man born blind, by his own, and not any delegated power, a work the like to which was never even supposed to have been wrought by any man since the world began. See on John 9:32. Jesus here, too, requires of the blind man to believe in him, the Son of God; but he who believes and puts his confidence in any creature, however great, however exalted, is accursed by the declaration of God himself. See Jeremiah 27:15. Jesus therefore was God: moreover, he admitted the worship and adoration of this man, which is due, and must be paid only to the one true God; Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. The God-man corporeally present to the eyes of this person, not only required his faith, but admitted his worship; he must therefore either have been a notorious impostor, or the very and true God; God and man in one person.
John 9:39. And Jesus said, For judgment, &c.— In these words directed to the people who happened to be present, or to come up while Jesus was talking with the blind man, our Lord alluded to the cure lately performed; but his meaning was spiritual, representing not the design of his coming, but the effect which it would have on the minds of men. It would shew what character and disposition every man was of. The teachable and honest, though they were as much in the dark with respect to religion, and the knowledge of the scriptures, as the blind man had been with respect to the light of the sun, should be spiritually enlightened by his coming: whereas those who in their own opinion were wise, and learned, and clear-sighted, should appear to be, what they really were, blind, that is, quite ignorant and foolish.
John 9:40-41. Some of the Pharisees—heard these words,— The Pharisees present, hearing him speak thus, knew that he meant them in particular, especially from the word see, in the former verse, seers being a common appellation by which the wise and learned among them were distinguished. As their sect was held in great veneration by the common people, because of their extraordinary skill in the law, they reply to our Lord with the greatest disdain, "Do you imagine that we are blind, like the rude vulgar? We, who are their teachers, and have taken such pains to acquire the knowledge of the scriptures?" See Acts 22:3. Jesus told them, Joh 9:41 that they would not have been to blame for rejecting him, if they had not had faculties and opportunities to discern the proofs of his mission. In that respect they were not blind. Nay, he acknowledged that they were superior to the populace in point of learning; but, at the same time, he assured them, that, because their hearts were averse from receiving and acknowledging the truth, they were altogether blind; and that an enlightened understanding greatly aggravates the guilt of a blind heart. What Jesus said to them, may be said to every one; no error can excuse from guilt, but what is invincible: that is to say, nothing will excuse us, but what argues a thorough, unperverted,honest,andgooddisposition—nothing,inshort,thatwemightandought to have prevented, and which is owing to our voluntary neglect. All voluntary error must on that very account be criminal error; and if error be criminal, only because it is voluntary, it hence directly follows, that the malignity of it must increase according to the degree in which it is voluntary; or, which is the same, it must always increase in proportion as it was in our power to have avoided it in our several stations, and with our respective abilities and advantages. From the argument here pursued, we may easily see that it was not, it could not be, the intention of Christ in the words, if ye were blind, ye should have no sin, to represent all ignorance as innocent; but that he only speaks of such instances of it as are involuntary and insuperable. The latter part of the passage suggests an observation of a different kind, namely, that sins committed against knowledge are most highly aggravated; and that a corruption of manners, and increasing wickedness in anenlightened age, are attended with peculiar circumstances of reproach and infamy. To this the universal consent of mankind in every age has been given, yea even of the vicious; which is a further argument why the knowledge, experience, and practice of religion should ever be inseparable; and that if we pretend to an enlightened mind, and right sentiments of holiness and piety, and pursue, at the same time, immoral courses, we are not only more criminal, but much more despicable, if our pretence be just, than the vicious without that knowled
Inferences.—The man was born blind, this cure requires not art, but power; a power no less than infinite and divine. Such are we, O God, by nature, blind to all spiritual things: it must be thou alone, who canst bestow on us illumination.
The blind man sat begging;—and where should he thus sit, but near the temple? Piety and charity ever dwell close together; the two tables were both of one quarry. Then we are best disposed to mercy towards our brethren, when we have either craved or acknowledged God's mercy to ourselves. If we go to the temple to beg of God, how can they deny mites, who hope for talents?
Never did Jesus move a foot, but to some purpose. He passed by, but his virtue stayed. The blind man could not see him, he sees the blind man: his goodness prevents us, and yields better supplies to our wants. O Saviour, why should we not imitate thee in this merciful improvement of our senses? Woe be to those eyes that care only to gaze upon their own beauty, pomp, or wealth; and cannot abide to glance upon the sores of a Lazarus, the sorrows of a Joseph, the dungeon of a Jeremy, or the blind beggar at the temple's gate.
The disciples see the blind man too, but with different eyes. Master, say they, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he is born blind? (See the Annotations.) How easily, and how far may the best miscarry with a common error! We are not thankful for our own illumination, if we do not look with charity and pity upon the gross misconceptions of our brethren.
Our Lord sees, yet will he wink at this great error of his disciples. We hear neither chiding nor conviction. He who could have enlightened their minds at once, as he did the world, will yet do it by due leisure, and only contents himself here with a mild solution: Neither this man, nor his parents. O Saviour, we learn nothing of thee, if we learn not meekness. It is the spirit of lenity that must restore and confirm the lapsed.
The answer is positive: neither the sin of the man, nor of his parents, bereaved him of his eyes: there was a higher cause,—the glory which GOD meant to win unto himself by the event. All God's afflictive acts are not punishments: some are for the benefit of the creature, whether for probation, or prevention, or reformation: all are for the praise either of his own divine power, justice, or mercy.
It was fit that so great a work should be ushered in with preface: thus the way being made, our Lord addresses himself to the miracle; a miracle not more in the thing done, than in the manner of performance.
The matter used was clay, John 9:6. What could be meaner, what more unfit, to all human apprehension? O Saviour, how often didst thou cure blindness by thy word alone; how oft by thy touch. Even thus, easily couldst thou have acted here; for most assuredly the virtue must wholly be in thee, none in the means: the utter, the evident disproportion of the help to the cure, adds glory and lustre to the Divine Operator; and had not the Jews been more blind than the poor beggar whom thou curedst, more hard and stiff than this attempered clay, they had in this one work seen and acknowledged thy Divinity.
What must the blind man think, when he felt the cold clay upon the hollow sockets of his eyes? Or, since he could not conceive what an eye was, what must the be-holders think to see that hollowness thus filled up?—Is this the way to give eyes, to convey sight? Why did not the earth itself see with this clay, as well as the man? What is there to hinder sight, if this can produce it?—
Yet with these contrarieties must the faith be exercised, where God intends the blessings of a cure.
All things receive their virtue from divine institution: Go, wash in the pool of SILOAM is the injunction of this blessed Saviour; and had not the man repaired thither, no wonder if he had still been blind.—Thou, O God, hast set apart the ordinances of thy gospel; thy blessing is annexed to them; hence is the ground of all our use, and of their efficacy. Hadst thou so instituted, Jordan would as well have healed blindness, and Siloam leprosy.
That the man might be capable of such a miracle, his faith is set at work. He is led to the pool; he washes; he sees. Oh what must this man think, when his eyes were now first given him? What a new world around him! How must heaven and earth, and all the creatures, have caught his wondering sight, and not more pleased than astonished him! Lo! thus shall we, if faithful, be affected, and more, when the scales of our mortality being done away, we shall see as we are seen; when we shall behold the blessedness of that other world, the glory of saints and angels, the infinite majesty of the Son of God, and the incomprehensible brightness of the all-glorious Deity.
It could not be but that many eyes had been witnesses of this man's want of eyes. He sat begging at one of the temple gates. His very blindness made him noted; deformities and infirmities of body more easily both drawing and fixing the eye, than an ordinary symmetry of parts.
Purposely, without doubt, did our Saviour make choice of such a subject for his miracle: a man so poor, so public! The glory of the work could not have reached so far, had it been done to the wealthiest citizen of Jerusalem: neither was it without its use, that the act and the manner are doubted of, and inquired into by the beholders. Is not this he who sat begging? Some said, It is he; others said, It is like him.
No truths have received such full proofs as those which have been questioned. I marvel not that some of the neighbours, who were accustomed to see this dark visage of the beggar led by a guide, and directed by a staff, and now saw him walking confidently alone, and looking them cheerfully in the face, should doubt whether this were he. The miraculous cures of God work a sensible alteration in men, not more in their own apprehension, than in the judgment of others. Thus it is in the redress of spiritual blindness; the whole habit of the man is changed; insomuch, that now the neighbours can say, Some, Is this the man? Others, It is like him,—It is not he.
The late blind man soon resolves the doubt, He said, I am he. He who now saw the light of the sun, would not ungratefully and unjustly hide from others the light of truth. O God, we are not worthy of spiritual sight, if we do not proclaim thy mercies aloud on the house-top, and praise thee in the great congregation.
Man is naturally inquisitive; and if there be any thing that transcends both art and nature, the more high and abstruse it is, the more busy we are to search into it. This thirst after hidden, yea, and forbidden knowledge, did once cost us dear; but where it is good and lawful to know, inquiry is commendable, as here in the Jews: How were thine eyes opened?
He that was so ready to profess himself the subject of the cure, is no niggard in proclaiming its author: A man that is called Jesus,—anointed mine eyes,—sent me to wash,—and now I see. He had heard Jesus speak; he felt his hand; as yet he could look no further; and hence he calls him a man: upon his next meeting, he sees God in this man. In matters of knowledge, we must be content to creep ere we can run.
"How did this man know what Jesus did? He was then stone blind; what distinctions could he yet make of persons and actions?" True; but yet the blind man wanted not the assistance of others' eyes; their relation had assured him of the manner of his cure; and besides this, the contribution of his other senses gave him sufficient warrant thus to believe and report. O Saviour, we cannot see with our bodily eyes what thou hast done for the spiritual cure and redemption of our souls: but what are the monuments of thine evangelists and apostles, but the relations of the blind man's guide, what and how thou hast wrought for us? On these we strongly rely; these we do no less confidently believe, than if our very eyes had been witnesses of what thou didst and sufferedst upon earth. Indeed, faith could have no place, if the ear were not allowed worthy of as much credit as the eye.
How could the neighbours fail to ask where he was who had wrought so strange a cure? Yet may we reasonably doubt that their solicitude intended him no favour; for, prejudiced against Christ, and partial to the Pharisees, they bring the late blind man before those professed enemies of the blessed Jesus.
Our Lord had fixed upon the sabbath for this cure: it is hard to find out any time wherein charity is unseasonable.—And yet this circumstance alone is ground of quarrel enough for these scrupulous, hypocritical, sanctimonious wranglers; namely, that an act of mercy was done on that day.
I do not see the man, once restored, beg any more: no citizen of Jerusalem was richer than he. I hear him firmly defending the gracious author of his cure, against all the cavils of malicious Pharisees: I see him, as a resolute confessor, suffering excommunication for the name of Christ, and maintaining to the last the innocence and honour of so blessed a benefactor. I hear him read a divinity lecture to those who proudly sat in Moses' chair; yea, and convince them of blindness, who punished him for seeing.
How can we fail almost to envy thee, O thou happy man, who, of a begging patient, provest an intrepid advocate for thy Saviour! whose gain of bodily sight, makes a glorious way for thy spiritual discernment! who hast lost a synagogue, and hast found a heaven! who, abandoned of sinners, and persecuted on all hands, art received into favour and protection by the Lord of life and glory.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The connection between this chapter and the foregoing seems to speak as if the event here recorded immediately followed the preceding, though others suppose that they came to pass at the distance of three months from each other; the former happening at the feast of Tabernacles, this at the fear of Dedication, Chap. John 10:22. We have in this chapter the cure of a poor blind man.
1. Jesus observed him as he passed by, and knew his pitiable case, that he was blind from his birth. Such are we by nature; born in sin, and conceived in wickedness; blind to every spiritual object, and utterly unable to find the way to eternal life and peace, till Jesus, the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, passeth by, or bestoweth upon us that light.
2. The disciples hereupon proposed a curious question to their Master. Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? (See the Annotations.)
3. Christ answers their question, by way of rectifying their mistakes, and checking such censorious conclusions. Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; not that they had never committed actual sin, nor been born in original corruption; but that it was not because of any particular crime which either had committed, that this blindness was inflicted; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him, and the Messiah be exalted in working a miraculous cure upon him. Note; (1.) We are not to judge of men's sins by their sufferings, it being often the lot of God's dearest children to be severely afflicted. (2.) God has purposes of his own glory to answer in those afflictive providences, the reason of which we cannot always discern; and this is at least a sufficient reason to reconcile us to them.
4. He gives the reason of his readiness to help this poor man. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day. He was sent upon earth to do good to the bodies as well as souls of men; and therefore while his personal ministry lasted, this was his proper employment. The night cometh when no man can work: when death should put a period to his mortal days, his works of healing would then be done. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world; both corporally giving eyes to the blind, and enabling them to see the day; but more peculiarly in a spiritual sense, as the Sun of Righteousness arisen with healing in his wings, the only true light that can guide the benighted souls of men into the paths of eternal life. Note; (1.) Life is our day of usefulness, the moment in which we can serve and glorify God; we have need therefore to be diligent to redeem the time, and lay ourselves out in his blessed service. The night of death is near, when no work can be done for Christ and for souls; how precious then is every passing hour! (2.) What the sun is to the natural world, that Christ is to the spiritual world: without him all is darkness; we know nothing of God, or ourselves, our true happiness, our proper work, or the great end of our being; and he must not only shine upon us, but shine into our hearts.
5. He gives sight to the blind man, and this in a way different from the miracles that he usually performed, which were done with a word. He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, Go wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent, and was) the figure of the Messiah and his kingdom, Isaiah 8:6. The blind man obeyed his orders, and instantly felt his eyes opened, and his sight perfectly good. Note; (1.) The word of the gospel is as this clay, unable of itself to communicate spiritual light to the soul; but, when applied to the believer by the powerful hand of Jesus, becomes effectual to open the eyes of the mind. (2.) Obedient faith never fails of bringing relief. They who at Christ's command perseveringly wait upon him in the way of his ordinances, will find their darkness enlightened, their doubts removed, their weakness strengthened, their souls comforted.
2nd, We have,
1. The amazement of the neighbours, who could scarcely persuade themselves that he was the same man, whom they had seen, a poor blind beggar, by the way-side during so many years. Some affirmed that it was the same man; others doubted, though they owned the resemblance; till the man himself ended the dispute, by affirming that he was the very person. Note; They who have experienced the power of the healing grace of Jesus upon their souls, should be ready to own it, to the glory of his great name.
2. In answer to their question, how he came to obtain his sight, after being blind from his birth, he informed them, that a man called Jesus, had made clay, anointed his eyes, sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash; and that instantly thereupon he received his sight. Note; If the opening the eyes of a dark body awakened such concern to inquire how it was done, much more ought the opening the eyes of the darkened minds of sinners to be matter of astonishment, and awaken our notice and inquiries.
3. They hereupon put another question to him, either out of desire to know this wonderful person, or with a malicious design to seize one whom the Pharisees had proscribed. Where is he? He said, I know not; Christ having departed when he had performed the cure. Thus in the work of grace upon the soul, we see and feel the blessed change, though the hand which produces it is unseen.
3rdly, Far from being induced by this wondrous miracle to admire the Person who wrought it, we find them incensed, and ready to prosecute Jesus as a criminal.
1. Information is lodged against him before the rulers and Pharisees; and the man who had been lately blind, is brought before the sanhedrim, because it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes, which they regarded as a vile profanation of the day.
2. The Pharisees interrogate the man concerning the matter, very loth to be persuaded of the fact, and determined to find fault where wonder and praise should have filled their hearts and tongues. The man simply gives a narrative of his case and cure, which divided the sentiments of the council. Some said, admitting the fact, this man is not of God, whatever miracles he may pretend to work, because he keepeth not the sabbath day; for they regarded the making clay of the spittle, as a violation of the strict rest enjoined by the tradition of the elders. Others were loth to admit the fact, and would fain overthrow its evidence; fearing lest, if it was allowed to be true, the people would justly conclude that no wicked man could work such miracles, and thereby the authority of Jesus would be established: or rather, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? are the words of some, such as Joseph and Nicodemus, who justly objected, that such miracles of grace were a strong evidence of a divine mission; and of God's approbation of the person who wrought them: and this occasioned some debates in the council. Some of them hereupon demanded of the man what he thought of Jesus, and whether he had really opened his eyes. The man from just experience owns, he could not but conclude that he must be a prophet. Note; (1.) A poor blind beggar often judges more wisely concerning Christ and his character, than those who boast themselves masters in Israel. (2.) Some, even of the great, submit to be saved by grace; and their conduct and testimony leave the rest more inexcusable.
3. They cite the father and mother of the man to appear at their bar, hoping to find some way to invalidate the credit of the miracle; but they only the more confirmed it; so easily can God take the wise in their own craftiness. They question the parents of the man, Whether this was their son? whether he was born blind? and how he now came to see? To the two first questions they gave a clear and explicit answer. He was their son, and had been born blind. How he now saw, was a question which they cared not, for certain reasons, to enter into; and therefore rather referred the matter to their son, who was of age, and therefore able to answer for himself. For the truth was, they were timorous, and apprehensive of the consequences of making that open confession, which gratitude and truth demanded; because they were afraid they should be excommunicated according to the law which the sanhedrim had passed, that if any should own Jesus as the Messiah, he should be put out of the synagogue; and therefore they were willing to trim, and leave the question for their son to resolve. Note; (1.) The church's censures, when wicked men are in authority, have often been laid on its best friends. (2.) The true religion of Jesus will generally be a suffering cause, even where the public profession of it is made; experimental godliness being possessed by a small number comparatively. (3.) When the profession of Christ exposes us to persecution, many are ready to conceal their religion in order to escape the cross.
4. The council, finding that they got nothing to their satisfaction from the parents, again called the man himself; and, unable to deny that the notable miracle was wrought, endeavoured to rob the Lord Jesus of the honour due to him for it, saying, Give God the praise, who has done the work; but we knew that this man is a sinner; and therefore, though God may please to use wicked instruments for the accomplishment of his purposes, yet the praise is only due to himself. So confidently do they speak, who, when challenged to bring a single proof of sin against Jesus, could not have the confidence to lodge one accusation. Note; Many endeavour thus to supply the want of argument with confident assertions of virulent abuse.
5. The man replied, Whether he be a sinner, or no, I know not, I will not determine; though I have all the reason in the world to believe the contrary: but one thing I know, by happy experience, that whereas I was blind, now I see, and cannot be persuaded out of my senses. Note; Many captious questions may be put to a gracious person, in order to shake the ground of his confidence; but though he may not be able to give a distinct account how that spiritual change is wrought which he experiences, yet he can say, I know it is wrought: my understanding is enlightened; my heart is changed.
6. Again they demand an answer to their questions, in hopes that through inadvertence or fear he might faulter in his evidence, or vary from what he had advanced; but his reply more exasperated them. He answered them, I have told you already, distinctly and clearly, and ye did not hear, so as to regard or credit what I said: wherefore would ye hear it again? to what purpose do ye desire it? will ye also be his disciples? which he suggests ironically, as knowing their aversion to Jesus.
7. With rage and resentment at the mention of this, they bitterly revile him: Thou art his disciple, a poor deluded wretch; but we are Moses' disciples, the followers of that great lawgiver of Israel, and who ought to be regarded as the guides in religious matters, and not to be taught by such a fellow as thou. We know that God spake unto Moses, face to face on the Mount, and that Moses delivered the law under a divine commission: but as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is: in truth, they desired not to know, and would not examine the evidence that he had produced of his divine original and authority; for then they might have seen that there was a perfect agreement between Jesus and Moses; and that, instead of the worthless fellow whom they scornfully rejected, this was the great Prophet of whom Moses spake. Note; (1.) Many boast of their external privileges, which only serve to aggravate their guilt. (2.) The servants of Jesus, like their Master, have often been treated with insolence and contempt, as upstart fellows whom nobody knows. (3.) Many are branded as forsaking the good old religion, who are in fact the very espousers of it, by those who, resting upon the form of godliness, are utter strangers to the power of it.
8. Once more the man replies, Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, when he has given such incontestable evidence of his divine mission by this amazing miracle, and he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know, we who are common people, and much more persons of your learning and sagacity, that God heareth not sinners, nor grants their prayers; much less would he enable them to perform miracles to support an imposture: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth; and in the present case, the miracle that Jesus has wrought, is an express testimony of God's approbation of him. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind; such a thing, not the greatest of the prophets, not even Moses himself, had ever performed. If therefore this man were not of God, sent by him, and owned of him, he could do nothing; since it cannot be imagined that God would enable a bad man to work such extraordinary miracles to carry on a bad cause, and promote a delusion—a conclusion most reasonable and unanswerable, and drawn from premises the most evident and allowed. Note; (1.) An impenitent sinner, who persists in his iniquities, can never expect that God will hear and answer his prayers. (2.) They who in spirit worship God, and in simplicity obey him, may be assured that he will hear and grant all their petitions in that way which is best for them. (3.) A poor unlettered man, when taught of God, is able to confound the wisest doctors that are, with all their learning, strangers to divine teaching.
9. Unable to answer his reasoning, they make up in violence and abuse what they want in argument. Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? Thou, a vile fellow, stigmatized from thy birth, dost thou pretend to direct us, the guides and rulers of the church, famed for wisdom and sanctity, and invested with chief authority? What insolence, what arrogance is thine! And they cast him out, excommunicated him immediately, and cut him off from the congregation of Israel. But the anathemas of church rulers, who abuse their authority, shall only light on their own head. Note; Proud worldly-wise men despise the poor, and think their own self-sufficiency above all need of others' help and teaching; whereas none who know themselves, will ever think themselves too wise to learn, or too good to mend.
4thly, The unjust act of these oppressive rulers was soon noised abroad, and came to the ears of Jesus. Hereupon we are told,
1. That Christ found him; he went in search of him, probably to encourage and comfort him under the persecution that he suffered for the truth, and said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God, the promised Messiah? Note; (1.) Though wicked men may abuse their power in casting out the faithful servants of Jesus, he will visit his outcasts with his love, and own them under their sufferings for his sake. (2.) True faith in the Son of God, is the great attainment, from which alone every thing spiritually excellent follows.
2. The poor man replied with earnestness, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? I do expect him, and should be happy to find him; and wish for nothing more than to be directed to him, that I might by faith embrace him.
3. Christ gives him a clear declaration of his own office and character. Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee; whose power thou hast experienced, and is so much nearer to thee than thou art aware of; as he often is to poor penitents, when they are afflicted and mourning his absence.
4. That moment, by the power of Jesus, he was enabled to exercise divine faith in his heart; and he makes an open profession of it; Lord, I believe; and he worshipped him; giving him that divine honour which was due to him, as the eternal Son of God. For they who truly know and believe in him, pay the same worship and honour to the Son, even as to the Father.
5thly, While Jesus so kindly encouraged and comforted the poor sufferer, he pronounces just judgment on his malicious persecutors.
1. He gives a general account of the design of his mission. Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, to fulfil the will of my heavenly Father; revealing his truth for the illumination of those who will believe, and inflicting judicial blindness on others who reject his truth: that they which see not, may see, both corporally and spiritually; not only opening, by miracle, the eyes of men's bodies, but by his grace shining into the benighted souls of men: and that they which see, conceit themselves wise and knowing in the things of God, may be made blind, given up for their pride and self-sufficiency to the blindness, hardness, and impenitence of their hearts.
2. The Pharisees, supposing that they were meant, with indignation replied, Are we blind also? Dare you insolently suggest, that we the guides of the people, and the light of the land, are in darkness ourselves? Note; Nothing more offends the proud and self-righteous, than to call in question their knowledge or goodness: and their passion on such occasions is a fresh proof of the truth of the charge laid against them.
3. Christ answered, If ye were blind, really destitute of the means of knowledge, as the Gentile world, or, deeply sensible of your own native blindness, and desirous to be led into the light of life, ye should have no sin; none, comparatively speaking: or you would have submitted in faith to me the true Messiah, whereby ye might have been justified from all things, and your sins be pardoned: but now ye say, We see, conceited of your knowledge, and puffed up with pride; and therefore your sin remaineth, aggravated by the pretensions that you make, and the abuse of the means of grace which you have enjoyed. Note; None are so far from divine wisdom, as those who are wise in their own conceits. Publicans and harlots shall enter the kingdom of heaven before such as there.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany