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These chapters (9. and 10.) bring the conflict with the Jews to a climax before the commencement of the Peraean ministry. They are doubtless closely connected with what has preceded; but the note of time (John 10:22) implies an interval of some months of intense activity elsewhere—to have carried on the ministry of Christ from the Feast of Tabernacles to the winter. If John 10:22 points back, as Westcott argues by alteration of the Received Text and by special translation, to the preceding discourse, we are compelled to dissociate the cure of the blind man from the teaching of John 8:1-59., and to regard the opening verse of John 9:1-41. as entirely distinct from, and discontinuous with, the stormy scene in the temple. Dr. Eustace Conder, 'Outlines of the Life of Christ,' considers the connection so close between the eighth, ninth, and tenth chapters, as to bring the entire series of instructions into one group, and to intercalate a considerable portion of the later Galilaean ministry and also that in Persea between the seventh and eighth chapters. On that hypothesis, after the break-up of the Sanhedrin on the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:52), an absence of some months intervened before Jesus (John 8:12) again spoke to them, and said, "I am the Light of the world," deriving his illustration from "the Feast of Lights," which accompanied the enkaiaia of John 10:22.
The removal of the closing words of John 8:59 from the text as a gloss, favors a pause between the attempt to stone Jesus and the miracle. Lange has the inconsistent remark that the παράγων is "the participle of the preceding though doubtful παρῆγεν." If it were a gloss, the παρῆγεν had been introduced by some copyist from the παράγων, and therefore the latter can derive no meaning from the former. Admitting the spuriousness of the gloss, the connection between the chapters is not close enough to allow the supposition that, on the passing out of the temple with his disciples, the conversation and miracle took place. Godet thinks that the most probable time was the evening of the memorable day when our Lord and his disciples had returned to the temple. True, in Acts 3:2 a congenital cripple sat at the gate of the temple, asking alms; but in this place there is no mention of the temple. Our Lord may have "seen" this beggar on any one of his peregrinations over the slopes of Olivet or on the road to Bethany, and now he seems to be in the company of the disciples, and with them alone. They are not apparently suffering from the recent excitement of the angry contest in the temple-court. They have had time to recover themselves, and to draw from Christ, not as the eternal I AM, but as their "Rabbi," a solution of a most pressing psychological and theological puzzle which has agitated all schools of thought. Yet the reply of Jesus, involving a fresh illustration of his being the "Light of the world," shows that the great utterances of the preceding discourse were still the theme uppermost in his own mind. We know that the discourse, etc., took place on a sabbath, and the result of the healing relates itself most closely to the discussion which followed the healing of the impotent man in John 5:1-47. and 7.
(8) The Lord confirms by a sign the declaration that he is the Light of the world, by giving eyesight as well as light. That which had been proclaimed as a great truth of his Being and mission, viz. that he was the Light of the world, was now to be established and confirmed to the disciples by a signal miracle. The "higher criticism" finds explanation of this and other similar miracles at Bethsaida and Jericho, in the prophecy of Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 43:8; Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 29:18. Volkmar holds that the story of Zacchaeus is thus rewritten! Thoma thinks that we have a spiritualization of the "miracle" on Saul of Tarsus. It would be waste time to point out the differences which are patent to the simplest criticism.
And—the καί suggests relation both in subject-matter, in time, place, occasion, and theme, with that which had preceded—as Jesus was passing by, going along his way, he saw a man blind from birth (cf. ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8). He was obviously a well-known beggar, who had often proclaimed the fact that he was blind from birth (see John 9:8). Such a condition and history rendered the cure more difficult and hopeless in the view of ordinary professors of the healing art, and the juxtaposition of such a symbolic fact with the near activity of those who were boasting of their Abrahamic privilege and their national and mere hereditary advantages, is one of the instances of the unconscious poesy of the gospel history. There he sits, the very type of the race which says, "We see," but which to Christ's eye was proclaiming its utter helplessness and blindness, not asking even to be illumined, and revealing the fundamental injury done to the very race and nature of man, and calling for all the healing power that he had been sent into the world to dispense. The man who had been struck blind, or whose eyesight had been slowly dosed by disease, became the type of the effect of special sins upon the character and life; thus e.g. vanity conceals radical defects and weaknesses; pride hides from the sinner's own view his own transgressions; temporary blindness to great faults is one of the symptoms of gross sin like David's, and prejudice is proverbially blind and deaf; but here is a man who is nothing less than the type of a congenital bias to evil, of hereditary damage done to human nature. Unless Christ can pour light upon those who are born blind, he is not the Savior the world needs.
And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi. This honorific appellation is found in John 1:38, John 1:49; John 3:2; John 4:31; John 6:25; John 11:8; but very rarely in the other Gospels. It is applied to John the Baptist (John 3:26). The question seems to denote a very different frame of mind from that with which the previous chapter terminated. Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? It was the current idea and popular doctrine, not only that all suffering in this life had its origin in sin, and was a witness to the damage done to our nature by sin, by the disruption of our normal relations with the living God, but furthermore that every peculiar disaster pointed to some special or particular sin. Doubtless the Book of Job was a formal discussion of the question. The writer of that work repudiates the right of any onlooker to infer special sins from peculiar punishments. Jesus, moreover (Luke 13:1-3); had repeatedly discouraged the tendency to judge, but he did this by the still more solemn assurance that all men deserved the special fate of some. Still, the calamity of congenital blindness, with all its hopelessness, provided a very apt occasion for raising the question, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents?" It is and always will be difficult to say whether the disciples thought that they had exhausted the alternatives, or believed that they had plausible reasons for thinking either alternative possible. Some have argued that they had Scripture ground for the second of the suppositions, that the sin of the parents of the blind man was the real cause of the blindness of their son. Thus (Exodus 20:5) the idea is embedded in the Decalogue, and it is repeated in Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18, that the iniquities of fathers are visited upon their children. The forty years in the wilderness was a ease in point (Numbers 14:33, Numbers 14:34; Jeremiah 32:18), and numerous examples may be given of the punishment descending from parent to child; e.g. upon the house of Ahab, and on the sufferers from exile in Babylon. Compare the continuous threatening of vengeance for unfaithfulness upon the generation to come. The argument may have been strengthened by observation of the lot of men who have brought poverty, disease, and disgrace upon their unborn children. Ezekiel had deliberately repudiated the inference that Israel had drawn from their Scriptures, in the dictum or proverb (Ezekiel 18:2) that "the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," and maintained with great and passionate earnestness, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This may have led the disciples to put the conjectural solution. Did this man sin? Is there any way or sense in which the man's own sin could be the cause of so great a calamity? It seems entirely gratuitous to derive from this passage any final conclusion as to the method in which they supposed it possible that the man's personality preceded his birth, or any certain conviction that they meant more by their question than this—if sin is the cause of such fearful privation, it must either be the man's parents' or his own. It could not have been his own; was it then his parents'? There was sufficient discussion of the problem among the Jews for one or more vague and unsettled opinions to be floating in their minds.
(1) It cannot be proved that the doctrine of metempsychosis was ever held by the Jews. The language in which Josephus refers to the views of the Pharisees is ambiguous (cf. 'Bell. Jud.,' Ezekiel 2:8. 14; 'Ant.,' Ezekiel 18:1. Ezekiel 18:3). The view held by them was simply that "the immortal souls of the good (only) pass into another body," are raised into a new life; "but that the souls of the sinful αἰδίῳ τιμωρίᾳ κολαζέσθαι, are afflicted with eternal punish-meat." This differs profoundly from the Oriental, or Pythagorean, or Platonic doctrine of transmigration.
(2) The Jewish speculation of the pre-existence of souls has some countenance from Wis. 8:19, 20, where the pseudo-Solomon says, "I was a witty child, and … being good, I came into a body undefiled," modifying somewhat the Platonic idea of a harmony between the pre-existing soul and the body; but beyond this there is no sound indication that the Jewish mind had accepted the doctrine which played so great a part in the later discussions as to the views of Origen.
(3) Lightfoot ('Horae Hebraicae,' in, loc.) thinks "the dogma held by R. Akiba, commenting on Ecclesiastes 12:1, to the effect that "in the days of Messiah there will be neither merit nor demerit"—i.e. that neither merit nor demerit of parents will be imputed to posterity—may account for the query of the apostles.
(4) The idea of the possible sinfulness of the child while in the womb of its mother—a theory based upon the supposed moral activity of Jacob and Esau in the womb of Rebecca, and the statement that John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elisabeth (Luke 1:41)—may have co-operated with other vague views floating in their minds with sufficient intensity to explain the first part of their question.
(5) The supposition of some (Tholuck), that the disciples may have thought that the man's sins were foreknown, and that the blindness was punishment beforehand, is so abhorrent to any notion of the justice of God, that we cannot suppose that it ever entered into their inquiry. The fact that no fewer than five distinct hypotheses as to the possibility of culpability before birth having had some place in Hebrew and contemporary thought, is an adequate explanation of the fact that they should have put this ever-recurring problem of evil in the particular form in which we find it.
Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents (that he should be born blind). There was no immediate connection between the special sin of the parents and this particular calamity. Our Lord does not assert in those words the sinlessness of those people, but severs the supposed link between their conduct and the specific affliction before them. But (he was born blind) that the works of God should be made manifest in him. The disciples will soon see in the history of this man the meaning of his lifelong blindness. In the man himself' the grace of God will work mightily, both a bodily and spiritual illumination. Evil in this case is to redound to greater good. This provides no opportunity for any to fasten on one or another some charge of special transgression, but, as all evil ought to do, it provides opportunity for the redeeming work which Christ came to accomplish, and which he permitted his disciples to share.
We £ must work the works of him that sent me,f1 while it is day. The emendation of the text certainly throws much beauty into the statement. Christ identifies himself with his disciples. They are pledged by accepting his call, and he has been himself charged by his own sublime mission to work while it is called day. The sun was going down over the holy city on that sabbath day, and Jesus will not wait, nor lose the opportunity of doing the merciful will of the Father. He did not say, "Him that sent us" (as Tischendorff1 reads), for "As the Father had sent him, so he sent them." But he adds, The night cometh, when no man can work. The materialistic interpretation of Paulus, "Christ must have daylight for a delicate operation," is too puerile to deserve refutation. The suggestion of the Greek Fathers (Chrysostom, Theophylact, etc.), who here drew a distinction between the work of this world and the work of the future world, between work done before and after his Passion, representing the work of his earthly ministry as done in the day, and that of the Spirit as work done in the night, is singularly unfortunate. Our Lord is merely adopting the phrase as a customary image for life and death. Death puts an end to all human activity on earth, even to Christ's own, as a human Friend and Teacher. Numerous attempts have been made to suppose some emphatic contrast between the lifetime of Christ and the period that should follow his Passion. They all fail, because Christ's own activity resumes another form by his resurrection and the gift of his Spirit. The night of death, accompanied by the cessation of active labor, is the general idea. The day's work must be done in the day. The probation involved in the bare fact of its limitation, and in this case its rapidly approaching consummation, is the main thought, without pressing the imagery too far. By saying, "We must work," etc., he gave a lesson and an example for all time. The 'Pirke Aboth,' "The Sayings of the Fathers," record the words of R. Tryphon, "The day is short, and the task is great, and the workmen are sluggish, and the reward is much, and the Master of the house is urgent."
While—or, whensoever—I am in the world, I am the Light of the world. He had said (John 8:12), "I am the Light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness." He was sublimely conscious of his power to do for the moral world what the sun was doing for the physical world. He was the Occasion of its life, the Condition of its activity, the means of its instruction, the Source of all its beauty, its joy, and its progress. The ὅταν, which is translated quamdiu in the vulgate, and "so long as" in the Authorized version, means strictly "whensoever," and refers to the entire period of his activity (see John 1:5). But while the sun of this world cannot open the eyes of the blind, and wastes his radiance on their sightless sockets, so, unless Christ were more than the sun, and could give the power as well as the opportunity of seeing, he would never have done the work of him that sent him. The fact that he is the Light leads him to remind the disciples that he is the true Source of eyesight as well as of the conditions of vision. Light enough for all the world shines into the darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not. This Jewish people are surrounded by floods of light. The spiritual world stands revealed fully to Christ's own gaze. But mankind hates the light, loves darkness on these matters rather than the light. There is a radical fundamental change that must come over men, or they will never see. This evil, this terrible calamity that has befallen man, will vitiate all the provision of mercy. There must be a new beginning, a new birth, a work of God wrought in men, as well as a sublime revelation made to men, or the whole mission of the Christ would be incomplete.
When he had said these things, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and with the £ clay thereof anointed his (the) eyes (of the blind man). The precise meaning and motive of the process here described has been a source of great perplexity to the commentators. We see that, on other occasions, our Lord used his own saliva as a means of cure. Theme finds in the spittle the symbol of the impurity of the man thus dealt with (Isaiah 1:5, Isaiah 1:6), but somewhat inconsistently compares the "clay" with the "collyrium" of Revelation 3:17-19, and the "ausfiuss des Logos." On some occasions Jesus touched the diseased or deficient organ, put his hand on the leper, and his fingers in the ears of the deaf mute. On other occasions, again, he healed with his word only, and even from a distance, those who. in the freeness and royalty of his love, he elected to relieve from their sufferings. He was moved, doubtless, in every case by the 'special condition and temperament of the objects of his compassion. The use of these means was probably intended to evoke the nascent faith that predisposed him to receive healing, to stir the mind of the sufferer into some conscious relation will himself through those other powers of tactile sensitiveness which were in all similar cases singularly acute. Moreover, the virtue of saliva in cases of blindness was well understood. Lightfoot gives some curious proof of this, and Tacitus ('Hist.,' 4:81) and Suetonius ('Vesp.,' John 7:1-53.) both record the healing of a blind man by the Emperor vespasian by the use of jejuna saliva. Pliny (' Hist. Nat.,' 28:7) speaks of the same remedy for the diseases of the eye. "Clay" also is spoken of as being sanative by a physician by name Serenus Samonicus (see Tholuck, Wetistein, Lange, in loc.). These ideas may have had some truth in them, and for the blind man to find the process described, applied to himself by One who spoke of the Divine operations being wrought in him, would work some powerful effect on his moral, physical, and spiritual nature. Such result our Lord intended to produce. But this was only part of the healing process.
And, having done this, he said to him, Go—depart, haste, there is something for thee to do—wash into the pool of Siloam. Σιλωάμ: this is the Greek form of the Hebrew word חַוֹלישִׁ חַלֹשִׁ with the article הַלשִּׁהַ, the shortened Pihel form חַלֹשָׁ, to send forth, with the omission of the dagesh) adopted in Isaiah 8:6 by the LXX., and also by Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 5.4.1). The only other place in the Old Testament where the pool of Siloam is referred to is Nehemiah 3:15. There the Hebrew word is תלַשֶּׁהַ, and rendered by the LXX. τῶν κωδίων—i.e. of sheep-skins; that is, the pool that was used to wash sheep before shearing them, or even the tan-pit (so Schleusner and Hesych.)—but it is rendered by Siloe in the vulgate. Isaiah is contrasting the waters of the Shiloah, which flow softly, with the turbulent streams of the Tigris, which represented the pomp and power of this world. The sweet waters from the pool of Siloam still flow from their apparent source through what once were the king's gardens, into the Kedron near the junction of the valley of Jehoshaphat with that which used to be called the valley of the Son of Hinnom. Silwan is the Arabic name of the fountain and pool of Siloam, and also of the village on the opposite side of the valley. Nehemiah is referring, in all probability, to the same pool, the walls of which were in part the walls of the city itself on the lower spur of Mount Ophel, which is now finally determined to be the Zion of Scripture and the city of David. A "tower of Siloam" is also spoken of (Luke 13:4). It is not necessary here to review the arguments in favor of this position, with its accompanying conclusion that the Tyropaeon, the valley of the cheesemongers, which separated Ophel and the temple-mount from the upper city, was the valley of the Son of Hinnom, pp. 215; and 'Fresh Light from Ancient Monuments,' p. 98, etc.). The position of the fountain and pool of Siloam is one of the best-authenticated sites in Palestine (see Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 1:493-507). Sayce gives strong reasons for believing that it was made in the days of Solomon, and that the proceeding of Hezekiah, referred to in 2 Chronicles 32:30, when he diverted the water from Gihon, and brought it to the west side of the city of David, was not on account (as Edersheim, Canon Birch, and others) of the formation of the zigzag tunnel from the Fountain of the virgin, but referred to the formation of Colonel Warren's tunnel, by which the waters of the same fountain were made available within the city by drawing them further to the north-west, and reaching them by a flight of stairs that go down from the city of David (2 Kings 20:20). He thinks that 2 Chronicles 32:30 is interpreted of the lower pool of Siloam. The contemporary references of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 8:6; Isaiah 22:9) apply only to the Siloam tunnel, the Siloam pool, and that lower pool, which was repaired by Hezekiah. The upper pool, and therefore the tunnel which supplied it, were known in the time of Ahaz. Josephus makes frequent reference to the fountain of Siloam, and expressly says that it was situated at the mouth of the Tyro-paeon. The 'Itin. Hier.' and Jerome both say that it was at the foot of Mount Zion (see especially Jerome's 'Comm. in Esa. Isaiah 8:6'). Antoninus Martyr (in the seventh century), William of Tyre, Benjamin of Tudela, and Phoeas, all refer to it. This remarkable connection with the Fountain of Mary was known to Quaresmius in the seventeenth century, but not fairly discovered till Robinson entered it at both ends, and found that there was a direct subterranean communication between the so-called Fountain of the virgin and the Fountain of Siloam. In 1881 the accidental discovery of an inscription in pure Hebrew, of uncertain date, describes the process of the excavation, and accounts for the false starts made by the two parties of excavators, who eventually met and discovered the different levels at which they had been working. Whenever made, whether by Solomon, Uzziah, Ahaz, or Hezekiah, it was obviously intended to bring fresh water within the walls of the city. The intermittent character of the flow of water in the Fountain of the virgin, by which sometimes twice or thrice a day, and at other seasons twice or thrice a week, the water suddenly rises and disappears with gurgling sounds into the conduits made for its removal, was referred to by Jerome, as an eye and ear witness of the occurrence. We leave the question of the identification of the Fountain of the virgin with any of the fountains mentioned in the Old Testament. The point of singular interest is that the waters of Siloam were in direct communication with the upper spring, which itself may be yet proved to be in relation to some more abundant supply of water in the temple-rock. Into the further intricacies of this problem it is unnecessary to enter. The pools of Siloam are still to be seen near the mouth of the Tyropaeon valley. The print of connection with the Fountain of the virgin cannot be doubted, nor can the fact be disputed that from Siloam, during the Feast of Tabernacles, the sacred waters were brought in solemn procession and with sacred rite (see John 7:1-53.). Our Lord sent the blind man, thus startled into some receptivity of grace, to that which was the symbolic source of the water of life. He did this on the sabbath day, claiming cooperation with Jehovah in his truly sabbatic deed: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Siloam had been already the type of that which Jesus was in reality, when he had cried and said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." Consequently, there is striking appositeness in the language of St. John here parenthetically introduced (which is, being interpreted, Sent); חַוֹלשִׁ equivalent to missio, from חלַשָׁ, equivalent to mittit or missus, which may be synonymous with חַוּלשָׁ, viz. the strengthened participle Kal with passive signification. John is correct in his etymology. Siloam probably derived its name from the fact that its waters were sent from the higher sources, through known channels, with special significance as God's gift for the preservation of the life of the people, and the age-long memorial of his goodness. The old poet Nonnus, Euthymius, and Meyer see here a reference to the man who was "sent" thus to wash and be healed; but a host of commentators, from Theophylact, Calvin, Cornelius a Lapide, down to Luthardt, Godet, and Westcott, rightly urge that "Siloam," as meaning "Sent," was in John's thought emblematic of him who had so often spoken of himself as the Sent of God. The point of the parenthesis is that the very name of this healing and symbolic fountain is a type of Messiah, who thus identifies himself with the Heaven-sent gifts of the Divine hand. He then (therefore) departed, and washed. The blind man needed no guide to Siloam, and if he had clone so there would have been a score of helpers or curious on-lookers anxious to test the meaning of the Lord's command. And he came away from Siloam, seeing; in all the strange and wonderful excitement of a man who, with his first possession of this imperial sense, was moving indeed in a new world. The miracle, of course, provokes the critical school either into repudiating the supernatural element, or doubting the historical fact. Theme dreams through a world of parallels with the healing and apostleship of St. Paul.
(9) The proof of the reality of the miracle, the antagonism of the Pharisees, and the persecution of the heated mad.
The neighbors therefore, and they who beheld him aforetime that (or, because) he was a beggar. £ This is the first time that his well-known position is mentioned, and (if we translate ὅτι "because") the very fact of his begging (probably with loud voice) had made him a well-known individual. Said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
Some said, It is he: others, No £ but he is like him. So great a change might well have provoked inquiry as to his identity, and the two classes of speakers add amazing vivacity to the picture. He (ἐκείνος)—the man who now stood forth as the central object of the excited group (see Westcott for the use of ἐκεῖνος elsewhere in St. John: John 2:21; John 5:11; John 10:6; John 13:30; John 19:21)—rather than "he himself"—he said, I am (he) that sat and begged. The man settles the doubt offhand, I am he. The evidence of identity, if the question be raised, is at once settled. The vivacity and verisimilitude of the scene reduce the labored parallel with St. Paul to literary trifling.
They said therefore to him, How then were thine eyes opened? If you are the very man, how has this come about?
He—the man there singled out—answered (and said), The Man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, Go to the £ Siloam, and wash. So I went, and when I washed I received my sight. Nothing more as yet than the name of his Benefactor has broken upon him. The name is full of significance to him—the "Savior,': the "Healer;" but he knows nothing of his Messianic claims, nor of his Divine authority. He began, where all disciples must, with the Man. The manner of man soon wakes within him loftier questionings and a better explanation. At present the process seems magical, altogether inexplicable. Clay and Siloam water do not cure birth-blindness, tie is in a maze, as well he might be. The ἀνέβλεψα should be rendered, according to Meyer, "I looked up". It cannot be so translated in John 9:15 and John 9:18. Doubtless it strictly means, "I received sight again;" but there is something in Grotius's explanation, "No one is incorrectly said to receive that which, though he be deprived of it, belongs to human nature as a whole" (see Westcott). The eyes were there, but unused. Meyer quotes from Pausanias the similar use of ἀναβλέπειν, in reference to the recovery or obtaining of sight by a man born blind.
They say unto him, Where is that Man (Jesus)? He saith, I know not.
They bring to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. The "Pharisees" is not a conclusive definition of the Sanhedrin itself, which is generally denoted by the addition of the phrase, "the chief priests" (John 7:32 or 45). The Pharisees were a highly organized society, and some well-known gathering of them may have been easily accessible. They were the generally accredited religious guides of the people. One thing militates against such a casual gathering. In John 9:18 the term, "the Jews," the synonym of the ruling ecclesiastical powers in the city, is once more introduced. Moreover, the authorities before whom the discussion and examination were taken appear to possess the power of excommunication from the synagogue. It appears that, in Jerusalem, there existed two minor councils or synagogue-courts, of twenty-three assessors each, corresponding with the similar courts in the Jewish cities, standing in relation to the Sanhedrim and possessing the faculty of delivering the minor degrees of excommunication from the congregation of Israel. It cannot be said that this presentation of the case to an ecclesiastical court of more or less authority necessarily took place on the day of the healing. It is an open question whether the courts sat on the sabbath. There is nothing to prove immediate trial of the matter.
Now it was sabbath on the day £ that Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The phrase is peculiar, and implies that the day may have been a festival sabbath. The introduction here shows that the difficulty of the neighbors and other friends had already been raised, and something more than a desire on their part for religious guidance actuated their appeal to the Pharisees. Why should the healed man be taken to the Pharisees, or the synagogue-court at all, unless some question of casuistry had been raised? The movement was one unquestionably adverse to Jesus. It could have had no other motive. Nor can any doubt arise that Jesus had violated the rabbinical rules of the sabbath, though his act had been in perfect harmony with the spirit and even letter of the Mosaic Law. The making of clay with the spittle and the sand was an infringement of the rule ('Shabbath,' 24:3). It was curiously laid down in one of the vexatious interpretations (preserved in Jerusalem Gemara on 'Shabbath,' 14) that while "wine could by way of remedy be applied to the eyelid, on the ground that this might be treated as washing, it was sinful to apply it to the inside of the eye" (Edersheim). And it was positively forbidden (in the same Gemara) to apply saliva to the eyelid, because this would be the application of a remedy. All medicinal appliances, unless in cases of danger to life or limb, were likewise forbidden. Consequently, the Lord had broken with the traditional glosses on the Law in more ways than one (see Winer, 'Bibl. Realw.,' 2:346; Lightfoot, ' Ad Joan. 9.; 'Wetstein on Matthew 12:9; Wunsche, in loc.).
Again therefore the Pharisees, before whom the blind man had been brought, unwilling to rest with mere hearsay evidence of such grievous transgression of the Law, themselves also—or, in their turn—asked him (ἠρώτων, imperfect, were interrogating) how he received (recovered) his sight (see note on John 9:11). Not the miracle itself, but the manner of it interested and excited them. And he said to them, (He) put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and I see. This is a shorter and significant abridgment of the process already described. The healed man seems to guess, by their manner, that some charge was being meditated against his Benefactor, and he shrewdly omits the saliva and the making of the clay, and the order of the Savior, and the place whither he had been sent to wash.
indicates, as the evangelist so often does elsewhere (John 7:43; John 10:19), that the words and works of Christ produce opposite effects on different classes. Certain individuals of the Pharisees therefore said among themselves, This Man—referring to Christ, then uppermost in their minds and in their machinations—This Man is not from God, because he keepeth not the sabbath. The form of the sentence is peculiarly contemptuous, the word "man" being thrown very emphatically to the end of the sentence. This, in their opinion, is another offence against the Law, after serious warning. The previous controversy (John 5:1-47.) had produced no effect upon Jesus. He continued, in their opinion, to invalidate all his claims by violating the sabbath laws, which they had brought to the highest point of perfection. Renan and others insist on Christ's repeated violation of the sabbath; but the fact is that the Lord sustained the highest meaning of the sabbath, though he resolutely repudiated the inhuman glosses and manifest absurdities of the traditionary customs and rabbinical rules. Jesus could not be, they thought (or argued), "from God," invested with his authority, or doing his works, so tong as he would not take their view of the sabbath. This Jesus is making obstinate assault upon their prejudices. On seven distinct occasions the Lord chose to heal on the sabbath, and thus to set the restrictions of august rabbis at defiance. But even in the great Sanhedrin, in the highest council of the nation, sat men of the character of Joseph, Nicodemus, and Gamaliel, who would get some idea of the Divine commission of Jesus from the simple fact of the miracles. In this smaller court the opponents of Christ ignore and doubt the miracle itself, on account of the unsabbatic heresy, while a few are convinced that signs of this kind (and probably they had many in their minds) were in themselves proof of Divine co-operation and approval. But others said, How can a man that is a sinner (on your hypothesis) do such signs? "As far as they go, these miracles are demonstrative proof that at least God must be with him, as he has said, and they make it extremely doubtful whether he can be a bad man after all—can have verily broken the Divine Law." Such a speech as this from Pharisees is an emphatic proof of the profound effect produced by Jesus upon the life of the nation. It stands in close association with the remarkable statement of Nicodemus (John 3:2), "We know that no man can do these miracles (signs) which thou art doing, except God be with him." Jesus and rabbinism are here face to face. Either he is from God and they are actually making the Law of God void and vapid by their traditions, or they and their code are from God and he, having broken with them, has broken with God, and the miracle will turn out to he magic or falsehood, collusion or worse. Thus a solemn crisis of profound importance occurs. And there was a division (σχίσμα, cutting into two parties) amongst them. These opposite effects and conclusions are the confirmation of the words of the prologue (John 1:4, John 1:5, John 1:11, John 1:12), and they further triumphantly refute the charge that the author of the Gospel was actuated by an untiring hostility to the kingdom and polity of the ancient Israel.
They; i.e. the Pharisees, divided in opinion, though probably united in their interrogation. Those, on the one hand, who believed in the miracle, and held that it carried Divine approbation of the conduct of Jesus, and, on the other hand, those who were so satisfied of the moral fault involved in the transaction, that they held that the miracle itself, if not a piece of deception or collusion, might even indicate some demonic source, rather than a Divine one, say therefore unto the blind man again—the πάλιν points to the virtual repetition of inquiries already made (John 9:15)—What dost thou say concerning him, seeing that he opened thine eyes? "What explanation hast thou to offer? What view dost thou entertain of the Man himself? Some of us think that his trifling with the sabbatic law puts out of court the idea of any Divine aid having enabled him to work this marvel. Other some, as you see, declare that the fact which has occurred is proof that Jesus must have had God's approval, and be sustained by Divine grace. But what dost thou, the healed man, say? What conclusion hast thou adopted? Seeing that he has opened thine eyes, what sayest thou of Jesus?" There is a bare chance that the man might give a vague answer, or one which would minimize the miracle. It is obvious that, while the Pharisees were contradicting each other and in danger of open collision, the faith of the blind man who had received his sight became stronger. The light was dawning on him. The answer, so far as it went, boldly took the side of Jesus, and perhaps its cue from the language of those who had said, "How can a bad man do such signs as these?" And he said, He is a Prophet (cf. John 4:19; John 6:14). Prophets, as divinely sent men, are even more authoritative than learned rabbis. If Jesus has broken through some of these restrictions by which they have "placed a hedge about the Law," surely he had a prophetic right to do it. The healing marks a Divine commission, and the healed man owned and freely confessed to so much as this: "He is a Prophet." Maimonides (quoted by Dr. Farrar) shows that the idea was current that a prophet might, on his own ipse dixit, alter or relax even the sabbath law, and that then the people were at liberty to obey him.
John 9:18, John 9:19
The narrative once more brings "the Jews" into prominence—the hierarchical party, adverse to Jesus. The angry magistrates who were in the court allowed it to be seen at once that they will not be tampered with, nor lose the chance, if possible, of pursuing their malicious plans already formed against Jesus. They take the ground that no miracle had occurred. At all events, they must have further evidence of the fact. The Jews then did not believe, or refused to believe, concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight, and asked them, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? How then doth he now see? There were three questions proposed after the delay involved in fetching the parents of the blind beggar. The first was identification of the blind man. The second was the fact of his congenital blindness. The third was the means of his cure.
To the first and second questions the parents give affirmative answers. The identification is complete, and the astounding quality of the cure is demonstrated. His parents (then) £ answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind. In none of the Gospels, and in no narrative of this Gospel, is more certain proof given of the reality of a perfectly inexplicable phenomenon.
The third question is prudently remitted back to the consciousness and testimony of the man himself. The parents had some justification for their cowardice. They had no information beyond that which their son had given them. He had stumbled forth as usual on the morning of that sabbath, and bad returned home in transports of joy. Their son had doubtless told them the story (the use of οἴδαμεν instead of γινώσκομεν is significant). They knew by incontestable intuitive knowledge the personality and lifelong affliction of their son; but, say they, We do not know (absolutely) how he now sees; or who opened his eyes, we know not. Ask him (if you want to know); he is of full age, and therefore his testimony is valid in your court. He will speak (concerning) for himself. "We can only come to know from his testimony what he tells us, and he can himself speak for himself, and tell you all he has told us."
The evangelist accounts for the reticence of the parents by their fear of consequences. These things said his parents, because they feared the Jews. This passage provides strong evidence of the technical use of the term "the Jews." Doubtless these parents were Israelites, but they were not "Jews" in the Johannine sense. The "Jews" were the hierarchical and ecclesiastico-political authorities. For they had already come to the agreement (Luke 22:5; Acts 23:20; Acts 1:0 Macc. 9:70); had mutually determined—it does not follow that the Sanhedrin had issued a public order, but that a formidable party of "Jews" had made a συνθήκη, had pledged each other and made it sufficiently known even to such persons as the poverty-stricken parents of the blind beggar, that it would be carried out by the adequate authority in such a matter—that if any man should confess that he was Christ ("he" (αὐτὸν) is remarkable—it shows how full the thoughts of the evangelist were of the Personality of Jesus), he should be put out of the synagogue; or, become unsynagoqued. The Talmud speaks of three kinds of excommunication (of. also Matthew 5:22), of which the first two were disciplinary; the third answers to complete and final expulsion (in 'Jeremiah Moed. K.,' 81, d, להקם לדבי אוה, Edersheim). The general designation was shammata, from דמַשֱ, to destroy. The first form of it was called nesephah, and did not amount to more than severe rebuke. It would exclude from religious privileges for seven or thirty days, according to the dignity of the authority by whom it was pronounced (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1). The second form of shammata was called niddui, which lasted for thirty days at the least, and might be repeated at the end of them. If these admonitions failed to produce their right effect, it might lead to the third and final excommunication, called cherem, or ban, whose duration was indefinite. The second of these forms was accompanied by blast of trumpet and terrible curses, which deprived the sufferer of all kinds of social intercourse. He was avoided as a leper; if he died, he was buried without funeral or mourning. The cherem was even a more terrible anathema, and might last for life. The parents of the blind man might easily fear such a curse. The ban to which this blind man was eventually exposed did not prevent him from moving about the city. The ban pronounced on Jesus led doubtless to the condemnation, issuing in his ignominy and trial for a capital offence. It was probably the second of the three forms of anathema to which he was ultimately condemned. It was quite sufficient temptation for these poor parents to have preserved an obstinate reticence.
Therefore said his parents, He is of full age; ask him. They would not incur responsibility for the opinions of their son about his Healer. They knew perfectly well that it was the Jesus who was said to be the Christ of the nation, and they would not implicate themselves in giving any judgment on his claims.
So they ("the Jews") called a second time the man that was (had been) blind, and said unto him; no longer asking for any details of the process of the cure, they sought with ingenuity to blunt the edge of the powerful testimony which this man had borne to the prophetic rank and even Messianic claims of Jesus, by inducing him to recant. Give glory to God, said they. Many have urged (see Calvin, De Wette, Lange, Lucke, and Meyer) that this is only a solemn form of adjuration, which corresponds with Joshua 7:19; Ezra 10:11; Ezra 3:0 Esdras 9:8, and was a hypocritical appeal to the man to eat his own words on oath; and Godet urges, "They demanded that this guilty assertion, 'He is a Prophet,' should be blotted out by the contrary one,' He is a sinner.'" Moulton says, "A formula used when a criminal who was thought to be concealing the truth was being urged to make a full confession." Luthardt, Lampe, and others rightly observe that this adjuration theory, though it suits Joshua 7:19, does not fit 1 Samuel 6:5 or Jeremiah 12:16, and that the Pharisees rather wished the man to give glory direct to God, and not to Jesus. They implied that their action was dictated by zeal for the honor of God, and tempted the man to disclaim the mediation of Divine grace through the lips and at the will of Jesus. They add, We know (οἴδαμεν) absolutely, on theologic grounds beyond the comprehension of the poor man, and we can sustain it with all the weight of our tradition and custom—we know that this Man is a sinner. They give no reference, and do not condescend to particulars. They would overawe the man with their assumption of superior knowledge.
He therefore answered (and said £), Whether he be a sinner—using the words of "the Jews" ironically—I know not. You assert it, but the facts of my experience are altogether of a different kind. I do not know, as you say that you do. The Jews reason from foregone prejudices; the healed man has no such evidence, no such grounds—he adds in immortal words, One thing I know with invincible conviction, that whereas I was blind (De Wette says there is no need to regard the ὤν as an imperfect participle, and the present suggests the whole career of the man from birth till that memorable morning), now I see. The plain consistent testimony of the man triumphs over their logic, which sought to bewilder his judgment. The language which a deeply felt experience can always bring against the a priori demonstrations of the insufficiency of the evidence of Divine revelation. I was blind; now I see the face of God in nature, the kingdom of God all around me, the fact of my own forgiveness, the dawning of a brighter day.
They said therefore to him, £What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? They sought to draw from him the explicit proof that Jesus had broken the sabbath, or possibly to entangle him in some different statement. The fact of the supernatural change is practically conceded to the obstinacy of the man's reiterated declaration, and the identification of his person by others. Westcott here differs from the majority of recent expositors, and supposes that the "questions suggest that they were willing to believe if the facts were not decisive against belief." But the answer of the man proves that he saw the cunning of his antagonists, and was irritated by their conspicuous design to twist the infinite benefit that he had received into the material of a charge against his Benefactor.
He answered them, I told you already, and ye did not hear (the Italic versions and the vulgate here omit the negation, which De Wette says would be caster of comprehension; but as it stands, the sentence is equivalent to "you had no ears, you took no heed, if you had already listened to the simple facts"): wherefore would ye hear it again? You will pay no more heed now than then; or do ye want to transform it into a charge? There is another alternative, stated in either humble pleading or ironical retort, according as we interpret the καί. The next question is either,
(1) (Lutbardt) Would you also be his disciples, like the many multitudes who are shouting his praise? is that your bent? surely not! or
(2) it may mean, Is it possible that it is in your mind, not only to find out all about the how of this great miracle, but also to become his disciples? Neither of these interpretations is perfectly consistent with his taunt, "ye did not hear." Therefore
(3) (Bengel) the most natural meaning is, Would ye also, as well as myself, the poor beggar, become his disciples? (so Westcott, Moulton, and Lange). The poor man was roused, ironical, and ready, notwithstanding the threat of the great excommunication hanging over him, to announce his own discipleship to any extent and at any risk.
They reviled him, and said, £ Thou art the disciple of that Man (ἐκείνου)—between whom and us there is an impassable chasm. Here is one of the strongest indications of the irreversible breach between the Jews and Jesus—but we, instead of being his disciples, are disciples of Moses. This speech shows that, whatever the blind man meant to convey by the reproachful entreaty of John 9:27, the Jews took it as proof of his virtual confession of discipleship to Jesus, and this they assumed was tantamount to breaking with Moses. They assume that their traditionary interpretation of the Mastic Law has all the authority of the great Lawgiver himself.
They pursue the antithesis between Jesus and Moses, and thus make an involuntary admission of his abnormal and astounding claims. We know—it is the fundamental fact of our religions history, and of the Divine revelation entrusted to us. We know, by supreme conviction, as something almost equivalent to a fundamental law of thought, that God hath spoken to Moses. (Observe the perfect λελάληκεν, "hath spoken" in such fashion that his words abide fur ever and are still sounding in their ears.) Moses was made a little lower than the angels. God spake to him on Sinai, and from the mercy-scat, and face to face as a man speaketh with his friend (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10; Numbers 12:8). The most august ideas and associations clustered round his venerable name. Jesus was supposed to have challenged the supreme authority of Moses, and no sort of comparison could be drawn, in their opinion, between the two. But as for this Man, we know not whence he is. It is remarkable that, in John 7:27, they had been equally explicit in declaring, "We know whence he is." Then they thought to discredit iris Messianic claim by drawing a distinction between the well-known parentage and home of Jesus, and the coming of Messiah from some undiscoverable source, some hidden place, where God retained him before his revelation to Israel (see notes, John 7:27, John 7:28). While, however, Christ (John 8:14) allowed the validity of their superficial knowledge on that occasion, he declared that he alone knew whence he came and whither he was going (see notes, John 8:14). It is, perhaps, in reference to this last expression that they echo his own words. The supernatural source of his being and teaching seemed to their minds, throughout that discourse and controversy, to vacillate between the Divine and the demonic. The contrast between Moses and Jesus in this bitter speech runs along the same low level. "We know not whence" he derives his prophetic character, or his right to legislate for the people of God.
The man answered and said to them, Why £ herein is the marvelous thing. Lange translates, "With respect to this man, this is marvelous, to wit." The R.T. has accurately given the force of the γὰρ, the combination of γε and ἄρα, by the rendering "why?" The "herein" is the ignorance which the Jews now profess of the Divine call and mission of the Healer. Their confusion, their obscurity, their vacillation, on such a patent fact is the marvel of marvels, almost more wonderful than the cure of his blindness. That ye know not whence he is, and (yet) he opened my eyes (καί not infrequently has the three of "and yet"—simple juxtaposition conveying a strong contrast; see John 8:55; John 6:70; John 7:4). The man rises into holy and eloquent wrath. Their entire history, their principles of judging of a prophetic call, the whole modus of Divine revelation, ought to have shown that one whose simple will stood in such vivid juxtaposition with work which none but Almighty God could do, ought to have enlightened them. "The blind man, finding he was argued with, grew bolder, and began to argue in turn; if he had not studied theology (say rabbinical casuistry and Mishnaic accretions to the Divine Law), he at least knew his catechism" (Godet).
We know—the new-born disputant takes up the language of these proud casuists, and adopts the technical phrase which they had used (John 9:24, John 9:29)—we know, you and I, that God heareth not sinners in any special sense of miraculous approval (Job 27:9; Job 35:13; Psalms 109:7; and especially Psalms 66:18, Psalms 66:19; Proverbs 15:29; Isaiah 1:15). One aspect of Old Testament teaching shows that a man must delight himself in the Lord in order to receive the desires of his heart. If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; but the prayer of the sinner, the desire of the wicked, is contrary to the will of' God. When the sinner turns from his sins to the Lord, the cry for mercy is in harmony with the will of God. In one sense every prayer is the prayer of sinful men; but it is the Divine life working within them that offers acceptable prayer. The prayer of the sinner as such is not heard. We know God does not listen to the cry of sinners, when, as sinners, they ask from the ground of their sin, to secure their own sinful purpose; but if any man be a worshipper of God (the word Θεοσεβής is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, and occurs nowhere else in the New Testament), and doeth his (God's) will, this man he heareth. The blind beggar has learned the deepest truth of the Divine revelation about the conditions of acceptable prayer. The immediate application was the miraculous unwonted event as answer to the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man (see James 5:16-18). So much for the general relation of this Healer to God. The rabbis were never tired of urging that the "answers to prayer depended on a man being devout and doing the will of God" (Edersheim, who quotes 'Ber.,' 6, b; 'Taanith,' John 3:8; 'Succah,' 14, a; 'Yoma,' 28, a). So that the man was here fighting with drawn sword.
John 9:32, John 9:33
The man, having once begun, will not be stopped in his argument. Since the world began (ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament; we have ἀπ αἰῶνος three times, and ἀπὸ τῶν αἰῶνων) it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of one born blind. There is no record of any cure of blindness in the Old Testament. The miracle stands forth with grand distinctness on the page of history. If such stories had been told, neither he nor the author of this narrative knew of them. The Pharisees and Jews have no reply to this burst of grateful but indignant testimony to the uniqueness of his Deliverer, and then, with a home-thrust which cut through their weak objections and repudiated their cruel inferences, he added, Unless this Man were from God, he could do nothing; he could neither have wrought this marvel, nor any of the deep impressions wrought upon you. "From God;" that is the man's final answer to the query, "What sayest thou of him, seeing that he hath opened thine eyes?" God has the glory, while I repudiate what you give as a judgment against him. Verily God has heard him as One who in this thing has simply done his will. Thus the Jews are compelled for a few moments to hear, from one known as a street-beggar, words of teaching along the finest lines of a deep experience.
Vanquished by this logic of simple fact and plain inference, the authorities have no other weapon to use but invective and persecution. They answered and said to him, Thou wast altogether born in sins; through and through a born reprobate. They take up the superstitious idea which seems (John 9:2) to have been floating in the mind of the disciples. From sins of parents or from thine own sins in thy mother's womb, thou earnest into the world with the brand of thy infamy upon thee. Thus they admit the change that has come over him by reverting to the peculiar depravity which had been stamped upon his brow, according to their narrow interpretation of Divine providence. And dost thou presume to teach us?—the chosen, the learned, the approved ministers of God? Dost thou, with all this heritage and mark of separation from God, dare to instruct the chief pastors and teachers of Israel? They did not stop with cruel words, but in their bitterness of spirit they thrust him forth; they violently expelled him from the synagogue where they were then seated (so Meyer, Maldonatus, Bengel, and many others). We are not told that there and then they excommunicated, or unsynagogued, him. It is probable that this ban followed, with the usual terrible formalities. He had practically confessed that the highest claims which Jesus had ever made about himself were true, and he made himself liable to the curse already pronounced (John 9:22). This marvelous narrative, with its lifelike detail, is not made the text of a discourse. It remains forever the startling vindication of our Lord's own word, that he was Light to the world and Eyesight too, and was able to supply both the objective condition and subjective change by which the nature of man could alone receive the light of life. From John 9:8 to John 9:34 is almost the only passage in the Gospel, with the exception of the passage, John 3:22-36, in which we are not standing in the actual presence of the Lord, or are not listening to his judgments on men and things, and to his revelations of the mystery of his own Person. The narrative so far stands by itself, and gives us an insight into the life which was being enacted in Jerusalem contemporaneously with the Divine self-revelation of Jesus.
(10) The issues of the ministry of light.
(a) The vision of those who see not. These verses narrate the sequel so far as the man was concerned. Westcott and others rather exaggerate the bearing of it when they say here was "the beginning of the new society." "The universal society is based on the confession of a new truth" (Westcott). Even in this Gospel the first chapter shows that Jesus gathered disciples about him who from that time onward were to "see angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man." In the second and fourth chapters he "made and baptized disciples." The twelve (John 6:1-71.) would not leave him in the midst of widespread disaffection, because they confessed that he was "the Holy One of God," who had "the words of eternal life." Consequently, it is enough to say that, when the authorities of the Jewish ecclesia excluded the disciple of Christ, the Lord admitted him to a nobler fellowship; but the fellowship, the society, had been already formed.
Jesus heard that they had east him out; or, thrust him forth. Jesus is represented as "hearing," not from the man's own lips, but from the current report. He is not said to have become acquainted with the circumstance by intuition, but to have heard by the ordinary processes of knowledge. This simple touch shows how consistent the writer is throughout with the main thesis of his Gospel touching the perfect humanity of the Son of God, that he "was made flesh." and had "come in the flesh," though he was "from God." The excommunication noisily and widely bruited was further proof of the war to the knife between "the Jews" and Jesus. The man has fallen under the ban for practically avowing in the most public way that Jesus was "the Prophet," if not the Christ. And having found him. So, then, the Lord, as the good Shepherd, sought out the lost sheep in the wilderness, and did not rest until he found him. The daylight that had made an altogether new world for one who had aforetime never looked on human face, had been strangely checkered and shadowed. He only saw angry faces and averted glances, and even his cowardly parents would have hesitated to receive him into their poor abode; but Jesus found him, and said, Dost thou believe on the £ Son of God? Not "Dost thou wish to believe?" but "Dost thou put thy trust in the Son of God?" Dost thou recognize the fact that the Messiah of the nation's hope has come? Art thou believing in him? It would be more natural that the more current appellation Son of God, rather than the more recondite idea of Son of man, should have been held out before the healed man. The "thou" is emphatic, and contrasts the state of the mind of this man with that of "the Jews." He had declared that his Healer was "from God," that he was "a Prophet," One who "did God's will," and whom "God heareth," even when he asked for apparently impossible things. Christ tests the quality and caliber of his faith.
He answered and said, £ And who is he, that (ἵνα) I may believe on him? The conjunction adds much to the eagerness of the reply. His faith was ready for full expression. He half suspected, as the Samaritan woman (John 4:25) did, that Jesus was pointing to himself. The τίς; rather than τί; ("who?" rather than "what?") shows the intensity of the man's desire to find and hail and trust "the Son of God." The disposition, the posture, of his mind is that of faith. The adequate object for that faith has not been revealed to him. Apt symbol of many in their passage from darkness to light. When receptive, susceptible, conscious of need, with some notion, though an obscure one, of whom and of what they most of all need, many are disposed even now to utter the same importunate request.
[And £] Jesus said, Thou hast both seen him, with the eyes so recently opened. Hast thou not found out that I am thy Healer, thy Prophet, thy Messiah? The ἑώρακας refers to the present interview, not to any previous one; for we are not told that he had already sought or found his Benefactor (Lucke, Meyer, Luthardt). Thou hast seen him with the eyes of thy spirit as well as the eyes of flesh, and, in addition, he that talketh with thee, familiarly as man with man, is he—"that sublime Person who seems to stand far off from thought and experience" (Westcott). The ἐκεῖνος of this passage and John 19:35 also is a fairly classical usage for expressing, in the lips of the speaker, a reference to himself pointed at and presented objectively as a third person (see Meyer, and our note on John 19:35, and its bearing on the authorship of the Gospel). Nowhere does our Lord more openly admit that he as the Christ, the Son of God. The disciples scarcely rise beyond the climax of this revelation even on the night of the Passion. The man's faith was waiting for its Object, and the vision comes to his unscaled spiritual vision.
And he said, Lord, I believe—the Kyrie means more than in John 9:36—and he worshipped him. The verb προσκυνεῖν is used by John for homage paid to God (John 4:20; John 12:20; and twenty-three times in the Revelation, always in the sense of "worship"). This prostration, when no prayer was offered, no forgiveness asked, but a simple act of faith exercised, was nothing less than the highest homage the man could pay. The adoration of this man is a fitting climax to the scene (John 8:59), and anticipates that of Thomas (John 20:28). The higher significance of the Sonship dawned upon him in the unearthly tone and manner of the Lord. These scenes, and the offer of Divine homage unrebuked by Jesus and uncommented upon by the evangelist, are among the most potent arguments for the belief of the Church in the Divine nature of the Lord.
(b) The blindness of those who are satisfied with their twilight.
The sight of the man, enlightened and prostrate in adoring gratitude, led Jesus, in the face of the bystanders, with Pharisees among them (John 9:40), to declare the general effects which would follow from his entire self-manifestation (so Meyer, Godet). Westcott says, "Not to any one or group, but as interpreting the scene before him." A sublime monologue. And Jesus said, I came for judgment. Not κρισιν, to execute judgment, but εἰς κρίμα, with a view to bring about a judicial decision on the moral condition of mankind (see notes on John 3:17, John 3:18; John 5:22, John 5:23; John 8:11, John 8:15, John 8:16) as a matter of fact. "This is the κρίσις, that men love darkness rather than light." Christ came to save—that was his supreme purpose; but to the Son is given the whole κρίσις, and κρῖμα will follow the revelation of the Son of God. He is the Touchstone of humanity. What men think of Christ is the question which decides in every age their moral condition before God. Into this world of sin and strife, of crossing lights and strange delusions, of ignorance and superstition (εἰς τὸν κόσμον is different when τοῦτον is added; see John 8:23; John 11:9; John 12:25, John 12:31; John 13:1; John 16:11; John 18:36)—not the world as the mere cosmos, or the sphere of creative activity, nor even the whole of humanity as John 3:16, but humanity viewed in its separation from grace, and in all its need—in order that they who see not might see; i.e. not those who merely feel that they cannot see (as Lucke, Meyer, etc.), but the practically blind—the μὴ βλέποντες, those who are sitting in darkness, with the capacity for sight, but not the opportunity; who cannot, as a matter of fact, apart from the revelation of new light, see the face of God; the babes to whom the Lord of heaven and earth has been pleased to unveil himself (see Matthew 11:25); the poor in spirit, who do not but now may see the kingdom, and the pure in heart ready to behold their God. So far the κρῖμα declares itself to be a blessed consummation—sight to the blind, cleansing to the leper, life to the dead. Even the man born blind suns himself in the heaven of the Savior's smile. The Light of the world shines upon them, and they see. But Christ's coming brings out also the character of those, and pronounces judgment on those, who say of themselves, "We see;" "We have never been in bondage," "We need no repentance;" "Abraham is our father;" "We know the Law;" "Who (nevertheless) do not come to the Light;" who are not "of the truth;" and the beaming of his unappreciated glory involves in their case, that those who see might become blind (τυφλοί), incapable of seeing. Those who have the knowledge of the Law, "the wise and prudent" (Luke 10:21), who boast their freedom, their knowledge, their advantages, their profession, may, nay do, by resolute turning away from "the Light of this world," lose their power of spiritual vision. But the unsophisticated, needy, even the publicans and harlots, consciously sitting in the region of the shadow of death, do by faith and repentance find that the great Light has unawares shone upon them.
Those of the Pharisees who were with him. This expression does not simply mean who were near him at that moment, but who were to a certain extent siding with him (John 8:30, John 8:31), while criticizing and rejecting his message; who were incensed with him for promising to them "freedom" and sonship, and whose faith in his claims was of the most superficial and vacillating kind. These wavering, self-satisfied Pharisees heard these things, and they said to him, Are we blind also? Many commentators, who call attention to the contrast between the τυφλοί and μή βλέποντες of John 9:39, think that the speakers who made use of this word did not draw the distinction, and meant nothing more than their use μὴ βλέποντες by of τυφλοί. But this is unsatisfactory; whatever it 'means in the one clause, it ought to mean in the other. There is a difference between "becoming blind," and being "the blind." They ask whether they are blind also, i.e. as blind as those who have, according to Christ's own dictum, become so. They seem to admit that some who have the power of sight have been blinded by the very light that shines upon them, but they are in doubt with reference to their own case.
The reply of our Lord is not meant to be a crushing and final retort, condemning them to hopeless night, but was obviously intended to show them that they are not yet free from sin, that they are only partially appreciating the light which shines upon them. If ye were blind—incapable of sight; if ye had all along been deprived of the faculty of perceiving the true Light that shineth in the darkness (a condition of things which would have emancipated them from responsibility, and which Christ would not admit to be the case); perhaps more, if ye had been utterly blind to the light which is shining upon you now, which, however, is not true—ye would not have sin. This is akin to the solemn language of John 15:22-24. They did not themselves admit that there was any congenital blindness about them. They did not pretend or expect to ride off on such a πρόφασις, such an excuse. Could they be, judicially or naturally, blind?
The very idea was an absurdity, and so Jesus added, But now ye say, We see. You even boast that you are "instructors of the ignorant, and leaders of the blind; a light to those who sit in darkness, having the form of knowledge and truth in the Law" (Romans 2:17-21). You are the very opposite of the "not-seeing" (μὴ βλέποντες); you are self-satisfied; you will not come to the Light. What is the issue? The Lord seems to pause before his answer (the οὖν, "therefore," is rejected by the best manuscripts and critics): Your sin abideth; or, remaineth. It will remain until you fully admit the great principle and reason, the motive and characteristics, of my mission. The very facility you profess, the intimacy you claim with the Law and its founder, and your partial knowledge of my claim, take away your excuse. The discourse which follows shows how entire must be the submission to Christ, how complete the union with him, of those who say, "We see."
Cure of the man born blind.
This new miracle caused a fresh outburst of Jewish hatred against our Lord. Of the six miracles of blindness recorded in the Gospels, this only is a case of blindness from birth.
I. THE CURIOUS QUESTION OF THE DISCIPLES. "Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?"
1. Their conviction was that affliction was in all cases the consequence of sin.
(1) In the moral government of God there is a necessary connection between sin and suffering (Romans 6:23).
(2) Yet the suffering may be sent to prevent sin as well as to punish John 2:2. Though they were disciples, they erred respecting the connection between sin and suffering. There was an alternative question.
(1) They seemed to think it possible that the man born blind should have sinned before he was born, in some pre-existing state. The disciples were the victims of many traditional errors and delusions.
(2) They had more ground for believing that the affliction of blindness was the effect of the sin of the beggar's parents. Some fact of this kind was familiar to their minds in the wording of the second commandment (Exodus 20:5), and in the representative relationship of family life (Hebrews 7:10).
(3) The disciples submitted the question to our Lord because of its extreme difficulty. The one supposition seemed ungrounded and impossible, the other seemed not in conflict with the justice of God.
II. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THEIR QUESTION. "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
1. Our Lord does not assert the sinlessness of the beggar or his parents.
2. But he denies any moral connection in this case between the individual and family sin and the blindness from birth. It is a warning that we should not be too ready to regard every affliction as a Divine judgment.
3. He deals with the case from the practical rather than from the speculative side, representing it as an occasion for the exercise and display of the Divine power and goodness.
(1) Our Lord carries it back into the sphere of the Divine counsel.
(2) He represents God as brining good out of evil.
4. Our Lord emphasizes the Divine necessity that engages him in this blessed work. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work."
(1) This miracle occurred on the sabbath, probably on the evening of the day which was marked by his long dialogue with the Jews in the temple. He not only went about every day doing good, but every hour was devoted to a holy activity.
(2) The moments were precious, because the work of his human activity was rapidly coming to an end. Our working season is at best a short season. "The night cometh" to end all.
(3) His function as being "the Light of the world" imposed this incessant activity upon him. "As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."
(a) Therefore the true Light cannot but shine upon the world's darkness.
(b) And he is the only Agent to remove the physical and spiritual darkness that appealed to his compassion.
III. THE METHOD OF THE MIRACLE. "When he had thus spoken, 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." Why did our Lord act in this manner?
1. Partly to test the faith of the blind beggar.
2. In all the cases of miracle involving the loss of connection with the world of sense, Jesus takes care to have personal communication established, so as to assure the sufferer of his presence and supply a foundation for faith.
(1) The deaf man cannot hear Christ's voice, but the momentary touch of his ear established the necessary communication.
(2) The blind could not see the look of Divine compassion which others could see, but the clay or the spittle would be felt as indicating the presence of One whose words held out the hope of cure.
(3) The means are, after all, though under a physical aspect, designed to affect the mental condition of the sufferer.
IV. THE SUCCESS OF THE MIRACLE. "He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing."
1. His ready obedience was a sign of his faith.
2. His faith in Divine power at once opened up to him a new world. The eye establishes between us and the world a nearer and wider communication than any other organ of sense.
3. Christ puts honor upon the exercise of true faith and obedience to his commands.
V. THE CURIOSITY OF THE BEGGAR'S NEIGHBOURS RESPECTING THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE MIRACLE. "Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he."
1. Some acknowledged his identity, but others tried to evade the fact of the miracle by affecting to doubt his identity.
2. They all alike laid stress upon the manner, not upon the fact, of the miracle. "How were thine eyes opened?"
3. The beggar's frank acknowledgment of all the facts. "The Man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight."
(1) He must have been previously familiar with Jesus, else he could not have known his name. His presence every day at the temple, as he begged of the passers-by, put him in the way of knowing much concerning the acts of Christ.
(2) It is a proof at once of his faith and of his gratitude that he publicly confessed his obligations to the Savior.
4. The effect of this declaration on his neighbors. "Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not."
(1) Jesus had evidently disappeared at once from the scene, perhaps exhausted by the anxieties of his long conflict with the Jews in the temple.
(2) The curiosity of the Jews to know where Jesus was, was prompted more by hatred than by the desire to do him honor.
The investigation of the miracle.
This was prompted by the unfriendly questioners first referred to.
I. THE INQUIRY OF THE PHARISEES.
1. They first examined the beggar as to the facts of his cure. These it was as impossible to ignore as it was difficult to explain.
2. The performance of the cure on the sabbath day was the pivot upon which the question turned. "Now it was the sabbath day that Jesus made the clay, and opened the eyes of this man." Of the three and thirty miracles of our Lord recorded in the Gospels, no less than seven were performed on the sabbath day, as if to show, in opposition to Pharisaic perversions, that works of mercy were essentially included in the sabbath law.
II. THE DIVISION AMONG THE PHARISEES. "Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This Man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a bad man do such miracles? And there was a division among them."
1. The ill-conditioned party concede the truth of the miracle, but imply that it must have been done by the power of the evil one. They take their stand upon a false idea of the sabbath.
2. The friendly party, including men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, feel the difficulty of a bad man doing works of mercy and love through Divine power. The difficulty is ethical as well as theological.
III. THE WITNESS OF THE BEGGAR HIMSELF. "They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a Prophet."
1. He does not hesitate to oppose the judgment of the Pharisees in words that bespeak the firmest conviction.
2. He recognizes in the miracle the energy of Divine Tower, and in Jesus the character of a Representative of God.
3. How often a simple, unlettered believer sees what learned rabbis, or doctors, or synods, cannot see!
IV. THE APPEAL OF THE PHARISEES TO THE BEGGAR'S PARENTS.
1. It was the suggestion of their unbelief. "But the Jews did not believe concerning him that he had been blind." Unbelief always seeks to justify itself in some way. None are so blind as those who will not see.
2. They expected that the parents, through fear of excommunication, would either deny the identity of their son, or the fact of his blindness from birth.
3. Mark the wariness, yet the cowardice, of the parents.
(1) They adhere strictly to matters of fact. They declare the identity of their son and his congenital blindness, but decline to commit themselves as to the method of cure, or as to the person who had effected it.
(2) They devolve the responsibility of an answer as to the most critical point upon their son. "He is of age; ask him."
(3) Their caution is due entirely to fear. "These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews." The excommunication was a serious thing in a thoroughly ecclesiastical community. It entailed social disadvantages and discomforts, as well as exclusion from the religious privileges of the Israelite.
V. A FRESH APPEAL TO THE BLIND BEGGAR. "Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the glory: we know that this Man is a sinner."
1. They demand a denial of the miracle as in some sense essential to a right view of God's glory.
(1) They desire to obliterate a fact by a false interpretation of the sabbatic law.
(2) They regard the assertion of the beggar that Jesus was a Prophet as blasphemy, because it impeached at once God's truth and God's holiness.
(3) The Pharisees represent themselves as the depositaries of theological knowledge, but assign no reason for a conclusion adverse to Christ's claims. Their conduct is eminently unreasonable. They oppose fact to knowledge.
2. The answer to their appeal brings further discomfiture. "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
(1) The beggar declines to settle theological problems. His reticence is wiser than the bold but groundless assertions of the Pharisees.
(2) He takes his stand firmly upon fact. Once he was blind, now he sees. The difficulty is on their side; it is for them to explain it. The fact is without dispute.
3. The anger of the Pharisees. "Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples."
(1) They confront unanswerable logic with the language of insult.
(2) They oppose the authority of Moses—no doubt on the sabbath law—to that of Jesus. On the ground of their allegiance to Moses they reject the clearest evidences of Christ's Divine mission. "But if ye receive not Moses' writings, how can ye believe my words?"
(3) Mark the crushing rejoinder of the beggar. "Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes."
(a) The Pharisees claimed special knowledge to decide upon the authority of any one professing to be a prophet, yet they failed to give account of all the facts of the case.
(b) The man asserts a fact of great theological import to settle the claims of Jesus: "Now we know that God heareth not sinners."
(α) It is a fact based on Scripture teaching (Isaiah 1:11-15; Psalms 66:18; Psalms 119:7). All men, no doubt, are sinners, but the Scripture statement applies specially to men living in habitual sin and without faith in God.
(β) The privileges of believers are fully asserted. "But if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth." God hears the prayer of the man whose religion is both speculatively and practically true.
(γ) The miracle wrought in the present case was without parallel. "Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind." No science or skill had ever effected a cure of this sort. Therefore there must have been superhuman and Divine power exercised in the operation. "If this Man were not of God, he could do nothing." Thus his general argument from Scripture and his conclusion alike deny the assertion of the Pharisees that Jesus was a sinner.
(4) The passionate abuse lavished on their critic. "Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they drove him out."
(a) The Pharisees cast in his teeth the calamity of his birth as a sign of special sin. They forget that they are only, by their act, acknowledging the reality of a miracle they had all along tried to evade or deny.
(b) They are aghast at the assumption of a person under God's curse undertaking to teach theology to the recognized guides of Israel.
(c) They expel him with an impatient contempt from their presence.
The moral result of the miracle.
The bodily cure is to lead to spiritual enlightenment.
I. JESUS SEEKS OUT THE OUTCAST BEGGAR FOR BLESSING. "And when he had found him, he said, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?"
1. It is the office of the good Shepherd to seek out the sheep cast away, as if to fulfill the psalmist's words, "When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord taketh me up."
2. Something more than miracle is needed to impart faith. He had been the subject of a bodily cure, but our Lord is now to make him the subject of spiritual illumination. Miracles alone cannot work faith.
3. The courageous fidelity of the man in the presence of the Pharisees makes him worthy of the greater blessing in store for him; yet he is saved wholly by grace.
4. Mark the directness of our Lord's question. "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?"
(1) It could not be evaded or misunderstood.
(2) The Object of faith was more than a prophet, more than the Messiah; he was God's own Son, a Divine Person, the Author of eternal salvation.
5. Mark how our Lord leads him on to a clearer recognition of himself. The man asked, "Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?" His faith was already looking out for its object. The answer is, "Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that talketh with thee." The very Person who had given him restored sight, and who here honored him by his conversation, was the Object of his faith.
II. MARK HOW QUICKLY FILTH FOLLOWS ON OUR LORD'S WORDS, HOW QUICKLY CONFESSION FOLLOWS ON FAITH, AND HOW QUICKLY WORSHIP FOLLOWS ON CONFESSION.
1. Faith is based on knowledge. "Lord, I believe." The man receives Christ's testimony with alacrity, and accepts him as his Redeemer.
2. The confession is prompt, unhesitating, and enduring.
3. The worship is as sincere as the confession. They who believe in Christ for salvation will be sure to worship him. The worship of Christ is common to Christendom.
Moral result of Christ's coming into the world.
The incident now ended suggests a wider reflection.
I. THE DOUBLE RESULT OF CHRIST'S ADVENT. "I am come into this world to exercise judgment, that they which see not might see; and that they that see should become blind."
1. The Son did not come for judgment, but judgment was the result of his coming. His advent tested the false and the true; it revealed what was in the hearts of men; it brought light into the darkness with two opposite results.
2. The twofold result of the judgment.
(1) As it affects those who "do not see"—that is, the ignorant, who are conscious of their spiritual blindness, and therefore ask for the light. They are made "to see." Light arises out of the darkness of sin, ignorance, and unbelief, so that they realize all the fullness of life, righteousness, and faith.
(2) As it affects those "who see"—who claim to have "the key of knowledge "(Matthew 11:25), and are "confident that they are guides of the blind, lights of them which are in darkness" (Romans 2:11). Being unconscious of their real ignorance, they are judicially blinded so that they should not see the truth. Being "wise and prudent," they despise the revelation of truth, and relapse into utter darkness, as the judgment of God upon their careless or hostile attitude toward the truth.
II. THE PERSONAL APPLICATION OF THE TEST OF JUDGMENT. "And those of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said to him, Are we also blind?"
1. The question is dictated by the pride of sect, and by a touch of anger that they who were so learned should be classed with the ignorant rabble.
2. The answer of Jesus is terribly severe.
(1) He seems to say—Would God you were really blind! There might in that ease be hope of light penetrating the darkness of your hearts. Conscious ignorance would be a preparation for saving knowledge.
(2) But they were at once blind and unconscious of the fact. "But now ye say, We see."
(3) This blindness was fatal.
(a) They had no excuse for it. "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin." They were, therefore, witnesses against themselves.
(b) Sin rested upon them because they were responsible for their blindness.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The passage of a soul from darkness into light.
This graphic and dramatic narrative begins with the healing of a bodily privation by the exercise el Christ's miraculous power. But its chief interest lies in the spiritual process which it unfolds. It relates how a young man, poor and blind, but intelligent, candid, and brave, received spiritual as well as bodily illumination, and how he displayed insight in apprehending Christ's character, courage in resisting Christ's adversaries, and gratitude in acknowledging Christ's claims. The several steps of this process deserve attentive study.
I. THE COMMENCEMENT AND THE REAL EXPLANATION OF THE WHOLE PROCESS IS TO BE FOUND IN THE MERCY OF GOD. Our Lord gives what may be called the final cause of this man's blindness when he instructs his disciples that the intention of the Creator was to be found in the opportunity afforded for the manifestation of the Divine energy and grace in the work of restoration. It is well to look for human explanations, but it is better to receive, when they are afforded, such as are Divine. In studying the transformations of human character the wise man will look for the deepest reasons in the purposes of the Eternal.
II. THE ATTENTION AND INTEREST OF THIS MAN WERE EXCITED BY JESUS' COMPASSION AND BENEFICENCE. Himself receiving a signal proof of Christ's pity in the exercise on his behalf of Christ's healing power, the man could not fail to feel the charm of his Benefactor's character. In this the experience of many has been parallel with his. There are ever those who, seeing what Christ has effected for the benefit of humanity, and reflecting upon the advantages which have accrued to themselves through the work of Christ upon earth, are led to inquire into the gospel, and to ask what there is in the Savior to account for the influence he has exerted over human society. What he has done naturally leads to the inquiry, "Who is he?"
III. THE REFLECTION OF THIS MAN UPON THE MISSION OF CHRIST WAS FURTHER PROMOTED BY THE INQUIRIES OF HIS NEIGHBORS. Those who had long been acquainted with him asked him of his own experience, asked him of his healer; and such inquiries naturally led him to form more definite convictions.
"Truth, like a torch, the more 'tis shook it shines."
Seasons of religious interest and inquiry often serve the purpose of compelling the unsettled and undecided to endeavor at least to understand and to justify their own position.
IV. THIS MAN'S CONVICTIONS WERE CLEARED AND HIS FAITH STRENGTHENED BY OPPOSITION AND PERSECUTION. The fire that burns the dross purifies the gold. A weak nature may be harmed by adversity, terrified by threats, coerced by violence. But this man's best nature was brought out by contact with opposition. He was not to be browbeaten. He turned round upon his persecutors, and put them in the wrong. Even their injustice in excommunicating him was unavailing; he was gaining a spiritual standing from which he could smile at the threats and actions which were intended to dismay him. Often has it happened in the history of Christianity that times of persecution have strengthened and steadied the faith of true believers. Some of the noblest characters that have adorned the Church have been cradled in the storm.
V. CIRCUMSTANCES AND DIVINE TEACHING LED THIS MAN FROM STAGE TO STAGE OF CHRISTIAN BELIEF. This appears in a very marked manner from the view he gradually came to take of his Benefactor. First he spoke of him as "a Man called Jesus;" then he pronounced him to be "a Prophet;" later on he asserted him to be "from God." He was following the light he had, and this is ever the way to fuller and clearer light. Thus he was led to take the final step, the natural result of those preceding.
VI. THIS MAN'S ARDENT FAITH AND PROFOUND WORSHIP WERE CALLED FORTH BY THE INTERVIEW HE HAD WITH JESUS HIMSELF. There was already a candid and teachable disposition; there was already an affectionate gratitude towards Jesus. It was only needed that Christ should fully declare himself. And when he did this, it is observable that the man restored to sight saw spiritually as well as physically. He beheld the Son of God standing before him; he believed and worshipped. All that had gone before led up to this, and without this would have been incomplete. Now at length this once blind soul passed into the clearness and the fullness of the light of heaven, Now he could say with reference to his spiritual state what he had before said of his earthly vision, "Whereas I was blind, now I see."—T.
The final cause of human suffering.
No man, with an eye to observe and a heart to feel, can look abroad upon human life without being impressed and saddened by the spectacle presented to his view. There is so much of privation, of pain, of weariness, of disappointment, of distress, that it sometimes seems as if "the whole head were sick, and the whole heart faint." "Life," it has been said, "is a tragedy to those who feel." But men are so constituted that they cannot be satisfied to observe and to feel. They are compelled to think, and many are compelled to theorize. The prevalence of want and misery leads many to formulate a pessimistic philosophy, which accounts the evil in the world to exceed the good, and which seeks an explanation of the facts in the theory that there is no benevolent Deity, but that the supreme power in the universe is a brutal and unconscious Fate. This daring and blasphemous doctrine has, indeed, many advocates. But there are very many more who seek a less bold solution to the difficulty. It does not follow, because a speculation is comparatively modest, it is therefore sound. Our Lord's disciples faced the fact of human suffering, and by suggesting an explanatory theory, which was altogether inadmissible, gave him an opportunity both of rejecting it and of offering an authoritative interpretation of the facts.
I. SIN IS IN A GENERAL VIEW TO BE REGARDED AS THE CAUSE OF HUMAN PRIVATION AND SUFFERING Our Lord himself taught this on such occasions as that on which he said, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee." Experience and observation teach us that violation of the Divine laws impressed upon nature is the cause of very many of the hardships, pains, and calamities that befall mankind. The link between sin and suffering is forged and riveted by the hand of the Divine Governor of the universe.
II. MEN, WHOSE KNOWLEDGE IS VERY LIMITED, SHOULD BE SLOW TO ATTRIBUTE INDIVIDUAL PHYSICAL ILLS TO INDIVIDUAL SINS. Sin as a whole is answerable for most of human evils, and many are the evils which devolve upon every generation as an inheritance. But we should often do injustice did we charge a man's sins, or the sins of his ancestors, with his bodily infirmities. Our Lord warned his disciples not to deem those Galilaeans sinners above others, on whom the tower of Siloam fell. And he expressly exonerated both the blind man and his parents from responsibility for his affliction and privation.
III. IF WE CANNOT ALWAYS DISCOVER THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF HUMAN PRIVATION AND SUFFERING, WE MAY ACCEPT OUR LORD'S REVELATION OF ITS FINAL CAUSE. There is a prevalent tendency of mind, especially among the scientific inquirers of our day, to disparage teleology. We are told to observe that a thing happens, to inquire how it happens, but not to venture into the speculation why it happens. Intention, design, are widely denied as the explanation of human actions, as the explanation of natural phenomena. Our Lord Jesus, the great Prophet, the Divine Enlightener of man, tells us that there is a reason for human infirmities and calamities. "That the works of God should be made manifest in him"—such was the reason why this man was born blind. Here opens up before our mental vision a vast field of inquiry and thought. For if this be so, then there is a purpose in physical evil, and that a moral purpose; then it is permitted and appointed by God, the All-Merciful. Then God does concern himself alike with the existence add the alleviation or cure of such evil; then the works of our beneficent God may be made manifest in the case of even a lowly sufferer. Thus there opens up before us the possibility and the prospect that the world may come to be pervaded by the illumination of Divine love and pity, and by the radiance of a blessed and glorious hope.
"And even pain is not in vain;
For out of discord springs a sweet harmonious strain."
The day is for labor.
Very instructive and very encouraging is the way in which, in this passage, our Divine Lord associates his people with himself. In assuming our nature he accepted the ordinary conditions of our life, its duties and its limitations. Generally speaking, what no man could do he would not do; what all men must submit to he would submit to also. Neither then nor now is he ashamed to call us brethren. As Son of man, he partakes both our nature and our lot. His Spirit and his language assure us of this. Accordingly, his experience is not merely something for us to admire; it is for us so to ponder that we may share it. He partakes our conflict that we may partake his victory. In the words of the text these principles are made manifest, in their application to the "work" which gives meaning to human life.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE EARTHLY SERVICE. The works themselves to which Jesus here referred were special. By "works" he undoubtedly intended miracles, signs, wonders—such deeds of power and mercy as that which the condition of the blind man suggested that he should perform for his benefit. But our Lord often spoke of his "work" in a more general sense; and even here there is nothing exclusive of his spiritual ministry, to which this language certainly applies. This saying of Jesus casts light upon the character of the earthly service rendered by himself, and required of all his faithful disciples and followers.
1. Diligence is characteristic both of the Master and of his servants. No reader of the Gospels can fail to be impressed with the laboriousness of Christ's public life. There were times when he had no leisure even to eat; there never was a time when he neglected an opportunity of benevolence. Whether in teaching or in healing he was ever occupied, and occupied for purposes unselfish and brotherly.
2. His works were the proof of his obedience. Our Lord evidently lived a life of devotion to the Father who "sent" him. He did not his own will, but the Father's. It was his meat to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work. His advent, his ministry, his death, were all proofs of his obedience. Though a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. How much more must subjection to the Father's will befit us, who are the creatures of his power, the subjects of his dominion! It gives dignity to our life to feel that we too are sent into the world by God—that we are his messengers, his servants, his children, bound to do his behests, and to live as accountable to him.
3. Obligation characterizes all true service. Even the Son of God could say, "I must." On his part there was no compulsion. He of his own accord undertook a life of consecration and self-denial. What he did he "must needs" do, for the fulfillment of the Divine purposes, for the satisfaction of the benevolent yearnings of his own heart, and for the salvation of mankind. In our case there is a stringent moral obligation to serve God. As creatures, we are bound to obey a righteous Maker; as redeemed, emancipated freedmen, we are bound to glorify a Divine Deliverer. We are not our own. The duty that binds us to service is indeed a duty sweetened by grateful love, but a duty it cannot cease to be.
II. THE LIMITATION OF THE EARTHLY SERVICE. Our Lord condescended to accept the natural limits of human life. The day is for labor. Christ's day was from the dawn at Bethlehem to the evening on Olivet. There are those of his followers whose day is even shorter than his. There are many whose day is far longer. But in the case of every one of us there are limits which we cannot pass overse There are the "twelve hours" of the day, to which we cannot add. From this language we learn that the day, the period for our work on earth, is:
1. A prescribed, unalterable period. We cannot add a cubit to our stature, a year to our life. There is "an appointed time" for man upon earth.
2. A period during which the light still shines upon our path. If a man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of the world. Christians are favored with the light of revelation—with the light of the Spirit given during the gospel dispensation. It is for them to walk and to work while the daylight lasts.
3. A period during which strength is unspent. The laborer toils until the lengthening shadows tell him that the day's work is approaching the close. He needs repose with evening, but until the evening his vigor enables him to continue his efforts. Whilst the Christian lives, God gives him power to serve. God is not a hard Taskmaster; his demands do not exceed his gifts. The voice from eternity that speaks with authority bids us "work while it is day."
III. THE SPECIAL MOTIVE TO THE EARTHLY SERVICE. "The night cometh, when no man can work." There has never been spoken by human lips anything more solemn, and at the same time more precious, than this. We all, when we think upon the matter, feel this declaration to be so indisputably true. Yet we are all prone to overlook, sometimes almost anxious to forget it.
1. Consider this reflection as bearing upon Christ himself. He knew that the end of his earthly life and ministry was near. But he knew also that much remained for him yet to do and to suffer. There was a work for him to accomplish whilst he was still in this world—a work which he must accomplish within the swiftly closing day, or not at all. His advanced and final lessons to his disciples, his last assertions of supernatural power, his crowning revelation of majestic meekness and patience, his mysterious sufferings,—these all had to be crowded into his last brief days. The cup had yet to be drained, the cross had yet to be borne. All must be finished before the twilight deepened into darkness. For the Father had given him all this to do; and he would leave undone nothing-that he had undertaken.
2. How powerfully does this reflection bear upon our own moral life! Every one of us who is alive to the real meaning of his existence, must feel, and does feel, that this short day of life is given us, not for pleasure, but for progress; not for ease, but for toil. If, through weakness and temptation, this feeling sometimes fails us, there is one effectual method of reviving it. "The night cometh!" Venit nox! There is much to be done that must be done before the sunset of life's day, if it is not to remain undone forever. Here or nowhere; now or never! That the future life will be a scene of service is not to be doubted. But earthly service must be rendered upon earth. Here the gospel must be embraced; here the new birth to spiritual realities must commence the life that is Divine. Now is the day of salvation. The earthly service must be rendered in this life. The voice comes, "Go, work today in my vineyard." Neglect or refuse to obey that summons, and that piece of work will remain undone. Yet the time is very short, and night is very near. Labor, before the hand be palsied. Give, before the substance be beyond control. Speak, before the tongue be forever silent. Do all as looking forward, onward, to the end.
APPLICATION. Let the laborious remember that not all labor is wise and blessed. Work for self, and such work will be consumed in the fire that shall try all things. But work for God shall stand; no power can destroy it. Let the indolent remember that time unredeemed can only witness against them at the last. Let the young remember that, if a lengthened day be given them, the greater will be their responsibility and the larger their opportunity of commending themselves as faithful laborers to the just and gracious Master. Let the aged remember that, near as is night for them, they have a witness yet to bear, and a memory of inspiration to leave behind. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."—T.
Spiritual sight contrasted with spiritual blindness.
In this instance, as in many others, the miracle is also the parable. The whole narrative is full of spiritual teaching and beauty. The candor and sagacity of the man who received his sight from Jesus are evident in the witness he bore—witness to what was within his own experience, witness which none other was so competent to bear as he. All who have felt Christ's spiritual power will adopt this language. Whatever they know not, this they know, that, whereas they were blind, now they see.
I. THE SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS OF SINFUL MEN.
1. This is compatible with keenness of natural vision and of intellectual discernment. Men "having eyes, see not." It is marvelous how far-sighted people may be in worldly affairs, and yet may lack spiritual vision.
2. It evinces itself in privation:
(1) Of true knowledge—the knowledge of self, and, above all, the knowledge of God.
(2) Of Divine guidance. In great darkness the blind man is led, not knowing whither he goeth. The spiritually unenlightened sees not the way of life, of safety.
(3) Of heavenly joys. Sight is the occasion of much natural pleasure; and they who see not Divine realities know nothing of the highest delights of which the soul is capable.
3. It is unconscious of its own loss. As the blind from birth are, whilst in their blindness, utterly unable to conceive how much they lose, so those whom the god of this world hath blinded say, "We see," and know not that they are blind and miserable.
II. THE MISSION OF CHRIST TO GIVE SIGHT TO THE SPIRITUALLY BLIND.
1. Observe the motive which animated him in the fulfillment of this beneficent work. It was pity. Common humanity pities the naturally blind; Divine love commiserates those who lack spiritual vision.
2. The power that effects this marvelous change. The poor man upon whom Christ wrought this miracle justly argued that his Benefactor must possess Divine authority. Spiritual enlightenment is the prerogative of God. He "hath shined into our hearts." And we are justified in attributing to a Divine Savior the many glorious miracles of spiritual illumination which our Lord has wrought for men.
3. The means by which Christ works. The provision of the gospel dispensation is all-sufficient for this purpose. On the side of man, there is faith exercised by the sufferer in the Healer, without which no soul is opened to the heavenly rays. On the side of God, there is the illumining Spirit, whose agency is indispensable, who sheds forth the light, and who cleanses the spiritual organ, and renders it susceptible to the quickening, celestial beams.
4. The manner of this enlightenment. It is immediate, thorough, and enduring.
III. THE SPIRITUAL SIGHT WHICH CHRIST CONFERS. The exclamation, "Now I see!" was an indication of present experience, and an earnest of future development. Christ, in bestowing the gift of spiritual vision, opens the eyes:
1. To self and sin.
2. To God himself—his attributes and his purposes.
3. To the meaning of life—its realities and opportunities.
4. To the unspeakable privileges of the Christian calling.
5. To the unseen realities of eternity.
APPLICATION. The language of the man who received his' sight is especially encouraging to those who are troubled in their mind because they have not consciously undergone changes of which others speak with confidence. It is neither the process, nor the time, nor the mode of enlightenment, which is of supreme importance. It is the fact that the change has taken place. Our natural state is one of spiritual blindness. If "now we see," then we have reason for rejoicing, and for grateful acknowledgment of our Savior's healing mercy.—T.
An appeal for disciples.
Admirable, indeed, were the bearing and the language of this poor man when in the presence either of Jesus or of the Pharisees. When confronted by the Lord's enemies, he was not worsted in the discussion, and he was silenced only by violence. If there was a shade of irony in this appeal, still there was justice in it. The language is such as may well be addressed, by those who have benefited by Christ and have attached themselves to Christ, to all whom their influence may reach.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THIS DISCIPLESHIP. There was reason in the designation "disciple," as applied to all who attached themselves to the Lord Jesus. Observe:
1. The Master and his lesson. Christ is supremely able to teach. There may be learned
(1) wisdom from his lips;
(2) holiness from his life;
(3) love and pardon from his cross;
(4) obedience from his throne.
2. The scholar and his spirit. On the part of him who would be Christ's true pupil, there must be
(1) reverence for the Master's authority;
(2) diligence in the study of his character, his words, and his life;
(3) subjection to all commands, however this submission may involve self-denial;
(4) perseverance in application to Divine lessons.
II. THE HINDRANCES TO THIS DISCIPLESHIP. There may be observed, as militating against such pupilage:
1. Pride, which flatters men that they need no teaching, that they are a sufficient lesson and law to themselves.
2. Irreligion, which assures men that other masters are as good as Christ, that there is no special faculty to instruct and to govern residing in him rather than in others who claim obedience.
3. Unspirituality, which too readily suggests that Christ's teaching is too holy, that his standard of goodness is too high, for human attainment. By these several formidable obstacles multitudes are kept from resorting to Jesus in that reverent, lowly, and teachable temper of mind which alone can secure their enlightenment and salvation.
III. THE MOTIVES TO THIS DISCIPLESHIP.
1. It is our nature and our need to learn.
2. None is so able to instruct us as is the great Teacher, the Divine Master.
3. To stand aloof from his teaching is to remain ignorant of what it most concerns us to know.
4. Christ is willing to receive and to welcome us into his school. There is no need, in order to become his disciples and to learn of him, to abandon lawful avocations; no need to dispense with human teachers who are not rivals to Jesus. The door of the school is open, and the great Master is waiting and ready.
1. A question to answer for yourselves. "Will ye also be his disciples?" It is not the first time this question has been put to the hearers of the gospel; it is urged once again. It is not too early for any to begin discipleship. And it is not too late for any who may have delayed hitherto, now to respond to the summons.
2. A question to propose to others. This is the invitation which the Church is bound to address to the world. If one who had been a poor blind beggar could urge it upon his superiors; if he could speak for Jesus, though persecuted for his boldness; why should any Christian be deterred from witnessing and appealing to his fellow-men, either by the sense of his own unworthiness and insufficiency, or by the seeming unsuitableness and insensibility of those to whom the appeal is made?—T.
The attestation of Christ's works to his Divinity.
The natural good sense of the man born blind was sharpened by the experience through which he passed, and by the controversy in which he was involved. Hence it was that several of his sayings anticipate the mature arguments of the most thoughtful defenders of the Christian faith. The manner in which he here argues from the character of our Lord's works to his Divine commission and authority, is deserving of all admiration. This is an argument as valid as, and perhaps more effective now than, when it was first spontaneously propounded.
I. THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S WORK PROVES HIS DIVINE ORIGIN AND POWER. God is a Spirit; the realm of spirit is that which is to him of deepest interest. It is evident that if the Son of God has visited earth, it must have been in order to introduce principles of vitality and blessing into the spiritual existence of men. This is exactly what Christ has undeniably been doing. To him men owe the enlightenment of the mind by spiritual truth; the new law of moral life; the new motive of Divine love; the great distinctive social principle of self-denying benevolence; the effective consolation for human sorrow; the true encouragement for those tempted to depression and hopelessness; the glorious prospect of the spiritual renewal of mankind; the mighty inspiration owing to the revelation of an immortal life.
II. THE INCOMPARABLE EFFICIENCY WITH WHICH THIS WORK WAS DONE IS PROOF OF CHRIST'S DIVINE ORIGIN AND AUTHORITY. To appreciate this, we should compare the work of Christ with that of others, e.g. with that of the most renowned of earth—conquerors and kings, sages and religious leaders. How meager their sway! how transitory their dominion! How rapidly have they become merely a memory, a name! On the other hand, what moral significance has characterized the work of the Lord Jesus! During his ministry, what transformations of character he wrought, what extreme and desperate cases of sin and wretchedness he successfully dealt with] And, after his ascension," greater works "than these—which were yet equally his works—accompanied the preaching of his gospel. Well might Julian the apostate exclaim, Vicisti, Galilaee! Well might Napoleon acknowledge that the empire of Christ transcended all earthly monarchies in true and lasting solidity and glory. If this Man were not Of God, could such results have attended and followed his earthly mission—fulfilled, as it was, upon a scene so limited, in a period so brief, and in circumstances so lowly?
III. THE WIDE EXTENT OF OUR LORD'S WORK IS EVIDENCE OF HIS DIVINITY. Even during his three years of labor, Jesus brought blessing, not to Israelites alone, but to Samaritans, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. And when Pentecost inaugurated the mission of the Church, then the descent of the Spirit and the utterances in many tongues were a prediction of a universal religion. The middle wall of partition was broken down. One new humanity was fashioned from diverse and seemingly discordant materials—from Jews and from Gentiles. And Christianity has from that time onward been proving its adaptation to man as man—to the barbarian and the civilized, to the East and the West, to persons of all ages, ranks, and characters. The Son of man is proving himself to be the Savior of man.
IV. THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST IS SUPPORTED BY THE PERPETUITY AND BY THE EVER-GROWING PREVALENCE OF HIS WORKS. Other systems are for a period, for a generation, or for a century; "they have their day, and cease to be." But Christ's mighty works go forward as in an unbroken and ever-swelling procession, testifying to their Author. His power to save and bless is as yet undiminished, and it is reasonable to believe it to be inexhaustible. "This Man" has done, and is doing, all this! Who can he be but the Son of the Eternal?—T.
A heart made ready for faith.
In this interview the purposes of Christ's love with regard to this poor man were fully accomplished. The opening of his bodily eyes, the trials to which he was afterwards subjected, led up to the consummation desired by his Benefactor. By gradual stages he had come to that point, at which only a fuller revelation of the Lord was required, in order that his faith might be perfected.
I. A MOMENTOUS QUESTION ROUSES INTEREST AND HOPE. The man whose eyes had been opened had already acknowledged Jesus to be a Prophet. And now he, whose claims had hitherto been but partially understood, was about to advance them in such a manner as to elicit a full comprehension and a full admission of them on the part of the disciple. Startled indeed must the poor man have been by the question, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" This language opened up before his mind a new vision, to behold which needed indeed a new illumination. It is clear that the man whose sight was restored had begun to see with the eyes of the spirit. Was he now prepared to owe all to Jesus—to see all in Jesus?
II. THE QUESTION IS MET BY AN INQUIRING, CANDID MIND, AND BY A READY HEART.
1. An inclination to receive teaching is apparent in the inquiry, "Who is he?"
2. A reverential submission to the qualified Instructor may perhaps be discerned in his deferential manner of addressing his Benefactor—"Lord!"
3. A resolve to follow out the dictates of reason and conscience is evident in the language, "that I might believe on him." Let him but know the Divine, and he would hasten to present his homage and his faith.
III. THE DIVINE SAVIOR REVEALS HIMSELF.
1. He declares that he is already actually seen and known. The Son of God, who was seen by the man whose eyes were opened, is, in a sense, seen and known, through his incarnation and advent, by all to whom his gospel comes.
2. He condescends to stoop to the level of our capacity and fellowship. He "talketh with" all who are willing to listen to his words, to welcome his conversation and counsel. There is marvelous condescension and grace in the revelation which Jesus makes of himself to all who are disposed to direct the eye of the soul to his presence, the ear of the soul to his voice.
IV. THE EAGER RESPONSE OF FAITH AND WORSHIP. The unhesitating confidence and confession here recorded were not unreasonable. Many causes concurred in bringing about this spiritual attitude. The benefit the man himself had received, no doubt disposed him to give his favorable attention to every representation made by Jesus of himself. But the miracle was itself, at all events to him, conclusive evidence of the superhuman authority of his Benefactor. The queries, denunciations, and reproaches; of the Pharisees had made him think more profoundly upon the mission, the character, perhaps even the nature, of Jesus. And thus, when the Lord advanced his Divine claim, the poor man was prepared, not only to admit that claim, but to welcome and to rejoice in it. He could not suspect such a Being of vain egotism or of falsehood. There was but one alternative. Jesus was what he declared himself to be—the Son of God. And, this being the case, what more natural and reasonable than his confession and his conduct? He believed; he worshipped. Less than this would not have been justifiable; more than this would not have been possible. For in his implicit confidence and in his devout homage this poor man anticipated the action of the Church of Christ throughout all time. Convinced by his own works of the justice of his claims, Christ's people delight to confess his lordship and to live to his glory.—T.
Enlightening and blinding power.
Christ's first coming to this world was not for judgment, but for salvation. Yet it appears, again and again in the course of his ministry, that judgment was a necessary incident of his teaching and authoritative action. By him "the thoughts of many hearts were revealed." There was a virtue of moral discrimination and separation in his ministry of which he himself was well aware. Hence his assertion that whilst he brought sight to some who were blind, the result of his coming was that some who boasted that they saw were proved to be spiritually blind.
I. CHRIST'S ENLIGHTENING POWER.
1. This power was exercised for the benefit of the ignorant, the sinful, the helpless. The blind man, whose story is told in this chapter, is an example. He needed not only physical but spiritual sight. His know- ledge was very limited; but it was in his favor that whatever knowledge he had, he used aright. The blindness which befell Saul of Tarsus, in the crisis of his spiritual history, was symbolical of that imperfection of spiritual vision of which he only became conscious when Christ met him by the way. These two examples are from two opposite extremes of society.
2. This power was exercised by the communication of truth, accompanied by the influences of the enlightening Spirit. Gradually did Jesus reveal himself to the man born blind; by signs, by words, by his own gracious character. Thus did light enter into that hitherto obscure nature, and penetrate all its recesses. A heavenly influence called forth faith and reverence, gratitude and love. The mission of the Messiah, as foretold by the prophet, included the recovering of sight for the spiritually blind—a beneficent service which the Lord Jesus has been rendering from the time of his earthly ministry onwards until now. In his light his people learn to "see light."
II. CHRIST'S BLINDING POWER.
1. Although our Lord says that he came "that they which see might become blind," it must not be supposed that this was the aim of our Lord's mission to earth, in the same sense as were the diffusion of Divine light and the impartation of spiritual vision. He said on one occasion that he came, not to send peace on earth, but a sword; yet we know that the main object of his coming was that peace might prevail, although one necessary consequence of his work would be that men should be divided against one another.
2. The explanation of the blinding result of the Savior's ministry is to be found in the action of a law divinely appointed, according to which those who have good brought near to them, and who are indifferent to that good, have their indifference intensified into hatred. Neglect of privilege leads to deprivation of privilege. It is said that organisms secluded for generations from the light of day lose the organ of sight. So is it in spiritual relations. Such was the ease with those Pharisees who boasted of their spiritual discernment, but who in fact loved darkness rather than light, and abode in darkness until their spiritual vision was quenched in blindness and the night of impenetrable gloom.—T.
HOMILIES BY B. THOMAS
The blind man and the sight-giving Savior.
Notice this blind man—
I. IN RELATION TO THE DISCIPLES.
1. To them he was a notorious object of retributive justice. His blindness they regarded as a special punishment for some particular sin; they looked upon him, as Lot's wife of old, as a standing monument of iniquity, only with this difference, he was alive, bearing his punishment on this side. Their notion is, upon the whole, correct. Sin is punished, and sometimes in this world.
2. An object of speculative curiosity. Suggesting a problem not easily solved, and a difficulty which they wish to be removed. In the light of popular Jewish teaching and also in that of heathen teaching the difficulty stared them. Of one thing they were certain, that his blindness was a retributive punishment for sin—the sin of his parents or that of his own. But which? That it should be on account of the sins of his parents they could easily understand; but if on account of his own, how could this be when he was born blind?
3. An advantageous object to present the question for solution to Jesus. The blind man was probably well known to them, and they had often before discussed this aspect or' his blindness, with various results; but now here is an opportunity of a final solution of the difficulty. They have full confidence in Jesus' ability and readiness to clear the matter forever, and they lost no time, but asked, "Master, which did sin," etc.?
4. An object who did not excite in them any practical sympathy. They regarded him as the religious teachers of the nation generally would regard him—as the child of sin, a monument of retributive justice, a subject for curious speculation; and, as far as they were concerned, they would leave him with feelings of proud contempt, and satisfaction with their own state as compared with his.
II. IN RELATION TO JESUS.
1. To him he was an object who attracted his special attention. "As he passed by, he saw a man," etc. How many passed by without seeing him at all, and how many saw him with indifference! And probably the disciples did not notice him before they saw the Master's attention fixed upon him. He saw him first, and saw him as no one saw him before. He had many eyes fixed upon him, but never such as these; he had many a gaze from passers-by, but not one containing such feelings, sentiments, and meaning as the one which was on him now.
2. To him he was not an object of retributive justice, but a specially befitting one or, whom to manifest Divine operations. While fully admitting the law of retribution, he excludes this case from the category, and at once removes the disciples' question
(a) from the speculative to the practical,
(b) from the human standpoint to the Divine.
And although the blindness of this man could not be viewed entirely apart from sin, yet to Christ it appeared as a special occasion to manifest Divine operations.
(1) The operation of Divine mercy. Where there is no misery, no mercy is needed; and the greater the misery, the greater and Diviner the mercy which relieves. This was a special case of human misery, advantageous to a special display of Divine mercy. The man was blind from his birth.
(2) The operation of Divine power. Where human skill is helpless, the power which helps must be Divine. To restore this man to sight no human doctor could, nor even would sincerely make the attempt. His restoration was evidently and gloriously the work of God.
(3) The operation of Divine grace. He had a mind requiring enlightenment, a soul in need of salvation, and this popular child of sin presented a glorious opportunity for the display of redeeming grace.
(4) In this man Divine operations were signally manifested. God works continually, in giving sight to men at first, and in an infinite variety of ways, but his operations are unseen and unobserved; but in this man they shine and blaze, so that all must see them but the totally blind. They were manifested to the man himself, and through him to others.
(5) This man restored by Christ was a most convincing and attractive specimen of Divine operations. He was so well known as being helplessly blind from his birth, and was now about to be even better known as perfectly restored by Jesus. Thus he who was popularly thought to be a monument of sin and its terrible consequences, becomes the popular monument of Divine power, the convincing specimen of Divine mercy, and the notorious advertisement of redeeming grace in Christ. Still, he was only a specimen, extraordinary only in the manifestation, but quite ordinary in this course of Divine operations. It is only the work of God, what he ever performs in Christ.
3. To Christ this man was an object who vividly reminded him of his mission on earth.
(1) As a mission of real and untiring activity. "I must work," etc.
(2) As a mission involving a great variety of activities. "The works." Not one or a few, but many and various—as various as the physical and spiritual wants of the human family.
(3) As a mission which is Divine and representative in its character. "The works of him," etc. He never forgot the Divine and representative character of his mission, involving special duties, obligations, and responsibilities in relation to him who sent him.
(4) As a mission which must be performed in due season. "While it is day," etc. He had only a day, and with regard to his earthly life this was short. Even in this hour of his triumph and brilliancy, in giving sight to the blind man, he was reminded of its brevity. This very act hastened the approaching night, Those who shine brightly on the night of the wicked world cannot expect a long day.
(5) As a mission which his disciples had to share. "We" (the proper reading) "must work," etc. The Master and the disciples were one, and their mission one. He came not only to work himself, but also to teach them to work. They were as yet apprentices, but row it was time to begin to break them in under the yoke and remind them of their duty, and all the more as day was drawing to a close.
(6) As a mission the necessity of its fulfillment was felt by him with increasing force. "We must," etc. This came from his Divine commission, from human woe, from the greatness and importance of the work, and the brevity of the time. From above, around, and from within came the inspiration of his work, which found appropriate expression in "We must work," etc.
4. To Jesus this man was an object on whom he would give a practical illustration of his mission. "When he had spoken these things," etc. The speech ended in action, and the action was in perfect keeping with the speech—a grand but most natural and touching peroration. Christ taught his disciples by practical illustrations. The miracle was a full answer to their question, and a practical specimen of his mission.
(1) Means were used in the performance of the miracle. Sometimes he would exercise his Divine power without the use of means at all, even without a word, only the fiat of his will; but here very few words are used—it is all action. "I must work."
(2) The means used were in themselves utterly inadequate to produce the ultimate end. Clay and spittle and washing in the pool of Siloam. These means, however efficacious in popular esteem, were utterly futile to give the man his sight.
(3) These means, nevertheless, were suitable to answer the end Jesus had in view. He knew when and when not to use means, and knew as well what means to use. He never thought that these would bring the man to see outwardly, but they would help him to see inwardly. They served best to strengthen his faith and give due publicity to the miracle. He could not go to and return from Siloam without attracting attention. Jesus caused every movement to serve some useful purpose; thus the man began at once to manifest the works of God.
(4) The faithful use of the prescribed means answered the ultimate end of Divine mercy and human want. The man's faith was strong and prompt. He was not promised his sight, only told what so do; the rest he inferred. He believed and obeyed, and the Divine energy came with the obedience, lie washed, and came seeing. He was born first blind, he was born now seeing, and some saw the Divine glory flashing from his eyes.
1. There are full compensations for all evil in the Divine economy. If there is misery, there is Divine mercy. If some are born blind, their blindness will answer some benevolent purpose. There is One born to help and give sight. Evil must ultimately serve goodness, and misery must glorify mercy. Divine compensations are seen now, but to a greater extent hereafter.
2. The fact of human sin and misery is not for curious speculation but for practical sympathy. The life of Christ was one of benevolent activity rather than of idle speculation and theory. What right-minded man, when a house is on fire, will stop to know its cause before doing all in his power to put it out? Rather than idly inquiring into the origin and mystery of human evil and misery, by every possible effort let sin be destroyed, and misery and sorrow be alleviated, and with and after the effort will crone satisfaction, and ultimately full light.
3. God answers better than we ask. Our requests may be idle and wrong, but the answers are right and Divine. Still let us ask, and our mistakes will be rectified in the Divine answers. We are glad that the disciples asked respecting the man's blindness. The full reply is found in Christ's miracle of Divine mercy and might.
4. The humblest means are not to be despised if prescribed by Christ. From the human side Divine means are apparently very inadequate, and even contemptible. The spittle and clay and washing in the pool of Siloam for Jesus and the blind man were very humble beginnings, but led to a glorious result. Faithful use of divinely prescribed means were the channel through which Divine energy came to the man which resulted in his sight, and through the same channel of faith and obedience Divine illumination will ever come to the soul.—B.T.
A noble defense.
I. A MARVELLOUS IGNORANCE. "Why herein is a marvelous thing," etc. Their ignorance of the origin and history of Jesus was marvelous considered in reference to the persons themselves. Ignorant:
(a) While they really knew so much. The sum of their general religious knowledge must be considerable.
(b) While they professed and were supposed to know so much. They professed to know all about the Divine communications to Moses; professed to know the less, but profoundly ignorant with regard to the greater.
(c) While they ought to know so much. From their religious training and position as the religious leaders of the people, they ought to know much. Their ignorance was marvelous when considered in relation to the case before them, very marvelous indeed in the light of the following considerations so lucidly and cogently brought under their notice by the man that was blind.
1. The testimony of the miracle.
(1) The miracle was an unquestionable fact. As proved by the man himself, by his parents, by his neighbors; and the genuineness of the miracle was admitted by the council.
(2) It was an unquestionable fact, unquestionably involving the exercise of Divine power. This was generally admitted. Admitted by the opponents themselves. "Give glory to God."
(3) The Divine power was unquestionably exercised by Christ. "He opened mine eyes." This connects him most intimately with the Source of Divine power, if it does not point to him as that Source.
2. The usual way of God's impartation of his Divine power.
(1) It was imparted in answer to prayer. This was the law by which God's extraordinary power was imparted to the prophets and seers of old. In answer to prayer.
(2) It was imparted only in answer to the prayer, of the devotional and obedient. Notorious sinners are not in the habit of prayer, and their prayers as such would not be answered. If they prayed so as to be answered, they would cease to be notorious sinners. "God heareth not sinners: but if any man be the worshipper," etc.
(3) This rule of Divine impartation of power was well and generally known. "We know," etc. As if he were to say," Even I know this, much more you."
(4) Ignorance of the Divine character and origin of Christ was marvelous. "He opened mine eyes."
3. The uniqueness of the miracle.
(1) It was unique in relation to the general experience of that age. Such a miracle was never witnessed by any one present, nor by any one then living.
(2) Unique in relation to the oral and written history of the world. "Since the world began was it not heard," etc. History, oral or written, ancient or modern, does not furnish such an instance of Divine power in sight-giving as this.
(3) Unique in relation to the miraculous performance of the great men of the past. As compared with theirs, it stands alone and singular. "It was not heard that any man." Jewish history could boast of the names of great men who through God performed works of wonder and might; but this eclipsed them all. Not even Moses nor Elijah performed such an act with regard to sight.
(4) Unique in its peculiar character and originality. An equal amount of power had been displayed before, but not in the same way. Defective sight had been restored, and total blindness had been removed; bat never a man who had been born blind had his eyes opened. This was reserved for Jesus. This original and new miracle was reserved for a new dispensation—a dispensation of spiritual insight and Divine illumination. And if Christ was a sinner, he was more original, eminent, and Divine than the most illustrious and boasted saints of all past ages.
4. The temporal circumstances of Christ. These were such as to be most unfavorable to impress the public and gain a personal reputation. Temporal circumstances are generally favorable and productive of this. Such as:
(1) An illustrious lineage. To come down upon society in the splendor of an illustrious descent goes far with it. But this Jesus did not. He appeared as the Son of Joseph and Mary. True, he descended from David; but this was scarcely known, and the connection was so distant that the effect would be little.
(2) Great wealth. This has a great influence. This Jesus had not. He was the reputed Son of a poor carpenter, and was a poor Carpenter himself, and as such appeared before the public and was known by them.
(3) The patronage of the great. This goes very far in gaining popularity and reputation. But Jesus had not this. From his first public appearance the aristocratic element of the nation was against him, and the social and religious leaders of the people were his deadly foes.
(4) The fame of learning. This is a most powerful element of success; but Jesus had not this. He was not brought up in any of the celebrated schools of his nation, nor sat at the feet of any illustrious rabbi. It is not known that be ever enjoyed the advantage of any school besides that of home, and he was notorious as a Teacher who had no human learning. From the poor village and the common workshop he emerged as the teacher of his nation. All his outward circumstances were against him, so that it was well said, "If this man were not of God, he could do nothing." But, in spite of his disadvantage, his doings far eclipsed those of his most eminent predecessors, which plainly and irresistibly leads to the inference of the man that was born blind that he was of God—he was indeed Divine.
II. THE MOST OBSTINATE RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY, Their marvelous ignorance was the offspring of the heart rather than of the head, of the will rather than the understanding. It was the offspring of the most obstinate religious bigotry whose character their conduct here reveals.
1. As most bitter in spirit. "Thou wast altogether," etc. This language is:
(1) Most slanderous. A slander on the man, on his parents, on the Creator who made him, and on the Savior who healed him. The charge was not true.
(2) Extremely mean. To upbraid the man with a calamity for which he was not responsible, and to rake up in his breast the painful reminiscences of a misery which he had so long endured, but which happily now had passed away.
(3) Most irrelevant. It is not to the point. What mattered it whether the man was born in sins or not? That had nothing to do with the fact of the miracle, and the character and claims of him who had performed it.
2. As most proud in spirit. "And dost thou teach us?' The spirit evinced here is:
(1) Most contemptuous. "Dost thou," etc.? Contempt of all who dare to differ from their opinion is characteristic of bigots. This man not only differs from the council but teaches them; their contempt is unbounded.
(2) Most proudly self-satisfying. "Teach us!"
(3) Most unphilosophic and unprogressive. What philosopher worthy of the name would disdain to listen with respect to one who was the object of such a wonderful operation, in whose eyes were still rays of Divine light, and in whose soul was still burning the inspiration of such an experience? Where is the man in his right mind who would not listen with attention and due deference to such a talc? The members of the Jewish council listened with consummate pride and seething contempt, proving themselves to be most unphilosophic, ungodlike, unprogressive, and blind to the greatest and most brilliant light.
3. As most intolerant in spirit. "And they cast him out." And for what? For exercising the right of private judgment, and respectfully expressing his honest convictions and defending the truth. Their conduct was:
(1) Most weak. Mentally and morally weak. They could not refute his arguments nor stand the light.
(2) Most unreasanable and unjust. A Church has a right to exclude those who are immoral, and violating its fundamental principles. But this was not the case here. A coming Messiah was the most fundamental doctrine of the Jewish Church. This man was excluded for accepting him.
(3) Most cruel.
(4) Most fatal. When a Church begins to persecute, it begins to cease to exist; when it excludes the light of truth, it cannot last long.—B.T.
A happy meeting.
We have in this passage—
I. JESUS IN SEARCH FOR THE OUTCAST.
1. He had lost sight of him for a while. He had not seen him since he went on the path of duty and obedience to the pool of Siloam. It was well that they should be apart for some time. Important purposes were thus answered. But neither Jesus nor the man was idle. Jesus was about his Father's business; and the man that had been blind, according to Christ's statement, was busily manifesting the works of God. Establishing the miracle and pointing to the claims and Divinity of its wonderful Performer.
2. Jesus sought him. If out of sight, he was not out of mind. "Jesus heard that," etc. He listened for him; his ear was on the watch for intelligence respecting him. If you listen attentively you will hear soon. Jesus sought him in distress, when his need was greatest.
3. He found him. "Seek, and ye shall find." Jesus knew this law and obeyed it. No one sought so sure to find as be. He never gave up the search till it resulted in finding, whether for the lost, piece of silver or for the wandering sheep. Why did he seek this man?
(1) There was a fellow-feeling. He heard that they had cast him out. By the law of sympathy he looked out for him. He was an outcast from the synagogue himself; he had now a companion.
(2) The man sought him. We are not told this by the recorder, but we know it. He was full of Christ since he had received his sight. He could scarcely see nor talk of anything else. His mind and heart yearned for him. Especially now in his distress and persecution.
(3) Jesus was anxious to succor and help him. To give him his soul's want and his heart's desire—what would make him satisfied and happy. He knew that he needed and desired a spiritual Guide and a Savior, and he hastened to give to him himself. Jesus is a Friend in need, and the need of the guilty and weary soul.
II. JESUS' DEMAND FOR FAITH. "Dost thou believe," etc.?
1. This is the reasonable and natural demand of the miracle. Faith in its great Performer. It was a Divine act of mercy, and was eminently calculated to inspire faith—to open the eye of the soul to see the spiritual, the eternal, and the Divine. Christ looked out for fruit after cultivation and sowing.
2. A most worthy Object of faith is introduced. "The Son of God." The human soul should have an object of faith suitable to its spiritual condition and wants, and worthy of its native dignity and high capacities. Such an Object is here introduced—the Son of God, who also is the Son of man, whom faith can grasp, and being grasped will elevate the soul and fill it with satisfaction and joy.
3. A simple test of adherence is only required. "Dost thou believe," etc.? The memory is not taxed, the understanding is not burdened, but the willing acceptance of the heart, or faith, is made the test of adherence and the bond of union. It is very simple and easy, and yet most effective. "Dost thou believe?"—that is all.
III. FAITH IN PRAYER. This was the prayer of faith inspired by the demand of Jesus.
1. The prayer is to the proper object. "Lord." Although the man's knowledge of Jesus was limited, yet he knew sufficient to appeal to him for more light. He felt confident that he who opened his eyes could, and would give him greater illumination still.
2. The prayer is for a necessary revelation. "Who is he?" The elementary exercise of faith requires some elementary knowledge of its object. We are not expected to believe on a Savior we know nothing or but little of. Christ requires faith, and faith requires knowledge, and no sooner is it born than it begins to ask questions respecting its object, and the first is, "Who is he?" He is worth inquiring after. The choice of the object of faith is most important; this man very properly prays for light to choose.
3. The prayer is made in the proper spirit. The spirit of reverence, importunity, and readiness to believe and accept. "Who is he, that I might believe?" Not that I might consider and think over it; but let me know the Son of God, and I will believe in him. He prayed for knowledge for a practical and for the highest purpose—to believe.
IV. FAITH'S PRAYER ANSWERED.
1. It was answered at once. The man was fortunate enough to ask the question respecting the Son of God, "Who is he? "to the Son of God himself, and who could answer it so well and so readily. There is no delay in the transmission of the prayer, nor in the return of the reply. The prayer was eager, and the answer quick.
2. The answer was very modest. "Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that," etc. Modesty is ever characteristic of true greatness, and was characteristic of Jesus. Often he preferred the third person to the first in speaking of himself. In heavenly and Divine society he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but in the form of a servant he naturally felt and manifested the modesty of a servant, especially in revealing to the soul his real glory and position as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Genuine faith feels modest in the presence of its genuine object, and its genuine object feels modest in the presence of genuine faith. The mutual recognition produces the natural and modest blush of virgin love.
3. The answer revealed the Son of God as nearer to the man than he perhaps expected. We say "perhaps," for there was but a thin veil between him and the full recognition of Jesus. Doubtless he believed him already to be the greatest prophet that ever lived, but had not as yet known him as the Son of God and the promised Messiah, and scarcely expected to find him so near. Faith often finds its object nearer than expected. When faith is intense and eager, the Son of God, the Savior, is present then, and reveals himself.
V. FAITH'S CONFESSION.
1. It is very prompt. If Christ's revelation of himself surprised the man at all, the surprise was most agreeable and sweet. The revelation did not damage the interest of Jesus nor retard the movements of faith, but rather improved the one and hastened the other. There was not a moment's hesitation, but straight and swift as an arrow's course faith flew to embrace and confess Jesus as the Son of God and her sovereign Lord. "Lord, I believe."
2. It is very short. All the questions and answers which passed between our Lord and the man were characteristically brief. It was business and not talk. Intense faith, being the concentrated sentiments and a decoction of the truest feelings of the heart, occupies but little time and language in expression. Some of the most important transactions between faith and her fondest object are very brief. Intense earnestness wastes not itself in words.
3. It is very decisive and fall. "Lord, I believe." In an ocean of language you may not find a drop of thought, while in a few drops of language you may find an ocean of meaning and reality. This man's confession of faith is as short as it can well be, but is quite as comprehensive and hearty. This short confession contains a long and a full faith. It is full of heart and soul, fall of submissive and willing obedience, and, better than all, it is full of Christ.
VI. FAITH WORSHIPPING. "And he worshipped him."
1. An act of overwhelming gratitude.
2. An act of the profoundest reverence.
3. An act involving the highest exercise of faith.
The man could speak no more, his heart was too full for speech. The attitude of prayer alone suited his condition and shall alone express his feelings; and, overburdened with the splendor and love of the Son of God and the delight of finding him, he falls before him and worships. We gladly leave him there, and disturb him not. Gladly do we leave faith at the feet of her Lord in the glow of devotion, in the glory of worship, and in the ecstasies of Divine fellowship. What passed between the soul and her Savior was too sacred to be recorded in our Gospels, but was faithfully recorded in the gospel of eternal life.
1. Comparatively trivial occurrences are often the occasions of the greatest results. The ejection of this man who was born blind and cured by Jesus was the occasion of the founding of the Christian Church. To this outcast Jesus first revealed himself as the universal Object of faith, and faith in him as the test of adherence and fellowship. In tiffs sense the outcast was the first member of the Christian society. The Jewish Church failed to fulfill its mission and embrace its own Messiah and the Savior of the world, hence the establishment of the Christian society, and the ultimate secession of Christ and his followers from the Jewish forever.
2. What was considered at the time a painful loss may ultimately prove to be the greatest gain. The practical ejection of this man from the religious privileges of Judaism was to him doubtless a great trial and a serious disadvantage, but when he found Christ he found infinitely more than he had lost. Cast out from the ship of Judaism into an angry sea to take his chance, but the surging waves threw him on the "Rock of ages"—a most happy exchange, from a sinking ship to a high and solid rock.
3. When Jesus is on the look out for faith, and faith for him, a quick bargain is struck when they meet. Such was the case here.
4. Faith often gets much more than its highest expectation. This man defended Jesus of Nazareth, but found in him the Son of God. There are sweet surprises in the experience of faith, and happy fortunes in spiritual merchandise. In a short time this poor man found an eternal fortune.—B.T.
HOMILIES BY GEORGE BROWN
The supreme Worker and his opportunity.
"I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." This, like so man y of the memorable sayings of our Lord, is an incidental one, arising out of the circumstances of the hour. On a sabbath day in autumn—the last autumn of his earthly life—our Lord paused as he passed through the streets of Jerusalem to look at a blind beggar, known to be blind from his birth. The sight was sad enough, but instead of exciting the pity of Jesus' disciples, it seems only to have awakened their speculative curiosity. Taking it for granted, as was usual in their days, that special suffering must needs be a retribution for special sin, they asked their Master the question, "Who was to blame for this man's blindness?" Was he sent eyeless into the world for some fault of his own, or was he suffering for transgressions of his parents? Our Lord put the unwise question aside. The disciples were far from the mark. There was a wider and deeper philosophy of suffering than they were dreaming of, and for the calamity before them there was more than sufficient reason in this, that the man's blindness was now to be the occasion of God's signal mercy. Christ, therefore, refuses to be drawn into any fruitless and bootless discussions regarding the origin of evil either physical or moral. This was not his mission into the world. He had come amongst us to triumph over evil, not to explain it, and so he says to his disciples, "I must work the works of him," etc. No saying of Christ's brings his true manhood more distinctly before us than these words do. Before he could utter them he must have "emptied himself of his glory, and taken upon him the form of a servant." There were times, indeed, in his ministry when he used language which could only become the Son of God, as when he spoke of the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. But here he speaks with equal plainness as the Son of man, in all things made like unto his brethren. We can never forget that Christ's mission into the world was unparalleled, even as he stands alone in his relation to the Father. Still, it was in our nature that he accomplished this whole work of his. He did not seem to be a man, he was "the Man Christ Jesus." These words, therefore, reveal to us the spirit, the motive, the principle, of the only perfect human life that ever was lived, and it is in this respect that they set him forth as our Example.
I. OUR LORD HERE DISTINCTLY ACKNOWLEDGES A WILL HIGHER THAN HIS OWN, and tells us that in laying out his earthly life this will was his guiding star. He had all the sensibilities of a sinless human being. He not only knew by experience the urgencies of hunger and thirst, and longed for rest from exhausting toil, but he loved congenial society like that of the family of Bethany. How must he have recoiled from the contradiction of sinners! How sensitively must he have shrunk from contact with vice and squalor! But he allowed not such natural feelings, pure as they were, to reign supreme among his motives, or interfere with his life-work. "Even Christ pleased not himself." "I came down from heaven," he said, "not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me." Here, surely, there are great, though simple, lessons for us all. In our daily lives we feel the force of a hundred different motives. We are swayed by our own tastes, by the example and opinions of others, by the force of outward circumstances; but do we see rising above all these, and piercing through them, and shedding a light over them, the will of our Father in heaven? We are sent into the world with different gifts and capacities. We find ourselves placed in widely different stations and spheres. But have we laid it to heart that God has a purpose in placing us here, and that this mysterious gift of life is not like a freehold—an independent possession—still less like a plaything which we may do what we like with, but that it is a trust from above, a stewardship under its Giver? Plainly this was Christ's view of life, and to reveal this to us in light and clearness, by example as well as by precept, was one great end for which he came into the world. For he came not only to atone for our sins and to reconcile us to God, but also to show us, as it had never been seen before, the meaning and purpose of life, connecting the whole of it with a perfectly holy and righteous will. Multitudes without number have realized this in their own experience, and. thus the humblest lives have been ennobled, and the busiest lives consecrated by a motive and an influence not of this world. Oh! if we would work without becoming the slaves of our work, if we would enjoy our freedom without being ensnared by it, we can only do so as the servants of God. Have you learned this great life-lesson from Christ? Let no one say that because our Lord's work was necessary for the redemption of the world, therefore ours is of no consequence. On the contrary, it is as important for us to do the will of God in our sphere as it was for Christ to do it in his, and assuredly he will impart his Spirit to all who come to him in faith and take his yoke upon them. And how do these words of Christ, "I must work," speak to us of the sacredness of duty! They show that the idea of obligation was distinctly present to his mind. lie felt that it was right to obey his God and Father who had sent him, and instead of this feeling being irksome or burdensome, it was one source of his spiritual strength. "He put on righteousness as a breastplate." On the one hand his love to God did not make his obedience seem superfluous, and on the other hand t he idea of duty never chilled nor lessened his love. lie showed how love and obedience are like two fair blossoms which spring from the same root. And what is that root? It is the life of God in the soul of man. Here, again, "let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Seek to cherish and cultivate the spirit of loving obedience. If Christ, by his infinite sacrifice, has reconciled you to God, redeemed you from the curse of the Law, it is that you may serve his Father and yours from the heart. If he has stripped obligation of its terrors, he has strengthened instead of weakening its power. "This is the love of God, that ye keep his commandments."
II. The text teaches us that CHRIST FELT THE PRECIOUSNESS OF OPPORTUNITY AND THE VALUE OF TIME. He calls his earthly life day, and its termination he calls the coming might, when no man can work. This language of his cannot be mistaken. He foresaw, indeed, with perfect clearness the glory which awaited him, and the unending work which he was to accomplish by his Spirit in the ages to come; but his life-work here below was the necessary and divinely appointed preparation for it all. The seedtime was essential to the harvest, and it was a limited seed-time, not to be repeated. It was only in the present that Christ's words of life, fresh from his human lips, could be spoken; that his acts of personal kindness and compassion could be performed; that his example, destined to be so infinitely fruitful, could be set forth. And therefore he prized that present, the day allotted to him, and not in feverish haste, but in all the calmness of spiritual strength, he took possession of it, and used it for his Father's glory. "The night cometh, when no man can work." Taken by themselves, these words only express a simple fact which no one would think of proving or dream of denying. Life comes but once to each of us, and however we may spend it or misspend it, no portion of it will return to be spent over again. We cannot prolong it at will, or persuade it to linger. Relentlessly it moves like the hand of a clock or the shadow on the sun-dial. All our earthly activities, our duties, our charities, our services in the cause of God and man, must needs be included in it. When the night cometh they must cease. Every man who has any earnestness of purpose about him has felt the stimulus of such thoughts as these. Whatever his pursuits may be, whether the objects he takes an interest in are of a lower or higher kind, his heart often whispers to itself, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do," etc. Nay, further, many an idler has been rebuked into activity, and many a dreamer wakened up out of his useless reveries, just by the thought fastening itself upon him that he is allowing life, with all its opportunities, to slip away, and that it will never return. Now, if you have entered on the life of Christ's disciples, does this motive lose its force? Surely not. You have learned from your Master the true worth and importance of life, and you have been taught to spend it under the eye of "the Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man's work." Whatever be your station or sphere, this is the case. Here and now, within the narrow limits of the present, you have your opportunities of service allotted to you, your only sphere for "works of faith and labors of love." And these opportunities, if wasted or let slip, can never be recalled. Why should they be lost? These words contain a motive which no Christian can afford to lose. Does any one say, "It does not apply to me or to the multitudes who are already tasked to the uttermost by the necessary cares of life and the stern demands of business"? Ah! God is not like a hard master, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed. If your necessary toil is performed in a Christian spirit, in the spirit of a faithful servant, it will be accepted as a free-will offering. Even to the slaves at Colosse the Apostle Paul says, "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not to men Ye serve the Lord Christ." Yet surely in the busiest life there is room for deeds of kindness and words of sympathy, for giving the cup of cold water, for proffering the timely advice, for doing many things for Christ's sake which no man can require at your hands. But especially those whose position in the world is independent, and who have much freedom of choice as to how they shall employ, their time, should lay these words to heart. It is you who are most of all tempted to lead a desultory life. Society, as it is called, seems to expect it of you. People suppose that you must have time for every trifling engagement, and it is so much easier to let each day be passively surrendered in this way than to redeem the time for any definite purpose. But how should this one thought, "the night cometh," help you resolutely to resist or break through such petty distractions! It is but a portion, alter all, of this brief life that you can call your working day. Necessary cares, needful rest, and relaxation must have their share. Sickness may at any time swallow up you know not how much of the remainder. See that you consecrate your yet unbroken daylight to the service of God and man. You have every motive to do so, and you may well be stimulated and encouraged by the example of many around you; but oh, how affecting the thought that your Master, when he dwelt on earth, said to his disciples, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work"!—G.B.
Spontaneous judgment and self-enacting verdict.
"And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see," etc. If the words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened in a sure place, we need not wonder that the words of Christ himself should sometimes be startling in their sharp-ness-should pierce like a two-edged sword. The text before us is an example of this, and though it contains a paradox which in substance occurs frequently in the Bible, it is expressed here with peculiar point and severity.
I. First of all, LOOK AT THESE WORDS IN THE LIGHT OF THE OCCASION WHICH CALLED THEM FORTH. They are the solemn verdict of our Lord on the opposite effects of the work of mercy which he had just wrought in Jerusalem. He had opened the eyes of a blind beggar by sending him to wash at the pool of Siloam. The miracle had excited attention, wonder, discussion, and ere long the thoughts of many hearts were revealed by it. On the man himself the immediate effect of the miracle was remarkable. It brought out the simplicity of his character, and his loyalty to his Benefactor and to truth. He already knew Jesus by name, and in the joy and wonder of his heart he rightly concluded that the common report was true, and that Jesus was a Prophet. But a severe ordeal awaited him. The great religious guides of his nation summoned him into their presence, and with all the skill of practiced casuists they urged him to disown his Benefactor or deny his Divine power. Still the man stood firm, and rather than prove false to his conviction that Jesus was a Prophet, he submitted to the terrible sentence of excommunication. Ere long our Lord heard of this good confession, sought out and found the man who made it, and revealed to him the mighty secret that he was the Son of God. And at his words the smoking flax of true faith burst into flame in the poor man's heart, and he fell down and worshipped the Messiah. Thus, in a spiritual as well as a- natural sense, Jesus gave sight to the blind. But now what was the effect of the same miracle on the Pharisees? Had they known nothing of Jesus before, it was surely enough in itself to awe their minds and prepossess them in his favor. Common generosity, common fairness, would have required this. But, in fact, Jesus had been before them for well-nigh three eventful years, so that they were far from ignorant of his character and career. He bore all the marks of a prophet, and more than a prophet. He spake as never man spake, and they knew it. He healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, cast out devils, and they knew it. His life was one of perfect moral loveliness and unapproachable moral grandeur, so that none of them dared to reply when he said, as he had a right to say, nay, as he was bound to say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" Yet, with some exceptions, these Pharisees had shut their eyes to this great Light that had come into the world, and each new exhibition of it made them blinder still. They had even said, "He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." And see how they dealt with the work of mercy which had just been wrought in their streets. They had sifted and resifted all the circumstances, and it was well they did so.
"Truth, like a torch, the more 'tis shook it shines."
But when the great fact had become patent to all, they willfully shut their eyes to its meaning, and wreaked their hatred of the Holy One on the lowly object of his mercy; and all the time these Pharisees boasted that they had the key of knowledge, and in their own esteem were the clearest-sighted men of their day. And now the two parties stood before our Lord—the poor blind beggar who had entered the kingdom of light, and the supercilious Pharisees who were drifting further and further away from it. Thus is explained the seeming paradox of the text, "For judgment," etc.
II. EVER SINCE CHRIST AND HIS GLORIOUS GOSPEL CAME INTO THE WORLD THESE WORDS HAVE BEEN RECEIVING FRESH FULFILMENTS. Among his greatest titles are these, "the Light of the world," "the Sun of Righteousness;" and one of the greatest objects of his mission is to give light to them that sit in darkness, to deliver men from pernicious error and bewildering doubt, to clear up and answer the questions that are alike urgent for the old and the young, for the learned and the unlearned, declaring to us why we are placed here, and what destiny awaits us, and above all showing us the path of life. I need only add that our Lord's claims to do this are partly based on the great open standing wonder of his life and death and resurrection, and partly on the intrinsic power of his gospel itself—his words, which are "spirit and life." But how do people deal with this great light that has come into the world? Some accept it gladly in early life, even in the first dawnings of intelligence; and some are sooner or later brought to accept it, after much providential discipline and many mental struggles. But one thing is very noteworthy. Both the former and the latter accept it humbly and thankfully. They give to God in Christ all the praise. The very light they receive reveals to them by contrast the natural darkness of their minds, and they know how that darkness would again enwrap them were they left to themselves. Hence, so far from being proud of their spiritual vision, they habitually pray "that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened," and they at least can set their seal to this word of Christ, "I am come … that they that see not might see." Surely there is grace and truth in this saying of Christ for each one who feels how blind he is by nature to the mystery of God's light and love. Is it strange that some consciousness of this blindness—sad and painful as it is—should be the beginning or the accompaniment of a good work in you? It is not, it cannot be, a state to rest in—"a land of darkness and of the shadow of death"—but it brings you practically within the sweep of Christ's mission. He came "to open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out of the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house." Yours is a case for the great Physician, for the mighty Deliverer and Restorer. Go to him in the simplicity of faith and prayer; for this is the method of his grace, to be found of them that seek him. You have heard how he hath revealed himself to others. Tell him that a cloud you cannot sweep away, a veil you cannot lift, comes between you and him. He will be faithful to his promises. For you also "he will destroy the face of the covering cast over all nations, and the veil that is spread over all people." "With thee, O Lord, is the fountain of life; in thy light we shall see light," But, sad to say, there is another alternative. Too many continue unconscious of their darkness. We may put aside for the present open scoffers and presumptuous sinners, who make no secret of it that they hate the light and love the darkness, and who can scarcely keep their tempers when sacred things are mentioned in their presence. There is no need to speak of such as glory in their shame, and sport themselves with their own deceivings, and sear their consciences as with a hot iron. The text does not apply probably to these, but to a different class. There are men who are neither attracted nor gladdened by the Light of the world, and in whose case the chief reason is that they turn a cold and critical and unhumbled eye on the Object of faith. Ah! were they to listen to some of the graver whisperings of their own consciences, which we believe are the strivings of God's Spirit within them, they might become conscious of want and darkness; but they cannot bear this. Dismissing such feelings as unworthy of them, they persist in saying, "We see!" Instead of looking up to Christ with the reverence due to One who is so immeasurably exalted above them, and who, in all that he is and all that he has done, is so wondrous an exception to the whole human race, they rather seek to weigh him in their own poor balances and assign him a place in their own narrow system. They must needs find some explanation of his miracles which would then be no miracles, and of the mysteries of his kingdom which would then be a mere province of the kingdom of nature. And is it at all wonderful that the gospel should be foolishness to such, and that the more they cherish such a state of mind the less fit they should be to profit by the great Light which yet shines around them? By an inevitable consequence (if God prevent not) their prejudices become stronger and their eyes become blinder. When God's hand is lifted up, they will not see. When his Spirit works in the hearts and lives of others, some explanation—perhaps a very shallow one—suffices for them. Conversion they will call a reaction from one extreme to another; heavenly tempers, even happy death-beds, the effects of a sanguine temperament; the spread of Christ's kingdom the mere contagion of enthusiasm. But thus the words of Christ are still verified, "I am come … that they which see might be made blind." For there is such a thing as being "wise in our own eyes, and prudent in our own sight." It is an old warning, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches." Ah, if the pride of wealth is a blinding thing, so that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven; if the pride of power or social position is a delusion and a snare;—so it is with the pride of human wisdom. Strange to say, it is not seldom found among men who, by whatever standard you estimate them, are no wiser than their fellows; just as, on the other hand, some of the greatest minds have been the humblest. But wherever this pride of fancied wisdom reigns, it blinds the eye to the glory of the Redeemer. If you think you can look down, as it were, from above on Christ and his grace; if your ambition is to
"Sit as a god holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all;"
you must needs be in a false and perilous position. It is not thus that you can hold communion with the Holy One. Christ has no blessing for the self-sufficient, no healing for the whole. Remember his words, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Hence—
III. THESE WORDS TEACH US THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY OF HAVING TO DO WITH CHRIST. "For judgment he is come into the world." Not yet for final judgment and retribution; that is reserved for the last day. But one inevitable result of his appearing among men has ever been to test and prove them, and to manifest the secrets of their hearts. And this must be so; for he is the supreme Revelation of God—of his holiness and truth, of his grace and love, of all that makes up his glory. Even in the depths of his humiliation this was the case. Think of the day when he stood arraigned as a Prisoner before the Jewish and the Roman tribunals; surely it was he, betrayed and forsaken as he was, who sat in reality on the judgment-seat, while Annas and Caiaphas, and Herod and Pilate, and priests and people, passed in review before him, and were weighed in his balances and found wanting. And so it must ever be as each human soul is brought face to face with Jesus Christ. Ah! some of you may think that you are judging him, but all the time it is he that is judging you. If you will not humbly acknowledge your poverty and ignorance, and thankfully accept his grace, it is a righteous thing that he should leave you to become blinder than before. His glorious gospel cannot leave you as it found you. It must be the savor of life unto life, or the savor of death unto death. And hence the solemn words which Jesus spoke of some of the men of his day, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin." This must be so. You cannot escape from Christ. His love and grace cannot be trifled with. "God is not mocked." You remember that the declared purpose of his mission is one of infinite mercy. "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."—G.B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Manifesting the works of God.
Jesus had just been, as we should reckon, in danger. If a furious crowd had taken up stones to cast at us, we should have been too much concerned for our safety to notice people by the way. Of course Jesus was in no real danger. His time was not yet come. His whole demeanor was worthy of the sublime utterance, "Before Abraham was, I am." Notice—
I. WHAT SORT OF OBJECT ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF JESUS. A blind man, blind from birth, so known possibly from a label on his breast. Such a one might not attract attention from the disciples, at least not at first. As strangers comparatively in Jerusalem, their attention would be arrested by the splendors and novelties of the capital city. We remember how they were impressed by the huge stones with which the temple walls were built. Jesus did not go about the world as a sight-seer; he went about as a Doer of good. The blind man was to Jesus a far more interesting sight than any building. We may be sure Jesus looks down on the world in the same spirit today. And surely we also, if we claim to have any abundance of the Spirit of Jesus in us, will also note all such as are here represented by the man blind from his birth. We must note the blind rather than those that see, the crushed and sorrowing rather than those who are full of life's natural enjoyments.
II. THE QUESTION OF THE DISCIPLES. The question no doubt seems to us, upon first looking at it, to have neither wisdom nor consistency in it; yet there is this merit about the disciples, that they did ask a question. The blindness of this man was not to be taken as a matter of course, like the rising of the sun or the blossoming of the flowers. Note where the emphasis lies in the question. It lies on the word "born," not on the word" blind." The disciples did not profess to be in utter darkness on the point. Either the man himself must have sinned, they thought, or else his parents, that he should be born blind. Probably they had some belief in the transmigration of souls. They would think he had existed already in some other state, where perhaps he had been a dreadful sinner, and so now for his sins in that former state he would be born into this present life blind. The alternative supposition, and a very natural one, was that his parents had sinned. For the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." So the question of the disciples was partly excusable. On the other hand, they narrowed the field of inquiry, nor was there anything practical in their question. They were dwelling on the irrevocable past. How different is the spirit in—
III. THE ANSWER OF JESUS.
1. Ere takes off all blame from the man and his parents. They had quite enough burden to bear already. Consider what a charge and grief a blind child must have been to its parents. They may have been to blame, but even where blame is, it is not the first thing to be thought of. Jesus came, not to condemn, but to save. A physician goes none the less readily to the bed of a sick man because his sickness has come through his own reckless and vicious ways.
2. Jesus points out one good result of this man's blindness. He looks not so much at the past as at the present and the future. The blind man is to have no more years of privation, idleness, and emptiness. Here a great compensation came to him, that a work of God should be manifested in him. Jesus wants us to face the misery of the world in all its magnitude, meaning that we should have the same comforting reflection with Paul, that where sin abounds grace much more abounds. We have a Physician who never shakes his head, saying he can do nothing, and then goes empty away. We should say boldly of every evil now afflicting men that it is here to give occasion for manifesting the works of God.—Y.
The limits of opportunity.
Here is a universal illustration. We need no investigation of the local and the ancient to comprehend its meaning. We all understand the difference between night and day in respect of opportunity for work. Not but what civilization has made considerable encroachments on the realm of night in this particular. It is now true, not only of the astronomer and of the ardent student, but of many besides, that "night is the time for toil." And yet, even with all the increased night-work of the world, it is to be hoped that such work will ever be the exception and not the rule. Night is Nature's way of announcing her daily sabbath. Day is peculiarly the season for useful work, for honest pursuits; to take too much of the day for rest is, in a measure, to waste it. Night is peculiarly the season for rest, and those who are out in it must be on some special, perchance some dishonest, errand. Day is the largest opportunity the honest man can get; night is the largest opportunity for the thief.
I. APPLY THE LIMITS OF OPPORTUNITY IS THE CASE OF JESUS HIMSELF. Of course, it is only true in a particular sense that a night came to Jesus in which he could not work. But in that sense there was great importance in the truth. There were certain things which Jesus could do in flesh and blood, but let him pass into the spiritual body, and those things become impossible. When the records of his life came to be written, those records had to be filled with instances of benevolent industry. Every day found him looking out for every chance of doing a good work. No one can bring against Jesus the charge of being one who talked a great deal and did very little. Every human being comes into this world to do a work of God, though the vast majority never seem to apprehend the mission. All the more reason that Jesus, therefore, should make manifest that he came into the world for action. Others were busy about their own work, and, however long life might be, it would be all too short to complete their aims. And so Jesus felt that life had to be full of useful, strenuous, God-manifesting work.
II. THE LESSON TO US FROM THE BRIEF LIMITS OF WORKING TIME. We waste much of life through not making the best of opportunities. Here were the disciples idly speculating on how a certain thing had come about. There was no way of knowing, and no practical result could come from the inquiry. Not that Jesus would deter us from speculations and conjectures; there can be no harm in imagining the causes of what is; no harm in guessing at the possibilities and probabilities of the future. But in this world of need there is so much to do, that we must never let anything come between us and doing. To know what men have thought is all very well; and we do well to meditate on every possible cause and origin of what is evil; but we may meditate so much as to become mere skeptics, hanging in uncertainty between belief and unbelief. When life has all closed up and its last day faded into the west, the question will be, "What hast thou done?" This life of flesh and blood is given to serve our day and generation.—Y.
Here is a weapon that attacks religion in the name of religion. Here are people whom the plainest facts would prompt into a confession of Jesus as the Christ, if only they were left to themselves. The truth as it is in Jesus is on one side; threatenings of dire consequences on the other; and truth suffers for the time from the ecclesiastical powers that be.
I. SUPERSTITION AS OPPOSED TO JESUS. Here is a special foe, over and above the ordinary foes with whom Jesus has to deal. Whether any real confession of Jesus would have come from the parents of the blind man, if they had been left to themselves, cannot be conjectured. That which deters one does not deter another. There are people who would not be deterred from confessing Jesus by any amount of physical pain. They can rise above that; it is merely a thing of the body; something specific and measurable. But the same people, if a threat of excommunication came in, would at once begin to hesitate. We do well to study the difficulties the gospel has ever met with through superstition, just because they are difficulties foreign to most who are brought up in a Christian land. We are not likely either to be threatened into Christianity or threatened out of it. But undoubtedly there are many parts of the world where the fear of some dreadful spiritual consequence operates to keep many from even looking at the claims of Jesus. How different the spirit of the true religion is from the spirit of the false ones! The priests of superstition have to use every available means to keep their dupes under control.
II. THE SUCCESS OF THESE SPIRITUAL THREATENINGS. While we have to deplore the hindrances to the gospel which come from these erroneous instructions and traditions, we must also rejoice at what good there is in evil. That is not utterly evil which proves the hold of the supernatural on mankind.
III. THE FAILURE OF THESE SPIRITUAL THREATENINGS. In the case of the parents the threat was successful; in the case of the son it failed. There will always be a few, at all events, whom no possible inducement can keep back from faithfulness to truth. Fear of losing their place in the true great assembly is a mightier motive than that of keeping connection with any visible ecclesiastical system.—Y.
The testimony of individual blessing.
I. THE REST ANSWER TO CRITICS OF JESUS. Here are the fitting representatives of that vast multitude who in all ages have striven to heap scorn on the Name of Jesus. "We know," they say. That was just the way Nicodemus talked when he came to Jesus. He came with patronage on his tongue—"We know thou art a Teacher come from God." Thus also we read concerning some of Jerusalem that they were sure Jesus could not be the Christ, for as to the Christ no one knew whence he would come; but as to Jesus, they knew whence he was. And the quondam blind man did well in not meeting argument with argument. Let the opponents of Jesus bring forth the knowledge in which they are so confident; those give them their best answer who can point to some indubitable change in their own experience. Christianity is propagated by testimony rather than argument. Many people are quite capable of appreciating evidence who would be utterly bewildered at the very entrance of an argument. Controversy, which some are so fond of, has done little for the cause of Christ. But testimony has done a great deal, even such testimony as was here presented—testimony to the senses. He who used to be seen as a blind man is now seen with full power of vision. Here is a welcome change—a change that has to be accounted for, not as to the disposition producing it, but as to the power. It must be a kind and gracious power that gives sight to the man born blind. if the reverse had happened, if the seeing man had been struck blind, this would need explaining, even as really happens in the case of Elymas (Acts 13:11). There, of course, the explanation lies ready to hand in the judicial and admonitory. Happy those who, when specious and conceited arguments against faith in Jesus are laid before them, can fall back on the testimony of their own experience. Something good has happened to them which they believe Jesus to have produced.
II. THE STRONGHOLD OF A CHRISTIAN'S FAITH. A Christian is under no compulsion to answer the questions, the doubts, the arguments, of other people, unless indeed he has set himself the task of convincing them. If we would win people to Christ, we must be all things to them, and meet argument with argument, if that will do good. But questions and doubts may sometimes rise in our own minds, and the true answer to them is in getting down to fact, and observing how those who once were blind have now come to see. A living Christianity, actual and manifest results of the gospel, these are our strongholds when the struggle comes.
III. A QUESTION AS TO OUR OWN EXPERIENCE. All our intellectual conclusions concerning Jesus are in vain unless there has been a deep personal experience. No matter how careful the search, no matter how sound the reasoning, it is all in vain. Many have written to support Jesus as the Christ, but when we read between the lines, we see how all their talk is from the outside. They can recommend Jesus to others, but it is pretty plain they have not accepted him for themselves. How can we truly know Jesus, how can we be sure of our hold upon him, unless there has been some deep beneficial change in ourselves? A far deeper experience is possible for every one of us than this man went through. Of all those born naturally blind, only a few have ever had natural vision added to them—the few, namely, that Jesus dealt with. But of those born spiritually blind, i.e. all of us, it is the Divine intent that we should all say in due season, "Whereas I was blind, now I see."—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany