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18. THE OPENING OF THE EYES OF ONE BORN BLIND.

JOHN ix.

T is on the whole most probable that this work of grace

and power crowned the day of that long debate with Jewish adversaries, which, beginning at John vii. 34, reaches to the end of chapter x. ;--the history of the woman taken in adultery being only an interruption, and an intercalation easily betraying itself as such. Our Lord then, as He was passing from the temple, to escape those stones which were the last arguments of his foes (viii. 59), will have paused probably in the immediate neighbourhood of the temple, where beggars, cripples, and other afflicted persons took their station (Acts iii. 1, 2), to accomplish this miracle. Nothing in the narrative indicates a break. That long contradiction of sinners' which the Lord endured found place, we know, on a Sabbath, for the last day of the feast of tabernacles (vii. 37) was always such ; and on a Sabbath, to all appearance the same Sabbath, He opened this blind man's eyes (ix. 14). Moved by these reasons, the ancient interpreters see here a narrative continuous and unbroken, and with them most of the modern consent.

It has been by some objected, that, first concealing Himself, and then escaping for his life, He must have left the temple alone; here, on the contrary, his disciples are with Him. But what more natural than that they also should

* As Maldonatus, Tittmann, Tholuck, Olshausen.

have extricated themselves, though not in the same wonderful manner as He did, from the tumult of the people, and have rejoined their Master without? Then again, if it be urged by some that this work was wrought in a more leisurely manner, with more apparent freedom from all fear of interruption than could well have been, when now He had only just withdrawn from the extreme malice of his foes, we may accept it rather as a beautiful evidence of his fearless walk in the midst of his foes; so that not even such a time as this, when He had hardly left behind Him the Jewish stones, seemed to Him inopportune for a task of mercy and love. And may not something of all this lie in ver. 4, 5 ? 'I must work this work now, however out of season it may seem : for the night,which my enemies are bringing on, is near, and then the opportunity for working will be over' (compare the exactly parallel passage, John xi. 7-10).

Some have made a difficulty, How could the disciples know of this man that he was blind from his birth'?' He was evidently a well-known beggar in Jerusalem, with whose tale many were acquainted (ver. 8); he may further have himself proclaimed his lifelong calamity, with the object of stirring pity in the passers by. One way or other the fact had come to the knowledge of the disciples, and out of it their question grew. Perplexed at this more than ordinary calamity, they ask their Master to explain to them its cause: Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?' But what they could have had in their minds when they suggested the former alternative, how they could have supposed it possible that for his own sins the man had been born blind, has naturally enough been often demanded.

Three or four explanations have been offered : the first, that the Jews believed in a transmigration of sonls; and thus that the sins which the disciples assumed as possible causes

1 'Ex yeverñs = {x kolliaç untpós, Acts iii. 2; xiv. 8. There, as here, a lifelong defect is removed.

of his blindness, were those of some anterior life,--antenatal sins, which were being punished and expiated now. This, as is well known, is the doctrine of the Buddhists; and is woven into the very heart of their religious system: but it cannot be proved that there was any such belief among the Jews. It may have been the dream of a few philosophic Jews, who had obtained some acquaintance with the speculations of the East, but was never the faith of plain and simple men. This explanation therefore may be regarded as altogether antiquated, and not worthy even to be considered.'

Lightfoot adduces passages to show that the Jews believed a child might sin in its mother's womb, in proof of which their Rabbis referred to the struggle between Jacob and Esau (Gen. xxv. 22); and he, and others after him, think that out of this popular belief the question of the disciples grew.

Tholuck, following an earlier interpreter, supposes their notion to have been that God had foreknown some great sin which this man would commit, and so by anticipation had punished him. But as such a dealing on God's part is altogether without analogy in Scripture, so is there not the slightest hint that men bad ever fallen on it as an explanation of the suffering in the world; nor, indeed, could they : for while the idea of retribution is one of the deepest in the human heart, this of punishment running before the crime which it punishes, is one from which it as wholly revolts.

Chrysostom imagines that it was upon their part a reductio ad absurdum of the argument which connected sin and suffering together. The man could not have brought this penalty on himself; for he was born with it. His parents could not by their sin have brought it on him; for we know that each man shall bear his own burden, that the children's teeth are not set on edge because the parents ate sour grapes.

1 The passages from the Wisdom of Solomon (viii. 19, 20) and Josephus (B. I. ii. 8. 14) are misunderstood, when applied in this sense.

But this is very artificial, and with little of likelihood in it. Honest and simple-hearted men, like those who asked the question here, would have been the last to try and escape a truth, to which the deepest things in their own hearts bore witness, by an ingenious dilemma.

Rather, I believe they did not see, at the moment when they put the question, the self-contradiction, as far at least as words go, which was involved in the first alternative which they put before their Lord; so that, while they rightly, and by a most true moral instinct, discerned the intimate connexion in which the sin and suffering of the world stand to one another, yet in this case they did not realize how it must have been the sin and suffering, not of this individual man, but of him as making part of a great whole, which were thus connected together. They did not at the moment perceive that the mere fact of this calamity reaching back to his birth at once excluded and condemned the uncharitable suspicion, that wherever there was a more than ordinary sufferer, there was also a more than ordinary sinner,-leaving only the most true thought, that a great sin must be cleaving to a race, of which any member could so greatly suffer.

This, as it is continually affirmed in Scripture, so we cannot suppose that our Lord intended to deny it. His words, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents,'-words which need for their completion--that he should have been born blind,' neither deny the man's own sin nor that of his parents; and as little that sicknesses are oftentimes the punishment of sins (Deut. xxviii. 22 ; Lev. xxvi. 16; Cor. xi. 30); or that the sins of parents are often visited on their children (Exod. xx. 5). All that He does is to check in his disciples that most harmful practice of diving down with cruel surmises into the secrets of other men's lives, and, like the friends of Job, ascribing to them great, though it might be from men concealed transgressions, in explanation of their unusual sufferings (Job iv. 7; viii. 6). This blindness, He would say, is the chastening of no peculiar sin on his own

part, nor on his parents'. Seek, therefore, its cause neither here nor there; but see what nobler explanation the evil in the world, and this evil in particular, is capable of receiving. The purpose of the lifelong blindness of this man is that the works of God should be made manifest in him;' and that through it and its removal the grace and glory of God might be magnified. Not, indeed, as though this man had been used merely as a means, visited with this blindness to the end that the power of God in Christ might be manifested to others in its removal.: The manifestation of the works of God has here a wider reach, and embraces in it the lasting weal of the man himself; it includes, indeed, the manifestation of those works to the world and on the man; but it does not exclude, rather of necessity includes, their manifestation also to him and in him. It entered into the plan of God for the bringing of this man to the light of everlasting life, that he should thus for a while be dark outwardly; that so at once upon this night, and upon the night of his heart, a higher light might break, and the Sun of righteousness arise on him, with healing in his wings for all his bodily and all his spiritual infirmities; which, but for that long dark night of sorrow, might never have been : while again this was part of a larger whole, and fitted in, according to his eternal counsels, to the great scheme for the revelation of the glory and power of the Only-begotten to the world (cf. John xi. 4; Rom. v. 20; ix. 17; xi. 25, 32, 33).

Yet, while it was thus, we are not to accept this as the entire and exhaustive solution of this man's blindness. For it is the pantheistic explanation of evil, that it is not really evil, but only the condition of, and the transition to, a higher good; only appearing, indeed, as evil at all from a low standing point, and one which does not as yet behold the end. But this explanation of the world's evil, tempting as it has

· Leo the Great (Serm. 45): Quod principiis naturæ non dederat, ad manifestationem suæ gloriæ reservârat.

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