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THE OPENING THE EYES OF ONE BORN BLIND,
It appears upon the whole most probable that this work of power was wrought upon the same day on which the memorable discourse was spoken, beginning at John vii. 34, and continuing to the end of the viiith chapter-a discourse of which the history of the woman taken in adultery is only an interruption, and an intercalation which easily betrays itself as such. In this case it will be, that as our Lord was passing through the city from the temple, to escape the sudden outbreak of Jewish anger, he paused to accomplish this miracle—probably in the immediate neighborhood of the temple, which we know was oftentimes the place where beggars, cripples, and other such sufferers, took their station. (Acts iii. 1, 2.) There is nothing in the narrative to mark a break; on the contrary, the “passed by” of the final verse of chapter viii. seems taken up by the same word in the first verse of this.” It is an additional argument in favor of this view, that we know that other discourse to have been spoken on a Sabbath: for it was spoken on the last day of the feast of tabernacles, (vii. 37,) which was always such, and this healing took place also on a Sabbath. (ix. 14.) Moved by these reasons, the ancient interpreters would not see here any break in the narrative, and with them most of the moderns consent.: It has been objected against this, that on that day he evidently departed alone from the temple; while here his disciples are with him. But it is easy to suppose that they also extricated themselves, though not
* Unless indeed viii. 59 is spurious. It is wanting in many authorities, and in others great variations of the reading, always a suspicious circumstance, occur.
# As Maldonatus, Tittman, Tholuck, Olshausen.
in the same wonderful manner as he did, from the excited multitude, and joined their Lord without. It has been objected, too, that Christ appears to have wrought this work more leisurely, more without fear of interruption, than well could have been, immediately after the moment when he had been compelled to withdraw from the fury of his enemies. Yet this circumstance should be rather taken as affording a beautiful picture of his calmness in the midst of his enemies, who found no time unfit for a work of mercy and love; who even at the moment when he had hardly escaped the stones of the Jews, paused to accomplish this work of grace. There seems, indeed, as we shall see, allusion to something of the kind at ver. 4, 5. “There is need,” our Lord would say, “that I should work this work now, however out of season it may seem : for this ‘night,’ which the hatred of the Jews is bringing on, is near, and then the time for working will be over.” (Compare the exactly parallel passage, John xi. 7–10.)
The sad history of this man “blind from his birth,” may have been already familiar to his disciples, as he was evidently a well-known beg. gar in Jerusalem, one with whose story many were acquainted; (ver. 8;) or it may have been one of his ways of stirring pity and compas. sion in the passers by, to announce that his calamity reached back so far, and thus it may have come to the knowledge of the disciples, and proved the occasion of their question. They would fain learn from their Master, who was able to solve every difficulty which rose up in their minds, “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” But what they could have meant by this latter alternative, when they supposed as possible that it was for his own sins that the man was born blind, has naturally been the source of much perplexity.
Three or four explanations have been offered: the first, that the Jews believed in a transmigration of souls; and that these sins which the disciples assumed as possible causes of his blindness, were those of some anterior life-sins which were being punished and expiated now. This, as is well known, is the Buddhist doctrine; and not an accident, but belonging to the centre of their religious convictions; but it cannot be proved that there was any such faith among the Jews. It may have been the dream of a few philosophic Jews, but was never the faith of plain and simple men: so that this explanation may be regarded, as Olshausen declares it, altogether as antiquated, and not worthy even to be considered.
* 'Ek yeweric - ex Kotziac unrpóc, Acts iii. 2. The healing of the blind man here, and the lame man there, have this point of resemblance, that in each a life-long defect is removed.
Lightfoot adduces passages to show that the Jews believed a child might sin in its mother's womb, in proof of which they 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 grew. Tholuck, following an earlier interpreter, supposes that the theory of the apostles was, 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 had ever fallen on it as an explanation of the suffering in the world;—and, indeed, they could not: for while the idea of retribution is one of the deepest in the human heart, this of punishment which runs before the crime which it punishes, is not one in which it would easily find itself. Chrysostom imagines that it was upon their part a reductio ad absurdum of the argument which connected sin and suffering together. It could not be this man that brought this penalty on himself—for he was born with it. It could not be the sin of his parents that 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. But this is very artificial, and with little of likelihood in it. Honest and simple-hearted men, like the apostles, 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. For myself. I am rather inclined to think that they did not see, at the moment when they asked the question, the self-contradiction, as far at least as words go, which was involved in one side of the question —in the form at least in which they presented it to their Master; that, while they rightly, and by a most true moral instinct, discerned the links which unite the sin and suffering of the world together, yet in this case they did not see how it must have been the sin and suffering, not of this man as an individual, but of him as making part of a great whole, which were thus connected together: how the fact of this calamity reaching back to his birth excluded the uncharitable suspicion, that wherever there was a more than ordinary sufferer, there was 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 suffer. This, as it is continually affirmed in Scripture, so it cannot be denied in Christ's answer, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents,” —to which words must be added, “that he should be born blind.” The Lord neither denies their sin nor his : all that he does is to turn away his disciples from that most harmful practice of diving down with cruel surmises into the secrets of other men's lives, and, like the friends of Job, guessing for them hidden sins in explanation of their unusual suf. ferings. This blindness, he would say, is the chastening of no peculiar sin on his own part, or on his parents'. Seek, therefore, neither here nor there the cause of his calamity; but see what nobler explanation the evil in the world, and this evil in particular, is capable of receiving. The purpose of the life-long 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. We must not, indeed, understand our Lord's declaration as though this man was 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 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 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 upon this night, and on the night of his heart at once, 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: 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 unto 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 whole explanation 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, which does not take in the end from the beginning. But this solution of the world's evil, tempting as it is, so tempting that multitudes are unable to resist its attraction, is yet not the Christian, which ever recognizes the reality of evil, even while that evil, through the boundless resources of the Divine love, magnifies more the glory of God, and ultimately exalts higher the blessedness of the creature. This cannot, then, be the whole explanation of the blindness which this man had brought with him into the world; but God, who though not the author, is yet the disposer of evil, who distributes that which he did not himself bring in, according to the counsels of his wisdom and righteousness and grace, had willed that on this man should be concentrated more than the ordinary penalties of the world's universal sin, that a more than ordinary grace and glory might be revealed in their removing.
The Lord's words that follow, “I must work the works of him that sent me" while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work : As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” are, as it were, a girding of himself up to, and a justifying of his coming work. Whatever perils beset that work, yet it must be accomplished; for his time, “the day” of his open activity, of his walking up and down among the people, and doing them good, was drawing to an end. “The night,” when he should no longer lighten the world with his presence, or have the opportunity of doing, with his own hands at least, works like these, was approaching. He worked in the day, and was himself the light of the day. The image is borrowed from our common day and our common night, of which the first is the time appointed for labor; the latter, by its darkness, opposes to many kinds of labor, obstacles insurmountable. The difficulty which Olshausen finds in the words, “when no man can work,” inasmuch as however Christ was himself withdrawn from the earth, yet his disciples did effectually work, rises solely from his missing the point of the proverbial phrase. Our Lord means not to say, “The night cometh in which no other man can work, in which no work can be done;” but what he would affirm, in the language of a familiar proverb which has its truth when applied to the heavenly kingdom, is this, No man who hath not done his work in the day, can do it in the night; for him the time cometh in which he cannot work,+and he applies this even to himself! And then, with a prophetic allusion to the miracle which he was going to perform, he would say, “What fitter task for me than this of opening the eyes of the blind? for as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world: what work could become me better than this, which is so apt a symbol of my greater spiritual work, the restoring of the darkened spiritual vision of the race of men?”;
Having thus justified and explained his coming work, our Lord pro- ceeds to the cure. “When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground
* This was a favorite Arian passage; see AugustiNE, Serm. 135, c. 1–4, and his answer there to their abuse of these words.
# The same difficulty strikes Augustine: Numquid nox erat, quando claudus ille ad verbum Petri salvus effectus est, immo adverbum Domini habitantis in Petro? Numquid nox erat, quando transeuntibus discipulis agricum lectulis ponebantur, ut vel umbrā transeuntium tangerentur?
# The power of triviality can reach no further than it has reached in the exposition of Paulus: “I must heal this man's eyes, while there is yet daylight to see, for when it is dark I could not attempt so fine and delicate an operation. See back, pp. 65–68,
§ So Cyril: ‘Emetres doiyual parioav rà èv čváeig Øoróc, dei ue ral roic roi otouaro; to of Pueradoùvat.