and His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
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.
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.
Who did sin, this man, or his parents?
(M. G. Pearse.)
I. THE PATIENCE OF JESUS IN BEARING WITH HUMAN MISCONCEPTIONS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. It would be unfair for one to indulge in any sharp comment upon the ignorance of the disciples. For other explanations of the origin of evil are in vogue and have continually been offered quite as wild as that which they proposed.
II. THE DISPOSITION OF SOME MEN TO INTERPOSE IN THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD'S WORLD. One of the ancient theories employed to reconcile suffering with benevolence, and relieve its mystery, has kept its place till our day — the existence of two spirits or principles of good and ill, warring with each other. The classic notion was that the jealous deities antagonized each other's plans on Olympus. Wrathful gods and goddesses cut at those who confronted them, and men sometimes were caught on both sides, like unfortunate cloth between the shears. There were furies as well as fates; and it was the elements of disturbance in heaven which stirred up the affairs of mortals so on the earth. This story corrects everything in such a heathen mistake.
III. THE RECORD OF FOOLISH JUDGMENTS IN THE BIBLE IS NOT TO RE TAKEN AS AN INSPIRED DECISION. Some island people, when Paul was shipwrecked, openly stated that the reason why a viper fastened on his hand was because he was in all likelihood a murderer. When Job's trials were at the highest, his miserable comforters accused him of sin, and that he had been in some way a hypocrite. It is an old and common insinuation which interprets misfortunes very much as Jesus' followers did on this occasion and it is to be feared that this ungenerous world will never admit its mistakes in such particulars. Men call other people's troubles judgments; and their own calamities.
IV. SUFFERING HAS SOME UNMISTAKABLE CONNECTION WITH SIN SOMEWHERE. For when our Lord told His disciples that neither this man nor his parents had sinned, we are not to understand Him as pronouncing them sinless. What He intended was that it was in no sense either a reckless calamity or a righteous retribution; for he was blind his whole life. And yet, we are not at liberty to pass by the warning which Christ gave, when the surmise was made concerning some on whom the tower of Siloam fell. A real connection must be admitted between the guilt of the race and the pain of the race. The conscientious conviction of mankind has a basis of truth. The wisest man there ever was on earth was inspired to say: "As the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come."
V. ALL CHRONIC PAIN IN ANY LIFE IS PART OF THE WISE PLAN OF GOD. Such a life, which, no doubt, had to himself seemed restrictive when men talked about the beauties that never gleamed in on his soul, was one definite part of the Divine purpose in the plan of redemption. And so in that splendid flash of vast disclosure, it was revealed that the eventful history of those darkened eyes was just a piece of God's biography, rather than of man's — a chapter in the book that records the dealings of our Maker with His creatures. And all this worried existence on earth was already written on the luminous pages of a volume of annals in heaven, before the blind baby was born in Judaea.
VI. SUFFERING IN THIS WORLD, IN ALMOST EVERY INSTANCE, MAY BE ASSUMED TO HAVE A VICARIOUS REACH. There is in it an element hearing outwardly on others. Some trials are the direct punishment of personal transgression; and others are the hereditary consequences of parental wickedness. But there is a class of chronic disabilities which seem beyond any reference to sin. Such may have in them a discipline for those nearest the sufferer. Who shall say how much this blind man's darkness may have been instrumental in mellowing the tempers and softening the hearts of his family? Hardly any household can be found now in which there is not some victim of pain; and those who are watching and waiting are likely to grow gentle and considerate, and ingenious with expedients of alleviation, under the long scholarship.
VII. THOSE WHO ARE UNDER SUCH DISABILITIES ARE MOST OFTEN THE BRAVEST. Generally the bystanders put the questions, rather than those who are under the infliction. It was the disciples, and not the blind man, who raised the inquiry. For the poor groper never really knew what he lacked in his senses; he was only like a man who is told that it is a pity he has no ear for music; he cannot be made to appreciate the symphony the musicians give him. Possibly he had borne the life into which his deprivation drove him so long that he had become quite tame about it. There is nothing more beautiful or helpful than the cheer of some who are shadowed by great trials.
VIII. UNDERLYING EVERY GIFT OF OUR LOVING SAVIOUR IS A SUPREME SPIRITUAL GRACE. When the wonder of healing had been wrought, was the final cause of the man's blindness reached? Had he served but the same purpose as the jars of water, the fish with the coin, the barren fig tree, the barley loaves? Had he groped around all these years in order to be ready when Christ wanted a thing to work a miracle upon? And had he when he had become an evidence of Christianity, and when he had humbled a few Pharisees to there vanish? No, indeed! He was looked up in the Temple, where he was using his new eyes, and there a fresh benediction met his believing soul.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Who did sin, this man, or his parents?1. Some think that the Jews had imbibed the common Oriental notion of the pre-existence and transmigration of souls from one body to another, and that the disciples supposed that in some previous state of existence this blind man must have committed some great sin, for which he was now punished.
2. Some think that the question refers to a strange notion current among some Jews, that infants might sin before they were born. In support of this view they quote Genesis 25:22 and Genesis 28:28, 29.
3. The most probable view is, that the question arose from a misapplication of such passages of Scripture as the second commandment, where God speaks of "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5), and from a forgetfulness of Ezekiel 18:20, etc. There are few notions that men seem to cling to so naturally, as the notion that bodily sufferings, and all affliction, are the direct consequences of sin, and that a diseased or afflicted person must necessarily be a very wicked man. This was precisely the short-sighted view that Job's three friends took up when they came to visit him, and against which Job contended. This was the idea of the people at Melita, when Paul was bitten by the viper, after the shipwreck: "This man is a murderer." (Acts 28:4). This appears to have been at the bottom of the question of the disciples. There is suffering; then there must have been sin. Whose sin was it?"
(Bishop Ryle.)e.g., of the man blind from his birth. How many long and weary hours he had sat near the Temple Gate, dark, lonely, miserable! How dreary his existence had been — sightless and hopeless, a stranger to the sense of beauty, looking only through the deep darkness of life to the still deeper darkness of death! And yet how truly privileged he was! What a recompense after all those years of weary blindness to be permitted to be the instrument for "showing forth the glory of God!" It was worth being a blind and desolate beggar for! We, of this latter day, are not permitted to be the instruments for showing forth the glory of God miraculously. Our blind do not receive their sight, our dead are not raised, our lepers are not cleansed. But none the less truly does every Christian glorify God in his suffering body and his suffering spirit, whenever, by sweet holiness of patience, and heavenly-minded rejoicing in tribulation, he convinces the world that though the cause of all suffering is sin, yet no Christian suffering is without privilege.
(J. W. Diggle, M. A.)
(J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.1. The man was sitting near to the Temple. It has been the custom in all ages for the needy of all kinds to get as near as they can to God's house. It is on their part an instinctive homage to religion. Ii any man become known as professing religion he will have many applications for his pity. A congregational collection is the resort of every charitable institution.
2. If Jesus had seen this man on His way to or from worship, His conduct would not have excited special wonder. But it was when driven from the Temple and with His life in peril. But He forgot His danger in the fulness of His pity.
3. The disciples supposed that by making the man a subject for pity, Christ made him a fit subject for speculation. Some thought this calamity a fruit of parental sin, others a punishment for prospective guilt. They were wrong, but not so wrong as those who believe that sin will never be punished at all.
4. Christ's solution of their difficulties suggests some important reflections.
I. THAT SUFFERING IS THE FRUIT OF SIN. Our Lord did not deny this incontestible principle in general, but only in this particular case. God's laws in relation to the body, those of chastity, sobriety, industry and cleanliness, cannot be broken with impunity. If drunkenness and debauchery were checked the welfare of the country would be promoted and pestilence confined to a narrower region. If our great cities were governed with wisdom, if they were properly drained, the poor properly housed, the water pure and abundant, disease would be checked and good morals and happiness promoted. Asylums for the destitute, and hospitals for the sick are great necessities and embodiments of Christian loving kindness; but there wants something more than grappling with results, a grappling with the prolific cause. The great work of the Christian Church then is to deal with sin. Without sin our gaols would be superfluous, our workhouses not one tithe of their present magnitude, and half our hospitable beds empty.
II. THAT A GOOD DEAL OF SUFFERING IS NOT THE FRUIT OF SIN. People sometimes say "had there been no sin there had been no sorrow." But where does the Bible say so? It is true that in heaven there is no sorrow, but then float is a place of rest and recompense, whereas earth is a place of trial and discipline. But there is this startling fact that the only sinless Being the world ever saw "learned obedience by the things which He suffered." Don't then say in the case of a given sufferer "Here is the wrath of God," for the varied forms of affliction are often Divine appliances for testing our principles, developing our graces and practising our virtues.
III. PERSONAL SUFFERING IS SOMETIMES FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS, that their patience may be disciplined, their sympathy elicited, their character get its necessary training. It was so in the case of Lazarus — "I am glad I was not there," etc. But some may ask, "What is to become of the people who bear the cross that others may have these opportunities?" Leave them with God. He has a vast universe and long ages to recompense them in. Jesus wore a crown of thorns, how glad today He is that He wore it! Mary and Martha were glad after he was raised that their brother died. Look at some of the sorrows of life. Why do the thorns grow? That you may have to pull them up and get improvement of character from the weeding. Why are children born ignorant and helpless? That you may care for them and teach them. Why do accidents hap. pen? That you may minister.
(T. Arnold, D. D.)
(R. Cecil, M. A.)
History, Prophecy, and Gospel.1. We may learn from it to abstain from those superficial and dogmatic judgments on human life which, seeming to honour God with ready explanations of evil, really dishonour Him, and which are often cruelly unjust to men. Evil is in the world, and man is sinful as well as unfortunate. Wickedness works wretchedness, and penalty follows iniquity as echo follows voice, or pain the incision of the knife. But not all pains are punishments. Let despairing as well as cynical doubt be silent. Great as sin is, God is greater. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds. This is not the devil's world, but God's.
2. Let us learn that the supreme business of life is unselfish service, and that the time for service is now.
3. Let us learn the wisdom and power of Jesus' method in reaching men. He authenticates Himself to men by His works as well as by His word — not merely by miraculous works, but by works that are Divine in their goodness. The Healer and Helper of men thus convincingly justifies His claim of Divine kinship. Bring men face to face with Jesus; then they too, like the blind man who was healed, will at last say, "Lord, I believe," and their faith will express itself in homage and service.
4. Finally, let us learn the true nature of faith. Faith is not mere credulity, it is an attitude and an act of the soul. Its object is not a proposition, but a person. It reposes not on greatness or power alone, but on goodness.
(History, Prophecy, and Gospel.)
1. He was never elated by the praise of men.
2. His unbroken communion with the Father.
3. His heart was so set upon His work that He would not be turned from it. Note —
I. THE WORKER — a well-earned title.
1. There are many who ignore sorrow. The easiest thing to do with wicked London is not to know much about it. There are sights which might melt a heart of steel and make a nabob generous. But it is an easy way of escaping from the exercise of benevolence to shut your eyes. It is not so with Jesus. He has a quick eye to see the blind beggar if He sees nothing else.
2. There are others who see misery but instead of diminishing it, increase it by cold logical conclusions. Poverty they say is brought on by drunkenness, laziness, etc. Sickness is caused by wicked habits and neglect of sanitary laws. This may be true, but don't teach it till you are ill yourself. The disciples held this view and Job's comforters. Cheap moral observations steeped in vinegar make a poor dish for an invalid. But Christ "Upbraided not."
2. Others, who if not indifferent or cruel to sorrow, speculate where speculation is worthless. There is the question of the origin of evil. Such was the subject here proposed — foreseen guilt or hereditary taint? The master breaks up the fine speculation by practical service. "Father," said a boy, "the cows are in the corn. How ever did they get in?" "Boy," said the father, "never mind how they got in, let us hurry to get them out." Postpone the inquiries till after the day of judgment, just now our business is to get evil out of the world. A man saw a boy drowning and lectured him on the imprudence of bathing out of his depth. Let us rescue him and tell him not to go there again.
3. In this nonspeculating, kind, helpful spirit, let us imitate the Master. What have we done to bless our fellow men? But if Jesus be such a worker what hope there is for us who need His services!
II. THE WORKROOM. Every worker needs a place to work in. Christ selected the fittest place.
1. One of the works of God is creation, and if Jesus is to perform it He must find out where something is missing which He can supply. The blind man gave occasion for Christ to give sight. If there is anything wanting in you there is room for Christ to work; if you are perfect there is no room.
2. This man's ignorance required almighty aid. God can not only create, He can illuminate. This man was as dark in mind as in body. He did not know the Son of God. Is that your case? Are you converted? Then there is space in you for Christ to work by converting grace. If you were not lost, you could not be saved.
3. All affliction may be regarded as affording opportunity for the mercy work of God. Whenever you see a man in trouble, do not blame him and ask how he came there, but say "He is an opening for God's almighty love." And do not kick at or be east down by your own afflictions, regard them as openings for mercy, and the valley of Achor shall be a door of hope. Sin itself makes room for God's mercy. How could the unspeakable gift have been bestowed if there had been no sinners.
III. THE WORK BELL. You hear in early morning a bell which arouses the workers from their beds. Christ's work bell was the sight of the blind man. Then he said "I must work." The man had not said anything, but his sightless eyeballs spoke eloquently to the heart of Jesus.
1. Why must He work? Because —(1) He had come all the way from heaven on purpose.(2) He had inward impulses which forced Him to work.
2. Let us learn this lesson. Wherever we see suffering, feel "I must work."
3. What a blessing if you want to be saved to know that there is an impulse on Jesus to save!
IV. THE WORK DAY.
1. This is meant of our Lord's earthly life. There was a certain day on which He could bless men, and that over He would be gone. He occupied thirty years in getting ready for it, and then in three years it was done. And how much He crowded into them! Some of us have had thirty years of work and have done very little; what if we have only three more. It we omit any part of our life work we can never make up the omission. No appendix is possible to the book of life.
2. If our Lord was so diligent to bless men while here, He is not less diligent now.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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