We have here sight given to a poor beggar that had been blind from his birth. Observe,
I. The notice which our Lord Jesus took of the piteous case of this poor blind man (John 9:1): As Jesus passed by he saw a man which was blind from his birth. The first words seem to refer to the last of the foregoing chapter, and countenance the opinion of those who in the harmony place this story immediately after that. There it was said, paregen—he passed by, and here, without so much as repeating him name (though our translators supply it) kai parago—and as he passed by. 1. Though the Jews had so basely abused him, both by word and deed gave him the highest provocation imaginable, yet he did not miss any opportunity of doing good among them, nor take up a resolution, as justly he might have done, never to have favoured them with any good offices. The cure of this blind man was a kindness to the public, enabling him to work for his living who before was a charge and burden to the neighbourhood. It is noble, and generous, and Christ-like, to be willing to serve the public, even when we are slighted and disobliged by them, or think ourselves so. Though he was in his flight from a threatening danger, and escaping for his life, yet he willingly halted and staid awhile to show mercy to this poor man. We make more haste than good speed when we out-run opportunities of doing good. 3. When the Pharisees drove Christ from them, he went to this poor blind beggar. Some of the ancients make this a figure of the bringing of the gospel to the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, when the Jews had rejected it, and driven it from them. 4. Christ took this poor blind man in his way, and cured him in transitu—as he passed by. Thus should we take occasions of doing good, even as we pass by, wherever we are.
Now, (1.) The condition of this poor man was very sad. He was blind, and had been so from his birth. If the light is sweet, how melancholy must it needs be for a man, all his days, to eat in darkness! He that is blind has no enjoyment of the light, but he that is born blind has no idea of it. Methinks such a one would give a great deal to have his curiosity satisfied with but one day’s sight of light and colours, shapes and figures, though he were never to see them more. Why is the light of life given to one that is in this misery, that is deprived of the light of the sun, whose way is thus hid, and whom God hath thus hedged in? Job 3:20. Let us bless God that it was not our case. The eye is one of the most curious parts of the body, its structure exceedingly nice and fine. In the formation of animals, it is said to be the first part that appears distinctly discernible. What a mercy is it that there was no miscarriage in the making of ours! Christ cured many that were blind by disease or accident, but here he cured one that was born blind. [1.] That he might give an instance of his power to help in the most desperate cases, and to relieve when none else can. [2.] That he might give a specimen of the work of his grace upon the souls of sinners, which gives sight to those that were by nature blind.
(2.) The compassions of our Lord Jesus towards him were very tender. He saw him; that is, he took cognizance of his case, and looked upon him with concern. When God is about to work deliverance, he is said to see the affliction; so Christ saw this poor man. Others saw him, but not as he did. This poor man could not see Christ, but Christ saw him, and anticipated both his prayers and expectations with a surprising cure. Christ is often found of those that seek him not, nor see him, Isa. 65:1. And, if we know or apprehend any thing of Christ, it is because we were first known of him (Gal. 4:9) and apprehended by him, Phil. 3:12.
II. The discourse between Christ and his disciples concerning this man. When he departed out of the temple they went along with him: for these were they that continued with him in his temptations, and followed him whithersoever he went; and they lost nothing by their adherence to him, but gained experience abundantly. Observe,
1. The question which the disciples put to their Master upon this blind man’s case, John 9:2. When Christ looked upon him, they had an eye to him too; Christ’s compassion should kindle ours. It is probable that Christ told them this poor man was born blind, or they knew it by common fame; but they did not move Christ to heal him. Instead of this, they started a very odd question concerning him: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Now this question of theirs was,
(1.) Uncharitably censorious. They take it for granted that this extraordinary calamity was the punishment of some uncommon wickedness, and that this man was a sinner above all men that dwelt at Jerusalem, Luke 13:4. For the barbarous people to infer, Surely this man is a murderer, was not so strange; but it was inexcusable in them, who knew the scriptures, who had read that all things come alike to all, and knew that it was adjudged in Job’s case that the greatest sufferers are not therefore to be looked upon as the greatest sinners. The grace of repentance calls our own afflictions punishments, but the grace of charity calls the afflictions of others trials, unless the contrary is very evident.
(2.) It was unnecessarily curious. Concluding this calamity to be inflicted for some very heinous crime, they ask, Who were the criminals, this man or his parents? And what was this to them? Or what good would it do them to know it? We are apt to be more inquisitive concerning other people’s sins than concerning our own; whereas, it is more our concern to know wherefore God contends with us than wherefore he contends with others; for to judge ourselves is our sin. They enquire, [1.] Whether this man was punished thus for some sin of his own, either committed or foreseen before his birth. Some think that the disciples were tainted with the Pythagorean notion of the pre-existence of souls, and their transmigration from one body to another. Was this man’s soul condemned to the dungeon of this blind body to punish it for some great sin committed in another body which it had before animated? The Pharisees seem to have had the same opinion of his case when they said, Thou wast altogether born in sin (John 9:34), as if all those, and those only, were born in sin whom nature had stigmatized. Or, [2.] Whether he was punished for the wickedness of his parents, which God sometimes visits upon the children. It is a good reason why parents should take heed of sin, lest their children smart for it when they are gone. Let not us thus be cruel to our own, as the ostrich in the wilderness. Perhaps the disciples asked this, not as believing that this was the punishment of some actual sin of his own or his parents, but Christ having intimated to another patient that his sin was the cause of this impotency (John 5:14), “Master,” say they, “whose sin is the cause of this impotency?” Being at a loss what construction to put upon this providence, they desire to be informed. The equity of God’s dispensations is always certain, for his righteousness is as the great mountains, but not always to be accounted for, for his judgments are a great deep.
2. Christ’s answer to this question. He was always apt to teach, and to rectify his disciples’ mistakes.
(1.) He gives the reason of this poor man’s blindness: “Neither has this man sinned nor his parents, but he was born blind, and has continued so to this day, that now at last the works of God should be made manifest in him,” John 9:3. Here Christ, who perfectly knew the secret springs of the divine counsels, told them two things concerning such uncommon calamities:—[1.] That they are not always inflicted as punishments of sin. The sinfulness of the whole race of mankind does indeed justify God in all the miseries of human life; so that those who have the least share of them must say that God is kind, and those who have the largest share must not say that he is unjust; but many are made much more miserable than others in this life who are not at all more sinful. Not but that this man was a sinner, and his parents sinners, but is was not any uncommon guilt that God had an eye to in inflicting this upon him. Note, We must take heed of judging any to be great sinners merely because they are great sufferers, lest we be found, not only persecuting those whom God has smitten (Ps. 69:26), but accusing those whom he has justified, and condemning those for whom Christ died, which is daring and dangerous, Rom. 8:33, 34. [2.] That they are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of his works. God has a sovereignty over all his creatures and an exclusive right in them, and may make them serviceable to his glory in such a way as he thinks fit, in doing or suffering; and if God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain. This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him. That is, First, That the attributes of God might be made manifest in him: his justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities; his ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction, especially that his extraordinary power and goodness might be manifested in curing him. Note, The difficulties of providence, otherwise unaccountable, may be resolved into this—God intends in them to show himself, to declare his glory, to make himself to be taken notice of. Those who regard him not in the ordinary course of things are sometimes alarmed by things extraordinary. How contentedly then may a good man be a loser in his comforts, while he is sure that thereby God will be one way or other a gainer in his glory! Secondly, That the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so. Note, The intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.
(2.) He gives the reason of his own forwardness and readiness to help and heal him, John 9:4, 5. It was not for ostentation, but in pursuance of his undertaking: I must work the works of him that sent me (of which this is one), while it is day, and working time; the night cometh, the period of that day, when no man can work. This is not only a reason shy Christ was constant in doing good to the souls and bodies of men, but why particularly he did this, though it was the sabbath day, on which works of necessity might be done, and he proves this to be a work of necessity.
[1.] It was his Father’s will: I must work the works of him that sent me. Note, First, The Father, when he sent his Son into the world, gave him work to do; he did not come into the world to take state, but to do business; whom God sends he employs, for he sends none to be idle. Secondly, The works Christ had to do were the works of him that sent him, not only appointed by him, but done for him; he was a worker together with God. Thirdly, He was pleased to lay himself under the strongest obligations to do the business he was sent about: I must work. He engaged his heart, in the covenant of redemption, to draw near, and approach to God as Mediator, Jer. 30:21. Shall we be willing to be loose, when Christ was willing to be bound? Fourthly, Christ, having laid himself under obligations to do his work, laid out himself with the utmost vigour and industry in his work. He worked the works he had to do; did ergazesthai ta erga—made a business of that which was his business. It is not enough to look at our work, and talk over it, but we must work it.
[2.] Now was his opportunity: I must work while it is day, while the time lasts which is appointed to work in, and while the light lasts which is given to work by. Christ himself had his day. First, All the business of the mediatorial kingdom was to be done within the limits of time, and in this world; for at the end of the world, when time shall be no more, the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father, and the mystery of God finished. Secondly, all the work he had to do in his own person here on earth was to be done before his death; the time of his living in this world is the day here spoken of. Note, The time of our life is our day, in which it concerns us to do the work of the day. Day-time is the proper season for work (Ps. 104:22, 23); during the day of life we must be busy, not waste day-time, nor play by day-light; it will be time enough to rest when our day is done, for it is but a day.
[3.] The period of his opportunity was at hand, and therefore he would be busy; The night comes when no man can work. Note, The consideration of our death approaching should quicken us to improve all the opportunities of life, both for doing and getting good. The night comes, it will come certainly, may come suddenly, is coming nearer and nearer. We cannot compute how nigh our sun is, it may go down at noon; nor can we promise ourselves a twilight between the day of life and the night of death. When the night comes we cannot work, because the light afforded us to work by is extinguished; the grave is a land of darkness, and our work cannot be done in the dark. And, besides, our time allotted us for our work will then have expired; when our Master tied us to duty he tied us to time too; when night comes, call the labourers; we must then show our work, and receive according to the things done. In the world of retribution we are no longer probationers; it is too late to bid when the inch of candle is dropped. Christ uses this as an argument with himself to be diligent, though he had no opposition from within to struggle with; much more need have we to work upon our hearts these and the like considerations to quicken us.
[4.] His business in the world was to enlighten it (John 9:5): As long as I am in the world, and that will not be long, I am the light of the world. He had said this before, John 8:12. He is the Sun of righteousness, that has not only light in his wings for those that can see, but healing in his wings, or beams, for those that are blind and cannot see, therein far exceeding in virtue that great light which rules by day. Christ would cure this blind man, the representative of a blind world, because he came to be the light of the world, not only to give light, but to give sight. Now this gives us, First, A great encouragement to come to him, as a guiding, quickening, refreshing light. To whom should we look but to him? Which way should we turn our eyes, but to the light? We partake of the sun’s light, and so we may of Christ’s grace, without money and without price. Secondly, A good example of usefulness in the world. What Christ saith of himself, he saith of his disciples: You are lights in the world, and, if so, Let your light shine. What were candles made for but to burn?
III. The manner of the cure of the blind man, John 9:6, 7. The circumstances of the miracle are singular, and no doubt significant. When he had thus spoken for the instruction of his disciples, and the opening of their understandings, he addressed himself to the opening of the blind man’s eyes. He did not defer it till he could do it either more privately, for his greater safety, or more publicly, for his greater honour, or till the sabbath was past, when it would give less offence. What good we have opportunity of doing we should do quickly; he that will never do a good work till there is nothing to be objected against it will leave many a good work for ever undone, Eccl. 11:4. In the cure observe,
1. The preparation of the eye-salve. Christ spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle. He could have cured him with a word, as he did others, but he chose to do it in this way to show that he is not tied to any method. He made clay of his own spittle, because there was no water near; and he would teach us not to be nice or curious, but, when we have at any time occasion, to be willing to take up with that which is next hand, if it will but serve the turn. Why should we go about for that which may as well be had and done a nearer way? Christ’s making use of his own spittle intimates that there is healing virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ; clay made of Christ’s spittle was much more precious than the balm of Gilead.
2. The application of it to the place: He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. Or, as the margin reads it, He spread (epechrise), he daubed the clay upon the eyes of the blind man, like a tender physician; he did it himself with his own hand, though the patient was a beggar. Now Christ did this, (1.) To magnify his power in making a blind man to see by that method which one would think more likely to make a seeing man blind. Daubing clay on the eyes would close them up, but never open them. Note, The power of God often works by contraries; and he makes men feel their own blindness before he gives them sight. (2.) To give an intimation that it was his mighty hand, the very same that at first made man out of the clay; for by him God made the worlds, both the great world, and man the little world. Man was formed out of the clay, and moulded like the clay, and here Christ used the same materials to give sight to the body that at first he used to give being to it. (3.) To represent and typify the healing and opening of the eyes of the mind by the grace of Jesus Christ. The design of the gospel is to open men’s eyes, Acts 26:18. Now the eye-salve that does the work is of Christ’s preparing; it is made up, not as this, of his spittle, but of his blood, the blood and water that came out of his pierced side; we must come to Christ for the eye-salve, Rev. 3:18. He only is able, and he only is appointed, to make it up, Luke 4:18. The means used in this work are very weak and unlikely, and are made effectual only by the power of Christ; when a dark world was to be enlightened, and nations of blind souls were to have their eyes opened, God chose the foolish things, and weak, and despised, for the doing of it. And the method Christ takes is first to make men feel themselves blind, as this poor man did whose eyes were daubed with clay, and then to give them sight. Paul in his conversion was struck blind for three days, and then the scales fell from his eyes. The way prescribed for getting spiritual wisdom is, Let a man become a fool, that he may be wise, 1 Cor. 3:18. We must be made uneasy with our blindness, as this man here, and then healed.
3. The directions given to the patient, John 9:7. His physician said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. Not that this washing was needful to effect the cure; but, (1.) Christ would hereby try his obedience, and whether he would with an implicit faith obey the orders of one he was so much a stranger to. (2.) He would likewise try how he stood affected to the tradition of the elders, which taught, and perhaps had taught him (for many that are blind are very knowing), that it was not lawful to wash the eyes, no not with spittle medicinally, on the sabbath day, much less to go to a pool of water to wash them. (3.) He would hereby represent the method of spiritual healing, in which, though the effect is owing purely to his power and grace, there is duty to be done by us. Go, search the scriptures, attend upon the ministry, converse with the wise; this is like washing in the pool of Siloam. Promised graces must be expected in the way of instituted ordinances. The waters of baptism were to those who had been trained up in darkness like the pool of Siloam, in which they might not only wash and be clean, but wash, and have their eyes opened. Hence they that were baptized are said to be photisthentes—enlightened; and the ancients called baptism photismos—illumination. Concerning the pool of Siloam observe, [1.] That it was supplied with water from mount Zion, so that these were the waters of the sanctuary (Ps. 46:4), living waters, which were healing, Ezek. 47:9. [2.] That the waters of Siloam had of old signified the throne and kingdom of the house of David, pointing at the Messiah (Isa. 8:6), and the Jews who refused the waters of Shiloa, Christ’s doctrine and law, and rejoiced in the tradition of the elders. Christ would try this man, whether he would cleave to the waters of Siloam or no. [3.] The evangelist takes notice of the signification of the name, its being interpreted sent. Christ is often called the sent of God, the Messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1); so that when Christ sent him to the pool of Siloam he did in effect send him to himself; for Christ is all in all to the healing of souls. Christ as a prophet directs us to himself as a priest. Go, wash in the fountain opened, a fountain of life, not a pool.
4. The patient’s obedience to these directions: He went his way therefore, probably led by some friend or other; or perhaps he was so well acquainted with Jerusalem that he could find the way himself. Nature often supplies the want of sight with an uncommon sagacity; and he washed his eyes; probably the disciples, or some stander by, informed him that he who bade him do it was that Jesus whom he had heard so much of, else he would not have gone, at his bidding, on that which looked so much like a fool’s errand; in confidence of Christ’s power, as well as in obedience to his command, he went, and washed.
5. The cure effected: He came seeing. There is more glory in this concise narrative, He went and washed, and came seeing, than in Caesar’s Veni, vidi, vici—I came, I saw, I conquered. When the clay was washed off from his eyes, all the other impediments were removed with it; so when the pangs and struggles of the new birth are over, and the pains and terrors of conviction past, the bands of sin fly off with them, and a glorious light and liberty succeed. See here an instance, (1.) Of the power of Christ. What cannot he do who could not only do this, but do it thus? With a lump of clay laid on either eye, and washed off again, he couched those cataracts immediately which the most skilful oculist, with the finest instrument and the most curious hand, could not remove. No doubt this is he that should come, for by him the blind receive their sight. (2.) It is an instance of the virtue of faith and obedience. This man let Christ do what he pleased, and did what he appointed him to do, and so was cured. Those that would be healed by Christ must be ruled by him. He came back from the pool to his neighbours and acquaintance, wondering and wondered at; he came seeing. This represents the benefit gracious souls find in attending on instituted ordinances, according to Christ’s appointment; they have gone to the pool of Siloam weak, and have come away strengthened; have gone doubting, and come away satisfied; have gone mourning, and come away rejoicing; have gone trembling, and come away triumphing; have gone blind, and come away seeing, come away singing, Isa. 52:8.