Such a wonderful event as the giving of sight to a man born blind could not but be the talk of the town, and many heeded it no more than they do other town-talk, that is but nine days’ wonder; but here we are told what the neighbours said of it, for the confirmation of the matter of fact. That which at first was not believed without scrutiny may afterwards be admitted without scruple. Two things are debated in this conference about it:—
I. Whether this was the same man that had before been blind, John 9:8.
1. The neighbours that lived near the place where he was born and bred, and knew that he had been blind, could not but be amazed when they saw that he had his eye-sight, had it on a sudden, and perfectly; and they said, Isa. not this he that sat and begged? It seems, this blind man was a common beggar, being disabled to work for his living; and so discharged from the obligation of the law, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. When he could not go about, he sat; if we cannot work for God, we must sit still quietly for him. When he could not labour, his parents not being able to maintain him, he begged. Note, Those who cannot otherwise subsist must not, like the unjust steward, be ashamed to beg; let no man be ashamed of anything but sin. There are some common beggars that are objects of charity, that should be distinguished; and we must not let the bees starve for the sake of the drones or wasps that are among them. As to this man, (1.) It was well ordered by Providence that he on whom this miracle was wrought should be a common beggar, and so generally known and remarkable, by which means the truth of the miracle was better attested, and there were more to witness against those infidel Jews who would not believe that he had been blind than if he had been maintained in his father’s house. (2.) It was the greater instance of Christ’s condescension that he seemed (as I may say) to take more pains about the cure of a common beggar than of others. When it was for the advantage of his miracles that they should be wrought on those that were remarkable, he pitched upon those that were made so by their poverty and misery; not by their dignity.
2. In answer to this inquiry, (1.) Some said, This is he, the very same man; and these are witnesses to the truth of the miracle, for they had long known him stone-blind. (2.) Others, who could not think it possible that a man born blind should thus on a sudden receive his sight, for that reason, and no other, said, He is not he, but is like him, and so, by their confession, if it be he, it is a great miracle that is wrought upon him. Hence we may take occasion to think, [1.] Of the wisdom and power of Providence in ordering such a universal variety of the faces of men and women, so that no two are so alike but that they may be distinguished, which is necessary to society, and commerce, and the administration of justice. And, [2.] Of the wonderful change which the converting grace of God makes upon some who before were very wicked and vile, but are thereby so universally and visibly altered that one would not take them to be the same persons.
3. This controversy was soon decided by the man himself: He said, I am he, the very man that so lately sat and begged; “I am he that was blind, and was an object of the charity of men, but now see, and am a monument of the mercy and grace of God.” We do not find that the neighbours appealed to him in this matter, but he, hearing the debate, interposed, and put an end to it. It is a piece of justice we owe to our neighbours to rectify their mistakes, and to set things before them, as far as we are able, in a true light. Applying it spiritually, it teaches us that those who are savingly enlightened by the grace of God should be ready to own what they were before that blessed change was wrought, 1 Tim. 1:13, 14.
II. How he came to have his eyes opened, John 9:10-12. They will now turn aside, and see this great sight, and enquire further concerning it. He did not sound a trumpet when he did these alms, nor perform his cures upon a stage; and yet, like a city upon a hill, they could not be hid. Two things these neighbours enquire after:—
1. The manner of the cure: How were thine eyes opened? The works of the Lord being great, they ought to be sought out, Ps. 111:2. It is good to observe the way and method of God’s works, and they will appear the more wonderful. We may apply it spiritually; it is strange that blind eyes should be opened, but more strange when we consider how they are opened; how weak the means are that are used, and how strong the opposition that is conquered. In answer to this enquiry the poor man gives them a plain and full account of the matter: A man that is called Jesus made clay,—and I received sight. John 9:11. Note, Those who have experienced special instances of God’s power and goodness, in temporal or spiritual things, should be ready upon all occasions to communicate their experiences, for the glory of God and the instruction and encouragement of others. See David’s collection of his experiences, his own and others’, Ps. 34:4-6. It is a debt we owe to our benefactor, and to our brethren. God’s favours are lost upon us, when they are lost with us, and go no further.
2. The author of it (John 9:12): Where is he? Some perhaps asked this question out of curiosity. “Where is he, that we may see him?” A man that did such cures as these might well be a show, which one would go a good way for the sight of. Others, perhaps, asked out of ill-will. “Where is he, that we may seize him?” There was a proclamation out for the discovering and apprehending of him (John 11:57); and the unthinking crowd, in spite of all reason and equity, will have ill thoughts of those that are put into an ill name. Some, we hope, asked this question out of good-will. “Where is he, that we may be acquainted with him? Where is he, that we may come to him, and share in the favours he is so free of?” In answer to this, he could say nothing: I know not. As soon as Christ had sent him to the pool of Siloam, it should seem, he withdrew immediately (as he did, John 5:13), and did not stay till the man returned, as if he either doubted of the effect or waited for the man’s thanks. Humble souls take more pleasure in doing good than in hearing of it again; it will be time enough to hear of it in the resurrection of the just. The man had never seen Jesus, for by the time that he had gained his sight he had lost his Physician; and he asked, it is probable, Where is he? None of all the new and surprising objects that presented themselves could be so grateful to him as one sight of Christ, but as yet he knew no more of him than that he was called, and rightly called, Jesus—a Saviour. Thus in the work of grace wrought upon the soul we see the change, but see not the hand that makes it; for the way of the Spirit is like that of the wind, which thou hearest the sound of, but canst not tell whence it comes nor whither it goes.