Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ john-9.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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1.Jesus saw a man blind. In this chapter, the Evangelist describes the restoration of sight to the blind man, at the same time mingling doctrine, to point out the fruit of the miracle. From his birth. This circumstance gives an additional display of the power of Christ; for blindness, which he had brought from his mother’s womb, and which he had endured till he arrived at the age of a man, could not be cured by human remedies. This gave occasion to the disciples to propose a question, Of whose sin was this the punishment?
2.Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents? In the first place, as Scripture testifies that all the sufferings to which the human race is liable proceed from sin, whenever we see any person wretched, we cannot prevent the thought from immediately presenting itself to our minds, that the distresses which fall heavily upon him are punishments inflicted by the hand of God. But here we commonly err in three ways.
First, while every man is ready to censure others with extreme bitterness, there are few who apply to themselves, as they ought to do, the same severity. If my brother meets with adversity, I instantly acknowledge the judgment of God; but if God chastises me with a heavier stroke, I wink at my sins. But in considering punishments, every man ought to begin with himself, and to spare himself as little as any other person. Wherefore, if we wish to be candid judges in this matter, let us learn to be quick in discerning our own evils rather than those of others.
The second error lies in excessive severity; for no sooner is any man touched by the hand of God, than we conclude that this shows deadly hatred, and we turn small offenses into crimes, and almost despair of his salvation. On the contrary, by extenuating our sins, we scarcely think that we have committed very small offenses, when we have committed a very aggravated crime.
Thirdly, we do wrong in this respect, that we pronounce condemnation on all, without exception, whom God visits with the cross or with tribulation. (253) What we have lately said is undoubtedly true, that all our distresses arise from sin; but God afflicts his own people for various reasons. For as there are some men whose crimes he does not punish in this world, but whose punishment he delays till the future life, that he may inflict on them more dreadful torments; so he often treats his believing people with greater severity, not because they have sinned more grievously, but that he may mortify the sins of the flesh for the future. Sometimes, too, he does not look at their sins, but only tries their obedience, or trains them to patience; as we see that holy Job — a righteous man, and one that feareth God, (254) is miserable beyond all other men; and yet it is not on account of his sins that he is sore distressed, but the design of God was different, which was, that his piety might be more fully ascertained even in adversity. They are false interpreters, therefore, who say that all afflictions, without any distinction, are sent on account of sins; as if the measure of punishments were equal, or as if God looked to nothing else in punishing men than to what every man deserves.
Wherefore, there are two things here that ought to be observed: that
judgment begins, for the most part, at the house of God,
(1 Peter 4:17;)
and, consequently, that while he passes by the wicked, he punishes his own people with severity when they have offended, and that, in correcting the sinful actions of the Church, his stripes are far more severe. Next, we ought to observe that there are various reasons why he afflicts men; for he gave Peter and Paul, not less than the most wicked robbers, into the hands of the executioner. Hence we infer, that we cannot always put our finger on the causes of the punishments which men endure.
When the disciples, following the common opinion, put the question, what kind of sin it was that the God of heaven punished, as soon as this man was born, they do not speak so absurdly as when they ask if he sinned before he was born. And yet this question, absurd as it is, was drawn from a common opinion which at that time prevailed; for it is very evident from other passages of Scripture, that they believed the transmigration (
) of which Pythagoras dreamed, or that souls passed from one body into another. (255) Hence we see that the curiosity of men is an exceedingly deep labyrinth, especially when presumption is added to it. They saw that some were born lame, some squint-eyed, some entirely blind, and some with a deformed body; but instead of adoring, as they ought to have done, the hidden judgments of God, they wished to have a manifest reason in his works. Thus through their rashness they fell into those childish fooleries, so as to think that a soul, when it has completed one life, passes into a new body, and there endures the punishment due on account of the life which is already past. Nor are the Jews in the present day ashamed to proclaim this foolish dream in their synagogues, as if it were a revelation from heaven. μετεμψύχωσις
We are taught by this example, that we ought to be exceedingly careful not to push our inquiries into the judgments of God beyond the measure of sobriety, but the wanderings and errors of our understanding hurry and plunge us into dreadful gulfs. It was truly monstrous, that so gross an error should have found a place among the elect people of God, in the midst of which the light of heavenly wisdom had been kindled by the Law and the Prophets. But if God punished so severely their presumption, there is nothing better for us, in considering the works of God, than such modesty that, when the reason of them is concealed, our minds shall break out into admiration, and our tongues shall immediately exclaim, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, and thy judgments are right though they cannot be comprehended.”
It is not without reason that the disciples put the question, Did his parents sin ? For though the innocent son is not punished for his father’s fault, but
the soul which hath sinned shall itself die,
yet it is not an empty threatening, that the Lord throws the crimes of the parents into the bosom of the children, and
revenges them to the third and fourth generation,
Thus it frequently happens that the anger of God rests on one house for many generations; and, as he blesses the children of believers for the sake of their fathers, so he also rejects a wicked offspring, destining the children, by a just punishment, to the same ruin with their fathers. Nor can any man complain, on this account, that he is unjustly punished on account of the sin of another man; for, where the grace of the Spirit is wanting, from bad crows — as the proverb says (256) — there must be produced bad eggs. This gave reason to the apostles to doubt if the Lord punished, in the son, some crime of his parents.
Par croix ou tribulation.”
Homme juste, et craignaut Dieu.”
Que les ames passoyent d’un corps eu l’autre.”
Comme dit le proverbe.”
3.Neither did this man sin, nor his parents. Christ does not absolutely say that the blind man, and his parents, were free from all blame; but he declares that we ought not to seek the cause of the blindness in sin. And this is what I have already said, that God has sometimes another object in view than to punish the sins of men, when he sends afflictions to them. Consequently, when the causes of afflictions are concealed, we ought to restrain curiosity, that we may neither dishonor God nor be malicious towards our brethren. Wherefore, Christ assigns another reason. This man, he says, was born blind, —
That the works of God might be manifested in him. He does not, say a single work, but uses the plural number, works; for, so long as he was blind, there was exhibited in him a proof of the severity of God, from which others might learn to fear and to humble themselves. It was afterwards followed by the benefit of his cure and deliverance, (257) in which the astonishing goodness of God was strikingly displayed. So then Christ intended, by these words, to excite in his disciples the expectation of a miracle; but at the same time reminds them in a general manner, that this must be abundantly exhibited on the theater of the world, as the true and lawful cause, when God glorifies his name. Nor have men any right to complain of God, when he makes them the instruments of his glory in both ways, whether he shows himself to be merciful or severe.
De sa guairison et delivrance.”
4.I must work the works of him who hath sent me. He now testifies that he has been sent for the purpose of manifesting the kindness of God in giving sight to the blind man. He borrows also a comparison from the ordinary custom of life; for, when the sun is risen, man rises to labor, but the night is allotted to repose, as it is said,
The sun riseth; man goeth forth to his work, and to his labor, till the evening
He therefore employs the word Day to denote the time which the Father had fixed, during which he must finish the work assigned him; in the same manner as every man who has been called to some public office ought to be employed in what may be called his daily task, to perform what the nature of his office demands. Hence too we ought to deduce a universal rule, that to every man the course of his life may be called his day Wherefore, as the short duration of the light ought to excite laborers to industry and toil, that the darkness of the night may not come on them by surprise, ere their exertions are well begun, so, when we see that a short period of life is allotted to us, we ought to be ashamed of languishing in idleness. In short, as soon as God enlightens us by calling us, we ought to make no delay, that the opportunity may not be lost.
5.While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. I consider this to have been added, by way of anticipation; for it might have been thought strange that Christ should speak of his time of working as limited, as if there were danger that the night should come upon him by surprise, as it does on other men. Thus, while he makes a distinction between himself and others, still he says that his time of working is limited. For he compares himself to the sun which, though it illuminates the whole earth by its brightness, yet, when it sets, takes away the day along with it. In this manner he states that his death will resemble the setting of the sun; not that his death extinguishes or obscures his light, but that it withdraws the view of it from the world. At the same time, he shows that, when he was manifested in flesh, that was truly the time of the day-light of the world. For though God gave light in all ages, yet Christ, by his coming, diffused a new and unwonted splendor. Hence he infers that this was an exceedingly fit and proper time, and that it might be said to be a very bright day, for illustrating the glory of God, when God intended to make a more striking exhibition of himself in his wonderful works.
But here arises another question. After the death of Christ, the power of God shone more illustriously, both in the fruit of the doctrine and in miracles; and Paul applies this strictly to the time of his own preaching, that
God, who from the beginning of the world commanded the light to shine out of darkness, at that time shone in the face of Christ by the Gospel,
(2 Corinthians 4:6.)
And does Christ now give less light to the world than when he was in the presence of men, and conversed with them? I reply, when Christ had finished the course of his office, he labored not less powerfully by his ministers than he had labored by himself, while he lived in the world. This I acknowledge to be true; but, first, it is not inconsistent with what he had said, that he was bound to perform, in his own person, what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and at the time when he was manifested in the flesh for that purpose. Secondly, it is not inconsistent with what he said, that his bodily presence was the true and remarkable day of the world, the lustre of which was diffused over all ages. For whence did the holy fathers in ancient times, or whence do we now, desire light and day, but because the manifestation of Christ always darted its rays to a great distance, so as to form one continued day? Whence it follows, that all who have not Christ for their guide grope in the dark like the blind, and wander about in confusion and disorder. Yet we must hold by this meaning of the words, that, as the sun discovers to our view the lovely spectacle of earth and heaven, and the whole arrangement of nature, so God has visibly displayed the chief glory of his works in his Son.
6.He spat on the ground. The intention of Christ was, to restore sight to the blind man, but he commences the operation in a way which appears to be highly absurd; for, by anointing his eyes with clay, he in some respects doubles the blindness Who would not have thought either that he was mocking the wretched man, or that he was practising senseless and absurd fooleries? But in this way he intended to try the faith and obedience of the blind man, that he might be an example to all. It certainly was no ordinary proof of faith, that the blind man, relying on a bare word, is fully convinced that his sight will be restored to him, and with this conviction hastens to go to the place where he was commanded. It is an illustrious commendation of his obedience, that he simply obeys Christ, though there are many inducements to an opposite course. And this is the trial of true faith, when the devout mind, satisfied with the simple word of God, promises what otherwise appears incredible. Faith is instantly followed by a readiness to obey, so that he who is convinced that God will be his faithful guide calmly yields himself to the direction of God. There can be no doubt that some suspicion and fear that he was mocked came into the mind of the blind man; but he found it easy to break through every obstruction, when he arrived at the conclusion that it was safe to follow Christ. It may be objected that the blind man did not know Christ; and, therefore, could not render the honor which was due to him as the Son of God. I acknowledge this to be true; but as he believed that Christ had been sent by God, he submits to him, and not doubting that he speaks the truth, he beholds in him nothing but what is Divine; and, in addition to all this, his faith is entitled to the greater commendation, because, while his knowledge was so small, he devoted himself wholly to Christ.
7.Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. Unquestionably, there was not, either in the clay, or in the water of Siloam, any power or fitness for curing the eyes; but Christ freely made use of those outward symbols, on various occasions, for adorning his miracles, either to accustom believers to the use of signs, or to show that all things were at his disposal, or to testify that every one of the creatures has as much power as he chooses to give them. But some inquire what is meant bythe clay composed of dust and spittle, and they explain it to have been a figure of Christ, because the dust denotes the earthly nature of the flesh, andthe spittle, which came from his mouth, denotes the Divine essence of the Word. For my part, I lay aside this allegory as being more ingenious than solid, and am satisfied with this simple view, that as man was at first made of clay, so in restoring the eyes Christ made use of clay, showing that he had the same power over a part of the body which the Father had displayed in forming the whole man. Or, perhaps, he intended to declare, by this sign, that it was not more difficult for him to remove the obstruction, and to open the eyes of the blind man, than to wash away clay from any man whatever; and, on the other hand, that it was as much in his power to restore sight to the man as it was to anoint his eyes with clay I prefer the latter interpretation.
As to the pool of Siloam, he perhaps orderedthe blind man to wash in it, in order to reprove the Jews for not being able to discern the power of God when present; as Isaiah reproaches the men of his time, that they
despise the waters of Siloam, which flow softly,
and prefer rapid and impetuous streams. This was also the reason, I think, why Elisha ordered Naaman the Syrian to go and wash in Jordan, (2 Kings 5:10.) This pool, if we may believe Jerome, was formed by waters which flowed at certain hours from Mount Zion.
Which, if you interpret it, means Sent. The Evangelist purposely adds the interpretation of the word Siloam; because that fountain, which was near the temple, daily reminded the Jews of Christ who was to come, but whom they despised when he was exhibited before them. The Evangelist, therefore, magnifies the grace of Christ, because he alone enlightens our darkness, and restores sight to the blind. For the condition of our nature is delineated in the person of one man, that we are all destitute of light and understanding from the womb, and that we ought to seek the cure of this evil from Christ alone.
Let it be observed that, though Christ was present then, yet he did not wish to neglect signs; and that for the sake of reproving the stupidity of the nation, which laid aside the substance, and retained only an empty shadow of signs. Besides, the astonishing goodness of God is displayed in this respect, that he comes of his own accord to cure the blind man, and does not wait for his prayers to bestow help. And, indeed, since we are by nature averse to him, if he do not meet us before we call on him, and anticipate by his mercy us who are plunged in the forgetfulness of light and life, we are ruined.
8.Then the neighbors, and those who had formerly seen him. The blind man was known not only to the neighbors, but to all the inhabitants of the town, having been wont to sit and beg at the gate of the temple; and the common people look more readily at such persons than at others. This circumstance — of the man being known — contributed to make many people acquainted with the fame of the miracle. But, as impiety is ingenious in obscuring the works of God, many thought that it was not the same man, because a new power of God openly appeared in him. Thus we find that the more brightly the majesty of God is displayed in his works, the less credit do they obtain among men. But the doubts of those men aided in proving the miracle, for, in consequence of those doubts, the blind man celebrated more highly the grace of Christ by his testimony. It is not without good reason, therefore, that the Evangelist brings together all those circumstances which seemed to exhibit more clearly the truth of the miracle.
11.And after I had gone and washed. So happy a result of obedience warns us to surmount every obstacle, and to proceed courageously wherever the Lord calls us, and not even to entertain a doubt that every thing which we undertake by his authority, and under his guidance, will have a prosperous issue.
13.They bring to the Pharisees. The following narrative shows that wicked men are so far from profiting by the works of God, that, the more they are urged by their power, so much the more are they constrained to pour out the venom which dwells within their breasts. The restoration of sight to the blind man ought undoubtedly to have softened even hearts of stone; or, at least, the Pharisees ought to have been struck with the novelty and greatness of the miracle, so as to remain in doubt for a short time, until they inquired if it were a divine work; but their hatred of Christ drives them to such stupidity, that they instantly condemn what they are told that he has done.
The Evangelist mentions the Pharisees; not that other sects were favorable to Christ, but because this sect was more zealous than the rest in maintaining the present condition. Hypocrisy is always proud and cruel. Being swelled with a false opinion of their holiness, they were chiefly wounded by the doctrine of the Gospel, which condemned all their counterfeit righteousnesses; and above all, they fought for their power and kingdom, under the pretense of endeavoring to maintain the Law.
When the Evangelist says that the multitude brought the blind man to the Pharisees, it is difficult to determine with what disposition or with what intention they did so. Scarcely an individual among them could then be ignorant of the inveterate hostility ofthe Pharisees to Christ; and therefore it is possible that many flatterers, in order to obtain their favor, purposely attempted to conceal the glory of the miracle. Yet I think it is probable that the greater part of the people, suspending their judgment, as usually happens, determined to refer to the arbitration and decision of those who held the government. But wilfully shutting their eyes, while the sun is shining, they bring darkness on themselves to obscure its light. It is a foolish superstition of the common people that, under the pretense of honoring God, they adore the wicked tyrants of the Church, and despise God himself, both in his word and in his works, or, at least, do not deign to look at him.
14.Now it was the Sabbath. Christ purposely selected the Sabbath-day, which must have given ground of offense to the Jews. He had already found, in the case of the paralytic, that this work was liable to slander. Why then does he not avoid the offense — which he could easily have done — but because the defense malignantly undertaken by men would tend to magnify the power of God? The Sabbath-day serves as a whetstone to sharpen them, to inquire more eagerly into the whole matter. And yet what advantage do they reap from a careful and earnest examination of the question but this, that the truth of the Gospel shines more brightly? We are taught by this example that, if we would follow Christ, we must excite the wrath of the enemies of the Gospel; and that they who endeavor to effect a compromise between the world and Christ, so as to condemn every kind of offenses, are altogether mad, since Christ, on the contrary, knowingly and deliberately provoked wicked men. We ought to attend, therefore, to the rule which he lays down, that they who are blind, and leaders of the blind, (Matthew 15:14,) ought to be disregarded.
15.The Pharisees also asked him. The people had already heard this confession from the mouth of the blind man; and now the Pharisees also are made witnesses of it, who might have objected that a report had been groundlessly circulated by the common people, and had been as groundlessly believed. And, first, leaving out of view the question as to the fact, they dispute only about the law of the case; for they do not deny that Christ restored sight to the blind man, but they find a crime in the circumstance of the time when it was done, and assert that it is not a work of God, because it violated the Sabbath. But we ought first to inquire if a work of God was a violation of the Sabbath. And what hinders them from seeing this, but that, in consequence of having been blinded by sinful motives and by malice, they see nothing? Besides, they had already been abundantly instructed by Christ, that the benefits which God bestows on men are not more inconsistent with the Sabbath than circumcision; and the words of the Law enjoin men to abstain from their own works only, and not from the works of God, (Exodus 20:8.) When they take for granted an error which has been so frequently refuted, it must be imputed to obstinate malice; or at least there is no other reason why they go wrong but because they choose to go wrong.
Thus the Palmists do not cease to bring forward, with hardened effrontery, their idle and foolish slanders, which have been answered a hundred times. What, then, must we do with them? When an opportunity occurs, we must endeavor, as far as lies in our power, to oppose the wicked attempts of those who, actuated by false zeal, reproach and slander the gospel. If no defense, however just, shut their mouth, we have no reason to be discouraged, but ought to trample under foot, with boldness and magnanimity, that eagerness to slander by which they wish to oppress us. They take up maxims which we readily grant to them, that we ought not to listen to those who revolt from the Church, and break up the unity of the faith. But they pass by, and pretend not to have observed — that which ought to form the principal subject of inquiry, and which we have explained clearly in many passages — that nothing can be farther removed from the Church than the Pope with all his band; that a medley composed of lies and impositions, and stained by so many superstitious inventions, is widely distant from the purity of faith. But with all their furious arrogance, they will never hinder the truth, which has been so frequently and so firmly maintained by us, from being at length successful. In like manner, the Pharisees brought against Christ a plausible maxim, That he who does not keep the Sabbath is not from God; but they unjustly and falsely asserted that the work of God is a violation of the Sabbath.
16.How can a man who is a sinner do these things? The word sinner is employed here, as in many other passages, to denote a person of immoral conduct and a despiser of God.
Why doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners?
That is, “Why doth your Master eat with men of ungodly and wicked lives, whose baseness is stamped with universal infamy?” For from the violation of the Sabbath the enemies of Christ inferred that he was a profane person, and destitute of all religion. Those who stand neutral and judge more candidly, on the other hand, conclude that he is a good and religious man, because God has endued him with remarkable power to work miracles. And yet the argument does not appear to be quite conclusive; for God sometimes permits false prophets to perform some miracles, and we know that Satan, like an ape, counterfeits the works of God so as to deceive the incautious.
Suetonius relates that, when Vespasian was in Alexandria, and was seated on his tribunal to dispense justice in the open court, a blind man requested him to anoint his eyes with spittle, and said that one Serapis (259) had pointed out to him that cure in a dream; that Vespasian, being unwilling to expose himself to contempt without any good reason, was slow and reluctant to comply; but that, when his friends urged him on all sides, he granted to the blind man what he asked, and that in this way his eyes were instantly opened. Who would reckon Vespasian among the servants of God on that account, or adorn him with the applause of piety? I reply, among good men and those who fear God, miracles are undoubted pledges of the power of the Holy Spirit; but it happens by a just judgment of God, that Satan deceives unbelievers by false miracles, as by enchantments. What I have just now quoted from Suetonius I do not reckon to be fabulous; but I rather ascribe it to the righteous vengeance of God, that the Jews, having despised so many and so illustrious miracles of Christ, were at length — as they deserved to be — sent away to Satan. For they ought to have profited in the pure worship of God by the miracles of Christ; they ought to have been confirmed by them in the doctrine of the Law, and to have risen to the Messiah himself, who was the end of the Law. And undoubtedly Christ, by giving sight to the blind man, had clearly proved that he was the Messiah.
They who refuse to acknowledge God in his works make this refusal, not only through indifference, but through malicious contempt; and do they not deserve that God should give them up to the delusions of Satan? Let us then remember that we ought to seek God with a sincere disposition of heart, that he may reveal himself to us by the power of his Spirit; and that we ought to lend our ears submissively to his word, that he may clearly point out true prophets by miracles that are not delusive. Thus shall we profit, as we ought to do, by miracles, and not be exposed to the frauds of Satan.
As to the men themselves, though they act commendably in this respect, that they speak with reverence about the miracles in which the power of God is displayed, still they do not bring forward a sufficiently strong argument, to prove that Christ ought to be reckoned a Prophet of God. And even the Evangelist did not intend that their answer should be regarded as an oracle. He only exhibits the wicked obstinacy of the enemies of Christ, who maliciously pick a quarrel with what they cannot but acknowledge to be the works of God, and, when warned, do not even attend to them for a short time.
And there was a division among them. A schism is a highly pernicious and destructive evil in the Church of God; and how comes it then that Christ sows the occasion of discord among the very teachers of the Church? The answer is easy. Christ had no other object in view than to bring all men to God the Father, by stretching out his hand to them. The division arose from the obstinate malice (260) of those who had no disposition to go to God. All who do not yield obedience to the truth of God, therefore, rend the Church by schism. Yet it is better that men should differ among themselves, than that they should all, with one consent, revolt from the true religion. (261) Wherefore, whenever differences arise, we ought always to consider their source.
Un certain Serapis.”
De la malice obstinee.”
De la vraye religion.”
17.They say to him who had been blind. The more diligently they inquire, the more impressively does the truth of God appear; for they act as if one were endeavoring to extinguish a strong flame (262) by his breath. Thus, when we see wicked men contrive all that they can to crush the truth of God, we have no reason to be afraid, or to be excessively anxious about the result, for all that they can gain in this way will be to cause its light to burn with greater brightness.
What sayest thou of him? When they ask the blind man what is his opinion, they do so, not because they wish to abide by his judgment, or set any value on it, but because they hope that the man, struck with fear, will reply according to their wish. In this respect the Lord disappoints them; for when a poor man disregards their threatenings, and boldly maintains that Christ is a Prophet, we ought justly to ascribe it to the grace of God; so that this boldness is another miracle. And if he so boldly and freely acknowledged Christ to be a Prophet, though he did not as yet know that the Lord Jesus (263) was the Son of God, how shameful is the treachery of those who, subdued by fear, either deny him, or are silent respecting him, though they know that he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and that he will come thence to be the Judge of the whole world! Since this blind man did not quench a small spark of knowledge, we ought to endeavor that an open and full confession may blaze forth from the full brightness which has shone into our hearts.
Une grande flamme.”
Le Seigneur Jesus.”
18.But the Jews did not believe. There are two things here which ought to be observed; that they do not believe that a miracle has been performed, and that, being wilfully blinded through a perverse hatred of Christ, they do not perceive what is manifest. The Evangelist tells us thatthey did not believe. If the reason be asked, there can be no doubt that their blindness was voluntary. For what prevents them from seeing an obvious work of God placed before their eyes; or, after having been fully convinced, what prevents them from believing what they already know, except that the inward malice of their heart keeps their eyes shut? Paul informs us that the same thing takes place in the doctrine of the Gospel; for he says that it is not hidden or obscure, except to the reprobate,
whose understandings the god of this world hath blinded,
(2 Corinthians 4:3.)
Warned by such examples, let us learn not to bring upon ourselves those obstacles which drive us away from the faith. By the Jews, the Evangelist means that part of them which held the government of the people.
19.Is this your son? Not having succeeded in the former way, they now attempt another; but the Lord not only defeats their attempts in a wonderful manner, but turns them even to an opposite purpose. They do not merely put a single question, but cunningly put a multitude of questions involved in each other, with the view of preventing a reply. But out of a variety of entangled and captious questions, the parents of the blind man select only the half, to which they reply:
20.We hnow that this is our son, and that he was born blind. Hence it follows that he does not see naturally, but that his eyes have been miraculously opened; but this latter point — that his sight had been miraculously restored — they pass by, because it would give offense. By their silence they show their ingratitude; for, having received so distinguished a gift of God, they ought to have burned with desire to celebrate his name. But, struck with terror, they bury the grace of God, as far as lies in their power, with this exception, that they substitute in their room, as a witness, their son, who will explain the whole matter as it happened, and who will be heard with less prejudice, and will be more readily believed. But though they prudently avoid danger, and continue this middle path, of testifying indirectly about Christ by the mouth of their son, yet this does not prevent the Holy Spirit from condemning their cowardice by the mouth of the Evangelist, because they fail to discharge their own duty. How much less excuse then will they have, who, by treacherous denial, utterly bury Christ, with his doctrine, with his miracles, with his power and grace!
22.The Jews had determined. This passage shows that the custom of excommunication is ancient, and has been observed in all ages; for excommunication was not then for the first time invented, but it was a custom which had been anciently used against apostates and despisers of the Law, and was turned against the disciples of Christ. We learn, therefore, that the practice of excommunication arose out of the most ancient discipline of the Church. We learn also that it is a crime which has not been of recent origin, and has not been peculiar to a single age, that wicked and unbelieving (264) men should corrupt the holy ordinances of God by their deeds of sacrilege. God determined, from the beginning of the world, (265) that there should be some form of correction, by which rebels should be restrained. The priests and scribes not only abused this power in a tyrannical manner to oppress innocent men; but at length they basely attacked God himself and his doctrine. The truth of Christ being so powerful that they were not able to put it down by law, or by a regular course of proceedings, they launched the thunders of excommunications to crush it.
The same thing has also been done with the Christian people; for it is impossible to express the barbarous tyranny which the pretended bishops have exercised in enslaving the people, so that no man dared to whisper; and now we see with what cruelty they throw this dart of excommunication against all who worship God. But we ought to believe that excommunication, when it is violently applied to a different purpose by the passions of men, may safely be treated with contempt. For when God committed to his Church the power of excommunicating, he did not arm tyrants or executioners to strangle souls, but laid down a rule for governing his people; and that on the condition that he should hold the supreme government, and that he should have men for his ministers. Let the pretended bishops then thunder as they think fit, by their empty noises they will not terrify any but those who wander about in doubt and uncertainty, not having yet been instructed, by the voice of the Chief Shepherd, what is the true fold.
In short, nothing can be more certain than that those who, we see, are not subject to Christ are deprived of the lawful power of excommunicating. Nor ought we to dread being excluded by them from their assembly, since Christ, who is our life and salvation, is banished from it. So far are we from having any reason to dread being thrown out, that, on the contrary, if we desire to be united to Christ, we must, of our own accord, withdraw from the synagogues of Satan. Yet though the ordinance of excommunication was so basely corrupted in the ancient Church, still Christ did not intend that it should be abolished by his coming, but restored it to its purity, that it might be in full vigor amongst us. Thus, though at the present day there prevails in Popery a base profanation of this holy discipline, yet, instead of abolishing it, we ought rather to give the utmost diligence to restore it to its former completeness. There never will be so good order the world, that even the holiest Laws of God shall not degenerate into corruption, through the fault of men. Assuredly, it would give too much power to Satan, if he could reduce to nothing every thing that he corrupts. We would then have no Baptism, no Lord’s Supper, and, in short, no religion; for there is no part of it which he has left uncontaminated by its pollutions.
Des le commencement du monde.”
24.A second time, therefore, they called the man who had been blind. There can be no doubt that they were constrained by shame to call the blind man, whom they had previously found to be too firm and steady. In this way, the more fiercely they struggle against God, the more numerous are the cords which they put about their neck, (269) and the more strongly do they bind themselves. Besides, they put the questions in such a manner as to endeavor to make the man say what they wish. It is a plausible preface, indeed, when they exhort him to give glory to God; but immediately afterwards they strictly forbid him to answer according to the conviction of his mind; and therefore, under the pretense of the name of God, they demand from him servile obedience.
Give glory to God. Though this adjuration may be referred to what is connected with the present cause, that the blind man should not obscure the glory of God by ascribing to man the benefit which he had received, yet I rather agree with those who think that it was a solemn form, which was wont to be employed when an oath was administered to any person. For in those very words does Joshua adjure Achan, when he wishes to draw from him a true confession of having taken away the accursed thing, (Joshua 7:19.) By these words they reminded him that no slight insult is offered to God, when any person, in His name, commits falsehood. And, indeed, whenever we are called to swear, we ought to remember this preface, so that truth may not be less highly valued by us than the glory of God. If this were done, the sacredness of an oath would be viewed in a very different light. Now, since the greater part of men — not considering that they deny God, when they invoke His name for upholding a falsehood — rashly and daringly rush forward to swear, the consequence is, that every place is full of perjuries. Meanwhile, we see how hypocrites, though they pretend to have the greatest reverence for God, are guilty not only of hypocrisy, but of insolent mockery; for they at the same time express a wish that the blind man should wickedly swear according to their direction, with open contempt of God. Thus God drags to light their wicked designs, whatever attempts they may make to give them a plausible appearance, or to conceal them by hypocritical pretences.
Tant plus de lags se mettent-ils au Col.”
25.Whether he be a sinner, I know not. The blind man appears not to have been at all prevented by fear from giving a sincere testimony. For there is no reason to believe that he had any doubts about Christ, as his words seem to imply; but I rather think that he spoke ironically, in order to wound them more deeply. He had already confessed that Christ was a Prophet, (verse 17.) Perceiving that he gains nothing by doing so, he suspends his judgment about the person, and brings forward the fact itself, so that, while he makes this admission in their favor, he is not free from ridiculing them.
26.Again, therefore, they said to him. When we see wicked men so delighted in performing their own base actions, we ought to be ashamed of our slothfulness, in acting with such coolness about the affairs of Christ. Though they search on all sides to obtain grounds of slander, the Lord defeats their attempts, in a remarkable manner, by the unshaken firmness of the blind man; for not only does he persist in his opinion, but he freely and severely reproaches them, that after having abundantly ascertained and known the truth, they endeavor to bury it by their continual inquiries. He charges them also with wicked hatred of Christ, when he says,
Do you also wish to become his disciples? For he means that, though they were a hundred times convinced, they are so strongly prejudiced by wicked and hostile dispositions, that they will never yield. It is an astonishing display of freedom, when a man of mean and low condition, and especially liable to be reproached on account of his poverty, fearlessly provokes the rage of all the priests against himself. If that which was nothing more than a small preparation for faith gave him so much boldness, when he came to the struggle, what excuse can be pleaded by great preachers of the Gospel, who, though they are beyond the reach of darts, are silent as soon as danger is threatened? This question is likewise ironical; for he means that they are prompted by malice, and not by a sincere desire of the truth, to press him so earnestly to reply as to this fact. (270)
Quand ils le pressent si instamment a respondre sur ce faict.”
28.Then they upbraided him. It is probable that all the reproaches which were prompted by the violence of their rage and indignation were eagerly cast upon him; but there was this one reproach among men, that they called him an apostate from the Law. For, in their opinion, he could not be a disciple of Christ without revolting from the Law of Moses; and they expressly represent these two things as inconsistent with each other. It is a very plausible pretence, that they are afraid of revolting from the doctrine of Moses. For this is the true rule of piety, that we ought to listen to the prophets, by whom we certainly know that God has spoken; that our faith may not be carried about by any doctrines of men. From this principle they deduce their certainty as to the Law of Moses; but they lie when they say that they are the disciples of Moses, for they have turned aside from the end of the Law. Thus hypocrites are wont to tear God in pieces, (271) when they wish to shelter themselves under his name. If Christ be the soul of the Law, as Paul tells us, (Romans 10:4,) what will the Law be when separated from him, but a dead body? We are taught by this example, that no man truly hears God, unless he be an attentive hearer of his word, so as to understand what God means and says.
De deschirer Dieu par pieces.”
29.As for this man, we know not whence he is. When they say so, they refer not to his country or the place of his birth, but to the prophetical office. For they allege that they have no knowledge of his calling, so as to receive him as having proceeded from God.
30.Certainly this is wonderful. He indirectly reproves them for remaining unmoved by a miracle so illustrious, and for pretending that they did not know Christ’s calling; as if he had said, that it was highly improper that such a testimony of Divine power should be held in no estimation, and that the calling of Christ, so proved and attested, should obtain no credit among them. And, in order to show more clearly their stupidity or malice, he magnifies the excellence of the miracle from this consideration, that, as far as the memory of men reaches, none was ever heard to say that such a thing was done by a man. Hence it follows that they are malicious and ungrateful, because they voluntarily shut their eyes on a manifest work of God. He infers from this, that Christ was sent by God, because he is endued with so great power of the Spirit of God, to procure credit for himself and for his doctrine.
31.Now we know that God heareth not sinners. Those who think that the man spoke this, in accordance with the opinion of the people, are mistaken; for the word sinner, in this passage, as in another which lately occurred, means an ungodly and immoral person. It is the uniform doctrine of Scripture, that God does not listen to any but those who call upon him with truth and sincerity. For while faith alone opens the door to us to go to God, it is certain that all wicked men are excluded from approaching to him; and he even declares that he detests their prayers, (Proverbs 28:9,) as he abhors their sacrifices, (Proverbs 15:8.) It is by a special privilege that he invites his children to himself; and it is the Spirit of adoption alone that crieth out in our hearts, Abba, Father, (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.) In short, no man is properly disposed to pray to God, unless his heart be purified by faith. But wicked men profane the sacred name of God by their prayers, and therefore they deserve rather to be punished for this sacrilege, than to obtain any thing for salvation. Accordingly, the blind man does not reason inconclusively, that Christ has come from God, because God lends a favorable ear to his prayers.
34.Thou wast altogether born in sins They alluded, I doubt not, to his blindness; as proud men are wont to teaze those who have any distress or calamity; and, therefore, they continually insult him, as if he had come out of his mother’s womb, bearing the mark of his sins For all the scribes were convinced in their hearts, that souls, after having finished one life, entered into new bodies, and there suffered the punishment of their former crimes. Hence they conclude that he who was born blind was, at that very time, covered and polluted by his sins.
This undeserved censure ought to instruct us to be exceedingly cautious, not always to estimate the sins of any person by the chastisements of God; for, as we have already seen, God has various ends to accomplish, by inflicting calamities on men. But not only do those hypocrites insult the wretched man; they likewise reject disdainfully his warnings, though they are holy and good; as indeed it very frequently happens that one cannot endure to be taught by him whom he despises. Now, since we ought always to hear God, by whomsoever he may talk to us, let us learn not to despise any man, that God may find us always mild and submissive, even though he employ a person altogether mean and despicable to instruct us. For there is not a more dangerous plague than when pride stops our ears, so that we do not deign to hear those who warn us for our profit; and it frequently happens that God purposely selects vile and worthless persons to instruct and warn us, in order to subdue our pride.
And they cast him out. Though it is possible that those haughty Rabbis (273) cast him, with violence, out of the temple, yet I think that the Evangelist has a different meaning, that they excommunicated him; and thus the casting of him out would have the semblance of law. This agrees better also with what follows; for if they had only cast him out in a disdainful and furious manner, it would not have been of so great importance as to make it probable that the report of it would reach Christ.
Ces Rabbins orgueilleux.”
35.Jesus heard that they had cast him out. From this circumstance I conjecture that they proceeded to it in a solemn manner, as an affair of great importance, By this example, we are taught how trivial and how little to be dreaded are the excommunications of the enemies of Christ. If we are cast out from that assembly in which Christ reigns, it is a dreadful judgment which is executed against us, that we are delivered to Satan, (1 Corinthians 5:5,) because we are banished from the kingdom of the Son of God. But so far are we from having any reason to dread that tyrannical judgment by which wicked men insult the servants of Christ, that, even though no man should drive us out, we ought of our own accord to flee from that place in which Christ does not preside by his word and Spirit.
And having found him. If he had been allowed to remain in the synagogue, he would have been in danger of becoming gradually alienated from Christ, and plunged in the same destruction with wicked men. Christ now meets him, when he is no longer in the temple, but wandering hither and hither; receives and embraces him, when he is cast out by the priests; raises him up from the ground, and offers to him life, when he has received the sentence of death. We have known the same thing by experience in our own time; for when Dr Martin Luther, (274) and other persons of the same class, were beginning to reprove the grosser abuses of the Pope, they scarcely had the slightest relish for pure Christianity; but after that the Pope had thundered against them, and cast them out of the Roman synagogue by terrific bulls, Christ stretched out his hand, and made himself fully known to them. So there is nothing better for us than to be at a very great distance from the enemies of the Gospel, that Christ may approach nearer to us.
Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He speaks to a Jew, who had been from his infancy instructed in the doctrine of the Law, and had learned that God had promised the Messiah. This question, therefore, has the same meaning as if Christ had exhorted him to follow the Messiah and to devote himself to him; though he employs a more honorable name than they were wont at that time to employ, for the Messiah was reckoned to be only the son of David, (Matthew 22:42.)
Le Docteur Martin Luther.”
36.Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him? From this reply of the blind man it is evident that, though he had not yet attained any clear or certain knowledge of Christ, still he was obedient and ready to receive instruction; for these words mean, “As soon as he is pointed out to me, I am ready to embrace him.” But it ought to be observed that the blind man desires to be instructed by Christ as a Prophet; for he was already convinced that Christ had been sent by God, and therefore he does not at random place reliance on his doctrine.
37.Thou hast both seen him. By these words of Christ the blind man could not be carried higher than to a very small and cold portion of faith. For Christ does not mention his power, or the reason why he was sent by the Father, or what he has brought to men. But what principally belongs to faith is, to know that, by the sacrifice of his death, atonement has been made for our sins, and we are reconciled to God; that his resurrection was a triumph over vanquished death; that we are renewed by his Spirit, in order that, being dead to the flesh and to sin, we may live to righteousness; that he is the only Mediator; that the Spirit is the earnest of our adoption; in short, that in him is found every thing that belongs to eternal life. But the Evangelist either does not relate the whole of the conversation which Christ held with him, or he only means that the blind man professed his attachment to Christ, so that henceforth he began to be one of his disciples. For my own part, I have no doubt that Jesus intended to be acknowledged by him as the Christ, that from this beginning of faith he might afterwards lead him forward to a more intimate knowledge of himself.
38.And he worshipped him. It may be asked, Did the blind man honor or worship Christ as God? (275) The word which the Evangelist employs (
) means nothing more than to express respect and homage by bending the knee, or by other signs. For my own part, certainly, I think that it denotes something rare and uncommon; namely, that the blind man gave far more honor to Christ than to an ordinary man, or even to a prophet. And yet I do not think that at that time he had made such progress as to know that Christ was God manifested in the flesh. What then is meant by worship ? The blind man, convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, nearly lost the command of himself, and, in rapturous admiration, bowed down before him. προσέκυνησει
Si l’aveugle a honore ou adore Christ comme Dieu.”
39.For judgment am I come into this world. The word judgment cannot be understood, in this passage, to denote simply the punishment which is inflicted on unbelievers, (276) and on those who despise God; for it is made to include the grace of illumination. Christ, therefore, calls it judgment, because he restores to proper order what was disordered and confused; but he means that this is done by a wonderful purpose of God, and contrary to the ordinary opinion of men. And, indeed, human reason considers nothing to be more unreasonable than to say, that they who see are made blind by the light of the world. This then is one of the secret judgments of God, by which he casts down the pride of men. It ought to be observed, that the blindness which is here mentioned, does not proceed so much from Christ as from the fault of men. For by its own nature, it does not strictly blind any man, but as there is nothing which the reprobate desire more earnestly than to extinguish its light, the eyes of their mind, which are diseased through malice and depravity, must be dazzled by the light which is exhibited to them. In short, since Christ is, by his own nature, the light of the world, (John 8:12,) it is an accidental result, that some are made blind by his coming.
But again it may be asked, Since all are universally accused of blindness, who are they that see ? I reply, this is spoken ironically by way of concession, because unbelievers, though they are blind, think that their sight is uncommonly acute and powerful; and elated by this confidence, they do not deign to listen to God. Besides, out of Christ the wisdom of the flesh has a very fair appearance, because the world does not understand what it is to be truly wise. So then, they see, says our Lord Jesus Christ, (277) who, deceiving themselves and others under a foolish confidence in their wisdom, are guided by their own opinion, and reckon their vain imaginations to be great wisdom. (278) Such persons, as soon as Christ appears in the brightness of his Gospel, are made blind; not only because their folly, which was formerly concealed amidst the darkness of unbelief, is now discovered, but because, being plunged in deeper darkness by the righteous vengeance of God, they lose that small remnant of I know not what light which they formerly possessed.
It is true that we are all born blind, but still, amidst the darkness of corrupted and depraved nature, some sparks continue to shine, so that men differ from brute beasts. Now, if any man, elated by proud confidence in his own opinion, refuses to submit to God, he will seem — apart from Christ — to be wise, but the brightness of Christ will strike him with dismay; for never does the vanity of the human mind begin to be discovered, until heavenly wisdom is brought into view. But Christ intended, as I have already suggested, to express something more by these words. For hypocrites do not so obstinately resist God before Christ shines; but as soon as the light is brought near them, then do they, in open war, and — as it were, with unfurled banner, (279) — rise up against God. It is in consequence of this depravity and ingratitude, therefore, that they become doubly blind, and that God, in righteous vengeance, entirely puts out their eyes, which were formerly destitute of the true light.
We now perceive the amount of what is stated in this passage, that Christ came into the world to give sight to the blind, and to drive to madness those who think that they are wise. In the first part of it, he mentions illumination, that they who see not may see; because this is strictly the cause of his coming, for he did not come tojudge the world, but rather to save that which was lost, (Matthew 18:11.) In like manner Paul, when he declares that he has vengeance prepared against all rebels, at the same time adds, that this punishment will take place
after that believers shall have fulfilled their obedience,
(2 Corinthians 10:6.)
And this vengeance ought not to be limited to the person of Christ, as if he did not perform the same thing daily by the ministers of his Gospel.
We ought to be the more careful that none of us, through a foolish and extravagant opinion of his wisdom, draw down upon himself this dreadful punishment. But experience shows us the truth of this statement which Christ uttered; for we see many persons struck with giddiness and rage, for no other reason but because they cannot endure the rising of the Sun of righteousness. Adam lived, and was endued with the true light of understanding, while he lost that divine blessing by desiring to see more than was allowed him. Now if, while we are plunged in blindness and thus humbled by the Lord, we still flatter ourselves in our darkness, and oppose our mad views to heavenly wisdom, we need not wonder if the vengeance of God fall heavily upon us, so that we are rendered doubly blind This very punishment was formerly inflicted on the wicked and unbelievers (280) under the Law; for Isaiah is sent to blind the ancient people, that
seeing they may not see: blind the heart of this people, and shut their ears,
But in proportion as the brightness of the divine light is more fully displayed in Christ than in the Prophets, so much the more remarkably must this example of blindness have been manifested and perceived; as even now the noon-day light of the Gospel drives hypocrites to extreme rage.
Ceux voyent, dit nostre Seigneur Jesus Christ.”
Pour une grande sagesse.”
Et comme a enseigne desployee.”
Les mechans et infideles.”
40.Some of the Pharisees heard. They instantly perceived that they were smitten by this saying of Christ, and yet they appear not to have belonged to the worst class; for the open enemies had so strong an abhorrence of Christ that they did not at all associate with him. But those men submitted to listen to Christ, yet without any advantage, for no man is qualified to be a disciple of Christ, until he has been divested of self, and they were very far from being so.
Are we also blind? This question arose from indignation, because they thought that they were insulted by being classed with blind men; and, at the same time, it shows a haughty contempt of the grace of Christ accompanied by mockery, as if they had said, “Thou canst not rise to reputation without involving us in disgrace; and is it to be endured that thou shouldst obtain honor for thyself by upbraiding us? As to the promise thou makest of giving new light to the blind, go hence and leave us with thy benefit; for we do not choose to receive sight from thee on the condition of admitting that we have been hitherto blind. ” Hence we perceive that hypocrisy has always been full of pride and of venom. The pride is manifested by their being satisfied with themselves, and refusing to have any thing taken from them; and the venom, by their being enraged at Christ and arguing with him, because he has pointed out their wound, as if he had inflicted on them a grievous wound. Hence arises contempt of Christ and of the grace which he offers to them.
The word also is emphatic; for it means that, though all the rest be blind, still it is improper that they should be reckoned as belonging to the ordinary rank. It is too common a fault among those who are distinguished above others, that they are intoxicated with pride, and almost forget that they are men.
41.If you were blind. These words may be explained in two ways; either, that ignorance would, in some degree, alleviate their guilt, if they were not fully convinced, and did not deliberately fight against the truth; or, that there was reason to hope that their disease of ignorance might be cured, if they would only acknowledge it. The former view is supported by the words of Christ,
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin,
But as it is added in this passage,but now you say you see, in order that the points of contrast may correspond to each other, it appears to be more consistent to explain them to mean, that he is blind who, aware of his own blindness, seeks a remedy to cure his disease. (281) In this way the meaning will be, “If you would acknowledge your disease, it would not be altogether incurable; but now because you think that you are in perfect health, you continue in a desperate state.” When he says that they who are blind have no sin, this does not excuse ignorance, as if it were harmless, and were placed beyond the reach of condemnation. He only means that the disease may easily be cured, when it is truly felt; because, when a blind man is desirous to obtain deliverance, God is ready to assist him; but they who, insensible to their diseases, despise the grace of God, are incurable.
Pour guairir son mal.”