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John 9:1-5

1. And Jesus, passing by, saw a man blind from his birth. 2. And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3. Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the works of God may be displayed in him. 4. I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work. 5. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.


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. 253253     “Par croix ou tribulation.” 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, 254254     “Homme juste, et craignaut Dieu.” 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 (μετεμψύχωσις) of which Pythagoras dreamed, or that souls passed from one body into another. 255255     “Que les ames passoyent d’un corps eu l’autre.” 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.

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,
(Ezekiel 18:20,)

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,
(Exodus 20:5.)

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 256256     “Comme dit le proverbe.” — 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.

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, 257257     “De sa guairison et delivrance.” 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.

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
(Psalm 104:22, 23.)

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.

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