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A Man Born Blind Receives Sight


As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

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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. 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.