XVIII. THE LIGHT OF THE EYE, AND THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT.
[Lincoln's Inn, 2d Sunday after Trinity, June 1, 1856.]
St. John IX. 39.
And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
The reading of the last verse of the 8th chapter, which our version has adopted, connects it directly with the first verse of the 9th. 'Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by (παρῆγεν οὕτως). And as He passed by (καὶ παράγων), He saw a man blind from his birth.' Possibly the former verse ought to end at the word 'temple.' But if we lose that link between the incidents recorded in the two chapters, the internal relation between them will remain as strong as ever. The discourse of Jesus, which we have been considering on the two last Sundays, began with the sentence, 'I am the light of the world.' Every subsequent passage unfolded itself out of this opening one. The story which forms the subject of this chapter is introduced by the same announcement. Can we doubt that the words and the act had the same origin and the same object? Can we safely sever what Christ has joined together?
I am aware of the motive which induces us to sever them. I have had occasion to speak of it more than once already, and to acknowledge that an honest feeling is lurking in it. We are afraid of confounding what is sensible with what is spiritual. We are afraid of using light in two senses, and of fancying that they are the same. I complain of no desire to be religiously accurate in the use of language. Scrupulosity in this matter is far less dangerous than indifference. We are in continual peril of falling into confusions and equivocations; let all our faculties be awake to the risk, — let them all watch against it. But they will not be awake, they will not watch, unless they do homage to the fact, that light has been used, is used, must be used, in every dialect in which men express their thoughts, to denote that which the eye receives, and that which the mind receives, — the great energy of the eye, the great energy of the mind. Instead of repining at this fact, as if it were a hindrance to our perceptions of truth, — instead of labouring to reconstruct speech according to some scheme of ours, — instead of fancying that we have done a good work when we have got a scholastical or technical phrase substituted for a popular one, — let us earnestly meditate upon the principle which is latent under these forms of discourse, from which we cannot emancipate ourselves. Let us thankfully accept them as proofs that the sensible world and the spiritual, though entirely distinct, are related; and that the last is not closed any more than the first against the wayfarer and the child. This, at all events, is the doctrine which goes through Scripture, and which has made its words so mighty to those who can understand no others — so full of relief and discovery to those who do not wish to be separate from their kind, and who have convinced themselves that the deepest truths must be the commonest. Such is the doctrine implied in every parable of our Lord; such, above all, is the doctrine of St. John, who does not report many parables, but who takes us into the inmost heart of them, and shows us the divine law which is involved in the use of them.
I find an unspeakable blessing in following the order of St. John's narrative. It is the true order of human life. After we have listened to the divinest discourse, there is a sense of vacancy in the heart. We feel as if we were out of communion with the business and misery of the world, — as if the words had not proved themselves till they could be brought into collision and conflict with these. When we are in the midst of action, we want to know that it is not merely mechanical action, — that it is in conformity with some principle, and springs out of a principle. When Jesus has finished His discourse with the Jews, by assuming a name which lies beneath all discourse, — when they have finished their arguments by taking up stones to cast at Him, — He meets a man blind from his birth. He proceeds at once to do him good. But before He can enter upon that work, He must encounter a metaphysical doubt which has occurred to the fishermen who are walking with Him. A metaphysical doubt to fishermen! Yes; and if you go into the garrets and cellars of London, you will have metaphysical doubts presented to you by men immeasurably more ignorant than those fishermen were, even before Jesus called them; the very doubts which the schools are occupied with, only taking a living, practical form. Unless you can cause men not to be metaphysical beings — that is to say, unless you can take from them all which separates them from the beasts that perish — they must have these doubts. Thanks be to God, He awakens them! And thanks be to God, He, and not priests and doctors, must satisfy them for every creature whom He has made in His image!
The doubt which troubled the disciples is one that has exercised all generations — none more than our own. 'Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'He came into the world under this curse. Was it for some sin he committed in another world, in some older state of existence? or is this an illustration of the doctrine, asserted in the second commandment? Are the sins of the father and mother visited on the child?' The former hypothesis has always connected itself closely with the sense of immortality in man. 'Am I merely to be hereafter? Does not the future imply a past? Do not shadows of that past pursue me? Can I interpret the facts of memory if I deny its existence?' The second doctrine is not more asserted in the law than it is justified by experience. The facts from which it is deduced belong to physiology as much at least as to theology. Every one who thinks of hereditary sickness and insanity confesses them and trembles.
'Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.'
A dogmatist who ventured, on the strength of this answer, to say that the bodily condition of this particular man, or of any man, had not been affected by the misdoings of his parents, — who should venture even to pronounce the other opinion respecting a pre-existent state a false and heretical one, — would speedily find himself at fault. To be consistent, he must take the sentence according to the letter of it, and say that the parents of this man had not sinned at all before he was born. One who really reverences our Lord's words will not trifle with them after this fashion. He will seek from them actual guidance for his own life, not an excuse for suppressing evidence or condemning the conclusions of other men. And if this is his object, he will not be disappointed. In a single case He gives us the hint of a law which is applicable to all cases. That law remains true, whatever may be the truth respecting our own sins or the sins of our parents. That law is one which reveals the mind of God, and removes all dark surmises respecting His government of the world. That law is one which we may use for the regulation of our own conduct.
The disciples were speculating about final causes. They would not have understood what any one meant who had told them they were doing so; they were doing it nevertheless. Jesus met them with the most final cause. 'I can give you a better reason for this man's blindness than those you have imagined. His blindness will be a means of showing forth the power and purpose of God. He will learn himself, he will be a teacher to the world through this blindness, where light comes, who is the Father of light.'
It was not the mere announcement of a principle. Every principle He delivered embodied itself in an act. He added immediately: 'I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' He declares that what He was going to do He must do. He did not choose His own way. When He was most exercising power, He was obeying a power, — 'He was working the works of Him that sent Him.' And every such work was a revelation. It showed forth the Will and the Mind that had been creating and ruling all things. That Will was proving itself to be a Will of absolute goodness, — that Mind, a light in which is no darkness. But there is a sorrow for Him who is about to impart joy. His countrymen had taken up stones to cast at Him. He has a vision of a time when they would have their way. The light for a while would be quenched. But as long as He was in the world, He must illuminate it. Here, again, we have the feelings of the Man, the presentiments of the Sufferer — not drawn out, but just indicated — that we may have a glimpse into the heart from which they came. They cannot be divided from the divine truth He is enunciating; they are the media through which that truth is exhibited to us. The Word is indeed made flesh; it is in the Son of Man that we know the Son of God.
'When He had thus spoken, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went therefore, and washed, and came seeing.'
Every one has remarked that this cure is distinguished from most others that are recorded in the Gospels, by the careful use in it of intermediate agencies. He does not merely speak the word, and the man is healed. There is a process of healing. And I think you must confess that the use of these agencies is a part of the sign to which St. John wishes to draw our attention. If Christ's other signs testified that there is an invisible power at work in all the springs of our life, — that there is a Fountain of life from which those springs are continually refreshed and renewed, — did not this sign testify that there is a potency and virtue in the very commonest things; that God has stored all nature with instruments for the blessing and healing of His creatures? The mere miracle-worker who draws glory to himself wishes to dispense with these things, lest he should be confounded with the ordinary physician. The great Physician, who works because His Father works, who comes to show what He is doing in His world, puts an honour upon earth and water as well as upon all art which has true observation and knowledge for its basis. He only distinguishes Himself from other healers by showing that the source of their wisdom and renovating power is in Him. We have put our faith and our science at an immeasurable distance from each other. May not the separation lead to the ruin of both?
But we are not allowed to lose ourselves amidst these general characteristics of this cure. The words, 'He came seeing,' remind us that one special malady is brought before us; that we have to do, not with a sick man, but with a blind man; and that it is as the Restorer of sight that the Lord of man is declaring Himself to us. That object is kept before us as we proceed in the story. 'The neighbours therefore, and they that before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. Therefore said they to him, How were your eyes opened? He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said to me, Go to the Pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. Then said they to him, Where is He? He answered, I know not.' I do not introduce this passage for the sake of commenting upon it (a commentary would be very superfluous and out of place), but that we may be reminded continually how this theologian — he who has been supposed to be writing a learned, dogmatical treatise, he who has been supposed to live in an age in which plain facts had been forgotten in profound speculations — tells a story. We feel at once that to talk about its dramatical character is to spoil its effect. It is dramatical, as every childlike narrative is dramatical. The people who were alive at the time speak to us because they actually presented themselves to the writer as living beings, and because he did not want to thrust himself into their places. I do not say that these qualities belong only to a divine teacher. They belong, in their measure, to every simple narrator and poet. But they certainly do not belong to the builder up of a system; and they are precisely the gifts which we should expect would be imparted to one who had seen and handled the Word of life, and was bearing a message concerning Him to his brethren.
'They brought to the Pharisees him that formerly was blind. And it was the sabbath-day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said to them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keeps not the sabbath-day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.'
I observed before, that the only two acts of healing which are recorded in this Gospel, as done by our Lord in Jerusalem, were done on the Sabbath-day. In the story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda, this was the most prominent circumstance; the subsequent discourse bore upon it; the strongest, and to the Jews the most offensive, proclamation by Jesus of God as His Father, arose out of it; the purpose to kill Him was first suggested by it. Apparently what He said then, and had said since at the feast of Tabernacles, was not quite lost even upon the Pharisees. There were some in this particular synagogue, if not in the Sanhedrim, who thought that to do a good act on a Saturday might not be a sin against God. The next verses show that they were a strong enough minority to force their fellows into a further inquiry respecting the fact of the cure. 'They say to the blind man again, What say you of Him, that He has opened your eyes? He said, He is a prophet. But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see? His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but by what means he now sees, we know not; or who has opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him; he shall speak for himself. These words spoke his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that He was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.'
The answer of the man, that He who healed him was a prophet, was the simplest of all forms of expressing his belief that he had been brought into contact with a Person who was higher than himself, who was sent from God. This passage would show, if it stood alone, how little even the commonest Israelite identified the prophet with the mere predicter of events. Foretelling had surely no direct connection with opening the eyes; but one who could do that was naturally felt to be the bringer of a message and a blessing from another and a better region. These words, as we have seen before, lay very near to the others, 'He is the Christ;' only in the last the king was blended with the prophet, the Son of David with the successor of Elijah. It is probable that the rulers of the synagogue would draw a much sharper distinction between the names than the people did. The belief in Him as a Prophet might be tolerated; those who owned Him as Christ were interfering with the authority of the priests or of Rome. Positive exclusion from worship and fellowship, therefore, might be restricted to that. The parents of the blind man feared, that he had approached the borders of offence. If they made a false step, it might be passed; therefore it was prudent to keep as nearly as possible to the mere fact of his blindness. Perhaps they had no opinion about the Person who had healed their son. If they had, is it worth while to run risks for an opinion? A belief is another thing altogether. If a man has that, he must run risks for it. His belief makes this demand upon him, and perishes if the demand is not complied with.
'Then again called they the man that was blind, and said to him, Give God the praise: we know that this Man is a sinner.' The two parties had probably come to a compromise. The cure was to be admitted as good; it was to be ascribed respectfully and devoutly to God; only the instrument of it must be declared to be evil. It was, of course, assumed that such an adjustment would be satisfactory to the beggar; he would not rebel against the authority of his betters. Nor did he. 'He answered and said, Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.' Was not his as fair an adjustment as theirs? He left them all their probable conclusions, all their traditional wisdom. He vindicated to himself only his pin-point of personal experience. No! it was not fair; the doctors demurred to it, as they had a right to do. Theirs was a fantastical airy possession, which every hour might diminish; he was standing on solid ground; every day he might add something to that ground. Nothing frets men like a discovery of this kind. The rulers of the synagogue showed their irritation by repeating their question. 'Then said they to him again, What did He to you? how opened He your eyes?' The beggar became bolder as the doctors became feebler. 'He answered them, I have told you already, and you did not hear: why would you hear it again? will you also be his disciples? Then they reviled him, and said, You are his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from where he is.' Their self-complacency has returned. Of such people as this blind beggar did the disciples of Jesus consist! They had a law and a history. Moses had been sent to them from God fourteen hundred years before. About his mission there could be no doubt; they had it in the book. What help had they to determine the pretensions of the new Teacher, but His own words? The beggar thought they must have some means of finding out what He was, if they were learned men and guides of the people. 'The man answered and said to them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that you know not from where he is, and yet he has opened mine eyes. Now we know that God hears not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this Man were not of God, he could do nothing.' It was very simple, childish logic, — the logic of a man who had convinced himself that God was living then, and was ruling the world then as in the days of old. He had done what the synagogue bade him. He had given God the glory. He had confessed a good God, who cared for him an outcast. Jesus had brought him to that confession, and therefore he could not, at the bidding of any synagogue, call Him a sinner. There was only one safe and conclusive reply to a man who spoke as he did. 'They answered and said to him, You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us? And they cast him out.'
A strange process had been going on in this man, one worthy of all study. The world of flowers and trees, of earth and sky, and of human faces, had burst upon him; a vision too wonderful to take in, which might have crushed him with its strangeness and its excess of beauty. But with that had come another vision, for which his hours of darkness had not been unfitting but perhaps preparing him, — the sense of a loving Power near him, sympathising with him, caring to restore him; the assurance that this Power must be His who made the trees and flowers, the sky and earth, and had stamped on the human face an expression that was not of the earth. This sense, this confidence, came to him not suddenly, but gradually, by a discipline scarcely less hard than that to which he had been subjected until the point in time. It came to him, in part, through that strange conflict with creatures of his own flesh and blood, — with men of whom he had asked alms and whom he reverenced as his masters, — into which he was brought almost as soon as he could look into their countenances. It came through their denial of facts, of which he felt as sure as he was of the existence of those things which he had begun to see. It came to him with a feeling of his own duty, of his own power, to declare that God did not forget beggars, and that the man who had raised him out of misery must be from God. But this inner revelation was not overwhelming like the outward, — it was sustaining. The man who could look upon sun and stars found that he was more than they. God was nearer to the beggar than to them. A light was shining into him which did not come from them. Was it not a light which would go with him and cheer him, whatever synagogue cast him out; yes, if sun and stars were to disappear for ever?
He had been under a marvellous education. It was not completed. 'Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, Do you believe on the Son of God? And he said, Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him? And Jesus said to him, You have both seen Him, and it is He that talks with you. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him.'
An incomprehensible, incredible record, if all that we have been hearing of a Life-giver and a Light of the world is untrue; if all communications come to human beings from without; if the Son of God is only revealed to us in letters; if there is not a conscience in man to which He manifests Himself. But how consistent and harmonious and consolatory a story is it, if this Gospel is indeed what it professes to be, if it does not mock us with idle sounds when it tells us of One who was with the Father before all worlds, whose light always shined in the darkness, which did not comprehend it, who came into the world to show men of this Father, and to restore them to fellowship with Him! How the narrative concerning this beggar, and the way in which the Son of God led him to the knowledge of Himself, becomes then a narrative for each of us! We need not trace any outward sorrow that has been ordained for us to the sin of our parents or to sins of our own done in some former state. Accepting in either case the punishment, we may refer it to the will of a Father, that through it we may perceive how the blank in our sensible perceptions and in our hearts may be filled, — that through it we may be led to the Son, the Life-giver and Light of the world. The like calamities in our brethren are to be the instruments through which we convey to them a message concerning the same Son. If we claim them as opportunities for showing forth God's healing power; if we own the science and the art which are needful for the exercise of that power as His gifts; if we thus work His works, — others will find, we shall find more and more, that the riddle of the world has a solution, — that Christ has solved it.
And what is true of outward sorrows — of the want of sight, the greatest of all — is true also of moral evils, of the moral blindness from which they spring and in which they terminate. Our Lord's words, those I took for my text, lead us into the heart of this mystery also; they explain some of the greatest contradictions in our own lives, and in the world's life. 'And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.'
How is He come into the world for judgment when He came not to judge the world, but to save it? He has answered the question before. He answers it more fully here. What we want to be saved from is our darkness. We can only be saved from it by His light. That light brings us into judgment. It distinguishes — it condemns! It distinguishes between that in us which seeks light, and that in us which flies from light. It does not condemn us for being dark; it condemns us for not owning our darkness. It does not condemn us for not having a power and virtue in us to escape from the darkness; but for refusing to entertain the light which would raise us out of it. Our eyes are not formed to create light, but to receive it; if they will close themselves to that which is always seeking to open them and illuminate them, that is the sentence — that is the condemnation. The blind beggar washes in the Pool of Siloam, and comes seeing. He hears of the Son of God, and says, 'Lord, who is He that I might believe on Him?' The Pharisee grudges eyesight to the beggar, — denies that God may work good on His own Sabbath-day. He is satisfied with his power of seeing; and the light that would open God's glorious kingdom to him puts out the eyes that he had.
Dear brethren, may Christ give us honesty and courage to confess our blindness, that we may turn to Him who can make us see! May He deliver us from all conceit of our own illumination, lest we should become hopelessly dark!
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.