18. But the Jews did not believe respecting him, that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight.19. And they asked them, saying, Is this your son who, you say, was born blind? How then doth he now see? 20. His parents answered and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind.21. But how he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not; he is of age, ask him, he will speak of himself.22. These things said his parents, because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already determined that, if any man confessed that he was the Christ, he should be thrown out of the synagogue.23. On this account his parents said, He is of age, ask him.
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 that they 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, 4.)
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 know 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 men should corrupt the holy ordinances of God by their deeds of sacrilege. God determined, from the beginning of the world, 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.