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Commentary On John Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

John 9:34-41

34. They answered, and said to him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.35. Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him, he said to him, Dost thou believe in the Son of God? 36. He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I should believe in him? 37. And Jesus said to him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he who talketh with thee.38. And he said, Lord, I believe; and he worshipped him.39. Then Jesus said, For judgment am I come into this world, that they who see not may see, and that they who see may become blind.40. Some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard these things, and said to him, And are we blind also? 41. Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would not have sin; but now you say, We see: therefore your sin remaineth.

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 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.

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, 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.)

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? The word which the Evangelist employs (prosekunesei) 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.

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, 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, 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. 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, -- 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 to judge 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 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,
(Isaiah 6:9.)

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.

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, (John 15:22.)

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. 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.

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