The Gospel of John

J. N. Darby.

<47009E> 137

(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)

John 9

Our Lord had spoken of Himself as the Light of the world, and the general results. Here we have the specific results on one blind from his birth. There we had it in simple testimony rejected; here in power of work. The veil is off the glory in Christ in testimony; so to all. It is on the heart, so that, save the power of the Spirit taking it off, revealing it still remains unseen. In the former chapter we have had the word, here the work, of Christ and the manner of the revealing.

The blindness from birth is too significant to need comment, but the Lord in the Remnant regarded it as no sin to be reckoned, nor as matter of sin reckoned, but as occasion of grace. This is the position in which (sovereign) grace views it. It was not judgment, "that." But as the fact were not so it was "that . . . should be manifested." This was the resulting point; then the exercise of power: "That the works of God should be made manifest in him." The light shone, yea, to all; but it was in darkness men hated the light; but the work was in him definite and effectual; grace that regarded its condition, and knew no cause but itself, as it were, and the fruits it was to produce, "that . . . should be manifested." This was the end, the sovereign acting of grace coming in, in the most helpless, when the sight of the world had rejected the Light of the world.

And here comes the distinctive character of Christ. He must needs do this; though He had been rejected by the world, still He must needs work the works of Him that sent Him, though He might have turned aside on the rejection of the world. The work of grace, as it were, all remained. Then in its place it began to work, the real work began to show itself, the work of God in despite of the rejection of seeing man. Christ was a Servant in this work. Though the Light of the world, He did it as the Servant of the Father. He must needs work, but He must needs work while it is day. The day is the time of the presence of the light. But while Christ was in the world He was its Light. The night is His absence. We are not of the night, but of the day; but as being dead to the estate of Christ's absence, and believing in the light, having the light of life. The night is far spent, the day is at hand, says the apostle. This, however, had its direct application to the Jews, with whom He was concerned in Person, yet so as that therein, as the apostle ever carefully by the Spirit presents Him, as we have seen, He was the Light of the world. But this was an additional truth, and must be realised simply because of His Sonship, and because in Person He was paramount to the Jews, though subject in grace to the dispensations of God, and herein a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God. Not that this was of Moses, but of the fathers. Yet this subjection was the order of the ministration. But Christ's rejection was total night to them. We may, or they individually might, by the Spirit see Him by faith, and have the light of life. But the dim light of the law had ceased as to them in the rejection of Messiah, the end of the Law, and they were in pitch night, having neither law nor Messiah, yet in responsibility in its highest estate. The world had rejected the Messiah, and though (the Light shining in darkness) He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, yet the world knew Him not. While He was in it He was the Light of it; and when He is in the world He must necessarily be the Light of it, though the glory of the Lord may rise upon Zion, and so it is the Lord's day. Nor till He be thus in the world in Zion will it be the day of the Lord, but then being that the glory is manifested it must be, so to speak, universal in the world, though its zenith may be in one spot; in it, however, in zenith, to one spot. Yet this only in dispensation; for it is in a higher character that He is the Light of the world. So that individually in respect of that higher glory it may be more felt and estimated by one far off than one near, though enjoying all its actual beams.

138 There is another remark which we may make, here. This chapter is not merely the contrast between the light as such, the public manifestation of which does but make the darkness more elaborately, manifestly dark (as sin, by the Law appearing sin, was exceeding sinful), and the work of Christ enlightening, causing to see, the light; but that also the seeing the effects of this did not influence those whose eyes were not opened to see the light itself. They remained closed to the evidence of the work of power giving light. As to the word which shone with the light in evidence of a similar case of truth, see Luke 8:27, and the following verses. A comparison of chapter 11:9, 10, shows how much the Person of Jesus is concerned in this statement (vv. 4, 5), and shows how it leads us up to God. The comparison of the passages is full of deep instruction on this point. Nor is there any passage in which the Person of Jesus is more involved than in verses 4, 5. For while it was true only as Man, yet was true only also from His union with the Father in His divine nature. In a word, it could be spoken only, as to this, as the Son. The service of the Lord, and yet His being Himself the Light, are distinctly and eminently brought forward, and this in the unity of His Person. The work which He worked was the exercise of divine power. The position of the manifestation which He held was one liable to be extinguished, one of service, and one of which He bore testimony. Through this very liability, and its actual result, "the night cometh." Such is the perfectness of this divine union. A service which, while it was all His glory, the very essential character of God was in Him, and by His grace to be exercised as their essential state by the Church; that is, the apostles, etc.: "Ye are the light of the world."

139 It appears to me that in verses 6 and 7 we have that which is typical of the actual human nature of our Lord, and the knowledge by the power of the Holy Spirit that He was the Sent of God. What the work, then, of the opening of the eyes is, as contrasted with the coming of the Light, is manifest. First, presenting Him to the eye in the flesh, and the discovering Him to be the Son of God come in it ("Heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me"), the mission and the Person being identified in the discovery, for "the Father sent the Son." But the order of its acquisition is knowing the mission. The Holy Ghost sent is the witness of this to us. The result, however, was total and apparent change, so as to make doubt of the identity of his person; a change as assured in himself as it might be reasoned upon by unwilling speculatists. He knew he was the same, and he knew therefore he was changed.

They enquire the manner in which his eyes were opened. His answer shows to what extent he knew Jesus: "A man that is called Jesus." His account gives the full synoptical account of the moral opening by which we see things as they are; for the Spirit without the flesh of Jesus could not show us how things are, for we had not learnt death, nor what it was, but by Jesus's flesh; yet neither had we learnt it but by knowing He was the Son of God. Also these two things constitute all knowledge conferred on us by the sending of the Spirit as established in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, the Son of Man. But as to his own progress in this he knew this only, the fact of the opening of his eyes by Jesus; and the conclusion he had to draw from this, as to the power in or permitted to Jesus, he was led by the operation of this to believe His word as from God.

140 This was the point which we saw rejected in the former chapter. The exercise of the work of grace results primarily in reception of His word. He knew in this sense He was from God. So the Jews in reply rest in fact on the denial of this: "We know that God spoke by Moses; as for this fellow, we know not whence he is."

This was the differential point of faith; this was the work from the outset; acting on the word of Jesus was its primary form, which is its primary work; that is, in grace and theme, having, in opened eyes, the full conviction of the power in which He came and spake, even of God; hence taking His word as God's, conclusive, knowing Him as a Prophet. So the woman of Samaria, then differently intended. Thus far Jesus was revealed to this man, to the crowd (not the Pharisees), distinguished as we have seen before.

This gave occasion of enquiry and curiosity. But it was the revelation of grace which is here distinguished. The man could lead them no farther. Hence they lead him to the Pharisees, whose different state we have seen before, wherein we have the contrast of regard for external ritual and renewal in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. A blind Pharisee that sees things as they are outwardly is an easy thing to make; seeing indeed, but with the eyes of the enemy, and therefore perverting all things. The difficulty, however, was obvious, for the miracle was plain.

The Pharisees repeated the question, and the answer was briefly, but bearing the whole truth, repeated. It was brought in its moral force, with the recognition of His Person by the multitude, to the wise Pharisees; as before [to] the unlettered, but therefore less darkened, multitude. We may observe the simple fact is mentioned here, for in discussing it the question of the Siloam, as it were, is not yet entered on. It was the fact, the work; this was before them; not the understanding of the mystery now before us: "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and do see." The external worship of God seems but to blind those who have not the power of grace. But the fact pressed them, and they recur to the judgment of the man. Hence we have brought out in its detail the workings of unbelief of the natural mind judging about Christ, conscious that those to whom they were tied had agreed to reject Him as inconsistent with their system. But natural convictions pressing hard on such are open evidence of divine power; and unwilling that this should be without them, rather than have the credit of it for themselves, as feeling as they must its credit, yea, seeing it with the people, they seek to find some loop-hole in the account of the man himself, leaving it open to him entirely.

141 During the development of all this the Lord stands by; the work, indeed, being real and His in the man, but left to its results, and apparently without support in the trial and manifestation of what is real. In the man's testimony we have the distinct evidence of the progress of his soul, or of the divine work upon it, in knowledge: "He is a prophet." The work is in the believer, and he knows it; but the evidence of the work in another is alike ineffectual as the word, though it be the evidence of the power of that word. "If I had not come" (that is, in the flesh), "and spoken unto them" (in which however His words were not His own in the flesh but His Father's, who says He doeth the works), "they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin." For this adequately exposed it to their consciences. "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father." As it is said therefore here, for this chapter is on the works, not the word simply, and brought before them in the evidence of the object of it: "Since the world began was it not heard that any one opened the eyes of one that was born blind."

So all this discussion was just to bring out the evidence of the work in its full external force; and all the reasonings of men upon the subject did but bring this out more. The evidence was applied to their judgment, responsible human judgment, and this was in exercise in their reasoning, bringing their responsibility into direct, wilful exercise. They would have sought (for unbelief is long uneasy, though it dislike to receive the thing to be believed) to have found refuge for it in the fact possibly not being true of his previous state. The parents set aside all ground for their doubt in unequivocal testimony, while they leave their unbelief to work itself out. It was indeed, they knew, settled; they had agreed beforehand. But it was thrown upon this: their unbelief was left without excuse (an important point) on the ground on which they rested, to which they had been reduced, wholly without excuse. They were thrown upon the judgment of him who was healed, if they would have any. In a word, they had nothing more to say. They had confessed the miracle and work, if he were so born blind. It appeared on the testimony they had looked to that he was. How it came about they might ask the subject of it.

142 But the point of unbelief was now complete. They recognised the miracle, while they denied it in the enquiry of the parents. This is the point to which we have him here point, the miracle elaborately ascertained to unbelief, exhibiting deliberate determination to reject Jesus in rejecting him on whom the work was wrought, because he owned Him, as His disciple. The work of the Lord, its effect on the people, the manifestation of unbelief connected with self-righteousness on the presenting, in the subject of it, the full effect in perception of His power, but so as not to give offence even to them, assorted to their prejudices: "He is a prophet." Then the acting of this unbelief manifested, and of Jesus on the other hand, as to this same individual. "They called the man" (they would act forth on this blindness of seeing unbelief), "the second time who was blind, and said, Give God the praise" (a great miracle has indeed been done, they knew he must feel it; at any rate, they were too prudent to resist this, but would bring in their authority to bury the manner); "we know" (you indeed see the miracle, but we, who have larger, fuller means of judging, for the pronoun is inserted), "we know that this man," we know Him, He "is a sinner." I, says the poor man, do not know that; that certainly is a knowledge I have not got; but one thing I do know (there was the consciousness of the real possession of a substantial truth, the experience of the power in his own person): being blind I now see.

This baffled the Jews. They say, What did He do? They recognise the miracle, but enquire the manner how. But the point was the exercise of power that faith discerned. It was the one thing the poor man knew. He had told them indeed the manner before; but the thing his mind rested on was the manifest effect of power; he was blind, and saw experimental effect. As to this point the manner was immaterial, quite immaterial when they owned the power. It was the imbecility of unbelief; he felt it was. I told you, said the poor man, and then (when it was to the purpose as the object of interest and news for faith) ye did not hear; are ye in earnest in what ye say? Why do ye want to hear again, as ye see the miracle? Do ye wish to become His disciples? It was forcing them to the real point of their unbelief; a just reproach.

143 It is remarkable, too, how they rest in their existing knowledge; he on the evidence, present evidence, of God in the thing. Yet observe that their unbelief might be without excuse on the commonest reasoning on their own principles, Jewish principles. Their unbelief was in separating God and Jesus. This was wilful, on the evidence. The resting on old principles merely, or old teaching, though right so as to be its disciples merely, where new power is exhibited, is the form of unbelief: "Thou art his disciple; we are Moses' disciples"; though if they had received what God did say by Moses, instead of merely the credit of the association, they would have believed in Jesus as the Christ, for he spake of Him; but the discipleship in credit of the association is unbelief, the rejection of God, then as now, as the Lord before. It hangs, too, as it ever does after all, in their knowledge or authority; therefore, "We know that God spake to Moses" ("we know that this Man is a sinner"). As generally received as an honour it required no faith to own this. "As to this Man, we know not whence he is." There was exactly the point of faith. It was the full confession of their own utter ignorance in the whole vital point of the whole question, but accepting themselves, the point they set out from, a full reason for rejecting Him; yet still in condemnation, for if they knew not whence, it might be after all from God; for their knowledge that He was a sinner had no real place in their consciences. It was the full confession of their ignorance on the subject, their own condemnation; but, I say, accepting themselves a just ground to their mind for rejecting Him.

But the man had a ground to rest on their unbelief deprives them of. He meets them on the point of their knowledge or ignorance by the certainty of the fact on their own principles. The plain reasoning of faith is most sure and conclusive. It is the work of God to give the faith, but faith sees on God's principles the full force of the moral reasoning of God's acts which unbelief sees not, though fully responsible for; for while faith recognises grace exclusively to itself, it vindicates the evidence of God in that act of grace incontrovertibly, and makes the rejection of Jesus not merely the rejection of grace, though it is so, but the rejection of that very perfect righteousness which it assumingly requires, and that in reality and not in form. The point brought their unbelief clearly to the poor man's mind, making their authority though painful yet immaterial, for it is the rejection of their unbelief: "Herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he is, and yet" (which they acknowledge as a fact) "he hath opened mine eyes." And then, while their not drawing the conclusion was their condemnation, he reasons on their own acknowledged principles, turns Jew with them: "We know that God heareth not sinners," etc. We know these principles. Here is a miracle without parallel, a great work. "If this man were not of God," for the conclusions of faith are positive, "He could do nothing."

144 Answer they could give none, but seal their own condemnation; they were rejecting, not the man, but the counsel of God against themselves, the work of God, the evidence of His word and its power. It was still upon the pride of knowledge, though in the act of ignorance: "Dost thou teach us?" He was not born in sin, but that grace should be shown in him, the works of God should be manifested. They were utterly ignorant of the whole order of God's counsels in grace. But further, if he had been born in sins, the sovereignty and power of that work of grace was only the more conspicuous, and their condemnation the greater. The rejection of a work of grace is darkness as to the only character of God which can rescue us, and at the same time of the fullest evidence. It is in some sort more than evidence of the operation and truth of that. It is, looked at in this light, as left on this ground, a hopeless case

After the evidence of the development of the workings of unbelief in presence of the manifested work of God by Jesus, and their summary turning out by selfishness (though recognising the work, for he was there before them with the power of the work recognised in him, faith shown as flowing from the work in the man, not before him, though that showed perfect responsibility), we have Jesus acting His receptive part, not on the multitude, the Jews, but on these even by their unbelief showing itself on the manifestation of the power of His voice in them. Cast out, it was the leading forth of the sheep, as therein by power of grace distinguished from the mass. It has been a bringing, through testimony to all, and the manifestation of the work of power in some, through and out of the apostasy of the body, brought into manifestation by that testimony and work, and therefore whose form was in respect of it. But this is the case of positive reception of one (of the sheep) out of that which formally claimed the righteousness of God by Him who really was it, their apostasy being exhibited in the rejection. Yet the follower of Jesus was right, independent of the rejection, though there were [those] who were left to be rejected for the faith of Jesus, through His power manifested in them, that the apostasy might be manifested. "Jesus heard that they had cast him out." He did not act till the full manifestation of his faith and their unbelief had been drawn out, and therein their apostasy and his being of the sheep; for he was placed in a very trying position, yet the simplicity of faith made it easy. And finding him He said, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" Here was the point of saving, vivifying recognition, that in which he was instituted a disciple within the kingdom, associated formally with the life-giving power, brought into unison with that in which the inheritance was.

145 Perhaps the expression "vivifying recognition" might mislead. The truth is, up to this point the whole had been upon Jewish grounds. It was a sheep drawing out of the Jewish fold, owning Him when the body rejected Him, and so being brought to Him as having those greater and not derivative privileges which He had as Son of God, of which as we have seen this gospel of John is the testimony. Hence the confession of the poor man was, "A man that is called Jesus made clay," etc., "and I see." "What sayest thou of him?" "He is a prophet." Thus he had owned His work as a Jew, and the Jews rejected Him in the way in which He was appropriated to them, and so reveals Himself to the man cast out for so recognising Him, in the power of that character in which He was to gather into His glory, into association with Him, those who should believe on Him, whether Jew or Gentile, but identifying himself definitely with Him whom he had seen and who was then talking with him. The very rejection of the Jews, by dislocating his associations from the forms in which Messiah was previously to appear, set him on the readiness of enquiry to a new object; not object, but association and form, order, of faith: "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" The door of faith was opened in his heart by trust in the word of Jesus; and the abstract object being presented, the character and power with which he was to be associated, the recompense, so to speak, of his exclusion, his enquiry, from Him whose word he had learned to trust by the work wrought in him, is, "Who is he, Lord, that I may?" Then comes what is universally the great point, the Siloam point, the recognition of Him as come whose power we have known, whose interference we have known, whom we have felt delivering us, that this Person is the Son of God. There was full recognition of the authority of Jesus. The point was his identity with the Saving Man. So Paul: "Who art thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus." The glory was plain. He calls Him Lord, seeing His glory. The Lord's answer is, "I am Jesus." So here: "Who is the Son, Lord?" "Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee." The identity was the great point of comfort. He found, in Him on whose authority he had been turned out of the synagogue, the very Son of God, on whom all his hopes should be set, the new and glorious character he was to find. Oh, happy hour which has revealed the glory of that Son setting us in the place of sons, and finding that it was Jesus that had cared for, considered, and been the Servant of our sorrows, through whom we had first found our sight, the Servant of God!

146 But it was acting faithfully on his light (from God), in spite of the world, that he found the blessing, this full resting-place of blessing. And he said, "I believe, Lord." Here then is the point of belief Till we know the Sonship in the Person of Jesus it is, "Who is he, Lord?" Then this is He, one with you. The Sonship in Jesus is the point, the meeting-point of faith: "And he worshipped him." Nothing can be more simple or beautiful than this development of faith, and the record of our Lord's labours in thus saving the Remnant who did not deny His name. The whole scene is most instructive. The comparison of Matthew 11 with this is evident. The comment of our Lord needs no comment. Only practically we may remark that responsibility rests on the assumption of knowledge, the pretension to Church position. Whoever holds this says, We see, and is responsible for the rejection of that which is of God.

But God had this in His own keeping. They rejected, indeed, to their own judgment. But, though this were so, God had a way of His own, a Porter of His own, a place of His own. What they were rejecting was, not Christ, but themselves.

147 The Lord (what follows is addressed to them, to show them they were not rejecting Him but sealing their own judgment, not those who turned the man out, but still the Pharisees as a set of people) opens out to them this in the passage which follows, the whole process of His service (compare Isaiah 49). This we will follow, God's resulting place for this whole matter, and solemn account to those sheep-rejecting, yea, but Christ - and therefore self-rejecting Pharisees. It was the secret of their state, and awful, most awful word to them, specially as seeing the unfolding of the truth: "For judgment am I come," the result of "I came not to judge."

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Chapter 7 is the proposal to show Himself to the world, and the gift of the Spirit (the great boon on the Lord's departure) being necessarily connected with His disconnection with the Jews has its proper sphere in the world. Jesus was the Passover. The Spirit, though revealing the glory, was in a certain sense instead of Him as a Comforter to His people, and dealing with the world. The same thing in a measure applies to chapters 8 and 9, one being contrast with the law; the other, removal of natural blindness; though it was found really none was blind like His Servant. The strictest Jew was blind, though he said he saw; so that his sin remained. A Jew's eyes, of course, would be opened; but it was, as a sinner, blind.

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The sin of rejection in word and work in John 8 and 9 has been noted elsewhere. But there is more. In chapter 8 we have simply light (Christ) in the world; God Himself, who is light; the Light of the world; but, as the Lord said, the darkness comprehended it not. It is simple darkness, but showing itself in hatred against the truth. In chapter 9 we have the contrast of a rejected Christ, looking, though in it, to His going out of it "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world"; but the action of the Spirit and word on the closed heart in showing truth first (a Prophet), and then the Son of God in the lowly Man who, to nature, was but clay upon the eyes, is given in chapter 9; and though souls were thus given to see, as in the case here, yet the operation of the Spirit of God leading to own Him as the Sent One is clearly intimated; and that was consequent on His rejection. I add here that the Church was set in a different position. Christ was the Light of the world, but still known as the Sent One from the Father. All was blindness. He was clay upon blind eyes But when the disciples were, when the light of the world, to be as a city set upon a hill (as the Lord says, what He had spoken in the ear they were to proclaim upon the house-tops), the Holy Spirit was not receivable in the world as the Son ought to have been received, but the effect of His presence was public. It was not a dove, but tongues of fire. Christ's voice was not lifted up in the streets; only gentleness in His personal work till He sends forth judgment; but in the testimony about Him, Wisdom was to lift up her voice in the streets, and cry aloud. "We cannot but speak," say the apostles.