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and soul must be friends, not rivals: we may not so ply the Christian, that we neglect the man.
Oh the vanity of those men, who, neglecting that one thing necessary, affect many things superfluous ! Nothing is needless with worldly minds but this one, which is only necessary, the care of their souls. How justly do they lose that they cared not for, while they over-care for that which is neither worthy nor possible to be kept!
Neither is Mary's business more allowed than herself: “She hath chosen the good part." It was not forced upon her, but taken up by her election. Martha might have sat still as well as she: she might have stirred about as well as Martha. Mary's will made this choice, not without the inclination of him, who both gave this will and commends it. That will was before renewed, no marvel if it chose the good; though this were not in a case of good and evil, but of good and better. We have still this holy freedom, through the inoperation of him that hath freed us. Happy are we, if we can improve this liberty to the best advantage of our souls.
The stability or perpetuity of good adds much to the praise of it. Martha's part was soon gone; the thank and use of a little outward hospitality cannot long last : but “Mary's shall not be taken away from her.' The act of her hearing was transient, the fruit permanent: she now hears that which shall stick by her for ever.
What couldst thou hear, O holy Mary, from those sacred lips, which we hear not still ? that heavenly doctrine is never but the same, not more subject to change than the author of it. It is not impossible that the exercise of the Gospel should be taken from us; but the benefit and virtue of it is as inseparable from our souls as their being. In the hardest times that shall stick closest to us, and till death, in death, after death, shall make us happy.
THE BEGGAR THAT WAS BORN BLIND, CURED. The man was born blind. This cure requires not art, but power; a power no less than infinite and divine. Nature pre-supposeth a matter, though formless ; art looks for matter formed to our hands ; God stands not upon either. Where there was not an eye to be healed, what could an oculist do? It is only a God that can create. Such are we, O God, to all spiritual things; we want not sight, but eyes; it must be thou only that canst make us capable of illumination.
The blind man sat begging. Those that have eyes, and hands, and feet, of their own, may be able to help themselves ; those that want these helps must be beholden to the eyes, hands, and feet of others. The impotent are cast upon our mercy: happy are we, if we can lend limbs and senses to the needy. Affected beggary is odious: that which is of God's making justly challengeth relief.
Where should this blind man sit begging but near the temple ? At one gate sits a cripple, a blind man at another. Well might these miserable souls suppose that piety and charity dwelt close together: the two tables were both of one quarry. Then are we best disposed to mercy towards our brethren, when we have either craved or acknowledged God's mercy toward ourselves. If we go thither to beg of God, how can we deny mites, when we hope for talents ?
Never did Jesus move one foot but to purpose. He passed by, but so as that his virtue stayed; so did he pass by that his eye was fixed. The blind man could not see him, he sees the blind man. His goodness prevents us, and yields better supplies to our wants. He saw compassionately, not shutting
his eyes, nor turning them aside, but bending them upon that dark and disconsolate object. That which was said of the sun, is much more true of him that made it: “Nothing is hid from his light;" but of all other things, miseries, especially of his own, are most intentively eyed of him. Could be miserable unseen, we had reason to be heartless. O Saviour, why should we not imitate thee in this merciful improvement of our senses? Woe be to those eyes that care only to gaze upon their own beauty, bravery, wealth ; not abiding to glance upon the sore of Lazarus, the sorrows of Joseph, the dungeon of Jeremy, the blind beggar at the gate of the temple!
The disciples see the blind man too, but with different eyes: our Saviour for pity and cure, they for expostulation : “Master, who did sin; this man or his parents, that he is born blind ?" I like well that whatsoever doubt troubled them, they straight vent it into the ear of their Master. O Saviour, while thou art in heaven, thy school is upon earth. Wherefore serve thy "priests' lips" but to preserve knowledge ?” What use is there of the tongue of the learned but to speak a word in season? Thou teachest us still, and still we doubt, and ask, and learn.
In one short question I find two truths, and two falsehoods; the truths implied, the falsehoods expressed. It is true, that commonly man's suffering is for sin; that we may justly, and do often, suffer even for the sins of our parents; it is false, that there is no other reason of our suffering but sin, that a man could sin actually before he was, or was before his being, or could beforehand suffer for his after-sins. In all likelihood, that absurd conceit of the transmigration of souls possessed the very disciples. How easily, and how far may the best be miscarried with a common error! We are not thankful for our own illumination, if we do not look with charity and pity upon the gross opinions of our brethren.
Our Saviour sees, and yet will wink at so foul a misprision of his disciples. I hear neither chiding nor conviction. He that could have enlightened their minds, as he did the world, at once, will do it by the leisure ; and only contents himself here with a mild solution : “Neither this man nor his parents.” We learn nothing of thee, O Saviour, if not meekness. What a sweet temper should be in our carriage towards the weaknesses of others' judgment! how should we instruct them without bitterness, and without violence of passion, expect to meet seasons of better information! the tender mother or nurse doth not rate her little one for that he goes not well, but gives him her hand that he may go better. It is the spirit of lenity that must restore and confirm the lapsed.
The answer is direct and punctual; neither the sin of the man nor of his parents bereaved him of his eyes; there was a higher cause of this privation, the glory that God meant to win himself by redressing it. The parents had sinned in themselves, the man had sinned in his first parents; it is not the guilt of either that is guilty of this blindness. All God's afflictive acts are not punishments; some are for the benefit of the creature, whether for probation, or prevention, or reformation; all are for the praise, whether of his divine power, or justice, or mercy.
It was fit so great a work should be ushered in with a preface. A sudden and abrupt appearance would not have beseemed so glorious a demonstration of omnipotence. The way is made; our Saviour addresses himself to the miracle; a miracle, not more in the thing done than in the form of doing it.
The matter used was clay. Could there be a meaner? Could there be aught more unfit ? O Saviour, how oft hast thou cured blindnesses by thy word alone ! how oft by thy touch! how easily couldst thou have done so here! was this to show thy liberty, or thy power ? liberty, in that thou canst at pleasure use variety of means, not being tied to any; power, in that thou couldst make use of contraries. Hadst thou pulled out a box, and applied some medicinal ointment to the eyes, something had been ascribed to thy skill, more to the natural power of thy receipt; now thou madest use of clay, which had been enough to stop up the eyes of the seeing ; the virtue must be all in thee, none in the means. The utter disproportion of this help to the cure adds glory to the worker.
How clearly didst thou hence evince to the world, that thou, who of clay couldst make eyes, wert the same who of clay hadst made man ! since there is no part of the body that hath so little analogy to clay as the eye; this clearness is contrary to that opacity. Had not the Jews been more blind than the man whom thou curedst, and more hard and stiff than the clay which thou mollifiedst, they had, in this one work, both seen and acknowledged thy deity.
What would the clay have done without thy tempering? It was thy spittle that made the clay effectual; it was that sacred mouth of thine that made the spittle medicinal; the water of Siloam shall but wash off that clay which this inward moisture made powerful. The clay, thus tempered, must be applied by the hand that made it, else it avails nothing.
What must the blind man needs think, when he felt the cold clay upon the holes of his eyes ? or, since he could not conceive what an eye was, what must the beholders needs think, to see that hollowness thus filled up? Is this the way to give either eyes or sight? why did not the earth see with this clay as well as the man ? what is there to hinder the sight, if this make it?
Yet with these contrarieties must faith be exercised, where God intends the blessing of a cure.
It was never meant that this clay should dwell upon those pits of the eyes : it is only put on to be washed off; and that not by every water; none shall do it but that of Siloam, which signifies Sent; and it