The Healing of the Man Born Blind

by Glenn Conjurske

It has been the common practice of the church to use the physical healings of Christ as illustrations of the salvation of the soul. Such interpretation has been well nigh universal among the spiritual, and we suppose few would object to it, aside from the modernists. It would seem too obvious to require proof that many of the physical miracles of Scripture, as well as other physical acts and historical events, are divinely intended as illustrations of higher things. In speaking of the cursing of the barren fig tree, Bishop Hall writes, “I have learned that thou, O Saviour, wert wont not to speak only, but to work in parables,” and we suppose all spiritual minds have learned the same. The nature of the works of the Lord compels such a belief. The very words spoken by Christ on the occasion of some of his physical works plainly imply that the works themselves are to be taken as types or parables. To find the salvation of the soul in the physical healings of the Bible is not only perfectly natural, but really unavoidable. The Lord himself thus employs the physical healings of the Israelites in the wilderness, by means of the brasen serpent, and this is justification enough for the practice. We have no objection at all to making such a use of the miracles of Scripture, but then we insist that if this is to be done, it ought to be done honestly and intelligently. This is essentially typology, the use of historical events and persons to illustrate spiritual realities, and no form of interpretation is so easily abused as this. Men commonly find what they please in types, but this is to abuse them. It is not the province of types to establish doctrine, but to illustrate it. We grant that some of the types of Scripture are so apt and so convincing—-so obviously divinely intended—-as to provide strong confirmation of the doctrines which they illustrate, yet we contend that there must first be something outside the type to be confirmed. Though perhaps we ought not to say never, yet it is certain that types are not ordinarily to be used to mark out new doctrine, independent of the plain teaching of the Bible—-much less to set it at defiance.

Yet it is evident enough that the miracles of Christ are often misused, and that in two manners. Some will employ the various miracles in a way which is hardly upright, ignoring the actual facts of the case, in order to find therein something to confirm their own false and antinomian notions of grace. Others love to dwell on certain of Christ’s miracles, which seem to lend a hand to their own false notions, while they steer clear of others of his miracles, which would upset their apple cart in a moment. It may be that various aspects of the various miracles of Christ illustrate different facets of the work of grace and salvation, while it may be a mistake to force any of them to go on all fours. A sound system of doctrine, based upon the broad tenor and the explicit statements of Scripture, must precede any use of types, and if the types must be wrested in order to maintain the doctrine, this ought to give us a pause concerning the doctrine itself.

In the present instance I desire only to employ one such type, to demonstrate how naturally it confirms the truth, and overturns popular false notions. The miracle is thus related in John 9:6-7: “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 unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”

It is often said by those who have false notions of grace that if we have anything to do in the matter of our own salvation, this robs Christ of his glory as our Saviour. This makes us all boasters. Then we shall enter heaven saying, “I thank the Lord for the help he gave me, but in fact I saved myself.” It is a favorite tactic of certain Calvinists, such as C. H. Spurgeon, to press this argument for all it is worth—-and for a good deal more than it is worth, too, for it is really worth a good deal less than nothing. This is only fallacy and sophistry. Here are the plain facts of the case. The blind man was given something to do in order to receive his sight, nor was it a particularly easy task, nor something which could be performed in a moment, without moving hand or foot. Much less was it to cease doing anything, but precisely to begin to do something, where he had done nothing before. It was no little task for a blind man to walk to the pool of Siloam. Yet this was required of him. If he had declined to do it, on the plea of natural inability, or moral inability, or any other plea whatsoever, he certainly would not have been healed. He must go to the pool of Siloam, and wash there, or remain as blind as ever.

I observe in the next place that he must go ere he could wash, and wash ere he could see. Those who would reverse this order must deny the obvious. To contend that his going and his washing were the effects of having received his sight, which enabled him to go and wash, sets the plain facts of the case at defiance. So also do all those notions which make repentance and faith the results of our regeneration, rather than the conditions of it.

But observe in the next place, there was nothing in his going and washing which properly merited the benefit which he received by it. It is shallow sophistry to contend that if we must do anything to receive our salvation, then it is no more of grace. It is quite true that if we must properly merit it by the works of law—-that is, by perfect and uninterrupted obedience—-then it is no more of grace. But what the gospel requires of us has nothing to do with the terms of the law. This man’s sight remained a gift of grace, regardless of the fact that he must go to Siloam and wash in order to receive it, and regardless of the fact that he certainly would not have received it if he had declined to perform the conditions. It were nothing short of ridiculous to maintain that this was not grace, because he must do something to obtain it. No more does the sinner’s repentance or faith properly merit his salvation. It does, certainly, distinguish him from those who refuse to repent and believe, and distinguishes him by a certain moral worthiness which is inherent in repentance, but that worthiness cannot properly merit his forgiveness. That must come to him by grace, regardless of the merit of his repentance. Does the killer’s resolve to kill no more cancel his guilt for the ten men he has murdered already? Not an iota of it. If he is pardoned, that pardon comes to him by grace. His repentance has earned nothing of the sort. Yet it would be folly to contend that there was no moral worth at all in his repentance, or to maintain that there was no moral difference between the penitent murderer, and the man who is determined to go on killing still. And frankly, all of this is so elementary, so obvious, so self-evident, that there ought to be no need to state it at all, but false notions concerning grace and salvation have obscured the simplest truths of Scripture in the modern church.

And as for that boasting which we are so often told must be inevitable if we have anything to do in the work of our own salvation, this is simply a bugbear, employed to frighten men off from the plain truth of the gospel.
I take this bull by the horns, and lay it prostrate. The man born blind without question had conditions imposed upon him, in order to receive his sight. He must perform those conditions, or remain as blind as he was born. He did perform those conditions, and “came seeing.” But did he therefore “come boasting”? According to certain perverters of the Bible doctrines of grace, the necessary effect of the man’s performing of these conditions must have been to rob Christ of his glory, and to make the healed man a proud boaster. “I performed this miracle of healing upon myself. When Christ anointed my eyes with clay, it was to no purpose whatever. I remained as blind as I was born. But when I washed off the clay, I received my sight. When the hands of Christ were upon me, nothing happened. The actual miracle was performed by my own hands.”

If this was the language of the healed man, then there is some legitimacy in the common argument that the performing of conditions must make us boasters. But if it is ridiculous to impute such boasting to the blind man, it is equally so to make it the necessary consequence of our obtaining our pardon through our universal repentance and unconditional submission to Christ. How was the glory of Christ obscured—-how was his grace made void—-by requiring something of the blind man? Besides, the glory of Christ is not the only end of our salvation. The first and most obvious end is our own moral renovation, and how does the securing of the one derogate from the other? It is high time that men lay aside false doctrines, false emphases, and shallow sophistry, and return to those simple truths which are as obvious as they are Scriptural.

Glenn Conjurske