Pity the Poor Blind
Archibald G. Brown, February 21st, 1869, Stepney Green
In aid of the funds of the Christian Blind Relief Society
"They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, 'Do you see anything?' He looked up and said, 'I see people; they look like trees walking around.' Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly!" Mark 8:22-25
A scene of wild desolation now presents itself to the view of the solitary traveler, as in his journey he passes round about the region of Galilee, skirting the lake of Gennesaret. All about that inland sea where once there used to be busy villages, there is now nothing to be seen on every hand but ruin. We are told by eye witnesses that if you skirt that lake where Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida once stood, you will see nothing but ruined foundations, fallen walls, masses of masonry heaped together, and the whole intermingled with thorns and briars. You might walk through that region and imagine you were in the land of the dead. No settled inhabitants live there — but now and then may be seen the tent pitched by some wandering Arab.
The words of our Lord have come true; the prophecy has been fulfilled; the judgment has descended. "Woe to you, Chorazin. Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of Judgment than for you!"
One has but to gaze upon the scene of utter desolation, where once these favored cities stood, to learn that when Christ pronounces a "Woe" — ruin must inevitably follow. Christ's curse is not only sufficient to wither a fig tree — but to blast the fairest landscape.
But at the time of the narrative recorded in the chapter, that woe had not come. Instead of being a ruin, Bethsaida was a quiet fishing village, as its name implies, and nestled among the hills of Galilee, close down by the waters of the lake of Gennesaret. Its inhabitants earned their living by fishing in those waters, generally so calm — but at times so troubled. This village is now better known as the village of Andrew and Peter, than for its trade. So true is the old Jewish saying, "It is not the place that gives honor to the man — but the man who gives honor to the place."
And just as Bethlehem is best known as being the birthplace of our lord, so Bethsaida is best known as the place where He, in his compassionate love, took the poor blind man by the hand, and in answer to the prayer of his friends, gave him sight.
Now this evening, by the Master's help, we want to look upon this miracle as an illustration of the way in which the Lord brings sinners to himself. We will, therefore,
first, look upon this blind man as an illustration of the state of every sinner by nature,
secondly, look upon the man's friends as a good example — they brought him to Christ,
thirdly, look upon Christ's dealings with the blind man as illustrative of his dealings with all sinners who come to Him,
and we will close by observing that the experience of this man was identical with the experience of every man who receives mercy from the Lord.
I. I want you to observe this blind man as an illustration of the state of every sinner by nature.
Let us view the blind man first. The news has reached Bethsaida that the Savior is coming, and the moment he arrives, there is a large crowd gathered round about him. I can see a group pushing their way along the street, and who is that man in the center? He is supported on either side, and his supporters are hurrying him along as if it were their intention to be the first to meet the Savior. What is the matter with the man? He walks the same, and looks the same at a distance as the others. Look closely into him, and you will perceive the difference. The man is stark blind, and the crowd of friends are leading him as fast as possible, so that he who was anointed to open the eyes of the blind, may open this man's eyes.
I said there was only one difference between him and them — but such a difference, though not greater than there is between many who are here tonight. The difference was that the others saw, while this man did not. To the others, all was light; to this man all was darkness. It did not matter to him whether the sun shone, or whether night cast its sable pall over all. It was of little consequence to him whether the lake sparkled in the sunshine, or whether the storm cloud rested on the neighboring hills — all was a dead blank to him — dark, dark, terribly dark! How striking a picture this is of the lost sinner.
The man was blind to two things. If there was any deformity of ugliness, he did not see it — and with object of beauty it was just the same. It did not matter if there was loathsomeness or loveliness before him, for he saw neither.
It is just exactly so with the sinner in his natural state. The lost sinner does not see his own sin in its loathsomeness — nor does he behold his own defilement before God. Do not call him a hypocrite, for he is not one; he only utters what he feels when he says, "I don't see that I am so bad after all." Of course he does not; if he did, he would not be blind; but as he is so, he is ignorant as to his true state before God.
Equally blind is he also to the loveliness there is in Jesus. This is as much a hidden thing to him, as his own deformity. Many of you can say with all your heart,
Lord let me see your beauteous face,
It yields a Heaven below,
And angels round the throne will say.
'Tis all the Heaven they know!
A glimpse, a single glimpse of you,
Would more delight my soul
Than this vain world, with all its joys,
Could I possess the whole.
But such language is an unknown tongue to the blind sinner, for he sees no beauty in Jesus as to why he should desire him.
The reason why people are so ignorant of spiritual things, is because they are blind. What a ridiculous answer was that of Nicodemus to our Lord when he said, "How can a man be born when he is old; can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born!" The man said this in all simplicity — but it was a striking-illustration of the fact that until the Spirit gives light, the simplest truths of Jesus are utterly hidden from the natural man's eyes.
The Earl of Chatham went once to hear Cecil the preacher, and the topic was "The spirit's work in the believer." After the sermon was over, the Earl said to a friend, "I did not understand a word of it; I could not make out what he was driving at; do you think there were any in the building who knew what he was talking about?" "Yes" said the friend "there were many illiterate men, women and children, who understood him very well." "Well," said the Earl, "I could not." And so there may be some here whose intellects may be ever so vigorous, whose education may have been of a superior kind — but who are witnesses of the fact, that mere education and talent will never teach a man spiritual things. Blind! Blind! stark blind is the condition of every soul by nature, until Jesus applies his hand to the eyes — and then the sinner sees!
Remember the blind man is just as blind when in the light as in the dark; put him in the dark and it is no darker to him. Let him sit in the full meridian blaze of the sun, and it is no lighter. The evil is not in what surrounds him — but it is in himself. That man is just as blind who stands in the light of the sun — as he who sits in a dark room. I will grant you that they are in a bad way who do not have the light; but I will also go further, and say that you who are surrounded by light, and yet are blind, are just as bad. The fact of being surrounded by light does not give sight; and there are thousands in England who are just as ignorant of Divine things as the Hottentot, or as the man mentioned in our text was insensible to light.
To come nearer home, there are some who have heard the truth preached in this place continually, and yet are as blind as if they had never heard the truth declared! It is not the question whether the light is round about us — but whether we have the eyes to behold it.
Remember too, a blind man may do much of the work of a man who sees. Have you ever been in the Blind School and watched the busy fingers of the students? You would scarcely know they were blind; you see one stitching here, and the other engaged in some other employment there, and you feel that it does not much matter to them in their work whether they see or not.
Is this not a picture of many professors? Come with me to yonder Sabbath School, and you see the teachers all equally engaged with their classes; and yet that one over there is quite blind, and has never seen spiritual things! I fear that if all were called to leave the Churches' ranks who are in a similar condition — they would be greatly decimated.
How solemn is the thought, that even in our pulpits, there are many who have not yet received sight! You may hear a blind man, through what he has heard from others, describe the beauties of the rainbow, and paint in language the loveliness of the rose. A Milton may entrance us with the beauty of his descriptions of light, while he has to exclaim as his own experience:
"O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of morn,
Irrevocably dark, total eclipse,
Without all hope of day!"
Do you think there are no blind ministers in England, who preach and talk about the glorious rays of the "Sun of Righteousness" — and yet have never seen them? It must be a sad sight indeed to see a blind father trying to lead his sightless children — but it is a far more melancholy spectacle to see a man, who is himself as blind as a post about spiritual things, trying to direct a number of other imperishable souls, "will they not both fall into the ditch?"
O, do not think friend, because you are a minister, Sunday school teacher, or tract distributor — that you are safe; for I tell you that it is possible to be engaged in all these works and yet be spiritually blind.
But although a blind man may talk and act as if he saw, it is yet impossible for him, if he is born blind (and all sinners are) to have any true knowledge of these subjects; and he can hardly talk much without betraying his ignorance.
One writer mentions a striking instance of this fact. A blind man after much inquiry and reflection, said he had found out what sort of a color scarlet was, and on being questioned he replied; "I think scarlet is something like the sound of a trumpet." You smile friends — but there are many who have just such an appreciation of spiritual truths! Unless a man has been enlightened from above, he can have no more idea of spiritual truth than a blind man has of color!
But there is just this difference between the two: the spiritually blind do not believe they are so — while the poor blind know they are blind, and feel it. You need not say to them "brother, you are blind," for he would say "I know that better than you do!" But if you speak to the spiritually blind and tell them of their condition, they turn round and say "No, it is a lack of sight on your part." He is the most terribly blind — who is blind to his own blindness! And he is the most hopelessly blind — who most persistently declares he never was blind.
II. I want you to observe the conduct of this man's friends, as a good example.They brought him to Jesus. I am sure that the sight which was witnessed at Bethsaida has often been witnessed in Heaven by the angels. I think I can see a troop of prayers ascending to the throne, and among them is that of an aged mother; and its cry is "Lord, give spiritual sight to my blind boy!" And there is the wife's prayer that too, finds its way to Heaven, and the burden of it is, "Lord, give sight to my spiritually blind husband."
It is a blessed thing, beloved, that in the arms of prayer, we can bring the blind to Jesus; if we can do nothing else with our friends and relations, let us see that we do this; for how can we be clear of their blood, unless we have borne them in the arms of vehement prayer before God, laid them at his feet, and said "Lord, give them sight."
And not only can we bring them to Jesus in prayer — but we can bring them to where He passes by. The great desire of the blind man's friends was to bring him into the road along which they believed Christ would walk. Wherever you hear of souls being brought to Christ, there you may be sure the Lord has passed by.
Why was it that so many of you tried to bring so many friends to this place last Sabbath to hear the Special Sermon to Young Men? Was it not because you remembered how wonderfully the Lord had passed by on similar occasions in the past, and you expected him to do so again?
There is yet another thing in which they set us a bright example, and that is in their faith: "they brought the blind man and begged Jesus to touch him." They believed a touch from the Savior was all that was required. Have faith in God, that He is able to convert your relations and friends and to give sight to the blind. Believe that his touch is all sufficient, and that what is much for you to receive, is nothing for him to perform.
III. Let us now notice Christ's dealing with the blind man, as illustrative of his dealing with every sinner.What was the first thing the Savior did with the blind man after he was brought to him? "He took him by the hand." I can imagine how that blind man startled. He had doubtless often heard of Christ being able to open the eyes of the blind, and he now stood trembling, wondering what would be done to him. But before he had much time to think, a hand took hold of his. It was Jesus.
Oh! how inexpressibly sweet is the thought that the first thing that Jesus does to the anxious sinner, is to take him by the hand. Can you not remember, my friends, that time when Jesus first began to work on your heart? The preacher's words struck home, and you thought he had been told all about you, or had been reading all your thoughts. As the service went on you felt "that man is praying for me, as if I was praying myself. I could not have laid my condition before the throne better."
That, friend, was Jesus taking you by the hand and making you feel his presence. Conversion, in a word, is Christ laying hold of the sinner; a blessed contact between an empty sinner and a full Savior.
Notice, moreover, Christ made the first overture; he did not stand with folded arms waiting for the blind man to stretch forth his hand. He would never have done it. No, he stepped up to the man, and took his hand.
That is just what Christ does in conversion. He always makes the first step, and gives the first grasp of the hand. "We love him — because he first loved us;" and if there is any desire in your heart to be saved, it is only because Christ has put out his hand, just as he did to this blind man, and given you the warm pressure of affection and love.
The second thing he did was to lead him out of the town, far from the busy hum of the multitude, so that they might be alone. And so the sinner is made to feel alone with his Savior. Does he read the truth in God's word? Every verse seems to speak directly to him. Does he hear tell of the judgment day? He feels as if there was nobody standing before the great white throne but himself. Does he hear of Jesus hanging on the tree? He feels "Christ was crucified for me," "for me." When he comes to pray, it is not "Lord have mercy upon us" — but "Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner." It may be selfish — but it is a blessed selfishness.
Oh! I would thank my Lord if he would take some of you by the hand and lead you outside the city, make you forget the crowd assembled here, and only feel that you are alone with him.
We read that "he spit on the blind man's eyes." He did this to teach us that he opens blind eyes by the most unexpected ways — through means that would be despised by the philosophers of the day.
The Gospel is the most humiliating thing possible — it lays man's pride in the dust, and only saves him as a Hell-deserving sinner. Consequently it is despised by the self-righteous, and laughed at by the proud philosopher — and yet it is by this very Gospel that the Lord saves his people.
The despised simplicity of the Gospel is still the means God uses in preference to all others.
You will find too, that sinners are generally converted in just the way they did not expect, and by the instrumentality they most derided. Jesus spit on his eyes — but the virtue did not come from the spittle — but from putting on his hands. It is not the means used — but the Lord's blessing on them.
The preacher may preach the truth, and nothing but the truth, and do that with all earnestness. The teacher may teach Jesus and Him only, and do that with tears. But unless the Divine Master places his hands upon the blind sinner, no miracle of grace can be effected.
IV. Let us view this blind man's experience as identical with the experience of the blind sinner.He says, "I see!" What did he see? Well, it is true he did not see very much or very clearly — but still, that "I see" in any degree, was a thing he had not been able to say before. "I see;" oh! blessed words, however limited in their application. "I see," says the sinner, "if not Christ as my Savior — yet my need of him as such." "I see, if not that I am saved — yet that I am lost." "I see my foulness — if not my scarlet sins removed." "I see I am on the road to Hell — if I do not see the heavenly gates before me."
Can you say this much, sinner? Then thank God for it, for the first step towards being saved, is to feel yourself lost! And the first step towards Heaven, is made when the soul sees it is within a step of Hell.
But this man's sight was a very confused one; "he could scarcely tell the difference between a man and a tree," "it is a man, for it moves!" "No, it's too big for a man, it must be a tree," he argues. It is not to be expected that the man whose eyes have only just been opened, should see with anything like the distinctness of the man who has long gazed upon the light.
Just so, do not expect young converts to see as much as you who have been brought to the light many years. They cannot understand all they see; but if they can only see "men as trees walking," it is something to thank God for.
I know who the blind man saw first — it was Christ. He was standing before him, and the first person his eyes lighted on was Jesus. What is the first thing the sinner sees? Surely Jesus, for there is no other near.
And then our text tells us, "Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes, and made him look up. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly!" It was not "look down;" no light can come from earth. It was not "look within," for that would be as fruitless; but "look up," and he saw everything clearly.
Now, come, poor sinner, look up to Calvary's tree, and see Him who hangs there suffering for sinners, and then look up and behold Him sitting on the Father's right hand pleading your cause. May the Lord help you to find peace, and that you will only do by "looking up." Look out of self — look away from the creature.
Look up to Jesus,
look to his blood for cleansing,
look to his wounds for a refuge,
look to his death for an atonement,
look to his spotless life for your righteousness,
look to his exaltation for your security.
In a word, look to Jesus for all and everything, and keep on "looking up" poor anxious one, until you do see.
Does Satan say, "You are too far gone in sin to hope."
Does unbelief mutter in your ears, "it is of no use."
Look up! From this evening forth, let your whole life be one continual looking up" and then you will clearly see Jesus as your glorious Savior, and Heaven as your future, eternal, happy home. If you forget every other word that has been spoken tonight; oh! remember this: "look up," "look up," for
"There is life for a look at the crucified one,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look sinner, look to him and be saved,
To him who was nailed to the tree."
May the Lord help you to, even now, for Jesus' sake.