Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.Considering
'When I consider'—I become a new man, much larger, nobler, saintlier. What does consider mean? It is two words, it is two Latin words; it is con or cum, with, together sider—what is there in the word sider? Nothing. Take care! Sider comes a long way up the track of language; it was born sidus. That is what you say when you write your married name; under it you put née, born—another name, your father's name, which you have relinquished in favour of another name. Sidus means star; it is the root of sidereal heavens, the starry heavens, the stellar universe, and the like. Con-siderealize—when we star together—put the planets into syllables and words and paragraphs; when I considerealize, make a lesson book of the stars; when I punctuate my discourse with millenniums, then I pray.
'When I consider' I find that things are not so roughly related and antagonized as at first they seemed to be. I was not looking from the right point of view, I did not get far enough away from my subject, I was in the thick of the battle, in the very midst of the storm of dust, I could not see things in their right relation and proportion; but when I climbed the stairway of the stars and looked down upon the earth and time and measurable space, I said, All things work together for good to them that love God.
I. Consideration, properly defined, is a religious duty. In 1 Samuel 12:24 you have exactly what I mean: 'Consider how great things He hath done for you'. Job says the same thing in his own grand way: 'Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God' (37:14). Put things together; give God time. You are impatient because you are little poor fussy fools; give Him time. When God says from the throne what Christ said from the Cross, 'It is finished,' then let the jury return a verdict, but not until then.
II. Consideration is a great element in wisdom and practical prudence. Sometimes men cannot go to the stars, so God has made some little stars for them to look at. How kind He is and condescending! He says, in effect, The stars are too many for you, you feel a noise in your little heads, and it is not good for you to look at the Milky Way and the Great Bear and the gleaming Orion and the beauteous Venus; so I will make some starlets for you, little living stars, asteroids. Hear His voice through the medium of His prophet: 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider'—the same word, with all its stars and Milky Ways—'consider her ways, and be wise' (Proverbs 6:6). Wherever you are and whatever your circumstances may be, make an orrery of them, a star-scheme, a method of stellar revolution and interchange and relation; and be religious on a small capital if you cannot traverse the planets and pray in firmaments. You have your chance; be wise, take it, and gather wisdom from the flowers planted in the field of God.
III. Consideration is the only profitable use of history. We find, then, in Isaiah 43:18, 'Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old'. That is the reason why you are so poor, and why you are so easily driven about. You might be rich in history, you might be millionaires in retrospect; you might be wealthier than Dives in the gathered store of providences, deliverances, unexpected visions, touchings of the chain at night, which give you liberty and lead you out of prison into freedom.
IV. Consideration is the best use of nature. Consider the lilies how they grow: connect them with the stars, make them part of a great planetary system. Every daisy that grows in the mead requires the whole solar system for its nourishment. If you were to break up the solar system, and return nine-tenths of it, that daisy could not grow. God is one; hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one.
V. And consideration is the greatest impulse to true piety, as we are taught in Hebrews 12:3 : 'Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself. You see, we are driven out of our little selves into the greater self which is the star system, or the system of history or the system of example—the great inference-field. Take your little cross and lean it against the great Cross that held the woe of the Son of God, and you will be surprised what a little cross yours is when you set it beside the Cross of Him who was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 228.
The Heavens and Man
The common thought of man is that when he is compared with the measureless heavens he shrinks to a point. The sense of the ever-growing vastness of the universe dwarfs man until the whole story of the Divine book almost ceases to be credible.
I. The Logic of Love.—In that world which is nearest to us, in which we live—in the kingdom of love—mere size does not count, the footrule is an impertinence. In reason's realm, in the realm of science, mere size does not count. Don't allow yourself to be robbed of your faith—in yourself, of that place in the universe that God made you to have. He has made you only a little less than the angels; and He keeps a place for you next to the angels, and if the physical universe seems to convey vastness, remember that in love's arithmetic, in the spiritual world, mere physical size does not count; but you may consider the heavens, the moon and the stars which He has ordained and yet you can say: I am more than they, higher than they, and nearer to God than they.
II. The Divine Artist.—Turn now to another text It is the answer of the New Testament to the challenge of the Old. The New Testament text is Christ's word, 'Consider the lilies, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these'. Men tell you that God is so busy amongst His stars He cannot come to you or hear the child's cries. Why He comes below your feet; He comes even to the flower! God's signature is in every flower in your garden, and Christ asks you to stop and consider it. The whole system of matter beneath our feet is poetically wonderful. The wonders in the heights of the heavens are not so great as the wonders at your feet and in yourself. God works wonders in the world, but yet more splendid in man himself.
III. The Temple of the Earth.—This teaching adds point and force to two great lessons. (a) For one thing it makes sin an immeasurably more daring, shameful thing than we have ever dreamt of it. The common place of the earth is holy; it is full of God. How dare you take God's clear air, full of His omnipotence, and breathe into it a lie? The whole earth is full of His glory, and to sin in the holy place what a thing it is! (b) Surely the teaching of my sermon reinforces a trust in God as our Father. If God has such pains to make the flowers beautiful, will He grudge any pains to make our souls beautiful? Have faith in God and let the flowers whisper of Him, let the blades of grass be a revelation from Him; the stars that burn in the heavens, the flowers beneath our feet bear the testimony that God is near.
—W. H. Fitchett.
What Is Man?
I. Man and the Universe.—The contrast between man and the natural world which he inhabits, and which consciously and apparently he transcends, appeals to the religious mind in every age, and certainly never more powerfully than in our own. I hardly need to point out that the paradox which perplexed the Psalmist bears upon the mind of modern thinkers with still more threatening urgency until it seems too strong for faith itself. In a great series as of successive and advancing revelations, the sciences have, one after the other, enlarged the scale of the universe, and emphasized with pitiless insistence the relative pettiness of all things human.
II. The Human Intellect.—If, indeed, man be so petty and contemptible as his physical weakness and the brevity of his life suggest, why attach so much and such fatal importance to the science which he creates? There is, it seems to me, a fatal flaw in the argument which makes the greatness of the intellectual achievements of mankind the foundation for a depreciation, and even for a denial of his spiritual greatness.
III. The Moral and the Physical.—The progress of science does not involve any change in the deliberate judgment of mankind as to the intrinsic superiority of the moral over the physical. But it is this intrinsic superiority, universally admitted if too commonly forgotten, that forms the basis of all morality, and is the necessary assumption of religion. For what is the grand postulate of Christianity but this, that the most faithful expression of the Ultimate Author of the universe is not that which its vast scale, power, and unvarying law can offer, but that which is shown by man in the perfection of his manhood, sinless and spiritual.
IV. The Supremacy of Christ.—In Jesus Christ the paradox of the universe seemed to find illustration and to receive its explanation. He disdained the aids and recommendations of physical force; He stood simply and solely on His right to the moral allegiance of mankind. In the categories of history He has His place at the head of the exponents of moral force, the prophets, the religion founders, the martyrs. For what was more or less obscured and embarrassed in them was in Him apparent and absolute. Amid the appalling circumstances of secular ruin the Spirit of the Crucified rises sublimely, and utters itself in majestic words of faith and love, the undying echoes of which are the rallying cries of human virtue ever since. Take the Seven Words on which the penitent thought of the Church has pondered for nineteen centuries without sounding their depths of meaning, or wearying of their message, and acknowledge, as you must acknowledge, the supreme greatness of man as man is seen in Christ.
—H. Hensley Henson.
References.—VIII. 3-5.—A. W. Momerie, Defects of Modern Christianity and Other Sermons, p. 266. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, p. 93. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 229. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 219. A. Chandler, A Lent in London, p. 193. B. Jowett, Sermons of Faith and Doctrine, p 1. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 61. VIII. 3-8.—B. Jowett, Sermons of Faith and Doctrine, p. 1.
God's Greatness and Condescension
How are we to learn whether the ancient faith of our race is an illusion or not? How are we to verify the hope that it is possible for man to have access to God?
I. The sense of our insignificance is strengthened by the permanence of God's material works. It is true, indeed, that the earth itself has had its changes. But yet how firm, how strong, how enduring the great forms of Nature appear when compared with ourselves. Nor, again, is it merely the vastness of the great objects of the material universe by which we are sunk into abysses of humiliation in which we begin to be incredible that God should care for us. The humiliation is deepened by the discovery that our own life is akin to the inferior forms of life around us. And still further, when we consider those imperial laws which govern with steadfast and relentless authority the whole range of material existence with which we are acquainted, what presumption there seems to be in supposing that He, from whom those laws derive all their authority, will think of us and care for us one by one This is the gospel of science—a gospel harder, sterner, more appalling than the law which came from the thunders and lightnings of Sinai. Is it true, or is it false?
II. The whole world in which we live is a mere speck in the universe, and it is said to be incredible that God should have any special care for it, or for those who inhabit it. No doubt the world is very small, but it does not follow that it contains nothing for which the Great Father of us all can think it worth while to care. The second plea is, that the life of a man is brief and momentary compared with the ages during which the universe has existed. No doubt; but science itself suggests a reply to this argument. If the most recent and most fascinating theories of science are ultimately established, it will appear that all these ages have been necessary in order to render it possible for a creature like man to come into existence. The third plea is, that we are encompassed by laws which take no heed of the personal difference of men, of the varieties of their character, of the vicissitudes of their condition. These laws determine our outward destiny; they control our very frame. The whole history of mankind is the proof of man's consciousness of freedom.
III. Where did the Psalmist, where did the Jewish race discover that heaven is so near to earth, and that God has so keen an interest in the life of man? Whence these traditions came we do not know. But these thoughts concerning God and His relations to the universe and to man lay at the very root of the whole life of the Jewish race. The rest of the sacred story was in harmony with the august beginning. Of a creature having such an origin, God could not but be mindful.
IV. The Incarnation is the central truth of the Christian faith; and is the final answer of God to the natural fear of the human heart that God must be too great and high to have any close and permanent relations to our race.
V. The question at issue is, whether God is a God nigh at hand. The majesty of the Divine throne fills men with awe and dread, and they ask, Who are we that we should venture to draw near to God?
VI. If a Church relies for all moral and spiritual good on the reflex influence upon its moral and spiritual life of its own spiritual acts, it is a Church which has renounced its faith in the living God.
—R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, p. 116.
What Is Man?
It is easy to imagine the circumstances of the composition of this Psalm. In thought David was a lad again, keeping his flocks on the plains of Bethlehem. In solitude, face to face with Nature, he feels an overwhelming sense of remorseless power. But it was only for a moment that this feeling of helplessness lasted; he had a great counterbalancing thought—he was not really alone, for God was with him.
I. For him Nature was always full of God. His wonder before the powers of Nature gave way to his wonder at the power of God, to amazement at the insoluble problem of man. There stand out before him the vivid contrast—God so great, man so limited and puny as compared with God, and with the mighty forces round him; and yet God was mindful of him. He must have some secret value, some hidden preciousness.
II. Then we turn to ourselves and ask, 'What is man?' What am I? What is my true, my real self? Tell me, does not the great truth of the Christ come to my relief? I hear His voice proclaiming the order of man's complex nature. In Him I see the explanation why God is mindful of man. Was not the underlying, indwelling purpose of the life begun at Bethlehem to tell the world what God is and what man is. He was perpetually teaching, and always assuming, that man is a body, fearfully and wonderfully made, that he is a mind with extraordinary capacities stored in it, but that he is something more, something indestructible, unchangeable, something so essential as to explain the mystery of Bethlehem, the tragedy of Calvary, the ceaseless Intercession, the grace of the Sacraments, the very existence of the Church—there is only one explanation of all these, one key to the problem invalued in each—man is indestructible, unchangeable, a living soul.
III. If God is mindful of His people, can the Church, dare the Church, be unmindful? Can she leave their souls—the real self in each—uncared for and untrained? What can she give in exchange for their souls? What claim can she put forward which can be compared to the duty of caring for and helping them? The Church must care for the people under any aspect of their many-sided lives, but the care finds its climax in that which concerns itself with the real, the highest self.
—Bishop F. E. Ridgeway, The Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 472.
The Real and the Ideal Man
I. Man as God Made Him and Meant Him to be—the Ideal Man.
(a) Man is made to hold fellowship with God. It was meant that the intercourse should be close, frequent, and familiar. This is the perfection of the reasonable soul made capable of its consciousness of communion with God, that its surface should be a clear reflection on which the light of God should evermore mirror itself.
(b) There naturally follows a series of comparisons between men and other orders of being, as his transient inferiority to the loftiest of spiritual beings. This inferiority lies only in the possession of these fleshly bodies which condition and limit the development of the spirit.
(c) Man is crowned with glory and honour. These are received from God, and are His own attributes.
(d) Man has dominion over all things.
II. This is not What Men Are.—What an awful contrast. Take human nature as we see it, as we feel it in ourselves. Can we lay our fingers upon one man and say—there, that is an embodied ideal of what God meant men to be? The crown has fallen from our heads, for we have sinned. What then? Is hope dead? Has one word of God's become of none effect?
III. This is What One Man is—Christ.—The historical realization has transcended the Psalmist's utterance.
IV. This is What Many Men have Become.—Christ's manhood is the pattern of His people's. Faith is the means by which they shall attain to His standard. So look at the ideal men as a prophecy of a heavenly state only. Then the dream shall be true.
The Prospect of Humanity
Humanity is God's capital. The rest is mere machinery. This much have we learnt from the Gospel, and thus do some of us believe. Yet who does not, in certain of his moods, echo the question of the Psalmist?
I. God is mindful of us, and in a way that He is mindful of naught else. All we know concerning the planets is that on some far day before the dawn of time, the thought of God kindled into those swirling fire-balls we now know as stars. There is no evidence that they have ever needed adjustment or any other form of attention. But with man it has been otherwise. For example, you have only to see that this world seems to have been made as an ideal theatre for man's development. Or think again, and realize how by his accumulated skill, the lightning that once terrified him later becomes his errand boy.
II. Yet so is man formed that he does not recognize his climax in personalities that mark the temporary summits of his conquest of Nature. A Brunei, a Darwin, an Edison deserve and receive his admiration. But in them humanity is obviously ascending rather than ascended. These great men always seem to be preparing the way for some one greater still. It is only when men look upon Jesus Christ that they see a point at which a line of human development seems to be finished. Jesus Christ is not only the climax of humanity. He is also the satisfaction of the deepest needs of men. Science can make no response to the deeper needs of humanity. Let a woman grieving for her dead turn to Brunei and say: 'You built the Great Eastern, you raised the bridge that joins Devon to Cornwall. Can you build me a bark or make a bridge that will bear me to my beloved across the sullen stream of death?' And Brunei is silent But grief-stricken souls have turned with a similar request to Jesus Christ, and straightway has come the heartening answer, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life'.
III. Affinities are revelations. By our affinities Christ and we alike are classified. By all that He is to God Christ stands in time for what God the Father is in eternity. Let the world go on debating as to whether man is dust, devil, or deity. By the gleam of the inner light we know, by the witness of the Spirit, we recognize ourselves for what we are.
—J. G. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXIV. p. 251.
References.—VIII. 4.—C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 219. J. Clarke, Christian World Pulpit, 1891, p. 261. A. Chandler, A Lent in London, p. 193. B. Jowett, Sermons of Faith and Doctrine, p. 1. R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii. p. 193. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 61. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 229. H. P. Liddon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 101. W. Lindsay Alexander, Christian Thought and Work, p. 123. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 1. J. Baldwin Brown, The Higher Life pp. 1, 387. R. W. Dale, Penny Pulpit, Nos. 992, 993. Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii. p. 193. VIII. 4, 5.—R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 13. Ibid. A Faith for Today, p. 79. W. J. Knox-Little, Manchester Sermons, p. 41. S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 365. J. R. Macduff, Communion Memories, p. 51.
But Little Lower Than God
This is the Bible doctrine of the origin of men, and it takes us to the heights. To be a member of the human race, the Psalmist declares, is to come of a great line. It is to have Jehovah for an hereditary ancestor.
I. We may not expect so startling a statement to go unchallenged. There are two facts whose challenge we may consider, inasmuch as the Bible itself considers them in connexion with the text. The first is the challenge of size. It confronted the Psalmist. It overwhelmed him in the very moment he was declaring that man was sprung from God. The doubt which rises in this challenge we all feel. It makes sceptics.
II. The second challenge is more serious still. It is the challenge of sin. It sires the doubt which comes, not as we look round, but as we look within. This is the awful cloud; this is the real tragedy; not what man was before Adam, but what he is after Adam. What has he achieved? What are his accomplishments?
III. Nature itself answers the challenge of size. That is, size is nothing to God. He is as much in the atom as in the universe. The sinner himself refutes the challenge of sin. After the worst has been said about him, there is something in man that refuses to be explained by a process of nature, something that no cell of protoplasm could ever evolve, and no course of discipline excite. The power of thought proves the text. The stars are wonderful, the atoms amazing; but more wonderful is mind that measures them and explains their process.
—J. Vance, The Homiletic Review, vol. LV. p. 142.
References.—VIII. 5.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2273. VIII. 6.—E. R. Conder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix. p. 161. VIII. 6-8.—T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 149. VIII.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons for Country Churches, p. 148. A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 28. P. Thomson, Expositor (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 173. C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 148. IX.—International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 68.
Melanchthon describes this Psalm as both a thanksgiving and a prophecy of the deliverance and eternal glory of the Church which has been gathered out of all the human race. It is, in his view, an answer to the saying that the best is never born or perishes very quickly. 'That saying would be true, if man were destined only for this mortal life, which is so full of cares, for far sadder and more terrible evils befall man than any of the other animals.' Still man's lot is better than theirs, because God has revealed Himself to the human race by many great and noble signs, and desires that men should praise Him, and be crowned by Him with everlasting glory. For these benefits the Psalmist returns thanks, and at the same time he prophesies of that marvellous glory.
'Thou hast put all things under his feet' The writer asks whether the spectators who saw St John the Baptist put to death by Herod, or St. Paul killed by Nero, could have had any idea that these martyrs were crowned with glory and honour, and that all things were put under their feet. They thought the martyrs far more wretched than the lions whom they beheld in the amphitheatre.
In a later paragraph the writer says that although he interprets this Psalm as referring to the Church as a whole, still he does not disapprove of the exposition which attributes it to Christ, the Church's Head. 'For Christ put aside His glory for a little while, being made a curse for us. Afterwards He was again crowned with glory, and through his merits the Church receives righteousness and everlasting life.'
Readers who remember the strong fascination which astrological studies held through life for the 'Praeceptor Germaniae,' will look with curious interest for his comments on vv. 3, 4.
'When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.'
He touches the passage very briefly and in the tone of a sentence which occurs in one of his letters, 'Christ rules all things, even the stars'.
'Videbo coclos tuos: that means, the eternal kingdom will be established; we shall see the everlasting heavens, in which we shall enjoy the company of God and shall no longer be subject to death and sin, as we are here upon earth.'
All the later verses of the Psalm are interpreted in a Messianic sense.
References.—IX. 1.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 304. IX. 4.—J. P. Chown, Contemporary Pulpit, vol ii. 63. IX. 6.—Bishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 33.
The Character of God
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!