Great Texts of the Bible
The Greatness of Man
For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honour.—Psalm 8:5.
1. This Eighth Psalm seems to belong to the time when David had charge of his father’s flocks, rather than to any other period of his life. We may agree with Delitzsch and others that probably none of the Davidic Psalms in the Psalter were composed until after he was anointed king, and became “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1, R.V.). But that does not forbid our finding here a vivid reminiscence of some brilliant night on the hills of Bethlehem, when the shepherd youth lifted up his soul to God, praising Him for the glory of the heavens, and, even more, for the honour He has bestowed upon man. It is probable that many of the Psalms were written in the tranquil old age of the royal singer, recalling the most remarkable events of his earlier life, and reproducing the thoughts and emotions that had then stirred mightily within him, and to some extent the very words in which they had found expression.
It is an evening song, the carol of the nightingale rejoicing in the sheen of the moon and the stars. Yet we may be sure that the soul of the singer was flooded with the sunlight of Divine grace and favour. It is a lyrical episode to the grand lyric of the creation, touching it at the story of the fourth and sixth of the creative days. There are several kindred songs, celebrating the wonders of nature as exhibiting the perfections of God. But not one of them combines so marvellously the highest poetic beauty with inspiring suggestiveness. It touches the extreme points of God’s self-attestation to man, uniting the glory of the beginning with the greater glory of the close, the light that flashed out when there was yet no human eye to behold it, with the light of the city of the redeemed.
2. The culminating point of the Psalm is the glory originally bestowed upon man in investing him with the sovereignty over all creatures upon the earth, alluding to the Divine ordinance in Genesis 1:28. The Divine work on the fourth day of creation, and the crowning work of the sixth, are brought vividly into the present, and in sharp contrast. The glory of the visible heavens with their flaming orbs seems to entitle them to higher estimation than any possible product of almighty power. But upon man, in his insignificance and feebleness, even a greater glory was bestowed, and he is invested with the highest dignity. Under God, and yet but a little lower, he is made lord over all the earth. Every tenant of land, and air, and sea, is subjected to his power.
3. Is this glorious Psalm prospective, as well as retrospective? By any legitimate interpretation, does it include within its sweep of space, and time, and power, God’s redemptive as well as His creative work? Does it contain any hint of a greater glory and a higher dignity in the future?
We think that it does most assuredly. If not distinctly in the thought of the sacred poet, it lay in the thought and purpose of God, as clearly as if already accomplished, that whenever the full glory of fellowship with God should be realized, whenever the germinal and immature living principle that he received by the Divine breath—his higher Divine nature—should attain its most perfect beauty and strength, he would indeed be lord over all in a loftier sphere. He was not made in the image of God that he might for ever be a keeper of sheep and driver of oxen, or that he might subjugate the lion, and harpoon the whale. This “dominion over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea” is a parable for the future, when more absolutely, “all things shall be put under his feet.” His rule over the brute creation was a fact in the then present, in accordance with his capacity in the first period of his existence. It comprehends a prophecy and pledge that, whatever position he shall hereafter occupy, when the glory of his nature reaches its fullest development, and he attains fitness for higher dignity and rule, he shall be lord paramount, none above him save God only.
The purpose of Jehovah seemed to be defeated when sin entered into the world, and the indispensable conditions of spiritual growth and pre-eminence ceased to exist, but it has never been abandoned. It is realized through Christ, as Head of a new humanity, who, by uniting them to Himself, as partakers of His own life, restores to men all they had lost, whether actual or possible. They become associated with Him in the highest glory and honour.
In the light of these comments we can understand the effective use which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes of the 8th Psalm in chap. Psalm 2:5-10. The splendid significance which he attributes to it is quite within its legitimate scope and meaning, in its historic connexion with the account in Genesis.
4. It is to be noticed that the familiar words of the fifth verse, “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,” are changed by the Revisers into, “For thou hast made him but little lower than God.” No alteration can possibly be more significant. Seeing that its accuracy is indisputable, one may truthfully assert that this single correction is sufficient in itself to justify the replacement of the older version by the newer, wherever the Bible is read in public. Old association is nothing in comparison with truth. Nor can any truth be of greater importance than the difference between angels and God, as related to humanity. If it be asked why the writer of Hebrews in the second chapter refers to man as being “a little lower than the angels,” the answer is very simple. He was evidently quoting from memory, and his remembrance was not of the Hebrew Scriptures, but of their translation into Greek in the Septuagint. This was a version made some two centuries before Christ by a number of Jewish scholars, for the benefit of their fellow-countrymen in North Africa who had lost the use of their mother-tongue. They were probably deterred by reasons of reverence from adopting what they knew to be the exact translation, and so fell back upon a secondary meaning of the word “Elohim.” But timidity has no more right than rashness to rob us of that which is true. In matters of such vast import we need not only the truth, but the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is little significance or inspiration for us in the suggestion of our kinship to angels; but the whole meaning of our life, as well as all our hope beyond death, turns upon the question whether or not we are related to God. As the worth of every coin in this realm depends upon the impress of the royal image, not that of any statesman, so does the intrinsic value of human nature, together with its present duty and eternal hope, depend, not upon kinship with angels, but upon the reality of that relationship to the Divine which is so graphically set forth in the first chapter of Genesis 1 [Note: F. Ballard, Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 154.]
The race started high. At the beginning of his career man’s moral and spiritual plane was but little lower than that of the Deity. Humanity is Jehovah’s finest product. God’s greatest work is not a planet, a shining sun, an ether sea, a potent law, a celestial city; it is not singing angels and shining seraphim, but man. At the summit of creation God made man but little lower than God, stamped him with the Divine image, crowned him, and gave him dominion over all creatures. This is the Bible doctrine of the origin of man, 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. It is to trace one’s descent from altitudes but little lower than the lofty peaks whose dizzy heights lose themselves in the clouds of the infinite, where Divine Being has its explanation. To have the blood of man in your veins is to be dowered with a heritage of being past the price of all worlds and the glory of all angels.
One may be a very lowly, a very humble and obscure and unworthy member of this human race; he may be some unfortunate defective or cripple; he may be a vagabond on the streets, a waif without a home, a criminal in a dungeon, the victim of his own vices; but upon him there lingers the tracery of the skies and about him is the livery, though in rags, of the life that is but little lower than God. He belongs to the first family of the realm. He possesses a dignity unequalled by all material things. He has a soul; and Jesus was speaking calmly and without exaggeration when He said: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”2 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 31.]
Hark! the Eden trees are stirring,
Slow and solemn to your hearing!
Plane and cedar, palm and fir,
Tamarisk and juniper,
Each is throbbing in vibration
Since that crowning of creation,
When the God-breath spake abroad,
Pealing down the depths of Godhead,
Let us make man like to God.
And the pine stood quivering
In the Eden-gorges wooded,
As the awful word went by;
Like a vibrant chorded string
Stretched from mountain-peak to sky!
And the cypress did expand,
Slow and gradual, branch and head;
And the cedar’s strong black shade
Fluttered brokenly and grand!—
Grove and forest bowed aslant
In emotion jubilant.1 [Note: E. B. Browning, Drama of Exile.]
5. There are evidently two thoughts struggling together in the mind of the Psalmist—the littleness and the greatness of man. In a mind apt to pensive reflections, alive to moral truths, and responsive to the impressions of God’s great universe, the unscientific contemplation of any of the grander forms of nature produces that double effect. And certainly the grandest of them all, which is spread over our heads, forces both these thoughts upon us. They seem so far above us, they swim into their stations night after night, and look down with cold, unchanging beauty on sorrow, and hot strife, and shrieks, and groans, and death. They are so calm, so pure, so remote, so eternal. Thus David felt man’s littleness. And yet—and yet, bigness is not greatness, and duration is not life, and the creature that knows God is highest. So the consciousness of man’s separation from and superiority to these silent stars springs up strong and victorious over the other thought.
We are shown that no suffering, no self-examination, however honest, however stern, no searching-out of the heart by its own bitterness, is enough to convince man of his nothingness before God; but that the sight of God’s creation will do it.2 [Note: Ruskin.]
Man and Nature
1. Our knowledge of God, and our interest in God’s works and ways, should begin, not with the beginning of the Creation, or with the phenomena of the external world, but with the present relations of God to our own spirits, to ourselves personally and to mankind. What is God to us, and what are we to God? These are the questions which concern us most closely. If we can attain to a clear and firm faith on these points, we may be content to remain in some ignorance as to the mode of God’s working in nature. The trust and love which are based upon our own spiritual relations with God will not depend upon our settling how the laws of nature are made to serve the will of God, but will overflow, as it were, upon the outward world, will be ready to accommodate themselves thankfully to whatever science may disclose to us.
Take the case of the Israelites themselves, whose sacred books the ancient Scriptures were. In what character was God first and chiefly known to them? As Jehovah, the God of the Covenant, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The young Israelite was taught, as soon as he was able to learn, that he was the subject of a righteous King, whose laws he was bound to obey. By this righteous King his race had been called out and claimed. Jehovah had been the Friend and Guide of his fathers, and by a series of mighty acts had delivered the people of Israel, and made a nation of them. The absolute allegiance of every Israelite was due to a Lord who was not to be confounded with any outward or visible thing. Worship of outward and visible things was a crime against the invisible Lord. Jehovah was the Lord of visible things, and He desired the children of the chosen seed to be also spiritually masters of visible things. He bade them serve Him and be true to Him apart from any relations with outward things; and He then promised to reward with outward things those who in spirit were loyal to Him.
The books of the New Testament are the books of a spiritual Kingdom, a Kingdom revealed in Christ, and having for its sphere the spiritual natures of men. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, manifests and declares the Father. By His death and resurrection He founds a Kingdom in which men are brought near to their Father in heaven. The Apostles go forth to proclaim this Kingdom, and their Master the Lord of it, and to invite men to enter into it and be thereby saved. The high spiritual and human importance of the Gospel would naturally make all questions relating to the physical world comparatively insignificant to those who were charged with the first promulgation of the Gospel. Accordingly, in the New Testament we find scarcely a single allusion to the earliest history of the world or of mankind. If then we are to follow such guidance all difficulties and problems about the laws of nature and the antiquity of the world and of the human race are insignificant compared with the great truths of our relation to Christ and to the Father in the Spirit.1 [Note: J. LI. Davies, The Gospel and Modern Life, 97, 101.]
There is nowhere for a moment any doubt in Christ as to what the true life of man is. He is here and now, a creature of Nature, like other creatures; but his true life is not natural, like that of the fowls of the air, or the lilies of the field. He is essentially a moral being, with relations beyond nature, and wants, and aspirations, and duties which connect him with a Divine or supernatural order. From first to last this spiritual conception underlies the Gospels, and makes itself felt in them. There is no argument, because there is no hesitation. “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” The possibility of a negative answer is not supposed. The claims of the natural order, some have even thought, are unduly depressed. The spiritual life seems to overshadow and displace them. But this is only by way of emphasis, and in order to rouse men from the dreams of a mere sensual existence. “After all these things do the Gentiles seek”—those who know no better, to whom the meaning of the spiritual and Divine order has not come. But “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The spiritual must be held in its true place as primary; after this the natural has also its place, and to be recognized in addition.2 [Note: Principal John Tulloch.]
2. Now there never has been a time when it was more necessary to keep in mind the truth that, in virtue of his relation to God, man is great above all that we call nature. For, apart altogether from the ubiquitous blight of unbelief, the rush and crush of a civilization which is essentially selfish tends to dishearten myriads, if not drive them to despair. The ever-increasing pressure of modern life tends to divide mankind more and more sharply into two classes, those who think too much of themselves and those who think too little. It were hard to say which of these classes is the more numerous, but it is not difficult to discern which is the more to be pitied. We hear often and rightly about the curse of pride. Yet there is a kind of pride which is not only holy but the very starting-point of nobility. We quote Scripture freely as to the beauty of humility, and it were doubtless unmeasured gain if all who bear the Christian name herein displayed the Christian spirit. Still there is a false as well as a true humility. There is an estimate of oneself so poor and small as to become a dangerous slope ushering down to a bottomless gulf of despair. Self-conceit is no doubt ugly enough to merit the protests it calls forth. But the opposite extreme is far worse. Self-conceit may be objectionable, but self-contempt is ruinous. The former is quite compatible with a lofty hope and a vivid sense of duty. The latter leads straight away to depression, despair, and suicide.
It is a pitiful, nay, even a tragic fact, that more men and women are found to-day than ever heretofore, echoing, whether with coarse speech or in highly intellectual reviews, the old wail of Omar Khayyám—
Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
It is verily a real gospel for to-day that can answer such doleful quatrains with an emphatic No!1 [Note: F. Ballard, Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 158.]
Oh, my Father! keep me humble. Help me to have respect towards my fellow-men—to recognize their several gifts as from Thee. Deliver me from the diabolical sins of malice, envy, or jealousy, and give me hearty joy in my brother’s good, in his work, in his gifts and talents; and may I be truly glad in his superiority to myself, if Thou art glorified! Root out all weak vanity, all devilish pride, all that is abhorrent to the mind of Christ. God, hear my prayer! Grant me the wondrous joy of humility, which is seeing Thee as All in All.2 [Note: Memoir of Norman MacLeod, ii. 318.]
The Nobility of Man
1. What are the chief difficulties in the way of an encouraging belief in man’s nobility?
(1) First, there is the absurdity, as it seems to not a few, of the Almighty caring for such a race, and therefore the possibility of the Incarnation. “Which,” asks Mr. Frederic Harrison, “is the more deliriously extravagant, the disproportionate condescension of the Infinite Creator, or the self-complacent arrogance with which the created mite accepts, or rather dreams of, such an inconceivable prerogative? His planet is one of the least of all the myriad units in a boundless Infinity; in the countless aeons of time he is one of the latest and the briefest; of the whole living world on the planet, since the ages of the primitive protozoon, man is but an infinitesimal fraction. In all this enormous array of life, in all these aeons, was there never anything living which specially interested the Creator, nothing that the Redeemer could care for, or die for? If so, what a waste creation must have been!… Why was all this tremendous tragedy, great enough to convulse the Universe, confined to the minutest speck of it, for the benefit of one puny and very late-born race?”
But is it not the fact that along with the discovery of Man’s utter insignificance, there has come the discovery of powers and faculties unknown and unsuspected, so that more than ever all things are in subjection to him, his dominion has become wider, his throne more firmly established? Is it not the fact that the whole realm of Nature is explored by him, is compelled to minister to his wants, or to unfold its treasures of knowledge? Is it not the fact that more than ever it can be said—
The lightning is his slave; heaven’s utmost deep
Gives up her stars, and like a flock of sheep
They pass before his eye, are numbered, and roll on!
The tempest is his steed, he strides the air;
And the abyss shouts from her depth laid bare,
“Heaven, hast thou secrets? Man unveils me; I have none.”
Not the production of any higher creature, but the perfecting of humanity is to be the glorious consummation of Nature’s long and tedious work. Man seems now, much more clearly than ever, the chief among God’s creatures. The whole creation has been groaning and travailing together in order to bring forth that last consummate specimen of God’s handiwork, the Human Soul.1 [Note: J. Fiske, Man’s Destiny, 31.]
This earth too small
For Love Divine! Is God not Infinite?
If so, His Love is infinite. Too small!
One famished babe meets pity oft from man
More than an army slain! Too small for Love!
Was Earth too small to be of God created?
Why then too small to be redeemed?1 [Note: Aubrey de Vere.]
(2) How is the man who knows himself to be but commonplace, and is daily driven to take his chance in the crushing crowd of the unprivileged and unknown, to find hope and inspiration? This, it must ever be remembered, is the type of doubt which most of all prevails. It is well for the “aristocracy,” in body or mind or position, to descant upon the “pleasures of life,” and extol its delightful opportunities. Unfortunately, under present social conditions, the rank and file of humanity scarcely know what these mean. Surely it is one of the most monstrous and cruel anomalies of civilization that the vast majority of our fellows should be toiling through hard, drab, dreary lives, in order that a minority may have chances of sipping life’s nectar which are inevitably denied to themselves. Who would not feel inspired if, with Ruskin, we could travel luxuriously through all Europe’s fascinations of nature and art? Would not myriads of poor, overworked men and women be invigorated if they could winter at Davos Platz, or escape the cutting winds of spring by a sojourn in the Riviera, or flee from the depressions of a wet summer to the sunny South of France? But these reliefs and enjoyments, we know, are for the favoured few. If amongst such, ennui and depression oft prevail, and globe-trotting millionaires find a disposition to suicide, how are the struggling many to keep heart amidst their wearing and wearying monotonies?
Yet the humblest hind or the poorest struggler in the slums may, if he will, herein congratulate himself that he is “crowned with glory and honour.” And if parsons are not pleasing to him, he may receive his crown from the hands of so competent a witness as Professor Huxley, who thus estimates “that great Alps and Andes of the living world—Man”: “Our reverence for the nobility of manhood will not be lessened by the knowledge that Man is in substance and in structure one with the brutes; for he alone possesses the marvellous endowment of intelligible and rational speech … so that now he stands raised upon his accumulated experience as upon a mountain-top, far above the level of his humble fellows, and transfigured from his grosser nature by reflecting here and there a ray from the infinite source of truth.”1 [Note: Huxley, Man’s Place in Nature, 76.] More than that. The lowliest pauper may not only say with Descartes, “I think, therefore I am,” but may quote the Psalmist in addition—I am “but little lower than God.” For, accepting the testimony of latest science as just quoted, we know of no thinker in the universe save God and ourselves. Our power to think, compared with His, is truly both infinitesimal and derived, but it is real, and it is the medium of a kinship as valid and inspiring as is the dawning consciousness of a baby prince that his father is the king supreme in the land. How then can the man who appreciates such relationship to the Divine be driven even by modern cynicism into self-contempt? In his possession of mind he is, in very deed, the son of the King of kings.
There is, however, by all acknowledgment, something higher than mind. Intellectual power is one thing; moral character is another. To-day, happily, no one dare say, in respectable society, that so long as a man is clever it does not matter whether he is good. The folly which openly declares that “there are no good and there are no bad”2 [Note: Editor’s reply in The Clarion to Rev. C. Noel.] needs no disproof. For it not only contradicts itself,3 [Note: Not Guilty, 260.] but in putting an end to the possibility of morality it makes itself as contemptible as degrading. F. W. Robertson was immeasurably more true and worthy of regard when he wrote in his diary, “I resolve to believe in myself, and in the powers which God has given me.” Such a resolve, no less humble than potent, is based not upon “promises,” but upon facts equally undeniable and immeasurable. Besides God, so far as our knowledge extends, no other than man can say “I will.” That he can and does so determine, is beyond controversy, for it is hourly consciousness. But such moral freedom marks man out from all the known universe as “but little less than Divine.”4 [Note: F. Ballard, Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 174.]
No human life is perfect, not one is without its limitation, but David Hill so followed Christ that he was known as His. In China the life he lived was recognized by the Chinese as corresponding to the Life he preached, and they called him “The little Jesus.” A few days after the news of his death was cabled to this country, a relative of his, herself the daughter of a Fijian missionary, met the writer, and we spoke together of our dear friend. Suddenly, looking at me with tearful eyes, she challenged me. “You knew him,” she said, “well; was he not like Jesus Christ?” The question was unexpected, but like a flash came the perception that only one answer was possible—“Yes, he was like Jesus Christ.”1 [Note: J. E. Hellier, Life of David Hill, 74.]
(3) But the chief difficulty is sin and the fruits of it. What then? Are we to abandon in despair our hopes for our fellows, and to smile with quiet incredulity at the rhapsodies of sanguine theorists like David? If we are to confine our view to earth—yes. But there is more to see than the sad sights around us. All these men—these imperfect, degraded, half-brutified men—have their share in our Psalm. They have gone out and wasted their substance in riotous living; but from the swine-trough and the rags they may come to the best robe and the feast in the father’s house. The veriest barbarian, with scarcely a spark of reason or a flickering beam of conscience, sunken in animal delights, and vibrating between animal hopes and animal fears—to him may belong the wondrous attributes; to be visited by God, crowned with glory and honour, higher than all stars, and lord of all creatures.
I see Jesus; and my most vexing questions are answered, my most grievous misgivings dispelled.
I contrast my littleness and weakness with the vastness of the material world round about me, and with the inexorable action of natural law, and I am sorely disquieted; what am I among these constellations and systems and irresistible forces? But He redeems me at a tremendous cost, and I know that I must be a thing of price.
I look at my solitude in the midst of the millions who people the universe; and again I am filled with perplexity and foreboding. But He loves me and gives Himself for me; He sanctifies and keeps and chastens and cleanses me—me apart from all others. So I am comforted, for I understand that I am not forgotten.
I think of my guiltiness and sin in the presence of the holy law; and this thought begets still keener doubts and worse alarms. But His Cross assures me that there are remembrance and forgiveness and welcome for guilty men. It justifies me altogether. It solves my every difficulty, victoriously, touchingly, divinely.
I am saddened by the shortness and transitoriness of my life; once more trouble is born within my soul. But then there rises in front of me the sight of Him who has conquered death as my Representative and Forerunner, leaving behind Him a rifled and empty grave. Here is the very consolation for which I yearn.
The vision of Jesus is indeed the medicine for all my distresses. It never fails to effect a cure. It ends my every sickness, solves my every riddle, peoples my every desolation, defeats my every dread.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Hour of Silence, 189.]
2. Two facts are to be taken into account. And when both are reckoned with then we know that man is indeed and in truth “but little lower than God.”
(1) The first fact is Creation.—Turn to that noble archaic record, Genesis 1:26-28, which transcends the imaginings of modern science as far as it does those legends of creation which make the heathen literature with which they are incorporated incredible. Its simplicity, its sublimity, its fitness attest its origin and authority to be Divine. “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). There we have the Divine likeness. Our mental and moral nature is made on the same plan as God’s: the Divine in miniature. Truth, love, and purity, like the principles of mathematics, are the same in us as in Him. If it were not so, we could not know or understand Him. But since it is so, it has been possible for Him to take on Himself our nature—possible also that we shall be one day transformed to the perfect image of His beauty.
But we must notice that it is in relation to God, because of the Divine likeness, not in himself, that man is great. One of the ablest attempts to supersede Christianity is that which goes by the name of Positivism or the Religion of Humanity, which sets Man on the throne of the universe, and makes of him the sole object of worship. “A helper of men outside Humanity,” said the late Professor Clifford, “the Truth will not allow us to see. The dim and shadowy outlines of the Superhuman Deity fade slowly away from before us, and, as the mist of His Presence floats aside, we perceive with greater and greater clearness the shape of a yet grander and nobler figure, of Him who made all gods and shall unmake them. From the dim dawn of history, and from the inmost depths of every soul, the face of our Father Man looks out upon us with the fire of eternal youth in His eyes, and says, ‘Before Jehovah was, I am.’ ”
The Great Being, Humanity, is only an abstraction. “There is no such thing in reality,” Principal Caird reminds us, “as an animal which is no particular animal, a plant which is no particular plant, a man or humanity which is no individual man. It is only a fiction of the observer’s mind.” There is logical force as well as humorous illustration in the contention of Dean Page Roberts, that “there is no more a humanity apart from individual men and women than there is a great being apart from all individual dogs, which we may call Caninity, or a transcendent Durham ox, apart from individual oxen, which may be named Bovinity.” Nor does the geniality of Mr. Chesterton render his argument the less telling: “It is evidently impossible to worship Humanity, just as it is impossible to worship the Savile Club: both are excellent institutions, to which we may happen to belong. But we perceive clearly that the Savile Club did not make the stars and does not fill the universe. And it is surely unreasonable to attack the doctrine of the Trinity as a piece of bewildering mysticism, and then to ask men to worship a being who is ninety million persons in one God, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”1 [Note: P. M‘Adam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, 112.]
(2) The second fact is Redemption.—Man looks not at the face of the stars, but into the faces of his fellow-men. He looks down into his own guilty heart and darkened mind. He looks at fallen, sinful human nature. He sees man imbruted, besotted, his face written over with the ruin of God’s law, and his powers eaten out with lust, and he says: “It cannot be. The song is false. Man is too vile to claim the care of the holy God,” and the old doubt breaks forth afresh.
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Jesus is the triumphant vindication of the high origin of man. He came to reveal God, to tear aside the veil human fear had woven across the face of Deity. He succeeded, and said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” But He came also to reveal man, to tear away the disguises sin had woven around the human, to show the higher, the finer, the Divine possibilities there are for every soul in Him. He has succeeded here also. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” We see the world’s vastness and man’s littleness, and say, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” We see God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, and say, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” Then we see Jesus. We see how low Divine love can stoop and how high it can lift; and once more the ancient song arises without a broken note—
“Thou hast made him but little lower than God!”
Thou hast, O Lord, a wondrous plan,
To build a tower to reach the skies;
Its base is earth, its progress man,
Its summit sacrifice.
’Tis only for the summit’s sake
Thou layest the foundation-stone;
The mornings of creation break
For sacrifice alone.
Thou wouldst not have prepared one star
To float upon the azure main,
Hadst Thou not witnessed from afar
The Lamb that should be slain.
Thou wouldst not have infused Thy life
Into the insect of an hour,
Hadst Thou not seen ’neath nature’s strife
Thy sacrificial flower.
To Him that wears the cross of pain
Thou leadest all Thine ages on;
Through cloud and storm, through wind and rain,
Through sense of glories gone.…
Thou wilt not let me live alone;
Thou wilt not let me keep my rest;
Thy blast on every tree has blown
To throw me on Thy breast.
Thou madest me for Him whose love
From dawn to eve made His will Thine,
And all my ages only move
Within that light to shine.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Sacred Songs, 13.]
The creation was the work of a word. The redemption was the work of a life—of a life of self-denial, of a death on the Cross. The creation cost God nothing. The redemption cost the death of His Son, and all that that death implied. Measure the distance between the words “Let there be light” and the words “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” and that will show the interval which separates the value of the created universe from the value of man. Christians can ask no other measure of the greatness of the human soul. Christians can ask no further proof of the infinite importance of human life and human action. The self-conquests that seem so small, the resistance to temptation, the triumphs over besetting sin, the keeping of the temper, the sacrifice of self, the adherence to truth—measure them by their share in the Cross of Christ, and see who can call them little things. And in this, too, as in so much else, revelation does but proclaim what is ever whispered in the inmost shrine of the spirit given to man. The creation that we see is vast, and its forces are mighty, but vaster far and mightier far out of all comparison are those eternal differences between right and wrong on which rest for ever the feet of the throne of God.2 [Note: Archbishop Temple.] [Note: The Great Texts of the Bible: Job to Psalm XXIII, ed. James Hastings (New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner's Sons; T&T Clark, 1913), 113-244.]
Alexander (J. A.), The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 512.
Ballard (F.), Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 154.
Barton (G. A.), The Boots of Christian Teaching, 45.
Bersier (E.), Sermons, vi. 203.
Davies (J. Ll.), The Gospel and Modern Life, 88.
Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 64.
Hutton (W. H.), The Lives and Legends of the English Saints, 1.
Kingsley (C.), Sermons for the Times, 129.
Lorimer (G. C), in Marylebone Presbyterian Pulpit, ii. No. 6.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture; 1 Timothy to Hebrews, 212.
Maurice (F. D.), Sermons in Country Churches, 148.
Melvill (H.), The Golden Lectures, 321.
Meyer (F. B.), The Way into the Holiest, 34.
Muir (P. M.), Modern Substitutes for Christianity, 91.
Perin (G. L.), The Sunny Side of Life, 255.
Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 189.
Sowter (G. A.), Trial and Triumph, 199.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xvii. No. 1094.
Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, ii. 81.
Christian World Pulpit, xl. 241 (Clifford); lxxii. 73 (Clayton); lxxvi. 324 (Morris).
Expositor, 3rd Ser., x. 81 (Cheyne).
Homiletic Review, xxi. 167 (Dobbs); lx. 142 (Vance).