Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.
How does our conception of the universe differ from that of David? It differs, among other things, mainly because we know, and he did not know, of infinite time, peopled with innumerable existences, on infinite space, crowded with unnumbered worlds. To David the earth probably seemed comparatively a thing of yesterday. We know of ages when the earth may have been a nebulous mass; of ages more when it was certainly one tangled growth of gigantic vegetation; of ages more when it was trodden by huge and fearful lizards — dragons of the prime, tearing each other with lethal armour of incomparable deadliness. We look at a piece of chalk, and we know that to form it took the spoils of millions of living organisms; and the man sinks powerless before the effort to conceive the years which it must have taken, by ordinary processes, to build up the white ramparts of our coasts. Yes, the knowledge of the deeps which geology reveals, so far from rendering too dim for us, tends only to brighten for us the image of a Father's love. We know that that Father is caring for us now, and geology has simply proved to us that He was caring for our race, it may be, a billion of years before it appeared upon our globe. But if science has thus widened for us the horizons of time, still more illimitably has it widened for us the horizons of space; still more completely has it annihilated man's self-importance about his race, and about the globe on which he lives. To the ancients, for instance, the world was a very centre of all things, and a very image of immovable stability. To us it is an insignificant speck in the heavens of no material importance, and with no centrality about it; and, so far from being fixed, we know that it is rolling, with incessant revolution, on its own axis, whirling, at immense velocity, round the sun, "spinning," as one has said, "like an angry midge, in the abyss of its own small system, of which it is but one out of one hundred planets and asteroids, and of which the farthest of these planets rolls three hundred thousand millions of miles round the sun upon its sullen and solitary round." Again, to the ancients, and to David, the moon was but an ornament of the night, a silver cresset hung by God's hand in heaven, to illumine the darkened earth. To us it is, indeed, this, and we thank God for it, and also for its services, unknown to our forefathers, of attracting the waters, and so causing to roll, from hemisphere to hemisphere, that great tidal wave which purifies the world. But we have also learnt with amazement what the moon is. We know that it is a small world, in structure like our own; but without atmosphere, without clouds, without seas, without rivers, rent with enormous fissures, scathed and scorched with eruptive violences, a burnt-up cinder, a volcanic waste, the wreck, for all we know, of some past home of existence, a corpse in night's highway, naked, fire-scathed, accursed; and if, in the complications of her silent revolutions,
"She nightly, to the listening earth,
Repeats the story of her birth,"yet that story presents us with so blank a mystery, that it forces our acknowledgment that it may seem as if its one blank hemisphere was only turned to this earth and its science in mocking irony, as though to convince us, against our will, that what we know is little — what we are ignorant of immense. Then, once more, turn to the sun. The ancients saw its splendour; they felt its warmth; they thanked God for its glory. To David it was, as you know, "as a bridegroom cometh forth out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course." It was thought a monstrous extravagance when one of the Greek philosophers said that it was a fiery mass, and another that it was about the size of Attica. But what is it to us? Look at the bas-relief of the tomb of Newton in Westminster Abbey, and there you will see the little genius weighing the sun, and the earth, and the planets on a steelyard. Yes, we know its weight; we know its distance; we know its revolution. We know even, of late years, by spectrum analysis, of what metals and gases it is composed. No human language can express its awfulness. That great orb, as we have discovered, bursts and boils with a horrible impetuosity, such as no human imagination can conceive; and yet this vast, portentous globe of fire is made to subserve the humblest purposes of man. Once more, for a moment, turn to the stars. Turn to the millions of stars in the Milky Way. Our sun is neither more nor less than just one, and one unimportant, star in that Milky Way. To David, when he said that the heavens declared the glory of God, only were known two or three thousand stars visible to the naked eye. To us are known somewhere about fifty millions. And, yet, I say again that the Christian is not in the least appalled by all this vastness. Space is nothing to that God who extends through all extent, and in the hollow of whose hand all those worlds lie as though they were but a single water-drop. But, by the telescope, better without it —
"Man may see
Stretched awful in the hushed midnight,
The ghost of his eternity."But yet, happily, perhaps, for us, simultaneously with this abyss of non-existence beyond man, God has revealed to us an infinitude of life below Him. Take an animalcula, and Pascal will tell you that, however small its body, it is yet smaller in its limbs, and there are joints in those limbs, veins in those joints, blood in those veins, drops in that blood, humour in those drops, vapour in that humour, and an abyss even below this — an immensity of invisible life; so that man, we say, is suspended between two infinities — an abyss of infinity below, and of nothingness above, him. He is a mean between the nothing and the all — nothing compared to the infinite, infinite compared to the nothing. Is not this, at least, a lesson of humility? Should it not compel man rather to contemplate in silence than to inquire with presumption? "Such knowledge is too deep and wonderful for me; I cannot attain to it." "What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou so regardest him?" Here, for the Christian, at any rate, lies the solution of the dark enigma, the removal of the painful perplexity, the removal of the intolerable weight. Man is nothing in himself. He is as small, as mean, as abject as you please. He is but a fragment of the dust to which he shall soon return. Yes, but in himself nothing, in God man is every-thing — sacred, holy, sublime, immortal, a child of God, a joint-heir with Christ. What is vastness, then, to the Christian that it should appal him? It is nothing; it is less than nothing. It does not oppress or crush him. He is greater than those worlds. He is more immortal than all those clustered suns. They are, after all, but gas and flame; but he lives, and he is immortal, and he is created in the image of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.