What is man, that you should magnify him? and that you should set your heart on him?
It is the character of almost all speculative systems of unbelief, that, whilst they palliate or excuse the moral pravity of our nature, they depreciate and undervalue that nature itself. Some deny that there is a "spirit in man." Others deny man an immortality. Some would persuade us that we are but atoms in the mass of beings; and to suppose ourselves noticed by the Great Supreme, either in judgment or in mercy, is an unfounded and presumptuous conceit. The Word of God stands in illustrious and cheering contrast to all these chilling and vicious speculations. As to our moral condition, it lays us deep in the dust, and brings down every high imagination. But it never abases our nature itself. Man is the head and chief of the system he inhabits, and the image of God. He is arrayed in immortality, and invested with high and awful capacities both of good and evil.
I. CERTAIN CONSIDERATIONS ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT.
1. God hath "magnified" man by the gift of an intellectual nature. We see unorganised matter without life; matter organised, as in vegetables, with life, but without sensation; and, in the inferior animals, with life, sense, and a portion of knowledge, but without reason. But, in man, the scale rises unspeakably higher. His endowments are beyond animal life and sensation, and beyond instinct. Man is the only visible creature which God, in the proper sense of the word, could "love." No creature is capable of being loved, but one which is also capable of reciprocal knowledge, regard, and intercourse.
2. By the variety and the superior nature of the pleasures of which He has made him capable. His are the pleasures of contemplation. These the inferior animals have not. The pleasures of contemplation are inexhaustible, and the powers we may apply to them are capable of unmeasurable enlargement. His are the pleasures of devotion. Can it be rationally denied that devotion is the source of even a still higher pleasure than knowledge? His are the pleasures of sympathy and benevolence. His are the pleasures of hope.
3. The text receives its most striking illustration from the conduct of God to man considered as a sinner. If under this character we have still been loved; if still, notwithstanding ingratitude and rebellion, we are loved; then, in a most emphatic sense, in a sense which we cannot adequately conceive or express, God hath "set His heart" upon us. Mark the means of our reconciliation to God, and mark the result.
4. Consider the means by which God's gracious purpose of "magnifying man," by raising him out of his fallen condition, is pursued and effected.
(1) He has, with the kindest regard for our higher interests, attached emptiness to worldly good, and misery to vice.
(2) He has been pleased to establish a constant connection between our discipline and correction, between His providential dispensations and moral ends.
(3) He has opened His ears to our prayers, and invites them both by command and promise.
(4) To bring men to feel their own wants, He sends forth His Gospel, accompanied by His quickening Spirit, thus to render it, what in the mere letter it could not be, "the Word of fife," the "Gospel of salvation."
II. THE PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT WHICH FLOWS FROM FACTS SO ESTABLISHED.
1. We are taught the folly and voluntary degradation of the greater part of the unhappy race of mankind.
2. The subject affords an instructive test of our religious pretensions.
3. To form a proper estimate of our fellow men, and of our obligations to promote their spiritual and eternal benefit.
Parallel VersesKJV: What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?