Psalm 8:5
This is a song of praise equally adapted for men of every nation, country, colour, and clime. Its author was David, who, as a shepherd-boy, had cast an observant eye on the works of God, both in the heavens above and the earth beneath; and the habit of doing this reverently and devoutly grew with his growth; so that, though we are entirely ignorant as to what period of his life it was in which he penned this psalm, it is manifestly an echo of the thoughts which, in his early shepherd-days, had filled his mind and inspired him to song. At that period in the world's history, only a Hebrew could have written such a psalm as this. Observant men in other nations might have written similar poetry, setting forth the glory of Nature's works; only a Hebrew saint could have so gloried in the great Worker whose majesty was "above the heavens," and of whom he could speak as "our Lord." Note: It is only as we know the Divine Worker that we can duly appreciate and fully enjoy the work. And as Science is, in her onward march, ever revealing more of the work, we have so much the more need to pray that the disclosures perpetually being made of the marvels of nature may be to us a book to reveal, and not a veil to conceal, the living and the true God. In dealing with this psalm we propose to let our exposition turn upon the expression, "Lord, what is man?" Let us note -

I. THE. INSIGNIFICANCE OF MAN WHEN COMPARED WITH THE STUPENDOUS UNIVERSE. The heavens, the earth, the moon, the stars: how much mere do these terms convey to us than they did to the psalmist! His inspiration, it is probable, did not extend to the realm of physical science; and his views of the wonders of the earth and of the heavens would be limited by the knowledge of his day. But since the telescope has shown us that our world is but as an atom, and the microscope that in every atom there is a world; since millions on millions of stars have come into the astronomer's field of vision; and, since the conceptions of the time during which the orbs have been revolving and the earth has been preparing for man's use have so immeasurably grown, - the larger the universe seems, the more does man dwindle to a speck. And when we look at the slender frame of man, his weakness, and the momentary duration of his life, compared with the vast masses, the ceaseless energy, the incalculable duration to which the universe bears witness, - it is no wonder if at the greatness in which we are lost we stand appalled, and are ready to say, "In the midst of all this sublimity, what am I? A shred of entity, a phantom, a breath, a passing form on this earthly stage. Here is this great machine, with a mighty Unknown behind it, rolling and grinding, grinding and rolling, raising up one and setting down another. Ever and anon a wave of liquid fire will heave up mountains and overturn cities and hurl them into an abyss, and the cries of myriads will rend the air; and never will nature spare one relenting sigh or drop one sympathizing tear. All is fixed. Law is everywhere. What I am, or do, or say, or think, can matter nothing to the Great Unknown. Prayer is but empty breath. Amid the vastness I am lost, and can be of no more consequence than a mote in the sunbeam, and were I and all this generation to be swept away in the twinkling of an eye, we should no more be missed than a grain of dust when blown into the crater of a volcano! What is man?" So men argue. Even good men are overwhelmed with such thoughts, and say, "Our way is hid from the Lord, and our judgment is passed over from our God." While the unbeliever declares that a being so insignificant can never be the subject of Divine care, still less of Divine love; that man is no more to the Supreme than are the insects of a summer's day. But this is only one side of a great question. Let us therefore note -


1. His actual dignity.

(1) In the structure and capacity of his nature. Mass however great, force however persistent, can never equal in quality the power of thinking, loving, worshipping, suffering, sinning. One soul outweighs in value myriads of worlds. Our estimate of things must be qualitative as well as quantitative. And a being who can measure the distance of a star is infinitely greater than the star whose distance he measures. Man is made in the image of God

(a) mentally, - he thinks as God thinks;

(b) morally;

(c) spiritually;

(d) regally, to have dominion.

Man is made to see God in all things. Babes and sucklings in this put to shame the rebellious atheist.

(2) God has revealed his "Name ' to man; and this gracious visitation from the Father of our race has raised man in the scale of being.

(3) When renewed by the Holy Ghost, he is elevated still higher in the scale, for "after God he is created in righteousness and true holiness."

(4) When the Son of God became "the second Man, even the Lord from heaven," then, indeed, was our nature "crowned with glory and honour." Nothing so exalted our race as the Son of God inserting himself into it by his incarnation, and so becoming the Son of man.

2. His prospective dignity. The psalm includes the vision of the seer as well as the song of the saint. Its repeated quotation (1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:6-9) in the New Testament shows us that its words await a grander fulfilment than ever. The preacher may indefinitely expand and illustrate the following points:

(1) The dominion of man over nature is vastly greater even now than it was in David's time, and is destined to be more complete than it even now is. David includes the sheep and oxen, beasts of the field, etc. Now fire, water, light, air, lightning, etc., are made to serve man.

(2) The renewing process is going forward in the Christianized part of man. The image of God in man is to be perfected.

(3) All things are now put under man's feet, in being put under Christ's feet as the Lord of all. But, as Bishop Perowne suggestively remarks, St. Paul's "all things" are immeasurably more than David's "all things." Just so. This is a beautiful illustration of the progress of revelation. The later the date, the brighter the light. And words caught from men who were in the ancient time borne along by the Holy Ghost, are shown to have a very much broader and deeper meaning than their human penmen could possibly have conceived. "The New Testament is latent in the Old. The Old Testament is patent in the New" (Augustine). Note:

1. The true greatness of man can only be manifested as he is renewed by the Spirit of God; and comes to grow up into him in all things who is the Head, even Christ.

2. How incomplete would the plan have been of permitting man to have dominion over nature, without the corresponding purpose of God's love gaining dominion over man! Dominion is safe only where there is righteousness. - C.

For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.
While the Psalmist refers primarily to man, we learn from St. Paul that the text has a further reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I. THE TEXT, AS SPOKEN OF MEN. Perhaps it was not so much in nature as in position that man, as first formed, was inferior to the angels. Nothing higher could be affirmed of the angels than that they were made in the image of God. If, then, they had originally superiority over man, it must have been in the degree of resemblance. The angel was made immortal, intellectual, holy, powerful, glorious, and in these properties lay their likeness to the Creator. But were not these properties also given to man? Whatever originally the relative position of the angel and the man, we cannot question that since the fall man has been fearfully inferior to the angels. The effect of transgression has been to debase all his powers; but, however degraded and sunken, he still retains the capacities, of his original formation, and they many be so purged and enlarged as to produce, if we may not say to restore, the equality. Take the intellect of man; there is no limit to its progress. Use the like reasoning in regard to power, or holiness, or dignity. The Bible teems with notices, that so far from being by their nature higher than men, angels even now possess not an importance which belongs to our race. It is a mysterious thing, and one to which we scarcely dare allude, that there has arisen a Redeemer of fallen men, but not of fallen angels. And angels are represented as "ministering sprints." Believers, as the children of God, are attended and waited on by angels. Then, while human nature is still walled off from every other in its special properties, risen spirits may stand on a par with the very noblest-created intelligence, glowing with the same holiness, arrayed in the same panoply, and gathering in from all the works of God the same immenseness of knowledge and the same material of ecstasy.

II. THE TEXT, AS SPOKEN OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. His being made "a little lower than the angels" is represented as with a view to the glory which was to be the recompense for His sufferings. This is a very important representation, and from it may be drawn a strong and clear argument for the divinity of Christ. We could never see how it could be humility in any creature, whatever the dignity of his condition, to assume the office of a Mediator, and to work out our reconciliation, if an unmeasured exaltation was to be the Mediator's reward. A being who knew that he should be immeasurably elevated if he did a certain thing, can hardly be commended for the greatness of his humility in doing that thing. He must be the king already, ere his entering the state of slavery can furnish an example of humility. And yet in consenting to be "made a little lower than the angels" our blessed Redeemer actually humbled Himself. Who, then, can this man have been before becoming man? We cannot suppose that the attributes or properties of Godhead were capable of being laid aside or suspended. Shrouded and hidden, but not laid aside, was the divinity of Christ. If He could not lay aside the perfections, He could lay aside the glories of Deity. Every outward mark of majesty and greatness might be laid aside. He passes from the form of God to the likeness of men. It is not in the power of language to describe either the humility or the compassion thus displayed. It was literally the emptying Himself, the making Himself poor, "that we through His poverty might be made rich."

(Henry Melvill, B. D.)


1. By creation the angel is the "elder brother" of the two, for he was created first. Angels' songs always bear some reference to man; something pertaining to man invariably forms part of their theme. Not only in time is man lower than the angels, he is so —

2. In the substance from which he is formed. Angels are pure spirits, but one part of man is formed out of the clay.

3. In his habitation. God gave heaven for an abode unto the angels, but "the earth hath He given to the children of men."

4. In his powers. Angels "excel in strength." "Man that is a worm, and the son of man that is a worm."

5. In his character. Man was not made as he is, but he has made himself so, by his sin.


1. Although not in the same workroom, they are in the same service. The king's livery is worn by the humblest guard of the mail, as well as by the highest officers of the household. The angel said to John in Patmos, "I am thy fellow servant."

2. They are equal in rights and privileges. The godly man is as sure of heaven as any of the angels who are now there: only as yet he is not made meet for it.

3. In kindred, for man, too, is a child of God.

4. In duration of existence. Every man is to exist forever. "Neither can they die any more."

III. MAN HIGHER THAN THE ANGELS. That is, in his glorified state.

1. He shall have a better feast. There will be dishes on man's table that angels can never taste.

2. Better apparel. Man's garments will be the workmanship of "grace." They are more expensive. Angels' garments cost only a word; but blood was essential to wash the robes of the saints and to make them white.

3. A better song. Saints have themes the angels cannot think upon, and strains which they can never reach.

4. A better position, and superior privileges. Angels shall approach very near the throne; but they shall never sit upon it.

(David Roberts, D. D.)

What is the "little" which marks man's inferiority? It is mainly that the spirit, which is God's image, is confined in and limited by flesh, and subject to death. The distance from the apex of creation to the Creator must ever be infinite; but man is so far above the non-sentient, though mighty, stars and the creatures that share earth with him, by reason of his being made in the Divine image — i.e., having consciousness, will, and reason — that the distance is foreshortened. The gulf between man and matter is greater than that between man and God. The moral separation caused by sin is not in the Psalmist's mind. Thus man is invested with some reflection of God's glory, and wears this as a crown. He is king on earth....Such then is man, as God meant him to be. Such a being is a more glorious revelation of the Name than all stars and systems. Looked at in regard to his duration, his years are a hand breadth before these shining ancients of days that have seen his generations fret their little hour and sink into silence; looked at in contrast with their magnitude and numbers, numberless, he is but an atom, and his dwelling place a speck. Science increases the knowledge of his insignificance, but perhaps not the impression of it made on a quiet heart by the simple sight of the heavens. But besides the merely scientific view, and the merely poetic, and the grimly agnostic, there is the other, the religious, and it is as valid today as ever. To it the heavens are the work of God's linger, and their glories are His, set there by Him. That being so, man's littleness magnifies the Name, because it enhances the condescending love of God, which has greatened the littleness by such nearness of care, and such gifts of dignity. The reflection of His glory which blazes in the heavens is less bright than that which gleams in the crown of glory and honour on man's lowly yet lofty head.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

"But little lower than God" (R.V.). It seems as though man were born with the rudiments of omniscience, and was therefore bound to be made impatient by the discovered presence of anything that declined to be known; and born, likewise, with the rudiments of omnipresence, and therefore bound to be disquieted by the sight of any frontier not yet transcended. That is one of the startling proofs of the impatient in our nature. Put a man in a room, and, no matter how large the room, he wants the window up; every place crowds and we want to move out. From the time when Abraham crossed the Euphrates and Joshua went over the Jordan, mankind has been wanting to get out and over the river. We do not know all the lakes in Africa yet, but some of us are a good deal more interested over the imagined discovery of canals in the planet Mars than we are over the seas and waterways of the distant parts of our own globe. No pasture is so large but we want to get over the fence and crop the grass on the other side. Not only are we irritated by limitations of place, and try to be ubiquitous, but are similarly annoyed by limitations of time, and attempt to explore and map the centuries that preface recorded history, and even the ages that are the threshold of the present history of the earth and heavens. We are so accustomed to this habitual intrusion into untraversed domains that it can easily escape us what a certain irrepressibleness moving within us all this betokens; and this sailing out among the stars and then coming home, for a little while, to make a book of what we have seen there, what the stars are made of, how large they are, how much they weigh, whether they are young or old, infant, middle-aged, grey haired, or imbecile, and this groping back into the old years of our universe, towards the primeval days, tracking the progress of events, or trying to decipher the wheel marks made in the old strata or on the cosmic star mist by the giant car of onward movement when creation's springtide was yet on, and then coming quietly back to today, and in an easy chair by the fire complacently penciling diary notes of the world's babyhood, and with no feeling at all but that it is the thing for a man to do, that the universe is to be known, and that man is here to know it — well, there is a Titanic audacity about it all that is to me superbly uplifting. Man may bare failed in a good deal that he attempts, a good many diary memoranda he may have entered under the wrong day of the month or even under the wrong month, but there is a hugeness in the very venture that betrays Titanic fibre. There are certain heights of audacity that the fool may essay to scale, but there are cloud-piercing pinnacles of audacity that there is not room in a fool's mind to even conceive or tension to adventure. But not only can man stand up in the face of nature and cross question it and compel it to testify too, but he can exercise upon nature a volitional as well as an intellectual mastery, and can harness it to his own purposes. We are not afraid of the World any more, in the old way in which men used to be, partly because we know her way. We know how to take her. We have a presentiment of what she is plotting before she does it, and so not likely, as once, to be caught napping. The forces that used to play about us with all the untrained friskiness of wild horses prancing and cantering over the plain. we have caught, some of them, and have put a collar about their necks and bits in their mouths, and, by means of a good deal of draft tackle that we have rather ingeniously devised, have set them drawing our loads, turning our wheels, working our machinery, and running all our errands. And, now, what we call Civilisation is, a good deal of it, simply a matter of the success with which we make nature do our work. We are not, of course, claiming for man that he has completely subjected the world's wide energy. Storm and steam have still to be dealt with warily — a thunderbolt is still hot if handled carelessly; but the entire attitude of man towards all these things is changed. A lion is stronger than a man, and if the two meet on brute ground the lion will always be a good deal more than a match for him; but man is a good deal smarter than the lion, and if the two meet on an intelligent ground, the lion will be driven to the wall. So in regard to the raw energies of the material world, if man undertakes to wrestle with nature on material ground, man will invariably be whipped, and the bit of lightning would be just as demoralising to a Socrates as to a mule or pony, providing the encounter take place on territory that is distinctively the lightning's own. But let a man take that same bit of lightning on to ground that is distinctively his own, and he will file its teeth and put a muzzle over its nose, and tie a string around its neck and attach a letter to that string and send the little amphibious streak either under the water to London or overland to San Francisco, and all over so quickly that you see his muzzle on the return trip almost before you had time to know that he was fully off. That is the sort of thing that man is when he steps off from the ground of materiality or of brutality and gathers himself together on the imperial platform of his own God-imitating personality; and there is where he wants to keep himself in all this matter of trying to appreciate his true and genuine denotement. Damaging and discouraging suspicions of diminutiveness are never going to insinuate themselves and get the better of us till we have been allowing our measure to be calculated on some other basis than that of what we distinctly are as personal beings. That is why David in the earlier part of this very Psalm was oppressed by thoughts of man's littleness; he undertook to compute human greatness with an astronomical tape line; he was distressed by the small figure he made as seen against the vastness of the stellar sky taken as a background. But the mere arithmetic immensity of the heavens has properly nothing to do with it; yardsticks are utterly foreign to the account. It was a far greater thing to be David contemplating the heavens than it was to be the heavens making eyes at David. It is a greater thing to be able to think the heavens than it is to be the heavens.

(Charles H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

In the apse of St. Sophia's, Constantinople, the guide points out a place where there is a hidden face of Christ portrayed by some early Christian artist. When the Mohammedan conqueror possessed himself of that noble Christian temple he ordered all Christian symbols to be effaced. This beautiful head of Christ was covered over with canvas. When the Christian conqueror again enters the gates of Constantinople the canvas will doubtless be torn away and this bit of early Christian art be brought to light and restored; and let but the gates of the city of man's soul be opened to the conquering King, and his Lord shall strip away the sins that hide God's glory in these fleshly temples, and the resplendent image of God shall be seen in men once more.

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