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.
The text is now to be used as the basis of the inquiry, What is the moral effect of studying great subjects? When we consider the heavens, four results are secured:—
I. We are impressed with God's infinite independence of human help. We cannot touch one of His stars; we cannot control their courses; we cannot increase or diminish their light. When then God asks our help in anything, He does so for our good, and never to fill up the circle of His own ability.
II. We see that creation is established upon a basis of order. The moral significance of this is plain. See what God would have in the moral universe. God is the God of order, and order is peace
III. We see the infinite sufficiency of God to preserve all the interests we commit to Him. Is our house greater than God's heavens, that He cannot be trusted with it?
IV. We see the essential difference between physical sovereignty and moral control. The weakest man is greater than the most magnificent star. In what does his superiority consist? In all that is implied in the term "will." God seeks, by all the tender persuasiveness of His love, to bring that will into harmony with His own; when that is done, there will be a great calm. A consideration of the heavens will (1) enlarge and strengthen the mind; (2) show contrastively the power and weakness of man; (3) excite the highest hopes regarding human destiny; (4) tranquillise the impatience and fretfulness incident to an incomplete life. The student of nature should be on his guard against two possibilities: (1) against mistaking creation for the Creator; (2) against mistaking the transient for the permanent.
Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 364 (see also Pulpit Notes, p. 163).
Psalm 8:3-4These words express a conviction which lies at the root of all natural as well as all revealed religion, a conviction which may be regarded as a distinctive feature, which separates that conception of God's nature which is properly a religious one from that which is merely a philosophical speculation, a conception without which indeed there can be no real belief in God at all.
I. The root and groundwork of all religion is the impulse which leads men to pray. In this is found the primary source from which all inquiries concerning the nature of God must set out, and to which all must ultimately return, viz., of man's relation to God as a person to a person, of man's dependence upon God, of man's power to ask and God's power to give such things as that dependence makes necessary.
II. If we turn to the sacred record of God's creation of the world, we cannot overlook or mistake the two great religious truths which stand side by side on its page, the twofold revelation of one and the same God as the Creator of the material universe and as the personal Providence that watches over the life and actions of men. The whole scheme of Holy Scripture from the beginning to the end is one continuous record of God's love and care for man in creation, government, redemption; and as such it is a revelation, not for this or that age alone, but for every generation of mankind, as our best and truest safeguard against an error into which human thought in every age is very prone to fall. Modern sophistry is ready to tell us that one law of cause and effect reigns supreme over mind as well as matter, that the actions of man, like the other phenomena of the universe, are but links in a chain of rigid and necessary consequences. Against this perversion Scripture furnishes a standing protest, and if read aright, a safeguard. God is revealed to man as He is revealed to no other of His visible creatures, not as God merely, but as our God, the personal God of His personal creatures.
H. L. Mansel, Penny Pulpit, No. 447.
The Gospel and the magnitude of creation.
Objection has been taken to the Gospel from the vastness of creation as displayed in astronomy. So far as we can see, that objection takes one of two shapes—either that man, looked at in the light of such a universe, is too insignificant for this interposition, or that God is too exalted for us to expect such an interposition from Him.
I. As regards man, the professed aim of the Gospel is his deliverance from spiritual error and sin and his introduction to that which alone can satisfy the wants of his nature—the favour and fellowship of the God who made him. This is a sphere of action entirely different from astronomy, and at its very first step as much higher as mind is above matter. It is the presence of life—above all, of intelligent life—which gives significance to creation, and which stands, like the positive digit in arithmetic, before all its blank ciphers. (1) The mind of man receives a further dignity when we turn from its power over the material to its capacity in the moral world. It is able to conceive and to reason from those distinctions of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil, which underlie and govern the spiritual world, as the laws of mathematics do the material. Here, if anywhere, mind grasps the absolute and infinite; and because it is able to do this, it holds rank above the highest things that eyes can see or heart conceive in the physical creation. (2) To this dignity of mind, derived from its power of thought, we have to add its value in the light of immortality. (3) So far from what God has done for the world of matter in the fields of astronomy being any reason for discrediting what the Gospel declares He has done for the world of mind in man, it should be a reason for believing it. If He has lavished so much pains and skill upon a universe of death, what may we not anticipate for one of life?
II. We come now to the second form which the objection may take—that as the Gospel revelation sets man in a rank that is too high, so does it bring God too low. In the character of a really great man we require a balance of qualities to satisfy us. This is a principle which we are justly warranted in applying to God. In astronomy we see Him touching the extremity of omnipotence; and if His character is not to be one-sided, we may expect to see Him touching in some other work the extremity of love. We shall seek it vainly all through creation if we do not meet with it in the Gospel. It alone discloses depths of compassion transcending even those heights of power, and points us to a Being who crowns His own nature, as He crowns us, "with loving-kindness and tender mercy." When we take this view, we see that man has been placed in this world in the midst of concentric circles of Divine attributes, which become charged with deeper interest as they press in closer towards him. The inmost circle of fatherly love and forgiving mercy remains in the approach of God to the individual soul. Such a circle there must be; and when we feel its clasp on our hearts, we learn, in the language of the poet, "that the world is made for each of us."
J. Ker, Sermons, p. 227.
The nocturnal heavens at once symbolise and demonstrate the concealed existence and attributes of God, just as the presence and symmetry of a man are made known to the distant spectator when the shadow of his person, in sharp outline, falls upon a brightly illuminated surface. In such a case we do not indeed see the man, nor, strictly speaking, is it more than his exterior form of which we have direct evidence; nevertheless we do not fail to fill up in idea what is wanting in formal proof; and we think almost as distinctly of the person as if he stood, without a screen, fronting us in the blaze of light. Thus it is that both in the vastness and the richness of the visible universe the invisible God is adumbrated.
I. We may boldly affirm that earth is not too small a globe to be thought worthy of giving birth to the heirs of immortality; nor is man too diminutive a being to hold converse with his Creator, or to be amenable to the Divine government. The very multiplicity of worlds, instead of favouring such a conclusion, refutes it by showing that the Creator prefers, as the field of His cares and beneficence, limited and separate portions of matter rather than immense masses. It is manifest that the omnipotent wisdom and power laves to divide itself upon the individuality of its works.
II. But if we must not indulge this feeling, the tendency of which is to quash every aspiring thought and to reduce us from the rank we hold to the level of the brutes, our alternative is another which, without checking any noble emotion, at once imposes a restraint upon presumption, and leads us to estimate more rightly than otherwise we should the consequences of our present course. To exist at all as a member of so vast an assemblage of beings, and to occupy a footing in the universe such as it is, involves incalculable probabilities of future good or ill.
I. Taylor, Saturday Evening, p. 124.
I. How is God mindful of man? He is mindful of man at every moment of his existence—mindful of infancy, of boyhood, manhood in the toils of active life, of age, when all other mindfulness terminates, and when the ties of earth have been loosened one by one.
II. He is mindful of us inasmuch as He has provided all things needful for our existence. Nature brings the keys of her magnificent treasure-house, and lays them, a vassal, at the feet of man.
III. He is mindful of us, again, because He has provided everything, not only for our existence, but for our happiness. If you want to see how He has not left the world to itself from the beginning, take its history from Adam downward. And when, in the fulness of time, the Son of God was incarnate in furtherance of the purpose of the Father, surely God was mindful of His creatures then. The visit of Christ was (1) a visit of humility, and (2) a visit of atonement.
IV. Since the Son has ascended up to heaven, God has been mindful of man in the operations and influences of the Spirit.
V. He is mindful, too, in the dispensations of His providence. The great end of man's existence in the present life is to prepare for a better. He is so thoroughly earthly, so wedded to the scenes of time, that vigorous means are needed in order to wean him from earth and attach him to the skies. It would save us from misery sometimes if we could only regard our afflictions as having this disciplining and corrective end.
W. Morley Punshon, Penny Pulpit, No. 3608.
Reference: Psalm 8:3, Psalm 8:4.—Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 3rd series, p. 91.
Psalm 8:3-6I. True greatness consists, not in weight and extension, but in intellectual power and moral worth. When the Psalmist looked up to the heavens, he was at first overwhelmed with a sense of his own littleness; but, on second thoughts, David bethought himself that this was an entire misconception of the matter, and that man could not be inferior to the heavens, for God had, in point of fact, made him only a little lower than the angels—"than the Elohim," is the word in the Hebrew. This term, in the Elohistic portion of the Pentateuch, is applied to the Almighty instead of the term "Jehovah." God had made man, we may therefore read, a little lower than Himself, had crowned him with glory and honour, had given him dominion over the works of His hands, and had put all things under his feet. So far from being insignificant in comparison with the heavens, man is of infinitely more value than they.
II. The progress of science has had a tendency to make us underrate our manhood. The language of very many thinkers nowadays is the first hasty utterance of the Psalmist—"What is man?" And the answer they give to the question is this: Man is but a mote in the sunbeam, a grain of sand in the desert, a ripple upon an infinite ocean, an atom in immensity. They forget that he is an atom which feels, and knows, and thinks, an atom that believes itself endowed with "the power of an endless life."
III. The doctrine of man's paltriness is no less pernicious than erroneous. So morbid a belief must react injuriously upon character. If we believe that we are more insignificant than the dead and mindless world around us, we shall never give ourselves much trouble about character. On the other hand, if we remember that our spiritual nature is akin to God's, made only a little lower than His, then we are stimulated to cultivate the manhood with which we have been endowed, to agonise, if need be, till we become perfect, even as He is perfect.
A. W. Momerie, Defects of Modern Christianity, and Other Sermons, p. 266.
Psalm 8:4I. The thought which lies behind this text is of far deeper intensity now than when it was first uttered by the awe-stricken Psalmist. The author of this eighth Psalm could have had but a faint conception of the scale of creation compared with that at which we are now arriving. What is man in presence of the overwhelming display of creative power?
II. But there is another consideration which helps to impress the thought of our insignificance. We cannot but speculate as to the ends which this infinitely vast creation may be serving; and then of what account do human pretensions appear? What becomes of man's interests, his creation, his redemption, if these innumerable worlds are peopled by beings who wait, as he does, upon God? And yet, strange to say, our very doubts and misgivings may themselves serve to reassure us; for is not the capacity to reflect upon our position and to speculate about our destiny a witness to our greatness? It has been truly said that the very discoveries of astronomy, which unfold to us the vastness of the material creation, reveal at the same time the majesty of man. The discoverer is above his discovery at every step of the process.
III. What then is the right effect upon our hearts of this discovery of God's limitless working, His immeasurable condescension? It is to do away with our fear; it is to tell us that there is nothing incredible or preposterous in the thought that He visits us, and expends even upon us all the riches of His care and love. The heavens declare His glory, and proclaim it to be infinite. Why may not the Gospel be a similar declaration of His highest attribute, a witness borne to the universe that His mercy is infinite also?
IV. If man is a being so precious, so unique in his origin and destiny, if God has bestowed such manner of love upon him as Christ bids us believe, then what an appeal is made to him to live up to his unspeakable dignity! "It is the highest effort of his culture," says St. Bernard, "when a man comes to care for himself for the sake of his God;" when, that is, his sovereign desire is to be worthier of the rank with which God has invested him and of the love which God has lavished upon him.
R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 193.
How are we to verify the hope that it is possible for man to have access to God's presence? St. Paul declares that ever since the creation of the world the invisible things of God, even His power and Godhead, have been revealed in the material universe. But the influence on religious faith and hope of what we call "nature" varies with different men. There are some aspects of nature which sometimes make it difficult to believe that there can be any real communion between the Creator and ourselves. The vastness, the grandeur, of the material universe sometimes oppress us; we are crushed by the sense of our insignificance. What is man that God is mindful of him, and what is man that God should visit him? Our humiliation is deepened by the discovery that our own life is akin to the inferior forms of life around us,—akin to forms of life which look at first sight most remote from us. What right have I to separate myself from the creatures to which I am so closely related? What right have I to claim any special remembrance from God? This is the gospel of science; is it true, or is it false? What are the pleas which are urged against our faith?
I. The whole world, we are told, 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 that inhabit it. There is a certain intellectual and moral vulgarity in attaching such importance to mere material magnitude. A few square inches of canvas show sometimes a more costly work than a picture which would cover the side of a house. The world is very small, but what of that if it is big enough to hold the children of God?
II. The second plea is that the life of man is too brief and momentary compared with the ages during which the universe has existed. No doubt, but science itself contains the reply to this argument. Let the doctrine of evolution, on its purely scientific side, be true,—instead of being overawed and humbled by the long succession of ages which have preceded me, I find in them new testimony to the greatness of my nature and the possible dignity of my position. I myself am the consummate result and the ripe fruit of these immense and awful ages.
III. The third plea is that we are encompassed by laws which take no heed of the personal differences of men, of the varieties of their character, or of the vicissitudes of their condition. You tell me of law, but there is another law, even the law of my moral nature. While you have demonstrated that the whole universe is subjected to the authority of natural law, for me there is reserved an inviolable liberty. Separate from nature, I may be akin to God. It is possible, after all, that God may be mindful of me, and that God may visit me. But let us not forget that God is near, and yet He may surround Himself with clouds and thick darkness and may be altogether hidden from us. It is not enough that we draw nigh to God; God Himself must draw nigh to us. If the brightness of His presence shines upon us, that brightness does not come like the splendours of the rising sun, but as the effect of His own voluntary revelation of His glory.
R. W. Dale, Penny Pulpit, Nos. 992, 993.
References: Psalm 8:4.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 193; W. Lindsay Alexander, Christian Thought and Work, p. 123; Congregationalist, vol. x., p. 500; J. Baldwin Brown, The Higher Life, pp. 1, 387; H. P. Liddon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 101.
Psalm 8:4-5Man stands on the frontier of two worlds. There is a supernatural sphere, and man's connection with it is his glory, his endowments from it his highest treasures. "Made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour."
I. What then is that connection? Can the supernatural world unfold itself before man? The answer is, Most certainly it can. (1) God has laid bare to man the splendid vision by prophecy. Prophecy is God's revelation by word. Wherever any spiritual truth is taught, the words that teach reveal something of God. (2) What prophecy was by word, that miracle was by act—a revelation of the supernatural world. Miracles have revealed the nearness and power of the personal God; they have been the seal which He has placed visibly upon some great moral revelation, to mark by an act in nature the reality of a supernatural world. (3) Above all, there was the great revelation—the revelation by Himself. "God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son."
II. Can man take in the vision? Can he respond to the revelation? Certainly he can. Man's apparent activities are limited to the domains of time and sense. The forces by which he conquers, by which he transfigures the temptations of time and sense into the stepping-stones to a higher life, are: (1) That Divine gift which is the power of inward vision. It is given to the soul first as a tendency; it grows if used until it attains the strength of a clear-sighted inward eye. That capacity is faith. (2) Hope, the supernatural virtue which strengthens the soul, not merely to gaze at the beauty of that fair, that unearthly, landscape, but to enter in, and say with holy fear, with humble confidence, "This paradise is mine." (3) Love. To love God is the source of penitence, the crown of joy, the power of union with the supernatural world.
J. Knox Little, Manchester Sermons, p. 41.
I. Consider the exaltation of the humanity in the Divine purpose. It formed the great Divine idea ere the earth was made, and when God dwelt alone in the solitudes of infinite space. The almighty Creator Himself condescended to assume the human nature in union with the Divine in order to exalt that nature, fallen and degraded, to glory and honour.
II. Notice the exaltation of the humanity in the incarnation of the Son of God. "Manifest in the flesh." How magnificent does fallen nature appear, even in its ruins, in thus becoming the very sanctuary and residence of Deity. Christ consecrated infancy, poverty, bereavement, suffering, and death itself, and the grave.
III. Note the exaltation of the humanity in the ascension of Christ. Our human nature occupies the central throne of heaven. "Great is the mystery of godliness, man manifest on the throne of God." It is in glorified human nature that Christ there lives and loves.
IV. Notice the exaltation of the humanity in the day of judgment. "The Father hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man." Here, again, it is humanity exalted on the throne of final reckoning—the Man Christ Jesus.
V. Once more, contemplate the exaltation of the humanity throughout all eternity. The humanity Christ wore on earth will continue evermore on the throne. The Divine Father, by immutable covenant, invested Him as Mediator with "length of days for ever and ever."
J. R. Macduff, Communion Memories, p. 51.
References: Psalm 8:4, Psalm 8:5.—S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 365. Psalm 8:5.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2273; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 306.
Psalm 8:6This Psalm is stamped with a worldwide breadth; it is of no nation; it is of all time; it shines with a light transcending that of mere human genius. We are brought face to face with these three: nature, man, God.
I. Look, first, at the text in the light of Old Testament Scripture. It is quite plain that here is no description drawn from nature. All things are not put under man. He does not reign over nature; he wrestles with nature; step by step he gains upon nature, and subdues it to his purposes; but he has still to keep continual watch and ward lest nature should rebel against him and destroy him. The context clearly shows that the Psalmist is looking back to the primitive glory, the primeval character, of man, as it is written upon the very first page of this book. In the light of the Bible man can tell whence he cometh and whither he goeth. Sorrowful and confused as his earthly life is and has been all these thousands of years, still in the light that shines from Scripture it shows like a stormy day that had a splendid rise and that shall yet have a glorious sunset.
II. When we look at these words in the light of New Testament Scripture, a new glory suddenly breaks forth from them. "Now we see not yet all things put under him; but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour," etc. The highest fulfilment of these words can be found nowhere short of Him who loved to call Himself the "Son of man." "Thou hast put all things under His feet." (1) This is what only God has either the right or the power to do. It is not merely supreme power that is here spoken of; it is supreme authority, as when our Lord said to His disciples, "All power is given to Me." In the days of His flesh He constantly exercised four kinds of authority: the authority to forgive sin, the authority to declare truth, the authority to rule nature, and the authority over human hearts and consciences. The claim of universal and absolute obedience and these four are in close, inseparable moral unity. (2) "All things"—small things as well as great. The hairs of your head are all numbered; your name is not unknown to Him. The chief lesson in these words is for every Christian a lesson of restful calm, peaceful, untroubled faith, but faith surely tempered with reverence. All things are naked and open to Him with Whom we have to do.
E. R. Conder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 161.
References: Psalm 8—C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 148; A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 28; F. D. Maurice, Sermons in Country Churches, p. 148; I. Williams, The Psalms Interpreted of Christ, p. 178; P. Thomson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 173. Psalm 9:1.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 304. Psalm 9:4.—J. P. Chown, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 63; Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 112. Psalm 9:6.—Bishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 31. Psalm 9:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 287. Psalm 9:16.—Congregationalist, vol. vi., p. 536. Psalm 9:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, No. 344; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 250; F. E. Paget, Sermons on the Duties of Daily Life, p. 23; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. v., p. 169; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 221. Psalm 9:18.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Genesis to Proverbs, p. 144. Psalm 9—I. Williams, The Psalms Interpreted of Christ, p. 189. Psalm 10:4.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv.,p. 57. Psalm 10:5.—C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 174. Psalm 10:16.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 118. Psalm 10:17.—Ibid., Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1802.
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!