You made him ruler of the works of Your hands; You have placed everything under his feet:
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 -
II. THE DIGNITY OF MAN AS DISCLOSED BY THE GRACIOUS VISITATION OF GOD.
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;
(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.
"I will praise Thee." That is the note that is too commonly silent in our religious life. We rarely gather together for the supremely exhilarating business of praise. In the Psalm is a man who sets himself to the business of praise, as though he were about to engage in a great matter. He sets about it with undivided attention — "with my whole heart." The word "heart" is a spacious word. It includes all the interior things, all the central things; when a man comes to praise, will, intellect, and imagination must all be active. He must bring to the ministry of praise the worship of his feelings. Come will, and make my praise forceful. Come intellect, and make it enlightened. Come feeling, and make it affectionate. In the words, "I will sow forth," is suggested that he will score it as with a mark, he will not allow it to slip by unrecorded. He will keep a journal of mercies. He will not only register the "marvellous works," he will publish them. The word is suggestive not only of a notebook, but of a proclamation. "I will rejoice," the word is suggestive of the exulting bubbling of the spring. The two words, "glad," "rejoice," together give us the image of the leaping waters with the sunshine on them. And such is always the joy of the Lord. It is fresh as the spring, and warm and cheering as the sunlight.
Thou hast put all things under his feet, etc.
If the lower creation were not too insignificant or worthless to contribute to the glory of Jesus, they cannot be deemed too insignificant for Him to care for, and for us to protect and honour. We know it is said of His saints that "he that toucheth them, toucheth the apple of His eye." In other words, He feels what is done to His people as sensitively as if it had been done to Himself. And, of course, while there is a sense in which, using human language, He must be jealous of them, as He is in regard to no other (they being emphatically the fruit of the travail of His soul), yet if all creatures have been intrusted to His sovereignty, and are the subjects of His sway, He must regard any wanton injustice or cruelty inflicted on the meanest and the lowliest as an unwarranted aggression on what the old divines call His "rectorial rights." It may seem to some an unnecessary straining of the subject: that it would be better to rest and vindicate it on principles of ordinary benevolence. It is well, indeed, that we can take up the lower ground too, and, for those who would scorn the appeal to gospel motive, address ourselves to the claims and sympathies of our common humanity. But I do confess it seems to me that this theme secures a far more commanding demonstration when we see the lower animals, whose oppression we are called to denounce, placed under the especial care and authority of the Redeemer; that as the living creatures were brought one by one to the first Adam to be named and placed under his protection, so the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who is to restore in every respect what the other forfeited, has had among the "all things put under His feet," "all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea." Though the members of the lowlier creation are represented in the text as subjected to the rule of Christ, they have been subordinated by Him to the care of man. To man, as high priest of creation, they have been made over at once for his use, and to secure his protection and kindness. In thus consigning them to his custody, this great Lord of nature has given significant intimation of the treatment He Himself designs them to receive at the hands of their deputed governor. He has manifested on every side a desire for the happiness of His creatures. Pain is in no instance the law or condition of their being. The sport of the insect, the carol of the lark, the gambols of the quadruped, the gush of summer song in the groves and woods, all read the design and intention of a bountiful, beneficent, and benevolent Ruler. And if man, therefore, abuse his delegated authority, and instead of the merciful guardian and friend of the helpless, become the rigorous tyrant and torturer, does he not thereby set himself up in guilty defiance of the purposes of the Almighty, and do what he can to abridge the happiness he was commissioned to provide and promote? We shall proceed to enforce, from a few brief considerations, the duty of abstaining from the infliction of pain on the inferior creation, and their paramount claims on man's sympathy, protection, and kindness. Let us advert, at the outset, to a lurking and widely accepted fallacy with regard to the lower animals having a comparative insensibility to pain. That they are capable of a certain amount of suffering none dare dispute, but we question if there be not at the root of much of that reckless torture of which they are the subjects, an impression that their wild and untamed habits of life and their iron frames make them proof against the physical anguish of which the human being is susceptible. I would ask what in anatomy, what in physiology is there to bear out such an hypothesis? How can I more befittingly stun up this subject than by a closing reference and reply? Some have ventured to assert that the lower animals, being infinitely beneath us in the scale of being, are unfit subjects and objects for any such special and exceptional tenderness as that for which we plead. I ask, Where should we have been at this moment if this were a recognised and universally-acted-upon law in the government of God — that a being, because superior in the scale of existence, should refuse to bestow regard or interest on those who are some degrees beneath him? Is not the whole scheme of redemption one marvellous display of the condescension and kindness of one Being to those immeasurably below Him? Man's condescension to the lower animals! What is this in comparison with God's regardfulness of man? The former is but the attention and kindness of one creature to another, both springing from earth, both hastening to dissolution. But the kindness of God to the human offspring is that of the Infinite to the finite, Almightiness to nothingness, Deity to dust! Oh, if God, the great God Almighty, thus visits the guilty with tenderness, shall we visit the innocent and unoffending with cruelty and oppression? when He has thrown the shield of His merciful, but unmerited, protection over us, shall we thus requite His kindness by acting toward the humbler creatures of His hands with contempt and disdainful neglect? No! as we behold His kingdom stretching downwards from the pinnacles of glory to every living thing in the habitable parts of the earth, where from the beginning His delights have been, let us recognise the beauty and profound meaning of that magnificent vision which burst on the prophet by the river Chebar — significant exposition of the Mediator's sovereignty: the four fold resemblances or images of creature forms, of which only one was human, and the other three of the lower animals — the lion, the ox, and the eagle; while over all, in the sapphire firmament, we read, was "the likeness as the appearance of a man." It was the very truth and language of our text embodied and symbolised: the all-glorious and glorified Mediator presiding over the Kingdom of Providence, and demonstrating in the most extensive sense "His Kingdom ruleth over all"! Seeing, then, that all creatures thus wait upon Him, that He gives them their meat in due season, let the topic of our meditation (pleading, and pleading all the more earnestly for those who cannot plead for themselves) receive the loftiest enforcement by joining in with the loyal ascription of the Psalmist — "Thou hast put all things under his feet."
This 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, and God. Here is no picture drawn from nature. This description — "Thou hast put all things under his feet" — does not, as a matter of fact, describe man's present position on the globe. All things are not put under him. He does not reign over nature, he wrestles with nature. The Psalmist is not using here the language of prophetic inspiration. He is looking back to the primitive glory, the primeval character of man as it is written upon the very first page of this book. The Bible grasps so firmly the unseen future, just because it plants its foot so strongly upon the past. Human nature did not crawl up from sentient slime; man was born with the likeness of his Father shining out from his very countenance, able to converse with God, and to render intelligent and loving obedience to God. Turn to the New Testament Scriptures. A new light, a new glory, suddenly breaks forth from them. "We see Jesus...crowned with glory and honour." In Scripture there is but one Divine right, and that is God's own right. "His Kingdom ruleth over all." This authority is the inherent, eternal right of God in the very nature of things. Is it impossible to transfer it? Is it conceivable that the Almighty God should give His glory to another? Jesus said, "All authority is given to Me in heaven and in earth." In the days of His humiliation, our Saviour 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 faith. These four are in close and inseparable moral unity.
I will praise Thee, O Lord.
In the Septuagint, this Psalm refers to the death of the Divine Son, and recites His victory over death, the grave, and all our foes.
I. THERE IS A PREDOMINANT NOTE OF PRAISE. (Vers. 1-5, 11, 12, 14.) Let us not praise with a divided, but a whole heart. It is incited by recounting all God's works. Let memory heap fuel on the altar of praise.
II. THERE IS AN ASSERTION OF TRUST. (Vers. 7-12, 18.) The oppressed, the humble, the needy, and the poor have strong encouragement. Calamity drives them to God, and so they come to know Him, and then the more they trust Him. Doubt is born of ignorance. Leave God to vindicate you; He will not forget.
III. THERE IS A PETITION FOR FURTHER HELP. (Vers. 13, 19, 20.) What a contrast between the gates of death (ver. 13), and the gates of the Holy City (ver. 14)! See Haman as illustrating ver. 15. He who lifts the righteous, hurls down the wicked. It is a sin to forget God (ver. 17).
()We should praise God more, and thank Him more often for His ceaseless goodness. How can we forget His countless benefits? Dean Alford said, "It seems to me that five minutes of real thanksgiving for the love of our dear Saviour is worth a year of hard reasoning on the hidden parts of our redemption." Of the last days of the Venerable , his disciple wrote, "He was much troubled with shortness of breath, yet without pain, before the day of our Lord's resurrection, that is, for about a fortnight, and thus he afterwards passed his life cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God every day and night, nay, every hour, till the day of our Lord's ascension. He also passed all the night awake in joy and thanksgiving, unless a short sleep prevented it, in which case he no sooner awoke than he presently repeated his wonted exercises, and ceased not to give thanks to God with uplifted hands. I declare with truth that I have never seen with my eyes, or heard with my ears, any man so earnest in giving thanks to the living God."
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