Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands. An evident reference to Genesis 1:28 , "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." By these words man's right of dominion was established. His actual dominion only came, and still comes, by degrees. Thou hast put all things under his feet. In their fulness, the words are only true of the God-Man, Jesus Christ ( Matthew 28:18 ).
"Thou hast put … feet." This brief but majestic psalm is remarkable for world-wide breadth; it shines with light transcending human genius. The name by which the Almighty Maker is addressed is his covenant name with Israel—the name which speaks not of power , but of personal being, "Jehovah." But here is no reference to Israel; nothing national, limited, ceremonial, local, temporary. This psalm is a sufficient refutation of the mean, narrow views of the Old Testament Scriptures, which lower the religion of Israel to the rank of one among the many national religions. Here we are concerned only with these three supreme ideas: man; nature; God. Jehovah is invoked as the Author of nature and God of all mankind. Consider this sublime declaration—first, as it stands here in the Old Testament Scriptures; secondly, as interpreted in the New Testament Scriptures.
I. Read these words, first, BY THEIR OWN LIGHT , AS THEY STAND PART OF THE OLD TESTAMENT .
1 . They are far from describing man's present actual position on this globe. He does not at present reign over nature, but wrestles with it; slowly grasps its secrets and masters its forces; has to keep watch and ward lest it destroy him. A few tribes of lower animals attach themselves serviceably to him, but most fly from him or defy him. Wolves ravage his flocks; worms corrode his ships. The sight of a locust or a beetle makes him tremble: he can crush it in an instant, but when countless millions of these minute rebels invade his fields and vineyards and orchards, they turn his wealth to poverty. Truly, "we see not yet all things put under him."
2 . Yet these words are no poetic exaggeration. The context shows that the psalmist is looking back to the record of man's original dignity and heirship of the world ( Psalms 8:6-8 compared with Genesis 1:27 , Genesis 1:29 ). This original grant conveys the idea not of easy, effortless lordship over a passive creation, but of progressive conquest by toil, skill, reason. Such is and has been man's dominion over the earth. This biblical account of the primitive dignity and moral standing of man is widely rejected in these days, on the assumption that it conflicts with science. Conflict between religious truth and scientific truth is impossible, because all truth is one. All truth is God's truth. The conflict is between testimony and hypothesis—the testimony of the most venerable and ancient of all histories, and the newest hypotheses of scientific men—hypotheses very confidently affirmed; but yet only hypotheses. It may turn out that the testimony is more scientific than the hypotheses. At all events, it is no trifle to reject it. Man knows not, apart from the Bible, whence he cometh or whither he goeth. Reject it as a revelation of fact, and the human race is an apparition upon earth—a stupendous exception to the laws which govern all other animals—of which the wildest conjectures of what. passes for science can give no rational account. Reject its revelation of law , and man is seen wandering out of the unknown past towards an unknown future, without guidance or government. Reject its revelation of promise , and that unknown future is without hope or intelligible meaning. Accept the Bible as God's message, and we know whence we come and whither we go. Human life, sorrowful and confused as it is, shows like a stormy day which had a splendid dawn and shall yet have a serene evening and glorious rising again. We need not, then, be frightened by the most confident assertions, from the glorious belief that man began his history on earth as the child of the Father of spirits; not crawling out of sentient slime through a series of inconceivable transformations, compared with which all the miracles of the Bible are commonplace incidents; but able to converse with God, and to render intelligent, loving obedience to him: "a little lower than God himself;" " crowned with glory and honour."
II. AS INTERPRETED IS THE NEW TESTAMENT . Faith prizes the past, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the present and the future. When we look at these words in the light of New Testament interpretation, new glory breaks from them. They are not simply history or poetry, but prophecy ( Hebrews 2:8 , Hebrews 2:9 ). We need not ask, and cannot say, whether this meaning was known to the psalmist. The prophets uttered more than they knew. God interprets by fulfilling; and the fulfilment far outruns all our expectations.
1 . In the Person, life, character, of our Lord Jesus, even "in the days of his flesh," our nature was raised to a pitch of glory and perfectness before inconceivable. God's image was restored ( John 14:9 ; 1 Corinthians 15:47 ).
3 . All who believe in him are already, by faith, partakers in some degree of his glory ( Ephesians 1:19-23 ; Ephesians 2:6 ). And they shall hereafter, in perfect union with him and likeness to him, partake fully and eternally ( 1 John 3:1-3 ; John 17:22-24 ).
Lord what is man?
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 .
(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 . 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 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.
God the glorious Creator.
It is midnight. The sky is bright with stars. As the psalmist muses, the fire burns, and he bursts into song. The psalm is not for Israel alone, but brings before the mind such a vision of the glory of God as the great Creator, as binds all people of every land and age in a brotherhood of worship.
I. GOD 'S GLORY REVEALED IN NATURE . The heavens have a purpose. The outward glory images the inward and spiritual glory. The stars are silent witnesses for God. Their size, their order, their steadfastness, their splendour, and their mystery, which grow and deepen as investigation is prosecuted and knowledge increases, all proclaim the greatness of God. And the more the glory of God strikes our eye, the humbler do we feel in his awful presence. "When I have gazed into these stars," said Carlyle, "have they not looked down upon me, as if with pity, from their serene spaces, like eyes glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man?" But while the glory of God in the heavens is fitted to humble us, it also awakens aspiration. It is the same God who rules above and below. If God so cares for stars, will he not much more care for souls? The argument of our Lord applies to the heavens as well as the earth—to the creation above and beneath. "Are ye not much better than they?" ( Matthew 6:26 ).
II. GOD 'S GLORY MORE FULLY REVEALED IN MAN . It may be said that in man mundane creation first of all became intelligent, self-conscious, endowed with conscience and will, able so far to understand its Maker. Man is the last and fullest expression of God's thought—a being like himself, and that can hold communication with himself. It is only through man, made in God's image, that God could rightly reveal himself. If the heavens stood alone, there would be silence. But when man was created, there was an eye made to see, and a heart to feel, and a voice to proclaim God's praise.
1 . The greatness of man ' s being.
2 . The dignity of his position. The last is first. Man is put at the head of creation. The past has evidence of his lordship, and more and more his sway increases. It is his, not only to replenish, but to subdue the earth.
3 . The grandeur of his destiny. He has not only a great past, but a great future. God has not only given man his being, but provided also for his well-being. He has visited and redeemed his people ( Ephesians 1:3-10 ).
III. GOD 'S GLORY MOST PERFECTLY REVEALED IN CHRIST . What is dimly seen in creation and in man awakens the desire for more light and a fuller knowledge of God. This yearning is met and satisfied in Jesus Christ. He is perfect God and perfect Man. We might conceive of a man simply, so enlightened and swayed by God as that he should in all things be in harmony with God. In so far he might perfectly express God's mind and will. But there is far more in Christ. He is perfect Man and perfect God. He is the true Immanuel—God with us ( John 14:9 , John 14:10 ). Open, ye heavens, and let us see the Lord as Isaiah did ( Isaiah 6:1-3 )! Purge our eyes O Spirit of love and holiness, and let us behold Christ Jesus as Stephen did! and then we shall cry, with wonder, love, and praise, "It is the same Lord, 'my Lord and my God!'" Having such a faith, there is no bound to our hopes. What Christ did, he did for us; what Christ does, he does for us. We died with him and rose with him, and with him we shall be glorified ( Ephesians 1:17-23 ).—W.F.
God glorified in little children.
Two pictures: David on the housetop; Christ Jesus, David's Son and Lord, in the temple. With the hosannas of the people blended sweetly the voices of children. The Pharisees were offended, but our Lord was pleased. The words of the old psalm find a new fulfilment. The question for us is— How God is glorified in little children.
I. IN THE PLACE WHICH HE HAS GIVEN THEM IN CREATION . They form a part of the great whole. Necessary. Take them away, how different things would be! But they have their place. They are weak, but out of their weakness comes strength. They are helpless, but from their helplessness come endless benefits.
II. IN THEIR CAPABILITY OF RECEIVING CHRISTIAN NURTURE . Children show from the first their powers of growth. Their bodies, their minds, their souls, are constantly developing. By proper care they are capable, under God, of growing up unto Christ, as true and living members of his Church. Christ himself, and not fallen men like Augustine, or Luther, or Bunyan, is the true type and pattern of what children should be ( Luke 2:40 ).
III. IN THEIR FITNESS TO SERVE AND PRAISE GOD . There is not only simple wonder in children, but also intelligence. Their moral sense is very keen. Their delight in the beautiful and the good is not the result of education, but the instinct of their innocent and pure hearts. How often has God used little children to do his will and show forth his praise! So in the sanctuary, so in life. Remember the infant Moses ( Exodus 2:6 ), remember David's child ( 2 Samuel 4:1-12 :23), remember the young Josiah ( 1 Kings 13:2 ); above all, remember the Child of Bethlehem—the Babe in the manger ( Luke 2:10 , Luke 2:11 ).
IV. As THE OBJECTS OF HIS TENDER CARE . In manifold ways God has shown how dearly he loves little children. It is he who has established the paternal relationship. It is he who has provided for the holy upbringing of the young, by law and sacrament. It is he who has manifested by his dear Son, in what he taught and did when he was in the world, his tender affection and care for the young ( Mark 10:16 ; Matthew 18:2-10 ).
V. IN TAKING SO MANY OF THEM TO HIMSELF . The heathen had a saying, "Whom the gods love, die young." And in this there is a hidden truth. Death is always a strange and terrible thing; but in the very young it is almost deprived of its terrors. Then it is but a sleep. It is the Lord calling his loved ones early to himself. Happy are we when we can say with unfeigned faith and lively hope, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." If our little ones were left to grow up in this world of sin and sorrow, we know not what their future would be; but we know and are sure that when Christ takes them to himself, it is "far better." They are away from our sight, but not from our hearts. "Love never faileth." They have been taken from our care, but it is to be under better teachers and to receive a nobler education. They have been parted from us, but it is only for a little while; for Christ is gathering his own to himself, and when he cometh, he will bring them all with him. In that day many a stricken heart shall be made glad. "Mother, behold thy son!" "Son, behold thy mother!" Have we the mind of Christ? Are we carrying out worthily the high trust committed to us, of caring for the young? Will our dear children, whom we have lost a while, meet us with joy and welcome in the heavenly world?
"O thou whose infant feet were found
Within thy Father's shrine,
Whose years, with changeless virtue crowned,
Were all alike Divine.
Dependent on thy bounteous breath,
We seek thy grace alone,
In childhood, manhood, age, and death,
To keep us still thine own."
God's glory revealed.
"The great spiritual truth contained in the first passage of Scripture, that God made man in his own image, flashes forth in this psalm in true lyric grandeur, a ray of light across the dark mystery of creation" God is the most wonderful thought of the human mind, and this thought retains its hold upon us in spite of all atheistic influences. Here the thought is that God's glory is celebrated—
I. BY CHILDHOOD . Putting to silence the clamour of the atheist. Christ uses the passage against the scribes and Pharisees, and in another place says that God reveals to babes what he hides from the wise and prudent. We must be converted to little children; "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." God reveals to babes unbounded trust, unbounded obedience to parents, the simple truthfulness, the guileless mind; and they proclaim all this aloud, and it tells of their Divine origin and inspiration, and they thus praise God, and ought to abash the irreligious. "Heaven lies about us [and within us] in our infancy."
II. BY THE STARRY WORLDS . The things which tell us most of God are:
1 . Night . The solemnity and impressiveness of the heavens are greater by night than by day.
2 . Their constancy and order.
3 . Their immensity. We cannot compute their number and distances by any effort of thought.
4 . Their silence. God's greatest works are all done in awful, impressive silence. Then we feel our physical insignificance.
III. BY MAN 'S SPIRITUAL GREATNESS . ( Genesis 1:26-28 .) Compared with the material heavens, he is but an atom; but God has "visited him," and made him great, by stamping him with his own image, and giving him the sovereignty of things. He is made a little lower than God, or little less than of Divine standing ( Elohim ) . But he is to ascend up to sovereignty. In Hebrews 2:6-8 the words are applied to Christ in a much wider sense, and by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 ; because he is more perfected in his highest power, and is to have all rule and all authority. We have only begum to exercise lordship over the animal, the material, and the moral worlds, and over ourselves. It is only as we rule ourselves that we learn the secret of rule over others. Obedience is the road to sovereignty.—S.