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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 8

Verse 4


‘What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?’

Psalms 8:4

I. 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 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.

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 a 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 realise that God has set His affection upon the creature whom He has made.’ So, instead of being depressed by our insignificance, 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.


‘These verses have been often entirely misapplied; as if their tendency were to crush man, and make him feel his nothingness in the presence of the orbs of heaven. The real drift of the psalm is directly the reverse of this—to make us consider how wonderful the dignity is which God has bestowed on man. The immediate reference is to the condescending goodness of God at the time of man’s original creation. He Who made the universe, with its inexhaustible stores of grandeur and beauty, formed man of the dust of the ground, and then constituted him sovereign of this earth. The sceptre had indeed fallen from his hands. It seemed as if God’s loving designs had been frustrated by the malignity of the Enemy. But God had comforted the faithful with a promise of ultimate victory over the Evil One.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 8". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.