Click here to learn more!
“This is a psalm of thanksgiving to God for the exaltation of man above all terrestrial creatures. It is quoted by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews with reference to Christ; but whether it is to be considered a prophecy, or whether it is quoted simply because it describes by way of accommodation the character of our Lord, does not appear certain. The most sober commentators have adopted the latter view, considering that the author of the psalm intended simply to celebrate the glory of Jehovah, and the power and dignity He has conferred on the human race. It is, however, they say, appropriately applied to our Lord by way of illustration; for this power and dignity did not obtain their full consummation till He became invested with our nature, and was exalted ‘above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come,’ ”—Phillips.
THE GOSPEL OF THE STARS
We are led to consider:
I. Creation as deriving its glory from God.
The Psalmist here looks upon creation, not as God, not as independent of God, but as a glass reflecting the glory of God. “Thy heavens.” “Who hast set Thy glory” above or upon the heavens. “It here implies that the glory belonging to the frame of nature is not inherent, but derivative.”—Alexander. “The sense of God’s presence, of which the Psalmist is so profoundly conscious in his own spiritual life, is that which gives its glory and its meaning to the natural world. There is a vivid realisation of that presence as of a presence which fills the world. Nature is full of God; nature is the theatre of His glory. All admiration of nature in a rightly-tuned heart is a confession of that glory. To such a heart there can be no praise of nature apart from the praise of God. All things are ‘of Him, and through Him, and to Him.’ Apart from Him, the unwise is void and waste; He gives it its life and meaning.”—Perowne. “God is the principle of beauty, both as author of the physical world, and as father of the intellectual and moral world. He is the life, the light, the movement, the ineffable grace of visible and finite nature.”—Cousin. Let us remember that the glory of creation is but the reflected glory of Him who sits above it. This as against atheism, pantheism, naturalism.
II. Creation as revealing the glory of God.
The glory of God as seen in nature is:
1. Unspeakable. “How excellent!” No poet, no saint, can adequately speak of it. It fills us with a wonder and joy too deep for words.
2. Gracious. “How excellent!” The earth, so far as its primitive and essential arrangements are concerned, declares the loving God. The glory of God is His goodness.
3. Universal. “In all the earth.” Everywhere, under the whole heavens, we see the glory of God.
“Known through the earth by thousand signs,
By thousands through the skies.”
“He whose eyes are open cannot want an instructor, unless he wants a heart.”—Charnock, quoted by Spurgeon.
III. Creation as awakening admiration and love in the children of God.
“O Lord, our Lord!” Unbelieving men make nature to hide God, to put Him far away; but nature rejoices the saint as he beholds in it the workmanship of his Father. The sceptical philosopher is reminded by nature of the Eternal, the Infinite, the Absolute; but the saint responds—
“This glorious God is ours,
Our Father, and our Friend.”
THE APOLOGETICS OF CHILDHOOD
David speaks literally of children; and so our Lord Himself applies the words (Matthew 21:16). “Even the faith of a little child is bulwark enough against the folly of men of corrupt heart and perverted intellect. The stars above, and the lips of the infants below, show forth His praise.”—Perowne.
The Psalmist has been looking at the magnificence of the firmament, and he passes at once to children, little children. But there is really no shock in this, for children are, as they have been justly and beautifully designated, “little majesties.”
I. The religious capacity of childhood.
This is indicated here. The young children with their first breath ask for God, and recognise Him in the glory of the universe. The spirituality of childhood is frequently recognised in the Old Testament; and in the New Testament Christ distinctly recognises the spirituality of the child-nature. The poet recognises in the child natural innocence and grace; the painter, physical beauty; the parent exalts the child from a sentiment of natural affection; but Christ gave children a conspicuous place in His teaching and system, on the ground of their spiritual faculty. The children recognised Christ when the patriarchs of the nation failed to do so; they welcomed Him when their fathers were cold and blind. Christianity is peculiarly, as no other religion has ever been, the religion of the children. Let them have it. Give them “the truth as it is in Jesus;” do not be sceptical about their conversion.
II. The religious service of childhood.
“That Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” “The instinctive admiration of Thy works, even by the youngest children, is a strong defence against those who would question Thy being or obscure Thy glory. The effect, or rather the legitimate tendency of this spontaneous testimony, is to silence enemy and avenger, i.e., to stop the mouths of all malignant railers against God, whose cavils and sophisms are put to shame by the instinctive recognition of God’s being and His glory by the youngest children.”—Alexander. How often the simple speech of a little child cleaves to the heart of a great subject, and silences the gainsayer! “Have we never seen how a child, simple and near to God, cuts asunder a web of sophistry with a single direct question? How, before its steady look and simple argument, some fashionable utterer of a conventional falsehood has been abashed?”—Robertson. And it is remarkable how at great crises the children have become defenders of Christ and His cause. Notably, Matthew 21:16; and again in the Reformation. When Melancthon was greatly depressed about the fortunes of the Reformation, one day he passed a house in which he found some young people praying for the Protestant cause. Coming to Luther, he exclaimed triumphantly, “We are saved: the children are praying for us.” And again, in the great revival of religion under Wesley and Whitfield. When Whitfield was preaching in New England, a certain lady became a subject of grace and a praying Christian. But she could influence none to pray with her but her little daughter, about ten years of age. This child was daily in her closet as a witness of her cries and tears, and soon became the subject of Divine grace. The child, in a transport peculiar to such blessed experience, said, “O mother! if all the world knew this! I wish I could tell everybody! Pray, mother, let me tell all the neighbours, that they may be happy, and love my Saviour too!” “Ah! my dear child,” said the mother, “it would be useless; if you were to tell your experience, they would call it a delusion.” “O mother! I think they would believe me. I must go at once to the shoemaker, and tell him; he will believe me.” She ran over, and found him at work in his shop. She began telling him that he must die; that he and she were sinners; but that Christ had heard her mother’s prayers, and forgiven all her sins, and that now she was very happy. The shoemaker was struck; his tears flowed down like rain; he threw aside his work, and so earnestly cried for mercy as to alarm the neighbourhood; and in a few months from that time, about fifty people were brought to the saving knowledge of Christ. Whitfield, adverting to his preaching in Moorfields, says, “I cannot help adding, that several little boys and girls who were fond of sitting round me on the pulpit while I preached, and handed to me people’s notes—though they were often pelted with eggs, dirt, &c., thrown at me—never once gave way; but, on the contrary, every time I was struck, turned up their little weeping eyes, and seemed to wish they could receive the blows for me. God make them, in their growing years, great and living martyrs for Him who, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, perfects praise!” There is a feast celebrated at Naumburg called the “Feast of Cherries,” in which troops of children parade the streets with green boughs ornamented with cherries, to commemorate a triumph obtained in the following manner:—In 1432, the Hussites threatened the city of Naumburg with immediate destruction, when one of the citizens proposed that all the children in the city should be clad in mourning, and sent as supplicants to the enemy. Procopius Nasus, chief of the Hussites, was so touched with this spectacle, that he received the young supplicants, regaled them with fruits, and promised them to spare the city. The children returned crowned with leaves, holding cherries, and crying “Victory!” Thus the children are often ambassadors for God, and their words, prayers, tears, often confound or melt “the enemy and the avenger.” Every house that has a child in it has a chaplain. Let us in the Christian Church believe more in the spiritual faculty of the children; let us teach them spiritual truth; let us believe in their conversion; let us economise their evangelic power. The smaller magnets have proportionately much the greater power; and the children have a remarkable spiritual force which the Church must not ignore.
THE DIGNITY OF HUMAN NATURE
I. The apparent weakness of human nature.
“What is man?” “It describes man from the side of his impotence, frailty, and mortality.”—Delitzsch. “Man. The Hebrew word denotes man in his weakness and frailty, as in the next member, Son of man (son of Adam), refers also to his earthly nature as formed out of the ground”—Perowne. “What is man? The first feeling is an overpowering sense of man’s insignificance in presence of the vastness and splendour, the mysterious depth, and the exceeding glory of the heavens, as seen at night.”—Perowne. Compare the vastness of creation with the littleness of man; the power of creation with the feebleness of man; the duration of creation with the fugitiveness of man. “One generation goeth, and another cometh, but the earth abideth for ever.”
II. The essential greatness of human nature.
Psalms 8:5-9. “Although man appears so insignificant, yet, through God’s marvellous condescension, how great is man, little less than Divine in nature, and lord of all creation.”—Perowne. This greatness is found:
1. In the quality of his being. He is a partaker of the Divine nature. A “little lower than the angels.” It is generally acknowledged that the A. V. does not give the full sense of the original of these words. “ ‘Thou madest him only a little lower than Elohim;’ so the original; and Elohim is by some rendered, as A. V., angels; but modern interpreters, however, generally are in favour of translating the words thus:—‘Thou madest him little less than God.’ ”—Wordsworth. “Thou hast made him to want but little (or, to come short but little) of God.”—Perowne. “And hast made him a little less than divine.”—Delitzsch. “And madest him lack but little of God.”—Kay. Man only appears insignificant. His rounded brow speaks more than the arched sky, his eyes shine out deeper things than stars, and in his lips there is a music beyond that of wind or wave. Less bright than the sun, less bulky than the planet, less abiding than the stars, he is greater than them all! “Noble in reason, infinite in faculty, in action like an angel, in apprehension like a god.”—Shakespeare. The day was when the Church had to insist upon the depravity and degradation of human nature in opposition to the philosophy which descanted on the purity and dignity of human nature; now, perhaps, it is the duty of the Church to insist on the dignity of human nature in opposition to the dishonouring theories of modern science. The greatness of man is seen:
2. In the extent of his dominion (Psalms 8:6-8). “Man is a king, and not a king without territory; the world around, with the works of creative wisdom which fill it, is his kingdom.”—Delitzsch. “All, everything, hast Thou put under his feet, i.e., subjected to his power.”—Alexander. Earth, sea, sky (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:2). Man is God’s vicegerent, and through man God seeks to govern all things. We ought to seek to exercise our regal glory in the right spirit and to the right end. “ ‘All things under his feet’ teaches us:
(1.) To trample upon earthly things as base and bootiess, not to dote upon them with our hearts, nor grasp them greedily with our hands.
(2.) By this posture of all things under man’s foot God would teach him to use them as a stirrup, for the raising of his heart to those things above. A sanctified fancy can make every creature a ladder to heaven.”—Trapp.
III. The source of the greatness of human nature.
It is because God “is mindful of him.” All his glory and empire is derived from God, and only continues whilst God blesses him. God puts the crown on our head; let us, in the spirit of Psalms 8:9, lay that crown at His feet. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” &c. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
HUMAN NATURE IN THE LIGHT OF CHRISTIANITY
This psalm is frequently quoted in the New Testament, and may be considered as an eminently Christian psalm. It is often objected to Christianity that it deals harshly with human nature, that it ignores the dignity of our nature, &c. We submit, on the contrary, that the Christian estimate of human nature commends itself to the common conscience in the sight of God.
I. Christianity recognises the intrinsic grandeur of human nature.
It asserts the spirituality, the infinity, the immortality of man. He is made in the image of God’s spirituality, infinity, immortality. And Christianity gives the crowning illustration of man’s mysterious greatness. The Psalmist, in the 4th verse, affirms that the glory of man springs from the condescension and visitations of God; but do we not find the supreme illustration of this verse in the fact that Deity, in Christ, took upon itself our human nature? Whilst scepticism is degrading human nature, talking of its origin in the ape, and its destination in the dust, Christianity crowns man with honour and glory by declaring that God took upon Himself our nature, and lived on the earth as man with man. The incarnation stands out as the crowning demonstration of the mysterious grandeur of human nature, and as a lofty protest against all those theories of sceptical science which would drag man down to the level of the beasts which perish.
II. Christianity restores the lost grandeur of human nature.
The Gospel denies that man, as we find him to be, dishonoured and discrowned, is as he ought to be; it says he ought to be far otherwise, and it seeks to put the lost sceptre into his hand, to restore the fallen diadem to his brow. It aims to restore:
1. The glory of his character.
(1.) Christ becomes the pattern of life. He shows us what we may be, what we ought to be. How truly kingly is Christ! How glorious is the human character as seen in Him, arrayed in all the gold and purple of sublimest graces!
(2.) Christ becomes the perfecter of life. He is the power to make us as glorious as Himself. “We all, with open face,” &c. The Gospel aims to restore us faultless before the throne of God. It aims to restore:
2. The fulness of his dominion. This has been lost. A mere scrap of man’s sovereignty is left to him in his fallen estate. Instead of ruling, man is ruled; instead of being a monarch, he is a slave. He is the sport of elements he was born to rule. But Christianity recognises man’s right to rule, and seeks to fit him once more to exercise that rule.
(1.) In this world. Whilst many of our scientific men are denying that the chief end of the earth is for man, Christianity insists that it is so. “The world is yours.” As the Gospel prevails, the earth becomes more subjected to man. With the prevalence of Christianity you have the advancement of civilisation, of science, of art, and thus the earth is more and more made the property of the human race, and subordinated to the utility, and in a great measure to the command of man. As man acquires his kingly character in Christ, the world returns to its allegiance to him.
(2.) In the spiritual and eternal world. “The centre of the New Testament consciousness is Jesus, the restorer of that which is lost. The dominion of the world lost to fallen man, and only retained by him in a ruined condition, is allotted to mankind, when redeemed by Him, in fuller and more perfect reality. This dominion is not yet in the actual possession of mankind, but in the person of Jesus it now sits enthroned at the right hand of God. Everything is really put under Him with just as little limitation as is expressed in this psalm: not merely the animal kingdom, not merely the world itself, but the universe with all the ruling powers in it, whether they be in subjection or in hostility to God, yea, even the power of death (1 Corinthians 15:27; cf. Ephesians 1:22).”—Delitzsch. And Christ is thus exalted on our behalf, to make us sharers of His power and empire.
Only in Christ can man’s magnificent destiny be realised. “Man’s destiny as depicted in this psalm is not, and cannot be, accomplished out of Christ. He is the true Lord of all. In Him man reigns, in Him man shall yet be restored to his rightful lordship, and shall really and completely be in the new world of redemption what now he is but very imperfectly, God’s vicegerent, ruling a subject creation in peace, and harmony, and love.”—Perowne.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany