Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher
TITLE. "To the Chief Musician upon Gittith, a Psalm of David." We are not clear upon the meaning of the word Gittith. Some think it refers to Gath, and may refer to a tune commonly sung there, or an instrument of music there invented, or a song of Obededom the Gittite, in whose house the ark rested, or, better still, a song sung over Goliath of Gath. Others, tracing the Hebrew to its root, conceive it to mean a song for the winepress, a joyful hymn for the treaders of grapes. The term Gittith is applied to two other Psalms, (81 and 84) both of which, being of a joyous character, it may be concluded, that where we find that word in the title, we may look for a hymn of delight.
We may style this Psalm the Song of the Astronomer: let us go abroad and sing it beneath the starry heavens at eventide, for it is very probable that in such a position, it first occurred to the poet's mind. Dr. Chalmers says, "There is much in the scenery of a nocturnal sky; to lift the soul to pious contemplation. That moon, and these stars, what are they? They are detached from the world, and they lift us above it. We feel withdrawn from the earth, and rise in lofty abstraction from this little theatre of human passions and human anxieties. The mind abandons itself to reverie, and is transferred in the ecstasy of its thought to distant and unexplored regions. It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements, and it sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty."
DIVISION. The first and last verses are a sweet song of admiration, in which the excellence of the name of God is extolled. The intermediate verses are made up of holy wonder at the Lord's greatness in creation, and at his condescension towards man. Poole, in his annotations, has well said, "It is a great question among interpreters, whether this Psalm speaks of man in general, and of the honour which God puts upon him in his creation; or only of the man Christ Jesus. Possibly both may be reconciled and put together, and the controversy if rightly stated, may be ended, for the scope and business of this Psalm seems plainly to be this: to display and celebrate the great love and kindness of God to mankind, not only in his creation, but especially in his redemption by Jesus Christ, whom, as he was man, he advanced to the honour and dominion here mentioned, that he might carry on his great and glorious work. So Christ is the principal subject of this Psalm, and it is interpreted of him, both by our Lord himself (Matthew 21:16), and by his holy apostle (1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:6,7).
We see not Him. The glass is all too dense
And dark, or else our earthborn eyes too dim.
Yon Alps, that lift their heads above the clouds
Verse 2. Nor only in the heavens above is the Lord seen, but the earth beneath is telling forth his majesty. In the sky, the massive orbs, rolling in their stupendous grandeur, are witnesses of his power in great things, while here below, the lisping utterances of babes are the manifestations of his strength in little ones. How often will children tell us of a God whom we have forgotten! How doth their simple prattle refute those learned fools who deny the being of God! Many men have been made to hold their tongues, while sucklings have borne witness to the glory of the God of heaven. It is singular how clearly the history of the church expounds this verse. Did not the children cry "Hosannah!" in the temple, when proud Pharisees were silent and contemptuous? and did not the Saviour quote these very words as a justification of their infantile cries? Early church history records many amazing instances of the testimony of children for the truth of God, but perhaps more modern instances will be the most interesting. Fox tells us, in the Book of Martyrs, that when Mr. Lawrence was burnt in Colchester, he was carried to the fire in a chair, because through the cruelty of the Papists, he could not stand upright, several young children came about the fire, and cried as well as they could speak, "Lord, strengthen thy servant, and keep thy promise." God answered their prayer, for Mr. Lawrence died as firmly and calmly as any one could wish to breathe his last. When one of the Popish chaplains told Mr. Wishart, the great Scotch martyr, that he had a devil in him, a child that stood by cried out, "A devil cannot speak such words as yonder man speaketh." One more instance is still nearer to our time. In a postscript to one of his letters, in which he details his persecution when first preaching in Moorfields, Whitfield 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 notesthough they were often pelted with eggs, dirt, &c., thrown at menever 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 mouths of babes and sucklings, perfects praise!" He who delights in the songs of angels is pleased to honour himself in the eyes of his enemies by the praises of little children. What a contrast between the glory above the heavens, and the mouths of babes and sucklings! yet by both the name of God is made excellent.
Verses 3, 4. At the close of that excellent little manual entitled
"The Solar System," written by Dr. Dick, we find an eloquent passage
which beautifully expounds the text:A survey of the solar system
has a tendency to moderate the pride of man and to promote humility.
Pride is one of the distinguishing characteristics of puny man, and
has been one of the chief causes of all the contentions, wars,
devastations, systems of slavery, and ambitious projects which have
desolated and demoralized our sinful world. Yet there is no
disposition more incongruous to the character and circumstances of
man. Perhaps there are no rational beings throughout the universe
among whom pride would appear more unseemly or incompatible than in
man, considering the situation in which he is placed. He is exposed
to numerous degradations and calamities, to the rage of storms and
tempests, the devastations of earthquakes and volcanoes, the fury of
whirlwinds, and the tempestuous billows of the ocean, to the ravages
of the sword, famine, pestilence, and numerous diseases; and at
length he must sink into the grave, and his body must become the
companion of worms! The most dignified and haughty of the sons of men
are liable to these and similar degradations as well as the meanest
of the human family. Yet, in such circumstances, manthat puny worm
of the dust, whose knowledge is so limited, and whose follies are so
numerous and glaringhas the effrontery to strut in all the
haughtiness of pride, and to glory in his shame.
Verses 5-8. These verses may set forth man's position among the
creatures before he fell; but as they are, by the apostle Paul,
appropriated to man as represented by the Lord Jesus, it is best to
give most weight to that meaning. In order of dignity, man stood next
to the angels, and a little lower than they; in the Lord Jesus this
was accomplished, for he was made a little lower than the angels by
the suffering of death. Man in Eden had the full command of all
creatures, and they came before him to receive their names as an act
of homage to him as the viceregent of God to them. Jesus in his
glory, is now Lord, not only of all living, but of all created
things, and, with the exception of him who put all things under him,
Jesus is Lord of all, and his elect, in him, are raised to a dominion
wider than that of the first Adam, as shall be more clearly seen at
his coming. Well might the Psalmist wonder at the singular exaltation
of man in the scale of being, when he marked his utter nothingness in
comparison with the starry universe.
Verse 9. Here, like a good composer, the poet returns to his key-note, falling back, as it were, into his first state of wondering adoration. What he started with as a proposition in the first verse, he closes with as a well proven conclusion, with a sort of quod erat demonstrandum. O for grace to walk worthy of that excellent name which has been named upon us, and which we are pledged to magnify!
Whole Psalm. Now, consider but the scope of the Psalm, as the
apostle quoteth it to prove the world to come. Hebrews 2. Any one
that reads the Psalm would think that the psalmist doth but set forth
old Adam in his kingdom, in his paradise, made a little lower than
the angelsfor we have spirits wrapped up in flesh and blood,
whereas they are spirits simplya degree lower, as if they were
dukes, and we marquises; one would think, I say, that this were all
his meaning, and that it is applied to Christ but by way of allusion.
But the truth is, the apostle bringeth it in to prove and to convince
these Hebrews, to whom he wrote, that that Psalm was meant of Christ,
of that man whom they expected to be the Messiah, the Man Christ
Jesus. And that he doth it, I prove by the sixth verseit is the
observation that Beza hath"One in a certain place," quoting David.
(Greek) hath testified; so we may translate it, hath testified it,
etiam atque etiam, testified most expressly; he bringeth an
express proof for it that it was meant of the Man Christ Jesus;
therefore it is not an allusion. And indeed it was Beza that did
first begin that interpretation that I read of, and himself therefore
doth excuse it and make an apology for it, that he diverteth out of
the common road, though since many others have followed him.
Verse 1. "How excellent is thy name in all the earth!" How illustrious is the name of Jesus throughout the world! His incarnation, birth, humble and obscure life, preaching, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, are celebrated through the whole world. His religion, the gifts and graces of his Spirit, his peopleChristians, his gospel, and the preachers of it, are everywhere spoken of. No name is so universal, no power and influence so generally felt, as those of the Saviour of mankind. Amen. Adam Clarke.
Verse 1. "Above the heavens;" not in the heavens, but "above the heavens;" even greater, beyond, and higher than they; "angels, principalities, and powers, being made subject unto him." As Paul says, he hath "ascended up far above all heavens." And with this his glory above the heavens is connected, his sending forth his name upon earth through his Holy Spirit. As the apostle adds in this passage, "He hath ascended up far above all heavens; and he gave some apostles." And thus here: "Thy name excellent in all the world;" "Thy glory above the heavens." Isaac Williams.
Verse 2. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength," etc. In a prophetical manner, speaking of that which was to be done by children many hundreds of years after, for the asserting of his infinite mercy in sending his Son Jesus Christ into the world to save us from our sins. For so the Lord applieth their crying, "Hosannah to the Son of David" in the temple. And thus both Basil and other ancients, and some new writers also understand it. But Calvin will have it meant of God's wonderful providing for them, by turning their mother's blood into milk, and giving them the faculty to suck, thus nourishing and preserving them, which sufficiently convinceth all gainsayers of God's wonderful providence toward the weakest and shiftless of all creatures. John Mayer, 1653.
Verse 2. Who are these "babes and sucklings?"
Verse 2. "That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." This very confusion and revenge upon Satan, who was the cause of man's fall, was aimed at by God at first; therefore is the first promise and preaching of the gospel to Adam brought in rather in sentencing him than in speaking to Adam, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent's head, it being in God's aim as much to confound him as to save poor man. Thomas Goodwin.
Verse 2. The work that is done in love loses half its tedium and difficulty. It is as with a stone, which in the air and on the dry ground we strain at but cannot stir. Flood the field where it lies, bury the block beneath the rising water; and now, when its head is submerged, bend to the work. Put your strength to it. Ah! it moves, rises from its bed, rolls on before your arm. So, when under the heavenly influences of grace the tide of love rises, and goes swelling over our duties and difficulties, a child can do a man's work, and a man can do a giant's. Let love be present in the heart, and "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God ordaineth strength." Thomas Guthrie, D.D.
Verse 2. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings," etc. That poor martyr, Alice Driver, in the presence of many hundreds, did so silence Popish bishops, that she and all blessed God that the proudest of them could not resist the spirit in a silly woman; so I say to thee, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings" God will be honoured. Even thou, silly worm, shalt honour him, when it shall appear what God hath done for thee, what lusts he hath mortified, and what graces he hath granted thee. The Lord can yet do greater things for thee if thou wilt trust him. He can carry thee upon eagles' wings, enable thee to bear and suffer strong affliction for him, to persevere to the end, to live by faith, and to finish thy course with joy. Oh! in that he hath made thee low in heart, thy other lowness shall be so much the more honour to thee. Do not all as much and more wonder at God's rare workmanship in the ant, the poorest bug that creeps, as in the biggest elephant? That so many parts and limbs should be united in such a little space; that so poor a creature should provide in the summer-time her winter's food? Who sees not as much of God in a bee as in a greater creature? Alas! in a great body we look for great abilities and wonder not. Therefore, to conclude, seeing God hath clothed the uncomely parts with the more honour, bless God, and bear thy baseness more equally; thy greatest glory is yet to come, that when the wise of the world have rejected the counsel of God, thou hast (with those poor publicans and soldiers), magnified the ministry of the gospel. Surely the Lord will also be admired in thee (1 Thessalonians 1), a poor silly creature, that even thou wert made wise to salvation and believest in that day. Be still poor in thine own eyes, and the Lord will make thy proudest scornful enemies to worship at thy feet, to confess God hath done much for thee, and wish thy portion when God shall visit them. Daniel Rogers, 1642.
Verse 3. "When I consider." Meditation fits for humiliation. When David had been contemplating the works of creation, their splendour, harmony, motion, influence, he lets the plumes of pride fall, and begins to have self-abasing thoughts. "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?" Thomas Watson.
Verse 3. "When I consider thy heavens," etc. David surveying the firmament, broke forth into this consideration: "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast created, what is man?" etc. How cometh he to mention the moon and stars, and omit the sun? the other being but his pensioners, shining with that exhibition of light which the bounty of the sun allots them. It is answered, this was David's night meditation, when the sun, departing to the other world, left the lesser lights only visible in heaven; and as the sky is best surveyed by night in the variety of the same. Night was made for man to rest in. But when I cannot sleep, may I, with the psalmist, entertain my waking with good thoughts. Not to use them as opium, to invite my corrupt nature to slumber, but to bolt out bad thoughts, which otherwise would possess my soul. Thomas Fuller, 1608 - 1661.
Verse 3. "Thy heavens." The carnal mind sees God in nothing, not even in spiritual things, his word and ordinances. The spiritual mind sees him in everything, even in natural things, in looking on the heavens and the earth and all the creatures"THY heavens;" sees all in that notion, in their relation to God as his work, and in them his glory appearing; stands in awe, fearing to abuse his creatures and his favours to his dishonour. "The day is thine, and the night also is thine;" therefore ought not I to forget thee through the day, nor in the night. Robert Leighton, D.D.
Verse 3. "The stars." I cannot say that it is chiefly the contemplation of their infinitude, and the immeasurable space they occupy, that enraptures me in the stars. These conditions rather tend to confuse the mind; and in this view of countless numbers and unlimited space there lies, moreover, much that belongs rather to a temporary and human than to an eternally abiding consideration. Still less do I regard them absolutely with reference to the life after this. But the mere thought they are so far beyond and above everything terrestrialthe feeling, that before them everything earthly so utterly vanishes to nothingthat the single man is so infinitely insignificant in the comparison with these worlds strewn over all spacethat his destinies, his enjoyments, and sacrifices, to which he attaches such a minute importancehow all these fade like nothing before such immense objects; then, that the constellations bind together all the races of man, and all the eras of earth, that they have beheld all that has passed since the beginning of time, and will see all that passes until its end; in thoughts like these I can always lose myself with a silent delight in the view of the starry firmament. It is, in very truth, a spectacle of the highest solemnity, when, in the stillness of night, in a heaven quite clear, the stars, like a choir of worlds, arise and descend, while existence, as it were, falls asunder into two separate parts; the one, belonging to earth, grows dumb in the utter silence of night, and thereupon the other mounts upward in all its elevation, splendour, and majesty. And, when contemplated from this point of view, the starry heavens have truly a moral influence on the mind. Alexander Von Humboldt, 1850.
Verse 3. "When I consider thy heavens," etc. Could we transport ourselves above the moon, could we reach the highest star above our heads, we should instantly discover new skies, new stars, new suns, new systems, and perhaps more magnificently adorned. But even there, the vast dominions of our great Creator would not terminate; we should then find, to our astonishment, that we had only arrived at the borders of the works of God. It is but little that we can know of his works, but that little should teach us to be humble, and to admire the divine power and goodness. How great must that Being be who produced these immense globes out of nothing, who regulates their courses, and whose mighty hand directs and supports them all! What is the clod of earth which we inhabit, with all the magnificent scenes it presents to us, in comparison of those innumerable worlds? Were this earth annihilated, its absence would no more be observed than that of a grain of sand from the sea shore. What then are provinces and kingdoms when compared with those worlds? They are but atoms dancing in the air, which are discovered to us by the sunbeams. What then am I, when reckoned among the infinite number of God's creatures? I am lost in mine own nothingness! But little as I appear in this respect, I find myself great in others. There is great beauty in this starry firmament which God has chosen for his throne! How admirable are those celestial bodies! I am dazzled with their splendour, and enchanted with their beauty! But notwithstanding this, however beautiful, and however richly adorned, yet this sky is void of intelligence. It is a stranger to its own beauty, while I, who am mere clay, moulded by a divine hand, am endowed with sense and reason. I can contemplate the beauty of these shining worlds; nay, more, I am already, to a certain degree, acquainted with their sublime Author; and by faith I see some small rays of his divine glory. O may I be more and more acquainted with his works, and make the study of them my employ, till by a glorious change I rise to dwell with him above the starry regions. Christopher Christian Sturm's "Reflections", 1750-1786.
Verse 3. "Work of God's fingers." That is most elaborate and accurate: a metaphor from embroiderers, or from them that make tapestry. John Trapp.
Verse 3. "When I consider thy heavens," etc. It is truly a most Christian exercise to extract a sentiment of piety from the works and the appearance of nature. It has the authority of the sacred writers upon its side, and even our Saviour himself gives it the weight and the solemnity of his example. "Behold the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin, yet your heavenly Father careth for them." He expatiates on the beauty of a single flower, and draws from it the delightful argument of confidence in God. He gives us to see that taste may be combined with piety, and that the same heart may be occupied with all that is serious in the contemplation of religion, and be at the same time alive to the charms and the loveliness of nature. The psalmist takes a still loftier flight. He leaves the world, and lifts his imagination to that mighty expanse which spreads above it and around it. He wings his way through space, and wanders in thought over its immeasurable regions. Instead of a dark and unpeopled solitude, he sees it crowded with splendour, and filled with the energy of the divine presence. Creation rises in its immensity before him, and the world, with all which it inherits, shrinks into littleness at a contemplation so vast and overpowering. He wonders that he is not overlooked amid the granduer and the variety which are on every side of him; and, passing upward from the majesty of nature to the majesty of nature's Architect, he exclaims, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou shouldest deign to visit him?" It is not for us to say whether inspiration revealed to the psalmist the wonders of modern astronomy. But, even though the mind be a perfect stranger to the science of these enlightened times, the heavens present a great and an elevating spectacle, an immense concave reposing upon the circular boundary of the world, and the innumerable lights which are suspended from on high, moving with solemn regularity along its surface. It seems to have been at night that the piety of the psalmist was awakened by this contemplation; when the moon and the stars were visible, and not when the sun had risen in his strength and thrown a splendour around him, which bore down and eclipsed all the lesser glories of the firmament. Thomas Chalmers, D.D., 1817.
Verse 3. "Thy heavens:"
'Tis natures system of divinity,
And every student of the night inspires.
'Tis elder Scripture, writ by God's own hand:
Scripture authentic! uncorrupt by man.
Verse 3. "The stars." When I gazed into these stars, have they not looked down on me as if with pity from their serene spaces, like eyes glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man! Thomas Carlyle.
Verses 3, 4. "When I consider the heavens," etc. Draw spiritual inferences from occasional objects. David did but wisely consider the heavens, and he breaks out into self-abasement and humble admiration of God. Glean matter of instruction to yourselves, and praise to your Maker from everything you see; it will be a degree of restoration to a state of innocency, since this was Adam's task in paradise. Dwell not upon any created object only as a virtuoso, to gratify your rational curiosity, but as a Christian, call religion to the feast, and make a spiritual improvement. No creature can meet our eyes but affords us lessons worthy of our thoughts, besides the general notices of the power and wisdom of the Creator. Thus may the sheep read us a lesson of patience, the dove of innocence, the ant and bee raise blushes in us for our sluggishness, and the stupid ox and dull ass correct and shame our ungrateful ignorance. . . . . He whose eyes are open cannot want an instructor, unless he wants a heart. Stephen Charnock.
Verse 4. "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" etc. My readers must be careful to mark the design of the psalmist, which is to enhance, by this comparison, the infinite goodness of God; for it is, indeed, a wonderful thing that the Creator of heaven, whose glory is so surpassingly great as to ravish us with the highest admiration, condescends so far as graciously to take upon him the care of the human race. That the psalmist makes this contrast must be inferred from the Hebrew word (Heb.,) enosh, which we have rendered man, and which expresses the frailty of man rather than any strength or power which he possesses. . . . . Almost all interpreters render (Heb.), pakad, the last word of this verse, to visit; and I am unwilling to differ from them, since this sense suits the passage very well. But as it sometimes signifies to remember, and as we will often find in the Psalms the repetition of the same thought in different words, it may here be very properly translated to remember; as if David had said, "This is a marvelous thing, that God thinks upon men, and remembers them continually." John Calvin, 1509-1564.
Verse 4. "What is man?" But, O God, what a little lord hast thou made over this great world! The least corn of sand is not so small to the whole earth, as man is to the heaven. When I see the heavens, the sun, the moon, and stars, O God, what is man? Who would think that thou shouldest make all these creatures for one, and that one well-near the least of all? Yet none but he can see what thou hast done; none but he can admire and adore thee in what he seeth: how had he need to do nothing but this, since he alone must do it! Certainly the price and value of things consist not in the quantity; one diamond is worth more than many quarries of stone; one lodestone hath more virtue than mountains of earth. It is lawful for us to praise thee in ourselves. All thy creation hath not more wonder in it than one of us: other creatures thou madest by a simple command; MAN, not without a divine consultation: others at once; man thou didst form, then inspire: others in several shapes, like to none but themselves; man, after thine own image: others with qualities fit for service; man, for dominion. Man had his name from thee; they had their names from man. How should we be consecrated to thee above all others, since thou hast bestowed more cost on us than other! Joseph Hall, D.D., Bishop of Norwich, 1574-1656.
Verse 4. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou shouldst visit him?" And (Job 7:17, 18) "What is man, that thou shouldst magnify him? and that thou shouldst set thy heart upon him? and that thou shouldst visit him every morning?" Man, in the pride of his heart, seeth no such great matter in it; but a humble soul is filled with astonishment. "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15. Oh, saith the humble soul, will the Lord have respect unto such a vile worm as I am? Will the Lord acquaint himself with such a sinful wretch as I am? Will the Lord open his arms, his bosom, his heart to me? Shall such a loathsome creature as I find favour in his eyes? In Ezekiel 16: 1 - 5, we have a relation of the wonderful condescension of God to man, who is there resembled to a wretched infant cast out in the day of its birth, in its blood and filthiness, no eye pitying it; such loathsome creatures are we before God; and yet when he passed by, and saw us polluted in our blood, he said unto us, "Live." It is doubled because of the strength of its nature; it was "the time of love" (verse 8). This was love indeed, that God should take a filthy, wretched thing, and spread his skirts over it, and cover its nakedness and swear unto it, and enter into a covenant with it, and make it his: that is, that he should espouse this loathsome thing to himself, that he would be a husband to it; this is love unfathomable, love inconceivable, self-principle love; this is the love of God to man, for God is love. Oh, the depth of the riches of the bounty and goodness of God! How is his love wonderful, and his grace past finding out! How do you find and feel your hearts affected upon the report of these things? Do you not see matter of admiration and cause of wonder? Are you not as it were launched forth into an ocean of goodness, where you can see no shore, nor feel no bottom? Ye may make a judgment of yourselves by the motions and affections that ye feel in yourselves at the mention of this. For thus Christ judged of the faith of the centurion that said unto him, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof. When Jesus heard this, he marvelled, and said to them that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Matthew 8: 8-10. If, then, you feel not your souls mightily affected with this condescension of God, say thus unto your souls, What aileth thee, O my soul, that thou art no more affected with the goodness of God? Art thou dead, that thou canst not feel? Or art thou blind, that thou canst not see thyself compassed about with astonishing goodness? Behold the King of glory descending from the habitation of his majesty, and coming to visit thee! Hearest not thou his voice, saying, "Open to me, my sister: behold, I stand at the door and knock. Lift up yourselves, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in"? Behold, O my soul, how he waits still, while thou hast refused to open to him! Oh, the wonder of his goodness! Oh, the condescension of his love, to visit me, to sue unto me, to wait upon me, to be acquianted with me! Thus work up your souls into an astonishment at the condescension of God. James Janeway, 1674.
Verse 4. Man in Hebrewinfirm or miserable manby which it is apparent that he speaks of man not according to the state of his creation, but as fallen into a state of sin, and misery, and mortality. Art mindful of him, i.e., carest for him, and conferrest such high favours upon him. The son of man, Hebrew, the son of Adam, that great apostate from and rebel against God; the sinful son of a sinlful fatherhis son by likeness of disposition and manners, no less than by procreation; all which tends to magnify the divine mercy. That thou visitest, himnot in anger, as that word is sometimes used, but with thy grace and mercy, as it is taken in Genesis 21:1; Exodus 4:31; Psalm 65:9; 106:4; 144:3.
Verse 4. "What is man?" The Scripture gives many answers to this question. Ask the prophet Isaiah, "What is man?" and he answers (Isaiah 40:6), man is "grass""All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." Ask David, "What is man?" He answers (Psalm 62:9), man is "a lie," not a liar only, or a deceiver, but "a lie," and a deceit. All the answers the Holy Ghost gives concerning man, are to humble man: man is ready to flatter himself, and one man to flatter another, but God tells us plainly what we are. . . . It is a wonder that God should vouchsafe a gracious look upon such a creature as man; it is wonderful, considering the distance between God and man, as man is a creature and God the creator. "What is man," that God should take notice of him? Is he not a clod of earth, a piece of clay? But consider him as a sinful and an unclean creature, and we may wonder to amazement: what is an unclean creature that God should magnify him? Will the Lord indeed put value on filthiness, and fix his approving eye upon an impure thing? One step further; what is rebellious man, man an enemy to God, that God should magnify him! what admiration can answer this question? Will God prefer his enemies, and magnify those who would cast him down? Will a prince exalt a traitor, or give him honour who attempts to take away his life? The sinful nature of man is an enemy to the nature of God, and would pull God out of heaven; yet God even at that time is raising man to heaven: sin would lessen the great God, and yet God greatens sinful man. Joseph Caryl.
Verse 4. "What is man?" Oh, the granduer and littleness, the excellence and the corruption, the majesty and meanness of man! Pascal, 1623-1662.
Verse 4. "Thou visitest him." To visit is, first, to afflict, to chasten, yea, to punish; the highest judgments in Scripture come under the notions of visitations. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 34:7), that is, punishing them. . . . . And it is a common speech with us when a house hath the plague, which is one of the highest strokes of temporal affliction, we used to say, "Such a house is visited." Observe then, afflictions are visitations. . . . Secondly, to visit, in a good sense, signifies to show mercy, and to refresh, to deliver and to bless; "Naomi heard how the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread." Ruth 1:6. "The Lord visited Sarah," etc. Genesis 21:1, 2. That greatest mercy and deliverance that ever the children of men had, is thus expressed, "The Lord hath visited and redeemed his people." Luke 1:68. Mercies are visitations; when God comes in kindness and love to do us good, he visiteth us. And these mercies are called visitations in two respects: 1. Because God comes near to us when he doth us good; mercy is a drawing near to a soul, a drawing near to a place. As when God sends a judgment, or afflicts, he is said to depart and go away from that place; so when he doth us good, he comes near, and as it were applies himself in favour to our persons and habitations. 2. They are called a visitation because of the freeness of them. A visit is one of the freest things in the world; there is no obligation but that of love to make a visit; because such a man is my friend and I love him, therefore I visit him. Hence that greatest act of free grace in redeeming the world is called a visitation, because it was as freely done as ever any friend made a visit to see his friend, and with infinite more freedom. There was no obligation on man's side at all, many unkindnesses and neglects there were; God in love came to redeem man. Thirdly, to visit imports an act of care and inspection, of tutorage and direction. The pastor's office over the flock is expressed by this act (Zechariah 10:3; Acts 15:36); and the care we ought to have of the fatherless and widows is expressed by visiting them. "Pure religion," saith the apostle James, "Is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (Chapter 1:27); and in Matthew 25:34, Christ pronounceth the blessing on them who, when he was in prison, visited him, which was not a bare seeing, or asking 'how do you,' but it was care of Christ in his imprisonment, and helpfulness and provision for him in his afflicted members. That sense also agrees well with this place, Job 7:17, 18, "What is man, that thou shouldst visit him?" Joseph Caryl.
Verse 4. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visiteth him?"
So mindful art of him? Or what's the son
Of man, that thou the highest heaven didst bow,
And to his aide didst runne?
Man's but a piece of clay
Baser than clay is he,
Worse than a beast is man,
Thou didst thyself abase,
Lo! man is made now even
Verse 4. "What is man?"
How complicate, how wonderful is man!
How passing wonder HE who made him such!
Who centred in our make such strange extremes!
From different natures marvelously mix'd,
Connexion exquisite of distant worlds!
Distinguish'd link in being's endless chain!
Midway from nothing to the Deity!
A beam ethereal, sullied and absorb'd,
Though sullied and dishonour'd, still divine!
Dim miniature of greatness absolute!
An heir of glory! a frail child of dust!
Helpless, immortal! insect infinite!
A worm! a god! I tremble at myself,
And in myself am lost.
Edward Young, 1681-1775.
(Verses 4-8)"What is man," etc.:
And more: he is a tree, yet bears no fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be more:
Reason and speech we onely bring.
Parrats may thank us, if they are not mute,
They go upon the score.
Man is all symmetrie,
Nothing hath got so farre,
For us the windes do blow;
The starres have us to bed:
Each thing is full of dutie:
More servants wait on man,
Verse 5. "Thou hast made him a little lower than the
angels." Perhaps it was not so much in nature as in position that
man, as first formed, was inferior to the angels. At all events, we
can be sure that nothing higher could be affirmed of the angels, than
that they were made in the image of God. If, then, they had
originally superiority over man, it must have been in the degree of
resemblance. The angel was made immortal, intellectual, holy,
powerful, glorious, and in these properties lay their likeness to the
Creator. But were not these properties given also to man? Was not man
made immortal, intellectual, holy, powerful, glorious? And if the
angel excelled the man, it was not, we may believe, in the possession
of properties which had no counterpart in the man; both bore God's
image, and both therefore had lineaments of the attributes which
centre in Deity. Whether or not these lineaments were more strongly
marked in the angels than in man, it were presumptuous to attempt to
decide; but it is sufficient for our present purpose that the same
properties must have been common to both, since both were modelled
after the same divine image; and whatever originally the relative
positions of the angel and the man, we cannot question that since the
fall man had been fearfully inferior to the angels. The effect of
transgression has been to debase all his powers, and so bring him
down from his high rank in the scale of creation; but, however
degraded and sunken, he still retains the capacities of his original
formation, and since these capacities could have differed in nothing
but degree from the capacities of the angel, it must be clear that
they may be so purged and enlarged as to produce, if we may not say
to restore, the equality. . . . Oh! it may be, we again say, that an
erroneous estimate is formed, when we separate by an immense space
the angel and the man, and bring down the human race to a low station
in the scale of creation. If I search through the records of science,
I may indeed find that, for the furtherance of magnificent purposes,
God hath made man "a little lower than the angels;" and I cannot
close my eyes to the melancholy fact, that as a consequence upon
apostasy there has been a weakening and a rifling of those splendid
endowments which Adam might have transmitted unimpaired to his
children. And yet the Bible teems with notices, that so far from
being by nature higher than men, angels even now possess not an
importance which belongs to our race. It is a mysterious thing, and
one to which we scarcely dare allude, that there has arisen a
Redeemer of fallen men, but not of fallen angels. We would build no
theory on so awful and inscrutable a truth; but is it too much to
say, that the interference on the behalf of man and the
non-interference on the behalf of angels, gives ground for the
persuasion, that men occupy at least not a lower place than angels in
the love and the solicitude of their Maker? Beside, are not angels
represented as "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the
heirs of salvation?" And what is the idea conveyed by such a
representation, if it be not that believers, being attended and
waited on by angels, are as children of God marching forwards to a
splendid throne, and so elevated amongst creatures, that those who
have the wind in their wings, and are brilliant as a flame of fire,
delight to do them honour? And, moreover, does not the repentance of
a single sinner minister gladness to a whole throng of angels? And
who shall say that this sending of a new wave of rapture throughout
the hierarchy of heaven does not betoken such immense sympathy with
men as goes far towards proving him the occupant of an immense space
in the scale of existence? We may add, also, that angels learn of
men; inasmuch as Paul declares to the Ephesians, that "now unto the
principalities and powers in heavenly places is made known by the
church, the manifold wisdom of God." And when we further remember,
that in one of those august visions with which the Evangelist John
was favoured, he beheld the representatives of the church placed
immediately before the eternal throne, whilst angels, standing at a
greater distance, thronged the outer circle, we seem to have
accumulated proof that men are not to be considered as naturally
inferior to angelsthat however they may have cast themselves down
from eminence, and sullied the lustre and sapped the strength of
their first estate, they are still capable of the very loftiest
elevation, and require nothing but the being restored to their
forfeited position, and the obtaining room for the development of
their powers, in order to their shining forth as the illustrious ones
of the creation, the breathing, burning images of the Godhead. . . .
. The Redeemer is represented as submitting to be humbled"made a
little lower than the angels," for the sake or with a view to the
glory that was to be the recompense of his sufferings. This is a very
important representationone that should be most attentively
considered; and from it may be drawn, we think, a strong and clear
argument for the divinity of Christ.
Verses 5, 6. God magnifies man in the work of creation. The third verse shows us what it was that raised the psalmist to this admiration of the goodness of God to man: "When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; Lord, what is man?" God in the work of creation made all these things serviceable and instrumental for the good of man. What is man, that he should have a sun, moon, and stars, planted in the firmament for him? What creature is this? When great preparations are made in any place, much provisions laid in, and the house adorned with richest furnitures, we say, "What is this man that comes to such a house?" When such a goodly fabric was raised up, the goodly house of the world adorned and furnished, we have reason admiringly to say, What is this man that must be the tenant or inhabitant of this house? There is yet a higher exaltation of man in the creation; man was magnified with the stamp of God's image, one part whereof the psalmist describes in the sixth verse, "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet," etc. Thus man was magnified in creation. What was man that he should have the rule of the world given him? That he should be lord over the fish of the sea, and over the beasts of the field, and over the fowls of the air? Again, man was magnified in creation, in that God set him in the next degree to the angels; "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels;" there is the first part of the answer to this question, man was magnified in being made so excellent a creature, and in having so many excellent creatures made for him. All which may be understood of man as created in God's image; but since the transgression it is peculiar to Christ, as the apostle applies it (Hebrews 2:6), and if those who have their blood and dignity restored by the work of redemption, which is the next part of man's exaltation. Joseph Caryl.
Verses 5-8. Augustine having allegorized much about the wine-presses in the title of this Psalm, upon these words, "What is man, or the son of man," the one being called (Heb.), from misery, the other (Heb.), the Son of Adam, or man, saith, that by the first is meant man in the state of sin and corruption; by the other, man regenerated by grace, yet called the son of man because made more excellent by the change of his mind and life, from old corruption to newness, and from an old to a new man; whereas he that is still carnal is miserable; and then ascending from the body to the head, Christ, he extols his glory as being set over all things, even the angels, and heavens, and the whole world as is elsewhere showed that he is. Ephesians 1:21. And then leaving the highest things he descended to "sheep and oxen;" whereby we may understand sanctified men and preachers, for to sheep are the faithful often compared, and preachers to oxen. 1 Corinthians 9. "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn." "The beasts of the field" set forth the voluptuous that live at large, going in the broad way: the fowls of the air, the lifted up by pride: "the fishes of the sea," such as through a covetous desire of riches pierce into the lower parts of the earth, as the fishes dive to the bottom of the sea. And because men pass the sea again and again for riches, he addeth, "that passeth through the way of the sea," and to that of diving to the bottom of the waters may be applied (1 Timothy 6:9), "They that will be rich, fall into many noisome lusts, that drown the soul in perdition." And hereby seem to be set forth the three things of the world of which it is said, "they that love them, the love of the Father is not in them." "The lust of the heart" being sensuality; "the lust of the eyes," covetousness; to which is added, "the pride of life." Above all these Christ was set, because without all sin; neither could any of the devil's three temptations, which may be referred hereunto, prevail with him. And all these, as well as "sheep and oxen," are in the church, for which it is said, that into the ark came all manner of beasts, both clean and unclean, and fowls; and all manner of fishes, good and bad, came into the net, as it is in the parable. All which I have set down, as of which good use may be made by the discreet reader. John Mayer.
Verse 6. "Thou hast put all things under his feet." Hermodius, a nobleman born, upbraided the valiant captain Iphicrates for that he was but a shoemaker's son. "My blood," saith Iphicrates, "taketh beginning at me; and thy blood, at thee now taketh her farewell;" intimating that he, not honouring his house with the glory of his virtues, as the house had honoured him with the title of nobility, was but as a wooden knife put into an empty sheath to fill up the place; but for himself, he by his valorous achievements was now beginning to be the raiser of his family. Thus, in the matter of spirituality, he is the best gentleman that is the best Christian. The men of Berea, who received the word with all readiness, were more noble than those of Thessalonica. The burgesses of God's city be not of base lineage, but truly noble; they boast not of their generation, but their regeneration, which is far better; for, by their second birth they are the sons of God, and the church is their mother, and Christ their elder brother, the Holy Ghost their tutor, angels their attendants, and all other creatures their subjects, the whole world their inn, and heaven their home. John Spencer's "Things New and Old."
Verse 6. "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands," etc. For thy help against wandering thoughts in prayer. . . . . . labour to keep thy distance to the world, and that sovereignty which God hath given thee over it in its profits and pleasures, or whatever else may prove a snare to thee. While the father and master know their place, and keep their distance, so long children and servants will keep theirs by being dutiful and officious; but when they forget this, the father grows fond of the one, and the master too familiar with the other, then they begin to lose their authority and the others to grow saucy and under no command; bid them go, and it may be they will not stir; set them a task, and they will bid you do it yourself. Truly, thus it fares with the Christian; all the creatures are his servants, and so long as he keeps his heart at a holy distance from them, and maintains his lordship over them, not laying them to his bosom, which God hath put "under his feet," all is well; he marches to the duties of God's worship in a goodly order. He can be private with God, and these not be bold to crowd in to disturb him. William Gurnall.
Verses 7, 8. He who rules over the material world, is Lord also of the intellectual or spiritual creation represented thereby. The souls of the faithful, lowly and harmless, are the sheep of his pasture; those who, like oxen, are strong to labour in the church, and who, expounding the Word of Life, tread out the corn for the nourishment of the people, own him for their kind and beneficent Master; nay, tempers fierce and intractable as the beasts of the desert, are yet subject to his will; spirits of the angelic kind, that, like the birds of the air, traverse freely the superior region, move at his command; and those evil ones whose habitation is in the deep abyss, even to the great leviathan himself, all are put under the feet of King Messiah. George Horne, D.D.
Verse 8. Every dish of fish and fowl that come to our table, is an instance of this dominion man has over the works of God's hands, and it is a reason of our subjection to God our chief Lord, and to his dominion over us.
"How excellent", etc. The excellence of the name and nature of God in all places, and under all circumstances.
Sermon or lecture upon the glory of God in creation and providence.
"In all the earth." The universal revelation of God in nature and its excellency.
"Thy glory above the heavens." The incomprehensible and infinite glory of God.
"Above the heavens." The glory of God outsoaring the intellect of angels, and the splendour of heaven.
Verse 2. Infant piety, its possibility, potency, "strength,"
and influence, "that thou mightest still," etc.
Verse 4. Man's insignificance. God's mindfulness of man. Divine visits. The question, "What is man?" Each of these themes may suffice for a discourse, or they may be handled in one sermon.
Verse 5. Man's relation to the angels.
Verses 5, 6, 7, 8. The universal providential dominion of our Lord Jesus.
Verse 6. Man's rights and responsibilities towards the lower animals.
Verse 6. Man's dominion over the lower animals, and how he should exercise it.
Verse 6 (second clause). The proper place for all worldly things, "under his feet."
Verse 9. The wanderer in many climes enjoying the sweetness of his Lord's name in every condition.
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