"What is man, that You are mindful of him? and the son of man, that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor."—Psalm 8:4, 5
This Psalm, like many others, has a twofold application. No simple reader can have failed to be struck in perusing it, with a mingling up, throughout, of reference to "Man," and to some one Infinitely Greater. In the first verse of our text, the sacred writer turns from the consideration of God's wonders in the starry heavens, to the favored being on earth upon whom He has lavished such distinguishing tokens of His love. And yet, immediately after, he appears by prophetic inspiration to blend his contemplation of humanity in the creature, with the contemplation of humanity in the future Incarnate WORD. It would be superfluous to occupy time in showing that the passage is inapplicable to man alone; and how the expressions, "You have crowned him with glory and honor," "made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands," "put all things under his feet," have a higher and diviner signification. Any such proof is unnecessary, as we have inspired comment and authority, in the second chapter of Hebrews, in applying it to Christ.
In discoursing, therefore, with God's blessing, on the words, I would have you to bear in mind, as their most interesting feature, this somewhat remarkable dual reference; the identifying, so to speak, of the two humanities. Come, and let us with devout reverence meditate on the theme thus opened up; for it is that which we are to have set before us today, in visible sacramental memorial—"the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh."
Let our thoughts be directed to these successive views of the exaltation of the Humanity—
I. In the Divine purpose.
II. In the Incarnation of the Son of God.
III. In the Ascension of Christ.
IV. At the Day of Judgment.
V. Through all Eternity.
I. The exaltation of the Humanity in the DIVINE PURPOSE.
It formed the great Divine idea, so to speak, before the earth was made, and when God dwelt alone in the solitudes of infinite space.
Amid the countless worlds which were in future to throng His universe, there was one selected to become the scene of an unparalleled manifestation of love—the Almighty Creator Himself, condescending to assume the Human nature in union with the Divine, in order to exalt that nature, fallen and degraded, to glory and to honor. We have dim and obscure intimations of this sublime conception given us in Scripture. There are passages of light which burst upon us here and there, from the recesses of eternity, unfolding the grandeur of the human destiny, as contemplated before the birth of time.
Although on no account vindicating such an interpretation by any strong assertion, it has at all events been regarded by expositors as possible, that in a well-known Bible chapter, under the personification of Wisdom, Christ Himself may be regarded as announcing that "from everlasting, before the earth was, His delights were with the sons of men," as if coming down, while yet our globe was without form and void, to visit the great theater of His soul's travail and of man's salvation (Prov. 8:23-31).
In a still earlier Scripture, the Blessed Trinity, in their ineffable counsels, seem to intimate the development of some magnificent plan in connection with the world's creation—"Let us make man after our own image," words which have a primary reference to the formation of the former in a state of purity and innocence, and thereby a reflection of the divine Original, the uncreated God—but which can alone, in their full complementary significance, apply to Jesus the Great Ideal of Humanity, the Perfect Man—He who by distinctive pre-eminence is "THE Image of the Invisible." If we have reason to believe that the new-born Earth arrested the interested contemplation of other Orders of Intelligence—little at all events would they dream of so surpassing an honor in store for it—how the first speck of new-born light which appeared, penetrating chaos, fell on the realm an Incarnate God was to redeem—in which He was to assume the nature of a finite creature and therein enshrine the Infinite. As it gradually became more luminous, the brooding darkness dispelling, the sun shining on its fresh verdure—well might the Morning Stars, in joyous jubilee-strains, sing together, and all the Sons of God shout for joy!
Let us contemplate—
II. The exaltation of the Humanity in the INCARNATION of the Son of God.
"Manifest in the flesh!" How magnificent does fallen nature appear, even in its ruins, in thus becoming the very sanctuary and residence of Deity. The traveler visits with emotion places consecrated as haunts of the mighty dead. He reverently lingers amid the broken columns and capitals of antiquity, associating their very desolation with illustrious sages and heroes—names traced imperishably on the tablets of history. How sublime, we may almost say awe-inspiring, the thought, that every man has within himself a Temple with associations, no, with realities, incomparably grander—that the Human spirit, wrecked by sin, is the very habitation in which Deity dwelt for three and thirty years of humiliation on earth! "Destroy this Temple," said Christ, "and in three days I will raise it up. He spoke of the Temple of His body."
His body! It was a fleshly tabernacle like yours and mine, with this exceptional characteristic, that it was "yet without sin." By Him Humanity was ennobled, hallowed, consecrated, in its every phase and condition. He consecrated infancy, by Himself becoming the Babe of Bethlehem. He consecrated poverty, by Himself being emphatically "the houseless One," "having nowhere to lay His head." He consecrated bereavement, by the tears shed at Bethany's grave, and the words of comfort spoken in Bethany's darkened household. He consecrated suffering and pain and trial, by the wave on wave that swept over His own guiltless head, until His mangled body was left, like a wreck on the desert shore. He consecrated death itself, when the walls of the Temple collapsed, wherein dwelt the ever-blessed God. Yes, He consecrated Humanity's last resting-place—the very grave cannot be dissevered from the earthly tabernacle which the great Lord of heaven condescended to occupy. Unspeakable honor to put on the nature of a fallen being!
Glorious indeed might have been the exaltation of Humanity if Adam had remained staunch in his allegiance; and the nature he received pure and spotless from his Maker been transmitted uncontaminated to his posterity. There would have been the beauteous spectacle of a world tenanted by sinless creatures; every bosom filled to the brim with love to its Creator, and no room for one shadow to dim or darken. But, more glorious and wondrous far, that exaltation, when "very God of very God" deigned to convert a ruined haunt into His own presence-chamber, and transform it into what is divine! If condescension be a relative term, and increase in proportion to the distance and disparity between its objects—where is there condescension equal to this?
We have read of kings on earth visiting the beggar's hovel—there is condescension here. But what is such after all? One finite being visiting another finite being, one mortal visiting another mortal. But we have presented to us in our present contemplation, the God seated on the throne of the universe, coming down to the outcast and the perishing! Brethren, we cannot estimate the wonders of such condescension, because there is no scale by which it can be measured. There are certain existing relations between everything else in creation. There is a certain relation and proportion between the giant mountain and the grain of sand. There is a certain relation and proportion between the drop of water and the boundless ocean. There is a certain relation and proportion between the sun and the tiny candle which glimmers into nothingness in his beams. There is even an imaginable relation and proportion between the seraph before the throne and the insect whose lifetime is a brief hour, for they are both creatures, though at the opposite extremities of being.
But there can be no measurable—no possible relation or proportion between the Great God and the vile sinner, between Deity and dust! When I think that in a bodily framework like my own, only untainted by evil, there dwelt the Adorable Jehovah, "the high and lofty One who inhabits Eternity,"—that "He took not on Him the nature of angels," that He selected, not the angelic form or condition to ennoble and exalt, but "the seed of Abraham," well may I exclaim with the Psalmist in devoutest amazement—"What is man, that You are mindful of him? and the son of man, that You visit him? You have made him a little lower than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor!"
III. The exaltation of the Humanity in the ASCENSION of Christ.
Our human nature occupies the Central throne of Heaven—If great be the mystery of godliness, "God manifest in the flesh," we may with reverence add as a counterpart, "Great is the mystery of godliness"—Man manifest on the throne of God! If it be an amazing truth, Jesus bore our suffering nature on earth—it is a verity, surely no less marvelous, Jesus bears our glorified nature in the upper sanctuary. When "the gates lifted up their heads," and the King of Glory traveled through the burning ranks, it was before Humanity in union with Deity, they bowed as He passed. It is in that glorified Human nature He there still lives and loves.
Take one among several kindred visions of the Apostle of Patmos—that of the white-robed and palm-bearing multitude. The central figure in that inspired picture of pictures is THE LAMB in the midst of the throne, leading them, and feeding them—conducting them from pasture to pasture and from fountain to fountain. What is this, but the blessed assurance, alike to His Church triumphant and militant, of the Redeemer's undying Manhood; that though reigning as King of kings—God over all, blessed forever—He still retains the Brother's eye, and the Brother's love, and the Brother's heart?
No more, as Head and Representative of His people, His glorified Humanity forms the pledge of their own ultimate exaltation. He, the first sheaf in the harvest presented in the Heavenly Temple, is the pledge of myriad sheaves that are to follow. Where He is, His people also are to be. "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body." "His glorious body!" or as it is rather rendered, "the body of His glory." It is the mighty mold into which our fallen nature is to be recast. It is the divine model after which the defaced and mutilated block is to be shaped into eternal symmetry and beauty. It is the glorious Archetype, in conformity with which the mirror, shattered in a thousand pieces in Eden, is to be completely reconstructed—each broken fragment, each ransomed sinner—the lowliest, the humblest—like a piece of polished glass, to reflect a perfect image of the Lord!
My friends, what an exaltation is this, to the nature of Humanity —alike present and future? Present. "Christ the first fruits,"—His divine human form, once pierced with thorns and racked in torture, now, in language of lofty metaphor, wearing many crowns! In prospect—the multitude which no man can number, ransomed with His own precious blood; now, it may be, despised, dishonored, disesteemed; but who shall then be raised from obscurity and scorn, "set among princes; and made to inherit crowns and thrones of glory." Oh! with what a grandeur is the lowest and poorest child of Adam thus invested; if within his clay-walls, as a child of God, he is a partaker of the Divine Nature—that nature elevating the human to a pitch of greatness which leaves all earthly distinction immeasurably behind!
IV. The exaltation of the Humanity at the DAY OF JUDGMENT.
"The Father has given Him authority to execute all judgment, because He is the Son of Man." "He has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom He has ordained." Here, again, it is Humanity exalted, on the throne of final reckoning—The Man Christ Jesus.
Who can unfold the glory which will then accrue to our nature, when "every eye shall see Him?"—the irreversible sentence going forth from the lips of glorified Humanity. My hearers, be it yours to exult in the anticipation, that there will be seated on that majestic tribunal, not a Being of dreadful, inapproachable majesty—whose presence would blind and dazzle and confound—but, once more, a Brother in your own nature! The cry of Jewish mockery and Gentile scorn which resounded of old around His cross, will then form your note of triumph—the secret of your joy when gazing on His throne—"Behold the Man!"
Behold the representative Man! Behold the once-suffering Man! Behold the righteous Man! Behold the sympathizing Man! Behold now the exalted and the crowned Man! "We know," says the beloved disciple, in a transport of holy joy, "that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." From the same lips which in trembling accents on Calvary once called him "Son," he will hear the benediction and welcome, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." On that great and alarming day, when the wrath of God shall sweep away all refuges of lies, the designation given Him by the prophet, so cheering to the tempest-tossed soul on earth, will lose none of its comfort then—"A Man" (A MAN!) "shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest!"
V. Contemplate the exaltation of the Humanity THROUGHOUT ALL ETERNITY.
Christ's mediatorial reign, with regard to His enemies, will end at a Day of judgment; for we read, "He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet," and "then shall He deliver up" (that part of His kingdom) "to God, even the Father." His sovereignty with regard to them, shall be merged into that of God absolute. But of the increase of His mediatorial government "there shall be no end." The Humanity He wore on earth will continue evermore on the throne! The divine Father, by immutable covenant, invested Him, as Mediator, with "length of days forever and ever." Unto principalities and powers in heavenly places will be made known by the Church (under her Great Representative Head), "the manifold wisdom of God."
Let me ask you, dear friends, are you prepared, after these imperfect meditations, to echo the exclamation of the Psalmist? Will it be that which will circulate from heart to heart while you surround as guests today the Table of communion, "What is man, that You are mindful of him? and the son of man, that You visit him?" Rise to a sense of your distinguished, your peerless privileges in Christ! Oh, if such be the dignity bestowed on human nature in the Person of the Adorable Head, need we wonder at the pre-eminent and surpassing honors set forth in Scripture as in store for the members? Angels are sons of God by creation; but ransomed man becomes a son of God by filiation, adoption—union with his glorified Lord. From being at the base of the pyramid, lying among the debris and ruins, see where redeeming love has placed him! "To him who overcomes, will I grant to sit with Me on My throne; even as I also overcame, and have sat down with My Father on His throne."
Having this hope in Him, (the hope of seeing Him as He is) are we purifying ourselves even as He is pure? "Wherefore, brethren," says the Apostle, "partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." "Consider!" It is an emphatic word. Literally "gaze" on the Lord Jesus. It is the artist copying, line by line, and feature by feature; not expecting the transcript to be perfect here (for that it cannot be), but seeking to approximate if he can do no more; looking forward to that blessed time when, without one speck of sin and sorrow to mar or blemish, "we shall be transformed into the same image from glory to glory."
Let us go, meanwhile, to His holy Ordinance, with the earnest determination and the recorded vow—"This God shall be our God forever and ever!"