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V. "WHAT IS MAN?"

 

"We see Jesus,...crowned with glory and honor." {HEBREWS ii. 5-9.

 

IN the first great division of this treatise, we have seen the incomparable superiority of the Lord Jesus to angels, and archangels, and all the heavenly host. But now there arises an objection which was very keenly realized by these Hebrew Christians; and which, to a certain extent, presses upon us all; Why did the Son of God become man? How are the sorrows, sufferings, and death of the Man of Nazareth consistent with the sublime glories of the Son of God, the equal and fellow of the Eternal?

These questions are answered during the remainder of the chapter, and may be gathered up into a single sentence: he who was above all angels became lower than the angels for a little time; that he might lift men from their abasement, and set them on his own glorious level in his heavenly Father's kingdom; and that he might be a faithful and merciful High Priest for the sorrowful and tempted and dying. Here is an act worthy of a God Here are reasons which are more than sufficient to answer the old question, for which Anselm prepared so elaborate a reply in his book, "Cur Deus Homo?"

"What is man?" Those three words in verse 6 are the fit starting point of the argument. We need not only a true philosophy of God, but a true philosophy of man, in order to right thinking on the Gospel. The idolater thinks man inferior to birds and beasts and creeping things, before which he prostrates himself. The materialist reckons him to be the chance product of natural forces which have evolved him; and before which he is therefore likely to pass away. The pseudo-science of the time makes him of one blood with ape and gorilla, and assigns him a common origin with the beasts. See what gigantic systems of error have developed from mistaken conceptions of the true nature and dignity of man!

From all such we turn to that noble ideal of man's essential dignity, given in this sublime paragraph, which corrects our mistaken notions; and, whilst giving us an explanation that harmonizes with all our experience and observation, opens up to us vistas of thought worthy of God.

MAN AS GOD MADE HIM. The description given here of the origin and dignity of man is taken from Psalm viii., which is doubtless a reminiscence of the days when David kept his father's sheep; even if it were not composed on that very spot over which in after-years the heavenly choirs broke upon the astonished shepherds "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."

Turn to that Psalm, and see how well it expresses the emotions which must well up in devout hearts to God as we consider the midnight heavens, the tapestry work of his fingers, and the spheres lit by the moon and stars, which he has ordained. How impossible it is for those who are given to devout reflection to come in contact with any of the grander forms of natural beauty, the far-spread expanse of ocean, the outlines of the mountains, the changing pomp of the skies without turning from the handiwork to the great Artisan, with some such expression as the apostrophe with which the Psalm opens and closes: " LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth 1"

At first sight, man is utterly unworthy to be compared with those vast and wondrous spectacles revealed to us by the veiling of the sun. His life is but as a breath; as a shadow careering over the mountain-side; as the existence of the aphides on a leaf in the vast forests of being. What can be said of his character, sin-stained and befouled, in contrast with peaks whose virgin snows have never been defiled; with sylvan scenes, whose peace has never been ruffled; with silvery spheres, whose chimes of perfect harmony have never been broken by discord? Four times over is the question asked upon the pages of Scripture, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm cxliv. 3; Job vii. 17, 20; Psalm viii. 4; Heb. ii. 6.)

Yet it is an undeniable fact that God is mindful of man, and that he does visit him. "Mindful!" There is not a moment in God's existence in which he is not as mindful of this world of men as the mother of the babe whom she has left for a moment in the next room, but whose slightest cry or moan she is quick to catch. "I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me." "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, God!" "Visiting!" No cot is so lowly, no heart so wayward, no life so solitary, but God visits it. No one shall read these lines, the path around whose heart-door is not trodden hard by the feet of him who often comes and stands and knocks. We speak as if only our sorrows were divine visitations. Alas for us, if it were only so! Every throb of holy desire, every gentle mercy, every gift of Providence, is a visitation of God.

But there must be some great and sufficient reason why the Maker of the universe should take so much interest in man. Evidently bigness is not greatness; a tiny babe is worth more than the tallest mountain; and an empress-mother will linger in the one room where her child is ill, though she forsake the remainder of her almost illimitable domain. What if earth shall turn out to be the nursery of the universe! The true clew, however, to all speculation is to be found in the declaration by the Psalmist of God's original design in making man: "Thou crownedst him. ...Thou madest him to have dominion. . . . Thou hast put all things under his feet " (Psalm viii. 5, 6, R.v.). Nor was this lofty ideal first given to the Psalmist's poetic vision. It had an earlier origin. It is a fragment of the great charta of humanity, which God gave to our first parents in Paradise.

Turn to that noble archaic record, Gen. i. 26-28, which transcends the imaginings of modern science as far as it does those legends of creation which make the heathen literature with which they are incorporated incredible. Its simplicity, its sublimity, its fitness, attest its origin and authority to be divine. We are prepared to admit that God's work in creation was symmetrical and orderly, and that he worked out his design according to an ever-unfolding plan. But science has discovered nothing as yet to contradict the express statements of Scripture, that the first man was not at all inferior to ourselves in those intellectual and moral faculties which are the noblest heritage of mankind.

"God created man in his own image" (Gen. i. 27). -There we have the divine likeness. Our mental and moral nature is made on the same plan as God's: the divine in miniature. Truth, love, and purity, like the principles of mathematics, are the same in us as in him. If it were not so, we could not know or understand him. But since it is so, it has been possible for him to take on himself our nature-possible also that we shall be one day transformed to the perfect image of his beauty.

"And God said, Have dominion" (Gen. i. 28). -There you have royal supremacy. Man was intended to be God's viceregent and representative. King in a palace stored with all to please him: monarch and sovereign of all the lower orders of creation. The sun to labor for him as a very Hercules; the moon to light his nights, or lead the waters round the earth in tides, cleansing his coasts; elements of nature to be his slaves and messengers; flowers to scent his path; fruits to please his taste; birds to sing for him; fish to feed him; beasts to toil for him and carry him. Not a cringing slave, but a king crowned with the glory of rule, and with the honor of universal supremacy. Only a little lower than angels; because they are not, like him, encumbered with flesh and blood. This is man as God made him to be.

MAN AS SIN HAS MADE HIM. "We see not yet all things subjected to him" (Heb. ii. 8, R.v.). His crown is rolled in the dust, his honor tarnished and stained. His sovereignty is strongly disputed by the lower orders of creation. If trees nourish him, it is after strenuous care, and they often disappoint. If the earth supplies him with food, it is in tardy response to exhausting toil If the beasts serve him, it is because they have been laboriously tamed and trained; whilst vast numbers roam the forest glades, setting him at defiance. If he catch the fish of the sea, or the bird of the air, he must wait long in cunning concealment.

Some traces of the old lordship are still apparent in the terror which the sound of the human voice and the glance of the eye still inspire in the lower creatures, as in the feats of lion-tamer or snake-charmer. But for the most part anarchy and rebellion have laid waste man's fair realm.

So degraded has he become, that he has bowed before the objects that he was to command; and has prostrated his royal form in shrines dedicated to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. It is the fashion nowadays to extol heathen philosophy; but how can we compare it for a moment with the religion of the Bible, when its pyramids are filled with mummies of deified animals, and its temples with the sacred bull!

Where is the supremacy of man? Not in the savage cowering before the beasts of the forest; nor in the civilized races that are the slaves of lust and sensuality and swinish indulgence; nor in those who, refusing to recognize the authority of God, fail to exercise any authority themselves. "Sin hath reigned," as the Apostle says most truly (Rom. v.21). And all who bow their necks beneath its yoke are slaves and menials and cowering subjects, in comparison with what God made and meant them to be.

Do not point to the wretched groups surrounding the doors of the gin-palaces in the metropolis of the most Christian people of the world, and regard their condition as a stain on the love or power of God. This is not his work. These are the products of sin. An enemy hath done this. Would you see man as God intended him to be, you must go back to Eden, or forward to the New Jerusalem. Sin defiles, debases, disfigures, and blasts all it touches. And we may shudder to think that its virus is working through our frame, as we discover the results of its ravages upon myriads around.

MAN AS CHRIST CAN MAKE HIM. " We behold Jesus crowned with glory and honor" (ver. 9). "What help is that?" cries an objector; "of course he is crowned with glory and honor, since he is the Son of God." But notice, the glory and honor mentioned here are altogether different from the glory of Heb. i. 3. That was the incommunicable glory of his deity. This is the acquired glory of his humanity.

In John xvii. our Lord himself distinguishes between the two. In verse 5, the glory which he had with the Father as his right before all worlds. In verse 24, the glory given as the reward for his sufferings, which he could not have had unless he had taken upon himself the form of a servant, and had been made in the fashion of man, humbling himself, and becoming obedient to the death of the cross, "made a little lower than the angels, because of the suffering of death; crowned with glory and honor: that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man" (Phil ii. 7, 8; Heb. ii. 10).

This is the crown wherewith his Father crowned him in the day of the gladness of his heart, when, as man, he came forth victorious from the last wrestle with the Prince of hell. All through his earthly life he fulfilled the ancient ideal of man. He was God's image; and those who saw him saw the Father. He was Sovereign in his commands. Winds and waves did his bidding. Trees withered at his touch. Fish in shoals obeyed his will. Droves of cattle fled before his scourge of small cords. Disease and death and devils owned his sway. But all was more fully realized when he was about to return to his Father, and said, in a noble outburst of conscious supremacy, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."

"We behold him." Behold him, Christian reader! The wreaths of empire are on his brow. The keys of death and Hades swing at his girdle. The mysterious living creatures, representatives of redeemed creation, attest that he is worthy. All things in heaven and earth, and under the earth, and in the seas, worship him; so do the bands of angels, beneath whom he stooped for a little season, on our behalf.

And as he is, we too shall be.  He is there as the type and specimen and representative of redeemed men. We are linked with him in indissoluble union. Through him we shall get back our lost empire. We too shall be crowned with glory and honor. The day is not far distant when we shall sit at his side-joint-heirs in his empire; comrades in his glory, as we have been comrades in his sorrows; beneath our feet all things visible and invisible, thrones and principalities and powers; whilst above us shall be the unclouded empyrean of our Father's love, forever and forever. Oh, destiny of surpassing bliss! Oh, rapture of saintly hearts! Oh, miracle of divine omnipotence!

 

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