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The Greafness of Man.
“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 and the son of man, that Thou visitest him For” (or rather but) “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet." —PsALM viii. 3-6.
VER the professor's chair in the metaphysics class-room in the University of Edinburgh (where it was once my happiness to study) is inscribed the maxim, first uttered by Phavorinus:—
“On earth, there is nothing great but man;
That maxim is the lesson of our text. True greatness consists, not in weight and extension, but in intellectual power and moral worth. When the Psalmist looked up to the heavens, he was at first overwhelmed with a sense of his own littleness. The sun, moon, and stars appeared to him so majestic, that he said, "Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" Man seemed in comparison insignificant and unworthy of the divine regard. But, on second thoughts, David bethought himself that this was an entire misconception of the matter, and that man could not be inferior to the heavens; for God had, in point of fact, made him only a little lower than the angels—than the Elohim, is the word in the Hebrew, This term, in the Elohistic portion of the Pentateuch, is applied to the Almighty instead of the term Jehovah. God had made man, we may therefore read, a little lower than Himself; had crowned him with glory and honour; had given him dominion over the works of His hands, and had put all things under his feet. So far from being insignificant in comparison with the heavens, man is of infinitely more value than they.
This is a lesson which constantly needs to be repeated. Many fall into the Psalmist's mistake, but comparatively few escape from it as satisfactorily as he did. You remember Bildad argues in the Book of Job as if human beings were altogether contemptible when compared with the heavenly host. Even the stars, he says, are not pure in God's sight; how, then, can that worm man be pure? You will often hear Bildad's remark quoted by well-meaning persons as if it were a beautiful expression of humble piety. And this depreciation of mind in favour of matter is a common failing with scientific investigators. Never, it seems to me, was there so much need of enforcing the lesson of our text as there is to-day.
The progress of science has had a tendency to make us underrate our manhood. Our relations to time and space seem so paltry, when we compare them with those of the material world! If the Psalmist was overawed by the heavens, much more must they overawe thoughtful and imaginative minds in our own day! There are but 5932 stars visible to the naked eye, and David did not even suspect the existence of any others. His view of their origin was, that they were suddenly called into existence on a certain Thursday, two thousand years before the time of Noah. They were intended, he thought (the whole 5932 of them), to adorn his firmament or to light up his roads. Could he have heard the Lady in " Comus," he would have imagined that she was describing a scientific fact when she speaks of the stars
"That nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps
How different are our heavens from his! The telescope has brought 75,000,000 of worlds within the range of human vision. We know that many of these are hundreds of times greater than our own sun, and that most of them (like him) have planets revolving around them. We know that the volume of the sun is 1J million times as large as that of the earth. We know it is so far distant, that if we could travel towards it day and night at the rate of 6 0 miles an hour, it could not be reached in less than 180 years, We know that Neptune is 30 times as far away from the sun as we are, and that therefore it would take any one, at the same rate, 5400 years to traverse the intervening space. Some of the nearest fixed stars are billions of miles away from us; so that if we travelled, as before, 60 miles an hour, it would require 90,000,000 of years to perform the journey. We know that the so-called fixed stars are not really at rest, but that they are moving in orbits hundreds of millions of miles in diameter, which orbits, owing to the distance, appear to us like mere mathematical points.
The light from Sirius, though travelling, as all light travels, at the rate of 192 miles per second, takes 16 years to reach us. We are examining with our spectroscopes to-day, light which started on its course from some far-off world before we were born. And light is ever winging its way from yet more distant spheres, which, if it ever reaches us at all, will reveal the condition in which it left them ages and ages ago. Facts such as these, when we succeed in partially realising them for a moment in our imagination, give us an overwhelming sense of the vast tracts of space over which the physical universe extends.
Again, its duration in time is no less stupendous than its extension in space. Myriads of ages ago our earth was a mass of molten liquid. Myriads of ages before that, it consisted entirely of glowing gas. Myriads of ages hence, the fire that still remains in the interior will have burnt out; and when that internal source of heat has been exhausted, our globe will be no longer capable of maintaining animal or even vegetable life. "Then," says Mr R A. Proctor, "her desert continents and frost-bound oceans will in some degree resemble the arid wastes which the astronomer recognises in the moon. Long as lias