Tuesday, 7th October 2014, was a beautiful sunny day. We parked our car on the beach at Portstewart, and walked toward the town harbour to take photographs of a boat we had seen there the previous day. On it, the words ‘PSALM VIII’ and ‘EXPEDITION 8: 4,’ were written! See photograph above.
Admiring the scenery from an elevated section of the path, we saw a small orange-coloured fishing boat out at sea: it was returning to the harbour. You can see it at the end of this short presentation: The fisherman in his boat about to begin work on his catch.
He began by cutting the tendons in the legs of sea crabs to make their powerful pincher-claws ineffective. After preparing them this way for safe handling, he placed them back into his cage, and dropped them into the water to keep them alive – down to very bottom of the harbour.
Some important spiritual lessons came to mind as I observed what was being done, and what I heard from those standing nearby that day: lessons which were beneficial for those given ears to hear, eyes to see, faith to believe and minds to fully understand.
Oh, that the Holy Spirit will give to each of us a deeper understanding of what our Lord Jesus Christ has written, by those whom He chose: that we might make it our aim in life to take His teachings to heart; to find in Him the strength to obey His precepts; to be encouraged by His grace and longsuffering with us in our ignorance; and to enable us to believe and understand more fully all that He has said, which will surely happen and must surely soon come to pass!
See Jer. 33: 14-16; Isa. 6: 9, 10; 61: 11; Rom. 8: 19-22. Cf. 2 Pet. 2: 4; Rev. 3: 15-18; Luke 12: 45, 46, 47; Matt. 8: 11, 12; Matt 25: 30; and finally, John 7: 16, 17, R.V.
“And he [Christ/Messiah] said to them, These are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, how that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and THE PSALMS, concerning ME.
Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24: 44, 45, R.V.).
o – o – o – o – o – o - o
TRANSLATIONS AND EXPOSITIONS
The Numerical Bible
To the chief musician, upon the Gittith; a psalm of David
1 JEHOVAH our Lord,*
* Here, and in verse 9, “plural of majesty.”
how excellent is thy name in all the earth,
who hast set thy glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
hast thou established praise
because of thine adversaries,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the revenger.
3 When I behold the heavens, the work of thy fingers,
moon and stars which thou hast established,
4 What is man, that thou rememberest him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 And thou makest him a little lower than the angels,
and with glory and honour thou crownest him.
6 Thou makest him rule over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put everything under his feet:
7 Sheep and oxen, all of them,
and also the beasts of the field;
8 Bird of the heavens, and fish of the sea,
whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 Jehovah our Lord:
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
It is a psalm of David, “upon the Gittith.” Two interpretations of this are given, which practically are not far apart, however. “Some Hebrew scholars,” says an anonymous writer whom we may often quote, “would regard it as the name of a musical instrument peculiar to Gath, where David once sought shelter from the unrelenting persecution of Saul. Just as there was among the Greeks a Dorian lyre, which had a wide celebrity on account of its excellent sweetness, so, it is suggested, this psaltery, Gittith, was borrowed by David from the citizens of Gath, and thence introduced by him on account of the superior sweetness of its tone and the beauty and elegance of its form. If this be the true interpretation, it suggests also a deeply spiritual reflection: for how often from the saddest occasions of temptation and distress in the devout life arise the gladdest songs of praise! The wild storm often makes the sweetest music on the Aeolian harp.
“But a more likely derivation may be found for this title, Gittith, in a Hebrew root, signifying ‘wine-press.’ And now it is an autumn song chanted by the vine-dressers at the joyful vintage-season, when the blood of the grape is poured into the wine-vat. Still the same idea is prominent: sorrow and anguish, like the trodden clusters, are fruitful in the wine of a holy joy.”
Whether it be
1. So brief yet so comprehensive as it is, the psalm has comparatively many divisions. It begins and ends with the glory of God, Jehovah’s name being now excellent in all the earth. But there is more than this: He has set His glory also above the heavens.
It should be evident when we consider what is the great subject before us, that all this has a deeper meaning than at first sight we might give it. The Lord as ‘Son of man,’ taking POSSESSION of the EARTH as His INHERRITANCE, makes everywhere Jehovah’s name excellent in it. When, as Zechariah prophesies, “the Lord my God shall come, and all His saints with Thee,” His feet standing upon the mount of Olives, from which He went up, then “Jehovah shall be King over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Jehovah, and His Name one.” (Zech. 14: 3, 5, 10.)
The application in this way is simple, and it throws light upon the rest of the verse: for then surely we can see that the glory that is set above the heavens is connected with the work of this same blessed Person. It is not the glory of moon and stars spread over the heavens, such as the psalmist speaks of in the third verse, but a glory above all created things, however wondrous. Jehovah it is who is manifest in this Son of man, in whose lowly position just the wonder of His condescending love appears. Supreme in power, He is as supreme in moral glory, and in Christ how does this shine out! Thus the praise of earth ascends to Him, owning His rightful rule: “Jehovah our Lord, how excellent is Thy Name in all the earth!”
2. Its deliverance has come, therefore, from the oppressor: it is not merely that the voice of calumny has been stopped, as interpreters have taken this verse to mean, but the enemy has passed away. In a fuller sense than could be said of Solomon’s peaceful reign, “there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent. So then it is by more than the praise of babes and sucklings that the enemy is silenced, and the Lord’s quotation of the passage with reference to the hosannas of the children does not at all entail such a consequence as this. It is He Himself who will “smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips destroy the wicked.” But yet for this He will establish praise out of the mouth of babes and sucklings; that is, I doubt not, of new-converted souls, humbled and brought down to such conscious littleness and weakness as this implies. We have again from His lips such a comparison in the well-known words, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Thus we see clearly why He must produce such praise in order that the kingdom may come: the heirs of it must be made ready.
The little children in the temple foreshadowed such praise as this, and in this way the language could be suitably used with reference to them. The actual fulfilment will be in those future days to which, as we have seen, these psalms look on.
3. The third section brings us to the central subject of the psalm, a spiritual enigma, no doubt, scarcely read in its true meaning until the New Testament light was thrown upon it. At first sight it is just man - the race - of which the psalmist speaks; and the question asked is really of this nature: but the answer is a secret for the ear of faith, like much more that we shall find as we go on with him. Man (the race) is, in fact, but what the fall has made him; and what can be really said for him? What can justify God’s regard for this ruined creature? Go back to his creation, - put him in the seat from which he fell, - think of the earth as subjected to him, - alas, he seems but to mock the approving words with which his Maker greeted him. Restore him, if it were possible, even to that original excellency, how shall the sceptre be again intrusted to hands that have failed so signally to wield it? How, then, could God go on with such an one?
Really you have no answer till you have a Second Man, - until you can find one un-ruined, and with better pledges for the future: no use in mere restoration, in mending such a broken vessel as the first; set him aside, and let another take his office; if, indeed, that other can be found.
Here Christ then comes in, really a Second
Thus He is “made a little lower than the angels,” as the apostle explains, “on account of the suffering of death.” It is not merely that man’s condition is by creation a little lower, but Christ as become Son of man is made that. It is a true descent that we are to think of here, and the word used for “angels” - really “gods,” and the ordinary word for “God” (Elohim) - has thus in its very ambiguity peculiar significance. God He indeed was [and is], who had come down to be a little lower than God, - lower even than those habitually representing Him to men,* and so identified with Him, as the angels are: the apostle accepts the Septuagint translation, therefore, “angels.”
* See John 10: 34, 35: where,
though the principle is the same, the application is to the judges in
“On account of the suffering of death” He had to come down there. Man was under death as penalty, and therefore One had to come in who by voluntary submission to the penalty could glorify God as righteous in it, manifest the holiness of His nature as against sin, but thus also manifest His love in providing escape. And for this, humanity had to be taken; immeasurably exalted indeed, by that which was His humiliation, but now how wondrously in His exaltation! For He laid down only to take up again that “body prepared,” and as a Man forever is risen and gone up to God. What meaning is in this way given to the words, “with glory and honour Thou crownest Him.”!
4. Now we have his dominion, the first man’s rule being repeated and
emphasized in the Second
The psalm naturally, however, clings to earth, though the things mentioned are not forbidden a deeper meaning: “sheep and oxen” give us, of course, the domestic animals; the “beasts of the field,” what we speak of as untamed. The spiritual meaning may without difficulty be found by those that will. The heavens and the deep speak of spheres above and below the earth, as the spiritual ranks of the higher heavens serve with delight the Son of man on the one hand, while He has also on the other “the keys of death and of hell [Hades].”
5. In all this we are dull scholars, but the general thought is plain. It is no wonder that the psalm ends with that with which it begins; the whole clasped, as it were, together with the uniting bond that has joined God with man, and thus made His name excellent in all the earth, - with a glory, too, which is set above the heavens!
By J. B. ROTHERHAM
‘Jehovah’s Majesty Exalted by means of Man’s Dominion.’
An Original Solo, vers. 3-8: Adapted to
Psalm - By David
1 Jehovah, our Sovereign Lord!
how wonderful is thy name in all the earth!
Because thy majesty hath been uplifted abovea the heavens
2 Out of the mouth of children and sucklings hast thou founded a stronghold,
on account of thine adversaries, -
to silenceb foe and avenger.c
3 When I view thy heavens, the workd of thy fingers,
moon and stars which thou hast established
4 What was weak man, that thou shouldst think of him,
or the son of the earth-born, that thou shouldst set him in charge;e
5 And shouldst makef him but little less than messengers divine,g
yea with glory and state shouldst crown him;
6 Shouldst give him dominion over the works of thy hands, -
all things shouldst have put under his feet: -
7 cattle, small and large, - all of them, -
yea even the beasts of the field, -h
8 the bird of the heavens, and the fishes of the sea, -
whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 Jehovah, our Sovereign Lord!
how wonderful is thy name in all the earth!
To the Chief Musician. ‘L M T H L B N = prob. “Maidens to a youth”: pos. “concerning the death of the champion”: pos. “concerning the white death = leprosy.”
a. So Septuagint (early Greek version)..
b. Or: “destroy.”
c. Compare. 44: 16.
d. So the
Ginsburg’s notes in his Massoretico-Critical Hebrew Bible.
e. Compare. Num. 3: 10; 27: 16; Jer. 49: 19; 50: 44.
f. For tense see Hebrew of Job 7: 18 and Ps. 144: 3.
g. Hebrew ‘elohim: as in 32: 1; 97: 7.
h. Or: “plain.”
The reason for resolving the chief part of this psalm (vers. 3-8) into a Solo, is written upon its face, by the appearance of the personal pronoun I. From that point onward, the strain runs on breathlessly, as a single magnificent sentence, to the end, where the voice of the soloist is hushed in the renewed acclaim of the united congregation, in which, for a second time, the whole people adoringly address Jehovah as our Sovereign Lord. The introductory strophe (vers. 1c, 2), interposed between the prelude and the solo, is in any case special, and indeed remarkably unique: probably imparting to the whole psalm its deepest prophetic import.
In attributing the solo to David’s early shepherd days, there
is no need to overlook the analogical argument so beautifully put by Delitzsch,
in favour of not dating the finished production of the psalm earlier than that
momentous day on which the Spirit of Prophecy came upon the youthful
harpist. “Just as the Gospels contain
no discourses delivered by our Lord previous to his baptism in the Jordan, and
the Canon of the New Testament contains no writings of the Apostles dating from
the time before Pentecost, so the Canon of the Old Testament contains no Psalms
of David that were composed by him prior to his anointing. Not till after he is the anointed of the God
of Jacob does he become the sweet singer of
The Solo gives a night-view of the heavens, in their vastness stability and splendour; which would have made weak man, by contrast, seem small and evanescent, but for the recollection of his creation and destiny as revealed in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, with the great words of which the poet’s mind was manifestly filled. Creation, seen in one of her most lovely moods, and the Creation Story, recalled in one of its most suggestive features, are, so to speak, the alphabet employed by the Illuminating [Holy] Spirit to quicken the psalmist’s mind. That the scene is a night-scene, naturally follows from the absence of the sun; and is confirmed by the fact that the blaze of the sun by day renders the heavens as a whole practically invisible; whereas, here, not only are the heavens scanned with lingering delight, but their minute and variegated beauties call forth admiration of the skill of the Divine Artist’s fingers. Nevertheless, vastness is here, as the poet’s eye sweeps the whole heavens; and permanence, as he recalls how many times he has gazed at the same spectacle, and his ancestors before him have been similarly delighted: and so his mind is carried back to the Creation Story, to realise how abiding are moon and stars which Jehovah has established in the heavens. The first effect of this midnight survey of the heavens is to make man appear weak and short-lived. Because I see this, or when I see it afresh, I am moved to exclaim - What is weak man - what the son of the earth-born that thou shouldst remember him, visit him, set him in charge over this lower world? And so, by the aid of the Creation Story, a reaction is induced in the poet’s mind; and there come into view Man’s capacity, charge, dignity, destiny. After all, such a responsible being cannot be wholly weak and short-lived.
Besides: to “weak man” succeeds a son of man, for Adam is not only an individual, but a race; and it is to the race, as such, that the charge to wield dominion is given: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,- and have dominion.” The earth is to be filled and subdued in order to the exercise of dominion. Therefore the commission is to the race; and this alone justifies the conclusion that the allusion to the first chapter of Genesis begins with verse 4 of our psalm, and not merely with verse 5 as some critics have thought.
With such a charge laid upon him, to rule inferior creatures, Man appears to be little less than the messengers divine, here termed in Hebrew ’elohim, a word of wider applicability than our English word “God” when spelled with a capital initial; as will appear from an examination of Exo. 21: 6; 22: 8, 9, 28, and Ps. 82: 1, 2, 6, 7. If, as appears from these passages, human judges, as representing the Divine Judge, could be called ’elohim; much more may heavenly messengers have been so named in this place; and, to them, accordingly, we conclude that reference is here made.
Whether the crowning of Man with glory and state, when he was visited and installed into office, imports the bestowment on him of any visible splendour calculated to strike his animal subjects with reverence and challenge at once their submission, we are not plainly told; and yet the discovery of the “nakedness” which made man “ashamed” after his transgression may, not unnaturally, be deciphered as suggesting something more akin to an actual disrobing than the inner consciousness of disobedience alone.
It is probably of greater importance to connect with Man’s commission to govern this lower world his possession of the Divine Image: “Let us make man in our image ... and (qualified by that endowment) let him have dominion.” It is the Image bestowed which qualifies for the Dominion assigned. This consideration ought probably to go a long way towards settling the question: Wherein consisted that Image? If we could only be content to derive our answer from the First of Genesis, that answer might stand thus: The Image of God in which man was created was his capacity to rule - his capacity to rule over and care for beings beneath himself. It cannot be denied that God possessed that capacity: that it was His glory and honour to know his subjects, to appraise their powers, to foresee their needs, and to provide with an unspeakably gracious goodwill (145: 16) for the due and orderly satisfaction of every propensity with which he himself had endowed them. If so, it cannot be denied that the bestowment of the same capacity on man would render him God-like just to the degree to which he came to possess it. It is surely to some extent confirmatory of this, to note the seeming pride with which the psalmist lingers on the extent of Man’s realm, in the several orders of which it is composed, and the several areas in which his subjects dwell. Indeed, the apparent inclusion of wild animals under the terms beasts of the field or plain, and the comprehension of birds and fishes, to say nothing of the monsters of the deep, as all placed under Man’s dominion, go to show that so vast a kingdom needs a God-like king; and to raise the question, whether Man ought not to be able to wield a wider and more potent control over his subjects than he is now seen to possess. In any case, Man was originally majestically crowned; and if to any extent he has lost his dominion, it can scarcely be that he has lost it for ever. To assume that he has, would afford a poor prospect of silencing for ever the foe and the avenger.
This reference reminds us that Strophe I (vers. 1c, 2) now demands our patient attention. The attachment of the third line of the psalm to this strophe, as its introduction, is presumably correct; inasmuch as we can scarcely think that the prelude of the psalm and its final refrain were not meant to be identical. If so, the precise form which this third line should assume and the meaning it should bear, become all the more important when it is seen to be the very base on which the charming “child and suckling” strophe is made to rest. Critics are nearly agreed that some word or letter has gone wrong in this line; and we should be content implicitly to follow Dr. Ginsburg’s lead in emending it by reference to Num. 27: 20, save for the difficulty of seeing any comparison whatever between the putting by Moses of some of his majesty on Joshua and the putting by Jehovah of his majesty on the heavens. Under these circumstances, while gladly accepting the suggestion of Ginsburg and others by restoring the word nathatta out of the seemingly broken fragment tenah of the M.T., we would prefer to follow the Septuagint, which reads, as we think, with profound significance: Because thy majesty hath been uplifted above the heavens. The preciousness of the result, by heightening the prophetic significance of the whole psalm, must be our excuse for detaining the reader on a point so critical.
Advancing at once to the broad meaning of the introductory strophe when thus emended, we remark: That we are thus warranted in concluding, that it is in some way this very uplifting of Jehovah’s majesty into the heavens, which makes way for the ministry of children; and that at least the ministry of children is to assist in silencing the foe and avenger whose existence is so singularly introduced into this psalm at its very head and front. It cannot be denied that he is here brought forward with a circumstantiality which is positively startling. For first there is a general reference to Jehovah’s adversaries, as furnishing a reason for the Divine procedure of preparing the mighty ministry of children’s praise, which praise is made the foundation of a bulwark which Jehovah rears in the midst of his foes. That is the general statement; which is then particularised by the more specific assertion of the result expected to follow from the testimony of infant voices. So that, in fact, we are here confronted with a company of adversaries; headed, as it would seem, by one foe in particular, who is not only a foe but an avenger, with vengeance in his heart; as though he had a wrong to redress, an injury real or supposed to resent by retaliation. Such is the natural and proper force and setting of the words. It is a conceivable state of things: a band of adversaries, with a champion foe and avenger at their head. Even as, in the early days of David - probably not far from the time when this psalm was written - the Philistines were “the adversaries” of Israel, and of Israel’s God, Jehovah; and then there stood forth, at the head of those adversaries, and in their name, a foe and avenger, by name Goliath: who, indeed, by a well-aimed blow from David’s sling was for ever silenced in death. This is not to say, that such an incident could by any means fill out the words before us; but only that we may do well to seize the words in their proper force and full significance. Jehovah has adversaries: at their head is a chieftain, who is determined, resentful and relentless. He is to be silenced. Children are to be employed to close his mouth. Their weapons will be their words. Jehovah founds a tower of strength in their words; which, presumably - as the Septuagint interprets - will be words of “praise.” Children praise Jehovah for his majesty. His majesty is seen in creation, on which and through which glimpses of it are seen. His name - that is the revelation of his power, wisdom, and goodness in creation - fills the whole earth. This revelation is already an objective reality: the moon-and star-lit heavens are stretched forth over all the earth. Wherever the sons of the earth-born tread, they find above them the same eloquent heavens. The Maker of the stars above is the Creator of the flowers beneath. The tokens of God fill all the earth. But this objective revelation has not yet become subjective. The wonderful fact of Jehovah’s creatorship has not yet been translated into the worshipful feeling of adoration and gratitude in all the earth. Until this is realised, the very refrain of this psalm is unfulfilled prophecy. Jehovah does not receive back “the fulness of all the earth” as “his glory” (Isa. 6: 3) so long as “man is vile.” Adversaries to Jehovah abound; his foe is at large; and his friends are much in the position of a beleaguered fortress.
But the process of fulfilment has received an auspicious beginning. In one sense, Jehovah’s glory was uplifted into the heavens when Man fell into disobedience. In another, and a redemptive sense, it is receiving a new and more wonderful elevation in Jesus as the Son of Man. This elevation was inaugurated by the resurrection, ascension and enthronisation in heaven of the Man Christ Jesus. And, on earth, children have begun to sing their hosannahs with new point and with adoring ecstasy. They not only know how to wonder at the stars, but they are learning from generation to generation to love the Man who died for them and rose again. By-and-by, when the Lord of Life has glorified his Suffering Assembly and presented it before the heavenly throne, the process of uplifting Jehovah’s majesty above the heavens will be complete, and the whole earth will be filled with a bright reflection of his glory. The adversaries of Jehovah are doomed to defeat. Their Champion - the Adversary - the Foe and Avenger of this psalm - has met with his equal. But the process of silencing the Enemy is moral before it is physical. Hence the more than symbolic employment of infants’ tongues to silence the Devil. The victory will be earned by Self-sacrificing Love before it is confirmed and consummated by expelling and destroying power. The Foe hates children; and has had good reason, ever since the promise came that the Seed of the Woman should bruise the Serpent’s head. The child-spirit of humble and trustful love will yet finally and for ever silence the Foe and Avenger.
David may well have felt himself to have been a mere child when he went forth to meet Goliath; and his son Hezekiah must have been possessed of much of the childlike spirit, when he quietly rested in Jerusalem, waiting for the overthrow of Sennacherib. Whether the introductory strophe of this psalm was written by the one or the other of these psalmists, the Spirit of God has by its means turned this Shepherd’s lay into a psalm as far-reaching as it is beautiful, dramatic and above all instructive as to the ways of Jehovah with men.
The possible concurrence of meanings decipherable in the musical instruction now moved to the foot of this psalm are so astounding as almost to pass belief; and we are quite content with the first named as abundantly sufficient. Those who are prepared for further cryptic meanings can discreetly ponder how much further they may wisely go.
A devotional and prophetic Commentary
THE EIGHTH PSALM
To the Chief Musician. Upon the Gittith. A Psalm of David.
Jehovah our Lord,
How excellent is Thy name in all the earth!
Who hast set Thy Glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
Hast Thou established Praise because of thine adversaries,
That thou mightest silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look upon Thy heavens, the Work of Thy fingers,
The moon and stars, which Thou hast established;
What is man that Thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man that Thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels
And with Glory and Honour Thou hast crowned him.
Thou makest him rule over the works of Thy hands;
Thou hast put everything under his feet.
Sheep and oxen, all of them,
And also the beasts of the field;
Fowl of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passeth through the paths of the seas.
Jehovah our Lord;
How excellent is Thy name in all the earth!
This second great Messianic Psalm begins with the statement that Jehovah’s name is excellent in all the earth and it closes with the same blessed announcement. It therefore is a prophecy relating to that blessed time, which has not yet come, when the whole earth, the entire creation of God, is in subjection under Jehovah, when His Glory will be seen and His Name is worshipped.
In the New Testament this Psalm is quoted three times. The Lord Himself mentioned the Psalm when the children in the temple cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The chief priests and scribes said then to Him: “Hearest thou what these say?” “And Jesus saith unto them, Yea, have ye never read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (Matt. 21: 16). In 1 Corinthians 15: 27 the Psalm is likewise mentioned, “For He hath put all things under His feet.” But the fullest quotation is in Hebrews 2: 5-9.*
[* NOTE. See ‘A Divine Commentary on the Psalm’ in Footnote 1.]
This passage is a divine commentary on the Psalm. It shows that the Psalm refers to our Lord. He was made a little lower than the angels and is now crowned with glory and honour. Not yet seen, however, by human eyes, but we (believers) see Him thus by faith in God’s own presence. These words of the Holy Spirit in Hebrews also show that this present age is not the time when everything is to be put under the feet of the Second Man, the head of the new creation. “But now we see not yet all things put under Him.”
We behold then in the eighth Psalm a precious picture of what will be when the Second Man is revealed from heaven, when the first begotten, will come back to this earth to take possession of His inheritance (Heb. 1: 6). The state of the earth under Him, the blessed Person of the Son of Man, who was made a little lower than the angels, and who appears crowned with glory and honour, as well as His dominion, are the glorious contents of this brief yet rich Psalm.
The superscription tells us that it is a Psalm of David. But what does “upon
the Gittith” mean? The same word Gittith
we find in Psalms 81: 1 and 84: 1.
Gittith is generally interpreted as a musical
instrument, a kind of lyre. Thus
scholars like Gesenius,
Delitzsch and others explain
it. The great Jewish scholar Rashi derives
the word from
Jehovah our Lord,
How excellent is Thy Name in all the earth!
Who has set Thy Glory above the heavens - Verse 1.
This outburst of praise must be put into the
mouth of the people of
Most precious is the declaration that His Glory is set above the heavens. “Who hast set Thy Glory above the heavens.” So rich and full is this little sentence that one is at a loss how to bring it out. The heavens declare the Glory of God. The heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and stars are mentioned in verse 3. But here it is another glory. It is a glory, which is above the heavens.
The Son of Man, who is Jehovah, ascended up on high. God raised Him [out] from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under His feet and gave Him to be the head over all, to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Ephes. 1: 20-23). This blessed glory of the Lord will then be fully made known, and while His Name is excellent in all the earth and He reigns over the earth, His Glory is seen above the heavens. And in that Glory, the Church, His Body and His Bride, will be seen. Then His great high priestly prayer will be answered, “I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in [‘perfected into’ R.V.] one and that the world may know that Thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me” (John 17: 23).*
* Notice the words “believe” and “know” in connection with the world in John 17: 21 and 23. Now is the time when the world is to believe. But when His own come into the possession of the Glory of which our Lord speaks in verse 22, then by the visible Glory resting upon the Church, the world will know.
It is a verse of marvellous beauty and depth which follows the general announcement of the ‘age to come’ and its ‘glory’.
The babes and sucklings stand for new born souls. “Except ye be converted and become as little children,*
ye shall in
nowise enter into the
[* See ‘Little Children’ in Footnote 2]
In these praising children the blessed Lord saw the future
travail of His soul; it was for Him an earnest, so to speak, of what was yet to
come. The proud leaders of the nations
had rejected Him, the children had owned Him.
And when He comes the second time, then Praise truly waits for Him in
“There is an hour coming when the praise, which now waits in silent expectation for Jehovah in the deserted but not forgotten city of His choice, shall break forth in pure and grateful melody from lips whose un-cleanliness shall have then been purged away, and from hearts wherein the finger of God shall have written indelibly the everlasting law of His own righteousness. The new born nation shall then be, though in a somewhat different acceptation, an ‘epistle of Christ,’ like the church in the present dispensation, which, though torn alas! and mutilated and defiled, yet, blessed be God, bears still the inseparable seal of His Holy Spirit of promise. Violence and destruction shall thenceforth be heard no more within the city of the Lord. For the promised bulwarks are salvation, and the gates shall be called praise.”*
* Pridham on the Psalms.
This verse corresponds with the third verse of the royal Psalm. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power; in the holy splendour from the womb of the morning Thou hast the dew of Thy youth” (Psa. 110: 3). The praise of the children in the temple foreshadowed all this which is yet to come. But even now He has the Praise of such who are new born babes, His own people who compose His Body.
And the enemy and avenger is to be silenced, while the Praise is established on account of the adversaries. Satan and those who opposed God’s [prophetic and millennial] purposes and sided with the enemy of God are meant by these terms. When Jehovah’s Glory is seen, when His Name is excellent in all the earth, and the Praise of the new born nation as well as the perfect praise of the Saints in the Glory above the heavens is heard, then Satan is completely silenced. The lawless, God defying and man deifying rulers and adversaries, political and religious, the lords of “Man’s day” will come to their awful end. The high ones on high and the kings of the earth and all who oppose God will be silenced. And the Praise for all this is heard from the lips of the new born ones, His own earthly people. The Praise of the Saints above began before. The heavens will rejoice first, for Satan, the old serpent, called the Devil, will be cast out of heaven as soon as the Saints are caught up into heaven (Rev. 19: 9-12).
When I look upon thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
The moon and stars, which Thou hast established;
What is man that Thou art mindful of him?
And the Son of Man that Thou visitest him? (Verses 3-4)
And now the physical heavens are mentioned. What a vast universe it is as we look up and realize that those mighty creations are the work of His fingers. The child of God can muse on this. The unsaved [and many of the saved] in this present evil age seem to become more and more blinded by the god of this age, so that they lose even the sight of that which speaks of the glory and omnipotence, as well as the existence and intelligence of the Creator. How few of the poor dupes of Satan ever look up and consider the heavens! Satan makes them look down like the beasts of the field, to grovel in the mire and in the dust. Wonderful are the heavens, the moon and the stars. And what is man? Man inhabiting one of the smallest of the uncountable bodies of the universe. Why should God be mindful of this little planet and consider man upon it, the creature of the dust? But this is Godlike that He takes up that which is small and insignificant to manifest His Love towards it. And what is Man? Vanity, a sinner, God’s enemy by wicked works, a child of wrath. And man has been visited by God. This is implied in this question. God has visited man not in judgment and wrath but in the gift of His only begotten Son. In Him He has visited man and has been mindful of him. And He is the “image and glory of God,” and through Him fallen man by faith is brought from the old into the new creation and becomes through Grace one with Him, who is “the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.”
And before we leave this interesting part of our Psalm we may make still another application of these words. Only the moon and the stars are mentioned. The Sun so prominent in the nineteenth Psalm is not spoken of in this Psalm. The Sun, called the Bridegroom (Psa. 19: 5), is the type of the Lord. The moon with her changes is the Church as a body. The stars of different glories in light are typical of individual believers. The heavens thus speak of God’s Grace in taking sinners out of sin and eternal ruin and forming them in a body, and setting them as individuals in the heavenlies. And these heavens indeed are the work of His fingers. It is His own work, which has put fallen man there.
Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels
And with Glory and Honour thou hast crowned him. (Verse 5.)
The passage in Hebrews makes it clear that our Lord Jesus Christ and not the first man, is meant (Hebrews 2.). All the precious truths of His humiliation and exaltation, the suffering and the glory, the deep place He took, the high place He has reached, are here flashed upon us. We see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with Glory and Honour. This is the vision of faith. But when this Psalm shall be fulfilled, He will appear crowned with many crowns. The angels will then worship Him. Oh! what blessed thoughts rush in upon the heart and mind as one meditates on all this; Angels He created, they are His ministers and the ministering spirits for the heirs of salvation. He took a place below the angels in coming into the world, and it was for the suffering of death. The great work accomplished, He entered heaven as the glorified Man and obtained by inheritance a more excellent Name than they. And when He comes the angels will accompany Him, for He will he revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (2 Thess. L7), and all the angels will worship Him (Heb. 1: 6). And let us not forget, with Him are His Saints, and the Church [of the firstborn] will share in His Glory. Then His loving heart will find its rest, when His Glory rests upon those for whom He died.
Thou makest Him rule over the Works of Thy hands;
Thou hast put everything under His feet,
Sheep and oxen, all of them,
And also the beasts of the field;
Fowl of the heavens and fish of the sea,
Whatever passeth through the paths of the sea.
Jehovah our Lord,
How excellent is Thy name in all the earth.
But little needs to be said on this, though like everything else in this Psalm it is inexhaustible. The words tell us of the [millennial] rule of the second Man over the earth. All creation will be under His feet. Satan will be shut up in the bottomless pit. The demons can no longer delude and seduce. The whole earth will be at rest. Paul’s glorious vision on the summit of Romans 8 will be gloriously fulfilled (Rom. 8: 20-23). Groaning creation will be delivered.* Domestic animals and the untamed beasts of the field, the unconquered fowls of the air and the creatures of the deep, all will be put under Him, the Lord of creation, who gave up all to buy back what sin had ruined. Oh, what a happy lot is in store for this poor earth, groaning now under the curse. Full and rich are God’s oracles of descriptions of that age of blessing and glory when He comes back to this earth. And if we were to quote them all and write out the most glowing descriptions of what it will be, still it would be true that “not half has been told.”
[* See ‘Groaning Creation Will Be Delivered’ in Footnote 3.]
And now the heart is cheered to read it again, “Jehovah our Lord, how excellent is Thy Name in all the earth.” They may read this verse in ritualistic churches, they chant them in beautiful music. It is not true now; it cannot be true now during this [evil] age; but, blessed be God, it will be true some day, when He is manifested.
Let us praise God and thank our Father in anticipation of the coming fulfilment of this precious Psalm. Child of God, as the days grow darker, as Christ is rejected and Satan’s power becomes more pronounced, turn to the bright side, the prophetic Word, which assures us that His Glory will cover the heavens and the earth will be full of His Praise. Even so; Come, Lord Jesus.
An EXPOSITION of: ‘A Divine Commentary on the Psalm’ (Heb. 2: 5-9, A.V.)
5 For not to angels hath He put in subjection the habitable earth to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, ‘What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? 7 Thou madest him a little lower than angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands: 8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in His putting all things in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put in subjection under him. 9 But now we see not yet all things put in subjection to him.
With what is the “for” connected? (1) Either with the general strain of verses 1-4: ‘We ought to take heed - for Christ will, as the Lord, dispense reward in the day to come;’ (2) or with the closing words of the preceding paragraph – “According to His own will.” Then follows a passage, discovering to us what is the will of God in reference to the day in question. And indeed, from the beginning of the Epistle, God is set forth as the Great Disposer of all things.
To angels the government of earth seems to have been for a
while committed. But in the day to come,
they are quite set aside from ruling.
The twenty-four elders, or chiefs of the angels, in Rev. 5.,
confess the superiority of our Lord, both by posture and by word. They fall down before the Lamb of the tribe
* The ‘us’ is not genuine, and has produced a system of confusion. Critics are agreed, that we should read “them” and “they.” That settles the rejection of the “us.” It is omitted by the Revised Version.
God has not subjected to angels? “the habitable earth of the future.” What are we to understand by that phrase?
1. Many say: ‘It means the Gospel dispensation and the blessings it brings.’ But the verses before us bear witness against any such idea. The Scripture declares that, during this dispensation, all is not put under man’s power; and much less, all is not put in subjection to Christ. And we see it is so. The Gospel is God’s call to the earth generally to repent, selecting in the meanwhile His chosen from the mass of unbelievers. But He is not meddling with the course of it, to alter it. The world goes on much as it would without the Gospel; and men are trying to repair the evils they find in it, but in vain. The Gospel is only the day of God’s mercy and patience, in which he is gathering out of the world [and the Church] co-heirs with Christ, and preparing Him companions in the glory of the thousand years.
‘The world [habitable earth] of the future’ stands in opposition to ‘the world of the
earth now is the globe as it was cursed under Adam and Noah, as it remains
after the sentence of toil and death in
‘The world of the future’ is the earth considered as the abode of men, such as it will be in millennial days. And those millennial days turn on the coming of Christ in power and judgment. The Apostle had alluded to this before. “When He [God] a second time introduces the First-born into the habitable earth, He saith, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’” As the Lord Jesus said to Nathaniel, then would be the fulfilment of Jacob’s ladder: “Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” (John 1: 51). Jesus has been snatched away from earth after His birth from the tomb, but He shall be restored again to it. “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16: 22). This was “the joy set before Him,” in consideration of which He despised the shame, and it is to partake of this joy with Him that He is now calling us.
Jesus came the first time into the world of men, and gave signs of the coming day in healing diseases, casting out the angels of Satan, stilling the winds and sea, and raising the dead. But He Himself suffered under Satan and the power of death. He left tokens of the better coming day with disciples; but they have long vanished. They were “powers of the coming age.”
Jesus is coming again, to complete that of which He gave the
promise and the intimations then. He
must come, to give Abraham the inheritance
[in ‘the land’] long promised. He must renew the leprous
house, taking away the leprous stones, scraping away the evil mortar, and
putting other stones, and plastering the house (Lev.
These are some of “the good things to
come” attached to the Saviour’s Priesthood and Royalty;- belonging to
Him as the Son of man, possessed of all merits, and accordingly endued with all
authority from God. Then shall
“The habitable earth about which we are sbeaking.” These words are important, as showing that one peculiar period, quite different from the present, has been before the writer’s mind all along. Hence these two first chapters, and other passages of the Epistle, are unintelligible to the anti-millenarian. It is of this [future] “salvation” that the Apostle is speaking; to this the quotations from the Old Testament refer, as we have observed. The Gospel lasts while Christ keeps His present place in heaven. It ceases, - and another day, opposite in principle and in results for all, comes in, when He descends to take possession of earth.
Here is then the Personal Reign - so resisted by most. It would seem to have early fallen out of the faith of Christians, as soon as they lost the hope of Christ’s immediate return. Thus the wisdom of Paul is seen, in bidding Christians pray, that God would enlighten the eyes of their heart, to make them know “what is the hope of God’s calling” (Eph. 1: 17, 18).
Of this “coming age” and its glory the eighth psalm speaks. Many, indeed, reading it carelessly with the eye of nature alone, find in it only a description of the earth as it was first created. But those who are taught of God will take the Apostle’s clue, and see very much more than creation could have taught to Adam. God’s Name is to be excellent in all the earth; but His glory is to be above the natural heavens. This Epistle tells us then, that heaven and its glory is the portion of believers in Christ. They, on God’s testimony, believe in a Son of man Who has passed into the heaven of heavens on their behalf; and they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; and the New Jerusalem built by the Most High, in which His glory shall dwell; and they dwell in glory with Him.
The second verse of the psalm was quoted by our Lord as His defence, when accused, because of His permitting hosannas to be sung to Him by the children in the temple. There were “enemies” then, strong and bitter of speech and deed. It is clear therefore that we are dealing with an earth into which sin has entered; and not earth as at first created and very good.
Moreover, “the Enemy and the Avenger” are Death and the Devil, whose power must be taken away.
The Psalmist then considers the immensity of God’s heaven, and bursts into the words cited: “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” The Holy Ghost’s eye is upon the coming day, when man, so long seemingly neglected of God, and left to himself and to Satan, is brought before the eye of the universe. The days of patient waiting for the seed sown are over; and now the Master commands, and the angelic labourers of heaven enter the field with sharp sickle, and all is busy where before all seemed idle (Mark 4: 26-29). God “visits” earth in judgment,* and destroys the wicked, while He gives the long-promised reward to His servants (Rev. 11.).
* There is a beautiful reference to God’s ancient
But with the word of visitation is coupled another key-word. “What is THE SON OF MAN
that Thou visitest him?” Jesus is
that “Son of man.” When first He came as the
“Thou madest Him a little lower than the angels.” (1) This may be taken primarily of Adam as created. He was moulded out of the dust, and only made the chief of animals. (2) But its chief force is derived from beholding the fulfilment in Christ. He Who was on the throne of glory, descended to partake of the manhood, and the Master became the servant, possessed of flesh and blood.
“Thou crownedst Him with glory and honour.”
It is hard to say how that was fulfilled in Adam, as at first created. He was indeed set over the animal and vegetable creation in general. But can we fully carry out the words of the psalm? “All sheep and oxen; yea, and the [wild] beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”
These words then must have their accomplishment in another day, and in “the Son of man.” Adam was “man,” but he was no “son of man.” As fallen, he lay under sin and death, the lion and the serpent, death and corruption. Nor could he, or any of his sons, deliver the race from their subjection. But God’s counsel was to “set man over the works of His hands, and to put all things in subjection under his feet.” If the Most High made known this His counsel to the angels, it accounts for the fall of Satan and his angels. ‘Shall this inferior creature, whom we have seen moulded out of the dust, bear rule indeed over us?’ Pride revolted. The devil brought the creature into collision with his God, and all Jehovah’s plan seemed to be overthrown. But the Son, the Heir of all things, has stooped to deliver His encumbered heritage, and to rescue His ruined tenant. Thus comes destruction to Satan and his angels. Here then is a deeper sense given to the psalm. Here is the Second Adam - the Christ. That title, “Son of man” - the Saviour continually took. The kingdom belongs to the Son of man at His appearing. The self-humbled shall be exalted indeed. That was God’s way to the fulfilment of His recorded plans concerning man.
One day all shall be subjected to man. But it can come to pass only through Christ. All man’s enemies shall be cut off. But many of them are too strong for the stoutest man of valour. The wild animals, the seasons, storms, wars, sicknesses, death, shall all be tamed or removed: the earth shall be filled with plenty and joy. The world of the future, under redemption by the Great Son of man, shall possess all these glories and joys. Man shall be seen superior to angels, when all of them worship the Son of man; and when “we shall judge angels.”
9. “But we see One made a little lower than angels - (even) Jesus - because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, in order that by the grace of God He might taste of death for every one.”
The words of this verse are simple; and yet the difficulties connected with it are great. How are the parts of it to be construed?
1. The Established Version reads: “Made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death.” But the Greek preposition will not bear the sense, ‘with a view to.’
2. We must read it: “Because of the suffering of death crowned with glory.” We should understand then, that the crowning came after the death, and as the reward of it. It is quite natural so to take it. In general, crowning comes as the reward of suffering. But then the following clause gives us a shock: “In order that He might taste death.” The death then came after the crowning! In order to get quit of this difficulty, some have forced the sense of the Greek word (…), and make it signify ‘when.’ But that is not an allowable sense. Some therefore, as Mr. Craik, transpose the clauses. Some would interpose a parenthesis. “But we see one made a little lower than angels, (even) Jesus (because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour), in order that by the grace of God He might taste of death for every one.”
Now that is lawful; but not to be adopted, unless there be no way of taking the words as they stand. As the words stand, it seems as if the crowning went before the death, and in order to it. And that I am persuaded is the true sense, though not denying the glory after it. Let us look at the facts in this connection. The verse refers, I doubt not, to our Lord’s glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration; and is parallel with Peter’s words: “For we have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known to you the power and presence* of our Lord Jesus Christ but were eye-witnesses of His Majesty. For we received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ And this voice borne from heaven we heard, when we were with Him on the holy mount. And we hold more confirmed thereby the prophetic word” (see Greek) (2 Pet. 1: 16-18). Peter is exhorting believers to seek an entrance into the millennial kingdom, by making advances in grace and good works. The coming glory was proved to his senses by the brightness wherewith Christ, as the Coming King, was clothed; and by the praise of God His Father, confessing Him as His well-beloved Son. Thus the eighth psalm, and the prophecies in general of the glorious day, were confirmed.
* The “power” of Christ refers specially to the raising of the dead; the first instance of which was seen by Peter, James, and John, alone.
Let us look at the matter also from Matthew
16. & 17.
In the sixteenth chapter our Lord draws out Peter’s confession of Him as
Messiah, and Son of the Living God. But
He learns that
The same crowning attended also the Saviour’s baptism. That was “the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins.” Now the Lord Jesus needed neither forgiveness nor repentance. But He is crowned with honour, because of His “grace” in stooping to take His place with sinners. At that immersion the figure of death and resurrection passes upon Him, the heavens open upon this great sight, the Holy Ghost descends on Him, and the Father’s voice pronounces Him His “well-beloved Son.” At this point begins Jesus’ manifest entry on His work of redemption; and the new name of God - as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is manifested. That scene is our Lord’s visible commission; as the Burning Bush was that of Moses. This wonderful Humbler of Himself it is God’s counsel to exalt.
Thus God in His wisdom puts seemingly opposite principles in their true place. (1) Jesus must die. It was His Father’s counsel; His own choice. (2) Now His death was not for His own sins, as is the case with men; but all undeserved, He passes through it in grace to men. It was fitting then, that the Father, while giving up His Son to suffering, should yet mark distinctly His good pleasure in Him, and the difference between this death, and the death undergone by sinners deserving of His wrath. He gives Him therefore a glory supreme above all others, and that when His death is the very subject upon His lips and the lips of His companions on the mount. The rejected by men, even to crucifying, is God’s exalted One.
The very words, “crowned with glory and honour,” have reference to Jesus’ consecration as the High Priest. The first step in the consecration of the high priest was his bathing in water (Ex. 29: 4; Lev. 8: 6). Hence the visible sanction given to Christ at His baptism. After that, the high priest was to be clothed with robes “of glory and beauty,” or as the LXX give it, “glory and honour” (Ex. 28: 2, 40). The high priest was also “crowned,” as his consecration to his office. “Thou shalt put the mitre upon his head, and the holy crown upon the mitre” (Ex. 29: 6). On the mitre was a golden plate, engraven with the words: “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex. 28: 36; 39: 30; Lev. 8: 9). Thus the wearer was designated as God’s Holy Priest. “It shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things” (Ex. 28: 38). “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord” (Lev. 10: 17).
Thus our Lord was crowned as the High Priest and Sacrifice. He was honoured beforehand, and encouraged to pass through the bitter scenes of death. “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life [soul] that I might take it again” (John 10: 17). And thus God showed His love. So also, when Jesus made the appeal to His Father - in view of His death near at hand - to glorify His Name, the Father’s voice from heaven at once responded. He would glorify that Name: He had glorified it already.
‘But if the words – “crowned with glory and honour” - relate to the glory bestowed before His death, how do you get their application to His present glory?’ The perfect participle “crowned” denotes the glory as still existing; and the third verse of the first chapter notes Christ’s session as the High Priest at the Father’s right hand, after the putting away of our sins.
Thus “we see” Jesus “crowned.” It is set forth in visible and striking facts, in the accounts of the Saviour’s baptism and transfiguration in the three first Gospels.
He was to “taste death.” Some have interpreted the words to mean a slight taste. But no! the Lord Jesus bore death in its most bitter form; as no believer now bears it, that is as the wrath of God, and the curse of the Law. The words would seem also to include all the sufferings which led down to, and prepared the way for, death. And in all the Gospels which treat of the Transfiguration, the expression is applied to the three favoured apostles who suffered martyrdom for Christ* (Matt. 16: 28). It was “death for every one.”
* John died a natural death; but the witness concerning his being put into a cauldron of boiling oil with the view to slay him, seems true.
It was intended to benefit the whole race. It comes after the witness of the psalm, that ‘man’ and the ‘Son of man’ are to be exalted over all God’s works. Man’s original dominion was to take place in this life. But sin brought in death and defeat. Now One has come Who has passed through death, and brought in life and the kingdom to man.
From writings by Robert Govett.
Childlikeness, not childishness, is our Lord’s model for us. The Apostle Paul safeguards us on the point: “When I was a child, I talked like a child” - ignorantly; “I thought like a child” - erratically; “I reasoned like a child” - with small mental grasp: “When I became a man, I put childish things behind me”, (1 Cor. 13: 11): “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil” - impurity - “be infants, but in your thinking be adults,” (1 Cor. 14: 20).
Our Lord always moved on a background of the infinite. He takes a lily, and unfolds the petals of the providence of God; He sees the massive stones of the Temple, and He depicts the last earthquakes; and He meets a little child - a lovely little human dew-drop - and at once His thoughts are on those who will “walk with Him in white”; and He revolutionizes the thinking of the Apostles by a revelation which is for all of us, - all of us who are His disciples - grave, [i.e., ‘serious, requiring careful consideration’], urgent, vital. “I tell you the truth, unless you change [repent] and become like little children, you will NEVER ENTER the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 18: 3).
our Lord bodily presents our model.
“He called a
little child” - old enough to be called, but young enough to be
lifted (Mark 10:
16). Not infants, and not
children, but ‘little’
children; perhaps between the ages
of three and seven, are those whom our Saviour gives us as a photograph of
kingdom saints. - “and had him stand among them” (Matt.
18: 2): there - if our Lord had never spoken another
word - is the greatest: for
ever, amongst us for all time, is a
mute, living symbol of the enthroned in the
So we ponder a little child. A little child is perfectly simple, without being a simpleton: it is wide awake, and constantly learning through sense: it is extraordinary open to the truth, and extraordinary sincere: it responds wonderfully to affection: its purity is crystalline: it is exceedingly quick to forgive: it has not the faintest trace of worldly ambition: the thought never enters its head to doubt its father’s word: it has an awe of God, and its conscience is singularly tender. Our Lord does not set a sinless seraph in our midst, or a blazing angel: winsome as childhood is, and tenderly beautiful, it has its waywardness, its tempers, its foolishness: nevertheless such are the Kingdom saints. God wants the manlike intellect, the childlike heart and the godlike character and conduct.
The Lord closes
with the practical. The Apostles had
been grasping for glory on the wrong
side of the grave; so He says:- “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child (the same) is the greatest
in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18: 4). Satan
lost the highest of all created thrones through pride: we can win the highest thrones through
humility. A child is humble; we must become humble; and this attainment, as superior to a child’s
as holiness is superior to innocence, is
within our grasp. “Whoever HUMBLES HIMSELF” - self-emptied because
God-filled: it is possible not only to become great in the
- From writings by D. M. PANTON.
An EXPOSITION of: ‘Groaning Creation Will Be Delivered’ (Romans 8: 19-23.)
The passage above given, is confessedly a difficult one; but it is so principally, because it contains a truth which Christians are slow to believe, and which many strive to evade, or openly deny. In order fully to comprehend it, let us notice first the sense of that which precedes.
In a former verse, Paul had declared that believers are sons of God; and since they were sons, they were also heirs of the Most High. But do not sufferings and the trials of this mortal life, prove that this cannot be their high dignity? No: for Christ the Son of God suffered; and as he mounted the throne of all things and eternal glory, through suffering, so must we pass through it. He consoles believers also in their endurance of trial, because the suffering bears no proportion to the immensity and eternity of the glory. And he teaches further, that if the un-sinning creation endures patiently its suffering in hope of future glory, much more may believers, whose trespasses call for correction.
Such is the general drift of the passage that precedes. Let us now enter on the text itself: first expounding it; and then showing the argumentative bearing of the Apostle’s statements on the opinions entertained by Christians.
Now it is evident at a glance, that the most important word of the passage, is that which is translated “creature,” and “creation,” and which occurs four times in this place. What then are we to understand by it?
There are three different opinions which I purpose to notice, before proceeding to prove the true meaning.
1. Some suppose, that by the creature, is meant the whole human race.*
* This is fortified by two passages of the New Testament, “Preach the gospel to every creature:” Mark 16: 15. And the “gospel which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven: Col. 1: 23.” But both of these are mis-translations; as is manifest on consulting the original. The presence of the article in both cases shows that it is to be taken not distributively, but collectively. “In all the creation.”)
2. Others, that the Gentiles, or unconverted nations, are meant.
3. Others, that the body is intended.
Some have also said, that it means good angels; but this cannot be: for they are not under the bondage of corruption. Nor can it intend evil angels; for they will not be delivered.
1. Those who maintain, that “the creature” signifies ‘the whole human race,’ support their proposition by declaring, that all man are desiring, and in some sort expecting, a better state of things than the present.
But that does not come up to the statement of the Apostle, nor will it square either with Scripture, or with fact. Paul affirms, that the creature is expecting, not vaguely, ‘a better state of things,’ but “the manifestation of the sons of God.” This, unconverted men neither expect nor desire; for they have no faith. Even those to whom it is preached, receive not the testimony, and much less is it expected by those who have never heard the gospel [of the kingdom]. Far from desiring the time when the sons of God and their great Captain, Jesus Christ, are manifested, they are seen in utter dismay and terror, when they learn by the signs in heaven, that the hour draws on: Rev. 6: 15-17.
2nd. Nor is it true, that they are “subject to vanity, not willingly.” Whether by “vanity” we understand sin, or the evil consequences of sin, it is not true. For in voluntarily choosing sin, they choose also its evil consequences, which are before made known unto them by God. And if it be said, that by their subjection to vanity, is meant Adam’s choice of sin, by which they become liable to its penalty, this offends against what is added, that he who subjected them to vanity, did so “under hope.” For Adam did not sin in the hope that his descendants would be delivered.
3rd. Moreover Paul assures us, that “the creature” not only desires deliverance, but “will be delivered into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” Is this true of ‘the whole human race?’ None but an Universalist could affirm it. On the contrary, so far from being rescued from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the saved, they will be forever captives to death in its gloomiest eternal form: the second death, the worm that never dies, the fire that never is quenched. And the day of the Saviour’s coming, is the time when he will appear “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God;” “the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men.”
4th. The opinion also contains an evident logical flaw; for
Paul throughout distinguishes two classes, “the
creation” forming the one, “the sons of God,”
the other. But this view destroys the
distinction, and confounds the classes, the second having been already
comprehended in the first. How absurd it
would be to say – ‘All Britons are expecting an invasion of
2. Nor can the “creature” signify unconverted nations, or wicked men in general. For while these would indeed be distinguished from “the sons of God,” yet they, (as was argued above) neither expect the glory of Christ, nor will attain it.
3. Nor can it mean the body: (1) for the body is not “the whole creation,” and (2) the Apostle distinguishes between “our body” and “the creature.” ‘We,’ he says, ‘who are the sons of God, shall have our bodies redeemed from corruption, and so will the creature.’
But if none of these senses are the true, it remains that we take “the creation” in its usual sense, as signifying things animate and inanimate; brute beasts, vegetables, the elements, the earth. Such is the sense in which it is employed by Paul in this very epistle. “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” But men “changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things ... Who worshipped and served the creature more than the creator:” Rom. 1: 20, 23, 25. Thus he explains what he means by the creature, describing it by the three usual classes into which animals are divided in Scripture.*
(* It is observable that Paul does not use the expression which in this view, would have been natural to us, or to a classical writer. He would have spoken of ‘nature.’ But that is an expression used by those who would thrust God out of sight. The Apostle used the word “creation,” for that necessarily implies a “Creator.”)
With this meaning in our hand, it will be found as we proceed, that the whole drift of the passage falls in naturally. Great is the glory, says the Apostle of the Gentiles, which is laid up for the [obedient] believer. But it is not for himself alone: all creation is waiting for that day, when the sons of God shall be revealed. Believers are the children of God now: but they are not manifested as such. They suffer hunger, thirst and cold; their bodies are afflicted with aches, disease, and death, equally with the wicked; nor do they give any token that they will one day, “shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” And therefore the world knows them not, even as it knows not Jesus: 1 John 3: 1. But they are waiting, in confidence that their sonship will soon be manifested, and their glory appear.
What then is the time of their manifestation, for which creation is waiting? (1) The coming of Christ Jesus: as it is written, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him:” 1John 3: 2. “When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory:” Col. 3: 4. (2) The day of the resurrection of the just: as it is written, “They who are accounted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection [out] from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God being the children of the resurrection:” Luke 20: 35, 36. And the resurrection of the righteous dead is at the coming of Christ. “Every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming:” 1Cor. 15: 20, 23. And thus also Paul states in the present passage, that the expectation of the saints, is “their adoption, the redemption of their body.”
“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.”
God at the creation made everything beautiful and perfect in its kind. He looked over the expanse of the world he had framed, and pronounced it “very good.” But his enemy entered it, to defile and destroy. Satan became incarnate in the body of a serpent, and by that means tempted our first parents to sin. He gained over their will, and they sinned of set choice. Then came the Most High, and calling the three culprits before him, sentenced them each in turn. First the curse upon the serpent was uttered, and in him upon all the beasts. “The Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field:” Gen. 3: 14. In the serpent then all the cattle and the beasts were cursed, the heaviest portion of the curse falling upon that creature by which sin entered.* Yet the serpent had no choice in the matter. Satan chose that form, and the reptile could not resist. It was sentenced, but not because of sin in itself. And herein it stands distinguished from the human agents, concerned. They sinned willingly and wilfully, and in just indignation came the sentence on them.
(*And when all the others rejoice, the stigma of God will still rest on that by which sin entered. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock, and dust shall be the serpent’s meat:” Isa. 65: 25.)
In consequence of the curse in the garden then, and the Tempter’s wile, sin’s dismal effects fell upon all creation. The tree of knowledge of good and evil, cast a blight over the vegetable world, and calamity hung over the whole of the animated races of earth, from the incarnation of Satan, and the outbreak of sin from the serpent. The ground itself was cursed for Adam’s sake: 3: 17. It was to yield to him ever the thorn and the thistle, until at death its mould closed over his corpse. From that day the creature became subject to vanity: Eccles. 1: 2-8. It became like a sail rent away from its ropes by the tornado’s sweep, that flaps and flutters idly up and down, and is torn into shreds by each gust of the storm.
All is unsettled,
unstable, unsatisfactory. By the fall it became liable (1) to disease, infirmities, and pains
terminating in death. (2) Fierce and deadly instincts of war
and bloodshed broke out, and one tribe warred upon another, making the tame and
innocent ones its prey. (3) Over all settled the discomforts of
winter, the inclemency of the seasons, barrenness, famine, and abortion. (4)
The animals became subservient to man; to be taken and destroyed by him; to be
killed and eaten as food. (5) As
sacrifices, they were commanded to be slain.
(6) They became subject to
the cruel and unmerciful, who take away life without reason, or inflict
torture; who over-task and underfeed them.
(7) They were exposed to the
judgements of God. When he sent his
wrath on sinners, they also felt its edge.
At the flood, all but the favoured ones in the ark were swept away to
death. “All in
whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all
that was in the dry land, died.” When
Yet is this subjection not hopeless. And thus it is proved, that he who subjected creation was neither the devil nor man, as some have supposed; for neither of these brought the creation under woe, with the hope that they might one day escape it; but, God did. At the very time he sentenced the creation, he uttered the words of hope, in the tidings of the woman’s Seed, who should conquer back what had been lost. Nay, and in the deliverance of a favoured few of animals in the ark, and the covenant that followed, that hope is confirmed.
Thus Paul plunges into the consideration of that great difficulty which besieges alike the Christian, the philosopher, and the deist, and which the gospel partially develops, and sets at rest. How is it - all nature cries to the deist - (to teach him, if possible, his ignorance, and to lead him to revelation); how is it, in the world of that Infinite Power, whose existence you admit, that woe so broad, and constant in its tide, ever rolls on? - that there is no form of life that is not dimmed by pain, and finally extinguished by death? - that restlessness, dissatisfaction, and suffering, heavily canopy this wide earth? - that not the voice of joy nor calmness of repose, but the cries of infirmity, disease, and woe, in a thousand shapes, mount up to heaven? Grant, even, that man may suffer as a sinner, and deserves it. Yet, why are innocent animals joined with him in the calamity? Why are they torn, baited, over-driven, maimed, underfed, tortured, slain at the caprice of man, and for his uses and service? The present passage gives the answer in part. It renders the only reply that can be given aright.
The answer that will be given, in the last days, to this mysterious question, will be blasphemy. They will say, ‘The Creator is not a good and holy being. The weakness, imperfection, and misery we discern, springs, not from sin, as you fanatics affirm, (for how could animals sin? and we deny that there is such a thing as sin at all,) but from the weakness and imperfection of the Creator, He either could not or would not hinder this mass of misery. He is either limited in power, or he is pleased with suffering.’
Now, Paul answers not the difficulty as the philosopher does now. Science would assure us, that this state of things has ever been: that, however we may whine or moan, it is best that it should be so, and that a world without pain or death is not to be thought of. It would teach us, that thus it must continue as long as the world shall last, and the planets shall track their courses. In direct contradiction thereto, Paul declares, that it was not so once. Once the whole was only blooming, only joyous; its music without a wail, its leaves without a blight, its fields unstained by blood, its dust undefiled by the dead. He consoles us with the assurance that it shall not be always so. No! it was not so from the first. Sin has blighted it! It shall not always be thus forever. The Redeemer has come!
“Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.”
If I rightly perceive the drift of the present passage, the Apostle gives two views of the degeneration of creation; and answerably thereto, two glimpses of deliverance. For the effects of sin appeared, first in pain during life; then in corruption after death. And it is the latter of these he treats of in the verse before us. Both these effects of sin are to be removed by two corresponding stages of deliverance. There will be the joy of the creatures living on earth during the Saviour’s reign: there will be the immortality of the creation finally ransomed from death, on the new earth, in which is no sea: Rev. 20: 1. We have presented to us, both the joy of the mother after the birth of the child, answering to the millennial joy of the creation: and also the casting off the yoke of corruption, which supposes the possession of immortal life.
This is the most startling feature of the two. What! shall animals attain immorality, no less than ourselves?
I reply - what is the import of the present words? What is “corruption?” Is it not that force, whereby the body of the animal, that in life was held together by a mighty but secret chemistry, is dissolved, and scattered to the winds? Paul employs it in this sense, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory:” 1Cor. 15: 42, 43. And what is “the bondage (or slavery) of corruption,” but the perpetual imprisonment which the body suffers [in the grave], when once it has begun to moulder? Spring comes, the summer glows; but they exert no power to collect the scattered atoms. The iron hand of death holds it with unrelaxing gripe. But the Apostle affirms, that as the saints of God, whose bodies lie now beneath this slavery of corruption, shall one day be delivered from it, even so shall the creature also. For us this mortal shall put on immortality; and death be swallowed up in victory. But it will be with ourselves; so, (says Paul,) will it be with them. The sons of God will exchange slavery for freedom, and a corrupting corpse for the glorious body of the resurrection. This will be “the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.” But as the creature now lies beneath this bondage, so will it enter into the same liberty! Many difficulties may encompass the thought, but does not inspiration say so?
Observe in the force of the expression used, a further proof of the correctness of the interpretation. “Because even the creature itself, (or “the very creature”) shall be delivered.” The term employed, shows, that it is something so far inferior to man, that one might have supposed its interests overlooked or forgotten. Since man is the direct object of redemption, it might have been thought that all other questions were neglected in regard of the superlative importance of his deliverance from sin and the curse. The force of the expression will be seen, by putting a parallel case. Suppose we read in an account of the coronation of Queen Victoria - ‘Her Majesty on the occasion of her coronation made a royal feast to her nobility, archbishops, bishops, and the peers of the realm: Nay, so princely was her bounty, that the very servants themselves of the palace were sumptuously entertained.’ By such a mode of expression, we should understand the writer to intend, that whereas it might have been expected, that the pleasures of inferiors would have been neglected in the vastly greater importance of the principal banquet, yet they were not forgotten.
And this is really the state of things in the present instance. Scarcely one in a thousand has seen, that the interests of the inferior creation have been consulted and provided for in the great scheme of redemption by Jesus. But not so with God. His plans are perfect; nothing can be added to them, nothing taken away. He discerns the end from the beginning, and with infinite wisdom gives to each part of the scheme, its proper place.
Let us then turn to some of the passages which speak of the blessings of the inferior creation, at the period of the return of the Saviour. And in order to render the contrast more striking, take a view of the world under the day of Great Tribulation, whose stormy winds and waters burst in all their gloom and fury, just before the Lord Jesus as the Sun of righteousness appears. “The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted; the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl O ye wine-dressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field are withered; because joy is withered away from the sons of men:” Joel 1: 10, 12. “Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come:” “How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned the trees of the field. The beasts of the field cry also to thee; for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness:” 15, 18, 20.
Now let us see the contrast - “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den: they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the EARTH shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea:” Isaiah 11: 1-9.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth together, and travaileth together in pain until now.”
The word “together” belongs both to “groaneth”
and “travaileth,” though in the English
translation it is given but once. This
is intended to lead us to remark, that while the creation is made up of many
different parts, yet none is free from the burden, but all suffer from it, and
groan under its pressure. For as the
creation is one great whole or body, if one of the members suffer,
all the members suffer with it. And so,
when one of the members of the sons of God are
honoured, all the members will rejoice with it.
The great fact of creation’s suffering we all know; common experience
makes it manifest. The bleating of its
tired sheep, the lowing of its driven herds, the cries of slaughtered animals,
all proclaim the pain of creation. The
blighted, torn, mildewed, withered leaves, proclaim to
us the curse that rests as a weary burthen upon creation. It not only “groans
together,” but it “travails together until now.” The figure made use of,
is that of pregnancy. What then does it import? (1)
That there is a certain and definitely fixed period for the woe of creation. (2) That its
suffering will continually increase in bitterness, (like
But what is the birth with which creation is in travail? The text itself supplies the answer. As the mother looks forward to the birth of the child, so is creation looking forward for “the manifestation of the sons of God.” The child then, on whose birth so much depends, is the souls of the just in Hades - the unseen womb of the earth. This burthen, (answerably to the figure,) is daily increasing, and has been so ever since the curse was laid on the world. Death holds them in bondage as yet, “the gates of Hades, (not ‘hell’) prevail” against them for the present. But when these come forth and receive “the adoption, the redemption” of the resurrection “body,” then will joy arise on this saddened earth. But the cries of birth is terrible; the Saviour describes it in part, in Matthew 24. War, famine, pestilence are the “beginning of sorrows,” (Greek –“birth-pangs.”) then comes the Great Tribulation, such as never was and never will be again. And at that time the earth, riven by a fierce “earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth,” opens, and the just arise. “He bowed the heavens, and came down, and it was darkness under his feet.” “And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered at the rebuking of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils. He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters:” 2 Samuel 22: 10, 16, 17. The burden of slavery, (to which the woe of creation is compared in the twenty-first verse,) is a hateful burden. The burden of pregnancy, (verse 22,) is a cherished burden, and answers to the souls of the righteous, who, in the day of the [first] resurrection, issuing forth from the dark bowels and womb of the earth, will be manifest to all as the then visible, but now unseen and waiting sons of God.
“Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.”
(Then comes the birth) – “Thy dead men shall live; my dead body shall they arise.” (Then joy) – “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” And this at the time when Jesus appears, and the Lord “cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity:” Isaiah 26: 18, 19, 21. For the sons of God are in two states, the living and the dead; and in neither are they manifested as the children of God, nor will they be, till the day of resurrection.
“And not only it (the creation) but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption - the redemption of our body.”
The realms of nature and of grace are in the same attitude; both under bondage, and groaning under the pressure, and both expecting and waiting for a deliverance promised by God.
In which words notice the remarkable expression, “who have the first-fruits of the Spirit.” This refers to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which we have not now. These endowments, by the very title given them, foretold the glory that is to appear. They were “powers of the age to come:” Hebrews 6: 4, 5. “The earnest of the inheritance:” Ephesians 1: 14. They gave token and proof of the day of deliverance from the present bondage of creation. He who was gifted with these, showed that he belonged to that better order of things, which is one day to draw upon the earth. To one was given the power of casting out demons; and this was the token and the earnest, that one day Satan and all his angels shall be cast into the bottomless pit, and shut up during the thousand years. Another possessed the gift of healing, and he, by repelling the attacks of disease, and the advances of death and corruption, give a joyful signal of that glorious day, when, to those in the flesh, disease shall be checked, and the life of man shall be as the days of a tree.
“We” (says Paul) “have the first-fruits,” they were the possessions of all believers then: they ought to be now. The first-fruits betokened that the harvest was coming; so the gifts of the Holy Ghost to [regenerate and Spirit filled] believers in Jesus are the pledge of that coming day, when, as Joel says, the Lord “will pour out his Spirit on all flesh.” And, as Jeremiah declares, “they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” And, to use the Saviour’s own quotation, “They shall all be taught of God.” Now, the first-fruits belonged to the priests - “And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The first-fruits also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, thou shalt give him:” Deut. 18: 3, 4.
We, then, as made
unto our God kings and priests, by the blood of Jesus, ought to possess
the first-fruits. The harvest is to be
for all flesh, when the day of glory and of Christ’s appearing is come. The first-fruits are our consolation -
the harvest is the promised joy of
The Apostle then adds, that we are looking out for “the adoption.” But how is this? Are we not, if we are believers, already adopted? We have “the spirit of adoption,” (Romans 8: 15) as this very chapter affirms, but not adoption itself; though God hath predestined us thereto: Eph. 1: 5.
The time of our adoption, and its great and manifesting act, is the redemption of our body. For even in us who are alive, “the body is dead because of sin:” (verse 10.) And in the case of the sleeping saints, the body is manifestly under “the bondage of corruption.” The soul is in custody in Hades, the body in the prison of the grave. These bonds must be loosed, ere we are manifestly God’s; ere our bondage is exchanged for liberty, and our corruption for glory.
2. Having thus expounded the meaning of the passage, I would just gather up its general sentiment, to show its argumentative force against the general teaching of the present day.
It appears then, that Paul in these verses, takes a general view of Creation, as it exists now, and gives three statements of its condition, as being (1) subject to vanity through the sin of man: (2) under the bondage of corruption; (3) and groaning and travailing throughout in pain. And correspondently therewith he presents three views of the future condition of the saints and sons of God, (1) their manifestation, (2) their glorious liberty, (3) their adoption, that is, the redemption of their body. Now scripture informs us, that at the beginning, creation was very good; and that the woe which now burdens it, came on it from the sin of man. To the opponents then of the Millennium, I would say, - Why do you believe that the only change and restoration will take effect on man? You acknowledge that the sin of the first Adam brought in ruin upon the whole creation. Why then should you refuse to admit that the obedience of the second Adam will redeem the inferior creation likewise? You acknowledge that the incarnation of Satan in the serpent produced the fall of man, and that man’s fall drew after it the wreck of creation animate and inanimate. Why then doubt that Christ’s incarnation in the manhood shall lift up from corruption’s bondage, not the redeemed of the human race alone, but the animated races of creation? This certainly is Paul’s doctrine here. As creation fell with the fall of man, and continues subject to its evils still, under the disposing will of God: so with man’s rising it will recover itself, and rejoice at Satan’s discomfiture, and the victory of Messiah.
But this doctrine, though more acknowledged than formerly, is yet much resisted. Hear Doddridge, who speaks the thought of many:- ‘To explain it (this passage) as chiefly referring to the brutal or inanimate creation is insufferable; since the day of the redemption of our bodies will be attended with the conflagration, which will put an end to them.’ But is this true? No: such a statement results from the denial of the first resurrection of the saints, and the belief that all men rise together. For it has been shown already, that the redemption of the bodies of the saints, takes place at the Saviour’s coming, and the Saviour’s coming is celebrated as the term of the rejoicing of creation, not of its destruction; as it is written - “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and the fullness thereof! then shall all the trees of the field rejoice before the Lord: for he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth:” Psalm 96: 11-13; Psalm 98.
We must choose therefore whose statements we will believe. If we reject the Millennium, Paul’s language and the Psalmist’s will be unaccounted for. If we make the Millennium a spiritual reign only [without the personal and bodily Presence of Jesus our Messiah-King], in which good men will be very abundant, and the gospel preached and received everywhere, Paul must be mistaken; for to the gospel no such effects as the renovation of creation can be ascribed. It does not touch, except indirectly, the sufferings even of man. It offers consolation to the soul, but it does not decrease the sufferings of the body. It does not stave off pestilence, disease, death. It does not rise the dead from their sepulchre, or undo the sentence of corruption. Much less does it take off from the creature its sufferings. It still permits the slaughter of animals for food, the abuse of them by the cruel; it still permits, as it needs must, the inclemency of the wintry sky, and the sultry droughts of summer. It does not manifest the sons of God, or crown them with the promised glory, or give them the deliverance of the body from its slavery to death and putrefaction. And even if it did remove the creature’s woe, it would not fulfil the figure presented in the passage before us; for if the burthen of creation were removed by the effects of the gospel, it would be like a load taken from off a weary porter’s shoulder, ounce by ounce, gradually diminishing till all was gone. But the figure of child-birth represents it as gradually becoming heavier and heavier, and at the height and crisis of the struggle, suddenly removed. Nor would it account for the character of the burthen borne by creation. The burthen of pregnancy is a beloved burthen; but that which the gospel would remove is only hateful.
Even were the gospel to prevail everywhere, as many are fond to assert, these conclusions would be true. But it will not. The Scriptures of the New Testament everywhere teach, that though its offers were to be widely extended, and its aspect is universal, it will not be universally received. What is the brief sentence that sums up the whole history of our dispensation [of this evil age], more than once on the Saviour’s lips? “Many are called but few chosen!” Nay, and there is now at hand, (what but few are ready for) a general apostasy from Christianity, instead of a general conversion to it! 2 Thess. 2; 1Thess. 4.
But (that I may not go too far astray from the tract of my present subject,) mark the very words of the text. What saith Paul? “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The gospel had then been abroad thirty years in the fullness of its blessing, and “from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum (Paul) had fully preached the gospel of Christ,” and yet he utters no word of any check given then, or afterwards to be given by the gospel, to the groan and travail of nature without that wide space, and up to that very time. Much more then may we say of nature, that it “groaneth and travaileth in pain together EVEN UNTIL NOW.”
But the Apostle saw a hope for it signal and blessed, in an event - not of nature - not of the course of events now following their career - but in the miraculous return of Jesus, and his manifestation of himself with all his [‘accounted worthy’] saints in their full glory, as risen from the dead. This is the hope for which creation tarries; this the birth for which it looks; this the travail wherewith it travails. In that word I see a decisive proof of millennial glory, a decisive denial to modern belief. This groaning of nature, which is heard in the sighing of its tempests, the howling of its stormy, wrecking breakers, in the lowing of its slaughtered herds, and the moans of its dying tribes, what is its character to the ear of faith? Is it the roar of the wind, and the rush of the wave grappling the groaning vessel, to bury it in the sea depths? Is it the feverish tossing and moaning of the dying man upon his bed, as he waxes fainter and fainter, and halts down the valley of corruption? No: it is the pain, struggling and suffering, but, pain with hope. It is the pangs of the mother, who suffers sorely indeed, but not unto death; whose pains indeed accumulate and sharpen hour by hour, but only for awhile; and whose eye is about to glisten above her new-born infant. The world is suffering the pangs of birth, not the pangs of death! A new order of things - of joy and not of grief; of preservation and of glory, not of destruction and desolation - is about to arise.
Here then choose ye! If received opinion is to be our guide, then there remains no hope for this fallen creation. It is looking onward sorrowfully and groaning to that dismal period, more awful than the doom of Sodom - more terrible than the wild howling of the flood, and its career of destruction - when fierce in anger, the Saviour-Judge will come, in cloud and storm, and burn up the recreant earth; and all its animated tribes, except man, will be consumed in one general blaze! But can the creature desire to be burnt up? Does it any more expect and long for future destruction than for present pain? Or were it any exhibition of the mercy of God? Destruction comes from his wrath, and is the testimony of his sore displeasure. To reduce creation to nothing by his fervent heat, were to fasten the yoke of corruption about the neck of its animated tribes forever. And how were the redemption of the saints any specimen or picture of the redemption in store for the creature? Are the sons of God to be burnt up or annihilated? Then neither are its now suffering tribes! The Lord loves the creatures of his hand as truly as man. At the flood he spared a remnant in the ark; and with the living creatures of the world he entered into covenant, when he accepted the burnt-sacrifice of Noah. How much more then shall the better sacrifice of the Lamb of God draw down, on the whole creation, the blessings of that new covenant, with whose glories the prophets are teeming! Yes! if you will believe Paul the inspired - before the hour of the world’s burning, there is a period when all creation shall rejoice.
If you will trust the [Holy] Spirit speaking by him, as surely as we shall overcome the grave, and enter on our immortal course in the full freedom of bodies ransomed from the slavery of corruption, even so shall the creature that has suffered with us, with us partake in the glory of immortality.
as the Saviour’s appearing, will the glory of the redeemed come. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at
the last trump will the dead saints rise incorruptible, and we, the living
saints, shall be caught up and changed.
And with our sudden glory, a new
day will dawn in the renewed world.
Before its brightness the earth is to break forth into joy, and the
heavens to burst out with song. The
forests are to clap their hands in loud rejoicing; the waves of the sea to roar
in glad acclaim. The sun is to shine
with seven-fold lustre, the moon with the light of the sun; as before that day,
blackness covered the one, and blood mantled the other. In the parched desert are streams to leap
forth; in the burning sand, groves of stately trees are to spring and spread
their shade. And the animals, tamed anew
by the creator’s hand, will put on the innocence of
Who will enter
into that day of glory? Who will see
that glory of Christ’s [millennial] kingdom
long expected, long foretold? He only who is born again;
for “except a man be born again, he cannot see the
- From writings by Robert Govett.
DISCIPLINE AND CHARACTER
They come and go, the seasons fair,
And bring their spoil to vale and hills;
But oh! there is waiting in the air,
And a passionate hope the spirit fills.
Why doth He tarry, the absent Lord?
When shall the kingdom be restored,
And earth and heaven with on accord,
Ring out the cry that the King comes?
The floods have lifted up their voice -
The King hath come to His own, His own!
The little hills and vales rejoice,
His right it is to take the crown.
Sleepers, awake, and meet Him first;
Now let the marriage hymn outburst,
And powers of darkness flee, disperst:
What will it be when the King comes!
A ransomed earth breaks forth in song,
Her sin-stained ages overpast;
Angels carry the royal commands;
Peace beams forth throughout all the lands;
The trees and the fields shall clap their hands:
What will it be when the King comes!
Uplifts her head with joy once more;
Extends her rule from shore to shore.
Sing, for the land her Lord regains!
And living streams o’erflow her plains:
What will it be when the King comes!
Oh, brothers, stand as men that wait -
The dawn is purpling in the east,
And banners wave from heaven’s high gate
The conflict now - but soon the feast!
Mercy and truth shall meet again;
Worthy the Lamb that once was slain!
We can suffer now - He will know us then:
What will it be when the King comes!
- E. S. Elliott.
O happy band of pilgrims,
If onward ye will tread
With Jesus as your fellow,
To Jesus as your head!
O happy, if ye labour
As Jesus did for men:
O happy if ye hunger
As Jesus hungered then!
The Cross that Jesus carried,
He carried as your due;
The Crown that Jesus weareth,
He weareth it for you.
The faith by which ye see him,
The hope in which ye yearn,
The love that through all troubles
To him alone will turn,
What are they but his heralds
To lead you to his sight?
What are they but foregleams
Of uncreated light?
What are they but his Jewels
Of right celestial worth?
What are they but the ladder
Set up to heaven on earth?
O happy band of pilgrims,
Look upward to the skies,
Where such a light affliction
Shall win you such a PRIZE.
- John M. Neale, 1818-66
Come, O Christ, and reign among us,
King of love, and Prince of peace,
Hush the storm of strife and passion,
Bid its cruel discords cease;
Thou who prayedst, thou who willest
That thy people should be one,
Grant, O grant our hope’s fruition:
Here on earth thy will be done. Amen.
- Somerset C. Lowry, 1855-1932