A Serious Inquiry
James Smith, 1865
"Lord, what is man — that you should notice us, mere mortals that you should care for us?" Psalm 144:3
"Lord, what is man!" Thus the psalmist exclaimed, when reviewing the Lord's goodness to him, and recounting the gracious characters in which the Lord stood to him. Great trials had brought him great mercies. Great difficulties had given him a great experience of the Lord's goodness. He rejoices in God as his strength and instructor, the source of his mercy, his fortress, his high tower and his deliverer, his shield and the object of his trust. God had been to him — all that his circumstances required, so that notwithstanding his many fears and numerous foes — he had persevered and prevailed. Looking back upon the past — he felt constrained to look up, and looking up he was led to contrast God's goodness to him — with his own insignificance and unworthiness, and almost involuntarily cried out, "Lord, what is man!"
It is the language of surprise! He was struck with wonder and amazement at the conduct of his God, and full of admiration, he gives vent to his overpowering feelings in this brief exclamation.
It is the language of humility! He felt crushed under a sense of God's amazing kindness to one so sinful, to one so vile; the sense of God's undeserved grace laid him very low; and from the dust of self-abasement, he expressed his wonder at the Divine dealings with him.
It is the language of gratitude! His heart was full, it was overflowing with grateful praise. Surprised, humble, and grateful — he was prepared to glorify his good and gracious God. And this will be the case with us, when we take a retrospect of the past from the right point; when we look at ourselves — and then at our God; at our righteous deserts — and His merciful dealings. We will now briefly look at the question with a view to our own edification.
What is man PHYSICALLY?He is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is the chief of the works of God. What a wonderful structure is the body! What wisdom is displayed in devising, arranging, and adapting the different parts — to form the one simple, yet complicated machine! The bones, the muscles, the blood-vessels, the nerves, the brain, the flesh, the skin; the different organs of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. What a beautiful and yet suitable dwelling they form for the immortal soul.
Yet when we think of what man is, and then of what man was — how great the contrast. When we look at man in youth, in health, and in full vigor — and then at what man is when aged, or diseased, or dead; we cannot but feel ready to exclaim, "What is man!"
But when we direct our thoughts to God — to His
greatness, glory, holiness, and immutability — we feel a still stronger
impulse inducing us to cry, "What is man?" Man so little, so sinful, so
sickly, so changeable, so transitory! "What is man — that you should magnify
him? and that you should set your heart upon him? That you should visit him
every morning, and try him every moment?"
What is man MORALLY?This is the worst part of the picture! It is bad enough to see man diseased, suffering, dying, moldering to dust; but when we come to inquire into the cause of all this — it is fearful indeed!
Man is dreadfully depraved. He has fallen from the state in which his good and glorious Creator placed him. He is now totally depraved. He is God's enemy. His heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. His carnal mind is enmity against God. He is full of evil principles and evil passions. He has become, not only unprofitable — but abominable! No part of God's creation presents such a hideous sight to His pure and holy eyes — as man does, for in him heart and mind are alike depraved, and set in opposition to Himself.
Man is wicked — but he is not only wicked, he is weak. Sin has become a fearful disease within him. He has no will to do good. He has no power to do good — if he had the will. Hence the apostle when partially renewed, speaking of himself, said, "To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not."
Man is perverse, he closes his eyes, his ears, and his heart against God! It is only for God to require something — and man determines not to do it; or for God to prohibit something — and man immediately desires it. His will is as much opposed to God as it can be. He slights His mercy, dares His justice, and defies His power. He perseveres in sin, unless the Lord by His invincible grace prevents him. He has sunk lower than the beasts which perish, hence the Lord complains, "The ox know his owner, and the donkey his master's crib — but Israel does not know, My people do not consider!"
There is everything in man to offend the eyes of God's holiness, and to grieve His loving heart. Looking at man as fallen, polluted, and under the power of sin — we may well ask, "What is man, that You are mindful of him?" Psalm 8:4
That is, man as
renewed by the Holy Spirit, as united to Jesus, and as brought into
fellowship with God. Man as a new creation. Man as in Christ. Ah! what is
man then? The change is astonishing! The alteration is striking! It
is like turning from a barren wilderness — to Eden, from an arid desert — to
the garden of the Lord.
What is man SPIRITUALLY?
Renewed man is God's own CHILD. The child of His love. The child which He has adopted for His own. The child into which He has infused His own holy nature. The child on whom He confers His richest blessings, which He elevates to the highest honors. The child whom He constitutes His heir, and a joint-heir with His only-begotten Son. The child to which He gives His Spirit, for which He prepares a city, and appoints a kingdom.
Man is God's CHOICE. When angels sinned — He cast them out of heaven, bound them in chains of darkness, and doomed them to appear before His Son for judgment. There was no mercy for them. Not one of all their vast number was chosen. They were left to reap the due desert of their deeds.
Not so man. God saw that he would fall. He knew what he would become — and yet He chose out of fallen mankind, a number which no man can number to eternal life. "Lord, what is man, that You should choose him?" The only reply we can give is, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."
Man is chosen in Christ — chosen to holiness — chosen to everlasting life — chosen to the highest honors, and the sweetest joys. How wonderful is God's grace — and His ways are past finding out. What an overwhelming thought for a sinner to cherish in his bosom, "I am God's choice! God has chosen me to salvation! God has chosen me of His own mere grace! God has chosen me, who deserved and must have sunk to hell — if left to myself! God has chosen me to be His child, the object of His love, and to share in all the glories of His heavenly kingdom!
Man is God's COMPANION. He is to walk with
God. He is called to have fellowship with God, He is directed to pour
out his heart before God. He is to treat God with confidence,
communicating everything to Him, asking everything of Him, and
expecting every good thing from Him. God promises to visit him, to
manifest Himself to him, and to dwell in him and walk in him. What
astonishing grace! And will God, the great, the glorious, the holy God —
take poor, sinful, vile, wretched man for His choice, His child, His
companion? He will. He has done it. He is daily doing it. Even this moment
He is saying to every believer, "Let me hear your voice, let me see your
countenance; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely."
What will renewed man BE?This is a question which no man can answer, for even the inspired Apostle John confesses his ignorance, "Beloved," says he, "now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be — but when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is!" "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined — what God has prepared for those who love Him!"
Renewed man will be like Jesus. Man will be with God. Man will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of his heavenly Father. Man will see and hear and know, and possess, and enjoy — all he can possibly desire, all that his glorified nature is capable of. He will be more than unfallen Adam was, more than angels are, for he will be as nearly like God as perfected human nature can be made like the Divine.
Let us then meditate devoutly upon this glorious subject, let us endeavor to realize our interest in it, and let us pray the Holy Spirit to unfold and apply it to our souls — until filled with surprise, humility, and profound gratitude we exclaim with David, "Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him! Man is like to vanity, his days are as a shadow that passes away."