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Sermons from the Psalms, 2 - Made for Mastery

By Clovis G. Chappell


      "Thou madest him to have dominion." (Psalm 8:6)

      Clovis G. Chappell: THE author of this psalm is evidently writing with his mind and heart saturated with the first chapter of the book of Genesis. He therefore makes three bold and stupendous assertions with regard to man of which our text seems to be the climax. These assertions do not meet with universal acceptance in our scientific age. There are still those who believe them profoundly. There are others who, I fancy, eye them wistfully, only to turn away. There are others still who seem to laugh at them with the cynical laughter of the worldly wise. But whatever may be our attitude toward them, I am very sure that those who accept them possess a sense of the worthfulness of life, and of the dignity of human personality to which all others must forever be strangers.

      1. The first daring declaration of this poet is that man is God-made. He believes that we bear upon us the finger marks of the Infinite. He has nothing to say as to the process of man's creation. He is no more interested in processes than is the author of the book of Genesis. He is not a scientist. He is a poet and a saint. Therefore he is in no sense concerned with the how of man's creation, he is only concerned with who created him. The how is a purely scientific question. It has no religious significance whatsoever. But the who is of profound importance religiously. And our psalmist has reached a satisfying answer to this fundamental question. He believes that man is the handiwork of God.

      2. His second bold assertion is that this God-made man is a grand creature. He is not a being of no significance and of no importance. He is vastly great and vastly significant. "Thou hast made him" not "a little lower than the angels" (Psa. 8:5, Heb. 2:7) as the timid translators of the Authorized Version say, but "Thou hast made him a little lower than God." Man is made in God's image. He is kinfolks with God. He is God's child. He, therefore, shares somewhat in his Father's nature. He is like his Father in that he is a personality. By this we mean that he has power to know, power to love, and power to choose. The greatest of all the poets was therefore speaking only sober truth when he sang,

      "What a piece of work is man,
      how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty;
      in form and bearing how express and admirable;
      in apprehension, how like an angel;
      in comprehension how like God."

      So great is he that God does for him what he does not do for any of his planets or solar systems. He is mindful of him and visits him. He even loves him with an everlasting love.

      But, while asserting that man is little lower than God, our author does not mean to affirm that he is wholly divine. The Bible never blinks the fact of man's kinship to the dust. While affirming that he is a son of God, it declares with equal emphasis that he is also a son of Adam. He is, therefore, a strange mixture of the heights and of the depths, of majesty and meanness, of angel and devil, of deity and dust. He has a capacity for wallowing in the mire that is at once horrible and amazing. He has also a capacity for fellowship with God and for positive likeness to God that is even more amazing. He is, therefore, a bewildering complexity, neither wholly good nor wholly bad. But this fact does not in any sense discount his essential greatness. In spite of his incredible contradictions, the psalmist regards him as a marvelous creature, close akin to God.

      3. The final assertion of this poet-saint is that this great creature is made for a high and worthy destiny. He is not here by mere chance. He is not here as the plaything of his environment. He is not here to be the bondslave of his fellows. Nor is he here to be the slave of blind force. He is here in accordance with the plan of God. His Creator has a purpose for him, and that purpose is dominion. He is made for mastery. He is destined for kingship. His brow is meant for crowning. He is to be master over all the lower orders of life. He is to be master of himself. He is even to have dominion over his fellows in so far as that dominion is the result of mutual self-subjection out of reverence to Christ.

      II

      We are aware, of course, that there are many who do not accept the psalmist's conception of man's lofty place in the scheme of things. There are varied shades of opinion that darken into the blackness of flat contradiction. It is rather the order of our day to belittle man rather than to magnify him, to cater to his conceit and at the same time rob him of that "self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control that alone lead life to sovereign power."

      1. He is belittled by being robbed of his high origin. For many he is no longer the child of an infinitely loving Father who has made him to have dominion. He is rather "the product of blind forces that had no prevision of what they were creating." He is, therefore, without the slightest significance to those forces that brought him into being. To such blind powers a Saint Paul can mean no more than an angleworm, and a Jesus of Nazareth than a handful of slime.

      2. He is also belittled by his environment. The universe of which he is a part has become so great that he has been made to seem immeasurably small. Our psalmist felt something of this in his day. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?" One of our keenest Christian writers said recently that it is hard to believe that a God who holds the milky way in his hand takes note of the doings of individual men.

      Many seem to take with crass literalness Mark Twain's humorous story of the man who went to heaven from California. Arrived at the pearly gates, this gentleman is asked from whence he comes. He tells them proudly, "From California." But nobody knows where California is. "It is in the United States," declares the new arrival with amazement. But nobody knows where the United States it. "It is in North America," he exclaims. But nobody knows where North America is. "It is a part of the earth," he continues with growing indignation. But nobody knows where the earth is. At last some of the wise scholars, after a long search, find that the earth is a little forgotten speck, flung out into space, that was once known as "The Wart." Naturally, if man's world is so insignificant, he himself would seem infinitely more so. Thus has he been dwarfed by his environment.

      3. Finally, man is belittled by his loss of freedom. According to certain of our biologists and psychologists, man is not made for mastery, he is rather made to be a slave of his biological inheritance or the plaything of outward stimuli. One has called this modern loss of freedom "the second fall of man," in contrast to his fall when his freedom was denied by the stern doctrine of Calvinism. But this second fall is infinitely the more disastrous. Hideous and repellent, in many respects, as was the Calvinistic creed, it was undeniably man-making. It gave to life, for those who accepted it, a profound significance. "The meanest of them," says Macaulay, speaking of the Puritans who were the product of Calvinism, "the meanest of them was a being to whom a mysterious and terrible importance belonged, upon whose slightest action the powers of light and darkness looked with anxious interest." "It was an iron creed," writes another, "but it made iron men." But faith in this modern loss of freedom is in no sense man-making. It reduces man to a mere machine. It makes it easy to see in him nothing bigger or better than "a parasite on the epidermis of a midge planet, a monkey that chatters to himself of kinship with the archangels while he filthily digs for groundnuts."

      III

      How refreshing to turn from this nightmare of unbelief to the sane and ennobling faith of this psalmist!

      1. I accept his view of man because such a view enlists my desire. It gives me the will to believe. While I was a student at Harvard a friend told me this story which I dare say is not true, but still it is to the point.

      "I was going," said he, "from Boston to New York. At New Haven a friend joined me, a student at Yale, who was also headed for New York. When we were seated I noticed his railroad ticket protruding from his pocket, so I slipped it out and into my own. A moment later he missed it, told me of his loss, and we searched for it frantically. At last he told me that he had no money for his fare. I answered that I, too, was penniless. Then I offered a suggestion. I told him to get under the seat as best he could and that I would spread my overcoat over him so that the conductor could not see him. He reluctantly consented. But he had not been long in his humiliating and uncomfortable position when the conductor came by. I gave him two tickets. Where is the other passenger?' he asked. He is under the seat,' I answered. He just prefers to ride that way.'"

      Even so I prefer to travel life upheld by the bracing faith of the psalmist.

      2. Then I side with our poet because his position appeals to my intelligence. This is not the case because faith has no difficulties. It has, but as I see it, they are as mole hills to mountains in comparison with the difficulties of unbelief. It may be hard to believe that man is God-made, but it is still harder to believe that he is mud-made or chance-made. It may be difficult to accept his significance in a universe that stretches into infinity, while we are reminded that the average man is so small that all the chemical elements that enter into his making would be worth in the current market only ninety-eight cents. But it is harder still to doubt his significance when we realize that, with all his smallness, he can contemplate his universe, map its solar system, and measure its planets; that, more amazing still, he can dream and hope and love, while the stars with all their incredible bulk can do none of these things. It may be difficult to believe that he is a free personality, but it is more difficult still to believe that he is mere machine. Machines do not reproduce themselves. When my car wears out it does not leave a better in its place. Besides, I am conscious of the fact that "I am I, with power on mine own act and on the world."

      3. I take the poet's view because of the evidence of its truth that I see in the world about me. That man is a great creature, made for mastery, is evidenced by the fact that his mastery is even now in process of realization. He is already master over the lower orders of life. All the beasts of the field acknowledge his kingship. He is gaining increasing mastery over nature. Deadly diseases that once decimated whole populations have been put out of commission. He has made the lightning his servant and the ether waves his messengers. He has learned to outswim the fish and to outfly the eagle.

      Years ago a man wrote an incredible story called Around the World in Eighty Days. (Jules Verne) Recently two daring aviators flew around the world in little more than one-tenth of that time. We also dare to believe that man has made progress in the realm of the moral and spiritual. This is a far better world than it used to be. There are wrongs that once were regarded as inevitable that are now intolerable, thanks to countless saints who yesterday and to-day have salted the earth.

      IV

      But while recognizing the fact that progress has been made, we cannot fail to see that we are still very far from realizing the mastery that is God's dream for us. There remains yet very much land to be possessed. With the author of the letter to the Hebrews we can say, "We see not yet all things put under him." (Heb. 2:8) So busy have we been in competing and fighting in our efforts to gain dominion over each other that we have fallen far short, even in the realm of the material, of the mastery that is a part of God's purpose for us. This is evidenced by the fact that, in a world that is amply able to supply the physical needs of every man, woman, and child, multitudes yet live under conditions that dwarf the body, stultify the mind, and starve the soul.

      Then how far we fall short of dominion in the realm of the spirit! How few possess that inner mastery that enables them to say with their Lord, "I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) We are still the slaves of things, of our own ambitions and appetites, of our lusts and passions. We are the slaves of sin, for "he that committeth sin is the bondslave of sin." (John 8:34) And this is the most galling of bondages. It is the only bondage that kills. "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage." (Richard Lovelace)

      Many of the saints were never more free than when they were in prison cells.

      "He that has light, within his own clear breast,
      May sit i' th' centre, and enjoy bright day;
      But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
      Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
      Himself is his own dungeon."

      Now, it is just this inner freedom and mastery that is God's plan for us. It is also this that Jesus is constantly offering. When he preached his first sermon in his own home church, this was a part of his text, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me, ... to set at liberty them that are bruised." (Luke 4:18) He was constantly declaring confidently: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) And this sense of freedom, of inner dominion, was the joyous experience of all those who came to know him. "He hath loosed us from our sins and made us kings," (Rev. 1:5-6) shouts John. "And this same spiritual kingship is for you," he declares confidently, "for whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." (1 John 5:4-5) It was their sense of inner mastery and their passion to share it with others that sent them to set the world on fire.

      "Oft when the spell is on me to deliver,
      Melts the illusion and the truth lies bare,
      Desert or throng, city or the river
      Fades into lucid paradise of air

      Only like souls I see, the folk thereunder
      Slaves who should conquer, bond who should be kings
      Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder
      Sadly content with the show of things.

      Then with a burst the intolerable craving
      Shivers through me like a trumpet call,
      O to save them, to perish for their saving,
      Die for their life, be offered for them all."

      How, then, shall we win this mastery that is God's purpose for us? We are not going to win by force. The supreme tragedies of history have been born of man's effort to gain dominion through force. Such dominion has not only been expensive in human blood, but it has always been superficial and fleeting. We are not going to win through any form of self-seeking. The one essential of real mastery is self-mastery, and that only comes through self-surrender.

      This was the experience of Paul. He found his higher self at war with his lower self. This better self was constantly being taken captive and brought under subjection. At last, with the desperate cry, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me," (Rom. 7:24) upon his lips, he threw himself in utter surrender into the arms of his Lord. It was then and then only that he found victory. He was therefore speaking out of his own experience when he wrote later, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, ... self-control." (Gal. 5:22)

      It is through this self-mastery that we win the only mastery over our fellows that is legitimate and abiding. This was the secret of the spell that Livingstone cast over the little handful of followers that shared with him the perils and pains of darkest Africa. Why, when he died, did they carry his body, in spite of savage beasts and more savage men, through those hundreds of miles of jungle to give it into the keeping of his friends from far-off England? It was not because he had conquered them by force, but because he had taken captive their hearts through the love of a surrendered life. This is the kind of dominion that Jesus is seeking. It is dominion over our hearts. He knows that all other mastery is futile.

      Napoleon came to realize that he and other conquerors had established their kingdoms by force only to see them fall to pieces, while Jesus had established his through love to see it abide and to have millions through all the centuries that would gladly die for him.

      This is the mastery that is necessary for the stabilizing and beautifying of our home life. The modern home is passing through sore straits. It is a bit like the house of which the Master spoke that was founded upon the sand. (Matt. 7:26) Many a rude wind is to-day beating against it, and often tragically it is falling into ruins. One tempest that cannot fail to work disaster is for husband and wife each to determine at any cost to be the head of the home. Yet Maggie, in Bringing Up Father, seems to be the ideal of all too many of both sexes. Hers is the dominion of force. It is the mastery of the rolling pin. But how futile it is! No sooner is her back turned than Jiggs is gone again to his old crowd and to his corned beef and cabbage.

      But here is a type of mastery that is real and abiding. Some years ago a magnificent looking man with a frail slip of a woman on his arm, passed along the deck of a transatlantic steamer. She was thin and wasted and was very evidently a physical wreck. As they passed by in their stroll a vigorous woman said softly to her neighbor: "What a pity it is for a splendid man like that to be the slave of such a frail, invalid wife." The husband overheard the remark and when he had taken his wife to her stateroom came back and sat down beside the woman who had made it, and said "I could not help hearing what you said a moment ago about my being a slave to my wife. I just came to tell you that you used the right word."

      "A few years ago," he continued, "my business failed through the rascality of a partner that I held in highest confidence. He made it appear that his dishonesty was mine, and everybody thought me guilty except one. That was my wife. My health broke under the strain. But she stood by me, fought for me, compelled me to believe in myself, and at last I got on my feet again. But the drain upon her energies had been too great. Her health was completely wrecked. She gave herself in order to save me. And now, I repeat, you used the right word. I am her slave, and my fondest wish for you is this, that some day you may be able to command as willing a slave."

      This home was saved through the mutual self-giving of husband and wife. The world is to be saved on the same principle. When men are willing to be in subjection one to another out of reverence to Christ, then the kingdom of God will have come and man will have entered into possession of that mastery which is God's dream for him.

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