In what a competent judge has called the greatest passage in French prose, Pascal wrote: "Man is but a reed, the feeblest thing in nature. But he is a reed that thinks. It needs not that the universe arise to crush him. An exhalation, a drop of water, suffices to destroy him; but were the universe to crush man, man is yet nobler than the universe, for he knows that he dies, and the universe, even in prevailing against him, knows not its power."
In a recent address a Yale professor, Chauncey Brewster Tinker, said: "The disease of the world today is a loss of faith in the moral nature of man. What we have lost is a conception of the dignity of life and of the imperial position of man in nature. Instead of thinking of the august character and destiny of man, we have been preoccupied with him as one of the highest order of primates. Man has been found to be a speaking animal. The view that he is also the son of God was an amiable, but deluded, notion of our ill-informed ancestors." In the search for the origins of man's physical life we seem to have forgotten altogether something far more important—the meaning and the objectives of man's life, not only whence came he, but whither is he going.
In his wild dream of Gulliver's travels Jonathan Swift predicted some of the social and scientific changes which have taken place since the eighteenth century. But by depicting the vices and follies of the inhabitants of the countries which he visited—the Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, Lagadonians, Struldbrugs—all under different conditions and social machinery, he showed how man can be low and contemptible under any form of government or manner of life.
What we need, then is not a New Athens, or a New Oceana, or a New Atlantis, but a new man.
When Charles Spurgeon was once being shown through the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, he stopped to admire a bust of Byron. The librarian said to him, "Stand here, sir, and look at it."
Spurgeon took the position indicated and, looking upon the bust, remarked, "What an intellectual countenance! What a grand genius!"
"Come, now," said the librarian, "and look at it from this side."
Spurgeon changed his position and, looking on the statue from that viewpoint, exclaimed, "What a demon! There stands a man who could defy the Deity!" He asked the librarian if the sculptor had secured this effect designedly.
"Yes," he replied, "he wished to picture the two characters, the two persons—-the great, the grand, the almost supergenius that he possessed; and yet the enormous mass of sin that was in his soul."
"What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!" Shakespeare's description of man is true of him as the Eighth Psalm (4-8) describes him. There is man, with the crown of reason on his head, endued with conscience and moral freedom, "a little lower than the angels"—literally, a little lower than God. "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands." This world—and not only this world, but the universe—is for man. The sun shines in heaven for his candle and lamp. The energies of the earth are stored up for his furnace. The fields and the harvests and the flocks and the beasts are for his sustenance and his clothing. The oceans are his pathway around the world. The laws of space and matter are for his convenience. The beautiful panoramas of sky, and sea, and earth are for his delight. God gave it all to man, created it for him and said, "All this is for you. Have dominion over it."
So fair is man that death (a parting blast)
Blasts his fair form and makes him earth at last.
So strong is man that, with a gasping breath,
He totters and bequeaths his strength to death.
So wise is man that, if with death he strive,
His wisdom cannot teach him how to live.
So rich is man that—all his debts being paid—
His wealth's the winding sheet wherein he's laid.—Francis Quarles
(Job 14. 1, 2; Ps. 90. 9, 10; Eccles. 12. 5-7)
What a piece of work is man; how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!—Shakespeare in Hamlet
(Ps. 8. 4-6; Heb. 2. 6-8)
Bishop Taylor-Smith told this incident in the Assembly Hall, Sydney. He was travelling on a vessel which carried as a passenger a major of the Army who was a notorious evil-liver. One day, in the smoking room, this man attacked the Bishop, saying:
`If God has given man desires, cravings—physical desires, I mean—I suppose He means he should gratify them?'
`Before I answer,' replied Bishop Taylor-Smith, 'let me ask you a question. Is man composed simply of physical desires? Is man body only, or is he mind as well as body?'
The major said, 'Of course, he is mind as well.'
`You grant me that point. Now I want to ask you this—If God has given a man mental desires as well as physical desires—desires for knowledge—then He has given him those intellectual desires that he may gratify them. Do you agree?'
`Yes,' said the major.
`Then go a step further,' urged the Bishop. `Is man only mind and body? Has he not a spirit as well? And if a man has spiritual desires, then, according to your own reasoning, God has given him spiritual desires that he may gratify them.' Then, looking the major in the face, he added, 'If you gratify your spiritual desires, and your mental desires, then you may gratify your physical desires.'
At that moment an officer came in carrying a lantern in which was a candle. Taking it from him, the Chaplain-General, as he was then, said, 'Look here, major! Here is a candle, lighted; notice the fat, which is like the body, the wick we will call the mind, and the flame—the spirit. Stand it upright as it is meant to burn, and it gives a pure, useful light. Turn it over, the light flickers, the candle begins to stink.' Then he said, `If all I hear of you is true, that is what you are doing. Keep the fat in the proper place.'
Two years afterwards they met again, and the major thanked Bishop Taylor-Smith and said, though he didn't like being exposed before all in the smoking room of the ship, the reproof had been blessed and used to the salvation of his soul, and the cleansing of his life.
(Gen. 1. 27; Rom. 1. 24, 28, 30; 1 Thess. 5. 23)