The above question is asked in three important connections in Scripture, and is itself one of three put to man in his fallen state. These are:
1. "Where art thou?" (alienated from God, "afar off!")
2. What hast thou done? ("killed the Prince of Life!")
3. What is man? Adorable is the grace which (when he could not) supplies the answer. The Scriptures may be regarded as a development of that answer, coming, not fruitlessly, to leave man where he is, but to awaken him, now wretched, to what grace is waiting to do for them who have ears to hear.
The three connections are shortly these:
First (Job 7:17), where God instructs or deals with man.
Secondly (Psalm 144:3, 4), where he stands judged in presence of God's revealed glory.
Thirdly (Psalm 8; Heb. 2), what man is in the person of Christ?
Referring then to the first of this group, few there are who have not "heard of the patience of Job," though many may not "have seen the end of the Lord," and still fewer have drawn from God's various dealings with him the lesson "that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." Job himself was in the dark respecting these things, and in the chapter referred to even betrays how ready he was, though conscious that God's eyes were upon him (v. 8), that He was with him (v. 19), and that He had set His heart upon man (v. 17), to remonstrate with, almost accuse, God. Not until chap. 40 does Job discover he is vile, and cease to speak. It is then he begins to enter into what man is, though in chap. 7 he knew he had sinned (v. 20), and tasted great bitterness, notwithstanding his sense of the Lord's nearness; indeed, this but added to his distress. Day yielded him no pleasure, night no rest; he prefers death to life, which he "loathes." (vv. 15, 16.) Yet he is unbroken. In prosperity his goodness is a basis for self-complacency, and now in adversity - sent to remove this - he complains! Such is man under instruction. Not until he says, "Mine eye seeth thee," does he say, "Wherefore I abhor myself." Thus also Isaiah (Isa. 6): "Woe is me! for I am undone .. . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." And again, in Saul's case, on his way to Damascus, where the "blameless" Pharisee became "the chief of sinners."
This leads to the question in its second connection (Ps. 144), where the answer also is given, of which Isa. 40:6-8 is an expansion.
It is ever a precious reflection, that God begins with man; and that, when His glory must come, because He comes, love leads, and sends a herald to prepare His way. But coming, man is judged, and set aside prophetically here; for this portion evidently points forward to Christ. It is now no longer instruction which is demanded to meet man's state. This had been tried by God ineffectually for four thousand years, till there was no remedy. The glory of the Lord should be revealed, and all flesh should see it together. In fulness of time Christ came, "the True Light which lighteneth every man which cometh into the world;" and John could say - as did Isaiah "when he saw His glory, and spake of Him" - "we have seen His glory." Henceforth men had "no cloak for their sins;" for "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world." Yet truly did He come in the spirit of Isaiah 40:1-3; for "grace (first) and truth (next) came by" Him, ushered in by the voice in the wilderness too.
Then, finally, the cross proves man to be in utter alienation from God - "short of His glory," having sinned. "Every mouth is stopped, all the world guilty before God" - "dead;" and thus, for God, the whole moral scene is a complete blank. What is man?
Jesus dies, to put "away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" - "the Lamb of God." And now we pass to a consideration of the question in its third connection (Ps. 8; Heb. 2; Eph. 1) It was not possible that He should be holden of death. The glory of the Father claims Him, the perfect Man, on the Mount of Transfiguration; and once more the glory of the Father, having scanned the transcendently acceptable sacrifice, justifies the Son of His love, raising Him from among the dead, and sets Him "at His own right hand in heavenly places." Oh, what an answer is this to "What is man?" for the hearts of those who, with God, see now but ONE within the wide range of His vision, and theirs - the First-fruits, the Head of a new creation.
Nor is this all. If the deliberate descent from the mount to the garden brought glory to Him whose "commandment" Jesus was "content" to do; being there, brought there by love too to them, He was there in identification with those upon whom His heart was set - "made sin for us." Oh the treasure the Church eternally has in the love which, in view of such sorrow as His, could enwrap itself around its object, claiming there the glory for it which the Father gave to Him! Surely in this also "Thou hast given Him His heart's desire, and hast not denied Him the request of His lips."
True, the Church is not yet in this glory, though hers, and hers because His, which makes all so sweet; nor do we yet see all things put under Jesus, though we see Him crowned with glory and honour. (Heb. 2) He "expecting" (10:13), we can well afford to wait with as well as for Him, keeping the word of His patience. Meantime He would not leave us orphans, but having received (for us now, as for Himself before) the promise of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter is sent forth. Heaven's door is thus opened to us in the power of His blessed ministry, enabling one to gaze, to feast, in ravishing delight upon the Blessed One at the Father's right hand, undazzled by the glory of the place, since He is there; and unmoved, being one with Him. We drop henceforth the interrogation, and exclaim, through the grace which has set us in all this, "What is man!" One with Him for time and eternity; condemnation as far behind us as it is behind Him; the Father's smile resting upon us as upon Him; death itself now merely that which resolves the distance attaching to our feebleness of faith, into the bliss of immediate nearness; or the future so thrown open, that in "the fulness of God" one may view "the length, breadth, height, and depth," and discover in Eph. 1 the accomplishment of Ps. 8, God's Christ set far above all principalities, and powers, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named; in the coming as in the present age, "Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." J. K.
Faith makes nothing of circumstances, because it makes God all. It is not that difficulties in themselves are lessened, but that God fills the eye.
We may get into the path of faith, but we shall find then that nothing but faith can walk in it.