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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 97

 

 

Verses 1-12

Psalms 97:1-12

The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.

The reign of God over the world

I. The reign of God over the world (Psalms 97:1).

1. His laws are righteous.

2. His purpose is benevolent.

II. The providential procedure of God in the world.

1. If is inscrutable. “Clouds and darkness.”

2. It is righteous.

3. It is terrible (Psalms 97:3-4).

III. The moral triumphs of God in the world (Psalms 97:6-11).

1. The false are confounded (Psalms 97:7). Idolatry is crushed.

2. The true are blessed (Psalms 97:8). Why glad?

The Lord reigneth

“The Lord reigneth.” Where shall we put the emphasis? Shall we put it here--“The Lord reigneth”? Yes, let the emphasis be first placed upon the lordship of God. Whatever appearances may seem to dictate, and, in spite of all evidence which suggests the sovereignty of the devil, the Lord is upon the throne. Where, again, shall we place the emphasis? Shall we place it here--“The Lord reigneth”? Yes, let us vary the music by changing the emphasis. The Lord reigneth; He does not hold the sceptre loosely, giving part of His sovereignty to another; He never relaxes His hold of dominion, and, amid all the changing seasons, He pursues His sovereign will. Now, what kind of man should this great evangel make of me? What ought to be the tone and disposition of my life? I think the psalmist proceeds to give the answer. “Let the earth rejoice.” The word rejoice is significant of movement, of nimble movement, of dancing, of a certain busy activity of limb. It suggests the busy habits of birds on a bright spring morning. “A bit of sunshine makes all the difference.” And here in my text the sun is up and shining; “the Lord reigneth,” and we His children are to be as busy as His birds on the bright spring day. “Let the multitude of isles be glad.” The soul must not only be vigorous; its vigour must be set to music. And now I am startled by the succession of the psalm. The fact of the sovereignty of God should make me blithe and busy as a bird. But all this seems to be challenged by the words which immediately succeed. Why should the psalmist introduce the ministry of the cloud? He knew that joy that is not touched with reverence is superficial or unreal, Joy is never at its sweetest until it is touched by awe. And, therefore, the suggestion of the mysterious dispensations of God is not intended to smother the song, but rather to deepen and enrich it. Every grace needs the accompaniment of reverence if it is to be perfected. But now, in order that the gathering cloud and darkness may not paralyze men, something is told us as to what dwells in their innermost place. “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” The darkness may throw men into perplexity, and yet the darkness itself is regulated by the Lord of the noonday. In the very midst of the cloud and the darkness there is the throne of righteousness and judgment. Therefore must my reverence be inspired with confidence, and not be stricken with cringing fear. “A fire goeth before Him and burneth up His enemies.” We need the pure flame of His presence; we need the ever-burning atmosphere in which all defilement is consumed. And now the psalmist turns away to retrospect. He has proclaimed the sovereignty of God, and now he turns to the things of yesterday to find the evangel confirmed. “His lightnings lightened the world.” Who does not know the lightning interposition of God? He flashes upon us unexpectedly; the Divine is obtruded when we least expect it. We had almost forgotten the Divine. The nearness and the depression of the cloud had caused us almost to forget Him. Or we were wondering if He would ever return. And suddenly He appeared!” The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord.” The Divine suddenly interposes and the obstacles melt away. Have we not known the experience? The difficulties towered in front of us like gigantic hills, and we saw no way over the tremendous heights. And then suddenly, half-unexpectedly, the hills melted, and the difficulties vanished away. Missionary literature abounds in such experience. Every Christian could produce confirmatory witness. God has suddenly interposed, and the difficulty has withered away, and the “outsiders” have seen the glory of the Lord, and His leadership and righteousness have been declared. It is the lightning interposition which confounds the ungodly. They are turned pale by the passing of the hills, and by the triumph of the meek and lowly in heart. “But Zion heard and was glad.” Now, in the face of this evangel, “The Lord reigneth,” and with this corroboration from the witness of experience, what shall we do? The psalmist supplies the answer. “Ye that love the Lord hate evil.” This is the foundation of everything. And what shall be our reward if we are possessed by this love-hatred, this twin ministry, this mortifying grace? “He preserveth the souls of His saints.” We shall be kept by God, He will erect fences to guard us from peril. “Light is sown for the righteous.” We are not only to be preserved, we are to be illumined. God will give to us the light we need. “And gladness for the upright in heart.” Then my light is not only to be sure, it is to be glad light, sunlight! It is to minister to the warmth of my heart as well as to the illumination of my mind. It is to comfort me as well as lead me. It will be a genial presence as well as a counsellor. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)

Jehovah is King

I. Earthly dominion is the gift of God. David and Solomon were the ideal kings of the Israelites. They did not only represent the Divine power, but also Divine righteousness. We apply the title of “majesty” to earthly monarchs, though, strictly speaking, it is an attribute which can only he ascribed to God. The grandeur of the going forth of earthly monarchs is but a feeble and material imitation of the going forth of God so eloquently described in this psalm.

II. God rules over all spiritual powers. It was at first the belief of the Hebrews that there were “gods many and lords many.” They would have been no more tempted to worship them, if they had been convinced that they had no real existence, than we should be tempted to worship Juggernaut. The Assyrians thought Asshur the most powerful god, who alone could give victory in battle; hence they worshipped him. Croesus sent to the oracles of all the gods to inquire what he should be doing on a certain day; and he worshipped the god whose oracle declared most accurately the future. Israel worshipped Jehovah, not only because He possessed power and foreknowledge, but most of all for His character. He was exalted above the other gods by His righteousness.

III. The consideration of these facts a cause of joy to the believer. It is the conviction that a wise and loving power is at the back of all we see around us, and working through all history to accomplish gracious purposes, which made Israel the greatest of all the ancient peoples--great, not in having the best soldiers and lawgivers, like the Romans, or the wisest philosophers, like the Greeks, but the noblest, truest, and best men. That faith which made the nation immortal will also make the individual immortal. God is on the side of our holiest aspirations and deepest yearnings, and against that which is base and miserable and sinful. Every desire must be brought into subjection, and God be all in all. (R. C. Ford, M.A.)

The reign of God

I. The subjects of the Divine government. We speak now of God’s moral government only. And beneath it are angels, devils, man, as a race, as nations, as individuals.

II. Certain characters which mark his administration.

1. It is sovereign and uncontrolled.

2. It does not interfere with human liberty.

3. Is in the hands of a Mediator. Jesus governs the world with reference to the interests of His religion.

III. Proofs of the doctrine of the text which late occurrences have furnished.

1. The great evils of bigotry and opposition to the rights of conscience have been permitted to display themselves. Also--

2. Infidelity has shown its full character for the warning and instruction of mankind.

3. See what God has done. He has preserved our country from invasion, punished persecuting and wicked nations: France and Napoleon especially have been overthrown, and God has made us the principal agent in accomplishing this. (R. Watson.)

The Divine government of the universe

I. The fact.

1. The sacred singer here speaks of a God who exercises a personal agency in the universe. The Lord “reigneth.” That implies power. All energy that has play anywhere is in a true sense His. Gravitation, electricity, heat, what are these but names which we have given to the operations of the everywhere-present Deity? Even that force of will, and nerve, and muscle which we and other creatures exert is from Him “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”

2. This personal agency of God is carried on in a regular and orderly way. The history of the universe is the development of His plan. He sits at the great loom, and, while the shuttles that carry the threads move, so to speak, consciously and of purpose, it is God who weaves the broad result, fabric and design being His. He reigns over beings who have not respect for His will, but are opposed to it, by working out, in His superior wisdom, His plans by means of their very opposition.

II. Its mystery and awfulness (Psalms 97:2). The symbol here expresses three ideas.

1. The majesty of the Divine government. Great clouds and darkness are ever suggestive of the sublime. And God’s is a lofty and glorious rule. When we try, by the aid of astronomy, to realize the extent in space of God’s material universe, and by the aid of geology to conceive of its past duration; when we think of the different generations of the human race which have existed, and of all the higher intelligences; and when we try by imagination to explore the eternal future, with its ever-opening vistas of life and crowding events which are to form history as real as that of the days that are gone by, we feel a necessity of adoration to relieve our hearts of the burden of their awe.

2. The incomprehensibility of the Divine government. God is within the “cloud and darkness.” We do not see Him at all. His rule in every department is to us a thing of faith. Philosophers cannot tell what is the connection between cause and effect in the material world. And how, in the moral world, God works out His purposes by means of the free action of His rational creatures, and makes “His people willing in the day of His power,” while their wills are still theirs, we cannot comprehend. But such are the facts. God does rule in these ways, as the uufoldings of history show.

3. There is the idea of the Divine government being characterized by judgments. Out of the “clouds and darkness” proceed “hailstones and coals of fire.” “A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about.” I, for my part, could not understand God’s dealings with the world if I did not recognize the fact of there being sin in it, which leads to the expression of the Divine displeasure, and also to the use of the means of discipline.

III. Its moral excellence (Psalms 97:2). This “King” can “do no wrong.” It is impossible from His very nature. That nature gloriously necessitates the working of righteousness. To a properly constituted mind there is no sight more sad than that of an unjust judge, an unrighteous government. The world has not been, and unhappily is not now, free from the baleful presence of such miscalled governments. But it is consolation, in view of them, that “justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne.” (W. Morrison, D.D.)

How may our belief of God’s governing the world support us in all worldly distractions

I. What is government? It is the exerting or putting forth of that power which any one is justly clothed with, for the ordering and directing of persons and things to their right and proper ends.

1. In all government there is an end fixed and aimed at; which end is either supreme and ultimate, or inferior and subordinate.

2. In all government there is supposed a power sufficient for the ordering of things unto these ends. Not only natural power, but also moral authority, lawfully come by; for, without that, there can be no just, right, and good government.

3. In government this power is reduced into act: there is a prudent, seasonable exerting and putting forth of the power in order to the attaining of these ends.

II. Prove that God governs the world.

1. The light of nature has discovered this. Even some among the heathen call God “the Rector and Keeper of the world,” “the Soul arid Spirit of the world,” and do expressly compare Him to the soul in the body, and to the master in a ship, who doth command, rule, direct, steer, and turn it what way and to what port He Himself thinks good.

2. Scripture is full of testimony to this effect (Job 5:9-13; Isaiah 14:5-7; Psalms 34:16-17; Ephesians 1:11; Daniel 4:34-35; Matthew 10:29; Psalms 103:19).

3. God has a most unquestionable right to order and govern the world.

4. For God to govern the world is no dishonour to Him. Is it possible that His doing so should render Him cheap to the children of men? Nay, is it not enough to commend Him to all wise and thinking persons, that He is so great a God as that He can extend His care to so many millions of objects, and so graciously condescending as to look after the lowest of the works of His hands?

5. God is abundant in mercy and goodness. He built this huge and stately fabric, and He furnished it with all its inhabitants, from the highest and most glorious angel to the meanest and most contemptible insect. And how can we possibly think otherwise, but that the pity and love which He hath for the works of His own hands will draw out His wisdom and power and care for the ruling and directing of them?

III. How our belief of God’s governing the world may support us in all worldly distractions.

1. God is most fit and accomplished for this great work. Men have unruly passions; they interfere in their several interests, and, while they are carrying them on, quarrel and jostle one another: and who but God can order all, and direct them to most noble and excellent ends? Who but God can take these several scattered shreds, and unite them together in one curious and amiable piece of workmanship? Who but God can take these jarring discords, and turn them into an admirable and delightful harmony?

2. Consider the extent of God’s governing providence. It reaches to--

3. The properties of God’s government. He governs the world--

The Divine government

I. Some of the attributes of the Divine dominion.

1. It is a righteous dominion, and it is founded upon unquestionable right. Sovereignty alone, without these virtues, is often the greatest curse. God’s government is regulated by His moral perfections: these blend to form an administration absolutely perfect. Justice regulates it (Psalms 97:2). Holiness (Psalms 145:17). Faithfulness (Psalms 36:5). Mercy (Psalms 145:9).

2. The Divine government is universal. The extent surpasses our conceptions. The earth is but a fraction. Our system is but a speck.

3. The Divine government is directed to the greatest ends. The dominion of such a Being must be adapted to the worthiest purposes.

II. The various responsibilities which devolve upon us in consequence of this character of the Divine government.

1. Joyful praise.

2. Cheerful obedience.

3. Unlimited confidence. Personal, national.

4. Look forward to the day of account. (Evangelical Preacher.)

The Divine government the joy of our world

Men are placed here to be formed by a proper education for another world, for another class, and other employments; but civil rulers cannot form them for these important ends, and therefore they must be under the government of one who has access to their spirits, and can manage them as he pleases. “The Lord reigneth”--

I. Upon a throne of legislation. “Let the earth rejoice”--

1. That God has clearly revealed His will to us, and not left us in inextricable perplexities about our duty to Him and mankind.

2. That God’s laws are suitably enforced with proper sanctions, such as become a God of infinite wisdom, almighty power, inexorable justice, untainted holiness, and unbounded goodness and grace, and such as are agreeable be the nature of reasonable creatures formed for an immortal duration. How happy is it to live under a government where virtue and religion, which in their own nature tend to our happiness, are enforced with such resistless arguments! On the other band, the penalty annexed by the Divine Lawgiver to disobedience is proportionably dreadful.

3. That the Divine laws reach the inner man, and have power upon the hearts and consciences of men.

II. By his providence.

1. Over the kingdoms of the earth.

2. Over the Church.

3. Over all contingencies that can befall individuals.

4. Over evil spirits. He keeps the infernal lions in chains, and restrains their rage. He sees all their subtle plots and machinations against tits feeble sheep, and baffles them all.

III. Upon a throne of grace. This is a kind of government peculiar to the human race; the upright angels do not need it, and the fallen angels are not favoured with it. This is invested in the person of immanuel (Ephesians 1:22; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 28:18). This is the kingdom described in such august language in Daniel 2:44-45; Daniel 7:14; Luke 1:32-33). To His throne of grace He invites all to come, and offers them the richest blessings. From thence He publishes peace on earth, and good will towards men. From thence He offers pardon to all that will submit to His government, and renounce their sins, those weapons of rebellion. From thence He distributes the influences of His Spirit to subdue obstinate hearts into cheerful submission, to support His subjects under every burden, and furnish them with strength for the spiritual warfare.

IV. The Lord will reign ere long upon a throne of universal judgment, conspicuous to the assembled universe.

1. In that day the present unequal distributions of Providence will be for ever adjusted, and regulated according to the strictest justice.

2. In that day the righteous shall be completely delivered from all sin and sorrow, and advanced to the perfection of heavenly happiness. (S. Davies, M.A.)

The Divine government matter o/ universal joy

I. The Divine government.

1. God’s right to govern the world must be original and inalienable.

2. God alone can uphold creatures in being.

3. The government of God is universal.

4. All second causes are under His direction and control.

II. The causes of rejoicing which this affords.

1. The benevolence of its design. When we consider the character of the God of love as opened in His Word, we are sure that His conduct is governed by an ultimate regard to the highest felicity and glory of His moral kingdom; whether He pardon transgressors, or make them feel His wrath in the present world, or exclude them from happiness in the next.

2. The certainty of its accomplishment. It is promoted by all events in providence; and will fill its enemies with confusion, and its friends with joy, in the day when all creatures shall appear at the bar of God, and His righteous judgment shall be revealed before the assembled worlds. (C. Backus, M.A.)

The fact and consequence of the Divine government

I. Visible evils call forth the expression of the psalmist’s faith. Some powerful form of evil had been judged and overthrown.

II. The fact concerning which the psalmist utters his conviction--that God reigns. God is overhead counteracting the shortsighted selfishness of the wicked. In the psalmist’s day, men looked on the idols of the heathen as wicked spirits, less powerful than the righteous Jehovah. We are too advanced to believe in the gods of other people. We can scarce believe in a devil, though that would be less awful than to be in the grasp of nature. It would have been “some comfort could I have fancied myself tormented of the Devil,” said Carlyle once. Those who think the universe a vast machine find it terrible to contemplate a fall amidst its ponderous wheels. Better a devil than a blind force. But Jehovah is a living God, and not hostile to us. Righteousness and judgment are the base of His throne. And He is a God of love.

III. The occasion herein for joy. It was this thought that inspired Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” “Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth . . . King of kings, and Lord of lords. Hallelujah!” And it is a glorious conviction to reach. Those who hold it may rejoice in the midst of injustice. Or while patiently doing deeds of unappreciated lovingkindness, they may, like the Saviour, have respect unto the recompense of reward. In the storms of life they may say, as did the happy child to the anxious passengers: “My father is at the helm.” And when Death knocks his dire summons at the door, since God reigns, they may remember that he is but a messenger from the courts of heaven. And when the Lord comes to judgment, and the wicked call upon the rocks and hills to hide them, the saints may shout for joy, since this God is their God for ever and ever. (G. M. Mackie, M. A.)

Jehovah’s sovereignty

I. In the material world. What men call a “law of nature” is nothing else than God in action; it is infinite power carrying out the plans that infinite wisdom has devised. Is God then present as the presiding Deity? He is. The world proclaims it by its infinite variety; by its beauty and harmony of arrangement; by its constancy of succession. “Yes,” you say, “we do not doubt that, but what of these disturbances, these irregularities? Sometimes our fruits are nipped by an early frost; our herds are swept away by disease, our fields wasted by the flood. What of these? Is there a providence in them?” We must remember that the grand centre of the world is man; that all things are made for him. Vegetation blooms for him; minerals are stored in the hills for him; beasts graze in the fields for him, and around him the world revolves. But there is a soul as well as a body, and as the world ministers to the body and is in subjection to it, so in turn the body ministers to the soul and is in subjection to it. Here, then, come in the grander purposes of God. He is preparing a race of intelligent beings for Himself; and so what we call His natural government must be subject to His moral government. Man may transgress the Divine law, but that transgression must be punished; he may mistake, and that mistake, while it brings no guilt, may bring loss. It still may be infinite wisdom that sweeps away the promise of a harvest, for this temporal loss may be the one ingredient needed in order to bring spiritual gain.

II. In the political world. We judge of events from the low standpoint of expediency or of self-interest. When we sum up the results of the war we borrow the language of diplomacy, and tell of an indemnity at so much, and certain boundaries altered. But God cares not for these. They are but as trifles, motes in His vast heavens, so small they do not cast a shadow. We want to get up--up where God is; up where Infinite Wisdom looks down! Then shall we discern the harmony, and learn that in the grand march of nations the music is set to two keys only--God’s promises and God’s purposes!

III. In the individual life. Even those lives that run contrary to His will He checks and controls, and makes them subserve His own purposes; nor is there one life, however dissipated, however wild, but some time or other it gets into one of God’s sluices, and turns one of His thousand wheels. But when the heart is submitted to Him, He does more than control the life, He guides it and shapes it to His will. But how far does this intervention of Providence extend? Does He not leave us to follow our own judgment; and is not that judgment the only cloud we follow? Even granting that it is, still that judgment is influenced by Him, for “The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way.” Many a time when we fancy our decisions are merely the result of the exercise of common sense and ordinary prudence, God has been secretly influencing our minds to the choice. But then many of the actions of life are so insignificant, what can God have to do with them? He has worlds to look after, why should the little motes of my life cause Him any concern? We do wrong in thus thinking, in thus banishing God from what we call life’s trifles. What is our life made of? Of so many days. And what is each day made of? Of so many moments and so many little deeds. But what is a little action? I put a piece of bread in my mouth. A little thing you call that, you do it frequently. But stay. That crumb may choke me, may end my life, and leave all my plans undone. Is it a little thing now? I set my foot down upon the pavement. Ah, that’s a little thing, you do it thousands of times a day. Yes, but I step upon some orange peel and slip. That fall gives me a broken limb, unfits me for some intended pursuit, and completely changes the current of my life. Is it a little thing now? And does not God mark these little events that fill up each day of my life when such vast interests may depend upon them? (H. Burton, B.A.)

The consolation of God’s sovereignty

I. The Kingdom of God on this earth.

1. Necessarily autocratic in its form.

2. Singular in its basis.

3. Universal in its range.

4. Profound in its reach.

5. A present, active, accessible power.

God is with us--not locally and geographically merely, but spiritually, sympathetically, practically, actively with us; controlling, cooperating, counteracting; directing, defeating, determining; making effectual or bringing to nothing the designs of the children of men. And we do well to go to Him, not trembling, as Esther to Ahasuerus, but with holy confidence in all times of personal, family, social, national necessities, to ask for His pity, to pray for His delivering power.

II. The consolation which the fact of God’s sovereignty gives to the good.

1. It is a consolation that the Evil One does not reign: that strong as are the forces of evil in this world, they are not supreme; that greater is He that works for righteousness than all they that work for sin and ruin; that our great adversary has himself an Adversary who is mightier than he; that though we may be in danger of being “led captive at his will,” he is under the control of the Omnipotent.

2. It is a consolation that mere force does not reign. All the forces that are at work are “under law,” and law is under the control of the Divine Law-maker; and He can act upon and control His own laws, touching links out of sight with His skilful hand, changing the aspect and the issue of things at His holy will and in accordance with His far-seeing wisdom, evolving the bright and the blessed out of the dark and the distressing.

3. It is a consolation that man does not reign. There have been times when the destinies of a continent have seemed to be in the hands of a Cyrus, a Caesar, a Napoleon; and now it may seem that very large issues hang on the decision of a few controlling minds in London, St. Petersburg, Berlin. Yet God can and will determine results, and He can overrule all events, either saving from calamity, or compelling disaster itself to yield “peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

4. We may all rejoice that we ourselves do not reign over our own lives. “The Lord reigneth”--the loving Lord, who wills the happiness of His children; the holy Lord, who wills their true and pure well-being; the wise Lord, who will not withhold any good thing, but will withhold that which seems to be so but is not; the mighty Lord, who can compel the saddest and strangest events to contribute to our well-being; the faithful Lord, who will make good the kindest of His promises--“The Lord reigneth,” and not we ourselves; “let us rejoice and be glad.” (W. Clarkson, B.A.)


Verses 1-12

Psalms 97:1-12

The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.

The reign of God over the world

I. The reign of God over the world (Psalms 97:1).

1. His laws are righteous.

2. His purpose is benevolent.

II. The providential procedure of God in the world.

1. If is inscrutable. “Clouds and darkness.”

2. It is righteous.

3. It is terrible (Psalms 97:3-4).

III. The moral triumphs of God in the world (Psalms 97:6-11).

1. The false are confounded (Psalms 97:7). Idolatry is crushed.

2. The true are blessed (Psalms 97:8). Why glad?

The Lord reigneth

“The Lord reigneth.” Where shall we put the emphasis? Shall we put it here--“The Lord reigneth”? Yes, let the emphasis be first placed upon the lordship of God. Whatever appearances may seem to dictate, and, in spite of all evidence which suggests the sovereignty of the devil, the Lord is upon the throne. Where, again, shall we place the emphasis? Shall we place it here--“The Lord reigneth”? Yes, let us vary the music by changing the emphasis. The Lord reigneth; He does not hold the sceptre loosely, giving part of His sovereignty to another; He never relaxes His hold of dominion, and, amid all the changing seasons, He pursues His sovereign will. Now, what kind of man should this great evangel make of me? What ought to be the tone and disposition of my life? I think the psalmist proceeds to give the answer. “Let the earth rejoice.” The word rejoice is significant of movement, of nimble movement, of dancing, of a certain busy activity of limb. It suggests the busy habits of birds on a bright spring morning. “A bit of sunshine makes all the difference.” And here in my text the sun is up and shining; “the Lord reigneth,” and we His children are to be as busy as His birds on the bright spring day. “Let the multitude of isles be glad.” The soul must not only be vigorous; its vigour must be set to music. And now I am startled by the succession of the psalm. The fact of the sovereignty of God should make me blithe and busy as a bird. But all this seems to be challenged by the words which immediately succeed. Why should the psalmist introduce the ministry of the cloud? He knew that joy that is not touched with reverence is superficial or unreal, Joy is never at its sweetest until it is touched by awe. And, therefore, the suggestion of the mysterious dispensations of God is not intended to smother the song, but rather to deepen and enrich it. Every grace needs the accompaniment of reverence if it is to be perfected. But now, in order that the gathering cloud and darkness may not paralyze men, something is told us as to what dwells in their innermost place. “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” The darkness may throw men into perplexity, and yet the darkness itself is regulated by the Lord of the noonday. In the very midst of the cloud and the darkness there is the throne of righteousness and judgment. Therefore must my reverence be inspired with confidence, and not be stricken with cringing fear. “A fire goeth before Him and burneth up His enemies.” We need the pure flame of His presence; we need the ever-burning atmosphere in which all defilement is consumed. And now the psalmist turns away to retrospect. He has proclaimed the sovereignty of God, and now he turns to the things of yesterday to find the evangel confirmed. “His lightnings lightened the world.” Who does not know the lightning interposition of God? He flashes upon us unexpectedly; the Divine is obtruded when we least expect it. We had almost forgotten the Divine. The nearness and the depression of the cloud had caused us almost to forget Him. Or we were wondering if He would ever return. And suddenly He appeared!” The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord.” The Divine suddenly interposes and the obstacles melt away. Have we not known the experience? The difficulties towered in front of us like gigantic hills, and we saw no way over the tremendous heights. And then suddenly, half-unexpectedly, the hills melted, and the difficulties vanished away. Missionary literature abounds in such experience. Every Christian could produce confirmatory witness. God has suddenly interposed, and the difficulty has withered away, and the “outsiders” have seen the glory of the Lord, and His leadership and righteousness have been declared. It is the lightning interposition which confounds the ungodly. They are turned pale by the passing of the hills, and by the triumph of the meek and lowly in heart. “But Zion heard and was glad.” Now, in the face of this evangel, “The Lord reigneth,” and with this corroboration from the witness of experience, what shall we do? The psalmist supplies the answer. “Ye that love the Lord hate evil.” This is the foundation of everything. And what shall be our reward if we are possessed by this love-hatred, this twin ministry, this mortifying grace? “He preserveth the souls of His saints.” We shall be kept by God, He will erect fences to guard us from peril. “Light is sown for the righteous.” We are not only to be preserved, we are to be illumined. God will give to us the light we need. “And gladness for the upright in heart.” Then my light is not only to be sure, it is to be glad light, sunlight! It is to minister to the warmth of my heart as well as to the illumination of my mind. It is to comfort me as well as lead me. It will be a genial presence as well as a counsellor. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)

Jehovah is King

I. Earthly dominion is the gift of God. David and Solomon were the ideal kings of the Israelites. They did not only represent the Divine power, but also Divine righteousness. We apply the title of “majesty” to earthly monarchs, though, strictly speaking, it is an attribute which can only he ascribed to God. The grandeur of the going forth of earthly monarchs is but a feeble and material imitation of the going forth of God so eloquently described in this psalm.

II. God rules over all spiritual powers. It was at first the belief of the Hebrews that there were “gods many and lords many.” They would have been no more tempted to worship them, if they had been convinced that they had no real existence, than we should be tempted to worship Juggernaut. The Assyrians thought Asshur the most powerful god, who alone could give victory in battle; hence they worshipped him. Croesus sent to the oracles of all the gods to inquire what he should be doing on a certain day; and he worshipped the god whose oracle declared most accurately the future. Israel worshipped Jehovah, not only because He possessed power and foreknowledge, but most of all for His character. He was exalted above the other gods by His righteousness.

III. The consideration of these facts a cause of joy to the believer. It is the conviction that a wise and loving power is at the back of all we see around us, and working through all history to accomplish gracious purposes, which made Israel the greatest of all the ancient peoples--great, not in having the best soldiers and lawgivers, like the Romans, or the wisest philosophers, like the Greeks, but the noblest, truest, and best men. That faith which made the nation immortal will also make the individual immortal. God is on the side of our holiest aspirations and deepest yearnings, and against that which is base and miserable and sinful. Every desire must be brought into subjection, and God be all in all. (R. C. Ford, M.A.)

The reign of God

I. The subjects of the Divine government. We speak now of God’s moral government only. And beneath it are angels, devils, man, as a race, as nations, as individuals.

II. Certain characters which mark his administration.

1. It is sovereign and uncontrolled.

2. It does not interfere with human liberty.

3. Is in the hands of a Mediator. Jesus governs the world with reference to the interests of His religion.

III. Proofs of the doctrine of the text which late occurrences have furnished.

1. The great evils of bigotry and opposition to the rights of conscience have been permitted to display themselves. Also--

2. Infidelity has shown its full character for the warning and instruction of mankind.

3. See what God has done. He has preserved our country from invasion, punished persecuting and wicked nations: France and Napoleon especially have been overthrown, and God has made us the principal agent in accomplishing this. (R. Watson.)

The Divine government of the universe

I. The fact.

1. The sacred singer here speaks of a God who exercises a personal agency in the universe. The Lord “reigneth.” That implies power. All energy that has play anywhere is in a true sense His. Gravitation, electricity, heat, what are these but names which we have given to the operations of the everywhere-present Deity? Even that force of will, and nerve, and muscle which we and other creatures exert is from Him “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”

2. This personal agency of God is carried on in a regular and orderly way. The history of the universe is the development of His plan. He sits at the great loom, and, while the shuttles that carry the threads move, so to speak, consciously and of purpose, it is God who weaves the broad result, fabric and design being His. He reigns over beings who have not respect for His will, but are opposed to it, by working out, in His superior wisdom, His plans by means of their very opposition.

II. Its mystery and awfulness (Psalms 97:2). The symbol here expresses three ideas.

1. The majesty of the Divine government. Great clouds and darkness are ever suggestive of the sublime. And God’s is a lofty and glorious rule. When we try, by the aid of astronomy, to realize the extent in space of God’s material universe, and by the aid of geology to conceive of its past duration; when we think of the different generations of the human race which have existed, and of all the higher intelligences; and when we try by imagination to explore the eternal future, with its ever-opening vistas of life and crowding events which are to form history as real as that of the days that are gone by, we feel a necessity of adoration to relieve our hearts of the burden of their awe.

2. The incomprehensibility of the Divine government. God is within the “cloud and darkness.” We do not see Him at all. His rule in every department is to us a thing of faith. Philosophers cannot tell what is the connection between cause and effect in the material world. And how, in the moral world, God works out His purposes by means of the free action of His rational creatures, and makes “His people willing in the day of His power,” while their wills are still theirs, we cannot comprehend. But such are the facts. God does rule in these ways, as the uufoldings of history show.

3. There is the idea of the Divine government being characterized by judgments. Out of the “clouds and darkness” proceed “hailstones and coals of fire.” “A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about.” I, for my part, could not understand God’s dealings with the world if I did not recognize the fact of there being sin in it, which leads to the expression of the Divine displeasure, and also to the use of the means of discipline.

III. Its moral excellence (Psalms 97:2). This “King” can “do no wrong.” It is impossible from His very nature. That nature gloriously necessitates the working of righteousness. To a properly constituted mind there is no sight more sad than that of an unjust judge, an unrighteous government. The world has not been, and unhappily is not now, free from the baleful presence of such miscalled governments. But it is consolation, in view of them, that “justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne.” (W. Morrison, D.D.)

How may our belief of God’s governing the world support us in all worldly distractions

I. What is government? It is the exerting or putting forth of that power which any one is justly clothed with, for the ordering and directing of persons and things to their right and proper ends.

1. In all government there is an end fixed and aimed at; which end is either supreme and ultimate, or inferior and subordinate.

2. In all government there is supposed a power sufficient for the ordering of things unto these ends. Not only natural power, but also moral authority, lawfully come by; for, without that, there can be no just, right, and good government.

3. In government this power is reduced into act: there is a prudent, seasonable exerting and putting forth of the power in order to the attaining of these ends.

II. Prove that God governs the world.

1. The light of nature has discovered this. Even some among the heathen call God “the Rector and Keeper of the world,” “the Soul arid Spirit of the world,” and do expressly compare Him to the soul in the body, and to the master in a ship, who doth command, rule, direct, steer, and turn it what way and to what port He Himself thinks good.

2. Scripture is full of testimony to this effect (Job 5:9-13; Isaiah 14:5-7; Psalms 34:16-17; Ephesians 1:11; Daniel 4:34-35; Matthew 10:29; Psalms 103:19).

3. God has a most unquestionable right to order and govern the world.

4. For God to govern the world is no dishonour to Him. Is it possible that His doing so should render Him cheap to the children of men? Nay, is it not enough to commend Him to all wise and thinking persons, that He is so great a God as that He can extend His care to so many millions of objects, and so graciously condescending as to look after the lowest of the works of His hands?

5. God is abundant in mercy and goodness. He built this huge and stately fabric, and He furnished it with all its inhabitants, from the highest and most glorious angel to the meanest and most contemptible insect. And how can we possibly think otherwise, but that the pity and love which He hath for the works of His own hands will draw out His wisdom and power and care for the ruling and directing of them?

III. How our belief of God’s governing the world may support us in all worldly distractions.

1. God is most fit and accomplished for this great work. Men have unruly passions; they interfere in their several interests, and, while they are carrying them on, quarrel and jostle one another: and who but God can order all, and direct them to most noble and excellent ends? Who but God can take these several scattered shreds, and unite them together in one curious and amiable piece of workmanship? Who but God can take these jarring discords, and turn them into an admirable and delightful harmony?

2. Consider the extent of God’s governing providence. It reaches to--

3. The properties of God’s government. He governs the world--

The Divine government

I. Some of the attributes of the Divine dominion.

1. It is a righteous dominion, and it is founded upon unquestionable right. Sovereignty alone, without these virtues, is often the greatest curse. God’s government is regulated by His moral perfections: these blend to form an administration absolutely perfect. Justice regulates it (Psalms 97:2). Holiness (Psalms 145:17). Faithfulness (Psalms 36:5). Mercy (Psalms 145:9).

2. The Divine government is universal. The extent surpasses our conceptions. The earth is but a fraction. Our system is but a speck.

3. The Divine government is directed to the greatest ends. The dominion of such a Being must be adapted to the worthiest purposes.

II. The various responsibilities which devolve upon us in consequence of this character of the Divine government.

1. Joyful praise.

2. Cheerful obedience.

3. Unlimited confidence. Personal, national.

4. Look forward to the day of account. (Evangelical Preacher.)

The Divine government the joy of our world

Men are placed here to be formed by a proper education for another world, for another class, and other employments; but civil rulers cannot form them for these important ends, and therefore they must be under the government of one who has access to their spirits, and can manage them as he pleases. “The Lord reigneth”--

I. Upon a throne of legislation. “Let the earth rejoice”--

1. That God has clearly revealed His will to us, and not left us in inextricable perplexities about our duty to Him and mankind.

2. That God’s laws are suitably enforced with proper sanctions, such as become a God of infinite wisdom, almighty power, inexorable justice, untainted holiness, and unbounded goodness and grace, and such as are agreeable be the nature of reasonable creatures formed for an immortal duration. How happy is it to live under a government where virtue and religion, which in their own nature tend to our happiness, are enforced with such resistless arguments! On the other band, the penalty annexed by the Divine Lawgiver to disobedience is proportionably dreadful.

3. That the Divine laws reach the inner man, and have power upon the hearts and consciences of men.

II. By his providence.

1. Over the kingdoms of the earth.

2. Over the Church.

3. Over all contingencies that can befall individuals.

4. Over evil spirits. He keeps the infernal lions in chains, and restrains their rage. He sees all their subtle plots and machinations against tits feeble sheep, and baffles them all.

III. Upon a throne of grace. This is a kind of government peculiar to the human race; the upright angels do not need it, and the fallen angels are not favoured with it. This is invested in the person of immanuel (Ephesians 1:22; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 28:18). This is the kingdom described in such august language in Daniel 2:44-45; Daniel 7:14; Luke 1:32-33). To His throne of grace He invites all to come, and offers them the richest blessings. From thence He publishes peace on earth, and good will towards men. From thence He offers pardon to all that will submit to His government, and renounce their sins, those weapons of rebellion. From thence He distributes the influences of His Spirit to subdue obstinate hearts into cheerful submission, to support His subjects under every burden, and furnish them with strength for the spiritual warfare.

IV. The Lord will reign ere long upon a throne of universal judgment, conspicuous to the assembled universe.

1. In that day the present unequal distributions of Providence will be for ever adjusted, and regulated according to the strictest justice.

2. In that day the righteous shall be completely delivered from all sin and sorrow, and advanced to the perfection of heavenly happiness. (S. Davies, M.A.)

The Divine government matter o/ universal joy

I. The Divine government.

1. God’s right to govern the world must be original and inalienable.

2. God alone can uphold creatures in being.

3. The government of God is universal.

4. All second causes are under His direction and control.

II. The causes of rejoicing which this affords.

1. The benevolence of its design. When we consider the character of the God of love as opened in His Word, we are sure that His conduct is governed by an ultimate regard to the highest felicity and glory of His moral kingdom; whether He pardon transgressors, or make them feel His wrath in the present world, or exclude them from happiness in the next.

2. The certainty of its accomplishment. It is promoted by all events in providence; and will fill its enemies with confusion, and its friends with joy, in the day when all creatures shall appear at the bar of God, and His righteous judgment shall be revealed before the assembled worlds. (C. Backus, M.A.)

The fact and consequence of the Divine government

I. Visible evils call forth the expression of the psalmist’s faith. Some powerful form of evil had been judged and overthrown.

II. The fact concerning which the psalmist utters his conviction--that God reigns. God is overhead counteracting the shortsighted selfishness of the wicked. In the psalmist’s day, men looked on the idols of the heathen as wicked spirits, less powerful than the righteous Jehovah. We are too advanced to believe in the gods of other people. We can scarce believe in a devil, though that would be less awful than to be in the grasp of nature. It would have been “some comfort could I have fancied myself tormented of the Devil,” said Carlyle once. Those who think the universe a vast machine find it terrible to contemplate a fall amidst its ponderous wheels. Better a devil than a blind force. But Jehovah is a living God, and not hostile to us. Righteousness and judgment are the base of His throne. And He is a God of love.

III. The occasion herein for joy. It was this thought that inspired Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” “Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth . . . King of kings, and Lord of lords. Hallelujah!” And it is a glorious conviction to reach. Those who hold it may rejoice in the midst of injustice. Or while patiently doing deeds of unappreciated lovingkindness, they may, like the Saviour, have respect unto the recompense of reward. In the storms of life they may say, as did the happy child to the anxious passengers: “My father is at the helm.” And when Death knocks his dire summons at the door, since God reigns, they may remember that he is but a messenger from the courts of heaven. And when the Lord comes to judgment, and the wicked call upon the rocks and hills to hide them, the saints may shout for joy, since this God is their God for ever and ever. (G. M. Mackie, M. A.)

Jehovah’s sovereignty

I. In the material world. What men call a “law of nature” is nothing else than God in action; it is infinite power carrying out the plans that infinite wisdom has devised. Is God then present as the presiding Deity? He is. The world proclaims it by its infinite variety; by its beauty and harmony of arrangement; by its constancy of succession. “Yes,” you say, “we do not doubt that, but what of these disturbances, these irregularities? Sometimes our fruits are nipped by an early frost; our herds are swept away by disease, our fields wasted by the flood. What of these? Is there a providence in them?” We must remember that the grand centre of the world is man; that all things are made for him. Vegetation blooms for him; minerals are stored in the hills for him; beasts graze in the fields for him, and around him the world revolves. But there is a soul as well as a body, and as the world ministers to the body and is in subjection to it, so in turn the body ministers to the soul and is in subjection to it. Here, then, come in the grander purposes of God. He is preparing a race of intelligent beings for Himself; and so what we call His natural government must be subject to His moral government. Man may transgress the Divine law, but that transgression must be punished; he may mistake, and that mistake, while it brings no guilt, may bring loss. It still may be infinite wisdom that sweeps away the promise of a harvest, for this temporal loss may be the one ingredient needed in order to bring spiritual gain.

II. In the political world. We judge of events from the low standpoint of expediency or of self-interest. When we sum up the results of the war we borrow the language of diplomacy, and tell of an indemnity at so much, and certain boundaries altered. But God cares not for these. They are but as trifles, motes in His vast heavens, so small they do not cast a shadow. We want to get up--up where God is; up where Infinite Wisdom looks down! Then shall we discern the harmony, and learn that in the grand march of nations the music is set to two keys only--God’s promises and God’s purposes!

III. In the individual life. Even those lives that run contrary to His will He checks and controls, and makes them subserve His own purposes; nor is there one life, however dissipated, however wild, but some time or other it gets into one of God’s sluices, and turns one of His thousand wheels. But when the heart is submitted to Him, He does more than control the life, He guides it and shapes it to His will. But how far does this intervention of Providence extend? Does He not leave us to follow our own judgment; and is not that judgment the only cloud we follow? Even granting that it is, still that judgment is influenced by Him, for “The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way.” Many a time when we fancy our decisions are merely the result of the exercise of common sense and ordinary prudence, God has been secretly influencing our minds to the choice. But then many of the actions of life are so insignificant, what can God have to do with them? He has worlds to look after, why should the little motes of my life cause Him any concern? We do wrong in thus thinking, in thus banishing God from what we call life’s trifles. What is our life made of? Of so many days. And what is each day made of? Of so many moments and so many little deeds. But what is a little action? I put a piece of bread in my mouth. A little thing you call that, you do it frequently. But stay. That crumb may choke me, may end my life, and leave all my plans undone. Is it a little thing now? I set my foot down upon the pavement. Ah, that’s a little thing, you do it thousands of times a day. Yes, but I step upon some orange peel and slip. That fall gives me a broken limb, unfits me for some intended pursuit, and completely changes the current of my life. Is it a little thing now? And does not God mark these little events that fill up each day of my life when such vast interests may depend upon them? (H. Burton, B.A.)

The consolation of God’s sovereignty

I. The Kingdom of God on this earth.

1. Necessarily autocratic in its form.

2. Singular in its basis.

3. Universal in its range.

4. Profound in its reach.

5. A present, active, accessible power.

God is with us--not locally and geographically merely, but spiritually, sympathetically, practically, actively with us; controlling, cooperating, counteracting; directing, defeating, determining; making effectual or bringing to nothing the designs of the children of men. And we do well to go to Him, not trembling, as Esther to Ahasuerus, but with holy confidence in all times of personal, family, social, national necessities, to ask for His pity, to pray for His delivering power.

II. The consolation which the fact of God’s sovereignty gives to the good.

1. It is a consolation that the Evil One does not reign: that strong as are the forces of evil in this world, they are not supreme; that greater is He that works for righteousness than all they that work for sin and ruin; that our great adversary has himself an Adversary who is mightier than he; that though we may be in danger of being “led captive at his will,” he is under the control of the Omnipotent.

2. It is a consolation that mere force does not reign. All the forces that are at work are “under law,” and law is under the control of the Divine Law-maker; and He can act upon and control His own laws, touching links out of sight with His skilful hand, changing the aspect and the issue of things at His holy will and in accordance with His far-seeing wisdom, evolving the bright and the blessed out of the dark and the distressing.

3. It is a consolation that man does not reign. There have been times when the destinies of a continent have seemed to be in the hands of a Cyrus, a Caesar, a Napoleon; and now it may seem that very large issues hang on the decision of a few controlling minds in London, St. Petersburg, Berlin. Yet God can and will determine results, and He can overrule all events, either saving from calamity, or compelling disaster itself to yield “peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

4. We may all rejoice that we ourselves do not reign over our own lives. “The Lord reigneth”--the loving Lord, who wills the happiness of His children; the holy Lord, who wills their true and pure well-being; the wise Lord, who will not withhold any good thing, but will withhold that which seems to be so but is not; the mighty Lord, who can compel the saddest and strangest events to contribute to our well-being; the faithful Lord, who will make good the kindest of His promises--“The Lord reigneth,” and not we ourselves; “let us rejoice and be glad.” (W. Clarkson, B.A.)


Verse 2

Psalms 97:2

Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.

The providence of God

I. Its mystery. Infinite plans require an infinite mind to comprehend them. Before you can justifiably impugn the ways of God, you must be able to understand the majestic march of all events from “everlasting to everlasting.” You must see the past, the present, and the future in a moment. But canst thou comprehend all that has been, and is, and is to come? No. How, then, canst thou explore the mysteries of the providence of God?

II. Its perfection.

1. In nature. From the beginning the earth has proclaimed the glory of God. The four seasons are four witnesses for Him. Seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, cold and heat, come in grand procession, each the messenger of plenty; all of them the gifts of God.

2. In the rise and fall of nations. There is no natural decay in nations as there is in a tree. “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” and so long as nations act on righteous principles they prosper; but God hath ordained that warlike, oppressive, cruel, profligate nations shall perish. Let history bear witness to this fact.

3. In the rewards of the good. Read the histories of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and Job--study them well, and you will learn how perfect is the providence of God. You will see how He led them, comforted them, vindicated them, raised them to honour, did them good, and not evil, even when He permitted their afflictions, and how He made their peace to flow like a river, and their righteousness to shine like the morning stars.

III. Its glory.

1. In the fertility and beauty of the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” And how great is that fulness! Think of the mountains; the pastures covered with flocks; the valleys filled with corn; the cattle on a thousand hills! Oh! see in all these the goodness of God. Behold the glory of God’s providence in His care of all living creatures. He made them by His power; He protects them in His love.

2. In the redemption of men. The Cross of Christ is the most eloquent exponent--the truest interpreter--of the providence of God. Speak ye of God, of His justice and mercy? Speak ye of man, of his guilt, death, and future? Turn to the Cross. There in your Saviour you have a vindication of God’s law and a manifestation of God’s love.

3. In the judgment to come. He will then appear as He is--almighty, merciful, and holy--and He will show forth before men and angels and fallen spirits the glory of His name. None will then reply against Him. (G. W. M’Cree.)

The majesty of God obscured by the sinfulness of man

View this subject with respect try--

1. Our own conceptions of the Divine Being.

2. the providential government of God.

3. The dispensation of sovereign grace.

4. The final judgment. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The mysteries of Providence

1. The limited spread and small success of the Gospel.

2. The success that has attended the propagation of error.

3. The gifts bestowed upon bad men, who abuse them, while many men of piety have smaller talents.

4. The afflictions of good men, while the wicked are so extensively prosperous.

5. The poverty of the liberal, while the churl is opulent.

6. The small degrees of sanctification in God’s people. (D. A. Clark.)

God’s ways, though inscrutable, are righteous and just

I. “Clouds and darkness are round about God.” The appearances of God to the saints in old times are the origin of the figure in the text (Exodus 14:19-20; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 19:20; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17). Clouds are emblems of obscurity; darkness of distress. The works of God’s providence are often obscure and productive of distress to mankind. In the affairs of nations we see the interference of Divine providence; yet it is surrounded with “clouds and darkness.” So it is also in instances of smaller kind; it is thus in the removal of the most eminent, holy, and useful characters, that while we acknowledge the hand of God, we say “clouds and darkness are round about Him.” Again, look at Christianity. How little has been done by it compared with what might have been anticipated from its Divine principles, the character of its Author, and from the interest it possesses in the heart of God! Paganism yet strikes deep its roots in various lands. Even in Christendom, how little have the known and blessed effects of the Gospel been manifested!

II. Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.

1. The dispensations of God towards man are regulated by the consideration of his being a fallen and disordered creature.

2. The Divine Being was not bound in justice, either to prevent the disordered state of man, or to correct it when it had taken place.

3. The whole of those evils that form clouds and darkness round about God are either the penal or natural effect of moral evil.

4. Those that receive the grace of Jesus Christ are still in such a situation as renders a great part of their trials and miseries necessary.

5. The moral evils of man, and the depravity of human nature, age often, in a great measure, corrected and subdued by the natural evils of life, which thus are made the means of conducting to repentance, reformation, and happiness (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

6. The light of prophecy dispels many of those clouds which would otherwise obscure, for the present, the government and the throne of the Deity. (R. Hall, M.A.)

The unknowable and knowable in God

I. The psalmist confesses his ignorance. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him:” through clouds a little may be seen; through darkness nothing can be seen. So this may mean that slight glimpses of God may here and there be caught; but that, taken altogether, He is a mystery to men. Is there to be wondered at? Consider how short a time we are here to explore the mystery. Threescore years and ten, or at the most four or four and a half score years. “For how small a portion of even this are our powers at their best! What are thirty or forty years of life--even life at its best--to sound the depths of the Infinite? Then consider how small are our powers for this great work. We have but five gateways of knowledge. John Bunyan says, “The famous town of Mansoul had five gates, in at which to come, out of which to go.” And the greater part of these are of no use for reaching the knowledge of God: only perhaps the two--Ear-gate and Eye-gate; and how small these gates are! The ear can hear only that which is within easy reach. The eye can see only that which is within the horizon’s bound. We need to realize the limitations of our present condition, and then perhaps we should not be surprised--as often we are--that we cannot see through the clouds and darkness that now are around the Eternal One.

II. The psalmist expresses his confidence. Do you believe in God? Then you must believe that justice and truth are the foundation of His throne. There is a common Latin saying, “Fiat justitia, rust coelum.” If justice were not at the core of the universe the firmament would fall. Why, in the little affairs of nations the reign of injustice and falsehood sooner or later brings overthrow. It has been long coming to the Turkish Empire, but it is on its way. And if a nation cannot get on save as justice and truth prevail, be very sure that the universe cannot get on without these. We are not far-sighted enough to see how the ways of God are just and true. Some of them, because we see only a part, appear neither just nor true. But then we see only a fragment, and you cannot judge by a fragment, any more than you can judge of a house from a single brick. But we see enough of order, of law, of regularity, to be assured that, when the whole is revealed, we shall cry, “Just and true are Thy ways, O thou King of saints.” (W. G. Horder.)

The hidings of the Deity

I. As to himself. Turn, e.g. to the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not perhaps competent to judge whether the union of three persons in one essence could have been made intelligible unto man; it may be that we have not the faculties by which so wonderful a fact could in any case be grappled with; so that whatever the amount of information, we must still have continued unacquainted with the mode how three can ever be one. At all events, it is certain that God hath concealed this mode from us; “He hides Himself” even when He would reveal Himself. Clouds are about Him, even when He would give light; and what we want you to feel in regard to all this concealment of God is that it should summon forth our thankfulness. We ask you what limit there would be to human pride if reason availed to “find out God.” What then? If I have been brought to the confession, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him,” must I shut myself up in my ignorance, as though I could make out nothing on points which most concern me as an accountable being? Nay, quite the reverse. The obscurity which there is about God does but strengthen my conviction that He is God, my persuasion that He will show forth all the attributes which pertain to God; so that after confessing, “Clouds are round about Him,” I shall exclaim with assurance, and even with exultation, “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.”

II. In His dealings with His creatures.

1. This is true in providential dispensations. God does not lay open the reasons of His appointments; He does not explain why prosperity should be allotted to one man, and adversity to another. The wicked, moreover, often flourish like a green bay tree, whilst the righteous are cast down, and given over to the extremes of misery and destitution. Evil, too, is permitted to stalk unblushingly abroad, whilst “wisdom crieth” in vain “in our streets.” Indeed there is much of cloud in all this, and much of obscurity, which may well overtask any earthly philosophy. But we contend, that what is thus hidden furnishes matter of confidence and thankfulness; for man is hereby thrown upon his faith, and faith gives most honour to God, and is the best discipline for ourselves.

2. Or again: “who knoweth the day of his death?” Here, again, are the clouds and the darkness. “One dieth,” saith Job, “in his full strength,” etc. (Job 21:23-26). Nature has been ransacked for imagery; the shortness of our days is on every man’s tongue; and everything that is fleeting and everything that is fragile, and everything that is uncertain, has been laid under contribution to furnish similitudes for a human life-time. It is a most trite, but melancholy saying, that no man is able to reckon on to-morrow. Then is it not an evidence of God’s faithfulness, of His regard for the creatures of His hand, that we cannot reckon on to-morrow? Such is the constitution of our nature, that if a fixed period were allotted to our days, the thought even of the distant hour would in most cases prove an insupportable burden.

3. There is much hidden from us respecting the nature of a future state. Here, again, are clouds and darkness which God Himself throws around it. There is enough disclosed to stimulate zeal, and enough to scare from transgression; but still, whilst the heirs of immortality are clothed with corruption, they see only “through a glass darkly,” and neither the harpings of glorified spirits nor the wailings of the ruined convey more than a feeble metaphor of futurity. But if the veil had been more drawn back, what, then, we ask, would become of a state of probation? Where would be the province of faith, when everything was thus made the object of sense? Where would be the trial of hope, when every joy was thus already told? Where the exercise of self-denial, when the better portion forced itself on the notice of the most unobservant, compelling by its burning manifestations the universal recognition of its superiority? And where would have been the excellency of an economy under which a race of sinful beings could have found no place for faith, no sphere for hope, no occasion for self-denial? (H. Melvill, B.D.)


Verse 8

Psalms 97:8

Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of Thy judgments, O Lord.

The judgments of God are a proper cause of gladness and rejoicing to His people

I. The Church is glad, and rejoices in the judgments of God, because it is itself redeemed with judgment.

1. By judgment the Church is redeemed from the curse of the law--judgment on Christ.

2. By judgment the Church is delivered from the captivity of Satan--judgment oil Satan.

3. By judgment the Church is freed from the bondage and tyranny of the world--judgment on the world.

4. By judgment the Church is to be redeemed from the power of Antichrist (Revelation 18:20).

5. By judgment the Church is to be redeemed from the power of sin--judgment on the Church.

II. The Church is glad, and rejoices in the judgments of God, because they are the triumphs of Christ.

1. The triumphs of Christ are of two kinds--

2. The one as well as the other is rejoiced in and celebrated by the Church.

III. The Church is glad, and rejoices in the judgments of God, because they diminish the amount and prevalency of sin.

1. The direct effect of judgments is to remove the barriers which hinder the progress of the truth.

2. Another effect of Divine judgments is to deter from the commission of sin.

3. The effect of the finally overwhelming judgments of God is to remove sin from its place in the moral universe, and shut it up in everlasting concealment, Hellazar-house.

IV. The Church is glad, and rejoices in the judgments of God, because they furnish a glorious manifestation of Himself.

1. They reveal His holiness--He cannot look upon sin.

2. They manifest His justice. He gives to each one according to his work.

3. They that prove His omnipresence as a moral governor. No sin escapes Him.

4. They demonstrate His truth--for they are for the most part predicted.

5. They exhibit His power--for they overwhelm the mightiest.

6. They reveal His love to the Church--for they are chiefly in her defence and rescue. (James Stewart.)


Verses 10-12

Psalms 97:10-12

Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.

The privileges and duties of the Lord’s people

I. The character of the persons addressed. “Ye that love the Lord.” This love is--

1. The consequence of God’s love to the soul (Jeremiah 31:3).

2. Genuine, or pure (Romans 12:9).

3. In its power unconquerable (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).

4. In its duration lasting (Philippians 1:9-11).

5. In its influence constraining (2 Corinthians 5:14).

6. In its nature--

II. Their privilege declared. “He preserveth the souls of His saints,” etc.

1. He secures them from the sinfulness of their hearts (Romans 6:14).

2. From the prevalency of ignorance (Psalms 73:24).

3. From all slavish fear (Isaiah 26:3).

4. From the curse of the broken law (Galatians 3:13).

5. He rescueth them from Satan (Romans 16:20).

6. From wicked and deceitful men (Psalms 27:2-3).

7. From every other kind of opponent (1 Peter 1:5).

III. The duty or practice exhorted to. “Hate evil.”

1. Personal or internal evil (Romans 7:6).

2. The sin which we see in others (Psalms 139:21-22).

3. The evil that is in the world (Psalms 119:104).

4. All national evils (Proverbs 14:34).

IV. The state of the soul described (Psalms 97:11).

1. Light.

2. Gladness.

V. The evidences and experiences of the Christian (Psalms 97:12).

1. “Rejoice in the Lord.”

2. “Give thanks to Him.”

Righteous hatred

The Spirit of Christ is love. Wherever He governs, love reigns. The Christian man is not allowed to hate any one. But we may and must hate a man’s sins. Hatred is a power of manhood, and therefore to be exercised. And we may hate and sin not. We may have hatred in our hearts, only see to it that it run only in one stream, and that against evil. And we are to hate all evil, not merely some. It was said long ago of some professors that they did--

“Compound for sins they were inclined to,

By damning those they had no mind to.”

But it is a universal duty to which we are here called.

I. Hate all evil in thyself. Thou hast good reason. Think--

1. What mischief it has already wrought thee. It kept you from Jesus, it would have lost you your soul but that grace interfered.

2. How unbecoming it is to thee. Thou art of the blood royal of the Kingdom of God. Shall such a man as thou sin? Thou art set apart for God Himself.

3. How it weakens you. Can you pray after committing sin? You know you cannot. You have lost your power. Sin will make thee leave off praying or else praying will make thee leave off sinning. And if you try to engage in work for Christ, you cannot do it. An unholy man must be a useless one.

4. Hate it, because if you indulge in it you will have to smart for it (Psalms 51:1-19). If thou wouldest strew thy path with thorns and put nettles in thy death-pillow, then live in sin.

5. You will do hurt to others. The Church of Christ--how you will shame that: and poor sinners, how you will cause them to stumble and encourage them in their sin. And think especially--

6. How it grieves Christ. Now, if you would be rid of sin, the terrors of the law will not help you, but communion with Christ will. And get as much light as you can upon it. The housewife when she is busy about her house, with curtains drawn, may think everything looks clean; but she opens a little corner of the window, and in streams a ray of light, in which ten thousand grains of dust are dancing up and down. “Ah,” she thinks, “my room is not so clean as I thought it was; here is dust where I thought there was none.” Now, endeavour to get not the farthing rushlight of your own judgment, but the sunlight of the Holy Spirit streaming upon your heart, and it will help you to detect your sin--and detection of sin is halfway towards its cure. And if you have fallen into sin make confession of it, and when your mind is in a holy state seek to estimate sin aright. With regard to some sins, flee them. There is no other way. And if you would keep from sin, seek always to have a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. Old Master Dyer says, “Lock up your hearts by prayer every morning and give God the key, so that nothing can get in.” And never palliate sin.

II. Hate sin in others. Then, if you do, never countenance it, not even by a look. Often condemn it openly. Of course prudently. And do not get into it yourself. Those who live in glass houses, etc. And encourage all who are fighting against it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A good man sensitive to moral evil

If we would realize the full force of the term “hatred of evil” as it ought to exist in all, as it would exist in a perfectly righteous man, we should do well to consider how sensitive we are to pain, suffering and misfortune. How delicately is the physical frame of man constructed, and how keenly is the slightest derangement in any part of it felt. A little mote in the eye hardly discernible by the eye of another, the swelling of a small gland, the deposit of a small grain of sand--what agonies may these slight causes inflict. That fine filament of nerves of feeling spread like a wonderful network over the whole surface of the body, how exquisitely susceptible it is. A trifling burn, scald, or excision, how does it cause the member affected to be drawn back suddenly and the patient to cry out. Now, there can be no question that if man were in a perfectly moral state, moral evil would affect his mind as sensibly and in as lively a manner--would, in short, be as much an affliction as pain is to his physical frame. He would shrink and snatch himself away as sin came near; the first entrance of it into his imagination would wound and arouse his moral sensibilities, and make him positively unhappy. (Dean Goulburn.)


Verse 11

Psalms 97:11

Light is sown for the righteous.

Seed from God’s storehouse

I. The seen, “light.”

1. The preciousness of this figure is seen as we reflect upon

2. Through the entire field of probation, from the gate of responsible action, in every direction, clear back to the river of death that rolls at the extreme end, “light is sown.”

II. The sowers, implied in the fact, “Light is sown.”

1. God was the first being to scatter this precious seed. Dwelling in the midst of the unlocked granaries of “light” in regard to Himself, and the universe, and especially in regard to the great scheme of salvation, He soon commenced to scatter the seed, which was caught up and disseminated by “holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

2. “Light is sown by the righteous”--

Sometimes we have got to sow our own “light.” Little irregularities, follies, or besetments may be persisted in till we are made to see, by the light of experience, that they are deceptive and damaging.

3. Light is sown for the righteous by the wicked.

III. The persons for whom the sowing is done. “The righteous,” not the half-hearted, worldly, or hypocritical professor, but the man whose purpose in the right is a whole purpose, and who stands before his own conscience and his God in the full honours of rectitude. Such a man, no matter where he may be, is surrounded with growing light. (T. Kelly.)

Sown light

I. The metaphor is a rather singular one, and yet full of poetry--light is sown. We can very soon catch the idea if we follow Milton in his speaking of the morning,

“Now morn, her rosy steps in th’ eastern clime

Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl.”

The sun, like a sower, scatters broadcast his beams of light upon the once dark earth. Look up at night upon the sky bespangled with stars, and it seemeth as though God scattered them like gold-dust upon the floor of heaven in picturesque irregularity, thereby sowing light. Or if you want a fact which comes nearer to the sowing of light literally than anything which our poets have written, think of our vast coal-beds, which are literally so much sown light. The sun shone upon primeval forests, and the monstrous ferns grew and expanded under the quickening influence. They fell, as fall the leaves of chestnut and of oak in these autumns of our latter days, and there they lie stored deep down in the great cellars of nature for man’s use; so much sown light, I say, which springs up beneath the hand of man in harvests of flame, which flood our streets with light, and cheer our hearts with heat. Understand then that happiness, joy, gladness, symbolized by light, have been sown by God in fields that will surely yield their harvest for all those whom by His grace He has made upright in heart.

1. Sown light signifies, first, that light has been diffused. That which is sown is scattered. Before sowing, it was in the bag, or stored up in the granary, but the sowing scatters it along the furrows. Thank God, you who love Jesus and are resting upon His atonement, that God’s happiness is not kept to Himself, but is diffused for you and the whole company of His elect; and that the pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore are not kept within their secret springs, but made to flow like a river; that you with all the blood-bought may drink thereof to the full.

2. Seed that is sown is not in hand. After the husbandman has scattered his wheat he cannot say, “Here it is.” It is out of sight; gone from him. So the gladness which belongs go the righteous is not to be regarded as a thing of the present. Their great store of pleasure is yet to come; it is light that is sown, not light that now gleams upon their eyes; it is a gladness that has been buried beneath the clods for a special purpose, not a gladness which is now spread upon the table as bread that has been baked in the oven. Let us remember that this world is not our rest.

3. As seed sown is not visible, so it is not expected that it shall be seen or enjoyed to-morrow. It was said of the northern nations, near the Pole, and said truthfully, that they sowed their barley in the morning and reaped it at night, because the sun goes not down for four months at a time; but in sober truth we must not expect to have the rewards of grace given to us immediately we believe. There must be a trial of our patience and our faith.

4. But while seed sown is not in sight, and is not expected to be seen to-morrow, yet it is not lost. The husbandman counts it gain to have sown his corn. He has transferred his treasure from one bank to another. He does not reckon that any of it has been lost. So with the happiness of a Christian. Lost, the happiness of a single hour in which we have wept for sin! Lost, the happiness of a single moment in which we have suffered affliction for Christ’s sake, through persecution and slander! Nay, verily, it is put to our account, and the record of it remains in the eternal archives, against the day when the Judge of all the earth shall measure out the portions of His people.

5. Corn sown is not lost, but is actually in possession still. If a farmer had to sell his field, he would of course ask much more for that in which the seed was sown than for one which was remaining fallow, because he counts that seed sown is still his own property. Even so you may reckon the joys of the hereafter as your own, and you ought so to reckon them; they are the best part of your estate; they are yours, though you do not enjoy them. Yours to-day the seraph’s wing and the angel’s harp, yours to-day the cherubic song and the bliss of the immortals, the presence of the Lord, and the vision of His face.

6. Sown seed is in the custody of God. You merchants may fancy you can do without the Lord, but the man who has to till the soil is obliged to feel, if he hath any sensibility, his entire dependence upon the God of the rain-cloud and the Lord of the sun. So, beloved, here is our comfort. The light that is sown for the righteous is in the custody of God. Our future happiness, our eternal bliss, are kept by the great Guardian of Israel, who doth neither slumber nor sleep. Be not afraid, therefore, that you shall lose your heaven, for Christ keeps it for you.

7. A thing that is sown is not only put into God’s custody, but it is put there with a purpose, that it may come hack to us greatly multiplied. The believer gives up in this life his self-seeking; he suffers some degree of self-denial; he yields up his own boastings to trust in Christ’s righteousness; and he makes a good bargain thereby. We shall get back the seed-corn multiplied ten thousand times ten thousand, and we shall bless and magnify for ever and ever the glorious Sower who sowed such a harvest for us.

II. Having opened the metaphor of sown light, let us now speak of the sowing itself. When were the happiness and security of the righteous sown for them? Answer: there are three great Sowers, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and all these have sown light for the chosen people.

1. First, the Father. Long ages past, or ever the world was, it was in the Eternal mind to ordain unto Himself a people who should show forth His praise. Now, all those great decrees of God, of which He has revealed some inklings in His Word, were so much sowing of light for the righteous, so much provision of gladness in the future for the upright in heart.

2. A second great Sower was God the Son. He sowed happiness for His people when He joined with the Father in covenant and promised to be the substitute for His saints. But the actual sowing took place when He came on earth and sowed Himself in death’s dark sepulchre for us. He dropped Himself like a priceless seed-corn into the tomb, and what fruit He has brought forth let heaven and all the blood-washed company declare. The flower that springs from His root is immortality and life.

3. The Holy Spirit is a third great Sower, sowing in another sense, sowing in a sense that comes nearer home to our experience. Light is sown for the righteous by the Holy Spirit. In the hour when He brought the law home with its terrors, and laid us, broken, at the feet of Moses, He was sowing light for us. Our humbling was the preface to our exultation; and we have already proved it so. In that moment when we were subdued, humbled, made to loathe our own righteousness, trampled into the very mire under a sense of weakness and death, He was sowing light for us. It needed that we should be weaned from self; it was necessary that we should make the terrible discovery of our soul’s depravity. To-day that Blessed Spirit continues His sowing in us. Every gracious thought; every stroke from the whip of affliction when sanctified; every down-casting of our proud looks; every discovery of our utter insignificance, worthlessness, and death; everything in us that harrows us, cuts us to the quick and wounds us, but yet brings us to the Good Physician that He may exercise His healing art; all these are sowing for us a blessed harvest of light for which we must wait a little while. Be thankful for painful inward experiences; when they are most severe they are often most beneficial. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Joy peculiar to religion

Joy is here represented under a double metaphor; one of light, and another of seed. This seed is said to be sown; and sown in a faithful soil, that will be sure to preserve it, and send it forth for those who are to possess it. The people for whom this joy and comfort are thus said to be prepared are described by a principal feature of their character--that of righteousness. Behold the characters for whom God is here said to have made abundant provision of joy and comfort. How does this appear?

I. He has furnished ample materials or causes for this joy and comfort in them.

1. One is the knowledge of Himself and His real character.

2. They alone are capable of deriving the full benefit of Scripture. What developments of principle, for their guidance or warning, do they perceive in its histories; what correspondence between the workings of good men’s hearts, there delineated, and their own: these produce a kind of glad surprise and pleasing wonder!

3. Materials for joy are provided for believers in the very workings and exercises of piety. As in the material constitution, where every act of life and motion gives pleasure, so in the spiritual. Every grace of the Spirit gives pleasure in its operation.

II. God has not only provided materials for the happiness of His people, but means for the removal, in their case, of the several impediments to its enjoyment.

1. He opposes, for this purpose, their inordinate cares and anxieties about the things of this life, chastening their mind, by a variety of means and considerations, to get rid of this weight upon its energies, this cloud upon its views and prospects.

2. He prohibits the indulgence of the irascible tempers, and the vexation of the passions. He imparts, also, the influence of His dove-like Spirit, forming the graces of meekness and humility in the heart, guiding it, as the rudder the vessel, smoothly and peacefully through all the commotions of life.

3. He divests their minds of dread from guilt, adversity, Satan, and death.

III. God sometimes, by the immediate operations of His Spirit, produces the emotions of joy in their souls, from their appropriate sources.

1. Sometimes it is by the outward objects and exercises of piety. The work of the Spirit then consists in adapting the state of the mind to these objects. He softens the wax to receive the impression of the seal, or moistens and loosens the soil towards the sun that is ready to pour upon it his full beams. Hence the delight sometimes communicated to the mind in the reading of the Scriptures. The portions that at other times produced little or no emotion, now excite, gladden, and transport us. The same spots of landscape, invisible before, or but half revealed, are seen in a light that imparts an interest to them, and reveals beauties in them altogether new.

2. But there are times when the Spirit produces these emotions in the soul, by opening sources of joy that lie nearer to it, and within itself, apart from externally favourable objects, and even in the presence of circumstances and objects most unfavourable. In order, indeed, to render His work more evident and more conspicuous, as well as more illustrious, from the effect of contrast, He seems to prefer the seasons of deep surrounding gloom and agony for these his gladdening and transporting emotions. This explains the paradoxes of Scripture (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Romans 5:3). (J. Leifchild.)

The seed of light

Light and gladness. It is natural to desire them, and God does not crucify nature. He only trains and corrects it. This text tells us that light and gladness are for the upright, and the next verse bids the righteous rejoice. An eagle desires the air, and a fish the water. Is it strange? A child of God is a child of light, begotten of Him who is light and in whom is no darkness at all. If he longs for the light, is that strange? But what about the peculiar way in which this promise of light and gladness is put? Light and gladness are “sown.” A startling figure that, and a grand one too. God gives light and gladness to His children just as He does other things, germinally, in the seed form; not all at once, in floods, but with a large reserve into which the man is to work his way. As life moves toward God, it unfolds this seed and lets out more and more light, until eternity develops the full harvest of light. With this figure of sowing seed are naturally associated two thoughts--hiding and diffusion: and the two inevitably run together, because, in the natural process, hiding is with a view to diffusion. The process of growth is distributive, not only in the final scattering of the seed, but in that, in the unfolding of the seed, something beautiful and promising is developed at every successive stage, in the blade and in the ear, no less than in the full corn.

I. If, then, light and gladness are to be looked for in Christian life, it is important to remember that they are growths, and that, as such, they carry with them a certain amount of concealment and delay. Let us consider some illustrations of this. God hides away light and gladness in certain things which, for the time, give no hint of what is within, even as the rough acorn gives no visible promise of the grandeur and leafage of the oak. And here be very careful to note that when God gives us these seeds, He expects us to look for our light in them. None the less, because the acorn is hard and rough, must you look for your oak in your acorn. You will not find it by turning away to something smoother and softer. One of the very first things to which God introduces us on our entrance into His kingdom is duty. God knows that in all duty there is light which faithful doing will bring out. Often, however, He shows us very little or none of the light and promise, but only the dark furrows of duty in which the light is sown: and He says to us, “Your work lies up and down along those furrows, to keep them free from weeds, to drive away the birds, to keep the earth loose, and to watch and wait until the light shall appear.” The same truth appears in the providences of God. They are full of light, but it is sown light. We understand well enough how God hides the diamond and the topaz in the dark and overlays them with hard and coarse crusts; how He shuts up the crystal in the heart of the rough geode; and we doubt not that human skill and labour can bring them forth from their wrappings and make them blaze in the coronets of kings. Why will we limit these facts to nature merely, to God’s economy on its lower side, and not see that God carries up the same facts to a higher level, and applies the same method in His spiritual economy, and conceals light and joy beneath the hard incrustations of sorrow and pain? All of you remember the story so graphically told by the Scottish poet, of the wizard buried in the abbey aisles with a lamp upon his breast; and how, when the stone was removed after many years, the light from that lamp blazed up and lighted the tomb and the magic volume in the dead hand. So it is that sometimes we go back after many days to the grave when we buried, as we thought, all the gladness and light of our lives, to find in the hand of the dead a lamp and a lesson-book. A hard providence of God is a seed with a rough and prickly husk, but it is a seed of light, sown by Him who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and who will shine in His people’s hearts to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The truth applies equally to the process of winning Christian knowledge and faith. We are like children at school. Study and thought and books are full of light to you now; but when you were a child, light came to you under cover of duty, by way of rules and formulas; through labour when you saw more gladness in sport; through strict discipline when you thought that complete freedom would be perfect gladness. Would it be strange if God should deal with you in similar wise in acquiring the knowledge of His truth and will?

II. But let us look at the other thought--that of diffusion or distribution. Concealment or reserve in God’s economy is with a view to revelation. Christ said, “There is nothing hidden but in order that it should be revealed,” and though, as we have seen, God’s revelations unfold gradually, that very fact results in the distribution of His revelations along the whole line of an individual life or of a nation’s history. That is one aspect of the truth. A grain of wheat is wheat, not only in the full corn, but in the blade and in the ear likewise, and in the growth of the seeds of light they unfold into light all along the way of the upright. Though something is hidden, though all godly living includes patient waiting, yet God does not condemn His children to walk in darkness all their days, and only then let in upon them the light of heaven in one overwhelming flood. The perfect day is at the end, it is true, but still the path of the just shineth more and more. The word is a lamp unto the feet in their daily walk. And therefore the hard duties and the hard providences, while they hide light, yet do not keep in all the light. There is self-denial, for instance. No doubt it will be a good while before it will cease to be hard, or will bring its full reward: but meanwhile the practice of it is not without its gladness and light. Take the grace of Hope. Hope has a hard fight for life in some natures; and the climb to even low slope of hopefulness is a distressing one. Yet when one of God’s desponding children does manfully grapple with his despondency and resolutely work his way upward, saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God. I shall yet praise Him”--light breaks in along the line of that struggle. Some of you have stood on a rocky platform among the high Alps and watched the coming of dawn. You saw the saffron light deepen behind some monster peak, and soon the first sunbeam appeared above the crest; and as it darted forth, it struck and was flashed back from a great snow-field which blushed and kindled under its touch. Another beam shot over to a cluster of ice-needles, and each one of them became a point of dazzling light. Then a long ray leaped over to that peak, far up in the calm ether, awful in the loneliness of its virgin snow, and the great cone glistened and sparkled over its whole surface, and threw back the light to another peak, and flash answered flash, and the threads of light crossed and twined until the heaving sea of hills was bathed in glory. So every Christlike effort, every Christian grace resolutely carried into practice, not only emits light, but multiplies the light at every point where it touches. Faith nerves itself for a timid venture and throws out its one feeble ray toward a hard task or a hard trial or a hard problem; and behold the thing brightens, and in its own brightening throws light on some other duty or trial, on some great snow-field of lonely sacrifice and patience. In short, the more faithfully and persistently one addresses himself to doing God’s will, the more points his experience affords from which the goodness and love and faithfulness and power of God are reflected. And these points enlighten each other. Each experience takes up the light furnished by the smallest, and reflects and helps to distribute it over the whole area. Righteousness is light and gladness though its way lie through sorrow and sacrifice: and you who are pursuing that road in faith and hope may take this for your comfort that you are going forward to inevitable gladness. God has already wrought out great goodness before your eyes; but that is nothing to the goodness which He has laid up for them that fear Him. (M. R. Vincent, D.D.)

The future happiness of the righteous

I. The character that is here given of good men. They are righteous and upright. Which words may stand--

1. As terms of the same import and signification. Every righteous man is an upright man; and the upright man is the only righteous man. Or--

2. They may be put as explanative of each other. The righteous and the upright man is the sincerely righteous man. Not one who is so in reputation and appearance only, but in deed and in truth; who takes more care to be good than appear so; who is not only righteous in life, but upright in heart.

II. The present state of good men implied, viz. Darkness and Sorrow.

1. Darkness denotes either ignorance, or a state of doubts and fears. In either sense it may be here applied.

2. Their ignorance and doubts produce much sorrow.

III. The happiness of the righteous and upright man’s state in the other world, expressed in the text by light and gladness.

1. Heaven is a state of light.

(a) Their intellectual powers will then be very much strengthened and enlarged.

(b) A great variety of new and unthought of objects will be continually offering themselves.

We shall then have a much more plain and perfect conception of those things which we now think we do know. The facility with which this knowledge shall be acquired will add not a little to the pleasure of the acquisition. Our knowledge then will be perpetually progressive, or for ever increasing.

2. Illustrate the other branch of the saint’s blessedness in heaven denoted by the word gladness.

IV. The metaphor. “Light is sown,” etc. This implies--

1. Something must be done by the righteous now, in order to their being partakers of that happiness which is prepared for them in heaven.

2. Though the future blessedness of the righteous must now be sown by themselves, yet it is nevertheless the free gift of God.

3. The saints on earth should patiently wait for their glory in heaven (James 5:7).

4. They should encourage themselves with the hopes and prospects of it, and thankfully acknowledge those providences and dispensations which tend to prepare and fit them for it; as the husbandman does those fruitful and suitable seasons which raise his hopes of a plentiful harvest. (J. Mason, M.A.)

Light sown for the righteous

The text evidently teaches that light is sown by the righteous, and not only for them, yet forasmuch as good and evil work together in spiritual things, we may fairly regard the righteous as having to do with both. If they themselves are in one sense the ground, they themselves are in another the mere tillers and cultivators of the ground. It is important to observe this twofold character, if you would enter fully into the metaphor of the text. The husbandman must have in the springtime a certain portion of that very grain from which he hopes for an abundance in the bright days of harvest; he must have seed for the sowing; otherwise, there can never be the reaping. The same holds good in regard to the righteous, who are taught they must sow light, and they shall also reap light. We have “light,” but we have it as the husbandman, when he sows rather than when he reaps. But to every one who receives the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, that gospel is light which shineth in a dark place--the day-spring from on high visits him--the word becomes his candle searching the heart and the spirit, as a lantern guiding his feet. We have light; we know God’s light shineth in darkness--that light which is a celestial effulgence of the happiness of heaven. And the light of God already possessed has in it the elements of the knowledge and glory which shall constitute a higher state of being. The knowledge in that state shall not be partial, but, nevertheless, it shall be only our present knowledge completed. Our gladness shall be uninterrupted; but, nevertheless, it shall be only what I now feel, perfected. The future, as compared with the present, is the harvest time, as compared with the seed time. But whilst it has been necessary that we should remark on the text upon the supposition, that by man light is sown, the more interesting trains of thought suggested by the passage follow from the supposition that God Himself is the sower. God can hide light in darkness. It is light when thus sepulchred. It is the special prerogative of God to bring good out of evil, to give “the valley of Achor for a door of hope,” to make the despondency of death productive of the happiness of life. It is plain that from the first God has been acting on the principle of sowing light for the righteous. What is all prophecy, but an illustration of this principle? Who knows not how God sows light for the righteous in the dealings of providence? What darkness is there often around these dealings--what mysteriousness? The Christian can find nothing in them but gloom and perplexity, when they seem clothed with an impenetrable blackness; but they are germs in which, though buried, there is light. A voice is often heard from among the tombs, and as the Christian goes forward in life, is he not enabled to derive profit from that which he had counted but loss? He is not thrown exclusively on his faith; he is not without present evidence that God is furthering His own purposes; he is sometimes permitted to see that what appeared against him has been for him, and that he has derived benefit where, from the aspect of God’s dealings, he might have thought himself injured; and thus the whole field of his pilgrimage is sown with light; but he must wait till that fervent heat, through which the elements shall be dissolved, shall have brought up the harvest. There are now occasional springings up of luminous shoots; and these serve him as “ first fruit.” There is another and a very inter-eating view under which these words may be surveyed. The psalmist, you observe, does not limit the “sowing” to any particular season. As though the seed of light were always being deposited in the ground, he uses language which may denote that there is continually a fresh harvest in preparation for the righteous. He says nothing as to time; but leaves it to be inferred that the sheaves would be gathered in due season. But by making sowing continual, he seems to imply that one crop will succeed another, so that as fast as one is reaped another will be ready to be swept into the granary. And the truth figuratively taught by such a representation is that there shall be no standing still in the attainments of the righteous. The righteous shall be always in progress; one harvest of light furnishing, so to speak, seed for another. It ought to alarm us, and therefore suggest doubts as to the genuineness of our faith, if we find no advance in spiritual things, if we do not grow in acquaintance with ourselves, with God, with eternity--if as we draw near to death there is not apparently greater fitness for heaven, Now let us draw in conclusion some practical lessons from this subject. There are two prominent lessons--one to the righteous, and the other to the wicked. To the righteous we would say, be not dismayed or disquieted if God’s dealings seem mysterious, and if you are met often by obstructions. In seasons of anxiety and doubt a helper shall arise; in “wiping away all tears,” God shall scatter all clouds, and your exulting confession shall be--“He hath done all things well.” But what have we to say to the wicked, to those who care nothing for the soul, but who “love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil”? God soweth no light for you; but nevertheless you are sowing light for yourselves. You shall not be always in darkness; you shall not be always able to hide the truth from yourselves. You must wake at last to the fearful discovery, that you have been your own destroyers, that you have bartered immortality for a bauble, and purchased a momentary gratification with everlasting anguish. Oh, that you would make the discovery now!--the discovery that such must be the confession of all who close their eyes against the light, till that light gleam from the great white throne. (H. Melvill, B.D.)

Light sown for the righteous

(Easter Sermon):--Each Easter morning is a signal for fresh joy: and on each Lord s Day we celebrate our Easter festival afresh. It is an old story, this tale of Christ’s Resurrection; but it is so full of meaning, has such a depth of comfort, such a largeness of joy, that we can never take it all in at once. The aspect of the Resurrection set before us in my text is that it was joyful in itself, and, moreover, a preparation for more perfect joy. “Light,” says the psalmist, “is sown for the righteous.” Now, we have here a beautiful metaphor, not uncommon in ancient writers, by which the dawn is said to scatter the beams of light upon the earth. It is God drawing near to man: God approaching, bearing with Him every blessing: and as He comes within our view He sows and scatters light upon the inhabitants of the earth. The words thus refer to the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in His wings. But in the next place, they suggest that this sowing is a preparation. If the morning is beautiful, still it is but the beauty of promise. At the dawn man goes forth to labour in the path of duty and of active service; but as the sun rises towards the zenith, each hour it sheds upon earth a brighter radiance. And then, if God’s work has been done earnestly and truly, even if feebly and with human imperfection, there follow softer and gentler hours, till at evening the sky is reddened with bright hopes of a future rising, and the sun sets in a bath of glory. Yet all upon earth is but a sowing; the fruit ripens not in the cold regions of this world. It is in the world to come that the fruit is gathered. So said our Lord: “He that reapeth gathereth fruit unto life eternal.” But the great central thought of the text is that the blessing which God so bountifully sows upon the earth is “light.” The psalmist sees the world lying in darkness. Men grope about, and examine the things around them; but it is a mere feeling with the hands. They have no real knowledge, and all that they do is wrought uncertainly. No work of much value can be done in the dark; and least of all can men set out in gloom and obscurity on a distant journey to an unknown land. And until the day of Christ’s Resurrection this was the state of mankind. The darkness was that of ignorance in all that concerns the destiny of the soul and its relations to God. If you had asked the wisest heathen how this world came into being, he could not have told you. Heathen sages and philosophers had no certainty that there was but one God. Most of them had lost all belief in the numerous gods of their mythology: many even felt that there must be, and was, some one Central power behind the many gods of the poets, which controlled the gods themselves: but they regarded this power only as a blind fate, or destiny. They had no certainty of there being but one God, and still less had they the idea of that God concerning Himself with the affairs of men, loving them, caring for them, and full for them of mercy and kindness. And thus such knowledge as is given to us in the very first verse of the Bible, that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” contains more than one truth beyond the utmost range of heathen philosophy: for it tells us that there is but one God, that He created matter, and that this world is His workmanship. And if they knew nothing about the world, so equally they knew nothing about man. But now, if God made the world, and placed man upon it, with all that preparation of which we read in the first chapter of Genesis, we at once gather that in man this world finds the cause of its being; or in other words, that this world was made for man’s sake. Though cloud and gloom may cover the face of the sky, yet behind them we know that the sun of God’s goodness and love ever shines in all its glory. But Christ’s Resurrection triumph gives us more than general lessons and assurances, such as follow from the doctrine that one God made the world. It tells us that God so loved the world as to give us His Son to die for us: and that God the Son has accomplished the work He consented to do and has risen triumphant from the grave. Our enemies are sin and death. But sin is forgiven in Christ, and His Resurrection proves that He has vanquished the grim tyrant Satan, whose power over us is caused entirely by sin; and Death is vanquished too. The heathen knew nothing of the bright side of life. They knew nothing of the prize that may be won: of the peace that may be enjoyed here: of the happiness in store for those who bravely fight the battle of life. They saw only too clearly the dark side of life: its sorrows and troubles, its vices and crimes, its sad disasters and the changes of fickle fortune. They saw, too, old age ever creeping nearer and nearer, and if they asked themselves, “What next? What is there after old age and death?” no one could answer. It was all a region of mist and darkness, and they knew of no light there. But we have hope. That future land is our Master’s Kingdom. It is our true, our real home. Old age has no terrors for us. We are only getting nearer home. As we look up, we see a loving Father waiting to welcome us home for Christ’s sake. And if Christ by His Resurrection has thus shed upon this world the bright light of hope, so has He made plain before our face the pathway of duty. The heathen had nothing to work for in this world: and if the Christian’s hope were destroyed we should have nothing worth working for. For money, and pleasure, and earthly goods cannot satisfy an immortal soul. Christ came to do His Father’s will; and He has set before us the same pathway of duty: namely, to do God’s will, and labour earnestly for the glory of God and the good of man. True, He describes it as a strait, narrow, and uphill path. But what has He placed at the end? He has placed there a great light. We see the portals of the heavenly city bright and resplendent with glory. We see the myriads of the redeemed saints waiting to welcome us: angels with crowns of joy ready to be placed upon our heads. And within that heavenly city God is seated upon His throne, with all joy and happiness in His hand for the eternal blessedness of His people. And that light there is no more sowing; it is the full harvest of light: its perfect and complete realization. And that which gives us the certainty of this hope, and light, and glory is the risen Saviour. (Dean Payne Smith.)

Fields sown with light for the righteous

Where are the fields that we may well say are sown by God’s grace with happiness for us? Here is one field--the field of His Word. Ah! you may almost see the happiness here. Every promise of God has a secret meaning beyond what we as yet have learnt, and that hidden sense is full of happiness for the children of God. So it is with providence. Every event which can occur is sown with light for the faithful. It does not so appear; far rather the fields just now are very unpleasant to look upon; the water stands deep in those broad furrows; you cannot imagine there will ever be a harvest in a land so flooded with trouble, but wait a while. There is not a dying child or aa ailing wife, there is not a dishonoured bill, there is not a wrecked vessel, there is not a burnt house, there is not a single diseased bullock but what you shall see at the last, and perhaps before then, to have been full of real blessedness for you. There is not only mercy in God’s dealings with His people in the gross, but in the detail. All the providence of God, far-reaching as it is, and extending from our cradle to our tomb, is full of the Divine intent that His children shall be blessed, and blessed they shall be. There is one little field called “God’s Acre,” which to some appears to be sown with much darkness, but is really sown with light--that sleeping place, the cemetery, where your loved ones lie beneath the sod. Yes, but they shall rise again, and so light is sown for you, even in the mouldering bones of your beloved children and friends. You would not have it otherwise, would you? Would you lose that seed? Imagine for a moment that it should never come up again from the sepulchre! Would not that grieve you beyond measure? It is your comfort to feel that these dry bones shall live, and all the band of those you loved so dearly who have gone from you for a while are not lost, but gone before. “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” And what a happy meeting, what joyous greetings, what blessed reunions, when they meet to part no more! In that “God’s Acre,” then, in the many burials we have attended, light is sown for the righteous. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Sown light

“If the different objects which treasure up and reflect the sunlight in their different ways could speak, it seems that their utterances would be something as follows. The coals would say, “I treasured up the sun’s light and warmth”: the plants would testify of its attraction in causing them to bud and blossom; the fruits would whisper that they owe their ripeness and bloom to its kisses; the flowers would exclaim, “We obtained our colours from its artistic touches”; the doctor tells us of its beneficent and healing properties; the astronomer unfolds to us its influence and heat; the photographer speaks of his dependence upon its rays for the reproduction of his pictures; yea, the whole creation is indebted to its presence and power for warmth, colour, and brightness. (F. E. Marsh.)

Gladness for the upright in heart.--

The joy which attends godliness

I. Good and righteous men, and only they, are the possessors of true joy. This appears from--

1. The true nature and quality of joy, which may not unfitly be defined that pleasant and ravishing affection whereby the mind wonderfully delights itself, and acquiesces in the fruition of something that is good and beloved. New the righteous and holy man resteth with an unspeakable delight and complacency in Him, who is the chiefest Being, and the chiefest good, and the most worthy of love, and therefore is the firmest basis of joy. God only, of all beings, is immediately, directly, originally, and necessarily good: and no being can have the denomination of being good, but from this fountain and everlasting source of goodness. Nothing is good, but aa it brings and unites us to this best of Beings, to this original of all perfection and excellency. He then that entirely loves God, and rejoiceth in Him, is in the possession and fruition of all good; and whatever he enjoys carries pleasure and delectation with it.

2. The nature of true righteousness, which always carries joy and gladness with it. For first, all virtuous actions and exercises of righteousness are in themselves agreeable to our rational nature, they are fitted to our faculties, as we are men and reasonable creatures: He that commits any vice doth violence to his own mind, and he that sins against God rebels against himself. Again, as all holy actions are agreeable to our rational and regenerate nature (and consequently to the nature of God and His will), so they agree most friendly with themselves. All moral virtues and graces are of a knot, and are tied to one another. They are all of a piece, and hold together.

3. The great benefits which the righteous man is possessor of, purchased for him by Christ.

II. The excellent properties of the righteous man’s joy.

1. It is vast and ample, its object being infinite, and therefore most comprehensive; whereas the pleasures and delights of sense are short and shallow, narrow and contracted, their objects being of that nature.

2. It is not precarious, or dependent on things outside him.

3. Though inward and retired, yet it is also visible and operative. Who can lodge in his heart an entire love and complacency in God and goodness, who can nourish that holy fire there, and not discover it to others by some eruptions and flashes of joy?

4. It is constant and durable, perpetual and inexhaustible (Psalms 36:8-9). They are at the Fountain; a continual spring feeds and supplies their joy, so that it cannot be dried up. This spring is the kindness and favour of the God of heaven, the free bounty and goodness of that great Benefactor whose gifts and graces are without repentance, who perseveres in His love, if we do so in our duty, whose promises are all Yea and Amen, and whose faithfulness is as immutable as Himself.

III. It will be objected that in the observation and experience of the world things are far different from what i have represented them. Nothing is more ordinary and obvious than this, that the best men are sad and sorrowful, and spend their days in pensive thoughts and penitential tears: they mortify their bodies and chastise their souls, and discover little of joy all their lives long. I answer--

1. It is true righteous men retain a deep sorrow and regret upon their minds for their sins, but even this is pleasant to them, it being their duty, and urged upon them by the command of Heaven. Even the austerities and mortifications which holy men exercise are productive of the highest solace and rejoicing.

2. I answer that the joys of devout and holy men being not the same with those of the corrupted world, there may thence arise a mistake, and it may be thought by some that good men are sad heavy when indeed they are nothing so. For I do not mean by this gladness any such thing as the jollity and laughter of the world. Every faithful follower of Christ, like his Master, hath meat to eat which the world knows not of, he hath pleasures and delights which they are unacquainted with. It is promised to the Christian champion that fights the good fight of faith, and overcomes the world, that he shall eat of the hidden manna, the delicacies of which are wholly concealed from vulgar palates (Revelation 1:7). A good conscience is a continual feast.

IV. Inferences.

1. It is a false report and a slander raised against religion and the sincere professors of it, that there is no content and complacency, no delight and pleasure in a virtuous life, but that they who resolve to become Christians indeed, must bid farewell to all mirth, they must not expect to see any more pleasant days, but bury themselves in darkness and melancholy.

2. This great privilege and blessing in the text ought to be a prevalent motive to virtue, a powerful persuasive to a godly life. The joys and pleasures of Christians are not all in reversion. Such is the infinite goodness and bounty of God, that although He hath made heaven to be the place of complete joy and rest, yet He is pleased to reward a holy life with present joys and pleasures in this world. Righteous men taste enough of these here to make them amends for all the difficulties and troubles they meet with in this life.

3. Let the proposition which I have treated of be copied out in the practice and behaviour of all good Christians. Let those of you who have sincerely devoted yourselves to the service of God, and have faithfully discharged your duty according to your power, lay aside the mourning-weeds, and clothe yourselves with the garment of joy. Dry up your tears, and silence your sighs, put on a joyful look, and let not sadness and pensiveness dwell on your faces any longer. Let the world see and be convinced that you do not serve a hard master, and that the yoke of Christ is not difficult and insupportable.

4. Would you know how you may attain to the practice of it, and experimentally find this doctrine true, that Christianity is attended with solid joy and gladness; then--

Joyful gladness for such as are true-hearted

(P.B.V.):--Surely there is a great deal of meaning wrapped up in this word, “true-hearted.” Reality, loyalty, courage, in all dealings with God and man: not one of the three here and another there; for indeed they may be separated, sadly to the hurt of the man who loses hold of the bond that unites them; a man may be real and yet selfish, loyal and yet cowardly, courageous and yet neither faithful nor sincere--not one of the three here and another there, but the three together. The union of the three in the Christian character seems to be the first and most direct of the effects of faith; and, indeed, faith itself, in its normal aspect, may be defined, or rather described, as the true-heartedness that unites the three characteristics I have marked: faith, the substance of the things hoped for; faith, that though He slay me yet will I trust in Him; faith, which is the victory that overeometh the world. You ask me what I mean by Reality. We know well enough what we mean by unreality, something less wicked than hypocrisy and less excusable than mere weakness: the acceptance of principles without testing them or the authority that presents them, the profession of beliefs without experimental maintenance of them; enthusiasms caught by infection from the enthusiasm of those around you; mechanical observance of rites and usages which have no meaning to you, but which, because you have been trained in them, are easy to you, and which, when you have misgivings about them, you are too careless or indolent to cast off; the disposition to be satisfied with the easiest solution of hard questions; for the mere saving of trouble, to shirk responsibilities, whilst you confess to feeling them; to join in the upholding of institutions simply because they are institutions; to profess general good-will without doing anything to prove it; to advocate rash changes simply because they are changes; the superficiality of a whole life that has neither interest in the lot of other men nor conviction of the majesty of truth, nor the sense of responsibility for the work which the Master, by way of privilege, sets before each one of His own to do. All and each of these things is unreality, and there is much besides. But we cannot define the word by the mere exclusion of its opposites, at least in the close and near interests of which I am speaking now. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead:” God help us, and say not that of us; but judge yourselves, and apply true-heartedness to judgment. In the reality of religious true-heartedness, in this its first aspect, there is a single mind and honest openness, veracity to oneself and to God, which is indispensable to the very first idea of either righteousness or repentance; love without dissimulation, obedience without selfish consideration, faith without wavering. And second: loyalty is an element in the true heart; faithfulness to the cause or person, realized by the single mind. The devotion of affection, the identification of oneself with the cause. I said that this is separable from the other, in idea; it is so in fact also, a man will be loyal to a cause which he has not proved, zealous for an institution which he neither understands nor cares for, in any other sense than that it is somehow connected with the line that he has chosen for himself. And such loyalty is but a glorified form of self-will; and where self-will has opened the way, how does it cover and disguise all sorts of still inferior motives--self-interests and aggrandizement, party spirit and jealousy, misrepresentation justified by antipathy which denies the sincerity and honesty of opponents; persecution, all the poison of controversy, all the self-righteousness of vulgar ambition. Here again it is not enough to say that true loyalty can be defined by the exclusion of the false. It sacrifices and effaces self, or merges it in devotion: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word.” But more; the self is effaced not for the sake of affacement, but that the devotion may be entirely practical. The hermit of the Thebaid, the votary of Nirwana, effaces himself, and does no more; he is loyal to an idea that contents itself with absorption; the loyal Christian, in the reality of his affection, girds up his loins with faithfulness to do his Lord’s will; to minister to his Lord’s people; as a true and living member of His body, to diffuse through every joint the life supplied from the head, that the whole may increase of itself in love. But trueheartedness has one feature more: it has the courage of its convictions, the courage not of pertinacious, desperate determination, but of convictions based on reality and developed in loyal faithfulness. This courage is a courage of patience and of struggle, of attack as well as of defence; it is one that realizes danger and realizes duty; that watches in no morbid, sensitive apprehension, but in manly facing of the occasions, be they of difficulty, doubt, temptation, or over assurance of safety. The soldier of Christ cannot fight with the world’s weapons, the advocate of Christ cannot argue with the finesse or the virulence or the captiousness of the adversary. It is no small exercise of moral courage in which the truehearted refuses to meet sneer with sneer, or sharp saying with cutting retort; or where he is lashed into impatience by the persistent utterance of half truths, or by misrepresentations intended to confuse, or by accusations so wild and wanton that he cannot see which is to be first met without risking the imputation that, by defending one point, he surrenders the rest. The true-hearted who can face all this has the very truest courage, the ghostly strength with which the Lord has anointed those that, with their eyes open and heart set, have taken up their cross to follow Him. It is not so with us all! It should be, by the very condition of our sonship; His grace shall work even this in us. Two thoughts arise in conclusion: First, how does all this apply? The cause of Christ, the cause of our salvation, is not a mere abstraction; our soldiership involves a real struggle, our advocacy real argument, our service real labour. The Church of the living God is to us presented in the flesh and blood of those with whom and for whom we are called on to fulfil our duty as members of the body of Christ. As men, as Englishmen, as Churchmen, our true-heartedness is being tried every day. And then, secondly, how about the joyful gladness? Is it the answer of a good conscience towards God--I have done what I can, surely He must see to the doing of the rest? Scarcely that, I think; although He does sometimes give His beloved such sleep, even with the knowledge that they shall be satisfied when they wake up after His likeness. But for it to come day by day; for the weary man to be able to say when he lies down to sleep, that there are no arrears to be made up, no post unguarded, no part of the day’s work left for to-morrow; to be able to say, I sleep but my heart waketh; if He come at the second watch or at the third watch, I am ready: joyful gladness it would be indeed, but it can scarcely be. Can it be anything else than that loving meeting of our faith with a certain conviction and manifestation of His faithfulness, the strengthening and refreshing of the light of His countenance vouchsafed to those who, in answer to His “Seek ye My face,” reply with life and courage and true heart, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek”? The joyful gladness to the true-hearted comes in the experience of the loving-kindness of the Lord, the increase of faith, the clearness of hope, the fuller realizing of that likeness, which by the name of Charity He sets before each of us, and begins to work in each of us, the instalment of the glory that shall be. Will He not increase it more and more? Trust ye in the Lord for ever! (Bishop Stubbs.)


Verse 12

Psalms 97:12

Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous.

The nature of religious joy

I. What is meant by our rejoicing in the lord.

1. It signifies that cordial pleasure, which the serious and devout mind takes in the meditation of God’s existence, perfection, and providence.

2. It signifies our receiving a very great delight from the discoveries of His will to us in His Word.

3. It imports our rejoicing in the interests which He has been graciously pleased to give His people in Himself; and in those comfortable and honourable relations which we stand in to Him.

4. We rejoice in the Lord when we rejoice in His continual protection, guidance and influence.

5. Rejoicing in His gracious intercourses with us in the duties of Divine worship, is another thing intended.

6. The lively hope, to which all those are begotten who love God, of fulness of joy at His right hand, and of rivers of pleasure for evermore, makes them to rejoice in the Lord with joy unspeakable.

II. Rejoicing in the Lord signifies that our joy in God is superior to all our other joys; otherwise it is a joy unworthy of Him, and no way, or not savingly, profitable to us. We can build nothing on such a feeble joy; we have no ground to regard that joy as a grace and fruit of the Spirit, which is extinguished by the joys and pleasures of sense; or so suppressed and overpowered by them, as to have no considerable and lasting effect.

III. Whatever else we rejoice in, we are to rejoice in such a manner that we may be properly said to rejoice in the Lord, even when other things are the immediate occasions of our joy.

1. We rejoice in the Lord in the use and enjoyment of other things, by considering those things which yield us an innocent satisfaction, as the gifts of God, the effects of His unbounded munificence, and the marks of His creative and providential goodness.

2. Our joy in the Lord should be the chief spring of our joy in all the blessings and advantages with which His goodness hath supplied us.

3. The good man’s joy in the Lord regulates his joy and delight in other things; being at once an incentive to it as far as it is lawful, and a restraint upon it when it would pass beyond its proper bounds.

4. Then do we rejoice in the Lord, when other joys lift our hearts to Him, are considered and improved as motives to greater diligence and zeal in serving Him here, and increase our desires of enjoying Him hereafter.

IV. Our rejoicing in the Lord, to be worthy of Him, must be constant and permanent: it must not vary as our outward circumstances vary, but subsist the same in all the changes of life. It may be we are deprived of health, or perhaps have trouble in the world; however that be, we are still to rejoice in God.

V. Thus to rejoice in the Lord is both the privilege and the duty of the righteous or sincerely religious.

1. It is their privilege.

2. To rejoice in the Lord is the duty of those whose distinguishing privilege it is that they can do it. Let me name some of those things which Christians should practise, in order to their being in an actual disposition or preparedness of mind to rejoice in the Lord.

The duty of rejoicing

Christians are ready enough to speak of the privilege of being joyful. They regard joy (and with perfect truth, for it is so reckoned by St. Paul) as one of the fruits of the Spirit; and they are too apt to consider as fruits what they may be permitted to taste, rather than what they may be bidden to do. But throughout Scripture joyfulness is just as much a commanded thing as a promised, even as temperance is a commanded thing, and justice and charitableness, though all the while these may be elsewhere exhibited as fruits of the Spirit, forasmuch as it is only through the operations of the Spirit that these qualities can be produced in such form or maintained in such strength, as a righteous God will approve. But being a commanded thing, and not merely a promised, the being joyful is as actually a duty--a duty to be attempted and laboured at by the Christian, as the being temperate or just or faithful or charitable. Yet how little is this thought of, even by those who are in the main jealous and zealous for the commandments of the Lord! God designed and God constructed religion for a cheerful, happy-making thing; and, as though He knew that had He made joyfulness matter only of privilege, numbers would have wanted it, and would have excused the want under the plea of unworthiness, He made it matter of precept, that all might be ready to strive for its attainment. We wish you, then, to consider whether, when rejoicing is thus presented to you under the aspect of a duty, you may not find ground for accusing yourselves of having neglected a duty. Have you not been far too well contented with a state of compunction and contrition and doubt, in place of striving to advance into the glorious liberty of the children of God, and the full and felt appropriation of those rich provisions of the Gospel, with which it is hard to see how any believer can be sad, and without which it is hard to see how any one who knows himself immortal can be cheerful? And has not this very much sprung from your overlooking joyfulness as a duty to be attempted, and fixing your thoughts on it as a privilege to be bestowed? You may have often said to yourselves, “Oh! that we had a greater measure of joy and peace in believing;” but have you laboured for this greater measure? Have you wrestled with sadness as with a sin? Have you argued with yourselves on the wrongness of being depressed? Have you made memory do its part in telling up God’s gracious acts? Have you made hope do its part in arraying God’s glorious promises? If you have not thus endeavoured to “rejoice in the Lord,” you are chargeable with having neglected a positive duty, just as much as if you had omitted to use the known means of grace, or to strive after conformity of life to God’s holy law; and the continued spiritual gloom which you find so distressing, may not be more an evidence of disobedience to a command, than the punishment with which God ordains that the disobedience should be followed. And do not for a moment think that you yourselves alone are the sufferers, if rejoicing be a duty and the duty be neglected. The believer has to give an exhibition--a representation of religion; it rests with him to furnish practical evidence of what religion is, and of what religion does. If he fall into sin, then he brings disgrace upon religion, and strengthens many in their persuasion of its having no reality, no worth, as a restraining, sanctifying system. If he be always dispirited and downcast, then he equally brings disgrace upon religion, and strengthens many in their persuasion of its having no reality and no worth as an elevating, happy-making system. Yet there may be a lingering suspicion that the “rejoicing in the Lord,” so distinctly commanded, is not always possible; that, like some other precepts, it rather marks out what we are bound to aim at than what we may hope to attain. And we may perhaps safely admit that, compassed with infirmities, exposed to trials, and harassed by enemies, the Christian must alternate, in a measure, between gladness and gloom; nay, that since it is more than we can hope, that he may never commit sin, it is more than we can wish that he should never feel sad. Yet is it to be strenuously held that there is such provision in the Gospel for the continued joyfulness of the believer in Christ, that if his joy be ever interrupted, it ought only to be as the sun’s brightness may be dimmed by the passing cloud, which quickly leaves the firmament as radiant as before? When betrayed into sin, but only then, has the real cause for sorrow; and if he have no heart for sin, and is a true Christian (sin being that which he abhors, although he may be betrayed into its commission), he will indeed grieve at the having failed in obedience, but quickly remembering the power of the Mediator’s intercession, his “heaviness may endure for a night, but joy should return to him in the morning.” And it would seem as if the latter clause in our text were intended to meet the objection that there are causes of sorrow which must prevent continued rejoicing. Not content with bidding the righteous “rejoice in the Lord,” he singles out one of the attributes, one of the distinguishing properties of God, and requires that it be made a subject of special thanksgiving--“Give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.” We suppose that by adding to the general call for rejoicing, a call for thanksgiving at the remembrance of God’s holiness--that property at which the timid might feel as though it almost stood in their way--the psalmist wished to show that there was no sufficient reason in the circumstances of the true believer why he should not habitually exult in the Lord. There is nothing, it appears, in the attributes of God to prevent, nay, there is nothing but what must encourage, rejoicing. And is it not too self-evident a proposition, to require the being supported by argument, that if there be nothing in God in which we may not rejoice, there can be nothing in the universe at which we ought to be sad? We may conclude, therefore, that it is not asking too much from the believer,--a redeemed man, a baptized man, a justified man, a man for whose good “all things work together,” a man who may say that all things are his, “whether life or death, things present or things to come,”--it is not asking too much from him, to ask that his habitual mood be that of gladness, and that he present religion to the world as a peaceful, cheerful, happy-making thing. (H. Melvill, B.D.)

Rejoicing in God

There is no duty more reasonable, more becoming, and agreeable; and yet there is none more generally misunderstood, less inquired into, and worse regulated, than that of rejoicing. Joy seems to be the peculiar privilege of innocent and happy creatures; when, therefore, we consider ourselves as sinners, as poor, and naked, and miserable; polluted with the stain, and loaded with the guilt, of our iniquities; clothed with infirmities, beset with enemies, born to trouble, exposed to danger, always liable, and sometimes obliged, to grief and sorrow; we may be apt upon this melancholy view to think that joy is not made for man, and least of all for Christians; and be tempted to understand our Saviour in the most strict and rigorous sense, when He tells His disciples that they shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice. The methods which men usually take to express their joy, seem, at first view, to give the good Christian still farther objections against it; and when he observes that levity of mind, and vanity of thoughts; that excess, intemperance, and licentiousness, which it too often occasions; he thinks he may well be justified, if, with Solomon, he says of laughter that it is mad; and of mirth, what doth it? But these seeming objections against this duty of rejoicing will easily be removed; the nature of it will be fully opened; the benefits we may hope to reap from it will clearly be discerned; and we shall soon be satisfied that joy and gladness is as suitable to our nature and religion, as it is agreeable to our desires and inclinations; if we consider carefully the exhortation in the text.

I. What it is to rejoice in the Lord. It implies our making God the chief, the supreme, and adequate object of our joy. The true nature of joy consists in that agreeable serenity and satisfaction of mind, which we feel upon the presence and fruition of some good. Good, therefore, is the proper object of our joy; good, not in itself alone, but good to us; such as repairs, preserves, advances, exalts, perfects our nature. The good we are to rejoice in must be full, sufficient, and satisfactory; proportionable to the desires, the wants, the necessities; and suitable to the inclinations, the condition, and circumstances of those who are to be delighted with it. It must be an effectual, prevalent, and sovereign good; able to remove from us, not only the present pressure, but the danger, the possibility, or at least the fear of evil. It must be a substantial, lasting, durable good; immortal, like the soul, that is to be satisfied; ever yielding fresh delight, and yet never to be exhausted: in a word, it must be our own proper good; a good, which we may be able to attain, and sure to hold fast; a good always present with us, and never to be taken from us. Now, on all these accounts God alone is the proper and adequate object of our joy. It is He only whom we can truly look upon as a pure, perfect, suitable, sovereign, eternal, and, what is still more, our own, proper, peculiar God. Our joy must be fixed on Him, as our universal, chief, and ultimate good; and upon other things as occasional, subordinate, and instrumental to that.

II. We lawfully may, and are in duty bound, so to rejoice. True joy, when it is founded upon a right principle, directed to its proper object, kept within its due compass, and not suffered to exceed either in its measure, or in its duration, is not only lawful, but commendable; not only what we may, without sin, allow ourselves in, but what we cannot, without folly, abridge ourselves of. Pleasure and good, pain and evil, are but different expressions for one and the same thing. No action is ever forbidden us, but what, upon the whole, brings more pain than pleasure; none is commanded us, but what, all things considered, yields greater degrees of pleasure than it does of pain. And it can never, therefore, be an objection against anything we undertake, that it will cause joy; nor a commendation of any action, that it will produce sorrow. True it is, the great duty of repentance does in the very nature of it include sorrow; but then the end of this sorrow is, that we may be put into a condition of rejoicing the more abundantly. The sense of our sins must make us weep and lament; but then our sorrow will be soon turned into joy. Though our conversion hath its pangs, yet we shall no more remember the anguish, for joy that a new man is born into the world. Whatever reasons we may have for our grief and sorrow, they are mightily overbalanced by those motives that recommend joy and gladness. If the sense of our manifold infirmities, our heinous sins, our grievous sufferings, our violent temptations; if the prosperity of our and God’s enemies; if the calamities of our brethren, and His faithful servants lie hard upon us, and may seem to justify and require a more than ordinary degree of grief; yet in the Lord we have still sufficient matter of rejoicing; of rejoicing in God, who is our Creator, our Preserver, our Father, our Friend; of rejoicing in Christ, in His person, in His office, in the graces He vouchsafes us, in the light of His countenance, in the hopes of His glory, in the greatness of His love, in the exceeding riches of His pardoning mercy, in the fidelity of His promises, in the efficacy of His intercession, in His readiness to assist, in His power to support us in time of need. (Bishop Smalridge.)

Give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.--

Giving thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness

This command is addressed to the “righteous,” not because they only ought to obey it, but because they only can obey it, and because, indeed, only they can understand it. If one thing more than another can show the entire and radical change which the Spirit of God, in the hour of regeneration, works upon the hearts of sinners, it is, that after this change has passed upon them they are not merely reconciled to God’s holiness--cannot merely bear the thought of it, even when apprehended far more clearly and powerfully than before--but regard it with complacency and delight.

I. What is implied in this duty.

1. Our being in a state of reconciliation with God. Before we can delight in, and give thanks for the holiness of God, we must be at peace with Him,--we must believe that the flame of consuming wrath which His holiness kindled against us for sin has been quenched by the blood of His own Son poured forth on our behalf,--we must believe that His holiness, which was so awfully against us for sin, is now for us and on our side, because all its demands have been gloriously met by Him who was made “sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”--in short, we must be persuaded that, pacified and propitiated towards us through the atonement of Jesus, God’s holy eye no longer rests on us with the unpitying fury of an avenging Judge, but beams on us with the purest kindness and love of a merciful Father.

2. That we have a new and holy nature; for otherwise we can neither understand nor appreciate the holiness of God. And such a new and holy nature has been wrought by God’s own Spirit in all who have been born again. They “have put on the new man which, after God,”--that is, in the likeness of God,--“is created in righteousness and true holiness.” They have been made “partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the pollution that is in the world through lust.” Possessed of this Divine nature, they begin, in their own finite and imperfect measure, to hate sin as God hates it; they begin, in their own finite and imperfect measure, to love holiness as God loves it; and therefore they remember God with supreme complacency and delight, because they see in Him the perfection of that which their nature loves and approves--the perfection of an absolute and ineffable holiness.

3. The remembrance and contemplation of God’s holiness as this is exhibited in the person and cross of His Son. It is when we behold God subjecting Him who is the partner of His glory and throne, by whom also He made the worlds, to the awful humiliation of taking the nature and the place of His guilty creatures; it is when we survey the sufferings of the world’s Creator and Lord under His Father’s hand,--the sorrow unto death, the bloody sweat, the strong cryings and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, the slow death of shame and woe; and it is when we remember that such suffering on the part of the Divine Sufferer was all absolutely necessary ere God could pardon a single sin, or allow a single sinner to approach the footstool of His mercy:--that we learn how holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.

II. The grounds or reasons of this duty. Why may the righteous well give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness?

1. They may well praise God for it, as that which gives lustre and glory to all His other perfections. His holiness is the crown of all His perfections. It ensures, if we may so say, that they shall be exercised in a way worthy of Himself. Oh, when we think that our God is holy, that His wisdom is holy, that His power is holy, that His mercy is holy, that His providence is holy, that all His acts and manifestations of Himself in His government of the universe are, and ever must be, perfectly holy, and worthy of Himself,--well does it become us to join with every creature in heaven, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.

2. The righteous may well give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness, because the display and vindication of it in the work of their redemption pacify their conscience, and secure their everlasting safety. If He were not absolutely holy, I might well tremble in perpetual terror, lest, after having punished sin in Christ, my Surety, He should refuse to pardon it to me; and lest, having received the price of my redemption from Christ, He should yet deny some of its blessings to me. But well may I give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness, when I think that His absolute holiness is my security,--a security strong and abiding as His own unchangeable nature,--that, having accepted the price of my redemption at the hands of my glorious Surety, He will assuredly bestow on me all its blessings, from the pardon of my sin, to my full investiture with all the riches of glory.

3. The righteous may well give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness, when they remember that, however mysterious and trying God’s dealings towards them may be, they are all holy, and designed to promote their holiness.

4. The righteous may well give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness, because it is the security and pattern of their own ultimate holiness. You hate sin, O Christian, and long to be delivered from it. Think, then, that the God of your salvation infinitely hates sin, and that His infinite abhorrence of sin is a pledge that He will destroy its power and its being in every soul whom He loves. What comfort, when you are using the means of holiness,--often, as you fear, vainly and with little success,--to think that this is the will of God, even your sanctification; and that, when your will is thus coinciding and co-working with the will of the Omnipotent God, it cannot fail to reach the summit of its highest endeavour! O then, give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness! It is the pledge of the progress and perfection of yours. And not only so, but,--most elevating and ennobling thought of all,--it is the pattern of yours. Your duty is always your privilege; and God commands what He will certainly give, when He says, “As He who hath called you is holy,” etc. Jesus Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory. He is the living manifestation of the brightness of the Father’s holiness; and is it not said, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”? (James Smellie.)
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Psalms 98:1-9

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 97:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-97.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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