Psalm 97:2

The figures of this verse are evidently taken from the scenes connected with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Then "clouds and darkness" were the surroundings, and from these men might get a cursory and an unworthy impression of God; but then "justice and judgment" were declared to be the "pillars of his throne," and if men would but go beyond the appearances, they would apprehend God aright, and even discern the mission and the mystery of the symbols in which he appeared to them.

I. WHAT GOD SEEMS TO OUR IMPERFECT VISION. What could Israel see when the people dared to look up to the holy mount? Compare with what Moses saw who was on the holy mount. "And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke...and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). For proper apprehension of God we are under two disadvantages:

1. Distance.

2. Sin.

Distance makes it difficult for us to see things clearly; and difficult for us to get them in the right perspective. Sin brings a dimness of the moral and spiritual vision - somewhat as drunkenness gives a double vision; and so the clouds round about God prove to be sin clouds in our own eyes. And sin brings a strange fear, because man can never separate sin from consequences, and he cannot help feeling that God will see that the consequences come. So our sin makes a "darkness" about God.

II. WHAT GOD IS TO OUR CULTURED VISION. That vision has to be cleansed before it can be cultured. Illustrate cultured vision by the trained eyesight of the sailor or of the scientific man. We at first may see nothing; gradually as we fix our gaze, and think as we gaze, we can see much. Cultured spiritual vision gradually gains right apprehension of what God is, and sees two things as absolutely necessary to the fitting idea of him.

1. He is eternally right in the principles that sway him.

2. He is practically right in the application of those principles. These two things are indicated in the abstract word "righteousness" and the concrete word "judgment." It may be shown how necessarily related these two are. If God is right, we may be confident that his ways are right.]f we can see his ways are right, we know that he is right. - R.T.

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


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.


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.)

Essex Remembrancer.
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.)

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.)

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, 18, 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!


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.)

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.)

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."


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.)

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