« PreviousContinue »
THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD.
PSALM cxxxix. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall Í
flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there : If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shull thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me : even the night shall be light about ine. Yea the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day : the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
MOULD I have one wish, to ariswer my proposed
end of preaching to-day with efficacy, Christians, it should be to shew you God in this asseinbly. Moses had such an advantage, no man therefore ever spoke with greater success. He gave the law to the people in God the legislator's presence. He could say, This law which I give you proceeds from God: here is his throne, there is his lightning, yonder is his thunder. Accordingly, never were a people more struck with a legislator's voice. Moses had hardly begun to speak, but, at least for that moment, all hearts were united, and all Sinai echoed with one voice, crying, All that thou hast spoken we will do. Exod. xix. 8.
But in vain are our sermons drawn from the sacred sources : in vain do we say to you, Thus saith the Lord : you see only a man; you hear only a mortal voice in this pulpit; God hath put his treasure into eartheir vesscls; ? Cor. iv. 7. and our auditors estimating the treasure by the meanness of the vessel, instead of supporting the meanness
of the vessel for the sake of the treasure, hear us without tespect, and, generally, derive no advantage from the ministry
But were God present in this assembly, could we shew you the Deity amongst you, authorizing our voice by his approbation and presence, and examining with what dispositions you hear his word, which of you, which of you, my brethren, could resist so eminent and so noble a motive?
Christians, this idea is not destitute of reality : God is every where; he is in this church. Vails of flesh and blood prevent your sight of him ; these must fall, and you must open the eyes of your spirits, if you would see a Gods who is a spirit, John iv. 24. Hear our prophet'; hear his magnificent description of the iminensity and omnipresence of God, Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in ħell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea : even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea the darkness hideth , not from thee; but the night shineth as the day : the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
In a text less abundant in riches, we might make some remarks on the terms spirit and presence; but we will content ourselves at present with indicating what ideas we affix to them, by observing, that by the spirit and presence of God, we understand God himself. I know, some divines discover great inysteries in these terms, and tell us that there are some passages in scripture where the word presence means the second person in the most holy Trinity, and where the term spirit is certainly to be understood of the third. But as there are some passages where these terms have not this signification, it is beyond all doubt that this, which we are explaining, is precisely of the latter kind. However, if any dispute our comment, we shall leave them to dispute it ; for it would be unjust to consume that time, which is dedicated to the edification of a whole congregation in refuting a particular opinion. The other expressions in our text, heaven, hell; the wings of the morning, a figurative expression denoting the rapidity of the light in communicating itself from one end of the world to the other ; these ex. pressions, I say, need no comment. The presence of God,
the spirit of God, signify then the divine essence : and this assemblage of ideas, whither shall I go from thy spirit ? whither shall I flee from thy presence means, that God is immense, and that he is present in every place.
But wherein consists this immensity and omnipresence? If ever a question required developing, this certainly does : not only because it presents to the mind an abstract subject, which does not fall under the observation of the senses, but because many who have treated this matter (pardon an opinion which does not proceed from a desire of opposing any individual, but only from a love to the truth) inany who have handled the subject, have contributed more to perplex, than to explain it. We may observe, in general, that, unless we be wholly unacquainted with the history of the sciences, it is impossible not to acknowledge, that all questions about the nature of spirits, all that are any way related to metaphysics, were very little understood before the time of that celebrated philosopher, whom God seems to have bestowed on the world to purify reason, as he had some time before raised up others to purify religion*.
What heaps of crude and indigested notions do we find, among the schoolmen, of the immensity of God? One said, God was a point, indivisible indeed, but a point, however, that had the peculiar property of occupying every part of the universe. Another, that God was the place of all beings, the immense extent in which his power had placed them. Another, that his essence was really in heaven, but yet, repletively, as they express it, in every part of the universe. In short, this truth hath been obscured by the grossest igno. rance. Whatever aversion we have to the decisive tone, we will venture to affirm, that people, who talked in this manner of God, had no ideas themselves of what they advanced,
Do not be afraid of our conducting you into these wild mazes ; do not imagine that we will busy ourselves in exposing all these notions for the sake of labouring to refute them. We will content ourselves with giving you some light into the omnipresence of God:
I. By removing those false ideas, which, at first, seem to present themselves to the imagination ; II. By assigning the true.
I. Let * The philosopher intended by Mr. S. I suppose, is his countryman Descartes, born in 1596. Vie de Desc. par Baillet,
I. Let us remove the false ideas, which, at first, presetit · themselves to the imagination; as if, when we say that God
is present in any place, we mean that he is actually contained therein; as if, when we say that God is in every place, we mean to assign to him a real and proper extension. Neither of these is designed; and, to remove these ideas, my bres thren, two reflections are sufficient. · God is a spirit. A spirit cannot be in a place, at least in
the manner in which we conceive of place. : 1. God is a spirit. What relation can you find between wisdom, power, mercy, and all the other attributes, which enter into your notion of the divinity, and the nature of bodies? Pulverise matter, give it all the different forms of which it is susceptible, elevate it to its highest degree of attainment, make it vast, and immense; moderate, or small; Juininous, or obscure ; opaque, or transparent: there will tiever result any thing but figures, and never will you be able, by all these combinations, or divisions, to produce one single sentiment, one single thought, like that of the meanest and most contracted of all mankind. If matter then cannot be the subject of one single operation of the soul of a me thanic, how shall it be the subject of those attributes which make the essence of God himself?
But perhaps God, who is spiritual in one part of his es: sence, may be corporeal in another part, like man, who, although he hath a spiritual soul, is yet united to a portion of inatter? No: for, however admirable in man that union of spiritual and sensible may be, and those laws which unite his soul to his body, nothing more fully marks his weakness and dependence, and consequently nothing can less agree with the divine essence. Is it not a mark of the dependence of an immortal and intelligent soul, to be inveloped in a little Hesh and bloud, which, according to their different inotions; deterinine his joy or sorrow, his happiness or inisery? Is it not a mark of the weakness of our spirits to have the power of acting only on that little matter, to which we are united, and to have no power over more? Who can imagine that God hath such limits? He hath no body : he is united to none; yet he is united to all. That celebrated philosopher, siiall I call hin? or atheist*, who said that the assemblage
of * Mr. S. means, I should suppose, Spinoza : whose system of atheism, says a sensible writer, is more gross, and therefore less dangerous, than others; his poison carrying its antidote with it.