« PreviousContinue »
of all existence constituted the divine essence, who would have us consider all corporeal beings as the body of the divinity, published a great extravagance, if he meant that the divine essence consisted of this assemblage. But there is a very just sense, in which it may be said that the whole universe is the body of the Deity. In effect, as I call this portion of inatter my body, which I inove, act and direct as I please, so God actuates by his will every part of the universe : he obscures the sun, he calms the winds, he commands the sea.. But this very notion excludes all corporiety from God, and proves that God is a spirit. If God sometimes represents himself with feet, with hands, with eyes, he means in these portraits, rather to give us emblems of his attributes, than images (properly speaking) of any parts which he possesseth. Therefore, when he attributes these to himself, he gives them so vast an extent, that, we easily perceive, they are not to be grossly understood. Hath he hands? they are hands which weigh the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, which measure the waters in the hollow of his hand, and mete out the heavens with a span, Isa. lx. 12. Hath he eyes ? they are eyes that penetrate the most unmeasureable distances: Hath he feet? they are feet which reach from heaven to earth, for the heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool, ch. Ixvi. 1. Hath he a voice? it is as the sound of many waters, breaking the cedars of Lebanon, making mount Sirion skip like an unicorn, and the hinds to calve, Psal. xxix. 3, 5, 6, 9.
This reminds me of a beautiful passage in Plato. He sảys that the gods, particularly the chief good, the ineffable beauty, as he calls him, cannot be conceived of but by the understanding only, and by quitting sensible objects ; that, in order to contemplate the divinity, terrestrial ideas must be surmounted ; that the eyes cannot see him ; that the ears cannot hear him. A thought which Julian the apostate, a great admirer of that philosopher, so nobly expresses in his satire on the Cesars. Thus every thing serves to establish our first principle, that God is a spirit. .
2. But to prove that God is a spirit, and to prove that he pccupies no place, at least as our imagination conceives, is, in our opinion, to establish the same thesis.
I know how difficult it is to make this consequence intelligible and clear, not only to those who have never been accustomed to meditation, and who are therefore more excusable for having confused ideas ; but even to such as, having
cultivated the sciences, are most intent on refining their ideas. I freely acknowledge, that after we have used our utmost efforts to rise above sense and inatter, it will be extremely difficult to conceive the existence of a spirit, without conceiving it in a certain place. Yet, I think, whateves difficulty there may be in the system of those who maintain that an iminaterial being cannot be in a place, properly so called, there are greater difficulties still in the opposite opinion: for what is immaterial hath no parts; what hath no parts hath no form ; what hath no forin hath no extension; what hath no extension can have no situation in place, properly so called. For what is it to be in place? is it not to fill space, is it not to be adjusted with surrounding bodies? how adjust with surrounding bodies without parts? how consist of parts, without being corporeel ? But if you ascribe a real and proper extension to a spirit, every thought of that spirit would be a separate portion of that extension, as every part of the body is a separate portion of the whole body: every operation of spirit would be a modification of that extension, as every operation of body is a modification of body; and, were this the case, there would be no absurdity in saying that a thought is round, or square, or cubic, which is nothing less than the confounding of spirit with matter, 'Thus the idea, which our imagination forms of the omnipresence of God, when it represents the essence of the Supreme Being filling infinite spaces, as we are lodged in our houses, is a false idea that ought to be carefully avoided,
II. What notions then must we form of the immensity of God? In what sense do we conceive that the infinite Spirit is every where present? My brethren, the bounds of our knowledge are so strait, our sphere is so. contracted, we have such imperfect ideas of spirits, even of our own spirits, and, for a much stronger reason, of the Father of spirits, that no genius in the world, however exalted you may suppose him, after his greatest efforts of meditation, can say to you, Thus far extend the attributes of God; behold a complete idea of his immensity and omnipresence. Yet, by the help of sound reason, above all, by the aid of revelation, we may give you, if not complete, at least distinct ideas of the subjeci : it is possible, if not to indicate all the senses in which God is immense, at least to point out some: it is possible, if not to shew you all the truth, at least to discover it in part.
Let Let us not conceive the omnipresence of God as a particular attribute (if I may venture to say so) of the Deity, as goodness or wisdom, but as the extent or infinity of iñany others. The oinnipresence of God is that universal property by which he comminunicates himself to all, diffuses hiinself through all, is the great director of all, or, to confine ourselves to more distinct ideas still, the infinite spirit is present in every placé.
1. By a boundless knowledge.
Ou Godene, hece o leite my houghts are oral into
God is every where, because he seeth all, because he influenceth all, because he directeth all. This we must prove and establish. But if you would judge rightly of what you have heard, and of what you may still hear, you must remember that this subject hath no relation to your pleasures, nor to your policy, for to any of those objects which occupy and fill your whole souls; and consequently, that if you would follow us, you must stretch your meditation, and go, as it were, out of yourselves.
1. The first idea of God's omniprésence is his oniniscience, God is every where present, because he seeth all. This the prophet had principally in view. O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acyuainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo; O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it, ver. 1, 2, 3, &c. Then follow the words of our text: Whither shall I go from thy spirit ; and so on.
Let us not then consider the Deity, after the example of the schoolmen, as a point fixed in the universality of beings. Let us consider the universality of beings as a point, and the Deity as an immense eye, which sees all that passes in that point, all that can possibly pass there'; and which, by an allanimating intelligence, makes an exact combination of all the effects of matter, and of all the dispositions of spirit..
1. God knows all the effects of matter. An expert workman takes a parcel of matter proportioned to a work which he meditates, he makes divers wheels, disposes then properly, VOL. 1.
and sees, by the rules of his art, what must result from their assemblage. Suppose a sublime, exact genius, knowing how to go from principle to principle, and from consequence to consequence, after foreseeing what must result from two wheels joined together, should imagine a third, he will as certainly know what must result from a third, as from a first and second; after imagining a third, he may imagine a fourth, and properly arrange it with the rest in his imagination ; after a fourth a fifth, and so on to an endless number. Such a man could mathematically demonstrate, in an exact and infallible manner, what must result from a work composed of all these different wheels. Suppose further, that this workman, having accurately considered the effects which would be produced on these wheels, by that subtle matter which in their whirlings continually surrounds them, and which, by its perpetual action and motion, chafes, wears, and dissolves all bodies; this workman would tell you, with the same exactness, how long each of these wheels would wear, and when the whole work would be consuined. Give this workman life and industry proportional to his imagination, furnish him with materials proportional to his ideas, and he will produce a vast, immense work, all the different motions of which he can exactly combine ; all the different effects of which he can evidently foresee. He will see, in what time motion will be communicated from the first of these wheels to the second, at what time the second will move the third, and so of the rest : he will foretel all their different motions, and all the effects which must result from their different combinations.
Hitherto this is only supposition, my brethren, but it is a supposition that conducts us to the most certain of all facts. This workian is God. God is this sublime, exact; infinite genius. He calls into being matter, without motion, and, in some sense, without form. He gives this matter form and motion. He makes a certain number of wheels, or rather he makes them without number. He disposes them as he thinks proper. He communicates a certain degree of motion agreeable to the laws of his wisdom. Thence arises the world which strikes our eyes. By the forementioned example, I conceive, that God, by his own intelligence, saw what must result from the arrangement of all the wheels that compose this world, and knew, with the utmost exactness, all their combinations. He saw that a certain degree of motion, imparted to a certain portion of matter, would produce water ; that another degree of motion, communicated to another portion of matter, would produce fire; that another would produce earth, and so of the rest. He foresaw, with the utmost precision, what would result from this water, from this fire, from this earth when joined together, and agitaied by such a degree of motion as he should communicate. By the bare inspection of the laws of motion, he foresaw fires, he foresaw shipwrecks, he foresaw earthquakes, he foresaw all the vicissitudes of time, he foresaw those which must put a period to time, when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat, when the earth with all the works that are in it shall be burnt up, 2 Pet. iii. 10.
2. But, if God could combine all that would result from the laws of motion communicated to matter, he could also combine all that would result from intelligence, freedom of will, and all the faculties which make the essence of spirits ; and, before he had formed those spiritual beings which compose the intelligent world, he knew what all their ideas, all their projects, all their deliberations would for ever be.
I am aware, that a particular consequence, which follows this doctrine, hath made some divines exclaim against this thesis, and, under the specious pretence of exculpating the Deity from the entrance of sin into this world, they have affirmed that God could not foresee the determinations of a free agent; for, say they, had he foreseen the abuse which man would have made of his liberty, by resolving to sin, his love to holiness would have engaged him to prevent it. But to reason in this manner is, in attempting to solve a difficulty, to leave that difficulty in all its force.
All they say on this article, proceeds from this principle, that a God infinitely just, and infinitely powerful, ought to display (if it be allowable to say so) all the infinity of his attributes to prevent sin. But this principle is notoriously false. Witness that very permission of sin which is objected to us. You will not acknowledge that God foresaw man's fall into sin : acknowledge, at least, that he foresaw the possibility of man's falling, and that, in forming a creature free, he knew that such a creature might chuse virtue or vice; acknowledge, at least, that God could liave created man with so much knowledge, and could have afforded him him so many succours; he could have presented such powerful motives to holiness incessantly, and discovered to him the dreadful consequences of his rebellion so effectuaily; le