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§ 5. Infinity.

Although God reveals Himself as a personal Being capable of fell worship with man, whom we can worship and love, and to whom we can pray with the assurance of being heard and answered; nevertheless He fills heaven and earth; He is exalted above all we can know or think. He is infinite in his being and perfections. The ideas with which we are most familiar are often those of which we are the least able to give an intelligent account. Space, time, and infinity, are among the most difficult problems of human thought. What is space? is a question which has never been satisfactorily answered. Some say it is nothing; where nothing is, 381space is not; it is “negation defined by boundary lines;” others, with Kant and Hamilton, say that it is “a condition of thought,” “the subjective condition of sensibility;” others that it is an attribute or accident of God; others that it is that in which real existences can act and move. Notwithstanding these conflicting statements of philosophers, and the real obscurity of the subject, every man knows clearly and definitely what the word “space” means, although no man may be able to define it satisfactorily. It is much the same with the idea of infinity. If men would be content to leave the word in its integrity, as simply expressing what does not admit of limitation, there would be no danger in speculating about its nature. But in all ages wrong views of what the infinite is, have led to fatal errors in philosophy and religion. Without attempting to detail the speculations of philosophers on this subject, we shall simply endeavor to state what is meant when it is said that God is infinite in his being and perfections.

The Idea of Infinity not merely Negative.

Being, in this connection, is that which is or exists. The being of God is his essence or substance, of which his perfections are the essential attributes or modes of manifestation. When it is said that God is infinite as to his being, what is meant is, that no limitation can be assigned to his essence. It is often said that our idea of the infinite is merely negative. There is a sense in which this may be true, but there is a sense in which it is not true. It is true that the form of the proposition is negative when we say that no limit can be assigned to space, or possible duration, or to the being of God. But it implies the affirmation that the object of which infinity is predicated is illimitable. It is as much a positive idea which we express when we say a thing is infinite as when we say that it is finite. We cannot, indeed, form a conception or mental image of an infinite object, but the word nevertheless expresses a positive judgment of the mind. Sir William Hamilton and others, when they say that the infinite is a mere negation, mean that it implies a negation of all thought. That is, we mean nothing when we say that a thing is infinite. As we know nothing of the inhabitants of the other planets of our system, if such there be, or of the mode in which angels and disembodied spirits take cognizance of material objects, our ideas on such subjects are purely negative, or blank ignorance. “The infinite,” Mansel says, “is not a positive object of human thought.”391391Prolegomena Logica, Boston, 1860, p. 52. Every man, however, knows that the propositions “Space is infinite,” and “Space is finite,” express 382different and equally definite thoughts. When, therefore, we say that God is infinite, we mean something; we express a great and positive truth.

A. The Infinite not the All.

The infinite, although illimitable and incapable of increase, is not necessarily all. An infinite body must include all bodies, infinite space all portions of space, and infinite duration all periods of duration. Hence Mr. Mansel says that an infinite being must of necessity include within itself all actual and all possible forms or modes of being. So said Spinoza, many of the schoolmen, and even many Christian theologians. The sense in which Spinoza and Mansel make this assertion is the fundamental principle of Pantheism. Mr. Mansel, as we have seen, escapes that conclusion by appealing to faith, and teaching that we are constrained to believe what reason pronounces to be impossible, which itself is an impossibility. The sense in which theologians teach that an infinite being must comprehend within it all being, is, that in the infinite is the cause or ground of all that is actual or possible. Thus Howe392392“Living Temple,” Works, London, 1724, vol. i. p. 70.says, “Necessary being must include all being.” But he immediately adds, not in the same way, “It comprehends all being, besides what itself is, as having had, within the compass of its productive power, whatsoever hath actually sprung from it; and having within the compass of the same power, whatsoever is still possible to he produced.” This, however, is not the proper meaning of the words, nor is it the sense in which they are generally used. What the words mean, and what they are generally intended to mean by those who use them is, that there is only one being in the universe; that the finite is merely the modus existendi, or manifestation of the Infinite. Thus Cousin says, God must be “infinite and finite together, . . . . at the summit of being and at its humblest degree . . . . ; at once God, nature, and humanity.”393393History of Modern Philosophy, translated by Wight. New York, 1852, vol. i. p. 113. Even some of the Remonstrants regard this as the necessary consequence of the doctrine of the infinitude of the divine essence. Episcopius394394Institutiones Theologicæ, IV. ii. 13, edit. Amsterdam, 1550, vol. i. p. 294. says, “Si essentia Dei sic immensa est, tum intelligi non potest quomodo et ubi aliqua creata essentia esse possit. Essentia enim creata non est essentia divina; ergo aut est extra essentiam divinam, aut, si non est extra eam, est ipsa essentia illa, et sic omnia sunt Deus et divina essentia.” “God is infinite,” says Jacob Bohme, “for God is all.” This, says Strauss,395395Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 556. is exactly the doctrine of the modern philosophy.

383

It has already been remarked in a previous chapter, in reference to this mode of reasoning, that it proceeds on a wrong idea of the infinite. A thing may be infinite in its own nature without precluding the possibility of the existence of things of a different nature. An infinite spirit does not forbid the assumption of the existence of matter. There may even be many infinites of the same kind, as we can imagine any number of infinite lines. The infinite, therefore, is not all. An infinite spirit is a spirit to whose attributes as a spirit no limits can be set. It no more precludes the existence of other spirits than infinite goodness precludes the existence of finite goodness, or infinite power the existence of finite power. God is infinite in being because no limit can be assigned to his perfections, and because He is present in all portions of space. A being is said to be present wherever it perceives and acts. As God perceives and acts everywhere, He is everywhere present. This however, does not preclude the presence of other beings. A multitude of men even may perceive and act at the same time and place. Besides, we have very little knowledge of the relation which spirit bears to space. We know that bodies occupy portions of space to the exclusion, of other bodies; but we do not know that spirits may not coexist in the same portion of space. A legion of demons dwelt in one man.

B. Infinitude of God in relation to Space.

The infinitude of God, so far as space is concerned, includes his immensity and his omnipresence. These are not different attributes, but one and the same attribute, viewed under different aspects. His immensity is the infinitude of his being, viewed as belonging to his nature from eternity. He fills immensity with his presence. His omnipresence is the infinitude of his being, viewed in relation to his creatures. He is equally present with all his creatures, at all times, and in all places. He is not far from any one of us. “The Lord is in this place,” may be said with equal truth and confidence, everywhere. Theologians are accustomed to distinguish three modes of presence in space. Bodies are in space circumscriptively. They are bounded by it. Spirits are in space definitively. They have an ubi. They are not everywhere, but only somewhere. God is in space repletively. He fills all space. In other words, the limitations of space have no reference to Him. He is not absent from any portion of space, nor more present in one portion than in another. This of course is not to be understood of extension or diffusion. Extension is a property of matter, and cannot be predicated 384of God. If extended, He would be capable of division and separation; and part of God would be here, and part elsewhere. Nor is this omnipresence to be understood as a mere presence in knowledge and power. It is an omnipresence of the divine essence. Otherwise the essence of God would be limited. The doctrine, therefore, taught by the older Socinians that the essence of God is confined to heaven (wherever that may be), and that He is elsewhere only as to his knowledge and efficiency, is inconsistent with the divine perfections and with the representations of Scripture. As God acts everywhere, He is present everywhere; for, as the theologians say, a being can no more act where he is not than when he is not.

The older and later theologians agree in this view of the divine immensity and omnipresence. Augustine396396De Præsentia Dei seu Epistola CLXXXVII. iv. 14, edit. Benedictines, vol. ii. p. 1023, d. says God is not to be regarded as everywhere diffused, as the air or the light: “Sed in solo cœlo totus, et in sola terra totus, et in cœlo et in terra totus, et nullo contentus loco, sed in seipso ubique totus.” Thomas Aquinas says,397397Summa, I. viii. 3, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 16. Deus “est in omnibus per potentiam, in quantum omnia ejus potestati subduntur; est per præsentiam in omnibus, in quantum omnia nuda sunt et aperta oculis ejus. Est in omnibus per essentiam in quantum adest omnibus ut causa essendi sicut dictum est.” Quenstedt says,398398Theologia, I. viii. § 1, p. 413.Est Deus ubique illocaliter, impartibiliter, efficaciter; non definitive ut spiritus, non circumscriptive ut corpora, sed repletive citra sui multiplicationem, extensionem, divisionem, inclusionem, aut commixtionem more modoque divino incomprehensibili.” The Bible teaches the infinitude of God, as involving his immensity and omnipresence, in the clearest terms. He is said to fill all in all, i.e., the universe in all its parts. (Eph. i. 23.) “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” (Jer. xxiii. 23, 24.) “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 hell, 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.” (Ps. cxxxix. 7-12.) It is “in Him we (i.e., all creatures) live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts xvii. 28.) Everywhere in the Old and in the New Testament, God is represented 385as a spiritual Being, without form, invisible, whom no man hath seen or can see; dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, and full of glory; as not only the creator, and preserver, but as the governor of all things; as everywhere present, and everywhere imparting life, and securing order; present in every blade of grass, yet guiding Arcturus in his course, marshalling the stars as a host, calling them by their names; present also in every human soul, giving it understanding, endowing it with gifts, working in it both to will and to do. The human heart is in his hands and He turneth it even as the rivers of water are turned. Wherever, throughout the universe, there is evidence of mind in material causes, there, according to the Scriptures, is God, controlling and guiding those causes to the accomplishment of his wise designs. He is in all, and over all things; yet essentially different from all, being over all, independent, and infinitely exalted. This immensity and omnipresence of God, therefore, is the ubiquity of the divine essence, and consequently of the divine power, wisdom, and goodness. As the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, so also are we always surrounded and sustained by God. It is thus that He is infinite in his being, without absorbing all created beings into his own essence, but sustaining all in their individual subsistence, and in the exercise of their own powers.


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