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THE IMMENSITY OF THE DIVINE NATURE.
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.—Psalm cxxxix. 7-10.
THAT attribute of God which I last discoursed of is most absolute, and declares his essence most immediately—the spirituality of the Divine nature. I shall, in the next place, speak of those which relate to the manner of his being, immensity and eternity; that is, the infiniteness of his essence, both in respect of space and duration; that the Divine nature hath no limits of its being, nor bounds of its duration. I shall at the present speak to the first of these, his immensity, and that from these words which I here read to you, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit,” &c. The meaning of which is this, that God is a spirit infinitely diffusing himself, present in all places, so that wherever I go, God is there: we cannot flee from his presence. “If I ascend into heaven, he is there; if I go down into the grave, the place of silence and obscurity, “he is there; (for that is the meaning of the expression, 'if I make my bed in hell;') if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; ever there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand 189shall hold me;” that is, if my motion should be as swift as that of the light, which, when the sun riseth, darts itself in an instant from one part of the world to another, over the earth and the sea, the remotest parts of the world which are unknown to us, yet would God be present to me in the motion, and all along as I go must I be led and upholden by him; so that all these expressions do but signify to us the immensity of God’s essence, that his being is in finitely diffused and present in all places.
In speaking to this attribute of God’s immensity, I shall, first, explain it to you a little.
Secondly, Prove that it doth belong to him.
Thirdly, Answer an objection or two that may be made against it.
Fourthly, Draw some doctrinal inferences from it.
Fifthly, Make some use and improvement of it.
First, For the explication of it. By the immensity of God, I mean, that his being hath no bounds or limits, but doth every way spread and diffuse itself beyond what we can imagine; so that you cannot define the presence of God by any certain place, so as to say, Here he is, but not there; nor by any limits, so as to say, Thus far his being reacheth, and no farther; but he is every where present, after a most infinite manner, in the darkest corners and most private recesses; the most secret closet that is in the whole world, the heart of man, darkness and privacy cannot keep him out; the presence of another being, even of a body, which is the grossest substance, doth not exclude him; the whole world doth not confine him; but he fills all the space which we can imagine beyond this visible world, and infinitely more than we can imagine.
Secondly, For the proof of it, I shall attempt it,190
I. From the natural notions and dictates of our minds.
II. From Scripture and Divine revelation.
III. From the inconvenience of the contrary.
I. From the natural notions and dictates of our minds. We find that the heathen, by the light of nature, did attribute this perfection to God, Tully tells us, De Nat. Deor. that Pythagoras thought, Deum esse animam per naturam rerum omnem intentum et comeantem; “That God is, as it were, a soul passing through and inspiring all nature.” And in l. 2. de Leg. that this was Thales’s opinion which he commends, Homines existimare oportere deos omnia cernere, deorum omnia esse plena; “That men ought to believe, that the gods see all things, that all things are full of them.” So Sen. Epist. 95. Ubique et omnibus præsto est; “He is every where present and at hand:” and, de Benef. l. 4. Quocunque te ftexeris ibi illum videbis occurrentem tibi, nihil ab illo vacat, opus suum ipse implet; “Which way soever thou turnest thyself, thou shalt find him meeting thee; nothing is without him, he fills his own work.” Not much differing from the expression of the Psalmist here.
II. From Scripture and Divine revelation. I shall instance in some remarkable places: (1 Kings viii. 27.) “Behold, the heaven, and heaven of heavens, cannot contain thee.” (Job xi. 7-9.) “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Isa. lxvi. 1.) “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” (Jer. xxiii. 23, 24.) “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any 191hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him, saith the Lord? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?” (Amos ix. 2, 3.) “Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent and he shall bite them.” (Acts xvii.27, 28.) “Though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”
III. From the inconveniences of the contrary. And this is the most proper way of proving any of God’s perfections; for, as I have told you formerly, there being nothing before God, nor any cause of his being, his perfections cannot be proved by way of demonstration, but of conviction, by shewing the absurdity of the contrary. The first and most easy notion that we have of God is, that he is a being which hath all perfection, and is free from all imperfections. Now if I prove that the immensity of God’s essence is a perfection, or, which is the same, that the contrary is an imperfection, I do sufficiently prove the thing intended.
Now to suppose the Divine essence to be limited or confined, and his presence to be any where excluded, doth contradict both this necessary perfection of God, his universal providence; and the necessary duty of creatures, to worship and trust in him; and the voluntary manifestation and appearance of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
1. It contradicts the universal providence of God. 192The universal providence of God supposeth many perfections; viz. infinite knowledge and infinite power, his omniscience and omnipotence, neither of which can be imagined without omnipresence. We find that all finite beings have a finite knowledge and a finite power; and it cannot be conceived how infinite understanding and power can be founded any where else than in an infinite essence. To have an infinite knowledge of all things, even those things which are most secret and hidden, to be able to do all things, to steer and govern the actions of all creatures, and to have a perfect care of them, seems, to all the reason of mankind, to require immediate presence.
2. It contradicts the necessary duty of the creature, which is to worship God, to depend upon him for every thing, and in every thing to acknowledge him. Now all worship of God is rendered vain, or at least uncertain, if God be not present to us to hear our prayers, to take notice of our wants, and receive our acknowledgments: it will much abate our confidence in God, and our fear to offend him, if we be uncertain whether he be present to us or not, whether he sees our actions or not.
3. It contradicts a voluntary manifestation and appearance of God in the incarnation of Christ. He that supposeth God not to be every where present by his essence, must, in all reason, confine his presence to heaven, and suppose him to be present elsewhere only by his virtue and power: but if this were so, how could the Divinity be essentially united to the human nature of Christ which was hereupon earth? how “is God with us?” How does “he pitch his tabernacle amongst men,” if his essential presence be confined to heaven?193
Thirdly, I come to answer objections against this doctrine.
There are two objections against this:
1. From reason.
2. From Scripture.
1st Obj.—Reason will be ready to suggest, that this is a disparagement to the Divine nature, to tie his presence to this vile dunghill of the earth, and sordid sink of hell. This is a gross apprehension of God, and a measuring of him by ourselves. Indeed if we look upon God as capable of injury, and suffering, and offence, from the contagion of any thing here below, as we are, then, indeed, there were some strength in this objection: but he is a blessed and pure Being: Mens segregata ab omni concretione mortali; “A mind free from all mortal composition or mixture.”—Tully. Μηδενὶ παθητῷ συμπεπλεγμένον, “Disentangled from every thing passable,” as Plutarch. Those things that are nauseous to our senses do not affect him. Darkness is uncomfortable to us; but “the darkness and the light are all one to him.” Wickedness may “hurt a man, or the son of man;” but “if we multiply our transgressions, we do nothing to God,” as Elihu speaks, (Job xxxv. 6.) Nothing can disquiet or discompose his happy and blessed nature, but he converseth here in this dark and troubled world with less danger or disturbance, or any impure contagion, than the sun-beams.
2d Obj.—Does not the Scripture tell us, that “God sits in the heavens,” and “dwells on high;” that “heaven is his throne,” and that “it is the city of the great God?” Doth not the Lord’s Prayer teach us to say, “Our Father, which art in heaven?” Is he not said to “look down from heaven,” and 194to “hear in heaven, his dwelling-place?” Is it not said, that “he doth not dwell in temples made with hands?” And does not Solomon, (1 Kings viii. 27.) put it as a strange question, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” Is he not said to come down and “draw near to us,” and to be “afar off from us?” Now how does this agree with his immensity and omnipresence?
For answer to this, I must distinguish the presence of God. There is, first, his glorious presence; that is, such a presence of God as is accompanied with an extraordinary manifestation of his glory, and that is especially and chiefly confined to heaven, in respect of which it is called his seat, and throne, and “the habitation of his glory.” Some degree of this was in the temple, which is the reason of Solomon’s admiration, “Will God indeed dwell on earth?”
Secondly, There is his gracious presence, which discovers itself by miraculous effects of his favour, and goodness, and assistance, and thereby he is said to “dwell in the hearts of good men, and with them that are of a humble and contrite spirit;” (Isa. lvii. 15.) and, in respect of this, he is said to “draw near to us,” to “look down upon us;” and, in respect of the absence of this, to be “far from us.”
Thirdly, There is his essential presence, which is equally and alike in all places; and this is not excluded by those former expressions, which the Scripture useth to denote to us the glorious and gracious presence of God.
Fourthly, To make some inferences. I will mention only such as the Scripture here takes notice of, speaking of God’s immensity.
I. Inf.—That God is a spirit. This necessarily 195flows from his immensity; for if the essence of God be every where diffused, the Divine nature must be spiritual, otherwise it could not be in the same place where body and matter is, but must be shut, out of the world. But this I spoke more largely to in my discourse of God’s being a spirit. This the Psalmist observes here, “Where shall I go from thy Spirit?” If he were not a spirit, we might go from him, and hide ourselves from his presence.
II. Inf.—That God is incomprehensible. That which is infinite cannot be measured and comprehended by that which is finite; and this, also, the Psalmist takes notice of, in the verse before my text, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it.”
III. Inf.—That God is omniscient. If God be everywhere, then he knows all things; yea, even the hidden things of darkness, the secrets of our hearts; nothing can be hidden from an infinite eye; he is present to our thoughts, intimate to our hearts and reins: this the Psalmist takes notice of, 1-4. and 12th verses.
IV. Inf.—That God is omnipotent. He can do all things. Distance limits the power of creatures, and makes their hands short; but God is every where, nothing is out of his reach; and this, also, the Psalmist intimates in the text, (ver. 10.) “Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand hold me.”
Fifthly, The use and improvement I shall make of this, shall be,
1. To awaken our fear of him.
2. To encourage our faith and confidence in him. 1. To awaken our fear of him. The consideration of God’s presence should awaken in us a fear 196of reverence. The presence of an earthly majesty will awe our spirits, and compose us lo reverence; yea, the presence of a wise and good man; how much more should the presence of the great, and glorious, the wise, and the holy, and the just God, strike awe upon our spirits? Wherever we are, God is with us; we always converse with him, and live continually in his presence. Now a heathen could say, Cum diis verecunde agendum, “We must behave ourselves modestly, because we are in the presence of God.”
And it should awaken in us a fear to offend God, and a fear of the Divine displeasure for having offended him. Fear is the most wakeful passion in the soul of man, and is the first principle that is wrought upon in us from the apprehensions of a Deity; it flows immediately from the principle of self preservation which God hath planted in every man’s nature; we have a natural dread and horror for every thing that can hurt us, and endanger our being or happiness. Now the greatest danger is from the greatest power, for where we are clearly over-matched, we cannot hope to make opposition nor resistance with security and success, to rebel with safety: now he that apprehends God to be near him, and present to him, believes such a Being to stand by him as is possessed of an infinite and irresistible power, and will vindicate all contempt of the Divine Majesty, and violation of his laws. If we believe God to be always present with us, “fear will continually take hold of us,” and we shall say of every place, as Jacob did of Bethel, “Surely God is in this place, how dreadful is this place!” When we have at any time provoked God, if we believe the just God is at hand to revenge himself, and 197if we believe the power of his anger, we shall say with David, (Psal. lxxvi. 7.) “Thou, even thou, art to be feared, and who may stand before thee when thou art angry?” (Psal. cxix. 120.) “My flesh trembleth because of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.”
Sinners, consider this, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” and every time you sin, you are within his reach. Let, then, the consideration of God’s presence deter us from sin, and quicken us to our duty. The eye and presence of a superior will lay a great restraint upon men; the eye of our prince, our master, or our father, will make us afraid or ashamed to do any thing that is foolish or unseemly: and will we do that under the eye of God, which we should blush to do before a grave or wise person, yea, before a child or a fool? Did but men live under this apprehension, that God is present to them, that a holy and all-seeing eye beholds them, they would be afraid to do any thing that is vile and wicked, to profane and pollute God’s glorious name, by a trifling use of it in customary swearing and cursing. Whenever you sin, you affront God to his face, and provoke omnipotent justice, which is at the door, and ready to break in upon you.
And the consideration of this should especially deter us from secret sins. This is the use the Psalmist here makes of it. If we believe that God searcheth us and knows us; that he knows our down-sitting and our up-rising, and understands our thoughts afar off; that he compasseth our path, and our lying down, and is acquainted with all our ways; that there is not a word in our tongue but he knows it altogether; that he hath beset us be hind and before; that the darkness hideth not from 198him, but the night shineth as the day, and the darkness and light are both alike: I say, if we believe this, how should we live in an awful sense of the Majesty which is always above us, and before us, and about us, and within us, and is as inseparable from us, as we are from ourselves, whose eye is upon us from the beginning of our lives to the end of our days! Did men believe that God is always with them, that his eye pierceth the darkness, and sees through all those clouds with which they hide and muffle themselves, and pries into the most secret recesses of their hearts: how would this check and restrain them from “devising mischief in their hearts, or in their bed-chamber!” The holy presence, and the pure eye of God, would be to us a thousand times more than to have our father, or our master, or our prince, or him whom we most revere, to stand by us. Did but men repræsentare sibi Deum, “make God present to them,” by living under a continual sense of his presence, they would, as the expression of the wise man is, “be in the fear of the Lord all day.” Magna spes peccatorum tollitur, si peccaturis testis adsistat: aliquem habeat animus quem vereatur, cujus auctoritate etiam secretum suum sanctius facit; “The main hope of sinners is to remain undiscovered; let but somebody be privy to their designs, and they are utterly disappointed: it is fit for the mind of a man to have an awe of some being, whose authority may render even its privacy more solemn.” This is the character of wicked men; (Psal. lxxxvi. 14.) “That they have not God before their eyes.” One great cause of all the wickedness, and violence, and looseness, that is upon the earth, is, they do not believe that God is near them and stands by them.199
And as the consideration of God’s presence should deter us from sin, so it should quicken and animate us to our duty. It is ordinarily a great encouragement to men to acquit themselves handsomely, to have the eyes of men upon them, especially of those whose applause and approbation they value. God alone is amplum theatrum, he is “a greater theatre” than the world; and it should be more to us that he stands by us, than if the eyes of all the world were fixed upon us. Seneca adviseth it, as an excellent means to promote virtue, to propound to ourselves, and set before our eyes, some eminently virtuous person, as Cato or Lælius, Ut sic tanquam illo spectante vivamus, et omnia tanquam illo vidente faciamus: “That we may live just as if he were looking upon us, and do all things just as if he beheld us.” How much greater incitement will it be to us, to think that God looks upon us, and sees us, and really stands by us, than faintly to imagine the presence of Lælius or Cato?
This should have an influence upon all the duties we perform, and the manner of performing them, that we do it to him who stands by us, and is familiarly acquainted with us, and is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. This Cicero, in l. 2. de Leg. looks upon as a great principle of religion: Sit igitur hoc persuasum civibus, et qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in se admittat, qua mente, qua pietate religiones colat, deos intueri, et piorum impiorumque rationem habere: “Let men be thoroughly persuaded of this, that the gods observe both the disposition and the actions of every particular man, what he consents to, what he allows himself in, particularly with what meaning, with what degree of inward devotion, he 200performs his religious worship; and that they distinguish between the pious and the impious.”
2. To encourage our faith and confidence in him. When we are in straits, and difficulties, and dangers, God is with us; when trouble is near to us, God is not far from us; wherever we are, how remote soever from friends and companions, we cannot be banished from God’s presence; if we dwell “beyond the utmost parts of the sea, there his hand leads us, and his right hand holds us.” (Psal. xvi. 8.) “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” The consideration of God’s presence is the great stay and support of our faith. (Psal. xlvi. 1, 2.) “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” In the greatest commotions, and the most imminent and threatening dangers, this should charm and allay our fears, that God is a present help.
This was the support of Moses’s faith in his sufferings, as the apostle tells us, (Heb. xi. 27.) “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”
To conclude all: whenever we are under any pressure or trouble, we should rebuke our own fears, and challenge our anxious thoughts with David, (Psal. xlii. 11.) “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me? trust still in God;” believe that God is with thee, and that omnipotent goodness stands by thee, who can and will support thee, and relieve thee, and deliver thee, when it seems best to his wisdom.201
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