“On the Omnipresence of God” is taken from the March 1810 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 51. Though the language is somewhat antique, this wonderful statement of orthodox theology and its practical implications from an early Baptist magazine is a great encouragement. Please take the time to read and consider it.
Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.
JER. xxiii, 24.
The Subjects which usually employ the thoughts of the busy, the indolent, or licentious, are such as can be comprehended without much effort. Indolence is natural to man, and if knowledge or riches could be acquired without exertion, he would remain idle. Every valuable object requires industry for its attainment; and Religion as much or more than other things–for in it we are presented with the most awful obscurities. Let us therefore suspend our cares, our calculations, and our pleas, that we may study the Religion which shall guide us in difficulty and support us in trouble, introducing us to fellowship with him whom the heavens cannot contain.
The Omnipresence of God is a term used to express his essential presence in every part of the Universe at the same time. The incomprehensibility of the subject should not, however, discourage our investigation, since the more we become acquainted with any of the Divine perfections, the more humbly shall we adopt the language of David, Such knowledge is too wonderful.
Let not our thoughts tire while we meditate on a perfection that is the very basis of christian consolation. If God were not everywhere present, what could encourage us to meet for public devotion? What could inspire our minds with love and confidence in retirement? But God is everywhere. How distressing would be an apprehension to the contrary! That our minds may rest in this truth, let us contemplate
1. The Simplicity of the Divine Nature. God is an infinite Being. His infinity is grounded on his self-existence: for a Being who owes not his existence to another must be necessary, and if necessary in one part of the Universe he must be so in every part. If his existence, or any of its properties could be limited, they might be destroyed–if so, he could not be self existent.
The Scripture teaches that God is a Spirit; He is called the Father of Spirits. If he were not a Spirit he could not be infinite, because he must be compounded of a number of parts, which parts must be finite, for it would be a contradiction to suppose them infinite, as in that case the parts would be equal to the whole. Now however numerous and vast those finite parts might be, they could never compose an infinite Being, but all together must be finite still. Therefore, as God is self-existent he must be infinite–if infinite he must be a Spirit–if a Spirit he must be simple or uncompounded.
It is true that the Scriptures, for the indulgence of our weakness, often speak of God possessing members of a form similar to our own–but their action is accompanied with such loftiness of figure in description as if designed principally to exalt our views of his grandeur and immensity. When he sits on a throne, that throne is heaven; when he touches the earth, it is his footstool; when he walks, it is through the sky; when he rides, it is on the whirlwind; when he stretches out his hand, it is to span the heavens; when he looks, his eyes run to and fro as a flame of fire; when he speaks, pillars of heaven tremble–and God, assembling all these ideas together, enquires, Do not I fill heaven and earth? It cannot be said he is here but not there, or there but not here. To illustrate this thought, let us contemplate the light, which issuing from its centre, scatters its rays millions of miles around it; or let us reflect upon the ether, diffused through infinitude of space. These, which are but creatures, are amazingly extended, it ought not to appear strange, therefore, that the infinite Spirit is in every place at once. But here is a vast difference–the ray of light which is one place is not the identical ray that is in another; that portion of air which surrounds one man is not the same portion which surrounds another–whereas God is in all places the same. “He is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” As his Eternity swallows up all time, his essence contains all space; and as all time is but a moment to Eternity, so all worlds and the space wherein they revolve are but as a point to his infinity. Behold all Nations before him are as nothing.
The Nature of God is perfect, and that perfection supposes him everywhere. Otherwise he must either be confined to some fixed place, and so a creature might be where God is not; or he must be supposed to move from one place to another, which would not only destroy his immutability, but limit him to the place in which he moves–thus he would be at one time where he was not before, and at another not in the place where he was. But he fills heaven and earth. We cannot imagine a place, a distance, a world, where he is not. Whither shall I flee from thy presence?
2. Consider his unlimited perception. He is most intimately acquainted with all created things and all their accidents and circumstances. Every atom and every mind was created by his mighty word. He sees the earth, with all kinds of matter, and the effects they have on each other; He sees the various actions and thoughts of men with all their connexions and dependencies, and the infinite variety of circumstances arising out of them all. He sees the misery of the human race, the infernal malice of Satan, and all the wonderful achievements of Christ to accomplish our redemption, the troubles of his people, the supports necessary for them, the effects of divine truth on the human mind, the progress of the church, and its tendency to final triumph. He sees the influence which all these have upon the felicity of his creatures, how they tend to his own glory.
God sees all, and therefore is with all. Though he ruleth in heaven and inhabiteth eternity, yet he searcheth all hearts, and knoweth our thoughts afar off. He that created the eye, shall not he see? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? God is everywhere. Are Angels celebrating his praises in heaven, he is there delighting them with the manifestations of his presence. Are fallen Spirits tortured in hell, he is there dressed in vengeance. Is the earth shaken with political tempests, he is there, taking the wise in their own craftiness. Are States overturned, he is there, ruling among men. Do plague, pestilence, famine, or battle rage, he is there, shewing how bitter it is to sin against God. Do the wicked love darkness and the licentious fly to the shade, he is there, writing down the crimes for which darkness is sought as a concealment. Do we assemble to worship him, he is there, to cheer his saints, to wound the impenitent, and to make Jesus precious to believers. Do we shut the door and retire from the world, he is there, to observe the labour of our minds, to meet our sorrows with mercy, and wipe away our tears.
God is everywhere. How awful! Could we take the wings of the morning, and fly rapid as the light, still would his hand hold us! Could we blacken darkness itself, it would not hide us, for the night is as clear as the day to him! Even the ruins of the universe would be insufficient to conceal us, God would be there.
3. Let us contemplate the extent of the Divine Operations. Wherever we turn our eyes we see traces of a divine hand, and marks of wisdom and design in its productions. To say that all is governed by the laws of nature, is a puerile way of getting rid of nature’s God; for laws cannot produce effects of themselves. Laws refer us to a Legislator, and the efficiency of those laws must be derived from some power. What is that power? It is not an inconceivable nothing, for then it could not act. It is the attribute of a great Existence, whose operations are evident in the preservation of all things. Wheresoever this preserving Power exists, we must conclude that God is there. But God is not only virtually present in every part of the universe, he is essentially there. He created the world, and he preserveth every part of it at the same instant; then the divine essence is greater than the world. He created other worlds, his essence then extends to them. Everywhere here we see plenty growing, creatures moving, men living, thinking and acting; everywhere above us orbs roll and suns burn; and the Scriptures authorise the conclusion that he not only measured the water and fixed its bounds, weighed the hills and the mountains, but he also meted out the heavens, and called the stars by their names. All existence is derived from him; all animal life, as diffused through myriads of creatures, owes itself to him; all the intellect of men and angels was poured from his fulness; all created existence, compared with his immensity is less than the drop of the bucket compared with the mighty waters of the Ocean. All creatures before him are less than nothing and vanity.
Let us not rest satisfied with exercising our intellect by these contemplations. Let us give them their proper moral and spiritual effect.
1. From the Omnipresence of god we may derive Lessons of humility. We have taken a glance at a Being too vast for our comprehension–His immensity strikes us into nothing. Will any be so mad as to doubt the divine Omnipresence because our reason flutters and falls in attempting to wing her way over it? Folly, similar to this is prevalent. This made the cross a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Let us possess evidence that God has revealed any thing respecting himself, and its incomprehensibility is an argument for our believing it. Who hath seen God? Or who can find out the Almighty?
2. From this divine attribute let us learn the importance of real piety. All things are open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. He searches all hearts. Have we any objections to religion, he sees them; do we pour contempt on Christ, he knows it; do we attend his house only through idleness or for entertainment, he marks and abhors it; do any indulge in secret sins while they profess to be religious, it is no secret to him. He knows whether our repentance is sincere, our humility unaffected, our love without dissimulation, and our faith unfeigned. Let the christian remember all his ways are before God, in public and private duties of religion, in his chamber, in his shop, in the street, and by the fire side. O what doth he behold in us! Let us stand in awe and sin not.
3. From hence let us draw consolation in affliction. This was Hagar’s support, Thou God seest me. Was Daniel in the den, Daniel’s God was there. Were Shadrach and his faithful companions in the fire, the God they served walked with them therein. Christian Martyrs have enjoyed his presence in their prisons, giving songs in the night. This is our support in temptation, God is nearer than Satan. In every trial the Lord looketh on, who hath promised that the fire shall not burn, nor the waters drown the believer. Wherefore let us gird up the loins of our minds, be sober, and hope to the end.