SERMON XII.* The Immensity of the Di∣vine Nature.
PSAL. CXXXIX.7, 8, 9, 10.
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, be∣hold, 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.
THAT Attribute of God which I last discours'd of is most Absolute, and declares his Essence most immediately; the spirituality of the Divine Nature. I shall in the next place speak of Page 332 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 li∣mits of its Being, nor bounds of its du∣ration. 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, infi∣nitely 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 morn∣ing, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me; that is, if my motion should be as swift as that of the light, which when the Sun riseth darts it self in an instant from one part of the World to another, over the Earth and the Sea, the re∣motest Page 333 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 signifie to us the Immensity of God's Essence, that his Being is infinitely diffused and pre∣sent 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 In∣ferences from it.
Fifthly, Make some use and im∣provement of it.
First, For the explication of it. By the Immensity of God, I mean that his Being hath no bounds or limits, Page 334 but doth every way spread and dif∣fuse it self beyond what we can ima∣gine; 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 fur∣ther; but he is every where present after a most infinite manner, in the darkest corners and most private re∣cesses; the most secret Closet that is in the whole World, the Heart of Man, darkness and privacy cannot keep him out; the presence of ano∣ther Being, even of a Body, which is the grossest substance, doth not ex∣clude 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,
I. From the natural Notions and Dictates of our Minds.
Page 335II. From Scripture and Divine Re∣velation.
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 Na∣ture, did attribute this Perfection to God. Tully tells us, De Nat. deor. That Pythagoras thought, Deum esse animam per naturam rerum omnem intentum & commeantem, That God is as it were a Soul passing through and inspiring all Nature. And in l. 2. de leg. that this was Tha∣les his 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. Ʋbique & omnibus praesto est; He is every where present and at hand. & de Benef. L. 4. Quocunque te flexeris, ibi illum videbis occurrentem tibi, nihil ab illo vacat, opus suum ipse implet; Which way soever thou turnest thy self, thou shalt find him meeting thee, nothing Page 336 is without him, he fills his own work. Not much differing from the Expres∣sion of the Psalmist here.
II. From Scripture and Divine Re∣velation. I shall instance in some remarkable places; 1 Kings 8.27. Behold, the heaven, and heaven of hea∣vens cannot contain thee. Job. 11.7, 8, 9. Can'st thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almigh∣ty unto perfection? Isa. 66.1. Thus saith the Lord, behold, heaven is my throne, and the earth is my foot-stool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? Jer. 23.23, 24. 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? Amos 9.2, 3. Tho' 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 tho' they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command Page 337 he serpent and he shall bite them. Acts 17.27, 28. Tho he be not far from eve∣ry 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 off-spring.
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 contra∣ry. The first and most easie Notion that we have of God, is, that he is a Being which hath all Perfection, and is free from all Imperfection; now if I prove that the Immensity of God's Essence is a Perfection, or which is the same, that the contrary is an Im∣perfection, 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, Page 338 doth contradict both this necessary Perfection of God, his universal Pro∣vidence; and this necessary Duty of Creatures, to worship and trust in him; and the voluntary manifestati∣on and appearance of God, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
1. It contradicts the universal Providence of God. The universal Providence of God supposeth many Perfections, viz. infinite Knowledge, and infinite Power, his Omniscience and Omnipotence, neither of which can be imagined without Omnipre∣sence. We find that all finite Beings, have a finite Knowledge, and a fi∣nite Power; and it cannot be con∣ceived 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 se∣cret and hidden, to be able to do all things, to steer and govern the Acti∣ons of all Creatures, and to have a perfect care of them, seems to all the Reason of Mankind to require immediate Presence.
Page 3392. 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 Wor∣ship of God is rendred vain, or at least uncertain, if God be not pre∣sent to us to hear our Prayers, to take notice of our Wants, and re∣ceive 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 A∣ctions or not.
3. It contradicts a voluntary Ma∣nifestation 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 u∣nited to the Humane Nature of Christ, which was here upon Earth? Page 340 How is God with us; How does he pitch his Tabernacle among Men; if his essential Presence be confin'd to Heaven?
Thirdly, I come to answer Objecti∣ons against this Doctrine.
There are two Objections against this.
- 1. From Reason.
- 2. From Scripture.
1. Obj. Reason will be ready to suggest, that this is a disparagement to the Divine Nature, to tye his Presence to this vile Dunghil of the Earth, and fordid Sink of Hell. This is a gross Apprehension of God, and a measuring of him by our selves. Indeed if we look upon God as ca∣pable of Injury, and Suffering, and Of∣fence from the Contagion of any thing here below, as we are, then indeed there were some strength in this Ob∣jection: but he is a blessed and pure Being, Mens segregata ab omni con∣cretione Page 341 mortali, A Mind free from all mortal Composition or Mixture. Tul∣ly; 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, dis∣entangled from every thing passible; as Plut. Those things that are nause∣ous 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 35.6. Nothing can disquiet or discompose his happy and blessed Nature, but he converseth here in this dark and troubled World with less danger of Disturbance, or any impure Contagion, than the Sun∣beams.
2. 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 to hear in heaven his dwelling-place? Page 342 Is it not said that he doth not dwell in temples made with hands? And does not Solomon, 1 Kings 8.27. 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 di∣stinguish the Presence of God. There is, 1st, his glorious Presence, that is, such a Presence of God as is accom∣panied with an extraordinary ma∣nifestation 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?
2dly, There is his gracious Presence, which discovers it self by miracu∣lous effects of his Favour, and Goodness, and Assistance, and there∣by Page 343 he is said to dwell in the hearts of good Men, and with them that are of an humble and contrite Spirit, Isa. 57.15. 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.
3dly, There is his essential Presence, which is equally and alike in all Pla∣ces; and this is not excluded by those former Expressions which the Scri∣pture useth to denote to us the glo∣rious and gracious Presence of God.
Fourthly, To make some Inferen∣ces. 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 flows 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 were Body and Matter is, but must be shut out of the World. But this I spoke Page 344 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 our selves from his Pre∣sence.
II. Inf. That God is Incompre∣hensible. That which is infinite cannot be measured and compre∣hended by that which is finite; and this also the Psalmist takes no∣tice of, in the Verse before my Text, Such knowledge is too wonder∣ful for me, it is high, I cannot at∣tain it.
III. Inf. That God is Omniscient. If God be every where, then he knows all things, yea even the hidden things of Darkness, the Se∣crets of our Hearts; nothing can be hid from an infinite Eye; he is present to our Thoughts, intimate to our Hearts and Reins; this the Psalmist takes notice of, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 12 Verses.
Page 345IV. Inf. That God is Omnipotent. He can do all things. Distance li∣mits 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, v. 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 Pre∣sence should awaken in us a Fear of Reverence. The Presence of an earthly Majesty will awe our Spirits, and compose us to 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 Page 346 God strike an awe upon our Spi∣rits? 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 verecunaè agendum, We must behave our selves 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 Ap∣prehensions 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 Happi∣ness: now the greatest Danger is from the greatest Power, for where we are clearly over-match'd, we cannot hope to make Opposition nor Resistance with security and success, to r•bel with Safety: now Page 347 he that apprehends God to be near him, and present to him, believes such a Being to stand by him as is possest of an infinite and irresistible Power, and will vindicate all Con∣tempt of the Divine Majesty, and Violation of his Laws. If we be∣lieve God to be always present with us, Fear will continually take hold of us, and we shall say of eve∣ry place, as Jacob did of Bethel, surely God is in this place, how dread∣ful is this place? When we have at any time provoked God, if we be∣lieve the just God is at hand to revenge himself, and if we believe the power of his anger, we shall say with David, Psa. 76.7. Thou even thou art to be feared, and who may stand before thee when thou art angry? Psa. 119.120. My flesh trembleth be∣cause of thee, and I am afraid of thy Judgments.
Sinners consider this, It is a fear∣ful 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 Page 348 deter us from Sin, and quicken us to our Duty. The Eye and Presence of a Superior will lay a great re∣straint upon Men; the Eye of our Prince, or our Master, or our Fa∣ther, will make us afraid or asham'd 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 un∣der this apprehension, that God is present to them, that an 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 the 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 Page 349God 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 behind and before, that the darkness hideth not from him, 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 aw∣ful 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 our selves, 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 cham∣ber?Page 350 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 re∣vere, to stand by us. Did but Men representare sibi Deum, make God pre∣sent to them, by living under a con∣tinual 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: ali∣quem habeat animus quem vereatur, cujus authoritate etiam secretum suum sanctius facit; The main hope of Sin∣ners is to remain undiscover'd, let but some body be privy to their de∣signs, and they are utterly disappointed: 'Tis fit for the Mind of a Man to have an awe of some Being, whose Au∣thority may render even its privacy more solemn. This is the Character of wicked Men, Psa. 86.14. 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 be∣lieve Page 351 that God is near them, and stands by them.
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 ac∣quit themselves handsomely, to have the Eyes of Men upon them, espe∣cially of those whose Applause and Approbation they value. God alone is amplum Theatrum, he's a greater Theater than the World, and it should be more to us that he stands by us, than if the Eyes of all the World were fix'd upon us. Sen. adviseth it as an excellent means to promote Virtue, to propound to our selves, and set before our Eyes some eminently virtuous Person, as Cato or Laelius, ut sic tanquam illo spectante vivamus, & omnia tanquam illo vidente faciamus: That we may live just as if he were locking 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 re∣ally Page 352 stands by us, than faintly to imagine the Presence of Laelius 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 our selves. This Cic. in l. 2. de leg. looks upon as a great principle of Religion, sit igi∣tur hoc persuasum civibus, & qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in se ad∣mittat, quâ mente, quâ pietate religio∣nes colat, deos intueri, & piorum impiorumque rationem habere: Let Men be throughly perswaded of this, that the Gods observe, both the dispo∣sition and the actions of every parti∣cular Man, what he consents to, what he allows himself in, particularly with what meaning, with what degree of in∣ward Devotion he performs his religi∣ous worship; and that they distinguish between the pious and the impious.
Page 3532. 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; where ever we are, how remote soever from Friends and Companions, we cannot be ba∣nisht 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. Psa. 16.8. 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, Psa. 46.1, 2. God is our refuge and strength, a ve∣ry 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 threatning Dan∣gers, this should charm and allay our Fears, that God is a present help.
Page 354This was the support of Moses his Faith in his Sufferings, as the Apostle tells us, Heb. 11.27. he en∣dured, as seeing him who is invisible.
To conclude all, when ever we are under any Pressure or Trouble, we should rebuke our own Fears, and challenge our anxious Thoughts, with David, Psa. 42.11. 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 Good∣ness stands by thee, who can and will support thee, and relieve thee, and deliver thee when it seems best to his Wisdom.