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PART FIRST.
OF GOD, AND THE RELATIONS HE SUSTAINS TO HIS CREATURES.



CHAPTER III.


ON THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD.

Necessity of Divine Omnipresence. — Of its extent. — Of its nature, or mode. — God present to everything in the entireness of his being. — Relation of these views to the doctrine of Divine Union.

GOD, who, in transcending the limitations of time, is eternal, in transcending the limitations of place, is also everywhere present. It is not possible for him to be confined to particular places and things, to the exclusion of other places and things, but he is and must be God everywhere.

"If I take the wings of the morning," says the Psalmist, "and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand hold me." [Ps. 139:10.] And again he exclaims, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy
presence?"

God is present in everything we see, in everything we touch; present in clouds, and rivers, and forests; present in our bodies; present in our spirits; present, with variations of manner and degree, in every thought and feeling. Philosophy and poetry, in all ages of the world, and in all countries, repeat and confirm this great truth of the Scriptures.

"Should Fate command me to the farthest verge
Of the green earth, to distant, barbarous climes,
Rivers unknown to song; where first the sun
Gilds Indian mountains, or his setting beams
Flame on the atlantic isles; 't is naught to me,
Since God is ever present, ever felt,
In the void waste, as in the city full."

8. But we may, perhaps, distinguish between the fact and the nature or mode of God's presence. Admit­ting the great truth of the universality of the divine presence, the question still remains, — is God present
directly or indirectly, present by a direct and immediate personality, or only by the subordinate and intermediate presence and agency of other beings?

It cannot be doubted, I suppose, that many persons, who hold to the doctrine of God's omnipresence speculatively, are apt to think of him, notwithstanding, as a God
over us, without thinking of him, in an equal degree, as a God with us. "We behold him, but not now; we see him, but not nigh." [Num. 24:17.] This was a mistake of some of the ancient heathen philosophers, and was, perhaps, comparatively innocent in them, who looked upon God as omnipresent virtually rather than really, as sending out the universality of his presence from a local residence in the heavens, and as administering the affairs of the universe, in all its parts, not personally, but by a secondary and distant agency. Some Christians also, those who are beginners in the Christian life, have regarded God in a similar light; namely, in a character and position like that of an earthly monarch; beholding him, in imagination, seated on a throne of great splendor, but infinitely remote, and governing his numerous kingdoms by means of angelic or other agencies.

4. This is certainly an imperfect view of God' s omnipresence; not so much false, perhaps, as defective, and suited to certain degrees of Christian experience, but not to its highest results. The presence of God, when rightly understood, is a direct and immediate presence; a presence which allows of no other object or agency between itself and the object with which it is united. "He is not far from every one of us," says the apostle; "for in him we live, and move, and have our being." [Acts 17:27, 28.] If we may be allowed to illustrate the subject from the analogies of the material world, we may, perhaps, say, in expressions which suggest the truth, if they do not fully convey it, that God's presence constitutes, to the soul, and to all beings and things which exist, a spiritual
atmosphere. " As the birds, when they fly, whichever way they go, though they change their place, still fly in the air, and everywhere meet the air; as the fishes, which swim in the seas, everywhere find the waters, and are encompassed with them on all sides; so we, how much soever we change our place, and whithersoever we please to go, shall everywhere meet with God. And God, says St. Augustine, shall be more present within us, in the very midst of our being, than we are ourselves." [Boudon, God Everywhere Present, Ch.I.]


5. Nor is this all that is to be said on this subject. Owing to the limited powers of our minds, and that confusion of our ideas which is the result of sin, we are apt to think of God as present in all places, not in the entireness or wholeness of his being, but by the spreading out or
diffusion of his being; so that, in a given place or a given object, considered as separate from other places and objects, there is not the whole of God present, but only a part of him in that particular place or object. This also seems to be an error. God is not only universally present, but, wherever he is present at all, he is present without separation, present as God complete, in the fulness and perfection of his divinity.

6. And this is true in small things, as well as in great. God tells us that he clothes the lilies of the field, that he watches over and protects the sparrow, and feeds the young ravens. But it would be a mistake to suppose, after the manner of men, who know only and feel only in particulars and by degrees, that he does this by a part of his nature only, while the greater and better part of his thought, and of his immense heart of love, is given to other objects. On the contrary, he is a God equally present to everything, without distinction of place or degree of existence,— as much present, in the extent and unity of his being, to an insect as to a man or angel. Undoubtedly this view, even with the explanatory and very just remark that he is not so much comprehended and received by inferior beings as by those which are greater, conveys a wonderful idea of God; but not so wonderful as to furnish a reason for its disbelief and rejection. The infinite Godhead, stooping, by the very perfection of his nature, condescends to take an interest in all things he has made,— to hear the songs of his own birds, to play with the shepherd's flocks as they sport on the sides of the mountains, and to rejoice with the young lions as he feeds them in the forest. It is not a portion of God, not a half or a tithe of the Divine Existence, as our imperfect conceptions of things are apt to suppose, but a whole God, — God in the infinity of his perfections,— that watches over and rejoices in them.

So that it is necessary to add to the idea of the universality of his presence that of the directness and intimacy of his presence, and also that of the fulness and perfection of his presence.

7. It is hardly necessary to say, that this view of God's omnipresence is important in explaining the facts and relations of Divine Union. The physical union, if these views are correct, is already complete. God cannot have locality, and man cannot be without it. And man's locality is always in God, although his character may not harmonize with his position. And here is the source of his unhappiness. To be in God by physical position, and out of God by divergency of character, is to be the subject of the greatest discord and misery. On the contrary, if we add harmony of character to harmony of place, if we add to the embrace of God's physical presence the higher and nobler embrace of his moral perfections, then we have realized the true elements of divine union, and have become one.

8. "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted 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, and laid thy hand upon me." [Ps. 139:1, et seq.]

Those whose souls are so far renewed that they can be said to have entered into this state of union, know practically the import of these remarkable expressions. At all times and in all varieties of situation, they not only have an intellectual conviction, but may be said to know, by the intimations of the heart as well as by reasoning, that God is with them. In company with others and in solitary places, in their daily walks and in seasons of rest and of innocent pleasure, in every situation in which they can by any possibility be placed, they have evidence of God's nearness and intimacy. And it adds to their happiness to know, that he is present to them in the fulness and perfection of his nature,— just as much so as if they were the only beings in the universe.