Theological Institutes

Part Second - Doctrines of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 3

ATTRIBUTES of GOD-Eternity-Omnipotence-Antiquity

From the Scriptures we have learned, that there is one God, the Creator of all things, and consequently living and intelligent. The demonstrations of this truth, which surround us in the works of nature, have been also adverted to. By the same sacred revelations we have also been taught, that, as to the Divine essence, God is a Spirit; and in the farther manifestations they have made of him, we learn, that as all things were made by him, he was before all things: that their being is dependent, his independent; that he is eminently Being according to his own peculiar appellation "I AM; "self existent, and ETERNAL. In the Scripture doctrine of God, we, however, not only find it asserted that God had no beginning, but that he shall have no end. Eternity ad partem post is ascribed to him, for in the most absolute sense, he bath "immortality," and he "only" hath it, by virtue of the inherent perfection of his nature. It is this which completes those sublime and impressive views of the eternity of God, with which the revelation he has been pleased to make of himself abounds. "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thine hand. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy year: shall have no end." lie "inhabiteth eternity," fills and occupies the whole round of boundless duration, and "is the first and the last."

In these representations of the eternal existence and absolute immor­tality of the Divine Being, something more than the mere idea of infinite duration is conveyed. No creature can, without contradiction, be sup. posed to have been from eternity; but even a creature may be supposed to continue to exist for ever, in as strict a sense as God himself will continue to exist for ever. Its existence, however, being originally de, pendent and derived, must continue so. It is not, so to speak, in its nature to live, or it would never have been non.existent; and what it has not from itself, it has received, and must through every moment of actual existence receive from its Maker. But the very phrase in which the Scriptures speak of the eternity of God, suggests a meaning deeper than that of mere duration. They contrast the stability of the Divine existence with the vanishing and changing nature of all his works, and represent them as reposing upon him for support, while he not only depends not upon any, but rests upon himself. He lives by virtue of his nature, and is essentially unchangeable. For to the nature of that which exists without cause, life must be essential. In him who is "the fountain of life," there can be no principle of decay. There can be no desire to cease to be, in him who is perfectly blessed, because of the unbounded excellence of his nature. To him existence must be the source of infinite enjoyment, both from the contemplation of his own designs, and the manifestation of his glory, purity, and benevolence, to the intelligent creatures he has made to know and to be beatified by such discoveries and benefits. No external power can control, or in any way affect his felicity, his perfection or his being. Such are the depths of glory and peculiarity into which the Divine eternity, as stated in the Scriptures, leads the wondering mind; and of which the wisest of heathens, who ascribed immortality to one, or to many gods, had no conception. They were ever fancying something out of God, as the cause of their immortal being; fate, or external necessity, or some similar and vague notion, which obscured, as to them, one of the peculiar glories of the "eternal power and Godhead," who of and from his own essential nature, Is, and was, and SHALL BE.

Some apprehensions of this great truth are seen in the sayings of a few of the Greek sages, though much obscured by their other notions. Indeed, that appropriate name of God, so venerated among the Jews, the nomen tetragrammaton, which we render JEHOVAH, was known among the heathens to be the name under which the Jews worshipped the supreme God; and "from this Divine name," says Parkhurst, sub voce, "the ancient Greeks had their Ih Ih in their invocation of the gods.[1] It expresses not the attributes, but the essence of God, which was the reason why the Jews deemed it ineffable. The Septuagint translators preserved the same idea in the word Kurio~, by which they translated it, from xurw, sum, I am. This word is said by critics not to be classically used to signify God, which would mark the peculiarity of this appellation in the Septuagint version more strongly, and convey something of the great idea of the self, or absolute existence ascribed to the Divine nature in the Hebrew Scriptures, to those of the heathen' philosophers who met with that translation. That it could not be passed over unnoticed, we may gather from St. Hilary, who says, that before his conversion to Christianity, meeting with this appellation of God in the Pentateuch, he was struck with admiration, nothing being so. proper to God as to be. Among the Jews, however, the import of this stupendous name was preserved unimpaired by metaphysical speculations. It was registered in their sacred books: from the fulness of its meaning the lofliest thoughts are seen to spring up in the minds of the prophets, which amplify with an awful and mysterious grandeur their descriptions of his peculiar glories, in contrast with the vain gods of the heathen, and with every actual existence, however exalted, in heaven and in earth.

On this subject of the eternal duration of the Divine Being, many have held a metaphysical refinement. "The eternal existence of God,"~ it is said, "is not to be considered as successive; the ideas we gained from time are not to be allowed in our conceptions of his duration. As he fills all space with his immensity, he fills all duration with his eter­nity; and with him eternity is nunc stans, a permanent now, incapable, of the relations of past, present, and future." Such, certainly, is not the view given us of this mysterious subject in the Scriptures; and if it should be said that they speak popularly and are accommodated to the infirmity of the thoughts of the body of mankind, we may reply, that philosophy has not, with all its boasting of superior light, carried our views on this attribute of the Divine nature at all beyond the revelation,; and, in attempting it, has only obscured the conceptions of its disciples "Filling duration with his eternity" is a phrase without any meaning: "For how can any man conceive a permanent instant, which co-exists with a perpetually flowing duration? One might as well apprehend a mathematical point co-extended with a line, a surface, and all dimen­sions." (Abernethy's Sermons.) As this notion has, however, been made the basis of some opinions, which will be remarked upon in their proper place, it may be proper briefly to examine it.

Whether we get our idea of time from the motion of bodies without us, or from the consciousness of the succession of our own ideas, or both, is not important to this inquiry. Time, in our conceptions, is divisible. The artificial divisions are years, months, days, minutes, seconds, &c. We can conceive of yet smaller portions of duration, and whether we have given to them artificial names or not, we can conceive no otherwise of duration, than continuance of being, estimated as to degree, by this artificial admeasurement, and therefore as substan­tially answering to it. It is not denied but that duration is something distinct from these its artificial measures; yet of this every man's con­sciousness will assure him, that we can form no idea of duration except in this successive manner. But we are told, that the eternity of God is a fixed eternal now, from which all ideas of succession, of past and fu­ture, are to be excluded; and we are called upon to conceive of eternal duration without reference to past or future, and to the exclusion of the idea of that flow under which we conceive of time. The proper abstract idea of duration is, however, simple continuance of being, without any reference to the exact degree or extent of it, because in no other way can it be equally applicable to all the substances of which it is the attri­bute. It may be finite or infinite, momentary or eternal, but that de­pends upon the substance of which it is the quality, and act upon its own nature. Our own observation and experience teach us how to apply it to ourselves. As to us, duration is dependent and finite; as to God, it is infinite; but in both cases the originality or dependence, the finity or infinity of it, arises not out of the nature of duration itself, but out of other qualities of the subjects respectively.

Duration, then, as applied to God, is no more than an extension of the idea as applied to ourselves; and to exhort us to conceive of it as something essentially different, is to require us to conceive what is in­conceivable. It is to demand of us to think without ideas. Duration is continuance of existence, continuance of existence is capable of being longer or shorter, and hence necessarily arises the idea of the succes­sion of the minutest points of duration into which we can conceive it divided. Beyond this the mind cannot go, it forms the idea of duration no other way; and if what we call duration be any thing different from this in God, it is not duration, properly so called, according to human ideas; it is something else, for which there is no name among men, be­cause there is no idea, and therefore it is impossible to reason about it. As long as metaphysicians use the term, they must take the idea: if they spurn the idea, they have no right to the term, and ought at once to confess that they can go no farther. Dr. Cudworth defines infinity of duration to be nothing else but perfection, as including in it necessary existence and immutability. This, it is true, is as much a definition of the moon, as of infinity of duration; but it is valuable, as it shows that, in the view of this great man, though an advocate of the nunc stans, the standing now of eternity, we must abandon the term duration, if we give up the only idea under which it can be conceived.

It follows from this, therefore, that either we must apply the term duration to the Divine Being in the same sense in which we apply it to creatures, with the extension of the idea to a duration which has no bounds and limits, or blot it out of our creeds, as a word to which our minds, with all the aid they may derive from the labours of metaphysicians, can attach no meaning. The only notion which has the appear­ance of an objection to this successive duration, as applied to him, appears wholly to arise from confounding two very distinct things; sue.. cession in the duration, and change in the substance. Dr. Cudworth appears to have fallen into this error. He speaks of the duration of an imperfect nature, as sliding from the present to the future, expecting something of itself which is not yet in being, and of a perfect nature being essentially immutable, having a permanent and unchanging dura­tion, never losing any thing of itself once present, nor yet running afterward to meet something of itself which is not yet in being. Now, though this is a good description of a perfect and immutable nature, it is no description at all of an eternally-enduring nature. Duration im­plies no loss in the substance of any being, nor addition to it A perfect nature never loses any thing of itself, nor expects more of itself than is possessed; but this does not arise from the attribute of its duration, however that attribute may be conceived of, but from its perfection, and consequent immutability. These attributes do not flow from the duration, but the extent of the duration from them. The argument is clearly good for nothing, unless it could be proved, that successive duration necessarily implies change in the nature; but that is contradicted by the experience of finite beings-their natures are not at all determined by their duration, but their duration by their natures; and they exist for a moment, or for ages, according to the nature which their Maker has impressed upon them. If it be said that, at least, successive duration imports that a being loses past duration, and expects the arrival of future existence, we reply, that this is no imperfection at all. Even finite creatures do not feel it to be an imperfection to have existed, and to look for continued and interminable being. It is true, with the past, we lose knowledge and pleasure; and expecting in all future periods increase of knowledge and happiness, we are reminded by that of our present imperfection; but this imperfection does not arise from our successive and flowing duration, and we never refer it to that. It is not the past which takes away our knowledge and pleasure; nor future duration, simply considered, which will confer the increase of both. Our imper­fections arise out of the essential nature of our being, not out of the manner in which our being is continued. It is not the flow of our duration, but the flow of our natures which produces these effects. On the contrary, we think that the idea of our successive duration, that is,  continuance, is an excellency, and not a defect. Let all ideas of continuance be banished from the mind, let these be to us a nunc semper stans, during the whole of our being, and we appear to gain nothing- our pleasures surely are not diminished by the idea of long continuance being added to present enjoyment; that they have been, and still re­maid, and will continue, on the contrary, greatly heightens them. With­out the Idea of a flowing duration, we could have no such measure of the continuance of our pleasures, and this we should consider an abatement of our happiness. What is so obvious an excellency in the spirit of man, and in angelic natures, can never be thought an imperfection in God, when joined with a nature essentially perfect and immutable.

But it may be said, that eternal duration, considered as successive, is only an artificial manner of measuring, and conceiving of duration; and is no more eternal duration itself than minutes and moments, the artificial measures of time, are time itself. Were this granted, the question would still be, whether there is any thing in duration, considered generally, or in time considered specially, which corresponds to these artificial methods of measuring, and conceiving of them. The ocean is measured by leagues; but the extension of the ocean, and the measure of it, are distinct. They, nevertheless, answer to each other. Leagues are the nominal divisions of an extended surface, but there is a real extension, which answers to the artificial conception and admea­surement of it. In like manner, days, and hours, and moments, are the measures of time; but there is either something in time which answers to these measures, or not only the measure, but the thing itself is arti­ficial-an imaginary creation. If any man will contend, that the period of duration which we call time, is nothing, no farther dispute can be held with him, and he may be left to deny also the existence of matter, and to enjoy his philosophic revel in an ideal world. We apply the same argument to duration generally, whether finite or infinite. Mi­nutes and moments, or smaller portions, for which we have no name, may be artificial, adopted to aid our conceptions; but conceptions of what? Not of any thing standing still, but of something going on. Of duration we have no other conception; and if there be nothing in nature which answers to this conception, then is duration itself imaginary, and we discourse about nothing. If the duration of the Divine Being admits not of past, present, and future, one of these two consequences must follow,-that no such attribute as that of eternity belongs to him,-or that there is no power in the human mind to conceive of it. In either case the Scriptures are greatly impugned; for "He who was, and is, and is to come," is a revelation of the eternity of God, which is then in no sense true. It is not true if used literally; and it is as little so if the language be figurative, for the figure rests on no basis, it illustrates nothing, it misleads.

God is OMNIPOTENT: Of this attribute also we have the most ample revelation, and in the most impressive and sublime language. From the annunciation in the Scriptures of a Divine existence who was" in the beginning" before all things. the very first step is the display of his almighty power in the creation out of nothing, and the immediate arrangement in order and perfection, of the "heaven and the earth ;" by which is meant not this globe only with its atmosphere, or even with its own celestial system, but the universe itself; for " he made the stars also." We arc thus placed at once in the presence of an agent of unbounded power, "the strict and correct conclusion being, that a power which could create such a world as this, must he beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents, greater also than any which we can want for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend; a power likewise to which we are not authorized by our observation or knowledge to assign any limits of space or duration " (Paley.)

That the sacred writers should so frequently dwell upon the omnipo­tence of God, has an important reason which arises out of the very design of that revelation which they were the instruments of communicating to mankind. Men were to be reminded of their obligations to obedience, and God is therefore constantly exhibited as the Creator, the Preserver, and Lord of all things. H is reverent worship and fear was to be enjoined upon them, and by the manifestation of his works the veil was withdrawn from his glory and majesty. Idolatry was to be checked and reproved, and the true God was thus placed in contrast with the limited and powerless gods of the heathen. "Among the gods of the. nations, is there no god like unto thee, neither are there any works like thy works." Finally, he was to be exhibited as the object of trust to creatures, constantly reminded by experience of their own infirmity and dependence, and to whom it was essential to know, that his power was absolute, unlimited, and irresistible.

In the revelation which was thus designed to awe and control the bad, and to afford strength of mind and consolation to the good under all circumstances, the omnipotence of God is therefore placed in a great variety by of impressive views, and connected with the most striking illustrations.

It is presented by the fact of creation, the Creation of beings out of nothing, which itself, though it had been confined to a single object, however minute, exceeds finite comprehension, and overwhelms the faculties. This with God required no effort-" He spake and it was done, he commanded and it stood fast." The vastness and variety of his works enlarge the conceptioin. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work." "He spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea; he maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; he doeth great things, past finding out, yea, and wonders without number. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in the thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them; he hath compassed the waters with bounds until the day and night come to an end." ( The ease with which he sustains, orders, and controls the most powerful and unruly of the elements, presents his omnipotence under an aspect of ineffable dignity and majesty. "By him all things consist." He brake for the sea " a decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." "He looketh to the end of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven, to make the weight for the winds, to weigh the waters by measure, to make a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder." Who lath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, meted out heaven with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the winds in a balance ?" The descriptions of the Divine power are often terrible. "The pillars of heaven tremble, and arc astonished at his reproof; he divideth the sea by his power." "He removeth the mountains, and they know it not; he overturneth them in his anger, he shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble; he commandeth the sun and it riseth not, and sealeth up the stars." The same absolute subjection of creatures to his dominion is seen among the intelligent inhabitants of the material universe, and angels, men the most exalted, and evil spirits, are swayed with as much ease as the least resistless elements. "he maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire." They veil their faces before his throne, and acknowledge themselves his servants. "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers," "as the dust of the balance, less than nothing and vanity." "He bringeth princes to nothing." "He setteth up one and putteth down another," "for the kingdom is the Lord's, and he is governor among the nations." "The angels that sinned, he cast down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." The closing scenes of this world complete these transcendent conceptions of the majesty and power of God. The dead of all ages shall rise from their graves at his voice; and the sea shall give up the dead which are in it. Before his face heaven and earth flee away, the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven are shaken. The dead, small and great, stand before God, and are divided as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.

Of these amazing views of the omnipotence of God, spread almost through every page of the Scripture, the power lies in their truth. They are not eastern exaggerations, mistaken for sublimity. Every thing in nature answers to them, and renews from age to age the energy of the impression which they cannot but make upon the reflecting mind. The order of the astral revolutions indicates the constant presence of an invisible but incomprehensible power :-the seas hurl the weight of their billows upon the rising shores, but every where find a "bound fixed by a perpetual decree ;".-the tides reach their height; if they flowed on for a few hours, the earth would change places with the bed of the sea; but under an invisible control they become refluent. "He toucheth the rnountains and they smoke," is not mere imagery. Every volcano is a testimony of that truth to nature which we find in the Scriptures; and earthquakes teach, that before him, "the pillars of the world tremble." Men collected into armies, and populous nations, give us vast ideas of human power: but let an army be placed amidst the sand storms and burning winds of the desert, as, in the east, has frequently happened or before "his frost," as in our own day, in Russia, where one of the mightiest armaments was seen retreating before, or perishing under an unexpected visitation of snow and storm; or let the utterly helpless state of a populous country which has been visited by famine, or by a resistless pestilential disease, be reflected upon, and it is no figure of speech to say, that "all nations are before him less than nothing and vanity."

Nor in reviewing this doctrine of Scripture, ought the fine practical uses made of the omnipotence of God, by the sacred writers, to be overlooked. In them there is nothing said for the display of knowledge, as, too often, in heathen writers; no speculation without a moral subservient to it, and that by evident design. To excite and keep alive in man the fear and worship of God, and to bring him to a felicitous confidence in that almighty power which pervades and controls all things, we have observed, are the reasons for those ample displays of the omni­potence of God, which roll through the sacred volume with a sublimity that inspiration only could supply. "Declare his glory among the heathen, his marvellous works among all nations; for great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. Glory and honour are in his presence, and strength and gladness in his place. Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? If God be for us, who then can be against us ? Our help standeth in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee." Thus, as one observes, "our natural fears, of which we must have many, remit us to God, and remind us, since we know what God is, to lay hold on his almighty power."

Ample however as are the views afforded us in Scripture of the power of God, we are not to consider the subject as bounded by them. As when the Scriptures declare the eternity of God, they declare it so as to unveil to us something of that fearful peculiarity of the Divine nature, that he is the fountain of being to himself, and that he is eternal, because he is the "I AM ;" so we are taught not to measure his omnipotence by the actual displays of it which have been made. They are the manifestations of time principle, but not the measure of its capacity; and should we resort to the discoveries of modern philosophy, which, by the help of instruments, has so greatly enlarged the known boundaries of the visible universe, and add to the stars, visible to the naked eye, new exhibitions of the Divine power in those nebulous appearances of the heavens which are resolvable into myriads of distinct celestial lumi­naries, whose immense distances commingle their light before it reaches our eyes; we thus almost infinitely expand the circle of created exist­ence, and enter upon a formerly unknown and overwhelming range of Divine operation; but we are still reminded, that his power is truly almighty and measureless-" Lo, all these are parts of his ways, but how little a portion is known of him, and the thunder of his power who can understand ?" It is a mighty conception to think of a power from which all other power is derived, and to which it is subordinate; which nothing can oppose; which can beat down and annihilate all other powers whatever; a power which operates in the most perfect manner; at once, in an instant, with the utmost ease: but the Scriptures lead us to the contemplation of greater depths, and those unfathomable. The omnipotence of God is inconceivable and boundless. It arises from the infinite perfection of God, that his power can never be actually exhausted; and in every imaginable instant in eternity, that inexhaustible power of God can, if it please him, be adding either more creatures to those in existence, or greater perfection to them; since "it belongs to self-existent being, to be always full and communicative, and to the communicated, contingent being, to be ever empty and craving." (Howe.)

One limitation only we can conceive, which however detracts nothing from this perfection of the Divine nature.

"Where things in themselves imply a contradiction, as that a body may be extended and not extended, in a place and not in a place, at the same time; such things, I say, cannot be done by God, because contradictions are impossible in their own nature: nor is it any derogation from the Divine power to say, they cannot be done; for as the object of time understanding, of the eye, and the ear, is that which intelligible, visible, and audible; so the object of power must be that with is possible; and as it is no prejudice to the most perfect under­standing or sight, or hearing, that it does not understand what is not intelligible, or see what is not visible, or hear what is not audible; so neither is it any diminution to the most perfect power, that it does not do what is not possible. (Bishop Wilkins.) In like manner, God cannot do any thing that is repugnant to his other perfections: he cannot lie, nor deceive, nor deny himself; for this would be injurious to his truth. He cannot love sin, nor punish innocence; for this would destroy his holiness and goodness: and therefore to ascribe a power to him that is inconsistent with the rectitude of his nature, is not to magnify, but debase him; for all unrighteousness is weakness, a defection from right reason, a deviation from the perfect rule of action, and arises from a defect of goodness and power. In a word, since all thee attributes of God are essentially the same, a power in him which tends to destroy any other attribute of the Divine nature, must be a power destructive of itself. Well therefore may we conclude him absolutely omnipotent, who, by being able to effect all things consistent with his perfections, showeth infinite ability, and by not being able to do any thing repugnant to the same perfections, demonstrates himself subject to no infirmity." (Pearson on the Creed.)

Nothing certainly in the finest writings of antiquity, were all their best thoughts collected as to the majesty and power of God, can bear any comparison to the views thus presented to us by Divine revelation. Were we to forget for a moment, what is the fact, that their noblest notions stand connected with fancies and vain speculations which deprive them of their force, their thought never rises so high, the current of it is broken, the round of lofty conception is not completed; and, uncon­nected as their views of Divine power were with the eternal destiny of man, and the very reason of creation, we never hear in them, as jam the Scriptures, "the THUNDER of his power." One of the best specimens of heathen devotion is given below in the hymn of Cleanthes the Stoic; and, though noble and just, it sinks infinitely in the comparison.

"Hail, 0 Jupiter, most glorious of the immortals, invoked under many names, always most powerful, the first ruler of nature, whose law governs all thing,-hail! for to address thee is permitted to all mor­tals.-For our race we have from thee; we mortals who creep upon the ground, receiving only the echo of thy voice. I therefore, I will celebrate thee, and will always sing thy power. All this universe rolling round the earth, obeys thee wherever thou guidest, and willingly is governed by thee. So vehement, so fiery, so immortal is time thunder which thou boldest subservient in thy unshaken hands; for, by the stroke of this, all nature was rooted; by this, thou directest the common reason which pervades all things, mixed with the greater and lesser lumi­naries; so great a king art thou, supreme through all; nor does any work take place without thee on the earth, nor in the ethereal sky, nor in the sea, except what the bad perform in their own folly. But do thou, 0 Jupiter, giver of all blessings, dwelling in the clouds, ruler of the thunder, defend mortals from dismal misfortune; which dispel, 0 Father, from the soul, and grant it to attain that judgment, trusting to which thou governest all things with justice; that, being honoured, we may repay thee with honour, singing continually thy works, as becomes a mortal; since there is no greater need to men or gods, than always to celebrate justly the universal law."   

The OMNIPRESENCE or UBIQUITY of God, is another doctrine of Scrip­ture; and it is corroborated by facts obvious to all reflecting beings, though to us, and perhaps to all finite minds, the mode is incomprehensible. The statement of this doctrine in the inspired records, like that of all the other attributes of God, is made in their own peculiar tone and emphasis of majesty and sublimity. "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up to 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.-Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord? Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off ?-Thus saith the Lord, behold heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool-Be­hold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee.-Though he dig into hell, thence small my hand take him; though he climb up into heaven, thence will I bring him down; and though he hide himself in the top of Carmel, I will search and take him out from thence.-In him we live, and move, and have our being.-He filleth all things."

Some striking passages on the ubiquity of the Divine presence may be found in the writings of some of the Greek philosophers, arising out of this notion, that God was the soul of the world; but their very connection with this speculation, notwithstanding the imposing phrase occa­sionally adopted, strikingly marks tine difference between their most exalted views, and those of the Hebrew prophets on this subject. "To a large proportion of those who hold a distinguished rank among the ancient Theistical philosophers, the idea of the personality of the Deity was in a great measure unknown. The Deity by them was considered, not so much an intelligent being as an animating power, diffused through. out the world, and was introduced into their speculative system to ac­count for the motion of that passive mass of matter, which was supposed coeval, and indeed coexistent with himself." (Sumner's Records of the Creation.) These defective notions are confessed by Gibbon, a writer not disposed to undervalue their attainments.

 "The philosophers of Greece deduced their morals from the nature oh man, rather than from that of God. They meditated, however, on the Divine nature, as a very curious and important speculation; and in the profound inquiry, they displayed the strength and weakness of the human understanding. Of the four most considerable sects, the Stoics and the Platonicians endeavoured to reconcile the jarring interests of reason and piety. They have left us the most sublime proofs of the existence and perfections of the First Cause; but as it was impossible for them to conceive the creation of matter, the workman, in the Stoic philosophy, was not sufficiently distinguished from the work; while on the contrary, the spiritual God of Plato and his disciples resembled more an idea than a substance." (Decline and Fall, &c.)

Similar errors have been revived in the infidel philosophy of modern time, from Spinoza down to the latter offspring of the German and French schools. The same remark applies also to the oriental philosophy, which, as before remarked, presents at this day a perfect view of the boasted wisdom of ancient Greece, which was "brought to nought" by "the foolishness" of apostolic preaching. But in the Scriptures there is nothing confused in the doctrine of the Divine ubiquity. God is every where, but he is not every thing. All things have their being in him, but he is distinct from all things; he fills the universe, but is not mingled with it. He is the intelligence which guides, and the power which sustains, but his personality is preserved, and he is independent of the works of his hands, however vast and noble. So far is his presence from being bounded by the universe itself, that, as in the passage above quoted from the Psalms, we are taught that were it possible for us to wing our way into the immeasurable depths and breadths of space, God would there surround us, in as absolute a sense as that in which he is said to be about our bed and our path in that part of the world where his will has placed us.

On this as on all similar subjects, the Scriptures use terms which are taken in their common sense acceptation among mankind; and though the vanity of the human mind disposes many to seek a philosophy in the doctrine thus announced deeper than that which its popular terms convey, we are bound to conclude, if we would pay but a common re­spect to an admitted revelation, that where no manifest figure of speech occurs, the truth of the doctrine lies in the tenor of the terms by which it is expressed. Otherwise there would be no revelation, I do not say, of the modus, for that is confessedly incomprehensible; but of the fact. In the case before us, the terms presence, and place, are used according to common notions, and must be so taken, if the Scriptures are intelligible. Metaphysical refinements are not Scriptural doctrines, when they give to the terms chosen by the Holy Spirit an acceptation out of their general and proper use, and make them the signs of a perfectly distinct class of ideas; if indeed all distinctness of idea is not lost in the attempt. It is therefore in the popular, and just because Scriptural, manner, that we are to conceive of the omnipresence of God.

"If we reflect upon ourselves we may observe that we fill but a small space, and that our knowledge or power reaches but a little way. We can act at one time in one place only, and the sphere of our influence is narrow at largest. Would we be witnesses to what is done at any distance from us, or exert there our active powers, we must remove ourselves thither. For this reason we are necessarily ignorant of a thousand things which pass around or, incapable of attending and managing any great variety of affairs, or performing at the same time any number of actions, for our own good, or for the benefit of others.

"Although we feel this to be the present condition of our being, and the limited state of our intelligent and active powers, yet we can easily conceive, there may exist beings more perfect, and whose presence may extend for and 'wide. Any one of whom present in, what to us are, various places, at the same time, may know at once what is done in all these, and act in all of them; and thus be able to regard and direct a variety of affairs at the same instant. And who farther being qualified, by the purity and activity of their nature, to pass from one place to an­other with great ease and swiftness, may thus fill a large sphere of action, direct a great variety of affairs, confer a great number of bene­fits, and observe a multitude of actions at the same time, or in so swift a succession, as to us would appear but one instant. Thus perfect we may easily believe the angels of God.

"We can farther conceive this extent of presence, and of ability for knowledge and action, to admit of degrees of ascending perfection ap. preaching to infinite. And when we have thus raised our thoughts to the idea of a being, who is not only present throughout a large empire, but throughout our world; and not only in every part of our world, but in every part of all the numberless suns and worlds which roll in the starry heavens-who is not only able to enliven and actuate the plants, animals, and men who live upon this globe, but countless varieties of creatures every where in an immense universe-yea, whose presence is not confined to the universe, immeasurable as that is by any finite mind, but who is present every where in infinite space; and who is therefore able to create still new worlds and fill them with proper inhabitants, attend, supply, and govern them all-when we have thus gradually raised and enlarged our conceptions, we have the best idea we can form, of the universal presence of the great Jehovah, who filleth heaven and earth. There is no part of the universe, no of space uninhabited by God, none wherein this Being of perfect power, wisdom, and benevolence is not essentially present. Could we with the swiftness of a sunbeam dart ourselves beyond the limits of the creation, and for ages continue our progress in infinite space, we should still be surrounded with the Divine presence; nor ever be able to reach that space where God is not.

"His presence also penetrates every part of our world; the most solid parts of the earth cannot exclude it; for it pierces as easily the centre of the globe, as the empty air. All creatures live and move, and have their being in him. And the most recesses of the human heart can no more exclude his presence, or conceal a thought from his knowledge, than the deepest caverns of the earth." (Amory's Sermoni.)

The illustrations and confirmatory proofs of this doctrine which the material world furnishes, are numerous and striking.

"It is a most evident and acknowledged truth that a being cannot act where it is not; if therefore actions and effects, which manifest the highest wisdom, power, and goodness in the author of them, are continually produced every where, the author of these actions, or God, must be continually present with us, and wherever he thus acts. The matter which composes the world is evidently lifeless and thoughtless; it must therefore be incapable of moving itself, or designing or producing any effects which require wisdom or power. The matter of our world, or the small parts which constitute the air, the earth, and the waters, is yet continually moved, so as to produce effects of this kind; such are the innumerable herbs, and trees, and fruits which adorn the earth, and support the countless millions of creatures who inhabit it. There must therefore be constantly present, all over the earth, a most wise, mighty, and good being, the author and director of these motions.

"We cannot, it is true, see him with our bodily eyes, because he is a pure Spirit; yet this is not any proof that he is not present. A judicious discourse, a series of kind actions, convince us of the presence of a friend, a person of prudence and benevolence. We cannot see the present mind, the seat and principle of these qualities; yet the constant regular motion of the tongue, the hand, and the whole body, (which are the instruments of our souls, as the material universe and all the various bodies in it are the instruments of the Deity,) will not suffer us to doubt, that there is an intelligent and benevolent principle within the body, which produces all these skilful motions and kind actions. The sun, the air, the earth, and the waters, are no more able to move themselves, and produce all that beautiful and useful variety of plants, and fruits, and trees, with which our earth is covered, than the body of a man, when the soul hath left it, is able to move itself, form an instrument plough a field, or build a house. If the laying out judiciously and well cultivating a small estate, sowing it with proper grain at the best time of the year, watering it in due season and quantities, and gathering in the fruits when ripe, and laying them up in the best manner-if all these effects prove the estate to have a manager, and the manager pos­sesed of skill and strength-certainly the enlightening and warming the whole earth by the sun, and so directing its motion and the motion of the earth as to produce in a constant useful succession day and night, summer and winter, seed time and harvest; the watering the earth continually by the clouds, and thus bringing forth immense quantities of herbage, grain, and fruits-certainly all these effects continually produced, must prove that a being of the greatest power, wisdom, and benevolence, is continually present throughout our world, which he thus supports, moves, actuates, and makes fruitful.

"The fire which warms us, knows nothing of its serviceableness to this purpose, nor of the wise laws according to which its particles are moved to produce this effect. And that it is placed in such a part of the house, where it may be greatly beneficial, and no way hurtful, is ascribed without hesitation to the contrivance and labour of a person who knew its proper place and uses. And if we came daily into a house wherein we saw this was regularly done, though we never saw an inhabitant therein, we could not doubt that the house was occupied by a rational inhabitant. That huge globe of lire in the heavens, which we call the sun, and on the light and influences of which the fertility of our world, and the life and pleasure of all animals depend. knows nothing of its serviceableness to these purposes, nor of the wise laws according to which its beams are dispensed; nor what place or motions were requisite for these beneficial purposes. Yet its beams are darted constantly in infinite numbers, every one according to those well-chosen laws, and its proper place and motion are maintained. Must not then its place be appointed, its motion regulated, and beams darted, by almighty wisdom and goodness; which prevent the sun's ever wandering in the boundless spaces of the heavens, so as to leave us in disconsolate cold and darkness; or coming so near, or emitting his rays in such a manner as to burn us up? Must not the great Being who enlightens and warms us by the sun, his instrument, who raises and sends down the vapours, brings forth and ripens the grain and fruits, and who is thus ever acting around us for our benefit, be always present in the sun, throughout the air, and all over the earth, which he thus moves and actuates?

"This earth is in itself a dead motionless mass, and void of all counsel; yet proper parts of it are continually raised through the small pipes which compose the bodies of plants and trees, and are made to contribute to their growth, to open and shine in blossoms and leaves, and to swell and harden into fruit. Could blind thoughtless particles thus continually keep on their way, through numberless windings, with. out once blundering, if they were not guided by an unerring hand? Can the most perfect human skill from earth and water form one grain, much more a variety of beautiful and relishing fruits? Must not the directing mind, who does all this constantly, be most wise, mighty, and benevolent? Must not the Being who thus continually exerts his skill and energy around us, for our benefit, be confessed to be always present, and concerned for our welfare?

"Can these effects be ascribed to any thing below an all-wise and almighty Cause? And must not this cause be present, wherever he acts? Were God to speak to us every month from heaven, and with a voice loud as thunder declare, that he observes, provides for, and governs us, this would not be a proof in the judgment of sound reason b many degrees so valid. Since much less wisdom and power are required to form such sounds in the air, than to produce these effects; and to give not merely verbal declarations, but substantial evidences of his presence and care over us." (Arnory's Sermons.)

In every part and place of the universe, with which we acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance: In what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature? Nay, farther, we may ask, What kingdom is there of nature, what corner of space, in which there is any thing that can be examined by us, where we do not fall upon contrivance and' design? The only reflection perhaps which arises in our minds from this view of the world around us is, that the laws of nature every where prevail ; that they are uniform and uni­versal. But what do we mean by the laws of nature, or by any law? Effects are produced by power, not by laws. A law cannot execute itself. A law refers us to an agent." (Paley.)

The usual argument a priori, on this attribute of the Divine nature, has been stated as follows: but amidst so much demonstration of a much higher kind, it cannot be of much value.

"The First Cause, the supreme all-perfect mind, as he could not derive his being from any other cause, must he independent f all other, and therefore unlimited. He exists by an absolute necessity of nature; and as all the parts of infinite space are exactly uniform and alike, for the same reason that he exists in any one part, he must exist in all. No reason can be assigned for excluding him from one part, which would not exclude him from all. But that he is present in some parts of space, the evident effects of his wisdom, power, and benevolence continually produced, demonstrate, beyond all rational doubt. He must therefore be alike present every where; and fill infinite space with his infinite being." (Amory.)

Among metaphysicians, it has been matter of dispute, whether God is present every where by an infinite extension of his essence. This is the opinion of Newton, Dr. S. Clarke, and their followers: others have objected to this notion, that it might then be said, God is neither in heaven or in earth, but only a part of God in each. The former opinion, how­ever, appears most in harmony with the Scriptures; though the term extension, through the inadequacy of language, conveys too material an idea. The objection just stated is wholly grounded on notions taken from material objects and is therefore of little weight, because it is not appli­cable to an immaterial substance. it is best to confess with one who had thought deeply on the subject, "there is an incomprehensibleness in the manner of every thing about which no controversy can or ought to be concerned."[2] That we cannot comprehend how God is fully, and completely, and undividedly present every where, need not surprise us, when we reflect that the manner in which our own minds are present with our bodies is as incomprehensible, as the manner in which the supreme mind is present with every thing in the universe.


[1] A curious instance of the transmission of this name, and one of the pecu­liarities of the Hebrew faith, even into China, is mentioned in the following extract of Memoir of Lao-tseu, a Chinese philosopher, who flourished in the sixth century before our era, and who professed the opinions ascribed to Plato and to Pythagoras." (By M. Abel Remusat)-" The metaphysics of Lao-tseu have many other remarkable features, which I have endeavoured to develope in my memoir, and which, for various reasons, I am obliged to pass over in silence. How, in fact, should I give an idea of those lofty abstractions, of those inextri­cable subtleties, in which the oriental imagination disports and goes astray? it will suffice to say here, that the opinions of the Chinese philosopher on the origin and constitution of the universe, have neither ridiculous fables nor offensive absurdities; that they bear the stamp of a noble and elevated mind; and that, in the sublime reveries which distinguish them, they exhibit a striking and incontestable conformity with the doctrine which was professed a little later by the schools of Pythagoras and Plato. Like the Pythagoreans and the Stoics, our author admits, as the First Cause, Reason, an ineffable, uncreated Being, that is the type of the universe, and has no type but itself. Like Pythagoras, he takes human souls to be emanations of the ethereal substance, which are reunited with it after death; and, like Plato, he refuses to the wicked the faculty of returning into the bosom of the Universal Soul. Like Pythagoras, he gives to the first principles of things the names of numbers, and his cosmogony is, in some degree, algebraical. He attaches the chain of beings to that which he calls One, then to Two, then to Three, which have made all things. The divine Plato, who had adopted this mysterious dogma, seems to be afraid of re­vealing it to the profane. He envelopes it in clouds in his famous letter to the three friends; he teaches it to Dionysius of Syracuse; but by enigmas, as he says himself, lest his tablets falling into the hands of some stranger they should be read and understood. Perhaps the recollection of the recent death of Socrates imposed this reserve upon him. Lao-tseu does not make use of these indirect ways; and what is most clear in his book is, that a Triune Being formed the universe. To complete the singularity, he gives to his being a Hebrew name hardly changed, the very name which in our book designates him, WHO WAS, AND IS, AND SHALL BE. This last circumstance confirms all that the tradition indicated of a journey to the west, and leaves no doubt of the origin of his doctrine. Probably he received it either from the Jews of the ten tribes, whom the conquest of Sulmanazan had just dispersed throughout Asia, or from the apostles of some Phoenician sect, to which those philosophers also belonged, who were the masters and precursors of Pythagoras and Plato."

[2] Jackson's Existence and Unity, &c.-Vide also Watts's Philosophical E. says, and Law's Inquiry into the Ideas of Space, &C.