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before the time of that celebrated philosopher, whom Gout tenis to have bestowed on the world to purity reas), as he has some time before raised up otters to purity religion.*
What heavs of crude and indigested notions do we tind, among the schoolmen, of the immensity of God? One saith, God was a point, indivisible indeed, but a point, however, that had the peculiar property of occupving every part of the universe. Another, that God was the place of all beings, the immense extent in which his power had placed them. Another, that his essence was really in heaven, but yet, repletitely, as they express it, in every part of the universe. In short, this truth hath been obscured by the grossest ignorance. Whatever aversion we have to the decisive tone, we will venture to affirm, that people who talked in this manner of God, had no ideas themselves of what they advanced.
Do not be afraid of our condueting yon into these wild mazes; do not imagine that we will busy ourselves in exposing all these notions for the sake of laboring to refute them. We will content ourselves with giving you some light into the omnipresence of God :
I. By removing those false ideas, which, at first, seem to present themselves to the imagination ;
II. By assigning the true.
I. Let us remove the false ideas, which, at first, present themselves to the imagination; as if, when we say that God is present in any place, we mean that he is actually contained therein ; as if, when we say that God is in every place, we mean to assign to him a real and proper extension. Neither of these is designed; and, to remove these ideas, my brethren, two reflections are sufficient.
* The philosopher intended by Mr. S. I suppose, is his countryman Descartes, born in
1596. Vic de Desc. par. Baillet.
God is a spirit. A spirit cannot be in a place, at least in the manner in which we conceive of place.
1. God is a spirit. What relation can you find between wisdom, power, mercy, and all the other attributes, which enter into your notion of the divinity, and the nature of bodies? Pulverise matter, give it all the different forms of which it is susceptible, elevate it to the highest degree of attainment, make it vast, and immense ; moderate, or small; luminous, or obscure; opaque, or transparent: there will never result any thing but figures, and never will you be able, by all these combinations, or divisions, to produce one single sentiment, one single thought, like that of the meanest and most contracted of all mankind. If matter then cannot be the subject of one single operation of the soul of a mechanic, how shall it be the subject of those attributes which make the essence of God himself?
But perhaps God, who is spiritual in one part of his essence, may be corporeal in another part, like man, who, although he hath a spiritual soul, is yet united to a portion of matter? No: for, however admirable in man that union of spiritual and sensible may be, and those laws which unite his soul to his body, nothing more fully marks his weakness and dependence, and consequently nothing can less agree with the divine essence. Is it not a mark of the dependence of an immortal and intelligent soul, to be enveloped in a little flesh and blood, which, according to their different motions, determine his joy or sorrow, his happiness or misery? Is it not a mark of the weakness of our spirits to have the power of acting only on that little matter, to which we are united, and to have no power over more ? Who can imagine that God hath such limits? He hath no body: he is united to none; yet he is unit
ed to all. That celebrated philosopher, shall I call him? or atheist, * who said that the assemblage of all existence constituted the divine essence, who would have us consider all corporeal beings as the body of the divinity, published a great extravagance, if he meant that the divine essence consisted of this assemblage. But there is a very just sense, in which it may be said that the whole universe is the body of the Deity. In effect, as I call this portion of matter my body, which I move, act, and direct as I please, so God actuates by his will every part of the universe: he obscures the sun, he calms the winds, he commands the sea. But this very notion excludes all corporeity from God, and proves that God is a spirit. If God sometimes represents himself with feet, with hands, with eyes, he means in these portraits rather to give us emblems of his attributes, than images (properly speaking) of any parts which he possesseth. Therefore, when he attributes these to himself, he gives them so vast an extent, that, we easily perceive, they are not to be grossly understood. Hath he hands ? they are hands which weigh the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, which measure the waters in the hollow of his hand, and mete out the heavens with a span, Isa. Ix. 12. Hath he eyes? they are eyes that penetrate the most unmeasureable distances. Hath he feet? they are feet which reach from heaven to earth, for the heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool, ch. lxvi. 1. Hath he a voice? it is as the sound of many waters, breaking the cedars of Lebanon, making mount Sirion skip like an unicorn, and the hinds to calve, Psalm. xxix. 3, 5, 6, 9.
* Mr. S. means, I should suppose, Spinoza : whose system of atheism, says a sensible writer, is more gross, and therefore less dangerous, than others: his poison carrying its antidote with it.
This reminds me of a beautiful passage in Plato. He says that the gods, particularly the chief good, the ineffable beauty, as he calls him, cannot be conceived of but by the understanding only, and by quitting sensible objects; that, in order to contemplate the divinity, terrestrial ideas must be surmounted; that the eyes cannot see him ; that the cars cannot hear him. A thought which Julian the apostate, a great admirer of that philosopher, so nobly expresses in his satire on the Cæsars. Thus every thing serves to establish our first principle, that God is a spirit.
2. But to prove that God is a spirit, and to prove that he occupies no place, at least as our imagination conceives, is, in our opinion, to establish the same thesis.
I know how difficult it is to make this consequence intelligible and clear, not only to those who have never been accustomed to meditation, and who are therefore more excusable for having confused ideas; but even to such as, having cultivated the sciences, are most intent on refining their ideas. I freely acknowledge, that after we have used our utmost efforts to rise above sense and matter, it will be extremely difficult to conceive the existence of a spirit, without conceiving it in a certain place. Yet, I think, whatever difficulty there may be in the system of those who maintain that an immaterial being cannot be in a place, properly so called, there are greater difficulties still in the opposite opi.. nion: for what is immaterial hath no parts; what hath no parts hath no form ; what hath no form hath no extension ; what hath no extension can have no situation in place, properly so called. For what is it to be in place? is it not to fill space, is it not to be adjusted with surrounding bodies ? how adjust with surrounding bodies without parts? how
consist of parts, without being .corporeal ? But if you ascribe a real and proper extension to a spirit, every thought of that spirit would be a separate portion of that extension, as every part of the body is a separate portion of the whole body: every operation of spirit would be a modification of that extension, as every operation of body is a mo
dification of body; and, were this the case, there I would be no absurdity in saying that a thought is round, or square, or cubic, which is nothing less than the confounding of spirit with matter. Thus the idea, which our imagination forms of the omnipresence of God, when it represents the essence of the Supreme Being filling infinite spaces, as we are lodged in our houses, is a false idea that ought to be carefully avoided.
II. What notions then must we form of the immensity of God? In what sense do we conceive that the infinite Spirit is every where present ? My brethren, the bounds of our knowledge are so strait, our sphere is so contracted, we have such imperfect ideas of spirits, even of our own spirits, and, for a much stronger reason, of the Father of spirits, that no genius in the world, however exalted you may suppose him, after his greatest efforts of meditation, can say to you, Thus far extend the attributes of God; behold a complete idea of his immensity and omnipresence. Yet, by the help of sound reason, above all, by the aid of revelation, we may give you, if not complete, at least distinct ideas of the subject : it is possible, if not to indicate all the senses in which God is immense, at least to point out some: it is possible, if not to shew you all the truth, at least to discover it in part.
Let us not conceive the omnipresence of God as a particular attribute (if I may venture to say so)