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—Cælum quid querimus ultra? Luc. lib. ix.
Than heav’n what further can we seek?
IN your paper of Friday the 9th instant you had occasion to consider the ubiquity of the Godhead, and at the same time to shew, that as he is present to every thing, he cannot but be attentive to every thing, and privy to all the modes and parts of its existence; or, in other words, that his omniscience and omnipresence are coexistent, and run together through the whole infinitude of space. This consideration might furnish us with many incentives to devotion, and motives to morality; but as this subject has been handled by several excellent writers, I shall consider it in a light wherein I have not seen it placed by others.
First, How disconsolate is the condition of an intellectual being, who is thus present with his Maker, but at the same time receives no extraordinary benefit or advantage from this his presence!
Secondly, How deplorable is the condition of an intellectual being, who feels no other effects from this his pretence but such as proceed from divine wrath and indignation!
Thirdly, How happy is the condition of that intellectual being, who is sensible of his Maker’s presence from the secret effects of his mercy and loving kindness!
First, How disconsolate is the condition of an intellectual being who is thus present with his Maker, but at the same time receives no extraordinary benefit or advantage from this his presence! Every particle of matter is actuated by this Almighty Being which passes through it. The heavens and the earth, the stars and planets, move and gravitate by virtue of this great principle within them. All the dead parts of nature are invigourated by the presence of their creator, and made capable of exerting their respective qualities. The several instincts in the brute creation, do likewise operate and work towards the several ends which are agreeable to them by this divine energy. Man only, who does not cooperate with this Holy Spirit, and is unattentive to his presence, receives none of those advantages from it, which are perspective of his nature, and necessary to his well being. The divinity is with him, and in him, and every where about him, but of no advantage to him. It is the same thing to a man with out religion, as if there were no God in the world. It is indeed impossible for an infinite Being to remove himself from any of his creatures, but though he cannot withdraw his essence from us which would argue an imperfection in him, he can withdraw from us all the joys and consolations of it. His, presence may perhaps be necessary to support us in our existence but he may leave this our existence to itself, with regard to its happiness or misery. For, in this sense he may cast us away from his presence, and take his Holy Spirit from us. This single consideration one would think sufficient to make us open our hearts to all those infusions of joy and gladness which are so near at hand, and ready to be poured in upon us; especially when we consider, secondly, The deplorable condition of an intellectual being who feels no other effects from his Maker’s presence, but such as proceed from divine wrath and indignation!
We may assure ourselves, that the great Author of nature will not always be as one, who is indifferent to any of his creatures. Those who will not feel him in his love, will be sure at length to feel him in his displeasure. And how dreadful is the condition of that creature, who is only sensible of the being of his Creator, by what he suffers from him! He is as essentially present in hell as in heaven, but the inhabitants of the former place behold him only in his wrath, and shrink within the flames to conceal themselves from him. It is not in the power of imagination to conceive the fearful effects of omnipotence incensed.
But I shall only consider the wretchedness of an intellectual being, who, in this life, lies under the displeasure of him, that, at all times, and in all places, is intimately united with him. He is able to disquiet the soul, and vex it in all its faculties. He can hinder any of the greatest comforts of life from refreshing us, and give an edge to every one of its calamities. Who then can bear the thought of being an outcast from his presence, that is, from the comforts of it, or feeling it only in its terrors? How pathetic is that expostulation of Job, when, for the trial of his patience, he was made to look upon himself in this deplorable condition! “Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am become a burden to myself?” But, thirdly, how happy is the condition of that intellectual being, who is sensible of his Maker’s presence from the secret effects of his mercy and loving-kindness!
The blessed in heaven behold him face to face; that is, are as sensible of his presence as we are of the presence of any person whom we look upon with our eyes. There is doubtless a faculty in spirits by which they apprehend one another, as our senses do material objects and there is no question but our souls, when they are disembodied or placed in glorified bodies, will, by this faculty in whatever part of space they reside, be always sensible of the divine presence. We who have this veil of flesh standing between us and the world of spirits, must be content to know that the spirit of God is present with us, by the effects which he produceth in us. Our outward senses are too gross to apprehend him; we may however taste and see how gracious he is, by his influence upon our minds, by those virtuous thoughts he awakens in us, by those secret comforts and refreshments which he conveys into our souls, and by these ravishing joys and inward satisfactions, which are perpetually springing up, and diffusing themselves among all the thoughts of good men. He is lodged in our very essence, and is as a soul within the soul, to irradiate its understanding, to rectify its will, purify its passions, and enliven all the powers of man. How happy therefore is an intellectual being, who, by prayer and meditation, by virtue and good works, opens this communication between God and his own soul! Though the whole creation frowns upon him, and all nature looks black upon him, he has light and support within him, that are able to cheer his mind and bear him up in the midst of all those horrors which encompass him. He knows that his helper is at hand, and is always nearer to him than any thing else can be, which is capable of annoying or terrifying him. In the midst of calumny or contempt, he attends to that Being who whispers better things within his soul, and whom he looks upon as his defender, his glory and the lifter up of his head. In his deepest solitude and retirement, he knows that he is in company with the greatest of Beings; and perceives within himself such real sensations of his presence, as are more delightful than any thing that can be met with in the conversation of his creatures. Even in the hour of death he considers the pains of his dissolution to be nothing else but the breaking down of that partition, which stands betwixt his soul, and the light of that Being, who is always present with him, and is about to manifest itself to him in fulness of joy.
If we would be thus happy, and thus sensible of our Maker’s presence from the secret effects of his mercy and goodness, we must keep such a watch over all our thoughts, that, in the language of the scripture, his soul may have pleasure in us. We must take care not to grieve his Holy Spirit, and endeavour to make the meditations of our hearts always acceptable in his sight, that he may delight thus to reside and dwell in us. The light of nature could direct Seneca to this doctrine in a very remarkable passage among his epistles; Sacer inest in nobis spiritus bonorum malorumque custos, et observator, et quem admodum nos illum tractamus, ita et ille nos. “There is a holy spirit residing in us, who watches and observes both and evil men, and will treat us after the same manner that we treat him.” But I shall conclude this discourse with those more emphatical words in divine revelation, “If a man love me; he will keep my words, and my father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
—Si verbo audaria
Non metuam magni dixisse palatia cæli.
Ov. Met. Lib. L Ver. 175.
This place, the brightest mansion of the sky,
I’ll call the palace of the Deity.
I CONSIDERED in my two last letters that awful and tremendous subject, the ubiquity or omnipresence of the Divine Being. I have shewn that he is equally present in all places throughout the whole extent of infinie space. This doctrine is so agreeable to reason, that we meet with it in the writings of the enlightened Heathens, as I might show at large, were it not already done by other hands. Bat though the Deity be thus essentially present through all the immensity of space, there is one part of it in which he discovers himself in a most transcendent and visable glory. This is that place which is marked out in scripture under the different appellations of paradise, the third heaven, the throne of God, and the habitation of his glory. It is here where the glorified body of our Saviour resides, and where all the celestial hierarchies and the innumerable host of angels are represented as perpetually surrounding the seat of God with hallelujahs and hymns of praise. This is that presence of God which some of the divines call his glorious and others his majestic presence. He is indeed as essentially present in all other places as in this; but it is here where he resides in a sensible magnificence, and in the midst of those splendors which can affect the imagination of created beings.
It is very remarkable that this opinion of God Almighty’s presence in heaven, whether discovered by the light of nature, or by a general tradition from our first parents, prevails among all the nations of the world, whatsoever different notions they entertain of the Godhead. If you look into Homer, who is the most ancient of the Greek writers, you see the supreme power seated in the heavens, and encompassed with inferior deities, among whom the muses are represented as singing incessantly about his throne. Who does not see here the main strokes and out lines of this great truth we are speaking of? The same doctrine is shadowed out in many other Heathen authors, though at the same time, like several other revealed truths. dashed and adulterated with a mixture of fables and human inventions. But, to pass over the notions of the Greeks and Romans, those more enlightened parts of the Pagan world, we find that there is scarce a people among the late discovered nations who are not trained up in an opinion that heaven is the habitation of the divinity whom they worship.
As in Solomon’s temple there was the sanctum sanctorum, in which a visible glory appeared among the figures of the cherubims, and into which none but the High-priest himself was permitted to enter, after having made an atonement for the sins of the people; so, if we consider the whole creation as one great temple, there is in it this holy of holies, into which the High-priest of our salvation entered, and took his place among angels and archangels, after having made a propitiation for the sins of mankind.
With how much skill must the throne of God be erected? With what glorious designs is that habitation beautified, which is contrived and built by him who inspired Hiram with wisdom? How great must be the majesty of that place, where the whole art of creation has been employed, and where God has: chosen to shew himself in the most magnificent manner? What must be the architecture of infinite power under the direction of infinite wisdom? A spirit cannot but be transported after an ineffable manner with the sight of those objects, which were made to affect him, by that Being who knows the inward frame of a soul, and how to please and ravish it in all its most secret powers and faculties. It is to this majestic presence of God we may apply those beautiful expressions in holy writ; “Behold! even to the moon, and it shineth not: yea, the stars are not pure in his sight.” The light of the sun, and all the glories of the world in which we live, are but as weak and sickly glimmerings, or rather darkness itself, in comparison of those splendors which encompass the throne of God.
As the glory, of this place is transcendant beyond imagination, so, probably is the extent of it. There is light behind light, and glory within glory. How far that space may reach, in which God thus appears in perfect majesty, we cannot possibly conceive. Though it is not infinite, it may be indefinite; and though not immeasurable in itself, it may be so with regard to any created eye or imagination. If he has made these lower regions of matter so inconceivably wide and magnificent for the habitation of mortal and perishable beings, how great may we suppose the courts of his house to be, where he makes his residence in a more especial manner, and displays himself in the fulness of his glory, among an innumerable company of angels and spirits of just men made perfect.
This is certain, that our imagination can not be raised too high, when we think on a place where omnipotence and omniscience have so signally exerted themselves; because that they are able to produce a scene infinitely more great and glorious than what we are able to imagine. It is not impossible but, at the consummation of all things these outward apartments of nature, which are now suited to those beings who inhabit them, may be taken in and added to that glorious place of which I am here speaking, and by that means made a proper habitation for beings who are exempt from mortality, and cleared of their imperfections: for so the scripture seems intimate, when it speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
I have only considered this glorious place with regard to the sight and imagination, though it is highly probable that our other senses may here likewise enjoy their highest gratifications. There is nothing which more ravishes and transports the soul than harmony; and we have great reason to believe, from the descriptions of this place in holy scripture, that this is one of the entertainments of it. And if the soul of man can be so wonderfully affected with those strains of music which human art is capable of producing, how much more will it be raised and elevated by those in which is exerted the whole power of harmony. The senses are faculties of the human soul, though they can not be employed, during this our vital union, without proper instruments in the body.
Why therefore should we exclude the satisfaction of these faculties, which we find by experience are inlets of great pleasure to the soul, from among those entertainments which are to make up our happiness hereafter. Why should we suppose that our hearing and seeing will not be gratified with those objects which are most agreeable to them, and which they cannot meet with in these lower regions of nature; objects which neither eye have seen, nor ear heared, nor, can it enter into the heart of man to conceive? “I knew a man in Christ, (says St. Paul, speaking of himself) above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible for a man to utter.” By this is meant, that what he heard was so infinitely different from any thing which he had heard in this world, that it was impossible to express it in such words as might convey a notion of it to his hearers.
It is very natural for us to take delight in inquiries concerning any foreign country, where we are some time or other to make our abode and as we all hope to be admitted into this glorious place, it is both a laudable and useful curiosity to git what information we can of it, whilst we make use of revelation for our guide. When these everlasting doors shall be opened to us we may be sure that the pleasures and beauties of this place will infinitely transcend our present hope and expectations; and that the glorious appearance of the throne of God will rise infinitely beyond whatever we are able to conceive of it. We might here entertain ourselves with many other speculations on this subject, from those several hints which we find of it in the holy scriptures; as whether there may not be different mansions and apartments of glory, to beings of different natures; whether, as they excel one another in perfection, they are not admitted nearer to the throne of the Almighty, and enjoy greater manifestations of his presence; whether there are not solemn times and occasions, when all the multitude of heaven celebrate the presence of their Maker in more extraordinary forms of praise and adoration; as Adam, though he had continued in a state of innocence, would, in the opinion of our divines, have kept holy the Sabbath day, in a more particular manner than any other of the seven. These, and the like speculations, we may very innocently indulge, so long as we make use of them to :inspire us with a desire of becoming inhabitants of this delightful place.
I have in this, and in two foregoing letters, treated on the most serious subject that can employ the mind of man, the omnipresence of the Deity; a subject which, if possible, should never depart from our meditations. We have considered the divine Being as he inhabits infinitude, as he dwells among his works, as he is present to the mind of man, and as he discovers himself in a more glorious manner among the regions of the blessed. Such a consideration should be kept awake in us at all times, and in all places, and possess our minds with a perpetual awe and reverence. It should be interwoven with all our thoughts and perceptions become one with the consciousness of our own being. It is not to be reflected on in the coldness of philosophy, but ought to sink us into the lowest prostration before him, who is so astonishing great, wonderful and holy.
—Assidus labuntur tempora motu O
Non secus ac flumen. Neque enim consistere flumen
Nec levis bora potest: set ut unda impellitur unda,
Urgeturque prior venienti, urgetque priorem,
Tempora sic fugiunt pariter, pariterque, sequuntur:
Et nova sunt semper. Namquod fuit ante, relictum est;
Fitque quod haud fuerat; momentaque cuncta novantur.
Ov. Met. Lib. XIII. 179.
Ev’n times are in perpetual flux, and run
Like rivers from their fountain, rolling on,
For time, no more than streams, is at a stay;
The flying hour is ever on her way;
And as the fountain still supplies her store,
The wave behind impels the wave before;
Thus in successive course the minutes run,
And urge their predecessor minutes on,
Still moving, ever new: for former things
Are set aside, like abdicated kings:
And every moment alters what was done,
And innovates some act, till then unknown.
WE consider infinite space as an expansion without a circumference; we consider eternity, or infinite duration, as a line that has neither a beginning nor end. In our speculations of infinite space, we consider that particular place in which we exist, as a kind of centre to the whole expansion. In our speculations of eternity, we consider the time which is present to us as the middle, which divides the whole line into two equal parts. For this reason, many witty authors compare the present time to an isthmus or narrow neck of land that rises in the st of an ocean immeasurably diffused on either side of it.
Philosophy, and indeed common sense, naturally throws eternity into divisions; which we may call, in English, that eternity which is past, and that eternity which is to come. The learned terms of æternitas a parte ante and aternitas a parte post, may be more amusing to the reader, but can have no other idea affixed to them than what is conveyed to us by those words, an eternity that is past, and an eternity that is to come. Each of these eternities is bounded at the one extreme; or, in other words, the former has an end, and the latter a beginning.
Let us first of all consider that eternity which is past, reserving that which is to come for the subject of another paper. The nature of this eternity is utterly inconceivable by the mind of man; our reason demonstrates to us that it has been, but at the same time can frame no idea of it but what is big with absurdity and contradiction. We can have no other conception of any duration which is past than that all of it was once present, and whatever was was once present, is at some certain distance from us; and whatever is at any certain distance from us, be the distance never so remote, can not be eternity. The very notion of any duration being past, implies that it was once present: for the idea of being once present is actually included in the idea of its being past. This therefore is a depth not to be sounded by human understanding. We are sure that there has been an eternity, and yet contradict ourselves, when we measure this eternity by any notion which we can frame of it.
If we go to the bottom of this matter, we shall find, that the difficulties we meet with in our conceptions of eternity proceed from this single reason, that we can have no idea of any other kind of duration than that by which we ourselves, and all other created beings, do exist; which is a successive duration made up of past, present, and to come. There is nothing which exists after this manner; all the parts of this existence were once actually present, and consequently may be reached by certain numbers of years applied to it. We may ascend as high as we please, and employ our being to that eternity which is to come, in adding millions of years to millions of years, and we can never come up to any fountainhead of duration, to any beginning in eternity; but the same time are sure, that whatever was once present does lie within the reach of numbers, though perhaps we can never be able to put enough of them together for that purpose. We may as well say that any thing may be actually present in any part of infinite space, which does not lie at a certain distance from us, as that any part of infinite duration was once actually present, and does not also lie at some determined distance from us. The distance in both cases may be immeasurable and indefinite as to our faculties, but our reason tells us that it cannot be so in itself. Here therefore is that difficulty which human understanding is not capable of surmounting. We are sure that something must have existed from eternity, and are at the same time unable to conceive, that any thing which exists, according to our notion of existence, can have existed from eternity.
It is hard for a reader, who has not rolled this thought in his own mind, to follow in such an abstracted speculation; but I have been the longer on it, because I think it is a demonstrative argument of the being and eternity of a God: and though there are many other demonstrations which lead us to this great truth, I do not think we ought to lay aside any proofs in this matter which the light of reason has suggested to us, especially when it is such a one as has been urged by men famous for their penetration and force of understanding, and which appears altogether conclusive to those who will be at the pains to examine it.
Having thus considered that eternity which is past, according to the best idea we can frame of it, I shall now draw up those several articles on this subject which are dictated to us by the light of reason, and which may be looked upon as the creed of a philosopher in this great point.
First, It is certain that no being could have made itself; for if so, it must have acted before it was, which is a contradiction.
Secondly, That therefore some being must have existed from all eternity.
Thirdly, That whatever exists after the manner of created beings, or according to any notions which we have of existence, could not have existed, from eternity.
Fourthly, That this eternal being must therefore be the great Author of nature, the Ancient of days, who, being at an infinite distance in his perfections from all finite and created beings, exists in a quite different manner from them, and in a manner of which they can have no idea.
I know that several of the schoolmen, who would not be thought ignorant of any thing, have pretended to explain the manner of God’s existence, by telling us, that he comprehends infinite duration in every moment, that eternity is with him a punctum stans, a fixed point; or which is as good sense, an infinite instant that nothing with reference to his existence is either past or to come: which the ingenious Mr. Cowley alludes in his description of heaven:
Nothing is there to come, and nothing past,
But an eternal NOW, does always last.
For my own part, I look upon these propositions as words that have no ideas annexed to them and think men had better own their ignorance, than advance doctrines by which they mean nothing, and which indeed are self contradictory. We cannot be too modest in our disquisitions, when we meditate on Him, who is invirioned with so much glory and perfection, who is the source of being, the fountain of all that existence which we and his whole creation derive from him. Let us therefore, with the utmost humility, acknowledge, that as some being must necessarily have existed from eternity; so this being does exist after an incomprehensible manner, since it is impossible for a being to have existed from eternity after our manner or notions of existence. Revelation confirms these natural dictates of reason in the accounts which it gives us of the divine existence, where it tells us, that he that the same yesterday, today, and forever; that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending: that a thousand years are with him as one day; and one day as a thousand years; by which and the like expressions we are taught, that his existence, with relation to time or duration, is infinitely differently from the existence of any of his creatures, and consequently that it is impossible for us to frame any adequate conceptions of it.
In the first revelation which he makes of his own being, he intitles himself, I am that I am; and when Moses desires to know what name he shall give him, in his embassy to Pharoah, he bids him say, I AM hath sent you. Our great Creator, by this revelation of himself, does in a manner exclude every thing else from a real existence, and distinguishes himself from his creatures, as the only being which truly and really exists. The ancient Platonic notion, which was drawn from speculations of eternity, wonderfully agrees with this revelation which God, has made of himself. There is nothing, say they, which in reality exists, whose existence, as we call it, is pieced up of past, present, and to come. Such a fleeting and successive existence is rather a shadow of existence, and something which is like it, than existence itself. He only properly exists whose existence is entirely present; that is, in other words, who exists in the most perfect manner, and in such a manner, as we have no idea of.
I shall conclude this speculation with one useful inference. How can we sufficiently prostrate ourselves and fall down before our Maker, when we consider that ineffible goodness and wisdom which contrived this existence for finite natures? What must be the overflowings of that good will, which prompted our Creator to adapt existence to beings in whom it is not necessary, especially when we consider that he himself was before in the complete possession of existence and of happiness, and in the full enjoyment of eternity? What man can think of himself as called out, and separated from nothing, of his being made a conscious, a reasonable and a happy creature; in short, of being taken in as a sharer of existence, and a kind of partner in eternity, without being swallowed up in wonder, in praise, and adoration! It is indeed a thought too big for the mind of man, and rather to be entertained in the secrecy of devotion, and in the silence of the soul, than to be expressed by words. The Supreme Being has not given us powers or faculties sufficient to extoll and magnify such unutterable goodness.
It is however some comfort to us, that we shall be always doing what we shall be never able to do, and that a work which cannot be finished, will however be the work of an eternity.
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