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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

God’s Omnipresence

J. L. Dagg

From the Manual of Theology: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, 1859

God is everywhere. (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7; Jer. 23:23)

Every material thing in the universe is somewhere. The sun has its place; the earth also, and every grain of sand, and every drop of water. The drops of water may change their place perpetually, but every drop has, for each moment, its own place, to the exclusion of all other matter in the universe.

In our conceptions of the human mind we assign place to it also, though in a different manner. We do not attribute to it length, breadth, and thickness, as to a block of marble, which can be measured by feet and inches, but we conceive of it as present in the human body, with which it is connected, and absent from another, with which it is not connected.

Each mind is operated on by impressions made on the organs of sense which belong to its own body, and operates by its volitions on the muscles of motion which belong to that body. In this view, we conceive of each mind as present in its own body, and not elsewhere; and we conceive of changing the place of the mind, while its connection with the body continues, only by a change in the place of the body.

When we conceive of finite spiritual beings as angels, we assign to each some place because his operation, though not confined like that of the human mind, to a particular material body, is nevertheless limited. Such conception accords with the teaching of Scripture, in which angels are represented as moving from place to place, to execute the will of their Sovereign. So the angel came to Daniel, (Dan. 9:23); and to Peter (Acts 12:7); and so one is represented as flying through the midst of heaven. (Rev. 14:6)

We must not conceive of God's omnipresence as if it were material. We say that the atmosphere is present at every part of the earth's surface, but this is not strictly true. It is not the whole, but merely a small part of the atmosphere, which is present at each place; God is indivisible. We cannot say, that a part of his essence is here, and a part yonder. If this were the mode of God's omnipresence in universal space, he would be infinitely divided, and only an infinitely small part of him would be present at each place. It would not be the whole deity that takes cognizance of our actions, and listens to our petitions. This notion is unfavorable to piety, and opposed to the true sense of Scripture: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." (Prov. 15:3); "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers." (1Pet. 3:12)

There are passages of Scripture which speak of God's removing from one place to another; of his approaching and departing; of his dwelling in heaven, and of his coming near to his people, and taking up his abode with them. These are manifestly accommodations of language just as when eyes or hands are attributed to him. They refer to the manifestations of his presence in his various works, and dispensations, in which such changes take place, as are appropriately and impressively expressed by this language.

When we deny a material omnipresence of God, as if his essence were divided and diffused; and when we maintain that the whole deity is everywhere present by his energy and operation, it is not to be understood that we deny the essential omnipresence of God. In whatever manner his essence is present anywhere, it is present everywhere. What the mode of that presence is, we know not.

We know not the essence of the human mind, nor the mode of its presence in the body; much less can we comprehend the essence of the infinite God, or the mode of his omnipresence. To that incomprehensible property of his nature, by which he is capable of being wholly present at the same moment, with every one of his creatures, without division of his essence, and without removal from place to place, the name immensity has been given.

The essence of God is immense or unmeasured because it is unmeasurable. It is unmeasurable because it is spiritual, and, therefore, without such dimensions as may be measured by feet and inches, and because, in whatever sense dimensions may be ascribed to it, these dimensions are boundless.

Time has a dimension not to be measured by feet and inches, and we may say of time that it is omnipresent. The same moment exists in Europe and America, at Saturn, and at the centre of the earth. The omnipresence of time does not explain the omnipresence of God, but it may help us to admit the possibility of omnipresence without division of essence, or removal of place. But the omnipresence of time is not immensity; for time has its measure, and a moment is not eternity.

It is not derogatory to the dignity and glory of God, that he is present everywhere. There are foul places where human beings would prefer not to be, but they do not affect the Deity as they affect men. The sunbeams fall on them without being polluted, and the holy God cannot be contaminated by them.

There are scenes of wickedness from which a good man will turn away with abhorrence, and, in the figurative language of Scripture, God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil." (Hab. 1:13) Yet, in another place of scripture, language no less figurative teaches us that the eyes of God behold the evil as well as the good. (Prov. 15:3) He witnesses while be abhors.

A man, who sincerely believes the omnipresence of God, cannot be indifferent to religion. To realize that the moral Governor of the universe is ever near, in all his holiness and power, and as much present as if he were nowhere else, must awaken solicitude.

When a sense of guilt oppresses, the presence of such a companion becomes intolerable. The guilty man strives to flee from the presence of God, as Jonah did, but the doctrine of God's omnipresence teaches him that the attempt is unavailing. The power of conscience tormenting the guilty man, wherever he goes, is terrible, but the presence of the God against whom he has sinned, and whose wrath he dreads, is still more terrible.

To the soul, reconciled to God, the doctrine is full of consolation. In every place, in every condition, to have with us an almighty friend, a kind father, is a source of unspeakable comfort and joy. We need not fear, though we pass through fire or flood, if God be with us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we may fear no evil. (Ps. 23:4) In every circumstance and trial, it conduces to holiness, to know that God is present.