God’s Omnipresence

BY JOHN WESLEY

Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:24).

How STRONGLY AND beautifully these words express the omnipresence of God! And can there be, in the whole realm of nature, a more sublime subject? Can there be anything more worthy of the consideration of every rational creature? Is there anything more necessary to be considered and to be understood?

How many excellent purposes it fulfills! What deep instruction it conveys to all the children of men, and, more directly, to the children of God!

How is it then so little has been written on so sublime and useful a subject? It is true that some of our most eminent writers have occasionally touched upon it. They have several strong and beautiful reflections that were naturally suggested by it. But which of them has published a regular treatise, or so much as a sermon, upon the omnipresence of God?

Perhaps many were conscious of their inability to do justice to so vast a subject. And it is possible that there are many such messages hidden in the voluminous writings of the last century. But if they are hid, even in their own country, they are of no use. If we cannot read them, or if they are buried in oblivion, it is the same.

What seems to be needed for general use is a plain discourse on the omnipresence, or ubiquity, of God. First, it should explain and prove that glorious truth, “God is in this and every place.” Second, it should apply to the consciences of all thinking men in a few practical inferences.

The Glorious Truth

I will endeavor, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to present that message. First, I should like to explain’ the omnipresence of God and to show how we are to understand the glorious truth: “God is in this and every place.”

The psalmist, you may remember, speaks strongly and beautifully about it in Psalm 139. He observes, in the most exact order, first, “God is in this place;” and then, “God is in every place.” He observes first, “Thou art about my bed, and about my path, and spiest out all my ways” (v. 3); “Thou hast fashioned me behind and before, and shine hand is upon me” (v. 5).

The manner of God’s omnipresence he could not explain; how it was he could not tell. “Such knowledge,” he says, “is too wonderful for me: I cannot attain unto it” (v. 6).

He next observes, in the most lively and affecting manner, that God is in every place. “Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit, or whither shall I go from thy presence? If I climb up into heaven, thou art there: If I go down to hell, thou art there also” (vv. 7, 8).

If I could ascend, he is saying after the manner of men, to the highest part of the universe, or if I could descend to the lowest point, God is alike present. He says, “If I should take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand would lead me” (vv. 9, 10) — thy power and thy presence would be before me,–“and thy right hand hold me.”

God, he says, is equally in the length and breadth, and in the height and depth, of the universe. Indeed, God’s presence and knowledge not only reach the utmost bounds of creation, but

Thine omnipresent sight,
Even to the pathless realms extends
Of uncreated night.

In a word, there is no point of space, whether within or without the bounds of creation, where God is not.

Indeed, this subject is far too vast to be comprehended by the narrow limits of human understanding. We can only say, the great God, the eternal, the almighty Spirit, is as unbounded in His presence, as in His duration and power.

In condescension, indeed, to our weak understanding, He is said to dwell in heaven. But strictly speaking, the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. He is in every part of His dominion. The universal God dwells in universal space, so that we may say,

Hail, FATHER! whose creating call
Unnumber’d worlds attend!
JEHOVAH, comprehending all,
Whom none can comprehend!

If we may dare attempt to illustrate this a little further: What is the space occupied by a grain of sand, compared to that space which is occupied by the starry heavens? It is as a cipher; it is nothing; it vanishes away in comparison.

What is this grain of sand compared to the whole expanse of space? The whole creation itself when seen in proportion with the universe, is infinitely less than a grain of sand! And yet this expanse of space, to which the whole creation bears no proportion at all, is infinitely less, in comparison to the great God, than a grain of sand, yes, even a millionth part of it.

The Supernatural God

This seems to be the plain meaning of those solemn words which God speaks of Himself: “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” And these sufficiently prove His omnipresence, which may be further established from this consideration: God acts everywhere and therefore is everywhere. It is an utter impossibility that any being, created or uncreated, should work where it is not. God acts in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, throughout the whole compass of His creation by sustaining all things. Without Him everything would in an instant sink into its primitive nothing.

He governs all, every moment superintending everything that He has made; strongly and sweetly influencing all, and yet not destroying the liberty of His rational creatures. Even the heathens acknowledged that the great God governs the large and conspicuous parts of the universe that He regulated the motions of the heavenly bodies: the sun, moon, and stars; that He is

The all-informing soul,
That fills, pervades, and actuates the whole.

But the heathens had no conception of His concern for the least things as well as the greatest. They had no idea that He presides over all that He has made–that He governs atoms as well as worlds. This we could not have known, unless it had pleased God to reveal it to us Himself

Had he not Himself told us so, we should not have dared to think that “not a sparrow falleth to the ground, without the will of our Father which is in heaven.” We wouldn’t have guessed that “even the very hairs of our head are all numbered!” (Matt. 10:29, 30).

This comfortable truth, that “God filleth heaven and earth,” we have also seen in Psalm 139:5-8: “If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me.”

The plain meaning is this: If I travel to any distance whatsoever, You are there. You still beset me, and lay your hand upon me. Let me flee to any conceivable or inconceivable distance; above, beneath, or on any side; it makes no difference. You are still equally there: In You I still “live, and move, and have my being” (Acts 17:28).

The Space-filling God

Where no creature is, God is still there. The presence or absence of any or all creatures makes no difference with regard to God’s presence. He is equally in all, or without all.

Many have been the disputes among philosophers whether there is any such thing as empty space in the universe. It is now generally supposed that all space is full. Perhaps it cannot be proved that all space is filled with matter, but the heathen himself will bear us witness.

“All things are full of God.” Yes, and whatever space exists beyond the bounds of creation (for creation must have bounds, since nothing is boundless–nothing can be, but the great Creator), even that space cannot exclude Him who fills the heaven and the earth.

Just equivalent to this is the expression of the apostle Paul, who said, “The fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). Literally translated, the words “all in all” mean all things in all things. This is the strongest expression of universality that can possibly be conceived. It necessarily includes the least and the greatest of all things that exist. If any expression could be stronger, it would be stronger than even the “filling of heaven and earth.”

Indeed, this very expression, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (the question being equal to the strongest affirmation), implies the clearest assertion of God’s being present everywhere and filling all space. It is well-known that the Hebrew phrase “heaven and earth” includes the whole universe the whole extent of space, created or uncreated, and all that is therein.

We cannot believe the omnipotence of God unless we believe His omnipresence. We have already observed that nothing can act where it is not. If there were an, space where God was not present, He would not be able to do anything there. Therefore, to deny the omnipresence of God implies, likewise, the denial of His omnipotence. To set bounds to the one is undoubtedly to set bounds to the other also.

Indeed, wherever we suppose Him not to be, there we suppose all His attributes to be in vain. He cannot exercise there either His justice or mercy, either His power or wisdom. In that extra-mundane space (so to speak), where we suppose God not to be present, we must, of course, suppose Him to have no duration. As it is supposed to be beyond the bounds of the creation, so it is also beyond the bounds of the Creator’s power. Such is the blasphemous absurdity implied in this supposition!

The Invisible God

But to all that is or can be said of the omnipresence of God, the world has one grand objection: they cannot see Him. This is really at the root of all their other objections. Long ago our blessed Lord observed, “Whom the world cannot receive, because they see Him not” (John 14:17).

But is it not easy to reply, “Can you see the wind?” You cannot. But do you therefore deny its existence or its presence? You say, “No, for I can perceive it by my other senses.” But by which of your senses do you perceive your soul? Surely you do not deny either the existence or the presence of this! And yet it is not the object of your sight or of any of your other senses. Suffice it then to consider that God is a Spirit, as is your soul. Consequently, “Him no man hath seen, or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16), with eyes of flesh and blood.

Drawing Some Conclusions

What inference should we draw from the fact that God is in every place; that He is “about our bed, and about our path” and that He “besets us behind and before, and lays His hand upon us?” What use should we make of this consideration?

Godly Fear. Is it not right to humble ourselves before the eyes of His Majesty? Should we not labor continually to acknowledge His presence “with reverence and godly fear”? (Heb. 12:28). This, of course, is not like the fear of devils, who believe and tremble, but with the fear of angels with something similar to that which is felt by the inhabitants of heaven, when

Dark with excessive bright his skirts appear,
Yet dazzle heaven, that brightest seraphim
Approach not, but with both wings veil their eyes.

Right Living. If you believe that God is about your bed and about your path and spies out all your ways, then take care not to do the least thing, not to speak the least word, not to indulge the least thought that you think would offend Him. Suppose a messenger of God, an angel, were now standing at your right hand and fixing his eyes upon you. Would you not take care to abstain from every word or action that you knew would offend him?

Yes, suppose one of your mortal fellowmen, suppose only a holy man, were to stand by you. Would you not be extremely cautious how you conducted yourself, both in word and action? How much more cautious ought you to be when you know that not a holy man, not an angel of God, but God Himself, the Holy One “that inhabiteth eternity,” is inspecting your heart, your tongue, your hand, every moment. He Himself will surely bring you into judgment for all you think and speak and act under the sun!

In particular, if there is not a word in your tongue nor a syllable you speak, but he “knoweth it altogether,” how exact you should be in “setting a watch before your mouth, and in keeping the door of your lips”! (Ps. 141:3). How it behoves you to be wary in all your conversations, being forewarned by your Judge, that “by your words you shall be justified, or by your words you shall be condemned”! (Matt. 12:37).

How cautious you should be, lest “any corrupt communication” or any uncharitable or unprofitable discourse should “proceed out of your mouth” instead of “that which is good to the use of edifying, and meet to minister grace to the hearer”! (Eph. 4:29).

If God sees our hearts as well as our hands in all places; if He understands our thoughts long before they are clothed with words, how earnestly we should urge that petition, “Search me, O Lord, and prove me; try out my reins and my heart; look well if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 26:2; 139:23, 24).

How needful it is to work together with him in “keeping our hearts with all diligence” (Pr. 4:23), until He has “cast down imaginations,” evil reasonings, “and everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and brought into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”! (2 Cor. 10:5).

Faithfully Serving. On the other hand, if you are already enlisted under the great Captain of your salvation, and you see yourself continually under the eye of your Captain, how zealous and active you should be to “fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12); “to endure hardship, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3); to use all diligence, to “war a good warfare,” and to do whatever is acceptable in His sight!

How studious you should be to approve all your ways to His all-seeing eyes, so that He may say to your hearts what He will proclaim aloud in the great assembly of men and angels, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21).

In order to attain these glorious ends, spare no pains to preserve always a deep, continual, lively, and joyful sense of His gracious presence. Never forget His comprehensive word to the great father of the faithful: “I am the Almighty [rather, the all-sufficient] God; walk before me, and be thou perfect”! (Gen. 17:1).

Cheerfully expect that He, before whom you stand, will ever guide you with His eye; will support you by His guardian hand; will keep you from all evil; and “when you have suffered a while, will make you perfect, will stablish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10), and then “preserve you unblamable unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”! (1 Thess. 5:23).

John Wesley (1703-1781), along with his brother Charles, and George Whitefield, founded the Methodist movement in Britain and America. On May 24, 1738, he had his great spiritual experience in a meeting at Aldersgate Street, when his “heart was strangely warmed” and he received assurance of salvation. Encouraged by Whitefield to do open-air preaching, Wesley soon was addressing thousands, in spite of the fact that many churches were closed to him. The Methodist “societies” he formed became local churches that conserved the results of his evangelism. He wrote many books and preached 40,000 sermons during his long ministry. This one is taken from Works of John Wesley, volume 3, published by the Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London, 1872 and was preached in Portsmouth, August 12, 1788.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM CLASSIC SERMONS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AND PUBLISHED BY HENDRICKSON PUBLISHERS, INC., BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT WITH AND PERMISSION OF KREGEL PUBLICATIONS, 1989, PAGES 110-118. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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