This sermon is number 11 in a series of 13
Behold Your God - Part 11
"The Omnipresence Of God"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2001 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Our text this morning, and our passage of scripture, is Psalm 139. A very famous Psalm to do with God in general, and there are many attributes of God that are found listed within this Psalm - but we're going to just read the stanzas that refer to the omnipresence of God as we study this subject together this morning.
Let me say that - last week I think it was - we had a watch, now we have a key and a watch! So if you are less of a key or a watch, please do come up here and I'll leave them sitting up here for you to take.
Psalm 139 and verse 7, David expressing this great doctrine of the attribute of God's omnipresence says: "Whither", where, "shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into 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. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee".
One Sunday morning a lecturer in a theological college was sharing a seat on a train with a small boy as he went to church. This was recorded in the Philadelphia Bulletin, if you want to look it up - if you have a Philadelphia Bulletin - but you'll have to believe me and take my word for it! The boy was holding in his hand his Sunday School lesson leaflet, The lecturer sitting beside him was interested, and asked - in a friendly way - a question of the young boy. He said: 'Can I ask you a question?'. 'Yes sir, you can'. 'Tell me my boy', continued the man - thinking to have some fun with the lad - 'Where is God? If you can tell me where God is, I'll give you an apple!'. The boy looked up at the theological lecturer sharply, and promptly replied: 'I'll give you a whole barrel of apples if you can tell me where God is not'. Isn't that right? The child had more wisdom!
As A.W. Tozer said: 'The notion that there is a God, but that He is comfortably far away, is not embodied in the doctrinal statement of the Christian church'. We do not believe that God is in heaven alone, that God is separated from us, that we are far from God in a geographical sense. That is why I want us to first of all ponder the presence of God, as we begin our study this morning in His omnipresence. Then secondly, I want us to learn that we need to practise the presence of God within our lives.
So let us look, first of all, at this fact that we must ponder the presence of God. Now, let's dissect this theological word 'omnipresence'. The last word, you will recognise, comes from the root 'to be present' - and that simply means 'to be close'. We can say that God is here, and that to bless us with the Spirit's quickening power. It means that He is here among us at this moment, literally He is next to us, He is present. Now when we put the prefix 'omni' in front of it, the Latin word that means 'all', we get the universality of it. God is omnipresent, God is 'all with us' - all of Him is with us, all of the time, in every single place - He is close to everything, He is next to everyone. Literally, in the Latin, it means 'to be at hand'.
Now, that's a sermon in itself, isn't it? That our Almighty God, the transcendent God, the God of love, the God of grace, the God of mercy, the God of justice and holiness, is always at hand - always! This fact of the omnipresence of God is taught with great clarity right throughout the word of God - and it would take a lot of effort to misunderstand its teaching there. It's very clear that God is round about us, always, in all senses, all of the time.
Now if we're pondering the presence of God, the first place, perhaps, that we will find it is in creation. I want to quote to you part of a sermon by a man called Gilfillen (sp?) - now, I don't know him, but what he has to say is very good. Listen to this, speaking of the Hebrew mind with regard to the omnipresence of God in creation, he says this: 'To the Hebrews the external universe is just a black screen concealing God. All things are full of, yet all distinct from, Him. The cloud on the mountain is His covering, the muttering from the chambers of the thunder is His voice, that sound on the top of the mulberry trees is His going away. In that wind which bends the forest, or curls the clouds, He is walking - that sun is His still commanding eye, whither can they go from His spirit, whither can they flee from His presence. At every step, in every circumstance, they feel themselves God-enclosed, God-filled, God-breathing men with a spiritual presence lowering, or smiling, on them from the sky, sounding in a wild tempest, or creeping in panicked stillness across the surface of the earth. If they turn within, lo, it is there also - an eye hung in the central darkness of their own hearts'.
God is as present as the air - that is the fact - He is all around us. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: 'Nature is too thin a screen, the glory of the omnipresent God bursts through it everywhere!'. All around us we can see that, if we have eyes to see, that God is around us in creation - we can see Him. As the Psalmist said, there is no place in heaven, earth, or hell, where men may hide themselves from God's presence. God is in His creation, God is here in His universe, He is present, He is not detached - 'From a distance God is watching us'? No! God is here!
Now, we must be careful, as we ponder this fact of God in creation, that we avoid the error of pantheism. Pantheism simply believes that not only is God omnipresent, but God is in everything. In other words, God is in this pulpit, He is in the carpet, He is in the trees - that God is not a personality, but God is omnipresent. But we don't believe that: we believe that God is omnipresent, and God is an undeniable person, transcendent - although He is here, He is far removed from simple material things. This is why people can bow to wooden gods, bow to the trees, and the wind, and the sea, and the mountains, and worship them as gods - but that is not the God that we have. God, in scripture, is clearly set forth and testified as a personal God. God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
So, we see clearly - I hope - that God's presence can be pondered in creation. But secondly, God's presence is pondered in His own attributes, God's attributes that we've been meditating on these ten weeks or so. We've learnt that God is eternal, now that means that if God is infinite, God cannot be restricted to any area of geography, any space of land - there is no limit to God's presence. So if you put it like an equation: God's eternality plus His person, equals omnipresence. If God is eternal, He must equal omnipresence, He must be everywhere if He is an infinite God. William Newton-Clarke said: 'If God is not everywhere, He is not true God anywhere' - isn't that right? If God is God, He must be everywhere!
Now there are two ways that I want to bring this to you this morning, how God is omnipresent in His attributes. The first is: He is creation's environment. Now we've touched upon creation, but this is taking it a little further. It means this: that the finite creation does not contain God, like the pantheist believes - this desk contains God - but God is far greater, far bigger, who contains His creation within Him - and there is a difference. You see, there is no place beyond God for Him to be, there's nothing that exists beyond God. Everything that exists dwells within God - if I can illustrate it to you like this: just as the sea is the environment of the fish; and the air, the atmosphere, is the environment of the bird; God is the environment of His creation.
I'll quote another man, Hilbert of Lavarden (sp?) wrote this many hundreds of years ago: 'God is over all things, God is under all things, outside all things, within - but not enclosed, without - but not excluded, above - but not raised up, below - but not depressed. Wholly above, presiding. Wholly beneath, sustaining. Wholly within, filling'. Now we cannot understand that - and the moment we do understand it, we have understood God and He has ceased to be God. This is God's omnipresence - and to put it plainly in the words of a little child who was asked: 'Why is there but one God?', he said: 'Because God fills every place and there's no room for another one'. Isn't that it in simple terms? There is no room for another God, because God fills the heavens and the earth, for the heaven and the earth are within Him.
But secondly, we see His omnipresence in His attributes because He's creation's environment, but also He is equally present everywhere. Now this is very important for us to understand, God is equally present everywhere in the whole universe. This God of ours transcends all spatial and geographical limitations. Yet the paradox is He is present in every single part of the universe with His whole being. Now, I am here, and in half an hour or so I will be over there - but God is here and over there at the same time, in the same capacity, in all of His being! You don't understand it? Well, that's what makes Him God. Now, yes, the manifestations of His glory may vary at times, and He may present Himself in different ways, in different spots, in different eras of time - I'm not disputing that. But the fact is this: God is omnipresent, and as Jeremiah said [in] 23:24: 'Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord'.
He's not simply filling the heaven and the earth with His knowledge, or with His influence, He is filling all of creation with His very essence, equally, everywhere. That means this: there is not a place in the universe that we can imagine that is deprived of God's presence. Boy, that's a comfort, isn't it? We'll see in a few moments the great comfort that it is. It was a comfort to the Psalmist in 139 that we have been reading, if you look down at it, this is a great Psalm - as I have already said - on the nature of God. The 24 verses that you read here are divided into four stanzas, with six verses in each stanza. The first stanza tells us God is omniscient, He sees everything: 'Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me'. The second stanza we read from verse 7 to 12 tells us God is omnipresent, He is everywhere: 'Whither shall I go from thy spirit?'. Then the next stanza tells us God is omnipotent, God is powerful, all-powerful in fact. The last stanza tells us that God is omni-righteous, in other words all-righteous, there is no unrighteousness or blemish in Him.
Now, the Psalmist writing: 'Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Whither shall I flee from thy presence?' - it wasn't that he was running away from God, don't get that into your head! But what he was saying is: 'If I tried to run away from God, I couldn't! Because you can't run away from God'. What the Psalmist is saying - now get this, and really try to grapple with this - God is in heaven, God is on the earth, and God is in hell! We find that difficult to understand, but this is what the Psalmist is telling us: you can't even take refuge in darkness, because there is no difference between darkness and light to God - in fact the darkness is light to God. If you're going to hide in it, He'll show you up, don't you worry about that - the light of His glorious presence will expel all darkness! In heaven there is the presence of God's glory, in hell there is the presence of God's wrath.
The sad thing is that our world runs from God, and maybe you're here in our meeting now and you're running from God - well, here's the news for you: you can't run from God. Can't run from Him! You can't even escape God in hell, for it's God's hell! How different is the God of the Bible from the gods of this world, the idolatries that we see from day-to-day? You see the difference is that unbelievers in our world, and religious systems, don't know where their god is, do they? They can't tell you where [their] god is, they can take you to show you their god. You can see this illustrated in the Old Testament in 1 Kings 18, the prophets of Baal called upon their god and there was no reply. You remember they cut themselves, and they shouted for their god to come and reveal himself - Baal! 'And Elijah mocked them, saying, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked' - and they did cry aloud, they did shout, but there was no response.
Now, that's not like our God - praise Him, He's not like that! You don't need to behave the way the Baalites behaved, you don't need to cry for God's presence in the sense of Him being here - God is here! He is beside us! We should never believe that God is far removed in any shape or form, we should never behave in our lives as if He is not near us in a geographical sense. That is what the apostle was trying to get across to the Greek mind, when he said in Acts 17: 'In him we live, and move, and we have our being'. Like the goldfish in the bowl, our existence - our great world that we think it to be, all of creation - exists in God. To sum it all up, Augustine was right when he said this: 'God is not partly here, or partly there, but He is totally present at every point of the universe'. Thomas Brooks, the puritan: 'God is an infinite circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere'. Though heaven be God's palace, yet it is not His prison - it's amazing, isn't it? God is neither shut in anywhere, or shut out of everywhere - He is omnipresent. Ah, that's a blessing!
But thirdly, His omnipresence is seen in creation, it is seen in His own attributes, and thirdly it is seen in the Gospel - the gospel of God's grace. Now, you can see it a little bit in Jonah, the book of Jonah, because you remember that Jonah was foolish enough to think that he could flee from the presence of God. He asked the question: 'Whither shall I flee from Thy presence?' - and he thought: 'Well, I'll get on this boat, and go across the ocean, and I'll flee from His presence'. He attempted the impossible: to run away from God - which teaches us that you can't run away from God in a location. You can't hide anywhere in God's universe from Him! Now, I think that Jonah knew better than this - I really believe that he believed that God was an omnipresent God, but I'll tell you what I also believe: that his disobedient sin had warped him so much that he couldn't judge right from wrong. Isn't that what happens? Sin gets in and lets us forget what God is like. It dupes us into thinking that we can escape God, that we can hide from God, and that we can hide our dirty hands that we committed the sin with. But Jonah soon found out, in the belly of a whale, that he couldn't escape God - not even in that belly.
Thinking men throughout all the ages - philosophers, and theologians, and all sorts of academics - have concerned themselves with the great question of what kind of world this is. The materialist believes that it's simply material, all that exists, and all that you see, that's all of reality - there's nothing beyond that. They believe that the source of life is within itself, in other words if you can't see the source of life, it doesn't exist. Evolution, the big-bang, and then there is creation - and creation has within it the capacity to bring life, and to take life away, and it's all found within its own self, there is no spiritual realm, there is no greater power or One who determines anything. But, you see, the omnipresence of God answers all these questions, doesn't it? It declares and imparts the supreme value of men to God, that God is willing that His presence should dwell with men! God is present to man, God is near to man, God sees him and knows man through and through - and that's the beginning of faith. That's the beginning of realising the origin of the species, that's what it is - faith! Being able to see the evidence of things not seen! It's beginning to realise that God is, and God is here! When you lay that foundation, you throw out all the nonsense of Darwinism, and all the spiritual evolution that some theologians believe in, that God used these things. God is the supreme life, God is above all things, God is the Creator, God is everywhere, God is, and God is here!
Now, if you lay that foundation, you understand the book of Hebrews which says this - this is faith, he that cometh to God must believe that He is. Christ said, John 14 and 1: 'Believe in God', we could leave it there in the sense of what He's trying to say - you must start at this point: 'Believe in God, and then believe also in me'. Believing in God is the foundation of believing in Christ, and Romans tells us now in the gospel, in the preached word of the logos: 'The word is nigh thee' - isn't that it? The omnipresence of God in His gospel. James Cabbett (sp?) said this - and listen, unbeliever, if you're in this meeting, backslidden child of God: 'We cannot get away from God, though we can ignore Him'. C. S. Lewis said: 'We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God - the world is crowded with Him'!
Canon W.G.H. Holmes of India tells of a story of seeing a Hindu worshipper - and we've seen many of them on our television screen. 'We see them tapping on trees', he said, 'on the mission field, tapping on stones, and lifting them and whispering: 'Are you there? Are you there?' to the god that they hope to find within it'. Isn't that what some believe? But the Christian can say: 'God is indeed here, God is everywhere, but He is not confined to stones or to trees, but He is free in His universe, He is near to everything, He is next to everyone - and the miracle of the Gospel is that, through Jesus Christ His Son, He is immediately accessible to every heart'. Isn't that wonderful? This is the foundational thing, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: 'The fundamental thing, the most serious thing of all, about God's omnipresence is that we are always in the presence of God'. What would our lives be like if we believed that there was not a moment in existence that we were outside His presence? William Seeker said it well: 'A man may hide God from himself, and yet he cannot hide himself from God'. One moment, you're in this meeting and you're hiding God from you - you don't want to know His word, you don't want to know His gospel. You've been hearing home truths, maybe from this pulpit, or from another mouth, and it's coming home and you want to hide God - you can't! He is the omnipresent God.
So, we have pondered His omnipresence in creation, in His own attributes, and in His gospel. But let's look in the second half of our message, that we must practise the presence of God. Augustine it was who once was accosted by a heathen who showed him his idol, his god made of wood, and said to Augustine: 'Here is my god, where is thine?'. Augustine replied: 'I cannot show you my God, not because there is no God to show, but because you have no eyes to see Him'. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that the truth? You need eyes to see Him, and although Henry Amelial (sp?) says: 'From every point of earth we are equally near to heaven and the infinite', yet many in our world do not see Him! Perhaps we could go a step further and say: 'They will not see Him!'. They look to creation, they look to God in His attributes, they look in the gospel, and they see nothing that they should desire Him. You see, you need eyes to see the presence of Almighty God.
Now, I want to address the believers in this in two ways. First of all: we must practise the presence of God in communion with God. Secondly: we must practise the presence of God in receiving comfort and strength from God. Let's look at our first: in communion with God. Now, I believe this was the vision of that old French monk, Brother Lawrence in the 1600's - and let me advise you, please, if you can get your hands on his book: 'Practising the Presence of God', do so! It is before the Reformation, so there may be one or two things that you will find hard to swallow, but that man knew God more than any of us, I would dare to say, in this place. He wished, and this is his desire, that at all times he would be conscious of the divine presence. That was his one goal in life, he was a cook in the monastery, that's all he did - cut up carrots, and peel potatoes, and clean floors - but his desire was a greater desire than many, to always, in everything, seek the glory of God and look for His glory in all that we do and say.
I believe the little man was right: that this is the holiest of all occupations. Let me quote him: 'Our life is to find joy in God's divine company, and to make it a habit of life. We should apply ourselves continually so that, without exception, all our actions become small occasions of fellowship with God'. I said to you before in the Bible Reading that he said: 'If I can pick a carrot off the kitchen floor for the love of God, I will do it'. That's practising the presence of God - in communion with God! One of the most infamous 'free thinkers' of England was a man called Anthony Collins, he died in 1726 and he was the author of the well-known book 'Discourse In Free Thinking'. One day he was walking down the street, and he met a poor working-class man on his way to church, and he stopped him and he said: 'Where are you going?'. He said: 'I'm going to church, sir'. Collins, thinking he was clever, said: 'Is your God a great God or a little God?'. He was attempting to confuse the simple fellow, and the church-goer turned and gave him the perfect answer, he said: 'He is so great, sir, that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and so little that He can dwell in my heart'. Collins later admitted that this simple, but sublime, answer of an uneducated man had more effect upon his mind than all the volumes of argument that he had ever read in any book of religious apologetics! Isn't that it?
Your God, Christian, dwells and inhabits and fills the heaven of heavens - yet He's in your heart. If you could grasp that, that God dwells around us, yes, that God is in everything and around everything, and everything has its existence within Him - but the miracle is that He is in us! That He can fill us by His Spirit, and we can know communion with God in the holy of holies of our spirit. If you could picture yourself standing on a ship in the mid-ocean, and the sun is setting, and you - on the deck of that great ship, in the great Atlantic, perhaps - can see the reflection of that sun on the great wide ocean, can't you? But then if you're transported to the mountain top, and you see a great mountain lake, and the sun is setting at the same time - it's a lot smaller than the great ocean, but still you can see that reflection in the mountain lake. If you were lifted to a little spring trickling down from the top of the mountain, still you would see that reflection of the sun - isn't that right? My friend, the wonder of God's omnipresence is this: that no matter who we are, no matter how great we believe ourselves to be, or how small we are in insignificance - the reflection of God's omnipresence can be seen in all! All of us - miracle of Ephesians - can be filled with all the fullness of God. The possibility of your life, my friend, being filled to capacity with the omnipresent.
So, we see it in communion with God, we must practise it there. But secondly, we must practise it also in receiving comfort and strength from God. Now, if this hasn't already been a comfort and strength to your soul there's something wrong! What a comfort and a strength in sorrow, in depression, in great need - the omnipresence of God is a source of strength to the Christian! His objective presence that is always there, that is not affected by anything. Now, the thing that I want to convey to you this morning is this: this presence not only can be known, but it can be experienced - and there is a great difference. For there is a multitude of believers in our world today, and in our land, who know a great deal of things, but experience is a mile off. My friend, this is wonderful, it was the very presence that was promised to those who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, 'ere He left this scene. It was His presence that he promised to His own, John 14: 'We will come unto you and make our abode with you, go into the world and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen'.
Wasn't it that presence that was given to His church, for His own believers to enjoy and love? Ephesians 4:6: 'One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all'. The Lord Himself said: 'Even though their numbers be few, I am in the midst of them'. The Psalmist said: 'Even in the presence of the dying, the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me' - presence! Psalm 121, the great Psalm: 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore' - why? Because He's everywhere, He's in and He's out, and when we go out and go in He's there.
Oh, it's wonderful. In another place, the great saint said: 'When we are asleep, he is ever there. When we arise in the morning we can say, When I am awake I am still with thee'. Ernest Hemingway was a famous poet, there's very little that we know about him - I beg your pardon, not Ernest Hemingway, he was a rogue, this man was a saint: Tennyson. All that we know about Tennyson's spiritual life we get from his niece, she tells us that this man had a very rich communion with his God. We discover about his spiritual life, and she tells us in one instance that they were walking one day together down the beautiful downs of the Isle of Wight. The sea was sounding in their ears, and the beautiful pastures were round about them, and the bright skies of heaven were above, and Tennyson said to his niece - listen: 'God is with us now on this down, just as truly as Christ was with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We cannot see Him, but the Father, the Saviour, the Spirit, are nearer perhaps now than then to those who are not about the actual real presence of God, and His Christ with all who yearn for Him. Surely the love of God takes away, and makes us forget all our fear', answered Tennyson - listen: 'I should be sorely afraid to live my life without God's presence, but to feel that He is by my side now, just as much as you are, that is the very joy of my heart'. She says: 'I looked on Tennyson as he spoke, and the glory of God rested on his face, and I felt that the presence of God overshadowed him'. Wonder that His presence can be known and felt!
Do you need comfort? Well, this is your comfort. This is your comfort, and He is not there only when you forget His presence, only when you are ignorant to the fact that He dwells with you - and no matter what you're going through, like David as he stood and the soldiers around him mutinied, he could stand upon the rock Christ Jesus and say: 'I encourage myself in the Lord'. As we close, do you know that the last name by which God is known in the Old Testament is found in Ezekiel? It is the Hebrew name Jehovah-Shammah, it simply means: 'The Lord, He is here'. Oh, my friends, what a calm to the troubled seas of life, what a balm for the broken heart, what a breath that breathes peace to the winds of our troubled soul - to know that God is here, to realise and begin to walk in the conscious experience of the presence of God. A sentence from Dr Alan Freese (sp?) sums up life's experience if we want it to be of the omnipresence of God, listen: 'It is the knowledge that God is present, oh, it is blessed - but to feel His presence is nothing more than sheer happiness'. Isaac Watts:
'Within Thy circling power I stand,
On every side I find Thy hand.
Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,
I am surrounded with my God'.
Hallelujah! What a great God He is! Now, let's bow our heads, and wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be - unsaved, backslidden, going through trials and problems - the message is this: that because God's universe is in Him, God is here. God is there with you at this moment, He's at your elbow, wanting you to trust Him - no matter your circumstance - just to trust the omnipresent God. Wherever in this life you may be led, He will be there with you. What a fact!
Our Father, we thank Thee - oh, for such a great God that Thou art. We bless Thee, and worship Thee, we're lost in wonder, love, and praise. We don't know what to say, Lord, but how great Thou art. Thrill us with Thyself, and take us along that we may learn to practise the presence of God in communion, and in strength and mercy and grace to help in time need. May we know what it is to never lose sight of Jesus. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh tape in his 'Behold Your God' series, titled "The Omnipresence Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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