Whither shall I go from thy
spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
In all Christian teaching certain basic truths are found, hidden at
times, and rather assumed than asserted, but necessary to all truth as
the primary colors are found inane necessary to the finished painting.
Such a truth is the divine immanence.
God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all
His works. This is boldly taught by prophet and apostle and is accepted
by Christian theology generally. That is, it appears in the books, but
for some reason it has not sunk into the average Christian's heart so as
to become a part of his believing self. Christian teachers shy away from
its full implications, and, if they mention it at all, mute it down till
it has little meaning. I would guess the reason for this to be the fear
of being charged with pantheism; but the doctrine of the divine Presence
is definitely not pantheism. Pantheism's error is too palpable to
deceive anyone. It is that God is the sum of all created things. Nature
and God are one, so that whoever touches a leaf or a stone touches God.
That is of course to degrade the glory of the incorruptible Deity and,
in an effort to make all things divine, banish all divinity from the
world entirely. The truth is that while God dwells in His world He is
separated from it by a gulf forever impassable. However closely He may
be identified with the work of His hands They are and must eternally be
other than He, and He is and must be antecedent to and independent of
them. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent
What now does the divine immanence mean in direct Christian experience?
It means simply that God is here. Wherever we are, God is here. There is
no place, there can be no place, where He is not. Ten million
intelligences standing at as many points in space and separated by
incomprehensible distances can each one say with equal truth, God is
here. No point is nearer to God than any other point. It is exactly as
near to God from any place as it is from any other place. No one is in
mere distance any further from or any nearer to God than any other
These are truths believed by every instructed Christian. It remains for
us to think on them and pray over them until they begin to glow within
us. `In the beginning God.' (Gen 1:1) Not matter, for matter is not
self-causing. It requires an antecedent cause, and God is that Cause.
Not law, for law is but a name for the course which all creation
follows. That course had to be planned,and the Planner is God. Not mind,
for mind also is a created thing and must have a Creator back of it. In
the beginning God, the uncaused Cause of matter, mind and law. There we
Adam sinned and, in his panic, frantically tried to do the impossible:
he tried to hide from the Presence of God. David also must have had wild
thoughts of trying to escape from the Presence, for he wrote, `Whither
shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?'
(Ps 139:7) Then he proceeded through one of his most beautiful psalms to
celebrate the glory of the divine immanence. `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.' (Ps 139:8-10) And he knew that God's being and God's
seeing are the same, that the seeing Presence had been with him even
before he was born, watching the mystery of unfolding life. Solomon
exclaimed, `But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold the heaven
and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house
which I have builded.' (1 Kings 8:27) Paul assured the Athenians that
`God is not far from any one of us: for in him we live, and move, and
have our being.' (Acts 17:27-28)
If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where He is
not, cannot even conceive of a place where He is not, why then has not
that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world?
The patriarch Jacob, `in the waste howling wilderness,' gave the answer
to that question. He saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder,
`Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.' (Gen 28:16) Jacob
had never been for one small division of a moment outside the circle of
that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble,
and it is ours. Men do not know that God is here. What a difference it
would make if they knew.
The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same.
There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly
unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His
Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for
His work it is to show us the Father and the Son. If we co-operate with
Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that
manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life
and a life radiant with the light of His face.
Always, everywhere God is present, and always He seeks to discover
[uncover] Himself. To each one he would reveal not only that He is, but
what He is as well. He did not have to be persuaded to discover Himself
to Moses. `And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him
there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.' He not only made a verbal
proclamation of His nature but He revealed His very Self to Moses so
that the skin of Moses' face shone with the supernatural light. It will
be a great moment for some of us when we begin to believe that God's
promise of self-revelation is literally true: that He promised much, but
promised no more than He intends to fulfill.
Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to
manifest Himself to us. the revelation of God to any man is not God
coming from a distance upon a time to pay a brief and momentous visit to
the man's soul. Thus to think of it is to misunderstand it all. The
approach of God to the soul or of the soul to God is not to be thought
of in spatial terms at all. There is no idea of physical distance
involved in the concept. It is not a matter of miles but of experience.
To speak of being near to or far from God is to use language in a sense
always understood when applied to our ordinary human relationships. A
man may say, `I feel that my son is coming nearer to me as he gets
older,' and yet that son has lived by his father's side since he was
born and has never been away from home more than a day or so in his
entire life. What then can the father mean? Obviously he is speaking of
experiece. He means that the boy is coming to know him more intimately
and with deeper understanding, that the barriers of thought and feeling
between the two are disappearing, that father and son are becoming more
closely united in mind and heart.
So when we sing, `Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,' we are not
thinking of the nearness of place, but of the nearness of relationship.
It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more
perfect consciousness of the divine Presence. We need never shout across
the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than
our most secret thoughts.
Why do some persons `find' God in a way that others do not? Why does God
manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle
along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the
will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His
household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for
all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us.
Pick at random a score of great saints whose lives and testimonies are
widely known. Let them be Bible characters or well known Christians of
post-Biblical times. You will be struck instantly with the fact that the
saints were not alike. Sometimes the unlikenesses were so great as to be
positively glaring. How different for example was Moses from Isaiah; how
different was Elijah from David; how unlike each other were John and
Paul, St. Francis and Luther, Finney and Thomas à Kempis. The
differences are as wide as human life itself: differences of race,
nationality, education, temperament, habit and personal qualities. Yet
they all walked, each in his day, upon a high road of spiritual living
far above the common way. Their differences must have been incidental
and in the eyes of God of no significance. In some vital quality they
must have been alike. What was it?
I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common
was spirital receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven,
something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a
profound analysis I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness
and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing
in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they
felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the
lifelong habit of spiritual response. They were not disobedient to the
heavenly vision. As David put it neatly, `When thou saidst, Seek ye my
face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.' (Ps 27:8)
As with everything good in human life, back of this receptivity is God.
The sovereignty of God is here, and is felt even by those who have not
placed particular stress upon it theologically. The pious Michael Angelo
confessed this in a sonnet:
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
These words will repay study as the deep and serious testimony of a
great Christian. Important as it is that we recognize God working in us,
I would yet warn against a too-great preoccupation with the thought. It
is a sure road to sterile passivity. God will not hold us responsible to
understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine
sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to
raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, `O Lord, Thou
knowest.' Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of
God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will
never make saints.
Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending
of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent
toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be
gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or
more or less, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by
exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible
force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God,
indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other
gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given. Failure to
see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern
evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the
saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is
too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic
A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic
machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching
their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our
relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and
rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending
another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a
religious adventurer lately returned from afar.
The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives,
hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun
in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious
externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the
mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and
such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious
malady of the soul.
For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible,
and no Christian is wholly free from blame.We have all contributed,
directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too
blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire
anything better than the poor average diet with which others appear
satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another's
notions, copied one another's lives and made one another's experiences
the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward.
Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire grass and, worst
of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and
accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.
It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to
wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to Biblical
ways. But it can be done. Every now and then in the past Christians have
had to do it. History has recorded several large- scale returns led by
such men as St. Francis, Martin Luther and George Fox. Unfortunately
there seems to be no Luther or Fox on the horizon at present. Whether or
not another such return maybe expected before the coming of Christ is a
question upon which Christians are not fully agreed, but that is not of
too great importance to us now.
What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim
to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His
face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in
earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek
to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience
and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in
his leaner and weaker days. Any man who by repentance and a sincere
return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been
held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will
be delighted with what he finds there.
Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The
whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign
God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for
these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He
is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate
with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but
respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know
Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by
faith and love and practice. O God and Father, I repent of my sinful
preoccupation with visible things. The world has been too much with me.
Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to Thy
Presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For
Christ's sake. Amen.