The Comfort of the Universal Presence
“If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” Psa_139:8
In the library of our university are certain old and interesting maps. They have all the charms of a geography which knows no limit save imagination. In modern atlases where there is ignorance, such ignorance is wisely acknowledged. In older atlases, on the contrary, it is curiously and cunningly concealed. And so in reading these dusty parchments covering territories unexplored we are told that here are cannibals, or satyrs and sundry other goblins.
All that has vanished from our maps today, but there is one thing which is left to us still: it is that across the map, even to the remotest boundary, we can write with full assurance Here is God. If I ascend to heaven, thou art there; if I follow the beckoning of the rosy-fingered morning, I am still in the keeping of the eternal Father. Do you and I dwell on that as we should? Do we know the comfort of God’s omnipresence?
The Universal Presence Is an Arresting Thought
There is nothing on earth, when we are being tempted, so arresting as the sense of a presence. There are times of temptation when the wisest counsel is swept away from us like leaves before the gale; times when everything we have resolved upon is broken like a thread of gossamer. And how often in such times as these when counsel and resolve have been cast aside, we have found restraining power in a presence. It may be the actual proximity of someone or it may be only the presence in the heart—the presence of someone who has passed on. But love is mighty in resurrection power and eyes which we once loved are on us still, and only God in heaven could tell how many men have been helped by such memories.
There was a certain shopkeeper who had a portrait of Frederick Robertson, that great preacher, in his back shop. Whenever he was tempted to be dishonest, he went and looked for an instant at the photograph, and then the sorry thing he wanted to do became impossible. It was not Robertson’s sermons which did that, searching and beautiful though they were. It was not the memory of those flaming words which scorched and shriveled what was bestial. What gripped that man and stayed his itching hand when he was tempted was the constraining power of a presence. That is often the power of little children. It is often the power of a good woman. We may not feel that someone is rebuking us; what we feel is that somebody is watching. Eyes are upon us, pure and tender, or eyes that we have not seen for many years; and God knows—that thing—we cannot do it.
The Presence of God
Now as it is with the presence of our loved ones, it is so with the presence of our God. There is a mighty power to arrest us in the controlling thought that He is here.
There is an old story of a little girl who went to the attic to steal some apples stored there. On the wall hung the picture of some venerable and long-forgotten ancestor. And as she crept along the attic floor, the eyes of that old portrait seemed to follow her until in her childish fear she tore them out of the picture.
If one could only tear out eyes like that, sin would be infinitely sweet for multitudes. But there are eyes no human hand can reach; the eyes of memory and the eyes of God. And that, I take it, is what Scripture means in that text so often misinterpreted, “I will guide thee with mine eye.”
Linnaeus, the great botanist, cherished an open heart for God in everything. Over his study door these words were written, Numen adest, vivite innocui. And what they mean is this: Live innocently; do not sully hand nor heart today: numen adest—deity is present.
Now let me ask you, have you tried to live, “as always in the great Taskmaster’s eye”? Have you ever stopped in the jostling street and said to yourself, “God is now here”? Say it the next time you are worried, Martha. Say it when the waves are stormy, Peter. Say it, David, when on the roof at evening you catch that glimpse of beautiful Bathsheba.
Men who have tempers often excuse themselves—they cannot help it; they are built that way. But if you were in audience with King George, you could control that nasty temper perfectly. And the simple fact is that wherever you are, among the crowds or with your wife and children, you are always in the presence of the King. There is an arresting power in God’s presence which few of us have ever really used. It is a great moment when we say with Hagar, “Thou God seest me.” You who are very sorely tempted and know it is an hour of crisis, One who is infinite love and power and purity is right there with you, and He is watching.
The Universal Presence Is a Sustaining Thought
Professor Henry Drummond used to tell us about a student at examination time. It was an examination of a decisive nature which would determine the young fellow’s career. And every now and again he took something out of his pocket and gave it a glance, and then as quietly slipped it back again. The examiner had his suspicions aroused and stole up quietly for observation. And he saw—what do you think—scribbled notes? No, what he saw was not scribbled notes. It was a portrait of someone very dear and who would be dearer still for better or for worse through life’s long battle—his lovely wife. It was not enough that he should know his subject well. He felt he needed something more than that. He felt he needed, just what we all need, the sustaining power of a loving presence.
And the One presence we can always have, through life and suffering and work and death, is that of Him who loves us to the uttermost. He is with us always and everywhere, when we wake and when we sleep. He is infinite love and perfect understanding and irresistible power that makes the devils tremble. And yet we fuss and worry and dread tomorrow but all in vain and as if everything had not been pledged to us in Christ. But, behold, everywhere Thou art there!