Sunday, September 19, 2010

Incomprehensibility of God

Samuel Willard, Sermon XIII (Jan. 2, 1688), A Compleat Body of Divinity:

From these considerations, we may proceed to the particular confirmation of the Proposition, viz. That the first Being is not knowable by us, as he is in himself....

(1.) THAT our Reason is not able to grasp in the knowledge of him. It cannot entertain the quidditative conception of him. It is certain, that man knows nothing, but by some Rule of reason, which is the carrier between God & man: all things which are conveyed into our understandings, are handed to them in a Logical way: and we come to know them, by seeing into the reasons of them. But our reason is not able to apprehend God essentially. And that,

1. BECAUSE there is no equal proportion between the faculty & the Object. We heard, that the Object known must be (some way) in the faculty of knowing: and hence it follows of necessity, that there must be a due proportion between these two. But now there is an infinity vast difference between God & the creature: the most extendedly vast created understanding is still a finite understanding; but God is Infinite, and between Finite & Infinite, there is no proportion: the faculty is bounded, but the Object is boundless. Psal. 147. 5. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. How then should this egg comprehend the Ocean?

2. BECAUSE if he were comprehensible by our knowledge, than our knowledge of him would be equal to his own knowledge of himself. Divine knowledge is adequate to the Divine Essences: the Nature of God is the proportionable Object of his Understanding, he knows not above or below himself. If therefore we could known him essentially, our weak and finite understanding would be equal to his Divine, Infinite and Supream [sic] knowledge: for the perfection of his Understanding, is to know himself, i.e., that latitude and glory of his own being.

At this point, the lecture breaks off, and Willard is transported to new heights of ecstatic contemplation.

But, Oh! the vast distance that the Creature stands at from God! Shall the upstarts of time, equal themselves in Understanding with Eternity itself? Shall they that are of Yesterday, and know nothing, compare with him that is from Everlasting? Shall our purblind eyes challenge as much as he, who is light it self?

3. BECAUSE he is without Causes. Humane knowledge comes to discern into things, by reaching the Causes of them, and in that way it pries into the Nature or Essence of them. He that apprehends the first being, is able to say what he is, to trace his Original, to give a true and proper definition of him, to find out and discover the Nature of his essential & constituting principles; but this no Creature can do; and that because there is no Essence, nor Nature that (in propriety of speech) can be attributed to God: for Nature and Essence bespeak a thing arising out of some fore-going Principles; but there is no Principle of God, for there is nothing before him. Isai. 44. 6. Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of hosts, I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.

Passing by further supporting arguments, I move ahead to share Willard's exhortations to believers as they ponder the incomprehensibility of their Maker. Note his climatic return to ecstatic utterance.

1. BEWARE of diving too deep into the Mysteries of the Divinity. Quaint curiousity here is but distraction: faithful ignorance is better than temerarious knowledge. Know for certain, that when your Understanding hath fluttered as high as the wings of Reason can carry it, you will find such riddles in the Deity, as you will never be able to unfold.

2. LET us be much in meditating upon this God. The more God's People see of him, the more they discover how little they know of him; and knowing, that they can never know too much, it puts them upon the Apostle's Practice, Phil. 3.13. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, & reaching forth those things which are before, &c. And their prayer is after him, Eph. 3.16, to 20. That God would grant them according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit in the inner man, That Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, That they being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fulness of God.

3. LET us be sober in the Conceptions, that we entertain in our minds concerning God. Beware of rude, foolish, and absurd thoughts of him. Let his incomprehensible greatness make us afraid: when we have thought our highest and best of him, still remember that all this comes infinitely short of his glorious Perfections.

4. LET us therefore admire and adore this incomprehensible Being. Here we have a proper subject for our Admiration called for, when we see a Being into whose Nature and Causes, we have not, nor can have any insight: such a One is God. Where then we cannot resolve, let us contemplate; and what we cannot comprehend, let us wonder at: where our reason is non-plust, let it be our work to gaze our selves into astonishment. And here is matter of Eternal Admiration. The glorious Angels cover their faces, and spend Eternity in crying Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts! And let us, in imitation, sit down, and cry with the Apostle, Oh the depth!

No comments:

Post a Comment