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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

Body of Divinity
Contained in
Sermons upon the Assembly's Catechism
by the
Rev. Thomas Watson

Chapter 8.
The Power of God

The next attribute is God's power. 'If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong' (Job 10:19). In this chapter is a magnificent description of God's power. 'Lo, he is strong.' The Hebrew word for strong signifies a conquering, prevailing strength. 'He is strong.' The superlative degree is intended here; viz., He is most strong. He is called El-shaddai, God almighty (Gen. 17:1). His almightiness lies in this, that he can do whatever is feasible. Divines distinguish between authority and power. God has both.

I. He has a sovereign right and authority over man. He can do with his creatures as he pleases. Who shall dispute with God? who shall ask him a reason of his doings? 'He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou' (Dan. 4:35)? God sits judge in the highest court; he calls the monarchs of the earth to the bar, and is not bound to give a reason of his proceedings. 'He putteth down one, and raiseth up another' (Ps. 75:7). He has salvation and damnation in his power. He has the key of justice in his hand, to lock up whom he will in the fiery prison of hell; and he has the key of mercy in his hand, to open heaven's gate to whom he pleases. The name engraven upon his vesture is, 'King of kings, and Lord of lords' (Rev. 19:16). He sits Lord paramount, and who can call him to account? 'I will do all my pleasure' (Is. 46:10). The world is God's diocese, and shall not he do what he will in his own diocese? He it was that turned King Nebuchadnezzar to eat grass, and threw the angels to hell when they sinned; that broke the head of the Babylonish empire. 'How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer! Thy pomp is brought down to the grave' (Is. 14:12). 'Who sets bounds to the sea, and bridles the proud waves' (Job 38:11). God is the supreme monarch, all power is seated originally in him. 'The powers that be are ordained of God' (Rom. 13:1). Kings hold their crowns of him. 'By me kings reign' (Prov. 8:15).

II. As God has authority, so he has infinite power. What is authority without power? 'He is mighty in strength' (Job 9:4). This power of God is seen.

[1] In the creation. To create requires infinite power. All the world cannot make a fly. God's power in creating is evident; because he needs no instruments to work with; he can work without tools; because he needs no matter to work upon; he creates matter, and then works upon it; and because he works without labour; 'He spake, and it was done' (Ps. 33:9).

[2] The power of God is seen in the conversion of souls. The same power draws a sinner to God that drew Christ out of the grave to heaven (Eph. 1:19). Greater power is put forth in conversion than in creation. When God made the world, he met with no opposition; as he had nothing to help him, so he had nothing to hinder him; but when he converts a sinner, he meets with opposition. Satan opposes him, and the heart opposes him; a sinner is angry with converting grace. The world was the 'work of God's fingers' (Ps. 8:3). Conversion is the 'work of God's arm' (Luke 1:51). In the creation, God wrought but one miracle, he spake the word; but, in conversion, he works many miracles; the blind is made to see, the dead is raised, the deaf hears the voice of the Son of God. Oh the infinite power of Jehovah! Before his sceptre, angels veil and prostrate themselves, and kings cast their crowns at his feet. 'He toucheth the land, and it shall melt' (Amos 9:5). 'He removeth the earth out of her place' (Job 9:6). An earthquake makes the earth tremble upon her pillars, but God shakes it out of its place; he can remove the earth from its centre. He can do what he will; his power is as large as his will. Were men's power as large as their will, what work would they make in the world! God's power is of equal extent with his will. He with a word can unpin the wheels, and break the axletree of the creation. He can do 'more than we can think' Eph. 3:20). He can suspend natural agents. He sealed up the lions' mouths; he made the fire not to burn; he made the waters to stand up on a heap; he caused the sun to go ten degrees backward in the dial of Ahaz (Is. 38:8). What can oppose Omnipotence? 'The Lord cuts off the spirit of princes' (Ps. 76:12). He counterworks his enemies; he pulls down their flags and banners of pride, infatuates their counsels, breaks their forces; and he does it with ease, with the turning of his hand; 'with his breath' (Ps. 33:6; Is. 11:24); a look, a glance of his eye is all it needs cost God to destroy his enemies, 'the Lord looked into the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire, and troubled their host' (Ex. 14:24). Who shall stop him in his march? God commands, and all creatures in heaven and earth obey him. Xerxes, the Persian monarch, threw fetters into the sea, when its waves swelled, as if he would have chained the waters; but when God speaks, the wind and sea obey him. If he say but the word, the stars fight in their courses against Sisera; if he stamp with his foot, an army of angels shall presently be in battalia. What cannot omnipotent power do? 'The Lord is a man of war' (Ex. 15:3). 'He hath a mighty arm' (Ps. 89:13). 'God's power is a glorious power' (Col. 1:11). It is an irresistible power. 'Who hath resisted his will' (Rom. 9:19)? To contest with him, is as if the thorns should set themselves in battle array against the fire; or, as if an infirm child should fight with an archangel. If the sinner be once taken in God's iron net, there is no escape. 'There is none that can deliver out of my hand' (Is. 43:13). God's power is inexhaustible; it is never spent or wasted. Men, while they exercise their strength, weaken it; but God has an everlasting spring of strength in himself (Is. 26:4). Though he spends his arrows upon his enemies, yet he does not spend his strength (Deut. 32:23). 'He fainteth not, neither is weary' (Is. 40:28).

God cannot do all things, because he cannot deny himself.

Though God can do all things, he cannot do that which stains the glory of his Godhead. He cannot sin; he cannot do that which implies a contradiction. To be a God of truth, and yet deny himself, is a contradiction.

Use one: If God be infinite in power, let us fear him. We fear such as are in power. 'Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence' (Jer. 5:22)? He has power to cast our souls and bodies into hell. 'Who knows the power of his wrath' (Ps. 90:11)? The same breath that made us can dissolve us. 'His fury is poured out like fire; the rocks are thrown down by him' (Nahum 1:6). Solomon says, 'Where the word of a king is, there is power' (Eccl. 8:4), much more where the word of a God is. Oh let us fear this mighty God! The fear of God will drive out all other base fear.

Use two: See the deplorable condition of wicked men. (1) This power of God is not for them: (2) It is against them.

(1) This power of God is not for them. They have no union with God, therefore they have no warrant to lay claim to his power. His power is no relief to them. He has power to forgive sins, but he will not put forth his power towards an impenitent sinner. God's power is an eagle's wing, to carry the saints to heaven; but what privilege is that to the wicked? Though a man will carry his child in his arms over a dangerous stream, yet he will not carry an enemy. God's power is not engaged to help those that fight against him. Let miseries come upon the wicked, they have none to help them; they are like a ship in a storm without a pilot, and driven upon the rocks.

(2) This power of God is against the wicked. God's power will not be the sinner's shield to defend him, but a sword to wound him. God's power will bind the sinner in chains. His power serves to revenge the wrong done to his mercy. He will be Almighty to damn the sinner. Now, in what condition is every unbeliever? God's power is engaged against him, and 'it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Heb. 10:31).

Use three: It reproves such as do not believe the power of God. We say we do not doubt of God's power, but his will. But indeed it is his power that we question. 'Is anything too hard for God' (Jer. 32:27). We stagger through unbelief, as if the arm of God's power were shrunk, and he could not help in desperate cases. Take away a king's power, and we unking him; take away the Lord's power, and we ungod him. Yet how guilty of this are we! Did not Israel question God's power? 'Can he prepare a table in the wilderness' (Ps. 78:19)? They thought the wilderness was a fitter place for making graves than spreading a table. Did not Martha doubt Christ's power? 'He hath been dead four days' (John 11:39). If Christ had been there while Lazarus was sick, or when he had been newly dead, Martha did not question but he could have raised him; but he had lain in the grave four days, and now she seemed to question his power. Christ had as much ado to raise her faith as to raise her dead brother. Moses, though a holy man, limited God's power through unbelief. 'The people among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh for a whole month: shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered for them to suffice? And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord's hand waxed short' (Num. 11:21)? This is a great affront to God, to deny his power. That men doubt of God's power appears by their taking indirect courses; for they would not defraud in their dealings, and use false weights, if they believed the power of God could provide for them; and by depending more upon second causes than upon God. 'In his disease, he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians' (2 Chron. 16:12).

Use four: If God be infinite in power, let us take heed of hardening our hearts against him. 'Who hath hardened himself against him and prospered' (Job 9:4)? Job sends a challenge to all creatures in heaven and earth. Who ever took up the buckler against God, and came off conqueror? For a person to go on daringly in any sin is to harden his heart against God, and to raise a war against heaven. Let him remember God is El-Shaddai, almighty; he will be too hard for them that oppose him. 'Hast thou an arm like God' (Job 40:9)? Such as will not bow to his golden sceptre shall be broken with his iron rod. Julian hardened his heart against God, he opposed him to his face; but what got he at last? Did he prosper? Being wounded in battle, he threw up his blood into the air, and said to Christ, Vicisti Galilae, 'O Galilean, thou hast overcome!' I acknowledge thy power, whose name and truth I have opposed. Will folly contend with wisdom; weakness with power; finite with infinite? Oh take heed of hardening your heart against God! He can send legions of angels to avenge his quarrel. It is better to meet God with tears in your eyes than weapons in your hand. You may overcome him sooner by repentance than by resistance.

Use five: Get an interest in God, and then this glorious power is engaged for you. He gives it under his hand, that he will put forth the whole power of his Godhead for the good of his people. 'The Lord of hosts is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel' (1 Chron. 17:24). This almightiness of God's power is a wonderful support and comfort to the believer. It was Samson's riddle. 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness' (Judges 14:14); so out of the attribute of God's power, out of this strong comes forth sweetness. It is comfort in several cases.

(1) In case of strong corruption. My sins, says a child of God, are potent. I have no power against this army that comes against me; I pray, and humble my soul by fasting; but my sins return upon me. Ay, but dost thou believe the power of God? The strong God can conquer thy strong corruption; though sin be too hard for thee, yet not for him; he can soften hard hearts and quicken the dead. 'Is any thing too hard for the Lord' (Gen. 18:14)? Set his power to work, by faith and prayer. Say, Lord! it is not for thy honour that the devil should have so strong a party within me; oh, break the head of this leviathan! Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee.

(2) In case of strong temptation. Satan is called the strong man; but remember the power of God. Christ is called, 'The Lion of the tribe of Judah,' he has broken the serpent's head upon the cross. Satan is a chained enemy, and a conquered enemy. Michael is stronger than the dragon.

(3) Comfort in case of weakness of grace, and fear of falling away. I pray, but I cannot send out strong cries. I believe, but the hand of my faith shakes and trembles. Cannot God strengthen weak grace? 'My strength is made perfect in weakness: most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me' (2 Cor. 12:9). I fear I shall not hold out. Christian, dost thou believe the power of God? Has not God preserved thy grace thus far? Mayest thou not set up thy Ebenezer? God has kept thy grace hitherto as a spark in the main ocean; and is not he able still to keep it? 'We are kept by the power of God' (1 Peter 1:5). God's mercy pardons us, but his power preserves us. He who by his power keeps the stars that they do not fall from their orbs, keeps our grace that it does not fail or annihilate.

(4) Comfort in case of deficiency in thy estate. God can multiply the oil in the cruse; miraculously he can raise up supplies. Cannot he who provides for the birds of the air provide for his children? Cannot he that clothes the lilies clothe his lambs?

(5) Comfort in regard of the resurrection. It seems difficult to believe, that the bodies of men, when eaten up by worms, devoured by beasts and fishes, or consumed to ashes, should be raised the same numerical bodies; but if we believe the power of God, it is no great wonder. Which is harder, to create, or raise the dead? He that can make a body of nothing, can restore it to its parts when mingled and confounded with other substances. 'With God all things are possible' (Matt. 19:26). If we believe the first article of the creed, That God is almighty, we may quickly believe the other article, the resurrection of the body. God can raise the dead because of his power, and he cannot but raise them because of his truth.

(6) It is comfort in reference to the church of God. He can save and deliver it when it is brought low. The enemies have power in their hand, but the remainder of wrath God will restrain (Ps. 76:10). He can either confine the enemy's power or confound it. 'If God be for us, who can be against us?' God can create Jerusalem a rejoicing (Is. 65:18). The church in Ezekiel is compared to dry bones, but God made breath to enter into them, and they lived (Ezek. 37:10). The ship of the church may be tossed, because sin is in it, but it shall not be overwhelmed, because Christ is in it (Ps. 46:5). Deus in medio. All the church's pangs shall help forward her deliverance.

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