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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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an attribute of the Deity, Genesis 17:1 . The Hebrew name, שדי , Shaddai, signifies also all-sufficient, or all-bountiful. See Genesis 28:3 ; Genesis 35:11 ; Genesis 43:14 ; Genesis 49:25 . Of the omnipotence of God, we have a most ample revelation in the Scriptures, expressed in the most sublime language. From the annunciation by Moses of a divine existence who was "in the beginning," before all things, the very first step is to the display of his almighty power in the creation out of nothing, and the immediate arrangement in order and perfection, of the "heaven and the earth;" by which is meant, not this globe only with its atmosphere, or even with its own celestial system, but the universe itself; for "he made the stars also." We are thus at once placed in the presence of an agent of unbounded power; for we must all feel that a being which could create such a world as this, must, beyond all comparison, possess a power greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents, and to which we are not authorized by our observation or knowledge to assign any limits of space or duration.

2. That the sacred writers should so frequently dwell upon the omnipotence of God, has important reasons which arise out of the very design of the revelation which they were the means of communicating to mankind. Men were to be reminded of their obligations to obedience; and God is therefore constantly exhibited as the Creator, the Preserver, and Lord of all things. His solemn worship and fear were to be enjoined upon them; and, by the manifestation of his works, the veil was withdrawn from his glory and majesty. Idolatry was to be checked and reproved, and the true God was therefore placed in contrast with the limited and powerless gods of the Heathen: "Among the gods of the nations, is there no god like unto thee; neither are there any works like thy works." Finally, he is exhibited as the object of trust to creatures constantly reminded by experience of their own infirmity and dependence; and to them it is essential to know, that his power is absolute, unlimited, and irresistible, and that, in a word, he is "mighty to save."

3. In a revelation which was thus designed to awe and control the wicked, and to afford strength of mind and consolation to good men under all circumstances, the omnipotence of God is therefore placed in a great variety of impressive views, and connected with the most striking illustrations.

It is declared by the fact of creation, the creation of beings out of nothing; which itself, though it had been confined to a single object, however minute, exceeds finite comprehension, and overwhelms the faculties. This with God required no effort: "He spake and it was done, he commanded and it stood fast." The vastness and variety of his works enlarge the conception: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work." "He spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea; he maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; he doeth great things, past finding out, yea, and wonders without number. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in the thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them; he hath compassed the waters with bounds until the day and night come to an end." The ease with which he sustains, orders, and controls the most powerful and unruly of the elements, arrays his omnipotence with an aspect of ineffable dignity and majesty: "By him all things consist." "He brake up for the sea a decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." "He looketh to the end of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven, to make the weight for the winds, to weigh the waters by measure, to make a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder." "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, meted out heaven with a span, comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance." The descriptions of the divine power are often terrible: "The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at his reproof; he divideth the sea by his power." "He removeth the mountains, and they know it not; he overturneth them in his anger; he shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble; he commandeth the sun and it riseth not, and sealeth up the stars." The same absolute subjection of creatures to his dominion is seen among the intelligent inhabitants of the material universe; and angels, mortals the most exalted, and evil spirits, are swayed with as much ease as the most passive elements: "He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire." They veil their faces before his throne, and acknowledge themselves his servants: "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers," "as the dust of the balance, less than nothing and vanity." "He bringeth princes to nothing." "He setteth up one and putteth down another;" "for the kingdom is the Lord's, and he is governor among the nations." "The angels that sinned he cast down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." The closing scenes of this world complete these transcendent conceptions of the majesty and power of God. The dead of all ages rise from their graves at his voice: and the sea gives up the dead which are in it. Before his face heaven and earth fly away; the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven are shaken. The dead, small and great, stand before God, and are divided as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. The wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.

4. Of these amazing views of the omnipotence of God, spread almost through every page of the Scriptures, the power lies in their truth. They are not eastern exaggerations, mistaken for sublimity. Every thing in nature answers to them, and renews from age to age the energy of the impression which they cannot but make on the reflecting mind. The order of the astral revolutions indicates the constant presence of an invisible but incomprehensible power. The seas hurl the weight of their billows upon the rising shores, but every where find a "bound fixed by a perpetual decree." The tides reach their height; if they flowed on for a few hours, the earth would change places with the bed of the sea; but, under an invisible control, they become refluent. The expression, "He toucheth the mountains and they smoke," is not mere imagery:—every volcano is a testimony of its truth; and earthquakes proclaim, that, before him, "the pillars of the world tremble." Men collected into armies, or populous nations, give us vast ideas of human power; but let an army be placed amidst the sand storms and burning winds of the desert, as, in the east; or, before "his frost," as in our own day in Russia, where one of the mightiest armaments were seen retreating before, or perishing under, an unexpected visitation of snow and storm; or let the utterly helpless state of a populous country which has been visited by famine, or by a resistless pestilential disease, be reflected upon; and we feel that it is scarcely a figure of speech to say, that "all nations before him are less than nothing and vanity."

5. Nor, in reviewing this doctrine of Scripture, ought the great practical uses made of the omnipotence of God, by the sacred writers, to be overlooked. By them nothing is said for the mere display of knowledge, as in Heathen writers; and we have no speculations without a subservient moral. To excite and keep alive in man the fear and worship of God, and to bring him to a felicitous confidence in that almighty power which pervades and controls all things, are the noble ends of those ample displays of the omnipotence of God, which roll through the sacred volume with a sublimity that inspiration only could supply. "Declare his glory among the Heathen, his marvellous works among all nations; for great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.—Glory and honour are in his presence, and strength and gladness in his place.—Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.—The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?—The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? If God be for us, who then can be against us? Our help standeth in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.—What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee,"—Thus, as one observes, "our natural fears, of which we must have many, remit us to God, and remind us, since we know what God is, to lay hold on his almighty power."

6. Ample, however, as are these views of the power of God, the subject is not exhausted. As, when the Scriptures speak of the eternity of God, they declare it so as to give us a mere glimpse of that fearful peculiarity of the divine nature, that God is the fountain of being to himself, and that he is eternal, because he is the "I AM;" so we are taught not to measure God's omnipotence by the actual displays of it which we see around us. These are the manifestations of the fact, but not the measure of the attribute; and should we resort to the discoveries of modern philosophy, which, by the help of instruments, has so greatly enlarged the known boundaries of the visible universe, and add to the stars which are visible to the naked eye, those new exhibitions of the divine power in the nebulous appearances of the heavens which are resolvable into myriads of distinct celestial luminaries, whose immense distances commingle their light before it reaches our eyes; we thus almost infinitely expand the circle of created existence, and enter upon a formerly unknown and overwhelming range of divine operation. But still we are only reminded that his power is truly almighty and measureless —"Lo, all these are parts of his ways; but how little a portion is known of him, and the thunder of his power who can understand?" It is a mighty conception that we form of a power from which all other power is derived, and to which it is subordinate; which nothing can oppose; which can beat down and annihilate all other power whatever; which operates in the most perfect manner, at once, in an instant, with the utmost ease; but the Scriptures lead us to the contemplation of greater and even unfathomable depths. The omnipotence of God is inconceivable and boundless. It arises from the infinite perfection of God, that his power can never be actually exhausted; and, in every imaginable instant in eternity, that inexhaustible power of God can, if it please him, be adding either more creatures to those in existence, or greater perfection to them; since "it belongs to self-existent being, to be always full and communicative, and, to the communicated contingent being, to be ever empty and craving."

7. One limitation of the divine power it is true we can conceive, but it detracts nothing from its perfection. Where things in themselves imply a contradiction, as that a body may be extended and not extended, in a certain place and not in it, at the same time; such things cannot be done by God, because contradictions are impossible in their own nature. Nor is it any derogation from the divine power to say, they cannot be done; for as the object of the understanding, of the eye, and the ear, is that which is intelligible, visible, and audible; so the object of power must be that which is possible; and as it is no prejudice to the most perfect understanding, or sight, or hearing, that it does not understand what is not intelligible, or see what is not visible, or hear what is not audible; so neither is it any diminution to the most perfect power, that it does not do what is not possible. In like manner, God cannot do any thing that is repugnant to his other perfections: he cannot lie, nor deceive, nor deny himself; for this would be injurious to his truth. He cannot love sin, nor punish innocence; for this would destroy his holiness and goodness: and therefore to ascribe a power to him that is inconsistent with the rectitude of his nature, is not to magnify but debase him; for all unrighteousness is weakness, a defection from right reason, a deviation from the perfect rule of action, and arises from a want of goodness and power. In a word, since all the attributes of God are essentially the same, a power in him which tends to destroy any other attribute of the divine nature, must be a power destructive of itself. Well, therefore, may we conclude him absolutely omnipotent, who, by being able to effect all things consistent with his perfections, showeth infinite ability, and, by not being able to do any thing repugnant to the same perfections, demonstrates himself subject to no infirmity.

8. Nothing certainly in the finest writings of antiquity, were all their best thoughts collected as to the majesty and power of God, can bear any comparison with the views thus presented to us by divine revelation. Were we to forget, for a moment, what is the fact, that their noblest notions stand connected with fancies and vain speculations which deprive them of their force, still their thoughts never rise so high; the current is broken, the round of lofty conception is not completed, and, unconnected as their views of divine power were with the eternal destiny of man, and the very reason of creation, we never hear in them, as in the Scriptures, "the THUNDER of his power."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Almighty'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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