Sermon 1. The Omnipotence of God the Reason for Faith and Hope

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 30th January 1848

{19} Our Lord commanded the winds and the sea, and the men who saw it marvelled saying, What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him? It was a miracle. It showed our Lord's power over nature. And therefore they wondered, because they could not understand, and rightly, how any man could have power over nature, unless that power was given him by God. Nature goes on her own way and we cannot alter it. Man cannot alter it, he can only use it. Matter, for instance, falls downward, earth, stone, iron all fall to the earth when left to themselves. Again, left to themselves, they cannot move except by falling. They never move except they are pulled or pushed forward. Water again never stands in a heap or a mass, but flows out on all sides as far as it can. Fire again always burns, or tends to burn. The wind blows to and fro, without any discoverable rule or law, and we cannot tell how it will blow tomorrow by seeing {20} how it blows today. We see all these things. They have their own way; we cannot alter them. All we attempt to do is to use them; we take them as we find them and we use them. We don't attempt to change the nature of fire, earth, air or water, but we observe what the nature of each is, and we try to turn it to account. We turn steam to account, and use it in carriages and ships; we turn fire to account and use it in a thousand ways. We use the things of nature, we submit to the laws of nature, and we avail ourselves of them; but we do not command nature. We do not attempt to alter it, but we merely direct it to our own purposes. Far different was it with our Lord: He used indeed the winds and the water; (He used the water when He got into a boat, and used the wind when He suffered the sail to be spread over Him). He used, but more than this, He commanded, the winds and the waves—He had power to rebuke, to change, to undo the course of nature, as well as to make use of it. He was above nature. He had power over nature. This is what made the men marvel. Experienced seamen can make use of the winds and the waves to get to the shore. Nay, even in a storm they know how to avail themselves of them, they have their rules what to do, and they are on the look out, taking advantage of everything that happens. But our Lord did not condescend to do this. He did not instruct them how to manage their sails, nor how to steer the vessel, but He addressed Himself directly to {21} winds and waves, and stopped them, making them do that which was against their nature.

So again, when Lazarus was ill, our Lord might have gone to him, and have recommended the fitting medicine, and the treatment which would cure him. He did nothing of the kind—He let him die—so much so that St. Martha said when He at length came, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (John 11). But our Lord had a reason. He wished to show His power over nature. He wished to triumph over death. So, instead of hindering Lazarus from dying by the art of medicine, He triumphed over death by a miracle.

No one has power over nature but He who made it. None can work a miracle but God. When miracles are wrought it is a proof that God is present. And therefore it is that, whenever God visits the earth, He works miracles. It is the claim He makes upon our attention. He thereby reminds us that He is the Creator. He who did, alone can undo. He who made, alone can destroy. He who gave nature its laws, alone can change those laws. He who made fire to burn, food to nourish, water to flow, iron to sink, He alone can make fire harmless, food needless, water firm and solid, iron light, and therefore whether He sent forth the Prophets or the Apostles, Moses, Josue, Samuel, or Elias, He always sent them with miracles, to show His presence with His servants. Then all things began to change their nature; the Egyptians {22} were tormented with strange plagues, the waters stood in a heap for the Chosen people to pass over, they were fed with manna in the desert, the sun and the moon stood still—because God was there.

This then was what made the men marvel, when our Lord stilled the storm upon the sea. It was a proof to them that God was there, though they saw Him not. Nay, God was there and they saw Him—for Christ was God—but whether they learned this high and sacred truth or not from the miracle, so far they understood that God really was there. His hand was there, His power was there, and therefore they feared. You have read in books, I dare say, stories of great men who come in disguise, and at length are known by their voice, or by some deed, which betrays them. Their voices, or their words, or their manner, or their exploit, is their token—it is a sort of handwriting. And so when God walks the earth, He gives us means of knowing that He does so, though He is a hidden God, and does not display His glory openly. Power over nature is the token He gives us that He, the Creator of Nature, is in the midst of us.

And therefore God is called almighty—this is His distinguishing attribute. Man is powerful only by means of nature. He uses nature as his instrument, but God has no need of nature, in order to accomplish His will, but works His great work, sometimes by means of nature, and sometimes without nature, as it please Him. {23}

And you will observe this attribute of God is the only one mentioned in the Creed. "I believe in God, the Father almighty." It is not said "I believe in God the Father All merciful, or All holy, or All wise," though all these attributes are His also, but "I believe in God the Father Almighty." Why is this? It is plain why—because this attribute is the reason why we believe. Faith is the beginning of religion, and therefore the almightiness of God is made the beginning and first of His attributes, and just the attribute which ought to be mentioned in the Creed. We should not be able to believe in Him, did we not know that He is almighty. Nothing is too hard to believe of Him to whom nothing is too hard to do. You may recollect that when it was prophesied to Abraham that the old Sarah his wife should have a son, Sarah laughed. Why did she laugh? Because she did not bear sufficiently in mind that God is almighty. Therefore the Lord said to her, "Is anything hard for God?" (Gen. 18). And in like manner our Lord in the Gospel of this day, when He commanded the winds and the sea, said "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" If they had had a firm perception of His almightiness, they would have been sure that He could bring them out of danger. But when they saw Him asleep in the boat, they could not believe that they were safe, not understanding that He, awake or asleep, was almighty.

This thought is very important to us at this day, because {24} it will be a means of sustaining our faith. Why do you believe all the strange and marvellous acts recorded in Scripture? Because God is almighty and can do them. Why do you believe that a Virgin conceived and bore a Son? Because it is God's act, and He can do anything. As the Angel Gabriel said to the Blessed Virgin, "No word is impossible with God." On the other hand, when holy Zacharias was told by the Angel that the old Elizabeth, his wife, should conceive, he said, "Whence shall I know this?" and he was punished at once for disbelieving. Why do you believe that our Lord rose from the dead? Why, that He redeemed us all with His precious blood? Why, that He washes away our sins in Baptism? Why do you believe in the power and grace which attends the other sacraments? Why do you believe in the resurrection of our bodies? You believe it because nothing is too hard for God—because however wonderful a thing may be, He can do it. Why do you believe in the virtue of holy relics? Why do you believe that the Saints hear your prayers? Because nothing is too hard for the Lord.

This especially applies to the great miracle of the Altar. Why do you believe that the Priest changes the bread into the body of Christ? Because God is almighty and nothing is too hard for Him. And moreover you know, as I have said, that miracles are the signs and tokens of God's presence. If then He is present in the Catholic Church, it is natural to expect that He will {25} work some miracles, and if He did no miracle, we might be almost tempted to believe that He had left His Church.

When you assist at the holy sacrifice of the Altar and bow down at the elevation, and whenever you make an act of faith in God, steadily contemplating all that He has done for us in the Gospel, recollect God is almighty, and it will enable you to be bolder and more determined in making it. Say, I believe this and that, because God is almighty—I do not worship a creature: I am not the servant of a God of restricted power. But since God can do everything, I can believe everything. There is nothing too much for Him to do, and nothing too hard for me to believe. I will enlarge my heart. I will go forward in a generous way. "Open thy mouth wide," says God to me, "and I will fill it." Well, I do open my mouth, I desire to be fed with His words. I desire to live and to thrive by every word which He speaks. I desire to say with the prophet, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." I will not grudge, I will not doubt, because I believe that which takes away all doubting. All acts of divine power do but fall under, and are but instances of, that universal attribute on which I believe, omnipotence. If God can do all things, He can do this. He can do much more than this. Wonderful as this or that may be to our narrow minds, still if we knew all, we should see that this, whatever it is, was but one thing out of many. This is {26} what our Lord signified to holy Nathanael. Nathanael, struck with something which our Lord said, cried out, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel." He made answer "Believest thou on this account? thou shalt see a greater thing than this." There is no end of God's power; it is inexhaustible. Let there be no end to our faith. Let us not be startled at what we are called on to believe; let us still be on the look out. Some people are slow to believe the miracles ascribed to the Saints. Now we know that such miracles are not part of the faith; they have no place in the Creed. And some are reported on better evidence than others. Some may be true, and others not so certainly true. Others again may be true but not miracles. But still why should they be surprised to hear of miracles? Are they beyond the power of God, and is not God present with the Saints, and has He not wrought miracles of old? Are miracles a new thing? There is no reason to be surprised, on the contrary; because in the Sacrifice of the Mass He works daily the most wonderful of miracles at the word of the priest. If then He does daily a miracle greater than any that can be named, why should we be surprised to hear reports of His doing other and lesser miracles now and then?

The Gospel of the day then sets before us the duty of faith, and rests it upon God's almightiness or omnipotence, as it is called. Nothing is too hard for Him, and {27} we believe what the Church tells us of His deeds and providences, because He can do whatsoever He will. But there is another grace which the Gospel teaches us, and that is hope or trust. You observe that when the storm came, the disciples were in great distress. They thought some great calamity was coming on them. Therefore Christ said to them, "Why are ye fearful?" Hope and fear are contrary to each other; they feared because they did not hope. To hope is, not only to believe in God, but to believe and be certain that He loves us and means well to us; and therefore it is a great Christian grace. For faith without hope is not certain to bring us to Christ. The devils believe and tremble (James 2). They believe, but they do not come to Christ—because they do not hope, but despair. They despair of getting any good from Him. Rather they know that they shall get nothing but evil, so they keep away. You recollect the man possessed of the devil said: "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus the Son of God—art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8). The coming of Christ was no comfort to them, the contrary: they shrank from Him. They knew He meant them not good, but punishment. But to men He meant good, and it is by knowing and feeling this that men are brought to Him. They will not come to God till they are sure of this. They must believe that He is not only almighty, but all merciful also. Faith is {28} founded on the knowledge that God is almighty, hope is founded on the knowledge that God is all merciful. And the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ excites us to hope quite as much as to faith, because His very name Jesus means Saviour, and because He was so loving, meek, and bountiful when He was on earth.

He said to the disciples when the storm arose, "Why are ye fearful?" That is, you ought to hope, you ought to trust, you ought to repose your heart on Me. I am not only almighty, but I am all merciful. I have come on earth because I am most loving to you. Why am I here, why am I in human flesh, why have I these hands which I stretch out to you, why have I these eyes from which the tears of pity flow, except that I wish you well, that I wish to save you? The storm cannot hurt you if I am with you. Can you be better placed than under my protection? Do you doubt My power or My will, do you think Me negligent of you that I sleep in the ship, and unable to help you except I am awake? Wherefore do you doubt? Wherefore do you fear? Have I been so long with you, and you do not yet trust Me, and cannot remain in peace and quiet by My side?"

And so, my Brethren, He says to us now. All of us who live in this mortal life, have our troubles. You have your troubles, but when you are in trouble, and the waves seem to mount high, and to be soon to overwhelm you, make an act of faith, an act of hope, in your God {29} and Saviour. He calls you to Him who has His mouth and His hands full of blessings for you. He says: "Come unto Me, all that labour and are laden, and I will refresh you" (Matt. 11). "All ye that thirst," He cries out by His prophet, "come ye to the waters, and ye that have no money, haste ye, buy, and eat." Never let the thought come into your mind that God is a hard master, a severe master. It is true the day will come when He will come as a just Judge, but now is the time of mercy. Improve it and make the most of the time of grace. "Behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation." This is the day of hope, this is the day of work, this is the day of activity. "The night cometh when no man can work," but we are children of the light and of the day, and therefore despondency, coldness of heart, fear, sluggishness are sins in us. Temptations indeed come on you to murmur, but resist them, drive them aside, pray God to help you with His mighty grace. He allows no temptation to befall us which He does not give us grace to surmount. Do not let your hope give way, but "lift up the languid hands and the relaxed knees" (Heb. 12). "Lose not your confidence, which hath a great reward" (Heb. 10). Seek His face who ever dwells in real and bodily presence in His Church. Do at least as much as what the disciples did. They had but little faith, they feared, they had not any great confidence and peace, but at least they did not keep away from Christ. They {30} did not sit still sullenly, but they came to Him. Alas, our very best state is not higher than the Apostles' worst state. Our Lord blamed them as having little faith, because they cried out to Him. I wish we Christians of this day did as much as this. I wish we went as far as to cry out to Him in alarm. I wish we had only as much faith and hope as that which Christ thought so little in His first disciples. At least imitate the apostles in their weakness, if you can't imitate them in their strength. If you can't act as saints, at least act as Christians. Do not keep from Him, but, when you are in trouble, come to Him day by day asking Him earnestly and perseveringly for those favours which He alone can give. And as He on this occasion spoken of in the Gospel, blamed indeed the disciples, but did for them what they asked, so, (we will trust in His great mercy), though He discerns much infirmity in you which ought not to be there, yet He will deign to rebuke the winds and the sea, and say "Peace, be still," and there will be a great calm.

May this be your happy lot, my dear Brethren, and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, etc.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.