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God’s Power is not Bound by the Means Used

And to this end, God (in the establishing of nature) has thereout reserved four special prerogatives to his Word.[1]

As first, with a very little of the means, to go far in operation, 1. Kings. 17. 14. with a little oil and a little wheat, he fed Elijah, the poor widow, and her son a great while[2]; & Matt. 14.17. Christ made five loaves and two fishes serve five thousand.[3] The heathen man thought no certain proportion was to be set down for a family, because when a heavenly hunger comes on men, they eat more at one time than at another. But whatsoever the heathen have spoken wisely, we have far more wisely uttered by the holy Ghost, in one place or other. In Psalm. 17. 14[4] this is set down, where there is mention made of a certain hidden treasure, wherewith men’s bellies be filled, and Hag 1. 6. saith, Men eate much, yet haue not enough; drinke much, but are not filled.[5] This is the First prerogative.

His second is, he takes order as well for the quality, as for the quantity; course meats [poor quality food] and fine are als one with him; for the Israelites notwithstanding their quails and Manna, died: and Daniel and his fellows, that fed upon course meats, looked better than all the Children that were fed with the Kings own diet, Dan. 1. 15.

Thirdly, without means he works sometimes. Therefore Asa had said little or nothing to the purpose, 2. Chron. 14. 11. if he had said, God helpeth by manie or by few: if hee had not put in too, and sometimes by none.[6] For there was light before any Sun or Moon, Gen. 1. 3. though after (verse 14.) it pleased God to ordain them as instruments.[7] And so, Gen. 2. 5[8], the Earth was fertile, when as then no rain had fallen on the Earth, nor any such ordinary means. Let Moses be on the Mount, and but hear GOD, and he needs no bread[9].

The fourth is, that he can bring his purpose to pass, even by those means whose natures tend to contrary effects; as, to preserve by stones.

Colloquintida[10], being rank [certain] poison, (in eating whereof is present death) was (by the prophet) made matter of nourishment, 2 Book of Kings fourth chapter & fortieth verse.[11] So Christ, by those things which were fit to put out a seeing man’s eyes, as dust; made a blind man recover his sight, John 9. 6.[12] And so does he make light to shine out of darkness, 2. Cor. 4. 6[13] one contrary out of another. Thus, we see the Devil answered.[14]


The conceptual problem which Andrews has been addressing in these last two section of the sermon are greater for us than the problem was to his first hearers. We are great believers in a mechanical understanding of the universe; we would call this “scientific” (though admittedly, the “scientific” understanding is not always quite so mechanistic). We think of the world in terms of “laws of nature,” gravity, electricity, et cetera, forces which act regularly and act out of their own self-subsisting power. Gravity makes planets move and stones fall.

Andrews explains, nothing works unless God desires it to be so. Gravity would cease to work as it does if that pleased God. We could think of gravity as what it looks like when God moves about planets. (Indeed, what should it “look like” when God acts? Gravity is the name we give to a regularly occurring feature of the physical world. We can describe this regular action. But God acting in a regular manner does not disprove his existence).

The need for God’s blessing was the point of his previous section.

In this section, Andrews works from the other direction. Rather than discussing the regular working of the world, he considers the irregular working. We might call these miracles.

We are bound by means. We are limited by our physical body’s strength. We cannot lift millions of pounds because our bodies are not able to do so. We are limited by time and space and must live within the bounds of the regular functioning of the world.

But is not bound by the regularly functioning of the world. This is not at all difficult to understand as soon as we realize that the regular functioning of the world is also God’s doing. Yes, God routinely causes rocks to fall toward the earth; but it is no more difficult for God to cause the rock to rise as it is to fall.

And so God can use seemingly impossibly weak means to bring about tremendous ends. He can cause a small amount of food to last for months, he can feed thousands of people with a lunch fit for a single child, he can make poison to bring about health.

We must learn to put our trust in God’s power, not the apparent power of the creature. This does not mean that we should pretend that God’s power is not exercised in ordinary regular ways. It is. That is a great kindness to us (even when that regular operation results in pain or difficulty for human beings[15]

[1] The argument being made in this section is that God’s power is not bound by the means used to exercise that power. We need food in certain amounts and in certain quality to live well. God can take almost no food and feed thousands. We need a certain amount of power to achieve an objective, but God can defeat a large army with a small army. God can even work when the means available should bring about the opposite result.

[2] During a famine, Elijah the prophet went to live with a widow who was on the verge of starvation. She and her son were preparing to eat their last meal when Elijah came upon them. Their food miraculously held out such that all three were able to live through the famine.

[3] Matthew 14:13–21 (ESV)  “13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

[4] Psalm 17:13–14 (ESV)

                  13               Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!

Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,

                  14               from men by your hand, O Lord,

from men of the world whose portion is in this life.

                                    You fill their womb with treasure;

they are satisfied with children,

and they leave their abundance to their infants.

[5] God had called the returning Israelites to rebuilding the temple. They had not done so. Due to their disobedience, God had not profited them. Haggai 1:6 (ESV) “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”

[6] 2 Chronicles 14:9–13 (ESV) “Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. 10 And Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up their lines of battle in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. 11 And Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” 12 So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. 13 Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the Lord and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil.”

[7] Genesis 1:3 (ESV)

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Genesis 1:14 (ESV)

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,

[8] Genesis 2:5 (ESV) “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.”

[9] Moses heard God speak, but God does not have a mouth nor does he need to breath with lungs to make himself heard.

[10] The gourd colocynth. A medicine is derived from it which can act as a purgative. It is poisonous and considered “unsafe” by the FDA

[11] 2 Kings 4:38–41 (ESV) “38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. And as the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Set on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 And they poured out some for the men to eat. But while they were eating of the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring flour.” And he threw it into the pot and said, “Pour some out for the men, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.”

[12] John 9:6–7 (ESV) “Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”

[13]2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV) “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

[14] Christ used an apparently small thing, a quotation from the Deuteronomy to thwart the Devil.

[15] For a useful discussion of this point, see Dr. Morley’s God in the Shadows, https://www.amazon.com/God-Shadows-Evil-Gods-World/dp/1845501756