Soli Deo Glorio: The Heartbeat of the Reformation

Sermon by Derek Thomas on October 31, 2004

Romans 11:33-36

The Lord’s Day Evening

October 31, 2004

Romans 11:33-36

Soli Deo Gloria: The Heartbeat of the
Reformation”

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas

Turn with me now, if you would, to the Epistle of Paul to
the Romans, and to the eleventh chapter, and we’re going to read together from
verse thirty-three to the end of the chapter. Romans, chapter eleven, beginning
at verse thirty-three. Before we read this passage together, let’s come before
God once again in prayer.

O Lord, our God, we bow in Your presence. We are
unworthy of the least of Your mercies. We are poor and wretched and miserable;
blind and naked before You, and we are in need of Your sovereign word of
revelation to instruct us, to empower us, to equip us, to motivate us, to
challenge us. Holy Spirit of God, come, we pray, and shine Your illuminating
light upon this Your word, and grant that we, Your redeemed creatures, might be
fitted and equipped to better life and glorify You. Hear us, Lord, for Jesus’
sake we ask it. Amen.

This is God’s holy and inerrant word.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the
mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him
that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to
Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

May God add His blessing to the
reading of His holy word.

In Geneva, of all places,
in 1815, it was the beginning of the year. Several young men gathered together
at first in a public park in Geneva, and then in someone’s home, and for a
period of two weeks set about examining a portion of Scripture. Among them were
Robert Haldane, Merle D’ Aubigne, Fredric Monod, and Caesar Malan–words that
may not be household names to you, perhaps, but they are all of them in their
own way giants in the Reformed faith in Europe and France, and in Scotland. God,
in this two-week period, converted these young men through a study of a portion
of Scripture, and that portion of Scripture is the one that I just read to you
this evening. It’s a huge text. It’s one of the great texts of Scripture, and
in some ways summarizes the Reformation, what the Reformation was about. It
summarizes the contribution of Martin Luther, and Ulrich Zwingli, and John
Calvin, and Theodore Beza and others.

I think this evening of
B. B. Warfield’s summarization of the Reformation and its theology: “an
apprehension of God in majesty.” That’s what the Reformation essentially was.
It was a rediscovery of the greatness and glory and magnitude and the majesty of
God, in a world and in a church that had become thoroughly man-centered in its
approach to worship. The Reformation called a halt to all of that which drew
attention to man, and instead said “God is great. God is to be glorified. God,
the sovereign God of the Scriptures, the God who made the heavens and the earth,
He is to be exalted in all of His majesty.

In many ways, I suppose
that would define what’s wrong with the church today, that in many respects the
church has lost sight of the majesty, the greatness, of God. And I want us this
evening, as we are thinking together about the contribution of God in His
providence of the Reformation, and in particular this evening the contribution
of John Calvin, and the church and other reformers in Geneva and in Switzerland,
to the cause and spread of the Reformation to Scotland. And you know, in some
ways–as I was contemplating last evening – I was thinking, you know, there would
not be a First Presbyterian Church had there not been a Reformation. There would
not have been the pilgrim fathers had there not been a Reformation. Had the
likes of John Knox and Cranmer and others not been influenced by what went on in
Geneva, there would not be a United States in the form and shape that you and I
recognize it to be this evening.

And with that in mind, I
want us to go to this particular passage, and I want us to see three principle
things, and they are, in the first place, a vision of an incomprehensible God;
in the second place, a vision of a sovereign God; and in the third place, a
vision of a glorious God.

I. A
Vision of an incomprehensible God.

You notice how the
Apostle Paul begins this section that we’re looking at this evening: “Oh, the
depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” His ways are past finding
out. This is the Apostle Paul who is saying this. “Oh, the depths of Almighty
God!” And he’s saying this, you understand, in some respects as a conclusion to
the Epistle to the Romans, the greatest epistle that he ever wrote, the most
majestic of the epistles that he ever wrote; the most intensely theological
epistle that he ever wrote, and he’s saying by way of conclusion, there are
depths here; there are immensities here; there are infinities here. Paul had a
remarkable mind. He had a remarkable education under the tutelage of Gamaliel.
You remember the Apostle Peter says of some of the things that Paul writes, that
“some of them are hard to be understood”; that some of the things that Peter may
well have been thinking about when he said that was possibly some of the very
things that he has written in this epistle, and perhaps in the chapters
immediately preceding this section–chapters nine, ten, and eleven.

And the Apostle Paul is
saying there are depths here. He’s been expounding theology. He’s been
expounding the revelation of God in the gospel. He has been pontificating on the
immensities and the infinities of the faith. He had plumbed the depths! He had,
as it were, gone into the deepest recesses of the mind and will and purposes of
God, but like Augustine commenting on the doctrine of the Trinity, it is as
though the Apostle Paul is saying here, ‘I see the depths, but I cannot see the
bottom. I see the depths,’ as though he were looking out of a boat and into the
depths of the waters below, and he could see it going down and down and down and
down, but he couldn’t see the bottom. We need to remember that, you and I. We
need to remember that one of the things that God intends by revealing Himself
and disclosing Himself, and by giving to us the Scriptures, is that the
arrogance and the native Adamic pride which is part of our fallen natures should
be addressed, and we ought to remember that even the great Apostle Paul
exclaims, “Oh, the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

I remember someone
remarking to me after I had done a dissertation on John Calvin, and he said to
me, “You’re an expert on John Calvin now.” But I knew in the very way that he
had said it, and in the tone in which it was said, that there was not a little
irony in what he was saying; because he realized, as I realized, that the more
you study anything the more ignorant you realize yourself to be. And the apostle
is saying here, I have seen immensities, and I have seen infinities, but there
are depths here that my mind cannot fathom or comprehend.

And you notice that the Apostle Paul is actually
citing here in verse 34 from the prophet Isaiah, and from the fortieth chapter:
“’To whom then shall you liken Me, or shall I be equal?’ says the Holy One.”
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? And the
apostle is saying, as he perhaps had been reflecting on the fortieth chapter of
Isaiah, that there are issues and aspects and realities in the mind and being of
God that you and I as creatures can never understand, and can never fathom. And
though we give thanks to God for that which He has revealed, for that which He
has disclosed in the Scriptures, and even some of those things are hard to be
understood, yet you and I should realize only too well this evening that there
is more to God and more to the being of God, and more to the attributes of God
and the character of God, and the ways of God than you and I can ever
understand. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things
which are revealed belong unto us and to our children,” Moses said.

In 1554, beginning in February and through until the
following year, 1555, into mid-April or so, about fourteen months, John Calvin
embarked on an exposition of the Book of Job. Calvin, I think, was at his prime
intellectually, and he preached 159 sermons expounding the Book of Job,
beginning in the first verse right through to the end of the book. And one of
the things that John Calvin said in the very opening sermon, as though he was
giving to us a key by which to understand the Book of Job, he said, “It is a
good thing, a great thing, a wonderful thing to be subject to the majesty of
God.” And in a sense, that’s what the Book of Job essentially is about: learning
in the midst of trials and difficulties to be subject, to be subject to the
majesty of God, to the immensity of God.

Now notice that the apostle here seems to
ponder the incomprehensibility of God along four lines of thought. He speaks
first of all of God’s knowledge: “Oh, the depths of the riches of the…
knowledge of God.” God knows everything. God knows everything. He knows
Himself. He knows the intricacies of His own being. There are no secret
recesses or corners of His own being that are unknown to God. He knows Himself
fully. He has a perfect integrated knowledge of Himself, and He knows all that
is outside of Himself. He knows the entirety of creation. He knows the answer
to every question. There are no imponderables. There are no secrets. There is
no fact, no detail that is unknown to God. He knows the future. He knows those
things that as yet have not come into being. The future will not catch God by
surprise, because of the infinite-ness of His knowledge. He knows everything.
“Oh, the depths of the …knowledge of God!”

And not only the knowledge of God, but the wisdom of
God: “Oh, the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Or, as
some of your translations might have it, “riches”…but “wisdom” is a better
translation, I think. And you understand the difference between wisdom and
knowledge: it’s one thing to know something, but to be wise you need to know how
to use that knowledge, how to achieve that good end. And God has perfect
wisdom

And not only His wisdom, but His judgments. God’s
decrees, what God has determined, what Paul is talking about when he says in his
Epistle to the Ephesians that his intent was that now “through the church the
manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the
heavenly place, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ
Jesus our Lord.” The eternal purpose of Almighty God, God’s plan–God’s plan to
bring about the salvation of His people…there are depths to that plan.
There are depths to God’s knowledge, there are depths to God’s wisdom, there are
depths to God’s judgment, and there are depths to God’s ways.

God’s ways are not our ways. God’s providence, the
unfolding of God’s will in the details and intricacies of our individual
lives…how this plan of God impinges upon us…there are depths to it! Depths
which cause some of us to cry out to Him from time to time for an explanation of
what it is that He’s doing. Intricacies so beyond our understanding that
sometimes we doubt. Isn’t that so? Sometimes we doubt whether He knows what
He’s doing. And Paul is saying, “Oh, the depths….!”

Do you understand, my friend, little wonder that we
don’t understand the ways of God in our lives, because there are depths to the
ways of God? There are intricacies to the ways of God. There and immensities to
the ways of God, so that the apostle is saying here, as he has scanned the
purpose of God as it unfolds in the revelation of the gospel, God is beyond our
understanding. That there is a sense in which God is incomprehensible to us.

II. A vision of a sovereign God.

But in the second place, not only a vision of the
incomprehensible God, but a vision of a sovereign God. A vision of a sovereign
God. Do you notice now in verse 35 he quotes (it’s actually a quotation from
the Book of Job, and it comes from the end of the Book of Job, from Job 41:11),
“Who has given a gift to Him, that he might be repaid?” “Who has given a gift
to Him that he might be repaid?”

Do you understand what it is that the apostle is
doing in citing this verse? This verse in the Book of Job is the conclusion to
the Book of Job, and Job, you remember, has been asking for an explanation of
what it is that has been happening in his life. And God has been silent. And
God has said nothing. And Job has come before God and demanded that God give him
an explanation, as though God owes us an explanation! And one of the things that
Job learns at the end of that trial is that in actual fact, God owes us nothing
at all. He owes us nothing at all.

As we were hearing in fact this morning, our
salvation is by grace through faith, and that not of our works, lest any man
should boast; and that the gospel is a gospel that reveals the grace of God. It
follows in some ways as Paul cites this verse from the latter chapters of the
Book of Job, emphasizing as the verse does the sovereignty of God. It is perhaps
all the more pertinent that this verse should be cited here, especially after
what the Apostle Paul has written in the preceding chapters, in chapters nine,
ten, and eleven: chapters that have expounded the intricacies of the doctrine of
election and predestination, and found its climactic statement in chapter nine
and verse thirteen: “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” And the stark
reality of that proclamation of Almighty God emphasizing, as perhaps few other
verses in the Bible emphasize, the sheer sovereignty of God in the
administration of His grace. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.”

And it may be that you and I might have said, “I can
understand if it had been the other way around, because in many ways Esau was a
more likable person than the wily, conniving Jacob.” And yet, in the
sovereignty of God, He reveals His purpose and says that there is a purpose of
God according to the election of grace, and that there is a purpose of God which
leads to reprobation;
and we might be tempted, you and I, to say, “But that
isn’t fair! That isn’t fair!”

And you see now why the Apostle Paul is citing this
verse from the Book of Job, because fairness has nothing to do with it!
Because there is none righteous, no not one; for all have sinned and come short
of the glory of God, and not one of us has given to God that He might repay us
.
Emphasizing, do you see, the sheer sovereignty of God in the administration
of grace
.

But it may not be the doctrines of election or
reprobation that cause us in fact to question the sovereignty of God. It may be
what God is doing in providence. It may be what God is doing in our lives. I
was thinking again this afternoon of the life of Elizabeth Elliot, missionary as
she was to the Quichua Indians in the jungles of Ecuador, and working with two
other women to reduce that language so as to produce a readable, practical
knowledge of the Scriptures; and God providing in answer to her prayer, Macario,
who was promptly murdered; and then, shortly after that, all of the manuscripts
being stolen and never recovered; and then, marrying, as you recall, Jim Elliot,
who within months of marriage, barely twenty-seven months of marriage, was
murdered; and then, marrying yet again, the President of Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary, who, within a few months of marriage contracted cancer and died; and
the question coming into her mind, as it may well come into your mind in
relation to events in your life, what is God doing? What is God doing in my
life? And seeing once again that the way of pilgrimage and the way of
servanthood is the way of acknowledging the sovereignty of God in all of our
affairs, that

“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.

He plants His footsteps in the
sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of
never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright
designs and works His sovereign will.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain.

God is His own interpreter, and
He will make it plain.”

And so, what we see in this passage is a vision of
the incomprehensibility of God. There are depths to the knowledge and wisdom of
God. And we see in this passage a vision of the sovereignty of God.

III. A vision of a glorious God.

And we see, in the third place, a vision of a
glorious God. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him
be glory forever,” Paul says. And one of the five sola’s, one of the
five only’s of the Reformation is, as you well recall, the one that Ligon
alluded to this morning on the front cover of your bulletin: “To the glory of
God alone.” To the glory of God alone. And what is it that the apostle has been
drawn to, as he has pulled together the threads of all that God has been
revealing in creation and providence in the unfolding of the revelation of the
gospel of Jesus Christ? What is it that the Apostle Paul has been drawn to but
simply this: that all things–that all things–must tend to the glory of God. To
the glory of God, because from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

From Him are all things. He created all that
is. Everything that has being, everything that has existence comes because God
has brought it into being. He spoke the word, ex nihilo, out of nothing
it came by the creative fiat of Almighty God. From Him are all things.

And through Him are all things. The God, the
God of Scripture is not the God of the deist, who having made creation then goes
off to snooze; but He’s intimately involved in every facet of creation and
providence. All things are sustained by Him.

Did you see it? Did you go out–was it Tuesday
evening?–that lunar eclipse, in all of its brilliance and all of its
magnificence? As you stood there looking up, perhaps with a pair of binoculars,
looking once again at the wonder of creation, being reminded surely that these
great planetary events are brought about through the intervention and the
sustaining power of Almighty God, because “of Him are all things, and through
Him are all things, and unto Him are all things.” Because at the end of the
day, and it’s what the Reformation signaled most clearly, the great end and
purpose of God in creation and redemption in saving us and rescuing us and
bringing us into union with Christ is to say to us, you and me, ‘Your chief end
is to glorify Me and to enjoy Me forever.’

It’s not insignificant, I think, that John Calvin’s
personal motto was “I offer my heart, promptly and sincerely.” I offer my
heart, promptly and sincerely. That’s the goal of everything that God is doing
in our lives, and I wonder this evening, my friend, have you been so humbled as
the Apostle Paul was so humbled to be brought to that point of bowing the knee
and acknowledging “to God be the glory, great things He hath done. So loved He
the world that He gave us His Son…” That’s the heart of the Reformation, it’s
the heart of the Scriptures, and it’s the very heart of the gospel, and it’s the
very heart of God Himself.

Let’s come now to God in prayer, and with some of
those thoughts echoing in our minds and hearts, let’s bow in His presence and
bring before Him our worship and our praise, our adoration and confession, and
supplication and thanksgiving. Let’s pray.

O Lord God, You have made everything that is: the
heavens and the earth, and the sea and all it contains. The whole of creation is
the work of Your hands. You rule among the armies of heaven and among the
inhabitants of the earth, and do what pleases Yourself. You’ve shown a glimpse
of Your goodness and Your grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our
hearts are overwhelmed as we consider what it is that You have disclosed to us:
that we poor, wretched, miserable, unworthy sinners as we are by nature–the
fallen sons of Adam–have been brought by sovereign redeeming grace through the
energy of the Holy Spirit into union and communion with Your dear Son, our
Savior Jesus Christ. We thank You that now are we the sons of God, and it doth
not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall
be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is.

We come, O Lord, as those who are a needy
people. We come with large petitions upon our hearts and upon our lips:
petitions with regards to ourselves, that we might find that peace that passes
all understanding, that guards and garrisons our hearts in the knowledge of
Jesus Christ as we are tossed to and fro; as we find ourselves buffeted by the
winds and the waves; as we feel our feet sink into those waters and we cry,
“Lord, help us and rescue us.” So come, O Lord, and wrap Your loving arms around
us and draw us to Yourself, and reassure us once again of the promises of the
gospel that are yea and amen in Jesus Christ.

Our God and our Father, we pray for one another.
We pray for our brothers and sisters. We thank you for them. We thank You for
the communion of saints. We bless You this evening for this wonderful gift of
the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s Day, one day in seven set apart, different from all
of the rest, that we might gather together with the Lord’s people and sing Your
praises and read Your word, and come before You as penitents to receive Your
assurance of absolution through faith in Jesus Christ.

Our Father, we pray for the state in which we
live in Your providence; for the election on Tuesday; for Your good hand to be
upon us as a nation, to give to us not what we deserve, but that in wrath You
would remember to have mercy. Grant to us, O Lord, a prayerful stance as we
anticipate these mighty events in the work of our land and nation, remembering
that there is One who sits upon a throne and all the nation of the world are as
but a drop in a bucket.

Our God and our Father, we come before You. We
pray for the backslider whose heart is cold and whose spirit is listless; for
those who have ceased attending regularly and whose lives have become worldly;
for those who are succumbing to sin and temptation, whose resolve in
mortification has abated; for those who know with pain the fellowship of
Christ’s sufferings, that they may especially know the power of the
resurrection.

And teach us, O Lord, to pray as You taught Your
disciples to pray, saying

Our Father, who art in
heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be
done on earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily
bread,

And forgive us our debts as
we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil;

For Thine is the kingdom and
the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

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