The Inscrutable Glory of Grace

Sermon by David Strain on May 26, 2013

Romans 11:33-12:2

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The Lord’s Day Morning

May 26, 2013

“The Inscrutable Glory of Grace”
Romans 11:33-12:2

The Reverend Mr. David T. A. Strain

Would you turn with me please in your Bibles to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 11?В Romans chapter 11.В We’re going to read verses 33 through verse 2 of chapter 12.В If you’re using one of the church Bibles you’ll find that on page 947.В While you are turning there, let me try and orient your thinking and understanding of where Paul is in the letter to the Romans.В He is drawing to a close the theological section, the doctrinal section of the letter in the first eleven chapters.В Chapter 12 towards the end, Paul will now turn to think about how the truths about God, His ways, His salvation, make a difference to how we live as individual Christians, and how we live together in the church, and indeed in the world.В Before he turns from theology to practice, however, he lingers here at the end of chapter 11 and directs our gaze back towards God, not in theological discourse but rather in doxology and in praise and in adoration.В

And as we read this together I want you to look out for five things.В These are the five things that are going to occupy our attention together.В First of all, Paul tells us of our unfathomable depth in our God.В Then secondly there is inscrutable wisdom in God.В Thirdly, inexhaustible wealth.В Fourthly, unrestrained freedom.В And finally, uncontested praise.В Unfathomable depth, inscrutable wisdom, inexhaustible wealth, unrestrained freedom, uncontested praise.В So would you turn your attention now to the reading of God’s own holy and inerrant Word from Romans 11 at verse 33.В

This is the Word of the Lord:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!В How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!В

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’

‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things.В To him be glory forever.В Amen.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.В Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.В May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
As I said, we’re focusing our attention on this portion of doxology at the end of chapter 11 verses 33 to 36.В And the first thing I want us to think about is the unfathomable depths that Paul tells us are to be found in God.В Before we do that, let me introduce it like this.В You’ve been in the bookstore, maybe you have a family member like this, who, before they purchase a book, they skip to the last chapter to find out how it’s all going to end, what the direction is going to be, what the big idea really is – what is the point of the story?В What if I were to tell you that we could do that with your life?В That we could, as it were, skip to the end and find the purpose and the point and the big idea for your very existence?В What we have here in Romans 11:33-36 is precisely that. That is the message of this passage and perhaps surprisingly Paul’s answer to the question of our purpose is not to direct our attention to anything in ourselves but rather to fill our horizons with the glory and the greatness of our God.В As John Calvin once put it, “Unless we descend from first contemplating the knowledge of God as we find it in Scripture to then think about ourselves, we can have no true and accurate knowledge of who we are or indeed what we are for.”В So Paul, in helping us think about our purpose, directs our gaze towards the Lord.


Let’s look at the passage.В Romans 11:33-36.В First of all, what Paul says here about the unfathomable depths in God.В On the twenty-third of January, 1960, aboard the United States Navy vessel called the Trieste, two men, Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant, Don Walsh, descended to the deepest place on earth, a trench in the ocean floor known as the Challenger Deep.В Now I want you to try and think about what it would have been like in that small submarine, cramped quarters, as they descend deeper and deeper and deeper and the darkness envelops them.В They spent five hours descending into the abyss.В At around 10,971 meters down, almost seven miles, they finally reach the bottom.В A crack appears on the window of the submersible as the pressure begins to take its toll. ВAnd so after only twenty minutes – I’m sure I would have been out of there a lot sooner – but after only twenty minutes they made their journey back to the surface.В But for twenty minutes, human beings plumbed the ocean’s deepest abyss.В Its darkness was illumined.В We studied it and took samples, collected data.В The hidden depth of our world had not remained hidden before the untiring ingenuity of the human mind.В

But as Paul brings his great exposition of the theological portion of his letter to the Romans to a conclusion, he has a confession to make to us.В He’s been like those two marine explorers.В He has taken us into the depths of the truth of God on a voyage of discovery in chapters 1 to 11, but unlike the two men who descended into the Challenger Deep, the apostle Paul could not say at the end of his treatment that he had come even close to the bottom of God’s self revelation to us.В As he finishes what is his most systematic and comprehensive survey of the whole corpus of Christian truth, we do not hear any note of self-congratulatory triumph from the apostle.В There’s no note of self-satisfaction at having uncovered, by his own ingenuity, hitherto unforeseen or unknown profundities in our God.В No, no, at the end of Paul’s voyage, into the abyss of divine self-disclosure, he has no boast to make.В What he has is a word of, really aghast of stunned humility and reverence and awe.В “Oh, the depth of God!” he says. “Oh, the depths!”В He’s had his breath taken away.В So the first word in this hymn of praise is barely a word at all.В It’s almost an elemental cry of wonder.В “Oh, the depths!”В

In Romans chapters 1 through 11, as you may know, Paul has outlined the depravity of the human condition – lost in Adam, dead in sin, beyond all hope of self-improvement of self-salvation.В Then in chapters 3 to 5 he points us to the good news that, lost though we are in Adam, in Jesus Christ God has provided a full deliverer and that by mere unadorned faith our sin may be dealt with and we may be counted righteous before the bar of heavenly justice.В And then in chapters 6 though 8 he has built on the cleansing, justifying work of Christ for us and pointed us to the sanctifying, transforming, assuring, preserving work of Christ in us.В And then in chapters 9 through 11 he steps back from thinking about the ways of God with an individual soul to place His saving plan into the context of His overarching sovereignty, choosing whom He will to save, and into His worldwide to design to bring the glorious Gospel to the ends of the earth and to save a people for Himself from every tribe and language and nation.В And then having come to the end of that great survey, having traced for us the landscape of God and His Gospel and His saving plan – can you imagine the apostle, you know, putting down his pen, and reading back over his letter to the Romans so far, surveying again for himself all that he has said.В And as he does so he takes in the landscape that he has mapped out for us and he sees the mountain pinnacles of divine glory and the ocean depths of his love in the Gospel that he has explained to us, his own breath is taken away and gasps out his praise – “Oh, the depths of God!”В

Theology, you see, leads Paul to doxology.В Truth makes him praise.В “There are unfathomable depths in God,” he says, “and as I begin to contemplate them I am laid in the dust and I find myself stunned in reverent awe and singing out His glory and His adoration.”В Do you delight in theology?В I hope you do. If you delight in theology but not in liturgy and worship, if you love doctrine but you don’t care too much for doxology, then you neither understand nor love doctrine as you should.В If you grasp the truth, it will do in your heart what it did in Paul’s; it will make you praise.


And then Paul begins, notice, to itemize some of those unfathomable depths.В He says, secondly, not only are there unfathomable depths but one of those depths is the inscrutable wisdom that we find in our God.В Verse 33 – “Oh, the depths of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!В How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”В The root of that word there, unsearchable – “How unsearchable are his judgments” – evokes the image of footprints on a trail that has been obscured, that are no longer able to be followed; they leave no real tracks.В It captures in a word, really, the thought of Psalm 77 verse 19.В “Your way, O God, was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints are unseen.”В That’s how God’s plans and purposes proceed.В “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,” writes Cowper.В “He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.”В The mind and plan of God is not susceptible to human investigation, rational deduction, scientific inquiry.В It can’t be searched out, Paul says, tracked down, worked out in an algorithm.В There is no computation that will enable you to arrive at the truth of God unmediated, simply by applying your own reason.В It is unsearchable.В

That mean to know Him, to know His mind, it must be revealed.В That is what we have in our Scriptures.В That is the mind of God revealed.В Isn’t that astonishing?В You hold in your hand the mind of God revealed – not comprehensively.В You know Deuteronomy 29:29?В “The secret things belong unto the Lord but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children.”В There are depths still deeper yet than we are able to fathom – unrevealed, known only to the Lord.В And yet Paul is saying to us that what has been revealed in Scripture, even this, what has been revealed even of that, of the mind of God in His Word, ought utterly to level us in astonishment and in awe.В And in verse 34 he backs that point up with a quotation from Isaiah chapter 40 verse 13.В Isaiah 40 is one of those key texts to which we ought all to return again and again.В It will lay us in the dust and it so magnifies God.В It is a pride shattering, God exalting chapter.В Listen to Isaiah thunder out the declaration of God’s greatness.В Let me read some of Isaiah 40 to you.В Isaiah says:

“Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor taught him?В With whom did he take counsel, and who instructed him and taught him in the path of justice?В Who taught him knowledge and showed him the way of understanding?В Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket.В To whom will you liken me, or to whom shall I be equal, says the holy one?В Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these things, who brings out the hosts by number and calls them all by name, by the greatness of his might and the strength of his power, not one is missing.В Have you not known?В Have you not heard?В The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.В His understanding is unsearchable.”В

God is not like us.В God is not like us.В His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways.В As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and verse 2, “If anyone thinks he knows something,” especially as we contemplate the greatness of our God, “if anyone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought.”В Sometimes we conclude, don’t we, when confronted with truths about God that we don’t understand, sometimes we conclude in our pride that our inability to understand validates our dismissal.В We reject what we don’t comprehend.В But Paul is telling us that the right approach is actually quite the reverse.В It is to say, “Are you crazy?В Of course you don’t get it!В Of course you don’t fathom the depths of God!В He would not be who He says He is if you could plumb the very depths of Him!”В Who worships a tame, safe, utterly noble, un-mysterious, familiar deity who cannot display His glory and level us as we discover new vistas and horizons of His greatness and goodness and love?В No one worships a god that is merely a reflection of themselves.В Actually they do far too frequently but no one ought to.В No one ought to.В The God who is there is a God of vast and incomprehensible majesty.В And that fact, rather than repelling us if we are Christians, ought to attract us and move us.В Paul wants us to join him on our knees in the dust before the untamable, unforeseeable, unknowable, unsearchable, inscrutable wisdom of God and to pour out with him your praise.


Unfathomable depths, then there is inscrutable wisdom, then thirdly, inexhaustible wealth.В “Oh, the depth of the riches” or verse 35, “Who has first given to God and it shall be repaid to him?”В The quotation in verse 35 comes from another one of those devastatingly God-exalting passages of Scripture, Job chapters 40 and 41.В God reminds Job there of His greatness, His self-sufficiency.В He does not need anything or anyone.В He is content and sufficient unto Himself in the glorious fellowship of the blessed Trinity which means that God is no man’s debtor.В At no point in the Christian life does God owe us anything.В “Who has ever given to God and it shall be repaid to Him?”В

There are few things so ugly, right, as an inappropriate sense of entitlement?В To expect charity as a right, to expect recognition as your due, to require others to give place to you for no reason than the demands of your own ego.В When we meet people like that we instinctively recognize how ugly that is.В But I wonder, as Paul holds up before us the mirror of Scripture, if that is not sometimes the attitude we bring to God.В “You owe me.В Don’t you see what I’ve done for You?В You owe me.”В Paul says, “Stop.В Look at the riches of God.”В When Paul uses the language of riches he’s thinking there primarily about the riches of His grace which He has poured out upon His people, again and again and again.В So for example, Romans 2:4 speaks about the riches of His kindness.В Romans 10:12 – “The riches of God bestowed upon all who call on Him.”В Ephesians 2:4 summarizes the experience of salvation in terms of receiving the riches of God’s grace.В 2 Corinthians 8:9 describes the Gospel this way – “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you, by His poverty might become rich.”В

When Paul thinks about the riches of God he’s thinking about His free love in giving His Son for sinners to bear their condemnation and redeem them from sin and death and hell.В Paul is saying, “Stop pointing to your own paltry and threadbare efforts in God’s service as though they somehow compel God’s love for you, and stand rather and take in again the riches of God’s grace freely given to you apart from your doing, for Him.В See how He has given all, He has given everything, He has given His best, even His Son for you.”В And as you do, all thoughts of God being your debtor slips away and you will find yourself saying, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.В He owes me nothing; I owe Him everything.В And as I see His love and the riches of His grace, I am glad to lay it down.”


Unfathomable depths, inscrutable wisdom, inexhaustible riches, and fourthly, verse 36 – unrestrained freedom.В “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”В He is the source of all that is – sovereign Creator by whose decree all things exist.В It’s all of Him.В He’s the sustainer of all things, upholding the universe by the Word of His power, working all things together according to the counsel of His own will.В All things are through Him. And He is the goal of all things; everything is for Him.В Jonathan Edwards, in 1765, had posthumously a dissertation of his published entitled, “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World.”В And his thesis was simple and it is exactly Paul’s point here.В Edwards said, “It is manifest that the Scriptures speak on all occasions as though God made Himself His end in all His works and as though the same being who is the first cause of all things were the supreme and last end of all things.”В You see what Edwards is saying?В You exist for Him.В That is why you’re here.В This is us skipping now to the last chapter to see the author’s purpose.В This is what you’re for.В This is what I am for.В We exist for the glory of God.В We are from Him and through Him and to Him.В That is why your heart still beats and you still draw breath.В You live, you exist, for the exaltation of the name of the triune God.В


And that means, as Paul now directs our attention in verse 36, there is really only one thing we can do with this one who is such a God, only one echo and answer of a believing sinner’s heart to God’s glory and grace and love.В It’s the note of uncontested praise.В “To Him be the glory forever and ever.В Amen.”В The message of Romans 11:33-36, of the book of Romans of the whole, of the whole of the Bible, the message of your life and my life of all creatures everywhere is summed up right here.В Here’s your highest and noblest calling.В This is what you’re for.В The note that God wants to run throughout all of your life like a refrain constantly sounding – it is to God be the glory, great things He has done.В

I wonder if you will, today, dedicate yourself to the end for which God has created the world, the end for which you have been made – that is, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.В There are unfathomable depths of inscrutable wisdom, inexhaustible wealth, unrestrained freedom in our God.В Therefore, let us give to Him uncontested, undivided, and unceasing praise through Jesus Christ our Lord.В Amen.

Now would you take your hymnals please as we respond to God’s grace in the Gospel by singing hymn number 75, hymn number 75, a hymn that celebrates God’s sovereignty and Lordship – “Oh Father You are Sovereign in all the worlds You made.”

And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore.В Amen.

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