GOD’S GREAT PLAN OF SALVATION DESERVES OUR PRAISE
BECAUSE IT GLORIFIES GOD’S INSCRUTABILITY, AUTONOMY AND SOVEREIGNTY
Steven Lawson: Now, verses 33 to 36 is what we call a doxology. A doxology is a short, condensed anthem of praise. It is theologically rich, it is emotionally charged, and it is filled with wonder and amazement that just comes pouring out of the heart of the Apostle Paul as he is astonished at this truth that he has just presented to us, and he wants you and me to be astonished as well. And so Paul really just opens up his heart and lets this praise for God come gushing out, really, like a mighty current of wonder and worship for God. And it is intended to cause our hearts to be ignited with worship for God. And I trust that as you’ve been a part of these studies with us that there has been this building momentum of excitement within your own soul for God and for what God has done in His gospel.
So as we look at this doxology which, I feel like I’m just putting my pinky into or a toe into the ocean of God’s amazing grace. Let me just give you the outline for verses 33 to 36, and we probably will only be able to look at the first heading today.
- But in verses 33 and 34, I see “The Inscrutability of God.”
- In verse 35, “The Autonomy of God.”
- In verse 36a, “The Sovereignty of God,”
- and then finally in 36b, “The Glory to God.”
I think that is a helpful outline for us and as we look at this, I feel somewhat overwhelmed with what we have to deal with here.
Thomas Schreiner: The depth of God’s saving plan, which reveals his saving righteousness, moves Paul to express his wonder in doxological language. The poetic cast of these verses is apparent. Wisdom and knowledge are ascribed to God.
James Dunn: The majestic vision of the full sweep of God’s sovereign purpose of mercy in the final summary of the argument (vv 25–32) draws most fittingly from the apostle a paean of praise to this God. The nine-line hymn, which may well reflect its Corinthian origin, does not seek to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of God’s purpose. Paul, having caught a glimpse of the measureless majesty of God’s mercy, falls back in an awe and wonder which struggles to find expression.
Newell: The last four verses are in the nature of a doxology. The apostle’s heart was filled with worship, praise, and admiration as the full blaze of the divine plan fills the horizon of his soul… Apart from revelation none can know God’s mind, just as no created being could ever be His counselor. No one ever earned grace by first giving to Him in order to earn a blessing; but everything is from Him, and through Him, and to Him, to Whom be glory forever. Amen.
Moule: Here, at the close of this discussion of the case of Israel,—in which he has held up for our submission the unfathomable mystery of electing sovereignty, and also the strange ways by which Divine judgment is often made the instrument of Divine mercy,—the Apostle turns to the Supreme Object of his thought and love, and utters his ascription of worship and praise to the All-Wise and Almighty. Such a doxology is perfectly in the manner of Scripture, in which the ultimate aim ever is not the glory, nor even the happiness, of Man, (dear as his happiness is to God and His messengers,) but the Glory of God.
John Piper: Education about God precedes and serves exultation in God. Learning truth precedes loving truth. Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God. Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ. Good theology is the foundation of great doxology. Knowledge is utterly crucial. But it is not an end in itself. It serves faith and love. And if it doesn’t, it only puffs up, as Paul says in 1Co 8:1. Where education does not produce heartfelt exultation in God, it degenerates into proud intellectualism. And where exultation is not sustained and shaped by solid Biblical education, it degenerates into proud emotionalism. God means to be known and loved. Seen and savored. Pondered and praised.
Douglas Moo: Every good sermon has a conclusion that should stimulate its hearers to respond to the message. In 8:31–39 Paul concludes his “sermon” on Christian assurance in chapters 5–8 by calling on his readers to exult in their security in Christ. Now in 11:33–36 he caps off his survey of salvation history by leading his readers in an expression of awe at God’s extraordinary plan for the world. As in 8:31–39, the apostle uses questions to encourage us to identify with him in this outburst of amazement.
The praise to God Paul offers here falls into three strophes.
- In verse 33, we find three exclamations about God’s wise plan.
- In verses 34–35, the apostle uses three rhetorical questions to remind us how far above are the thoughts and ways of God.
- Finally, verse 36 reminds us that God is ultimate in all things and that he is therefore deserving of our praise.
I. (:33-34) PRAISING GOD’S INSCRUTABILITY – HIS UNFATHOMABLE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
A. Infinite Wisdom and Knowledge
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
Thomas Schreiner: Most scholars understand the first καί (kai, and) in verse 33 to be continuative, with the result that the three genitives πλούτου (ploutou, riches), σοφίας (sophias, wisdom), and γνώσεως (gnōseōs, knowledge) modify the word βάθος (bathos, depth). According to this view Paul exclaims over the depth of God’s riches, the depth of his wisdom, and the depth of his knowledge. I think it is more likely, though one can hardly be certain, that the phrase βάθος πλούτου belongs together and that the words σοφίας and γνώσεως modify βάθος πλούτου (cf. Murray 1965: 105–6). In this construction the first καί should be rendered “both,” and the “depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God” are trumpeted. This latter interpretation should be favored because the phrase “depth of the riches” is an emphatic way to communicate the immeasurable extent of the ascribed qualities to God. The two words together convey the greatness of his wisdom and knowledge. To separate the word πλούτου (riches) so that it functions in a way similar to σοφίας (wisdom) and γνώσεως (knowledge) would mean that riches, wisdom, and knowledge are parallel. It is difficult to identify, however, what the word “riches” refers to in this scheme. Paul never uses the term to denote God’s saving riches without a defining genitive—unless one were to argue for such a construction here. The depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge is clearly set forth, but what does it mean to speak of the “depth of God’s riches”? What does “riches” refer to? It hardly seems parallel to the attributes of “wisdom” and “knowledge” that follow. But to speak of the “depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God” is eminently clear. Paul extols the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God.
B. Inscrutable Judgments and Ways
“How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
Frank Thielman: God’s plan of reconciling the world to himself and, at the same time, of remaining faithful to his promises to Israel demonstrates that the power and intelligence of God are far beyond human comprehension.
Thomas Schreiner: Of course, human beings perceive the course of history and events as they occur. Paul would hardly deny that we see events as they take place. The point is that the mere observation of these events does not translate into an understanding of what God is doing in history. Human beings see the bare events as they transpire, but they do not perceive the saving plan of God that is being accomplished in and through these events. To us, the events of history may simply be “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” since on our own we are unable to perceive God’s wise plan for history. To perceive the meaning of the events in history, we need God’s interpretive binoculars, which will enable us to see aright what he is up to. The logic of the verse progresses from God’s wisdom and knowledge to his activity in the world. God’s wisdom is infinite and immeasurable, and this wisdom is expressed in the way he guides and superintends the history of the world. Here Paul is thinking not abstractly but concretely of God’s wisdom and activity with regard to Jews and gentiles. In his wisdom and knowledge he has planned history so that his judgments and ways would be effected in the lives of both Jews and gentiles. He has imprisoned all in disobedience to lavish his mercy on all.
Thomas Constable: God’s wisdom is His ability to arrange His plan so that it results in good for both Jews and Gentiles and His own glory. His knowledge testifies to His ability to construct such a plan—His divine ingenuity. His decisions (“judgments“) spring from logic that extends beyond human ability to comprehend. His procedures (“ways“) are so complex that humans cannot discover them without the aid of divine revelation (cf. Isa. 55:8-9).
Steven Lawson: “How unsearchable are His judgments,” let’s just look at these words. “Unsearchable” means that they are utterly incapable of being investigated to the full. We can only scratch the surface of this. And please look at the word “unfathomable,” “how unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” This word “fathomable” means that cannot be traced out by man, and it comes from a Greek word that I think is worth bringing to our attention that is a Greek word for “footprint,” like you see someone walking on the beach and leaving footprints. And putting the prefix “un” in front of it means we can’t follow these footprints. They go over the horizon and out of view, and they’re beyond our comprehension. That’s the idea here.
C. (:34) Inaccessible Mind of God
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
Thomas Schreiner: The OT context of the citation is important. In Isa. 40 the second exodus from Babylon is promised, but Israel is filled with doubts and fears because they are so weak and Babylon is so strong. Yahweh assures Israel that he can accomplish his saving plan because all the nations are as nothing before him, a mere drop in the bucket or a speck on his scales. The thematic connection to Rom. 9–11 should not be missed. Just as Yahweh promised to save Israel when such deliverance seemed impossible and they had virtually given up, so too he has planned history in such a way that he fulfills the covenant promises made in Isaiah in an unexpected way. He has extended salvation to uncircumcised gentiles and at the end of history will again fold in unbelieving Jews. Does the inclusion of Israel again seem incredible? It is no more incredible than the pledge to rescue Israel from the dominion of Babylon. God effects salvation for the weak so that the glory of his strength is impressed upon all. Captive Israel in Babylon did not perceive the mind of the Lord, that it was his plan to rescue them from their plight; similarly no human being could anticipate the wisdom of God’s plan by which he has arranged history to bring about the salvation of both Jews and gentiles in a most improbable way. . .
No human being has the wisdom or knowledge to discern (much less to advise) God on the course that human history should take. His wisdom and plan are inaccessible to us. . . Nonetheless, in Rom. 9–11 Paul has communicated the main strokes in that plan so that believers can discern the wisdom of God as it unfolds. This is not to say that comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge is granted to believers, only that the chief lineaments of his plan are made known to them. Romans 11:34 is therefore remarkably similar in theme to 1 Cor. 2:16: human beings cannot know God’s wisdom unaided, but they can access it as the Holy Spirit reveals it.
II. (:35) PRAISING GOD’S AUTONOMY
“Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?”
Frank Thielman: The conclusion that Paul wishes his readers to draw from these rhetorical questions is similar to the point these questions made in the Scripture passages from which they come. Hasty assessments of God’s injustice or unfaithfulness because of present circumstances are ill advised. History has not yet fully traveled the course God has plotted for it, and he is powerful and wise enough to include even the present circumstances within his just and faithful purposes.
Thomas Schreiner: The meaning of the rhetorical question is not difficult: no one has first given to God; hence no one deserves repayment. This assertion is lodged in a context stressing that God’s wisdom and knowledge are inaccessible to humans. No one has access to the requisite wisdom to counsel God about the course of history; hence no one can expect a reward for their wise counsel. God and God alone has determined the course of history in his own wisdom, and we become aware of his plan only to the extent that he reveals it to us.
Grant Osborne: Paul quoted loosely from Job 41:11 to point out that God is in sovereign control. He is not in our debt, we are in his!
The implication of this series of questions is that no one has fully understood the mind of the Lord. No one has been his advisor. And God owes nothing to any one of us. Isaiah and Jeremiah asked similar questions to show that we are unable to give advice to God or criticize his ways (Isaiah 40:13; Jeremiah 23:18). God alone is the possessor of absolute power and wisdom.
Charles Hodge: This is not to be confined to giving counsel or knowledge to God, but expresses the general idea that the creature can do nothing to place God under obligation. It will be at once perceived how appropriate is this thought, in reference to the doctrines which Paul had been teaching. Men are justified, not on the ground of their own merit, but of the merit of Christ; they are sanctified, not by the power of their own good purposes, and the strength of their own will, but by the Spirit of God; they are chosen and called to eternal life, not on the ground of anything in them, but according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. God, therefore, is the Alpha and the Omega of salvation. The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone.
Steven Lawson: This question deals with salvation. Who has given to God anything by which God would be now a debtor or a creditor to this person to give back to him? Who has earned any gift from God? To whom does God owe salvation? Now, there is a sense in which God owes justice, but He does not owe grace. That is a very important question and it is an important question at every level of salvation. To whom does God owe His sovereign election? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to choose them in eternity past? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to foreknow them, to choose to love them? What merit was there or is there in any person that would elicit the foreknowledge of God? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to call them to Himself? What has anyone ever done that would cause God to grant to them saving faith? What has anyone done that would cause God to justify them freely? What has anyone done that would cause God to glorify them one day in heaven? That is the question that is raised. . .
So, as we bring this to conclusion, let me just give you three words by way of application. The first is “honor.” What honor and worship and praise we should give to this God who is so transcendent and so majestic and so beyond any one of us, beyond what we can even comprehend? We know but the outer fringes of who He is. Let us bow down before this God and give Him the honor that belongs to Him alone, which leads second to “humility.” As we would rise up to bless Him, we do so best when we bow down before Him. Let us lower ourselves before this God who is self-ruling and self-governing and recognize our proper place. It is a place that Job had to be brought to. And I pray that God would not have to humble me or humble you as He did with Job, that we would of our own recognition realize who He is and who we are and humble ourselves. He holds our entire life in His hands. And the last word is “hunger.” Let us hunger to know more of this God.
III. (:36a) PRAISING GOD’S ULTIMATE SOVEREIGNTY AND CONTROL
A. Source — Everything Originates from God — Creator
“For from Him”
James Dunn: In an argument which began with man’s rebellion against God as creator (1:18–25), what could be more appropriate than a final acclamation of God the creator? In the final analysis the election of Israel, the gospel outreach to the Gentiles, the whole course of salvation-history itself, are simply aspects of the most fundamental relation of all, that of the Creator with his creation. To him alone be the glory forever. Amen.
B. Means — Everything Operates through God’s Agency — Sustainer
“and through Him”
C. Goal — Everything Works Together to Accomplish God’s Purposes – Omega
“and to Him are all things.”
(:36b) ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
“To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Steven Lawson: What is the glory due God? Come back to our text in Romans 11:36, “To Him be the glory.” Do you see that word, “glory”? It is the Greek word doxa from which we derive the English word “doxology.” It is a twofold. I can hear R.C. Sproul in my ear right now, not literally, but by memory telling me, “Steve, theologians have to make careful distinctions.” So, here I want to make a distinction between the two ways “glory” is used in the Bible. One is God’s intrinsic glory; the second is His ascribed glory.
So first, His intrinsic glory. That is, “glory” is used as the sum and the substance of all that God is. It is the composite of all of the attributes of God: His holiness, His sovereignty, His righteousness, His love, His grace, His mercy, His truth, etc. All of that is the intrinsic glory of God. You cannot give intrinsic glory to God. God is who God is. He is the God who was, who is, who shall be forever. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” God is never increasing in His intrinsic glory, He is never decreasing in His intrinsic glory. He is immutable throughout all the ages in His intrinsic glory. So, we cannot give intrinsic glory to God. God is who God is.
So, this leads us to the second use of “glory” in the Bible, and that is “ascribed glory,” and that is how it is used here. Ascribed glory is the glory that we give to God, and in that sense ascribed glory is the praise and the worship that we give to God. That’s how it is used here, “To Him be the glory.” Ascribed glory belongs to God the Father. He is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another. Ascribed glory is how it is used. Let me give you three quick cross – references:
- Ephesians 3:21, “To Him be the glory.”
- 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Sounds much like Romans 11:36.
And let me tell you how this works. The more you perceive and understand God’s intrinsic glory, the more you will ascribe glory to God. In other words, the more you grow in the knowledge of God’s intrinsic glory, who He is, the more ascribed glory you will give to Him. That is why the preacher who exposits the Word of God is in reality the primary worship leader in any church. The music leader is just that. He is the music leader and hopefully what is being sung will be sound doctrine and theology, but he is only a secondary worship leader. The primary worship leader is the man who opens this book and gives a fuller knowledge of who God is. So, that is why understanding the intrinsic glory of God is so important.
- Let me give you one more cross-reference though, just to round this out, in Revelation 4 and verse 11. This is crystal clear. I hope it is becoming clearer to you. Revelation 4:11. The scene around the throne and the redeemed saints and the angelic hosts are saying this to the Lord, God the Father, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power.” This glory is the ascribed glory that we are to give to God. Here it is synonymous with giving honor to God. The word “power” here is a part of His intrinsic glory. They are not giving power to God; they are recognizing the power that He has, and in so doing that causes their heart to be ignited with greater worship to give glory and honor to God.