Online Text Sermon - God's Unsearchable Ways, Romans ch.11 vv.33-36
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||God's Unsearchable Ways|
|Text||Romans ch.11 vv.33-36|
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"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11, 33-36).
These words are what we refer to as a doxology, that is to say it is an ascription of praise, an offering of praise to God. There is a reason why the apostle should give this expression of worship to God at this point, and it is because he has completed his argument, his theological statement in the Epistle to the Romans. Here Paul concludes the glorious things he has to say, and most of what comes after this point is by way of practical application. We have often had occasion to notice that a sermon has two elements to it: there is first of all the doctrine; then secondly there is the application. It is a great mistake when preachers begin with application. We must first of all state the doctrine and the truth, and in the light of that then the practice follows, because practice follows doctrine as night follows day.
In chapters 9, 10 and 11, the apostle gives what we call a philosophy of history, that is to say it is an inspired understanding of everything that God has been doing, or at least His main purpose that He has been doing, throughout the history of the world. What is that purpose? The answer is: it is saving sinners, first from amongst the Jews, then after Pentecost mainly amongst the Gentiles, and thirdly, at some point in the future, he says, there will be a great revival bringing Jewish people back in to the Church, as our dear brother, Richard, last mentioned in prayer, and we should pray for this every day. M'Cheyne used to say that Jewish missions are the most important. And Rabbi Duncan, as you know, went to Budapest in Hungary to preach to Jews, in Latin if you please. Many were converted like Adolph Saphir and Alfred Edersheim and others - very influential men they were.
So, all of that now has been said by Paul, and argued and reasoned and proved, and now at this point Paul stands back, as a great artist does from his painting, and he admires the glorious spectacle, and so should you and I. The way in which we do this is to wonder and be amazed at the unsearchableness of God and of his purposes. "His ways", says Paul, "are unsearchable." Let me give you the verse there, "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out." This fact should fill us with wonder. God is a God of surprises, always does the unexpected, almost never does the conventional thing. What human wisdom would expect God to do is usually the very thing He does not do. He is always surprising, always amazing, and all His ways are past finding out - "of him, and through him, and to him are all things" (text). Of Him as to origin, through Him as to execution and to Him as to their destination - they are all to His glory.
So that is the nature of this doxology, to stand back from the canvas of history and see the amazing fact: first God saves Jews, then He saves Gentiles. I know that He will save both! The tree of His redemptive Church and purpose will be the tree in which Jew and Gentile will be on the same level, called unto Christ, reconciled in one body by the blood of Christ.
What I want to do this evening is to especially isolate this word here, the unsearchableness of God's judgments (text). There is profound mystery in God; there is profound mystery in all God's ways, and we need to ponder this fact. That is why I chose these Psalms, 96, 97 and 98: they all deal with this subject. They speak about clouds going before Him, and fire going before Him, God shrouded in darkness, God is a great mystery. All of this is the same teaching. How can we illustrate this from the facts that we know of God's dealings from the Bible? I am going to take five ways in which we see examples of this unsearchable wisdom of God. The first one is the wonder of His creation.
My dearest friends, how amazing that God should bring all things into being, out of nothing, in six days. That has always confounded the unbeliever - it still does. They say, of course, that if there is a God then we must understand that He has started things going billions of years ago, or at least millions, and the reason why they think that, of course, is that the world is so complicated, so immense, it must have taken simply eons and eons of time for all this cosmos, or universe, to come into being. "No, not so," says God, "I made it in six days." And what do you mean by days? Well we know the length of the seventh day was a twenty-four hour day, and isn't it interesting? In Genesis chapter 1, every time there is a reference to days it says, "and the evening and the morning were the first day ...second day ...third day," and so on - evening and morning, evening and morning - and if the seventh day of the week was a normal twenty-four hour day, there is immense probability, to say the least, that all the other days were twenty-four hour days. So, God's ways are past finding out, in that sense. How amazing!
Why should God have made the world in six days? Well, the answer is because He was planning the world for man. It is a man-centred universe. You see, the unbeliever is offended by that; he says, "You must be joking, you don't mean there's nobody living on these other planets, do you?" They are forever sending probes and scientific investigators to try to find life on other planets. We know very well, they will never find it because the Bible tells us that He created the earth for the sons of men. He did this because He wanted man - that is mankind, male and female - to be the very centre of all his purposes. Not even angels are at the very dead centre of His purposes; mankind is. That does sound arrogant and people don't like it when we say that the animals and the trees and the vegetation and everything, it is all for man. Man has been given the dominion and lordship over everything that God has made, and it offends the natural man, because they don't understand the unsearchableness of God's ways. God made the world in six days, so that he might set an example to us to rest on the seventh day, because man, of course, is made primarily as a religious being, and we can't escape from that.
All of this belongs to the mystery of God's dealings. It is highly offensive to say these things. You could almost get put in prison for saying some of these things. You are insulting the order of creation, they tell us. You must not do it. God has said man is at the very centre. How do we know that? Well because it was His intention that He himself, in the person of His Son, the second person of the Godhead, should take our nature. He didn't take the nature of angels, he took the nature of man; showing that man is at the forefront of all His intention. Some of the great divines of the Puritan age explain the fall of Satan in this way: that a revelation was made in heaven that mankind would eventually rise higher than the angels, and that this was offensive to the devil. He wasn't a devil then of course, but that is why he conspired against God. I do not know that we can prove this point, but it is worthy of pondering, worthy of thought, that what offended Satan was the thought that mankind would one day rise far higher even than the angels, become united to the second Person of the Godhead, so that believers in Christ are raised higher than any other creature in the world, in Christ.
There we see the amazing fact that God has shown himself to be past finding out. It is for man He made the world. You see this also in the shape of things. He begins with light. God begins 'out there' in the creation. He comes down, and down, and down, and down, to the earth, and then trees are planted and shrubs are planted and a garden is made, and only when everything is ready, man is put into it. Exactly what you would expect if mankind was intended to be at the centre of all His purposes, and it is amazing. My friends, you and I are only five or six feet of dust, that's all we are, and yet the eternal God in his kindness has made mankind the centre of all His intention. This world is the theatre of God's glory. Angels come and go from it, but it is in this world that great battles of light and darkness concerning heaven and hell are being fought out. The purpose of God concerns mankind supremely. Shouldn't we marvel at this? "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgements" (text).
The second evidence and illustration of God's ways is this: the amazing fact of sin. Sin is absolutely unique. There is nothing to compare with sin in God's universe. Sin is the only creature that God did not create. Sin is the creature's creature, and it has no right to exist; we had no business to bring sin into the created order because sin is what God hates with a perfect hatred, and so should we. The more sanctified we become the more we hate sin. No, no, God did not create sin. It is the only thing He did not create. That itself is amazing.
Where did sin begin? Not on earth. Wonder of wonders, sin began in heaven, in the very presence of God. How did sin begin? Well, I must make it clear, of course, as you know, that God did not create sin. But sin did not come into the world apart from a divine decree on God's part. The only way we can put it into human speech is: God permitted sin to come. But God's permission makes it absolutely certain that sin would come, and we can prove very easily that God, in his secret decree, permitted sin to come into the world by this fact; that before the world began, Jesus Christ was set apart to come into the world to save sinners. He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world; He was foreordained before the world began to be our Saviour. So you see, the divine decree, mysteriously, made it certain that sin would come.
We must be extremely careful how we state that. God is not the author of sin, that's absolutely clear. How then did sin come into the world? The only way we could put it is: God permitted the creature to commit it; that is the only way we can put it. God allowed sin to come into existence, and He did so for very holy, and good, and wise, and right reasons. Sin is different in angels and in men. Sin in angels means that each individual angel sinned for himself. There is no such thing as the imputation of sin from angel to angel as there is with us. Sin with us is something which began with Adam, and as soon as he sinned, that sin was imputed to the whole world. Before we were born we were reckoned sinners because, of course, Adam's first sin was reckoned by God as the sin of us all. There is imputation in the case of man's sin because man is in this covenant relationship with God; but each angel stands independently and individually.
I put it like this: that the purpose of God is to show things about Himself, through sin, which He could never have shown about Himself had there not been sin. So, there is a sense, I think a true sense, in which this world is the best of all possible worlds. If we are simply interested in the comfort of mankind then we might say, "It is not the best of all possible worlds - look at the famine, look at the early deaths, look at the sorrows, look at the bereavements, and so on." From man's perspective it is not the best of all possible worlds; but from the perspective of the glory of God it is, because the entrance of sin into the world has provided a situation in which God now can display the riches of His love, and grace, and kindness, and patience, and long-suffering, to hell-deserving creatures like ourselves. And that possibility was not there until sin came in. As soon as Adam sinned, immediately God reveals Christ to him. We have every reason to believe that Adam and Eve were saved by that promise, and that our first parents are in heaven now. So, Adam and Eve passed through those three states and have now entered into a fourth - a state of innocence, then a state of sin, then a state of grace in this world, and now a state of glory. They are the only two who will pass through all those different states. We were never in a state of innocence. But you see the wisdom of God, how unsearchable are His ways.
Be careful how you state this doctrine, my friends. Never, never suggest that God is the creator or author of sin - no, never, never suggest it or think it, it is not true. We can't explain how these things work. But let me take one text as I hurry on: God's dealings with Pharaoh. We are told that God hardened Pharaoh's heart more than once. How did God harden Pharaoh's heart? The answer is simple: by withdrawing from him the help which would have prevented Pharaoh from hardening his own heart. Pharaoh hardened his own heart as soon as God withdrew common grace from him. That is the way the Westminster Divines put it in the Confession: 'Mankind being left to the freedom of their own will sinned against God.' God was not the author of that. But my friends, God mysteriously allowed it for wise reasons. We can see a little of the wisdom of that: it gives opportunity; it furnishes a context, a platform in which God can manifest His grace and love to us, so that all redeemed sinners who go to glory and are saved will attribute their salvation to nothing whatsoever in themselves. They will all say, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Revelation 5, 12). All of that will bring high glory to God.
Let me give a third example: it is the Church. What an amazing thing the Church is. Paul in Romans 11, you will have seen, compares the Church to a tree; it's such a wonderful and inspired and accurate illustration. The roots of a tree are the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and so on. In the Old Testament the tree was very narrow; it had a trunk as all trees, or most trees, do: narrow, tall, long. That was the Jewish Church. They were not broad but narrow, they were kept strictly to certain rules and laws and ceremonies and regulations, which were divinely given to them. They were not to witness to the grace of God. They were not to go unto the Gentiles and preach Christ to the Gentiles; that was not their calling, with very few exceptions, like Jonah; that was very exceptional. But generally speaking their calling was to witness to the holiness of God, and the strictness of God, and the law that God requires. That was their calling, to witness to that aspect of God's character. But when the day of Pentecost comes, a new chapter begins, a new phase opens. The tree suddenly branches out in all directions, becomes wide and broad and glorious, and comes to its full flowering. In this sense the tree branches out to all the nations: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Greece, Rome, France, Britain, America, and China. That's what has been happening ever since the New Testament age began. The tree... and here is more mystery: God's hand stretched out of heaven and broke out some of the branches. The Jewish branches were, for the most part, snapped off so that you and I as Gentiles could be planted into the tree in their place. The casting away of them is the riches of the Gentiles and, wonder of wonders, God will one day put the branches back. That is to say at a future date, a coming generation of Jews will come into the Church, and they will again be in the Church of Jesus Christ.
All of this Paul refers to and he says, "How unsearchable are his ways": this three-stage progression of the Church; first the Jew; then the Gentile; then both. It's amazing! Notice, at every stage people get it wrong. In the Old Testament, the Pharisees who have their Bible off by heart, I guess, they got it wrong. They hated the thought of the Gentiles coming in, and when Paul preached to them, in Acts 23 I think it is - from the steps of the Praetorium was it, or the castle anyway, in Jerusalem - told in Hebrew how God had called him to go far hence and preach to the Gentiles, they were ready to kill him! "Away with this man, he is not fit, he shouldn't live," they said. "Preaching to the Gentiles indeed! We are the people!" You see, they were offended by that. So it is today, how many people there are who hate the Jews today! How the Catholic Church has hated the Jews, and persecuted the Jews! There are many Christians, some evangelical Christians, they have got it all wrong, in my humble submission. You see how God is so much wiser than we are? His ways are past finding out.
At each stage, man is shown up to be a failure: the Jews were a failure; we Gentiles in this modern age, we're a failure, aren't we? At every stage, whenever anything good comes into the world, it's by a divine intervention of God. That is what we are needing in this country today, a divine spiritual intervention of God, an outpouring of grace. Nothing else can do it. Our politicians, they have little idea what to do next. They don't know what to do about prisons and prison sentences; they don't know what to do about criminality. They are at their wits' end! They don't know what to do, because they have turned away from this Book, which is the fountain of all revelation - truth and knowledge and wisdom.
Let me hurry on to the fourth . My friends, Christ - O what divine mystery there is in the Person of our blessed Redeemer Jesus Christ. I just touch on the subject, on this occasion. The secrecy of His birth... Would you not think that if God, God Almighty, was to come into this world, surely it would be with the fanfare of angels, cherubim, seraphim, all great choruses and sound, so that the nations of the world would be ready to hear the fanfare and the glorious news? Would you not know, oh world, the Son of God is coming into the midst of thee! Apart from a little of that with the shepherds, and that star that led the wise men, whoever they were, and from wherever they came, there is hardly anything. Our Lord was born in total secrecy and obscurity; hardly even the Jews were waiting for Him to come. Just the pious woman Anna, and the pious man Simeon - one or two others; the rest were not looking for it at that time.
Then take the stupendously great miracle - miracle of miracles - God becoming man. Those of you with profound intellects, here is a theme for you. Those of you who can stand beside an Einstein, here is a theme to keep you busy: How can God become man without ceasing to be God? Because that is the fact: God became man without ceasing to be God. Answer that one if you can. Come hither all you great sages of mankind and tell us how to understand this mystery: God a man in two natures and one person - how do you define that? Fall down on your faces, all mankind, at the thought!
Even when our Lord was born and was growing up, it was not till He was thirty years of age that He began to tell people, really, who He was. No miracles till then. No public announcements of any kind. Thirty years in total obscurity. No miracle. Even his brothers and sisters didn't believe in Him, and in their foolishness tried to give Him good advice, as they thought. When our Lord began to preach, no more than three years, that's all, just three years and a bit...
You see it again when you come to the cross, of course. Nothing is more stupendously foolish in the eyes of mankind than the cross. This is what offended all the religious people of that time. They were expecting a Messiah who would be a great conqueror; He would flatten Rome - pagan Rome I mean. He would put the Jews in their place; He would give them freedom from taxation and all the privileges of a free state. But Jesus Christ came to do something totally different. The cross is the stumbling block, the greatest stumbling block of all; that God in our nature should die in pain. It seems absurdity itself. But you see - the wisdom of God is greater than man. Oh, how amazing it is! Not only that; but take the resurrection. The cross offended the Pharisees, but the resurrection amazed even the apostles. The Bible says, concerning the resurrection of Christ, "They knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (John 20, 9). Our Lord had told them, again, and again, and again, and again, but they didn't understand him, that he would rise again from the dead. At every point, my dearest friends, God's ways are past finding out.
How can we conclude, briefly? Well, like this, with the apostle Paul: that the foolishness of God is wiser than men. Our wisdom is to forsake our own wisdom. Our highest wisdom is to turn away from all the wisdom of mankind and to listen to this Book. Nobody is wise but those who go by this Book; that's the only wisdom there is in the universe - this Book. That's why we regard it as worthless - Socrates and Aristotle and Plato and these philosophers of modern times, they have nothing to say. The great intellects of our own day have nothing to say compared with this: "Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1, 24).
As we leave the subject, we should go forth always bearing in mind that God has wonderful things still to do. We are probably saying in our hearts: "What a terrible age this is; how dead our country is; how worthless this is; how poor the churches are; how poor anything is; how poor the preaching is; how hopeless the situation is; we might as well despair!" If we don't say that, we sometimes feel it. Ah but then, let me remind you, my friends, we are dealing with God, and His ways are past finding out. At any time, when men are not thinking about it, He can bring the Church back again, in power and in influence, on a widespread scale. So let us take these words of Paul to heart, "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (text).
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