Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 11.33-36


There come times in the life and ministry of a preacher of God’s Word when you sit before an open Bible and stare at your text with speechless amazement. That is what happened to me as I prepared this message from God’s Word.

In examining Paul’s letter to the Romans, we come to a portion of God’s Word that almost defies explanation. Before we turn to our text, allow me to get some things off my chest. You ought to see the things Bible scholars write when they come to the text before us today. They either use up several pages of their commentaries writing inane nonsense about the structure of Paul’s poem of praise, or, if they really come clean with their readers, they admit that they, too, stand before the passage overwhelmed.

Most commentators are not preachers. Not being preachers, they are therefore content to describe and analyze this portion of God’s Word, which seems to state that God cannot be analyzed. When you are writing a commentary, people expect you to comment. So, the commentators go ahead and comment. Let me read just a few of the things that some men have written. It will give you an idea of what we are dealing with in this passage.

James Dunn writes, “Again the feeling is of one who has been permitted to perceive something of God’s ways with humankind, but whose overwhelming impression is that the something is only a passing glance into mysteries too deep to begin to penetrate, too vast even to begin to comprehend.”[1]

Frederic Godet, the Swiss Bible scholar of the last century wrote, “Like a traveler who has reached the summit of an Alpine ascent, the apostle turns and contemplates. Depths are at his feet, but waves of light illumine them, and there spread all around an immense horizon which his eye commands.”[2]

A. T. Robertson comments, “Paul’s argument concerning God’s elective grace and goodness has carried him to the heights, and now he pauses on the edge of the precipice as he contemplates God’s wisdom and knowledge, fully conscious of his inability to sound the bottom with the plummet of human reason and words.”[3]

Commentators comment on this passage because comment is what they do, and that is what they are expected to do Preachers preach on this passage because preach is what we do, and it is what we are expected to do. However, do not think that anyone, whether commentator or preacher, will necessarily be able to add one whit to your own prayerful and reflective understanding of this magnificent song of praise.

Join me in reading the passage we have been listening to others write about. Shall we? Romans 11.33-36:


33     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!

34     For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

35     Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

36     For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.


Imagine yourself, for just a moment, one of the first Romans to hear this letter read aloud. One of our own has been standing before us. He has been reading loudly, rising above the background noise of the largest city in the world. Occasionally pausing when the clatter and the profanity succeeds in intruding on us from just beyond the wall that defines the courtyard. Phoebe, with a countenance full of grace and strength, nods with approval as the Word of God is read. You begin to understand, as you glance at her yet again, why Paul chose this woman to bring so weighty a letter as this to Rome. Your disapproval of his choice of a woman for this difficult task begins to subside. As our brother has read from the scroll, we reflected that Paul has been writing about God’s sovereign plan for individual salvation for the first eight chapters of this letter. Then, in chapters 9, 10, and 11, he dealt with the national salvation and deliverance of God’s elect nation of Israel.

Now our reader stops. We are amazed. We are all profoundly moved. Because Paul, himself, has erupted in what can only be described as the praise of an astounded man. Recognizing the utter frustration of being limited to mere words to express that which cannot be properly expressed by words, we reflect on Paul’s rejoicing before the mystery of God and His incomprehensible ways.

My friends, I stand before you mindful of both Job and Isaiah this morning. Like Paul, they were men who had seen but a brief glimpse of the majesty and the might, of the wonder and the wisdom, of the greatness and the glory, of both the awesome God and His awe-inspiring decree to involve Himself in the welfare of His creatures. As well, like Paul, those men remained forever altered by their brief glimpse of God.

With that in mind, understand that I recognize that neither I nor anyone else I know has any business commenting on this passage for any other reason than because God has called me to do it. With that said, let us examine the three parts of Paul’s hymn of praise. However, I warn you, we are about to walk on holy ground.




“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!”


It has rightly been observed that God’s Word declares Him to be worthy of praise. And praise God we ought. Praise God we must. For to praise God we exist. The psalmist tells us that God inhabits the praise of His people. However, what is praise? Is not praise the verbal aspect of all true worship? Is not praise that exercise wherein God’s people state the obvious? To be sure. However, to give balance to our praise we must recognize that scripture seems to give us two reasons to praise our God, if reasons are needed. First, He is worthy to be praised for Who He is. Had our God never done anything for us He is still worthy of our undying praise and adoration. However, He has done incomprehensible things for us. It is this second reason, what He has and is and will accomplish, that Paul includes in his praise of God for us to see. Consider the two aspects of Paul’s admiration of our great God:


First, there is His glorious person.


“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”


An examination of the Greek text reveals that the word “both” translates the Greek conjunction kai, that is usually translated “and.” This leads most conservative scholars, with whom I happen to agree, to believe that Paul is remarking on three aspects of the divine nature, not two. Paul is remarking to his readers that the depth of God’s riches, and the depth of God’s wisdom, and the depth of God’s knowledge, are unfathomable. The resources of God are limitless. The wisdom of God is incomprehensible. The knowledge God possesses about all things extends to the nth degree. No wonder Paul moans “O!” from the depths of his heart and soul. Folks, with these three statements of truth about the nature of God, Paul is not summarizing in a neat little package what he has written over the last 11 chapters. Not at all. What he has begun to do with this opening remark is point out that after all that he has said he barely scratches the surface of comprehending that great and holy being that we refer to as God. Worship and praise His grand and majestic personage because, both quantitatively and qualitatively, He is infinitely beyond our most speculative reasonings and our wildest imaginations. Truly, our God is an awesome God.


Second, there is His grand program.


“How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out.”


You have read the Bible through? You have spent your entire life studying God’s Word? You can name the 66 books of the Bible in order? You can systematically exegete from both the Old Testament and the New Testament? That is wonderful. The Word of God is worthy to be studied for a lifetime. Second Timothy 2.15 exhorts us to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Is God’s Word the subject of your meditation both day and night? It ought to be. Have you moved beyond spiritual infancy to the point that you now have your senses exercised to discern both good and evil? Thank God for His blessing you in that way. That is marvelous. Still, you must understand two things. And I say this in all reverence for God and His Word. First, I want you to recognize that the Word of God does not claim to tell you everything about God there is to know. The Bible is inspired and without error. The Bible is God-breathed. Holy men of God did pen the pages of this book as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. However, for all the glorious and wonderful things that are found in scripture, the Bible does not contain all there is about God’s judgments and God’s ways. Does that shock you? Well, perhaps this second consideration will provide some perspective on what I am saying for you. The second thing you must understand is that the judgments of God and the ways of God are not discoverable. That means you will never search out God’s judgments. They are unsearchable. That also means you will never discover God’s ways. They are past finding out. Know what this means? It means that what little we do know about God’s judgments and God’s ways must be revealed to us. How does God reveal to us what little our minds can comprehend? Through the infallible Word of God. You can rightly say along with me that that portion of the grand program of God that is revealed in the Bible is far and away more than I will ever be able to understand. Therefore, realizing that what has not been revealed in God’s Word, either about His person or His program, is infinitely greater than what has been revealed, no wonder Paul’s praise is the praise of an astounded man for his admiration of his God.




34     For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

35     Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?


Three revealing questions that echo the sentiments of both Job and Isaiah, men who themselves had been tutored by God into having a special insight into God’s greatness, as had Paul.


First, Paul considers the thoughts of men.


“For who hath known the mind of the Lord?”


Is it not audacious for any man to think that he, with his puny and infinitesimal capacity, with his darkened lack of perspective, has known the mind of God? Or that he may even have a clue regarding the mind of God? Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. “Pastor, Paul said that we have the mind of Christ.” We do have the mind of Christ. However, understand that our possession of the mind of Christ has to do with only an extremely narrow and sharply focused aspect of the thoughts of God that have to do with a specific aspect of God’s plan of redemption. This does not take anything away from the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. That said, possessing the mind of Christ is the result of God’s divine revelation. As well, remember, what God reveals He reveals through His Word. He does not reveal everything there is through His Word, only what He wants us to know. What is not found in His Word is quite undiscoverable. No wonder Paul echoes sentiments that are found in the Old Testament, that any man who thinks he knows the mind of God is audacious.


Next, Paul considers the speech of men.


“Or who hath been his counselor?”


Quite obviously, a person’s speech proceeds from his thoughts. That person, then, who would be a counselor to God, who would give advice to God, must be someone whose speech is predicated upon the delusion that he knows the mind of God. We already know the folly of that kind of thinking. However, can we not see, that although few people seem to be so audacious as to claim that they have the mind of God, there are many, many people whose speech betrays their wish to be God’s counselor? “God, I wish you would do it this way instead of that way.” “If there really is a God, how could He let this happen?” “God, how could you allow this to happen? You don’t love me.” Folks, these are examples of unadulterated audacity. People who talk like this are people who openly question the wisdom of God and who are offering their counsel to God. If thinking you know the mind of God is audacious, seeking to be God’s counselor is even more outrageous.


Finally, Paul considers the actions of men.


“Or who hath given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?”


What Paul is asking here is, “Who thinks that he has given anything to God so that what he receives from God is merely a payback?” Think about the answer to that question while considering this penetrating question that Paul asked in First Corinthians 4.7: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” The intelligence that you do or do not have, the beauty that you do or do not have, the grace that you do or do not have, the salvation that you do or do not have. From the air you breathe to the lungs that you have been given to breathe that air, it has all come from God. What is man that thou art mindful of him, Lord? We, who are so infinitesimally small and limited in our capacities, have deceived ourselves into thinking that we are significant and that You are understandable, comprehensible, and discoverable. If the gulf between God and mankind were measurable, it would be seen to be infinitely greater than the gulf that separates humanity and the euglena, the paramecium, and the amoeba. And they are not antagonistic or arrogant toward us. Therefore, Lord, that You have the long-suffering to tolerate the existence of such a race we are for a time is in itself a notable miracle.




“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”


He began his praise with admiration of God. He continued with a challenge to the audacity of man. He concludes with an acknowledgment of God.


Paul speaks first to the issue of relationship.


What is the relationship of God, not just to believers, not just to Israel, not just to mankind, but to everything? What relationship exists between Almighty God and everything that is? There is a threefold relationship that is mentioned here by Paul.

First, God is the Creator of all things. “For of him.” Who is being referred to here, God the Father or Jesus Christ the Son of God? In this entire passage, Paul is looking at the Godhead. He makes no distinction between the Persons of the Trinity in this passage. He is stating a truth about the entire being of God, that everything that exists is distinct from God in that it is of Him. He created it. Next, God is the Sustainer of all things. “For of him, and through him.” By Him, all things consist. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. That unexplainable force which physicists only scratch their heads in amazement trying to understand, the binding force of atomic nuclei, is nothing less than the sustaining power of God by which He holds together the physical universe which He in His infinite might created by His spoken word in six short days. He not only created it all, He maintains it all. Then, finally, God is the Goal of all things. “And to him, are all things.” Not just man, but the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. Why? Because there is estrangement, a parting of ways since the Garden of Eden. Because there is a curse on God’s creation because of sin. Thus, the material universe in which we live strains toward deliverance from the bondage of this present corruption. Strains toward reconciliation with God, if you will. And so do we. That is why we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God, as did Paul. That is why we want, as children, to grow up spiritually and walk worthy of God. Because God is the Creator of all things, the Sustainer of all things, and the Goal of all things. Those essential relationships that God has to His creation must be recognized, and they will be honored. Those of us who know Christ are delighted to honor God as Creator, as Sustainer, and as the Goal of all things. We who honor God now on earth will also honor God in heaven in the same way. Those who do not honor these relationships, who deny Him as Creator, who deny Him as Sustainer, and who deny Him as the Goal of all things, will honor Him still. However, they will do so in Hell, not on earth. And they will do so in the lake of fire, not in heaven.


Paul speaks finally to the issue of right.


It is because of Who He is and what He has done, His majestic Personage and His magnificent plan, that God has as His right, proper, and just, due what Paul tells us is “glory for ever.” I have a life verse. It is a verse that I have only miserably lived up to over the course of my years of walking with the Lord. However, it parallels exactly the thrust of Paul’s final phrase of this, his hymn of praise. Listen to the words the four and twenty elders in heaven will someday sing. Notice how they will agree with what Paul has written. Revelation 4.11: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”


Imagine yourself being let in on a mystery that was so enormous, so fantastic, so profound, so amazing, so revolutionary, so sublime, so expansive, that you stagger under the weight of what you have been exposed to. Now imagine your reaction when you realize that the astounding mystery happens to be such a minuscule part of the whole that you are absolutely stupefied by the realization that your great and awesome God is infinitely greater and more wonderful than you had ever conceived in your mind.

If we imagine that, can we then stand where Paul stood? No. Remember, Paul was taken up into heaven to see things that were not lawful for him to speak of to us. He was given such unique a privilege by God to actually behold what we are given to take by faith. So, his surprise and his astonishment was greater than yours or mine could possibly be.

What we must do is apply this passage to our own life’s experience. I would remind you to take heed of John Calvin’s words: “Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration.”[4]

If you are here this morning and you do not know our great God as a result of being soundly converted to Jesus Christ, I invite you to come and talk to me.

Do you desire to approach the magnificent One, Creator of heaven and earth? Then remember that Jesus said, “Ye believe in God. Believe also in me.” There is no approach to God but through Jesus Christ, His Son.

[1] James D. G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary Romans 9-16, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1988), page 703.

[2] Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary On Romans, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1977), page 416.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol IV, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1930), page 400.

[4] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIX, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), Commentaries On The Epistle Of Paul The Apostle To The Romans, page 444.

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