NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXXVIII)
Martin Luther has an interesting philosophical view of Paul’s quote here from Isaiah concerning the unsearchable things of God. He says that we must know the correct distinction between wisdom and knowledge: Wisdom pertains to the contemplation of eternal things; knowledge to the study of temporal things. Luther goes on to remark that spiritual wisdom deals with the things which we can neither see nor understand without the help of the Holy Spirit, which we accept by faith. But knowledge deals with what God created. Therefore, it is by His wisdom that God viewed all things before they came into existence. It is by His omniscience that nothing happens that God does not recognize as things that were supposed to happen. Therefore, it is called God’s “spontaneous knowledge.”1 No doubt Luther’s point is that all we know about God is what He has revealed through the prophets and all that He has created. It is impossible to know God as He really is with the human mind, it is beyond our comprehension, as Paul says here in verse 34.
Rather than taking this final doxology as Paul’s message to his readers, John Calvin notices Paul’s own wonderment over the things of God which he just shared. Paul marveled as his devout consideration of God’s dealings with the faithful. Having spoken from the Word and by the Spirit of the Lord, Paul was overcome by the grandeur of so great a mystery as God’s plan of salvation by faith. So what else could he do except exclaim in wonder that the riches of God’s wisdom are higher than our human reasoning can ever explore. Calvin is also struck by Paul’s admission of how incomprehensible are the things of God. Therefore, he warns that we should never try to discover anything related to the Lord beyond what He has revealed of Himself in the Scriptures. Otherwise, we will enter a maze from which the escape is not easy. It must, however, be noticed that Paul does not speak not here of all God’s mysteries, but only those which are hid in Christ. Such things ought only be admired and adored by us because they are beyond our comprehension.2
Then Calvin finishes by saying that we cannot by our own faculties examine the secrets of God, so we are admitted into a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And if we follow the guidance of the Spirit to where He leads us, there we ought to stop and, as it were, fix our eyes on Christ until He moves us further on. There is no reason to speculate what might or might not be. If anyone will seek to know more than what God has graciously revealed, they will be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of God’s blinding light. But we must bear in mind the distinction between the secret counsel and hidden counsel of God. The secret counsel is made known in Scripture. For although the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide. But the case is different with regard to His hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.3
John Locke takes Paul’s citations from the Scriptures as a way of teaching the Jews modesty and submission to the over-ruling hand of the all-wise God. It was time that they made peace with God and themselves over His favorable dealing with the Gentiles. After all, His wisdom and ways were infinitely above their comprehension, so how could they take it upon themselves to advise Him on what to do with those who were formerly heathens? Did God owe them anything? No! They owed Him everything that had come to them through Abraham that made them eligible to receive the Messiah.4
When writing about the depth and riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, John Bengel makes the point that the different meanings of biblical terms deserve to be noted and collected. “Knowledge” directs all things to the best end; “Wisdom” knows when it has reached that end. Bengel goes on to note that what we are reading in Scripture are all the things that the Lord has willed, and said, and done. It does not unfold the reasons for what God wills either in general or specifically. These often involve things too high for our infant conceptions because they refer to eternity5.6
In his writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote that by way of the Holy Spirit the discernment of all good things promised in the Gospel is revealed. Therefore, it is easy to see the force of the Apostle’s argument in Galatians when he asked: “There is one thing I want to know. Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the Law? Or did you receive Him by hearing about Christ?7”8 Edwards goes on to say that in the offer of Redemption, it is God by whom any goodness we possess is purchased, and it is God that purchases it, and it is God also that is the good purchased. Therefore, all that is good within us is of God, through God, and in God, As Paul says here in verse 36, “For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”9
Edwards then goes on to note that it is so great and amazing that God designed this whole plan of future events in His own mind! This means that everything He planned has always been laid out before His eyes and that nothing has ever come into being to surprise Him or make things too difficult for Him to understand or caused Him to be perplexed as to why it happened. He has already from eternity set up the framework and established the boundaries in which all things were to operate. How incomprehensible and wonderful in planning and excellent in working it out is God! That’s the reason we exclaim with Paul, “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!”10
Bible commentator Adam Clarke was awed by the scripture Paul chose to quote and makes the observation that the Apostle clearly considers the designs of God inscrutable, and His mode of governing the world incomprehensible. His designs, strategy, and goals are all infinite, and consequently unfathomable. It is impossible to account for the dispensations either of His justice or mercy. He does things under both these which far surpass the comprehension of mankind. But although His workings are of great depth, yet they are never self-contradictory: though they far surpass our reasoning, yet they never contradict reason; nor are they ever opposite to those ideas which God has implanted in mankind of goodness, justice, mercy, and truth. But it is worthy of remark, that we can more easily account for the enforcement of His justice than we can for the display of His mercy. We can see everywhere ten thousand reasons why He should implement His justice, but scarcely can we find one reason why He should show His mercy. And yet, these displays of mercy for which we can scarcely find a reason, are infinitely greater and more numerous than His displays of justice, for which the reasons are, in a vast majority of cases, obvious for apparent reasons.11
When Paul exclaims how deep and unsearchable are the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, and how impossible it is for mankind to fathom what God thinks and know fully what He has done, does now, and will do in the future, that it should bring praises from people everywhere, Robert Haldane feels that in concluding his discussion of those deep and awesome subjects which, in the earlier part of this Epistle, had caught his attention, Paul emphatically declares the impossibility of comprehending how limitless are God’s attributes.
But far from judging, like some do, that we have nothing to do with such mysteries as the sovereignty of God in justifying “the ungodly,” and choosing or rejecting sinners according to His own good pleasure, Paul delighted in elaborating on the glorious perfections of Elohim as displayed in these doctrines. And as they bear most directly upon the state and security of Christians, he designates them at the beginning of the next chapter as the “mercies of God,” involving all the blessings in store for Jews and Gentiles, and constituting the foundation and support of all his exhortations for practical living. He thus teaches that these doctrines are conducive in the highest degree to the advancement of holiness, and that in no respect do they interfere with the responsibility of any individual.
Haldane then explains that Paul, by no means, denies that these great truths are “hard to be understood” by mere humans who consider themselves “wise and discreet,” yet refuse to receive the kingdom of God as “little children.” On the contrary, he lays out the absolute impossibility of any person being able to define the boundless and unfathomable incomprehensibility of the Divine attributes as manifested in God’s dealings with the children of mankind. How often does the profane ingenuity of man pretend to fathom, and sometimes even dares to accuse, the inscrutable ways of Elohim! But what a contrast does the Apostle’s language, in these concluding verses of this chapter, present to the vain and presumptuous speculations of some interpreters of Scripture! Multitudes receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, when measured according to the petty scale of their limited mental capacity. How unbecoming is such a creature as mankind! Will he who is but “of yesterday,” and “knows nothing,” who is born “like a wild donkey’s colt,” pretend to penetrate the wise intellect of the Omniscient Creator of the universe?12
1 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 163-164
2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Ibid., Calvin
4 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 359
5 1 Corinthians 13:9
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 336-338
7 Galatians 3:2
8 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (pp. 272-273)
9 See The Bibliotheca Sacra: Edited by Edwards A. Park, Published by Warren F. Draper, Andover, 1881, Vol 38, p.169
10 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 269).
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 232
12 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 549