Romans 11:33-36 Soli Deo Gloria
2/5/17 D. Marion Clark
On May 7, 2000 James Montgomery Boice entered the pulpit of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for the final time of his 32-year ministry there as Senior Minister. He was dying of cancer. He had just enough strength to say a few words and read the opening scripture for the service. He addressed the matter of how his congregation should pray for him: “Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God.” This was fitting for a man devoted to such a purpose. When a memorial plaque was created for him, it displayed our text.
Soli Deo glory – to God alone be the glory. Let’s consider this final solus of our series.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
The apostle Paul, who wrote these words, has been writing a long discourse on the subject of redemption, from chapter 1 to through chapter 11. He has presented the problem of sin, the solution of faith in the work of Christ, with an appendix of the place of Israel in God’s plan. He concludes by breaking out in this doxology of praise to God with the final words of “To him be glory forever.” Those words likely are spontaneous, as Paul is caught up in this moment of reflection of the wondrous ways of God. And yet, as Spock would say, they form the only logical conclusion to his discourse. For glory – the glory of God – is what life is all about.
Listen to the Scriptures as they present this theme of the glory of God.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Declare his glory among the nations (1 Chronicles 16:10,24)
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:1-3, 9)
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
They lift up their voices, they sing for joy;
over the majesty of the LORD they shout from the west.
Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD;
in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the LORD, the God of Israel.
From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One. (Isaiah 24:14-16)
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)
These are but a portion of the scriptures on which Paul as a good Jew, especially as a Jewish teacher, would have been bred. We exist – all the world exists – to behold, to experience, to magnify, to proclaim, to live for the glory of God and for God alone. It is for his glory that God created the world and all that exists. It is for his glory that God planned and executed the plan of redemption. It is to the cause of God’s glory that he is moving all history into the future climax of Christ’s return and the establishing of a new heaven and a new earth. His own glory is, not his highest aim, but his only aim.
Move that thought into the New Testament. We have the same concepts of glorifying God.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
…so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12)
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory…” (Revelation 4:11)
Now observe the new dimension of glory as Jesus Christ comes into the picture.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.” (John 8:34)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matthew 25:31)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:13)
To [Christ] be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)
The glory of God is the glory of Christ, for Jesus Christ is God. God the Father is glorified through the Son; the Son is glorified by the Father. They cannot be separated, and all created life exists for their glory. This is soli Deo gloria. Let’s think through some of the implications.
The doctrine is the apex of the solas – what they all lead to. It is the center of the solas around which they revolve. We are justified by faith alone because all of the work and the glory goes to God alone in Christ. We look to Scripture alone because only the Word of God is that which is perfect in revealing God and his salvation. God is most glorified when his Word is most trusted. Our salvation is by grace alone because God acts out of his own motive to glorify himself and not for what he sees in us, and he is most glorified when we acknowledge that we owe everything to him and not because of our own self-worthiness. Our salvation is won solely through the work of Christ, and so God is only glorified through Christ. Fudge on any of these doctrines, then glory is shared with ourselves apart from Christ and apart from God – the Three-Person God.
This doctrine reveals the fundamental problem of man, as expressed in Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We were made to be holy as God is holy, and so to glorify God through our living in perfect harmony with God, reflecting his holiness. We failed, and nothing we could do – even if we had desired to do so – could reverse that failure. How then was our dilemma to be solved? Not by us but by God who sent his Son Jesus Christ who lived such a perfect life and offered the perfect sacrifice. To God alone be glory.
The doctrine provides the calibration we need in our daily lives. We make knowing how to live more complicated than it really is. If we would just ask ourselves one question throughout the day, we could then calibrate our thinking – put it on the right tract. It is this: What glorifies God?
“My spouse is being so unreasonable. Why should I be the one to give in?” What glorifies God?
“Why should I work hard when my fellow workers do not?” What glorifies God?
“Don’t I have a right to my fair share?” What glorifies God?
Ask that question of yourself in both small and big decisions. You will be surprised to find how simple the answer is to many seemingly complex problems. Ask yourself that question as you ponder how well you are treating your neighbor. Ask yourself that question as you ponder how well you are treating your spouse and your family. Ask yourself that question this very moment. Is what I am doing now glorifying God?
Some might ask why God should insist upon receiving all glory. If God is perfect, then why does he need us to glorify him, or at least glorify him alone all the time? We are put off by anyone who continually draws attention to themselves, even if their claims are true. We don’t mind saying of someone that he is the greatest, but when that same person says it of himself, then it becomes distasteful. Granted that God is the greatest; must we always be saying it and always living in such a way that he gets all the glory all the time?
It is a valid question to consider, but not an interesting one, not to those caught up in glorifying God. For one thing, think of a time you have been caught up in ecstasy: you may be listening to music that has your soul soaring; you may be beholding a wonder of nature; perhaps you are thrilled at a sports event; perhaps you are in love. Whatever it is, it has captured your thoughts and emotions. Then someone taps you on the shoulder and wants to critique the event with you. What? You don’t want to stop the moment to debate the merits of what you are enjoying, especially when you know the true value – in the case of your God – of the whom you are glorifying. For the point of the matter is that the Westminster catechisms got it right: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Or, as John Piper likes to rephrase it: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”
We know the purpose of life. We know why we exist. It is to glorify God. We know why there is so much trouble in this life. We have all sinned and fallen short of glorifying God. But we do not despair. God is also determined to be glorified through us, and so he has sent Jesus Christ to overcome that problem of falling short, and in Christ he has made us to be new creatures who can now glorify him. Glory be to God! Our lives are no longer futile, no longer meaningless, no longer aimless existence.
And then, whatever troubles come our way… well, this is the part that blows us away. Listen to the Scriptures as they continue to teach what the glory of God means for us.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
And our final vision. We will live together with God bathed in his glory: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:23)
We cannot give to God what he will not pour out on us beyond measure and beyond our hopes. As we give glory to God alone, he pours out on us now the glory of redemption; the glory, that though it may be hidden now, will be revealed at our Lord’s coming; the glory of living lives that matter whatever the temporary trials might be that we face; the glory of our inheritance in Christ; the glory of someday being transformed; the glory of sharing in the glory of our great God.
James Boice preached on Romans 11:36. I conclude with his words.
“To God alone be glory!” To those who do not know God that is perhaps the most foolish of all statements. But to those who do know God, to those who are being saved, it is not only a right statement, it is a happy, wise, true, inescapable, and highly desirable confession. It is our glory to make it. “To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (p. 1480; Romans, vol. 3)