Past Finding Out!
Archibald G. Brown, February 7, 1897, East London Tabernacle
"His ways are past finding out!" Romans 11:33
These words form part of the adoring exclamation that leaps from the lips of the Apostle Paul after a prolonged study of divine procedure. He has been dwelling upon God's plan of governing the world, and God's method of bringing about his purposes, and, as he has gazed upon this mighty theme, its immensity has grown upon him. The 'many-folded wisdom' has in measure been unfolded before the apostle's eyes.
He is done now with teaching, and takes to worshiping. He is like the Alpine climber who has at last reached the summit of the peak. During the upward climb he has passed by many a deep and dark crevasse; he has peered down many a black gorge, seemingly the home of the thunder-cloud. Over and over again his path has skirted some awful precipice, down which he has tremblingly gazed until his brain has grown dizzy with the sight. He has passed through the clouds that belt the lower part of the mountain, and now he is right up on the summit, and from that point he looks down, and, lo, the clouds have melted, and two burning rays of light illumine the deeps that lie beneath.
These two rays of light are God's wisdom and God's knowledge, and from the mountain-top he sees that all the dark gorges, deep precipices, and black spots, are now illumined; and, falling upon his knees, he worships and exclaims, 'Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! His ways are past finding out.'
Thus far I have taken the passage as if it were simply a note of adoration. There is adoration — but I am not quite sure that there is not something else as well. It seems to me to be adoration accompanied with a shudder, if these two things can be linked together; and therefore, I will alter my illustration and give you another aspect of the subject.
It seems to me that Paul has been standing in thought on the shore, gazing out upon the boundless ocean of divine purpose and divine plan; and at last he ventures to thrust his skiff out just a little way from the shore. But no sooner has he done so, than the mists of the ocean wrap him round about. He lets out his fathoming line, and finds no bottom; and then he hastens his return to shore, and exclaims with a shudder, while at the same time he worships, 'Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!'
What is it that Paul has been contemplating? We have it in the whole chapter. It is God's method of redemption as regards both Jew and Gentile. Read from the 28th verse: 'As concerning the gospel, they [that is, the Jews] are enemies for your sakes; but, as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For, as you in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief [ah, there is a mystery for you — the Gentiles finding mercy through the unbelief of the Jew], even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy, for God has concluded them all [both Jew and Gentile] in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.'
Do you catch the thought? Paul sees Israel chosen and blessed — but apostatizing; and then he sees that, through the very apostasy of Israel, a door is thrown open before the Gentile hosts. And then he sees how that, through mercies shown to the Gentile, blessing is to come to the Jew; and ultimately the Jew is to receive the Messiah, and he is to accept the One from whom the Gentiles apostatize. Then through the Jew, the world is to be blessed. And, when Paul looks at these dark gorges and precipices that he has skirted, he can only say, 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, who, by a heavenly chemistry, brings good even out of ill. Truly, God is not to be judged. His ways are past finding out.'
Is it not a mercy that, when we cannot understand, we can still worship; and that, when we cannot comprehend, we can still adore? When my poor tired head grows worthless, and is unable to do its work in the way of understanding, it is a choice blessing that I am free to take to my knees. When it is maddening to be a student of divine procedure — it is delightful to be a worshiper. We all often come like Jacob to a place that is full of stones, and the stones all round are hard facts, and those hard facts are often most mysterious.
There are various ways of dealing with them. If you like, you can get into a peeve with them, and kick them — but you will only lame yourself. Facts are awkward things to kick. Or you may go blundering about them, despairingly, falling over them, wounding your feet, and bruising your shins. But there is a third and better way. Take these hard facts, and build them up into an altar, anoint them, and worship God at them. That is what Paul did. When he saw facts and mysteries which he could not explain, he worshiped God, and said, 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God. His ways are past finding out!'
The thought which has been working in my mind, so far as anything has been able to work there this week, is that the characteristic — may I say the chief characteristic — of God and of God's ways and of God's works is that they are past finding out — and that that is the verdict at which we must ultimately arrive. Oh, what fools we are, and how slow to accept this truth! If God's ways are past finding out, why do I waste my hours, and tease my brain, and run the risk of breaking my heart, by trying to do what God says cannot be done. Happy is the man who accepts the verdict, 'past finding out', and says, 'Lord, I believe it, and I am not going to try. If You say, past finding out — then I am not going to try to pick the lock. I will rather worship and adore.'
I. God himself is 'past finding out.'I am not departing from my text. I am perfectly aware that the sentence is, 'His ways are past finding out'; but I am sure that he whose ways are past finding out, will himself be the same. You cannot imagine a being who is inferior to his ways. If God's ways are inscrutable — then his being must be, and so of God we say, 'past finding out'.
What a little word that word 'God' is. You have taught it to your child, and I suppose that most of us learned to spell 'G-O-D' when we were little ones at our mothers' knees. So easily spelled; so quickly uttered; yet, who is there who could venture to say what he means when he says 'God'? It is the one name which, when mentioned, is not accompanied by any mental form. No figure rises to my mind's vision when I say 'God'.
But do you say, 'Who is God? What is God?' 'He is past finding out.' It has been so in the saintly experience of all ages. We find Job saying, in the 11th chapter, at the 7th verse, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens — what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave — what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea!"
Thus in the earliest book of Holy Scripture there is this solemn note rung out, 'past finding out'. You may search — but you can not discover. There are no data to start from. There is no standard by which you may compare; and therefore, God says, 'To whom, then, will you liken me, or shall I be equal? says the Holy One.'
Do you marvel that God's holy ire was poured out upon idolatry? Oh, the madness of the sin of trying to set forth in wood, or stone, or metal, a Jehovah whose glory lies in the fact that he is past finding out. 'No man can see me and live' is the language of deity. Clouds and darkness are round about him; and then, in singular contrast, he 'makes light his garment'. Light can hide as fully and completely as darkness. Arrayed in light, God in his being must ever remain past finding out.
O eternal God, we love to think of you! You boundless ocean of being! Our little skiff of thought may float on you. It does so now, this moment, with delight. But fathom you? Never!
Does someone here say, 'I cannot believe in a God that I cannot understand'? Well, sir, I cannot congratulate you on your common sense. For my own part, I could not believe in a God that I could understand. I could not have any confidence in a God that I could comprehend. I should be greater than my God. A God that could be comprehended would be smaller than the man who comprehended him; and therefore, let faith be strengthened, and not staggered, by the utterance, 'He is past finding out.'
"He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted!" Job 5:9.
II. But God is past finding out, not only in his being — but in his WORKS.
Turn once more to the Book of Job, the 9th chapter, and the 10th verse, where, speaking of God, Job says, 'Who does great things past finding out, yes, marvelous things without number!' You see that here it is not the being of God that we have to deal with — but it is the doing of God. It is that the Almighty does great things past finding out.
If you look at the context you will see that the statement is made with reference to nature. Read from the 5th verse: 'God removes the mountains, and they know it not when He overturns them in His anger; Who shakes the earth out of its place, and the pillars of it tremble; Who commands the sun, and it rises not; Who seals up the stars from view; Who alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the waves and high places of the sea; Who made the constellations the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the vast starry spaces of the south!'
I do not think that there is a child here who will not be able to follow me in this simple line of argument. When I meet with a being who is past finding out, I need not be surprised if he does that which is past finding out. His actions are likely to be in harmony with himself. Gaze for a moment upon this wondrous illustration which Job introduces, namely, that we have only to lift our eyes up and behold nature in order to see that there is something past finding out. Oh, what wonders there are all round about us.
Who are we? Where are we? Well, we are living on a little world, for, after all, the earth which we think so much of is rather a small commodity among the other worlds. We are living, I say, on a little world that is hung up on nothing. Earth floats in a limitless ocean of space. But she is not alone, for if, when you go away from this service, you look up, you will see that there is a fleet of a myriad other vessels, and that they are all navigating the same wide sea. Do the inhabitants of these different worlds act as the crews of the vessels? Is there any human hand at the helm? The answer is, 'No, there is no human steersman. All the beings that are on these worlds are but passengers.' Who, then, is Captain? and the voice comes from Heaven, 'By the greatness of his might, for that he is great in power, not one fails.' And, as Job marked Arcturus and Orion and the Pleiades, he did what any man who is not blinded by sin will do. He worshiped, and he said, 'Lord, your works, like yourself, are past finding out!'
But in this little world in which we live are we not ever finding that we are governed by laws which are only beginning to be discovered? Science does not invent anything. Science only discovers, and the discoveries of science are but so many testimonials to the verdict that God is 'past finding out', for each discovery only reveals that there is more to be discovered. Oh, the many-folded wisdom of God. Marvelous are all his works, from the mountain range, to the insect's wing, to the galaxies hung in space.
III.I have no doubt that I shall carry you all with me in my third point, because it touches everyday life and everyday experience. It is that God is past finding out in his WAYS. Here, as you will see, we come to the actual meaning of our text: 'How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out.'
I wish that I could say a word that might be a help to some poor dazed brain that is here tonight. Am I speaking to any who have seen strange things in life? They are called 'providential dealings'. They have been, perhaps, seemingly very contradictory one to the other, and quite inexplicable. Have you begun to doubt? Have you come here with your faith beginning to stagger? I would be very glad to be the means of confirming some feeble knee. At all events, whatever other qualification I may not possess for dealing with this point, I have one, and that is the fitness that is gained by personal experience. But need we be surprised if God's ways are past finding out? Listen for a moment.
You have acquiesced in the truth that his being is past finding out. You are certain that his works are. Then, surely, there is no reason to be surprised if his methods are the same. Faith finds her tonic in the very fact that God's ways are so far above our own. Listen. Does not Jehovah say, 'As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts'?
And yet sometimes we criticize God. I say 'we', though, perhaps, I have no right to include you. But I would not dare to say that I have never criticized God, and, in all probability, you have to make the same confession. But, oh, what folly! As I turned this thought over, I imagined that I entered into a study, and found there a man of mighty intellect. I looked around the room, and there were ponderous tomes, books about deep, mysterious things; and on the table there were delicate instruments, and I could see that the professor often rose from the books to test something by a complicated experiment with the finest of instruments.
Looking up, I saw that away in a top corner of that study, a little web had been spun, and there was a spider viewing all from his watch-tower; and that spider, from his exalted position, looked down upon the professor at the table, and said, 'What a strange being he is; what useless actions he is over performing. There is nothing practical about him. He neither spins a web nor does he eat flies.' And the spider saw a fly alight upon the table, close to the professor's hand — but the man took no notice of it, and positively he did not even try to catch it. And the spider said, 'How foolish he is! The idea of letting slip an opportunity like that!'
Ah, spider, you have more ability to enter into the deep thoughts of that chemist, and to understand the purpose of his most intricate experiments — than I have to comprehend the thoughts and ways and purposes of God! Easier far for the spider to understand the action of the chemist, than for me to understand the why of God in doing this or that.
The moment we go in for 'whys' and 'wherefores', we hurl ourselves into a prickly hedge. To analyze God's 'why' and 'wherefore', is like trying to get through a prickly hedge — you will tear your garments to pieces, and lacerate yourself. I can imagine some people here saying, 'But why should that child die? Why should that hope of the family be stricken down! Why should that dear lad, who seemed called of God to do such a gracious work, be laid low? Why should that loving wife be swept into the grave? It does seem so hard.' Ah, wait a while. Do not judge God. It is not within your province to do so, for his ways are past finding out. God has his loving purpose, and he is carrying along everything towards it.
Last summer as I was traveling up from the West of England in a railway carriage, we pulled up at a station, and, the window being down, I noticed that in tripped a little fly, and I found that I was going to have a railway companion. I said to myself, 'I wonder whether that fly knows where he has got in, and whether he knows where he will get out.' For about two hundred miles I let the fly talk to me. He did not attempt to go out. No, he was thoroughly at home in that carriage, and he made little excursions to and fro. There was a grease spot on the back of the carriage, and he went and made an inspection of that, and I think that he found in it something sweet to his taste as a fly. He flew backwards and forwards, and rested on the lamp. Sometimes he was on the ceiling, and sometimes on the cushion, and now and again upon the floor; but I am perfectly sure that, while he was making these excursions, he was altogether unaware of the fact that he was being carried on by the train to a pre-determined goal. He might make his journeys within the carriage — but the carriage itself was whirling along the railway tracks.
Just so, as God's children, we make our little excursions, and we do this and that, and we live in our own little world; but, thank God, our little world is only part of the big train of divine purpose; and, while I fly and while I rest, I am being borne on, unconsciously to myself, to God's terminus. God's ways are past finding out.
IV.I want to take you now one step further, and it will be the last. As God is past finding out in his being and in his works and in his ways — does it not stand to reason that there will be the same characteristics in his SALVATION, so that when God saves man, there will have about it much that is past finding out?
In the 3rd chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, we read, at the 8th verse, of 'the unsearchable riches of Christ'. The word there translated 'unsearchable' is precisely the same word that we have in our text, 'past finding out'; so that the passage means 'the riches of Christ that are past finding out'. When God provides a Savior, he provides a Savior, the fullness of whose riches is past finding out. What are those riches that cannot be tracked — those riches that never can be fully discovered? Why, riches of mercy, riches of grace, riches of love, riches of saving fullness. 'It pleased the Father that in him, Christ Jesus, should all fullness dwell.' Why, I wonder that you do not leap up from your seats and sing, "Hallelujah, what a Savior!"
Here is a Savior so fully equipped by the Father that his provision as such is simply past finding out. Be of good cheer, for he saved the 'chief of sinners'. Paul came, and he found that there was enough and to spare, and so he speaks of 'unsearchable riches'. We cannot fathom them! They defy all search. Millions of sinners since Paul's time have come to Christ, and they all say that there is enough and more than enough.
I will guarantee that the man in this Tabernacle who has been a Christian longest, and who knows Christ most fully, is the man who will have discovered most that Christ is past finding out. Oh, he is an ocean that has no shore. There is always an infinite fullness, a plethora, about him. Come, sinner, you need not be afraid with such a Savior as this, for in him there is a saving ability that is past finding out.
I think you will see that it must logically follow that, if Jesus, as my Savior, is past finding out in his fullness — then all that he gives me will have the same characteristic.
If the Lord gives a pardon, what sort of a pardon will he bestow? Listen to the language of the Holy Spirit in the 103rd Psalm. 'As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.' How far does the pardon go? Oh, it is past finding out. How far is the east from the west? Actually there is no ultimate east, and there is no final west. Space is boundless in each direction. There are no limits. You may travel for ages yonder, and you will find nothing to stop you. And so it is with the pardon you may get tonight. Believer, that is the sort of pardon which you have received. It is a forgiveness past finding out.
And what is the acceptance that he gives us? When he forgives our sins, what position does he bring us into? 'You are complete in him.' At your leisure turn to the 2nd chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians, and read the 9th verse in this connection. 'It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell, and you are complete in him.' Imagine it. Complete in all fullness. How much does that include? We cannot say. It is past finding out. I only know that the acceptance of every saint here tonight is an acceptance according to the righteousness of God. His acceptance is past finding out. The believer is made the righteousness of God in Christ, and he may sing,
So near, so very near to God,
I cannot nearer be,
For in the Person of His Son,
I am as near as He!
And God gives believers a peace, does he not? And what sort of a peace is that? You will find the answer in the 4th chapter of the Philippians, and the 7th verse. 'In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make known your requests unto God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall keep your heart and mind.' We are not at all surprised at this. If God who is past finding out gives me peace, I may anticipate that that peace will also be past finding out.
Look at John Huss. He is blazing away at the stake — but what a glory there is in his countenance. As an onlooker says, 'His face shone as if Heaven shone into it'; and he sang a psalm until his head bowed down in the flames. It is a peace that passes understanding.
Why, some of you who are here have had a peace that you could not understand. When death has invaded your home, or when sickness has laid you low, there has been within your own soul a quiet and a rest that have defied explanation. It has been 'past finding out'.
'Ah', says someone over there, 'I will tell you of one thing that I object to in you Christians.' Well, what is that? 'You are such a miserable set.' Well, I dispute it. I believe that the sincere Christian is the happiest man on God's earth; and, more than that, he can say concerning his joy what no worldling can say, for in the language of Peter, it is 'a joy unspeakable and full of glory'. It is past finding out.
The Christian possesses a happiness which he cannot exactly put into words. There is not a worldling here who could not very easily describe the greatest joy of his happiest moment — but there are hundreds of God's children here who can say that there is a delicious joy in Christ which cannot be described. There is an exquisite bliss. There is a nectar which the Lord puts to a believer's mouth, that is exquisitely sweet. There is a strange inner joy that makes all the bells inside to ring; a happiness that overloads the chariot of language. It is unspeakable. And why? Because it is charged with glory.
And the Heaven that he gives is also past finding out. It is bound to be so. If even the foretastes of it are past finding out, namely, the peace and joy which the Christian possesses here — then we may be quite sure that the full final glory will also be past finding out. 'I am persuaded', says the apostle in the 8th chapter of Romans, 'that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed!'
Why, Paul, how much glory do you expect? 'Oh, it is past finding out. There is an exceeding weight of it.'
Beloved, how many have worshiped in this Tabernacle, and have since discovered the bliss that is past finding out. They have forded the river and gone up the shining steps on the other side, and they have had their welcome from the Master, and they are now just slowly learning what it is to be in Heaven. I suppose that . . .
forever the joy must deepen,
forever the glories unfold,
forever the bliss intensify.
The exquisite delight of being with God — oh, this we cannot tell. No poet has ever reached the height of describing Heaven. All Scripture imagery seems to fail, for even in the Book of Revelation the Holy Spirit does not tell us what Heaven is — He only tells us what it is not. He does not tell us what is there — but he tells us what is not there:
There is no sickness;
there is no crying;
there is no weariness;
there is no dying;
there is no sighing;
there is no parting; and
there is no night there.
But he does not tell us what there is, for I suppose that it could not be put into language. It is past finding out.
Now, if such a gospel as this be preached to you, and if there is offered unto you a Christ so full of saving power and love that the fullness thereof is past finding out — then do you not think that there is something else past finding out if you reject it? Do you say, 'I do not quite follow you, preacher. What do you mean?' If you reject Christ, who, in his saving power, is past finding out — then do you not think that there is something attaching to you which also is past finding out? I will tell you what it is. I mean your responsibility; for listen: 'How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?' That is a question which has never yet been answered, and it never will be, and God himself cannot answer it. It is past finding out. The responsibility of the sinner who rejects such a Christ and such a salvation, is past all discovery.
Oh, come and cast yourself down at the feet of the adorable Lord, the high, the holy, the lofty One, the eternal I Am, who, in his being and in his works and in his ways — is past finding out. Go, see God in Christ. Behold the One who is past finding out hanging in sweat of blood upon the cross. He is there for sinners like you. Oh, here is love past finding out. Here is grace past finding out. Go cast yourself on him, believe in him, and you shall be saved, and you shall go away from this Tabernacle saying, 'Hallelujah, I have found the Savior, and, oh! he is past finding out. Hallelujah, I have found a peace, and that is past finding out. Glory be to God, a joy has come into my soul which is unspeakable — it, too, is past finding out. Hallelujah, just a little way ahead I see, through the gloom and mist, an open door into the glory. I hear the music of the redeemed coming through it. I hear my Savior's voice saying, "A little while, and you shall enter here, and you shall find that these glories through all ages are past finding out!"' God grant that it may be so with all of us, for Jesus' sake. Amen.