Unknown Depths and Heights

Charles Haddon Spurgeon November 28, 1907 Scripture: Luke 23:34 From: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 53

No. 3068
A Sermon Published on Thursday, November 28, 1907,
Delivered by C. H. Spurgeon,
At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,
On a Lord’s-Day Evening in the Year 1861.

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” — Luke 23:34.

IT needs a tongue as eloquent as that which, uttered these words fitly to describe the scene before us. Christ, the King of kings, and yet the sorrowful Substitute for sinners, has been stripped naked. The mocking soldiers have unconsciously fulfilled the Scripture which said, “They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots.” He has been thrown roughly to the ground; his legs and arms have been stretched out upon the transverse wood; rough hands have grasped the cruel nails; stern blows have been dealt, with, the heavy hammer; he begins now to know the physical sufferings of crucifixion. He looks down to the faces of the men who have been putting him to exquisite torture and to bitter shame, and utters not a single word of complaint, much less of accusation or of vengeance, and he breathes a prayer, “Father, forgive them,” — my murderers, the rough men who have stripped me, the cruel men who have nailed my hands and pierced my feet, — “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Brethren, the sayings of Christ, upon the cross have a deeper meaning than that which appears upon the surface. They were texts of which his eternal life should be, the semen; the), were no common words. As no word of Scripture, is of private interpretation, no word of the Savior upon the cross loses its force and significance in after times. What he said then he is saying now; what he said then was but, the. utterance once of a sentence which shall roll through the’ ages, and which shall prevail with God through time and throughout eternity. “Father, forgive them,” was the prayer of a, dying man, but, it, was not a dying prayer. “They know not, what they do,,” was the plea of lips that were about to be closed, but it was no plea which was doomed to silence; it is heard in heaven to-day, as much as when Jesus first offered it on Calvary from his cross.

The text, seems to me to be of great, depth. I shall not attempt to fathom it to-night, but, reserve it, for some future sermons, only to-night exploring two, of its parts, rather flitting like a swallow across its sin-face, than, like the, leviathan, stirring its depths.

There are, two things in the, text, the unknown depths of sin’ “They know not, what they do;” and the unknown heights of mercy, as manifested in Christ’s dying plea: “Father, forgive them.” May God grant his blessing while I shall endeavor to set forth both, according as the, Spirit of God shall enable me to do so!

I. And first, my friends, it appears from the text that THERE ARE UNKNOWN DEPTHS IN HUMAN INIQUITY: “They know not, what they do.”

You will tell me, perhaps, that, Christ applied this remark to his murderers, who did not know that he was the, Son of God; for, if they had known him to be the Messiah, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;” and it, might, have been said to them, “Ye did it ignorantly in unbelief.” I grant you that this was the immediate meaning of Christ’s words; but, I think, to return to what I have, already affirmed, this ‘saying is true of the entire human family; whenever any of us sin, we know not what we do. Do not misunderstand me. There is no man in the world who, has not enough perception left to teach him, the difference, between right and wrong. Even upon the natural conscience of man there is engraven so much of the law of God that his conscience either accuses or excuses him; and I can scarcely think that there, is any race of bushmen, or that there is a single tribe of aboriginal savages, who have altogether lost that “candle of the, Lord, which searcheth all the inward parts of the belly.” They know enough to leave them without excuse, so that., if they perish, they perish through willful sin; yet must I admit, at the outset, that it is possible for the conscience to become, so, blind through prevailing customs, so seared through lengthened habit, and so perserved through absolute ignorance, that men may sin., and vet know not what they do. There may be some in whom the judgment has left its seat; they have become maniacs so, far as any moral judgment is concerned; they sill with both their hands:, and perhaps write down that very sin as being righteousness, and their obscenity as, being a sacrifice, acceptable to God. There are, none, such however, here. I think, in a land like, this, with an open Bible, with a preached gospel, with the presence, of the Spirit of God, I need net address such an assembly as this as, not, knowing what they do in that, sense. If you sin, my hearers, you sin against light, and knowledge; you sin knowing that, you do wrong; you put out your hand to touch the, accursed thing, knowing that it is accursed; you sin wittingly, and many shall be your stripes, seeing that you know your Master’s will, and do it not,. But still, of the whole human race it is nevertheless true that, when they sin, “they know not what they do.” Let me show you, as briefly and forcibly as I can, how this is the fact.

Who among us knows, to the full, the real meaning and nature of sin? I can give some description to you of what sin is; but I question, brethren, whether even the, most enlightened of us know the whole of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Sinner; I address myself pointedly to you. Do you know that, where you sin, you call God a fool? You say that his law is not the best, thing for you; that he has made a mistake, and has asked you to do that which would not conduce to, your happiness. You call God a feel; is that nothing? Do you know that, when you sin, you call God a liar? He tells you that sin is a bitter and an evil thing. You say, “No, it is sweet; it is pleasant; at any rate, I will taste it.” You give the lie to the Eternal God; is that nothing? Whenever you sin, you call God a tyrant. You do, in, fact, avow that he has given laws which are hard and arbitrary, which he ought not to have given, and which you are determined to break, because you feel that they are not, lot your happiness, — they do not promote your comfort. And is this nothing? Is this nothing, — to call the all-wise God a feel, the truthful God a liar, and the good and generous God a tyrant?

But there is more than this in your sin. Every time a man sins, he aims a blow at the, crown of God. He refuses to let God be the King, but puts his hand, his wicked hand, upon the diadem of Deity, and would dash the; crown from, God’s head if he could. Nay, more; he aims a blow at God’s very existence. The language of sin is, “No God!” and every time a sinner sins, he tries to get rid of God, and his aim and drift, is to stay the Eternal One, and to put the King of kings out of his own universe. Is this, nothing? Is this nothing? Doth not even this, feeble though the explanation be make sin to be, exceeding sinful? Verily, when we sin, we know not, what we do. I can hardly believe that there Is. a man in this assembly who would, in cool blood, stand up and say, “I defy God; I will do my best to, drive him from his throne, ay, and to drive, him from, existence;” and yet, sinner, every time you curse, or lie, or swear, or break God’s law in any way whatever, you do, in fact, do, all these things, and I think I may say you know not what you do.

Let us now shift, the kaleidoscope again, and get another view of this great and solemn truth. Some of us know what we do, if we judge of sin by its loathsomeness in God’s sight. There, is not man living who knows how much God hates and abhors, sin. You may detest, the loathsome, toad; you may give way to a, wicked disposition, and hate some enemy till you cannot live till that enemy be slain; but. you cannot loathe the toad, you cannot hate your feel so thoroughly as God abhors and hates sin. Wherever sin is, there is God’s utmost hate, and anger, and ire. He cannot endure it; his eyes cannot light, upon it without, burning it up, and his hand is ever longing to smite it to, the death. Why, look ye, sirs, God had a, choice a archangel, — a glorious being, whose wings were like the beams of the rising sun, whose stature was like a great snow clad mountain, and whose beauty was as a fair field girt with flowers. He sinned, said God spared neither him nor the angels that followed him in his rebellion, but cast them down to hell, and reserved them “in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” Angelhood could not save an angel; angelic stature, a seraphic voice, and a cherubic flight, could not save Satan and his hosts when the stain of sin had fallen on them. How muck, then, must God hate sin!

When God had made the world, he smiled, and said, “It is good;” the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, for the world was very good, and God’s own heart was glad at the sight of the new-made world. But when Adam sinned, God did not spare Eden, with all its perfections of beauty; and, later, when the iniquity of man was fully ripe, he did not spare the round world itself, but bade the floods upleap from their cavernous darkness, and bade the clouds burst their swaddling bands, and the earth was covered, with a flood, for “it, repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”

Nay, if we want to see more clearly still, how God hates sin, let us see how sin came upon his own Son, his only-begotten, his well-beloved Son. It came, there, not by any deed of his own, but because he took our iniquities upon himself, and therefore was numbered with the transgressors. And did his Father spare him? Far from it. He smote him with the rod, he scourged

him with the lash, he pierced him to the heart with his sword; he gave up his darling to the power of the dog, and “Lama Sabachthani?” was a sorrowful proof that God hates and loathes sin, let it be wherever it may. Now, sirs, would you go and press to your bosom, and dandle, and pamper, and pet that thing which God loathes and hates? I trow not. If we had ever before our eyes God’s hatred of sin, and this were revealed to our heart by the Holy Ghost., we should long to be rid of it; and therefore I say that, when we take hold of it, and embrace it,, we know not what we do.

Again, what man among us knows sin in its awful consequences? Is there a mother here who would go home to-night, and ask herself the quickest way to damn her child’s soul? Is there a father here who would take counsel with his own wickedness as to the readiest method of sending his son to hell? I think not; and yet, when the father is a drunkard or a swearer, what does he do but do his worst to ruin his child? And when the mother is prayer-less, Godless, Christless, does she not, do her utmost to murder her child’s soul? Verily, we in our relationships, when we go, into sin, know not what we do. What master could sit down wantonly to undermine the spiritual health of his workmen? What citizen would wish to become the deadly upas-tree, dropping poison from all its branches? What man of influence would wish to be the basilisk whose eyes should tempt men to their destruction? Not one; and yet, when you commit iniquity, — and especially those of you who: occupy the responsible position of parents, or masters, or ministers, or employers in any way, — you do your best to destroy the souls of others; so I can truly say, “Surely you know not, what. you do.”

Do you know, sinner, that every time you sin, your sill affects the whole world? Let me not stagger you; it, is only our finite vision which prevents us seeing the, effect of even one thought upon the entire universe. The word I am speaking, just now, sets in motion a wave in the air which reaches your ear; it will abide in your memory, to a certain degree, throughout eternity. In limiting the sphere of my voice to your ears, I have set eternity pulsating; you shall think these things over either in the, waves of fiery hell, or in the fields of glorious heaven. Eternity has been affected by the speech of a man. And so it is with. what you do; there is an effect produced on earth, on heaven, on hell, by whispered blasphemy or by an unseen lust; you cannot sin alone; you are part of a universe; you cannot disentangle yourself from the meshes of the net of society. You are in the ship of the universe, and you canner get out of it. You cannot even be thrown out of it, as Jonah was east out of the ship into the sea. Your sin is dragging other men down to hell, or else the grace that is in you is helping to uplift others towards God and heaven. Mind that when you sin; for, from this day, I think that. you will hardly be able to say as, perhaps, you may have done before, that you know not what you do.

But sinner, let me speak to you solemnly, — to you, — about something in which no imagination is needed. Do you see that man yonder? What is he doing? I see a pearly gate, within which I mark the splendors of bliss unutterable, and hear the hymns of the paradise of God. What is that man doing? He is putting bolts and bars upon that gate to shut, himself out, Do you call him a madman? Sinner, that madman is yourself. Your sins are shutting you out of heaven. Do you see yonder man? He is carrying faggots on his weary shoulders, and stooping to the very ground as he bears his burden. For what purpose is he carrying that fuel? It. is to make a bed of fire on which he. shall tie and swelter in flames for ever. Do you call him a madman? Sinner, that madman is yourself. What is hell but. the laying on upon your back of a whip, whose knots you have yourself tied? What is it, but the drinking of a cup of gall, every drop of which was distilled from your own sin? These are awful things to say; but I feel that, when I look at what hell is, in all its horrors, and what the loss of heaven is. with all its dreadful darkness, I must say to you, when you sin, surely you know not what yoga do. The man who puts himself to death with the halter, or drives the knife into his heart, or throws himself into his watery grave, may have some present griefs which may, to him, though not, to us, seem to be an excuse for fleeing from them; but you, when you sin. are a suicide without excuse, because you flee from good that ‘stands before you to an evil that has no admixture of benefit or mercy. You leap into the fire yourself, — a fire which you have yourself kindled, and which your own blasphemous breath has fanned. Oh, may God teach us, when we sin, what we have really done, that we may not do it again, and that, by his grace, we may be led to the precious blood of Christ, to have the guilt o.f it, washed away!

“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”

Only once more upon this point, and then I will leave it. “They know not what they do.” Sinner, do you know that, when you sin, eternity is involved in every act? Faith binds me to eternal bliss.’, sin and unbelief fetter me to everlasting woe. Methinks I hear the voice of a spirit which has been these last ten years in Itsdes. Listen! listen! there is a cry, a groan; and now the words are audible: — “ Feel that I was to come here; here am I tortured in agony indescribable that is to go on for ever, — and for what? For a few hours of giddy mirth, for a few silly jokes, that I might indulge my pride rather than submit to the free grace of God. Why am I here? Because I would serve Satan, and God knows that it was a bitter service, and what little sweet it had is all forgotten now.” Do you linear this man as he speaks to himself? “Oh! if I could ever escape from this dreadful dungeon, it, would be a heaven to me. If these awful fires could be quenched, if this gnawing worm would but die, then I would be content, if, after ten thousand, thousand, thousand years, I could hope to make, my escape from this pit of woe, I would set all the bells of my heart a-ringing for very joy at the bare, possibility that, at last, I might escape. But what is it that I see written before me.? For ever! For ever, on my chains; for ever, branded on my limbs of pain; for ever, on you waves of fire; for ever, in the angry gaze of an incensed Deity; for ever, in those hungry depths, which seem to yawn to suck me into deeper woe,; for ever, for ever, for ever, for ever’,” O! drunkard, swearer, whoremonger, when thou sinnest the next time, recollect that the deed thou doest entails everlasting consequences, which will run on for ever, for ever, for ever! Surely, when you have sinned in the past, you must have been ignorant of this overwhelming truth, you could not have known what you were doing.

But have I some here who say that. they do. know what they are doing? They have been. so faithfully warned, so affectionately dealt with, so earnestly prayed for, that, when they sinned, they sinned willfully, knowing what they did. O my dear hearers, that is true of some of you! I have often felt, when I have come out. of the pulpit., that you would be without excuse in the day of judgment. God knoweth that, I have not, shunned to, declare unto you the whole counsel of God, — divine sovereignty in all its absoluteness, and the sinner’s responsibility in all its fullness. I have preached to you the doctrines of grace; but I have not, therefore, kept back the demands of God upon you; and I know that, should you perish, it will neither be for want of preaching, nor of weeping.

Well, sirs, if you do perish with the gospel preached in your ears, you perish fearfully indeed.

Room there, — room, — make way, ye priests of Molech! Stand back, ye followers of Ashtaroth; ye worshippers of Baal, stand back{ Give up your choice seats, the highest places in the synagogue of hell. Make room, for here comes’ a, man who read his Bible, and heard the Word faithfully preached; give him the choicest place. Now cannibals, pirates, and all ye Poor beings who sinned, but knew not what you did, make room; for here comes a man who sinned with God before his very eyes, and blindly rushed upon the spear of the, Almighty when the light, of heaven was shining upon his eyeballs; make room for him, I say. Get up, ye who have been guilty of murder and of the shedding of blood in lands where Christ was never preached; get up, and give place: to this man! “What!” say they, “art thou become, like. one of us?” Yes, say we, not only like, one of you, but deeper than your depth, more fiery than your flames, more horrible than your horrors, shall be the dread, the doom, the destruction of this man of whom it could not be said, “He, knew not what he did.” God here mercy upon you, my hearers; may his sovereign grace be extended toward you; may the lines of his election embrace volt, the blood of Christ’s redemption wash you, the voice of his effectual calling awaken you, and the power of his grace preserve you; or alas! woe unto you, Newington! woe unto you, Southwark! if the gospel preached unto you had been preached in Sodom, it had continued unto this day; and if in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

I have thus tried, in all simplicity, as God’s servant, to expound Christ’s plea: “Father, forgive them; for they know not’ what they do.”

II. Now, very briefly, — but oh, may God grant that it may be with the unction of the Holy One! — let me, speak upon THE UNKNOWN HEIGHTS OF GRACE.

If there were any men in all the world who under the covenant of works, or under that mingle-mangle covenant which some preach, which is half law and half works, and neither- law nor works, — if there were any men who should have been excluded from the election of grace it was those men who nailed the Savior to the tree; and yet., mark this. while Christ did not mention by have the best of the Pharisees, he did mention, before God, particularly and personally, those degraded men who, with many an addition of cruel mockery, nailed him to, the tree’ “Father, forgive them.” He did not, say, “Father, forgive Pontius Pilate. for he sinned unwillingly;” he did not say, “Father, forgive Judas, for he repented, and cast down his ill-gotten gain in the Temple;” but “Father, forgive them.” There they are, — the mark of the nails has not yet gone out, of their hands, there is the print of the head of the nails in the center of their palm even now. Look, the blood of Jesus is on their skirts, the very blood which spurted forth from the Redeemer’s hands when they drove the nails through them; yet he prays, “Father, forgive them.” There they stars; they are grinning at their ghastly work, and saying, “Aha! aha!” and joining with the Ribald crew, and thrusting their tongues into their checks, saying, “He saved others, himself he could not, save.” And yet there is heard, above the clamor of their iniquity which appeals to God for justice, the cry of the Savior, “Father, forgive them.”

There is no consciousness of need of forgiveness in. them,; their hearts are hard as nether millstones; they laugh at the prayer itself. “Forgive!” say they; “we have done many a worse piece, of work than this; we need not to, be forgiven.” They are as cold as ice and stern as steel, and unmalting as the granite rock; and yet, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.” There are, no past, good works to recommend them; they never did a good. thing in their lives; they are soldiers who have slain, every man, perhaps his hundred men; they have learned to spit, the little infant on the sword-blade; they know how to rip up, and tear, and cut, off the head, and rend out the eye; they are men whose deeds of blood muse be written in fire, but whose deeds of goodness never yet have come to light.; and yet Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them.” They are men who, if the gospel were preached to them, would reject, it. If Christ were offered to them, they would refuse him,; if they were moved by some qualms of conscience, they would stifle them; if they were wept over by the minister, they would ridicule, his tears; if they were pleaded for by the Church., they would laugh at the pleadings; and yet the Savior says, “Father, forgive them.” Amid such splendors of grace, where shall I find words to fitly describe them? Language, thou art, a dull, cold thing in such a case as this! Words, ye have not strength enough to carry the mighty meaning of my soul just now! Was there ever grace like this, except, when Jesus prayed for me. and said, “Father, forgive him:” and when he prayed for you, and said, “Father, forgive him”?

O my hearers, when Jesus pleads for us, it, is not because there is anything in, us why he should plead; it, is not. because, we flee. to him that; he pleads for us; it, is, not. because we long for mercy and value it that he pleads for us. He prays for us long before we pray to the. He died for us before we knew anything about, our death in sin; and he lived and pleaded before his Father’s throne when we were cursing, blaspheming, and defying him. Ah, souls, I would that, ye could get rid, once for all, of any idea, that Jesus Christ wants anything in you to move, his bowels of compassion towards you! Where he loves, he loves for his own sake., not because of the worthiness of the object of his love. The source of grace is in the God of grace, not in the receiver of grace. The reason for pardon is not in the penitent, but in the Pardoner. The ground of acceptance is not in our faith, but in Christ, the Author and Finisher of that faith; and hence it is that the gospel is adapted to the worst of sinners, to the scum, the draft, the chaff, the off scouring, the parings, the filth, the vileness, the rottenness, the stench, the offial of the world. Oh, if we had a gospel that was half grace and half human goodness, then the good, the upright, the educated, the refined, the moral, would have some degree of hope, but the poor outcast would have none; but. now, to-night, I preach a gospel which comes right, down to you, just, where you are, in the bog, the, mire, the slough, next, door to hell, lying at hell’s gate; — not like Lazarus when the dogs licked his sores at the rich man’s gate, but. lying at the gate of hell while hell hounds lick your wounds:; — -cast, out from God, abhorred, detested, abhorrent to, yourself, obnoxious to your own conscience; such a sinner that you wish you had never been born, or that you had been a viper, a snake,, a toad, rather than have been a man. Yet can God’s grace reach even you, and “unto you is the word of this salvation sent,.” I do: believe that over such sinners as you Jesus pleads to-night, “Father, forgive them.”

And now, my dear hearers, is there something in you which seems to say, “Unite in that prayer!” Does the Spirit of God whisper in your soul, “Tonight is the hour of mercy; Jesus Christ is passing by; he is interceding for the transgressors”? Then, I pray you say, “Father, forgive me.” What shall my Master say, “Father, forgive him;” and will not you pray for yourself? The adamant might melt, the steel dissolve, and will not you melt? Spirit of God, bring thou the fire, and melt the heart! And now, poor soul, say, “Father, forgive me; I did not know the full guilt of my sin; but I knew enough to make me so guilty that, I deserve thy wrath. I have no merits, Lord; I have no righteousness; if theft dost slay me, thou art, just; if thou dost curse me, I deserve it well; but,, Father, forgive me!” Do not use Christ’s plea.; that is his, not yours. He could say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” You must, use another plea., “Father,

forgive me, through thy Son’s precious blood.” Oh! I think my soul would be ready to leap from earth to heaven if I could but, be sure, that there was someone here who was saying in his heart, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and am no more, worthy to be called thy son;” or if some heart were saying, “By his agony and bloody sweat., by his cross and passion, by his precious death and burial, by his glorious resurrection and ascension. Father, forgive me!” Soul, thy prayer is heard; “go, and sin no more,. Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee,.” Go home, and tell thy friends and thy kinsfolk what God hath done, for thy soul; and, by-and-by, crone here, and tell us what God has done for you; and then come to this communion table, and with us spiritually eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, “for his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed.”

May the Lord add his blessing, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.