“Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” is essential to the health and vigor of body and mind. But our moral and spiritual natures need no sleep. Love, faith, hope, humility need never slumber. Hence in Heaven we shall be able to serve God day and night. The spiritual will have the supremacy. The untiring will be forever active.
In the 9th verse of the previous chapter Israel is trying to wake up Jehovah. “Awake, awake; put on strength, O arm of the Lord.” The words of our text is God’s answer to that prayer. “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.” “Wake up yourself,” says the Lord. “I am not asleep. No attribute of mine needs repose. I am ready, willing, waiting to exert my power, whenever you fulfill the conditions I have imposed.” We have not by prayer or exertion to induce God to bless us. But prayer and exertion God requires for our good. It would be no kindness in Him to bless sleeping Christians. They would not know it, if He did. Let us inquire:
I. What are the signs of sleep?
II. What are the causes of sleep?
III. Why should we awake?
I. The Signs of Sleep
Inactivity. If a man remains motionless on the lounge for three or four hours, I take it for granted that he is asleep. If he should continue in that motionless condition for three or four days, I should pronounce him dead. If a Christian does nothing for Christ, he is asleep. If he persists in his course of uselessness, it is a fair presumption that he is no Christian at all. Life will express itself. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And the ability to sleep is not one of the fruits. If we suspect that a friend, a long while asleep, is dead, we put our ear to his side and listen for the heart-beat and breathing. The movement of the heart and lungs indicates that life is not extinct. And so we put the test to some Christians who really appear to be dead. A close examination shows that they have the heart-beat of faith in Christ, love for His word and people. They breathe prayer and praise. They are simply asleep, and some of them have the Rip Van Winkle power of long continuance in slumber. It is a pity that a close examination should ever be necessary to distinguish their sleep from death. Were they doing their duty, no one would have a doubt on the subject.
Insensibility to Slight Impressions. If I wished to learn whether a man were asleep, I would not fire a cannon over him. Awake or asleep, he would be aroused by that. I would whisper to him or touch him gently. The fact that you are startled by the cannon-boom of great crime, that you shudder at the thought of theft, murder or lying, is no proof that you are awake. But how are you affected by what the world calls little sins? Things that are not criminal, but simply worldly, doubtful, unscriptural, un-Christ-like? The Christian who can indulge without compunction of conscience what may do harm in the way of weakening his influence or causing his brother to stumble is asleep. The man who refuses to obey Christ, just because that act of obedience does not give him heaven, is asleep. Disobedience of any kind makes the wide-awake Christian smart with pain.
Dreams. Sleep produces dreams. And there is a kind of dreaming that is good for us. It is well to dream of doing great things for God and humanity. Such castles in the air have become solid structures. But the dreaming which expresses itself in idle speculation and mystical revery is a sure sign of sleep. It is not uncommon for a sleeping Christian to have a nightmare. He gorges himself with some infidel book or magazine, and no wonder he feels the weight of a black mountain of doubt pressing upon him. Giant Despair, with his foot upon his breast, is crushing the light out of him. If you fill your mental stomach with such pork and cabbage, you may expect to suffer the consequences.
Ill-directed Effort. People talk and walk in their sleep, but it is all to no purpose. Their talk is incoherent, and their walk without aim. When pastor and people, with all their preaching and activities, have no blessing, it is because they are asleep.
II. Causes of Sleep
Inactivity. The sign may in turn be a cause. One is not apt to go to sleep while he is moving about. I know a good deacon who leads a very active life during the week, but when he becomes quiet in church, he usually goes to sleep in about fifteen minutes. I never knew him to fall asleep while busy on the street or in his office. A Christian active in winning souls will not go to sleep. His activity will keep him awake. My drowsy brother, if you would not go to sleep, bestir yourself. Go to work. Exercise your mental, moral and spiritual limbs.
Atmosphere. Certain climates put people to sleep. The sleepy disease of Africa has been fatal to thousands. But one need not go to Africa to be put to sleep by the atmosphere. An ill-ventilated room will send us to dreamland in a few minutes. A change from the sea-coast to the mountains or from the mountains to the sea-coast, strange to say, makes us drowsy. No one knows what there is in such pure atmosphere that produces sleep. So there are moral and social atmospheres that seem to be very good, but Christians who go into them fall asleep. Prove to me that the atmosphere of the theater, the ball-room and the club are as good as the prayer-meeting; that first-class people go to these places; that men and women whose characters are above reproach patronize them; the fact remains that these good people are, as Christians, sound asleep. They are not awake to winning souls, converting the heathen, building up the church. They come to church on Sunday like people rubbing their eyes and trying to rouse from sleep long enough to hear something that is being said to them, and then fall back upon their pillows, dead asleep again. The church full of such excellent people would be a dormitory; and a dormitory full of practical purposes is about as good as a cemetery. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead.”
There is a coldness, if nothing else, in these atmospheres that induces sleep. The sensation of freezing to death is delightful, and causes little alarm to the man who is under its magic spell. Mr. Egerton Young, missionary among the Indians of the far North, told me that he had once the experience of freezing. He heard sweetest music, while every thing about him was draped in the colors of the rainbow. He could hardly resist the temptation to drop down on the snow as into a luxurious couch, and go to sleep. Startled by the thought that he was freezing to death, he adopted a heroic remedy. He tied the tail-rope of his sled fast around his waist and gave his dogs the word to go, and off they went, dragging him through the snow and bumping him against every hard thing in the way, till the blood began to circulate. Then the process of resuscitation was as painful as the freezing was delightful. He felt as if a hot awl were in every nerve. To you who are in the first stage of freezing, because you have been so long in an atmosphere sixty degrees below zero, the waking process may not be pleasant. But it is better to wake up and feel bad than to sleep on and die to all that is good and useful.
III. Let Us Look Now at the Reasons Why We Should Wake Up.
It is Harvest Time. Christ looked out upon the fields and declared that they were ripe, waiting for the sickle. Today the fields are larger and the grain just as ripe. A day in harvest is worth many days at any other time of the year. The ripe grain may be lost for the lack of reapers. “He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.” Shame, shame on the farmer who snoozes under the shade of the trees, while his ripe wheat is falling and being trampled under foot. He is a disgrace to the honorable profession of farming. Shame, shame, a thousandfold, on the Christian who sleeps on and takes his rest, while the fields in which he might reap many golden sheaves are all around him, and the grain that invites his sickle is being trampled by the hoofs of infidelity and sin.
It is a Time of War, and the Enemy is Wide-awake. While we sleep, the citadels of truth are being taken. Our very children are made captives by they enemy. We have read a grim story in which Satan is said to have sent some of his minions from the bottomless pit for the purpose of doing all the harm they could. On their return one of them reports that he had overtaken a company of Christians in a storm and destroyed them by sinking their vessel. “You did no harm,” said Satan, “for they all went straight to heaven.” Another had set fire to property and destroyed much wealth that belonged to Christians. “You may have done no harm,” continued Satan, “for their losses make them all the more determined to fight against us.” Finally one reported that he had succeeded in putting to sleep a large number of Christians. Then Satan smiled, and all the host of devils shouted their approval. The legend has in it the awful truth that nothing can do the cause of Christ more harm than for His people to go to sleep.
We are Watchmen, Placed by the Lord on the Walls to Give the People Warning. Sleep is treason. For the private soldier to fall to sleep in the midst of battle is bad enough, but for the sentinel on whom depends the safety of the army to sleep at his post is criminal. And doubly criminal is it, when those we love are in danger. A father walked out through the fields with his little bright-eyed boy, and laid down to rest in an inviting shade. He fell asleep, while the child played in the grass around him. But on waking, he could not see the boy. He called, and only echo answered. Frantic with dread, he rushed to the edge of a precipice, and saw on the rocks below the mangled form of his darling child. Could he ever forgive himself for sleeping, when he ought to have known the nearness of the danger? Father, mother, that may be your portrait. Are you at ease in your mind, sound asleep, while your children are sporting on the edge of the precipice of infidelity, drunkenness, or worse? Wake up, and seek their salvation.