So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
~ Jonah 1:6
The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
~ Isaiah 21:11-12, Matthew 16:3, Matthew 24:42-44
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
~ Matthew 25:5-7
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
~ Matthew 26:40-41
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
~ Ephesians 5:14
Professing Christians, Awake!, by Asahel Nettleton. 1845.
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
~ Romans 13:11
The text is addressed to Christians. The language is borrowed from natural sleep in which a person is in a great measure insensible to the objects, and to what is passing around him, but life remains in the body. And thus it is when there is much insensibility to divine things among Christians? they sleep; but life remains in the soul. Language similar is often addressed to sinners; but then the image is borrowed from the dead who sleep in the dust. Hence the exhortation: Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
The wise and the foolish virgins both went forth to meet the bridegroom?and while he tarried they all slumbered and slept. But between the two mark the difference. The one has oil in his vessel, but the other has none. One has life, but the other is dead. Our text then is addressed to the Christian who was dead, but is alive again. To the Christian who is asleep and again bears the image of death. And now it is high time to awake out of sleep.
It is proposed to inquire —
I. When the Christian may be said to sleep.
II. Offer motives which ought to induce him to awake
I. When does the Christian sleep?
1. In general the desires his own case, and begins to consult that, when it comes in competition with duty. Religion is the great business of his life. It imposes on him many duties which are painful and crossing to corrupt nature. Thus the fraternal admonition? Exhort one another daily, lest any one hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him is the command of God. To neglect this and similar duties for fear of incurring reproach, is to indulge in spiritual sloth. You may sit down and rest quietly if you will not disturb your fellow sinners around you with a sight of their sin and danger. This requires no effort. And here thousands resign themselves to rest. Individuals or a church may close their eyes on the conduct of an offender and be silent, and this awful indifference to his soul assumes the name of charity, without lifting a finger to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness. The slothful servant will ever consult his own ease by sinful contrivance to shun duty.
2. As one in sleep is insensible of the objects and to what is passing around him; so in a measure is it sometimes with the Christian. Though not wholly lost to a sense of divine things, yet they make but a feeble or slight impression on his soul. In this frame they go to the house of God, and no wonder they soon forget what they have never felt. Once they saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, but now they walk in darkness? Once they had a feeling sense of the worth of souls and could weep over perishing sinners around them. I beheld the transgressor and was grieved? but now they can endure the sight almost without emotion.
This unhappy state of mind is further evident from their conservation. Once they seemed to be dead to this world? their conversation was in heaven. But now their attention is all engrossed with the world; they converse with ease and cheerfulness about the trifles of time, but on the great things of eternity have little or nothing to say. Or, peradventure they speak on these high and heavenly themes? it is in a dull and lifeless manner. They seem to glance over the mind like trifles. They appear not to take an immediate interest in the subject? They feel not the impressive weight of eternal realities. When this is the case they talk like a person in sleep. He knows not what he says.
3. Another mark of this unhappy state of mind is a reluctance to secret prayer, which very properly, has been styled the breath of the Christian. Has any one continued long without the spirit of prayer, it is a sign that he is asleep. And if not shortly awaked from this breathless state, we shall be compelled to believe that he is dead. How far these, and similar remarks apply to professing Christians present you will understand me, is best known to themselves. One thing is certain. Sure I am it is not my business to cry peace in the ears of any who are sleep.
But I proceed.
II. To offer motives which ought to induce them to awake. And 1st: Consider “the time”. Gospel light is risen upon us. And those who do not open their eyes on the glory of this light must remain in eternal darkness and despair. For if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
The light of heaven is shining upon us. And can you sleep? Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. It is no time to sleep. It is the day that we shall ever witness. The day of salvation? The business of this day will not suffer you to sleep. It calls on you loudly to awake. Think, by brethren, have you nothing to do for yourselves? Have you no sins to repent of? no evil propensities to mortify? Are your evidences of grace bright enough? Do you love God with all your hearts? and are you perfectly conformed to his holy law? In short, are you willing to die as you are? If you have any thing to do for yourselves, it is high time to awake out of sleep. Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
Have you nothing to do for your brethren? Is no brother or sister wandering from the path of duty? Go and in a feeling, friendly manner tell him his fault between him and thee alone. Why hesitate? Delay not. Duty calls. God commands, and love to his soul demands that you go without delay. If he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.
Parents! Where are your children? Are they all brought securely within the ark of safety? Doubtless you pray with them and for them. But this is not all your duty. Have you ever taught them that they are sinners? that they must be born again?and are you urging them to remember their Creator now in the days of their youth? Were you this day called to part with one of your children, could you rest satisfied that you had done your duty? Have you not one word more of instruction, of counsel or warning for your children before you meet them at the bar of God? If so, then it is high time that parents awake to a sense of their duty? that you set your houses in order and prepare for death.
Again? It is high time to awake because others are up and active about us. The men of this world shame us by their conduct. They rise up early, and sit up late. They plan and execute. Labor, fatigue, and hardship are nothing to them if they can but collect a little of this world together before they leave it They are laying up treasures on earth, which the moth and rust will soon corrupt. And shall you not be as earnest to lay up for yourselves a more enduring substance? a treasure in the heavens? They are laboring for that meat which perisheth, but you are called to labor for that which endureth unto everlasting life. Do you not feel reproved by their conduct, to think that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light?
Again? My brethren, you are on the field of battle. And it is high time to awake, for the enemy is up and active about us. The prince of darkness with all the several ranks of evil angels is your enemy. The malice of their legions is directed against the Redeemer’s kingdom in this world. War is declared with all saints. And the legions of hell have gone up upon the breadth of the earth. He is already in possession of the hearts of all wicked men. They are his servants. The devil is styled the prince of this world? The ruler of the darkness of this world. This is the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience? While you sleep these are all sowing tares and destroying about us. Says the captain of your salvation, He that is not with me is against me, he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
Observe; it is not a feeble foe you have to contend with. You are called to wrestle, not merely with flesh and blood, but before the battle is won you will have to grapple and contend with angelic powers? with principalities and powers. Observe, your enemy is crafty. Snares and temptations are laid thick around you, and unless you are wakeful you will certainly be ignorant of his devices. That moment when you let down your watch the enemy began to come in upon you like a flood. While you slept the Philistines be upon you. And I would come to blow the trumpet and sound the alarm. Awake thou that sleepest. Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Think not to find a bed of sloth in the field of battle. Awake and put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore, take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye may be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. Awake, then; for your enemies are many, powerful, and crafty.
Another reason why you should awake is that sinners are perishing around you. While you sleep your example will contribute much to their destruction. Yes, while you sleep the world may now be stumbling over you down to destruction. Little does that ungodly professor of religion think what a train of immortal souls may be following him down to hell. It is a fact not to be concealed that one ungodly professor of religion may do more to prevent the conversion of sinners than many infidels. I know it is most unreasonable that mankind should suffer themselves to be thus forever ruined. It can surely be no consolation to the sinner in hell that he was led there by a hypocrite.
Brethren, is heaven? is hell a fable? If so then let us treat them as such. Or are they eternal realities? Whence then, this silence, this seeming indifference to the souls of men that your fellow sinners should obtain the one and escape the other. Do you verily believe that within a few days you shall be in heaven, singing the song of redeeming love?or in hell with devils and damned spirits forever and ever. Have you ever described your own danger, and fled for refuge from the wrath to come, and do you feel no concern for the souls of men? Or are there no sinners in this place? Have they all become righteous? Do all profess to know the Lord from the Least to the greatest? Is there no prayerless family in this place, on whom God hath declared he will pour out his fury? No prayerless youth to whom God hath said, I will cast thee off forever?
My brethren, if there be one impenitent sinner among us who is in danger of going into that place of eternal torment, can you sleep? One sinner in this house! One inhabitant of hell! Solemn thought! One soul present that will be lost forever. Who can it be? Could you bear to hear the name? Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burning? Have you not reason to believe that many are now living without hope and without God in the word? Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Wherever God designs to pour out his Spirit and to call up the attention of sinners to divine things, he will be inquired of by his children to do it for them. This he has taught us in his Word and often in the language of his providence. It is high time for you to awake out of sleep; for others are awake? sinners at a distance are alarmed?and hundreds are now flocking to Christ. And can you rest? Are there not more souls here to be saved or lost forever? Are they not as precious as ever? And is he not a prayer-hearing God? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is his mercy clean gone forever? And will he be favourable no more? No, my brethren, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear? Come then, ye that make mention of the Lord keep not silence, if ye speak not to warn the wicked; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand.
Brethren, how is your zeal for the salvation of souls compared with that of the Son of God? He beheld the city and wept over it? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
“Did Christ o’er sinners weep?
And shall our tears be dry?”
How is your zeal compared with that of Paul? I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh? Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. There is a dreadful storm of divine wrath coming upon the world of the ungodly. It is high time to awake out of sleep, for their damnation slumbereth not.
Again? Consider how long you have slept and you will see that it is high time to awake? How many months? And of some may we ask, How many years have you slept in God’s vineyard? And still you continue on sleeping away the day of salvation. Let me tell you that your sleep is awfully dangerous? If not shortly awaked God in anger will say: Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see.
Further, Consider what time of day it is with you and you will see it is high time to awake. How long has your sun been up? Your best season is already gone. With some, I perceive, the sun has already passed its meridian. Yes, it is now hastening its rapid descent. Aged fathers, Your sun is now casting its last beams upon the mountains. Yet a little while is the light with you. Work while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work. If then you have any work to do?any word to leave for your brethren, or your children, they are now waiting to hear. Delay not, for while I am speaking night is coming on. What soever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.
The believer ought to awake and take a view of the glorious prospect that lies just before him. Come then ye mourning pilgrim? you who have long traversed the wilderness asking the way to Zion? You who have long laboured and prayed and groaned to be delivered from the bondage of sin, your struggles for eternal life shall have an end. Look up? and lift up your head, for behold, your redemption draweth nigh. It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is your salvation nearer than when you believed. Nearer than it was last year. Nearer than it was the last Sabbath? nearer than ever, on all the wings of time it flies. This night you may wake up amid the song of angels? and a crown of glory, of eternal life, may be placed on your head.
“Short is the passage, short the space
Between my home and me;
There, there behold the radiant place?
How near the mansions be!”
Awake then and behold the glorious dawn of a bright new day. Where the sun shall no more go down: neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Finally, It is high time to awake, for all who do not awake in time, will suddenly awake in hell. There is great danger of being deceived and thus only dreaming of heaven. The Christian can never sleep sound, but is always disturbed. I sleep, says the church, but my heart waketh. He cannot sleep long. He will soon be affrighted and wake up awfully alarmed. But others sleep sound. They are at ease in Zion. They neither weep for their sins, nor rejoice in hope of the glory of God. There hope of heaven is a pleasant dream which cannot be broken. And here they sink down into a deep sleep.
The Christian church is a net which gathers of every kind. Ten virgins professed to be followers of Christ. Of this number, five only were real Christians. Many are called, but few are chosen. Many will go to the bar of God with hopes no better than the spider’s web. Many who now commune together on earth will never meet in heaven. Many who now appear to us to be real Christians, will, no doubt to our surprise, be found on the left hand of Christ.
The sinner having professed religion with a false hope can hardly be driven to give it up. The hope of the hypocrite is like the giving up of the ghost. What meanest thou, O sleeper! If ye will not now awake, by the worth of your soul, I entreat you to fling away your hope of heaven. For there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
Better fling away your hope, and conclude you are lost than to sleep any longer, for then will you awake in earnest to inquire, What must I do to be saved? Watch therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping? At midnight the cry will be made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh. Then will there be great confusion. For thousands will be deceived. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed.
These things saith he that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (Rev. 3:1-3)
And now it is time to awake out of sleep, because many will be forced to awake when suddenly they will lift up their eyes in hell being torment.