Texts: Psalm 127; Ezekiel 34:25-31; Judges 16:16-21
It really came at me from several directions. Most directly it came to me through my
devotions—my prayer was to overcome darkness with light, selfishness with love,
indolence and cowardice with devotion. I
asked the Lord to help me complete my appointed work and to come, at last, to
everlasting life. Then I will truly
rest. It came to me through Baxter’s
work, Saint’s Rest. I’ve been
finishing a few books lately, but not that one.
Indolence? Distraction? Both, I suppose.
Then I picked up the December 20th edition of Time. And, there it was: “Sleep.” We had
learned about sleep at the
Next, the plan of attack for this sermon: I would prayerfully study Psalm 127. That also led me to follow up on a wonderful cross reference to Psalm 4:8:”I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Try to keep those two actions separate: I will lie down in peace and I will sleep because both actions are undertaken in faith, as a direct result of the safety which God alone supplies. Then I would study Spurgeon’s sermon, “The Peculiar Sleep of the Beloved,” based on the word of God. And I would proceed from there to expound on sleep as it pertains to us, the Beloved of God in Christ. So, we will not be concerned primarily with the physiology of sleep, or the psychology of sleep—fascinating though those studies might be—because we will focus on the theology
of sleep as embedded in the Psalms and particularly as sleep pertains to us, the Saints, who are, in Christ, granted precious and peculiar rest.
So there are at least four forms of sleep that it cannot
be said are the gift of God to His beloved.
First, there is the sleep of
carnal security—the false security of the flesh, the kind exemplified
by King Saul sleeping surrounded with armed guards. This “sleep” contrasts sharply with that of
David, the Lord’s beloved, who slept secure because the Lord protected him. However, the sleep of carnal security being
false is delusional. Scripture
accordingly records that during one such slumber, unbeknownst to King Saul,
Abishai, one of David’s mighty men stands beside him with his spear poised as
if to say, “Let me smite him.” David
forbade it. The truth is that Satan
stood next to you, and stands next to some of your friends and associates, the
law of condemnation ready, vengeance eager.
Christ stays him with a “not yet”—we’ll give him another year; perhaps
he will awaken from his sin slumber! So
many, in bondage to sin, slumber on. So
many hang a veil of acceptability over the sinful behavior of those who even
profess to be Christian and yet persist in their sinful addictions—even in
things that are declared to be an abomination to the Lord. And we think it impolite to disturb their
sleep, to draw their attention to their proximity to the brink of everlasting
destruction. Recall Sisera who, having
drunk of milk and honey, lay down to sleep in the tent of Jael, the Hebrew folk
hero, the Lord’s avenger and destroyer of
A second sleep that is not given by God is the slumber of lust. Samson was caught up into this sleep with
Delilah. “Then she lulled him to sleep on her knees.”(v.19) After his drunkenness and debauchery, he
awakens stripped, bound, lost and ruined.
His hair shorn, the vow broken and his strength evaporated, the judge of
The third sleep is the sleep of negligence. Jesus speaks to this in the parable of the five foolish virgins. (Matt. 25:1-13) What distinguished them from the wise is their failure to take extra oil—in case the bridegroom delayed, which he did. They all slumbered, but only the negligent suffered the consequence of missing out on the wedding because they had to go and buy more oil! The sleep of the negligent is the sleep of the sloth and the sluggard: “How long will you sleep, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—So shall your poverty come upon you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man (or a bandit)” (Proverbs 6:9-11) The sleep of negligence is like the harvester who fails to bring in the harvest when it’s due and suffers a loss of the earth’s bounty—it’s like hay left too long in the field. It spoils and is of no use whereas when cut it was most valuable.
The fourth and final sleep not given of God is the sleep of sorrow. This is the slumber that kept Peter, James
and John from their prayers in the
robbed them of their presence with the Lord in the hour of His stated need. It robbed them of the pleasure of meeting His desire. That is not something to simply skirt around and pretend that it never happened. Sorrows are not our friends when they hinder us in these ways. False security, lust, negligence and sorrow are the four negative cases of sleep, sleep that does not come from God as a blessing to His beloved. Let’s not tarry there.
Let’s move on quickly then to consider the positive cases,
to study the wonderful gift of
miraculous sleep which God gives to His beloved. First, we begin with Adam. While he slept, God created woman from the
man and later bestowed upon him Eve. He
went to sleep alone and sorrowful and awoke to the best gift ever—and
remembering that makes every morning a Christmas morning. Miraculous sleep also attended the covenant
ceremony between Abram and God. In a
dream, or trance, he saw the flame and smoldering pot pass between the halves
of the sacrificial beasts. Then, Jacob,
Isaac’s son, was shown in a dream that God can be where you least expect
Him. Jacob saw a ladder into heaven with
angels ascending and descending while he
slept a miraculous sleep. And
Jacob’s son, Joseph, had his infamous dreams of dominance over his other
brothers. That dreamer saw the sheaves bowing
to his sheaf in the fields—while it was more than his jealous brothers could
stand, it did prove to be true to the great relief of all. Centuries later the occurrence of miraculous
sleep continues: with Daniel, whom the Lord stood on his feet to talk to and
with Joseph, Mary’s husband. God spoke
to Joseph through an angel in a dream telling him to flee with the child
Next, we come to the
sleep of a clear conscience. The
examples are legion of heroes of the faith who prior to a great trial, such as
Luther at the Diet of Wurms, or martyrdom such as that of Ridley at
done no wrong. Argyle, friend to Cromwell, slept well before being beheaded in 1661. They are very like Peter who slept soundly between two guards awaiting crucifixion, or execution by Herod—so soundly that he had to be sharply poked by the angel who can to rescue him from prison! When you experience calumny, vicious rumor and are treated to scorn and contempt—object of “the laugh,” the drunkard’s song, this sleep is precious indeed. Those who are in debt, who practice fraud and/or business deceit, who do not love God or Christ and a multitude of others do not know this sleep. For them sin pricks like a thorn in the pillow, a splinter in bed is like the fear of exposure and that is sure to come. Those who carry on like this are not the Lord’s beloved so the sleep of a clear conscience does not belong to them. I must say more: even those who do not know their election, who do not trust in the ransom of Christ for their sins, who have never been called by the Holy Spirit in regeneration, who wonder what it means to be born again—they cannot know this slumber. One may insist that his conscience is quiet, that he’s wronged no man, that he has no great sin. . .and yet, we do know deep down that all this is bluff and posture. We know that our virtues, our good deeds cannot atone for our sins. We know that we also fall short of perfection and so are outsiders to this peaceful and peculiar rest—peculiar to those who trust in Him alone. Do you not know that the wages of sin are death and that the tiniest, single flaw disqualifies us from spiritual perfection. Sin simply must be dealt with and we do not have the means! On the other hand, His beloved know that their sin has been dealt with and that it has been taken away—blotted out by Him. We can sleep well.
Miraculous sleep, the sleep of clear conscience is joined by the sleep of contentment. The beloved lie down satisfied. For the most part, we are a discontented race . . . always on the wing, never settled. This tree is not green enough, or high enough, the view isn’t beautiful enough, or near enough . . . but the Christian lights, abides and builds his nest! The Christian awakens to sing in the morning:
Mortals cease from toil and sorrow
God provideth for the morrow.
Few, outside of those satisfied in Christ, can say, “I want for little, for nothing more . . . I choose to be satisfied and content.” and mean it. We sing beautiful hymns about wanting nothing but Jesus. Christians truly “own” such sentiments, knowing that in having Him we have the best of all! Others ply for advancement: the apprentice wants to become the journeyman, the journeyman the master, and the master wants to retire, to simplify his life. And so it goes on with the worldly, each and all moaning and groaning for this or for that, setting yet another goal, or life marker out—the children educated becomes the children married and settled and so on. Obsessed with the “yet-beyond,” those outside Christ never get to port, never quite hit the mark, nothing is ever enough. But, ah, the contented Christian hath sleep and rests in His Beloved Savior’s provision.
Miraculous, innocent, contented sleep is now joined by the sleep of quietude of soul—as regards the future. The future terrorizes those who know that fame and fortune can fly away. All may dread this transience and none can forestall it. Christians look forward to the future because they know that “What my God appoints is always best.” We truly do have the best to look forward to—even if it’s dark and bitter, with Christ it will be survivable. It will be sanctified by His presence! Christians are determined to choose His will, and to be from selfish bias freed! They, having died to self-will, are not driven as others may be and the sleep of quietude belongs to them.
So we have four forms of sleep that God gives to His beloved and I conclude with the fifth: the sleep of security. We know that God has secured what He will for us. If we are predestined by His foreknowledge, we must be saved . . . if we have been purchased, we shall not be abandoned, or lost . . . our only fear, our sole concern needs to be, do we have it right: am I indeed a child of God. If not,
nothing is secure. If so, everything is secure and a holy confidence is appropriately mine! Taking the latter to be the case, I do sing, with God’s help, above the cares and tribulations of this life. I do so because I know that if He loved me once, He loves me still. God will not change from His love and hate me now. His promises are indeed sure. The picture of Ezekiel 34 is reality for me as the beloved in Christ. I am in that covenant of peace and I dwell in safety in the wilderness, sleeping fearlessly where I was formerly afraid to walk well armed and wide awake. And all this is God’s doing. He has shut the lion’s mouths for me. Blessing abounds, falls in refreshing showers all around. The curse of sweat-earned food is over because the trees yield up their bounty, the earth her increase. The conditions of paradise shall be returned to us, the peculiar and beloved people of God. We will no longer be oppressed; foreign nations will no longer hunt us down. We will not be prey for man or beast anymore. Hunger will be banished because of what the arm of the Lord has done just as in the Promised land He prepared for His Chosen centuries before. All this will come to pass so that the Name of the Lord will be glorified in the precious demonstration of His unsearchable wisdom and gracious love. “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men and I am your God,” says the Lord God.
While this is in some sense future, we enter into these conditions presently when God becomes “our refuge and our strength
. . . our very present help in a time of trouble.” In place of our former spiritual paralysis, whatever our souls’ afflictions, we walk in holy boldness declaring the gospel as we will, when we will, not silenced by the wrath, envy or fear of man. Then our sleep of security folds into a matter of happy dismissal, and we live out with joy the benediction of our faith. Looking back, we may say, to those beloved and departed ones whose bodies have returned to dust, regardless of their grave site—be it in water, air or earth—you shall rise bodily and we shall be all together once again in glory. But this song is not for everyone. For some death will be the beginning of sorrows. Death will be a singular woe, with an infinite succession of others to follow in hell. Some will die unsaved, unprepared and unconverted and for them there remains terrible, shift and irrevocable judgment for their unbelief and for all their unanswered sins. Some have their portion amongst the damned where with Satan, fiends and demons they shall encounter the wrath to come.
You know some who hesitate, who are putting off their decision, afraid, or unwilling to cross that narrow stream. Because your feet have found bottom, call for them to follow. How shall they follow if you hesitate to lead? The bottom is sound, firm, good. If you seriously believe that you belong to the beloved mentioned here, all is well and good. If you do not know, I propose three brief tests: 1.) First: do you read the book and study out the truths of God with zeal? Do you long to know more of Him, more of the truth? Are you a student of God still and forever? Have you seen for yourself that the doctrines you hear expounded here are true? I believe that all our minds will be purged of error before we enter heaven—some of our favorite notions may have to go lest they interrupt the pure harmony and unity of heaven. And go they shall just as surely as unwanted sin is shed from our regenerate bodies in glory. 2.) The second test is vital experience, a keen and real sense of your depravity, inability and death in sin. Against these do you experience that your life is in Christ, that Christ is within you? Do you consciously and intentionally walk in the light, practice forgiveness and love friend and foe? You know if you wrestle with residual sin and corruption, you know even if nobody else does. 3.) The third and final test is this: those who walk in sin, who prefer and practice it habitually are quite simply the devil’s child. Too many are amongst the ranks of those who believe rightly and act wrongly. Pay attention, God knows and is not mocked. If you walk in righteousness, then you know the preferred manner of your path is pleasing to God.
Isaiah 26:3 says: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. So I challenge you to go forth developing your friendship with Jesus Christ and with one another—members of His household and family to one another. Worship and follow the Prince of Peace and no matter what life brings you will be at peace. And your sleep habits will reflect your sweet communion on your bed, your clear conscience, your contentment, your confidence about the future and your soul’s security in Him. Sleep well, beloved, the Lord is your strength, refuge . . . our very present help.
 Thus I have from time to time in my pastoral service to many churches dwelt secure in the wilderness of human relations where slanderers and the inventors of evil carry on. Because God is my refuge and my strength, I am free to let them carry on until they have had their fill of it. Meanwhile I pray, with all the love I can muster, that they will repent and turn and be restored. That’s my blessed hope—especially for those who present themselves brothers and sisters! I am sure you can relate even if you can’t entirely understand such persecution.
 These matters are timely and urgent. So I close exhorting you by the frailty of life, the shortness of time, the dread of eternal consequence, by sins committed and remitted, by pardon sought and pardon gained do all you can to insure that the term “beloved” applies to you—and having done all, rest. I beg you by Christ’s wounds and by His Second Coming as well as by the inescapability of hell and the eternity of heaven . . .yes, by time and by eternity, by all that is good, sacred and true, as you love your own souls, examine yourselves to see whether you are indeed “the beloved,” to whom God gives His peculiar sleep . . . the sleep to which the beloved are entitled which is the foretaste of that eternal rest for which we were originally designed, purposed, made.