The Perils of Insidious Sleep

by J. H. Jowett

About the Author: John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) was born in Halifax, England, and educated at Edinburgh University and Oxford. He pastored large congregations on both sides of the Atlantic, serving many years at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. A master-craftsman of sermons, Jowett clearly stated his themes and developed these central truths in precise and forceful phrases. He was called the greatest preacher of his time in the English-speaking world. Along with his numerous books of sermons and meditations, J. H. Jowett is known for his commentaries on the Pauline Epistles.
 

"I think it meet to stir you up by putting you in remembrance" (2 Peter 1:3).

The peril suggested by the Apostle is an insidious sleep. His readers were not inclined to any deliberate revolt from the truth. They were not meditating any act of open and avowed treachery. But they were in danger of almost unconsciously dropping their enthusiasm, of losing the keenness of their discipleship, and of subsiding into a fatal sleep.

The Apostle therefore seeks to "stir them up," to keep them awake, to preserve their vivid apprehension of truth and their sense of the glory of the grace of Christ. J. H. JowettThis perilous sleep, which so easily encroaches upon the Christian life, may be induced in many ways:

1. There is a sleep which is begotten of familiarity with the truth.

That which once startled us may ultimately minister to a deeper slumber. The Christmas bells awoke me in the hours of night, but I lay awake until they lulled me into sleep again. The alarm bell which originally stirred us into the brightest vigilance may act at last as a lullaby to lead us into deeper sleep.

Is not all this equally true as to our familiarity with Christian truth? Here in the Word of God we have pictures of the life of Christ, revelations of His mind and disclosures of His heart. We may become so familiar with them that our attention goes to sleep. The familiar vision ceases to arrest our attention. What do we need? We need to "stir up the mind," to put some force behind it, to direct it in a strong, fresh, eager inquisitiveness. We need to put it into the attitude of "asking," "seeking," "knocking," and the familiar presence will reveal itself in unaccustomed guise.

The Book promises its wealth to the wakeful. There is no book that has more to say about "unfolding," "revealing," "manifesting," "showing," or "declaring," and the only condition is that the spectator should be an ardent seeker, stirring up his mind in eager and determined quest.

2. There is a sleep which is begotten by settled opinions.

There is a very suggestive sentence in one of John Stuart Mill's essays, which will enable me to make my meaning perfectly clear: "The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors." That is to say, a decided opinion may make a man thoughtless about his opinion and may induce a mental sleep. It frequently happens, that when a man has attained a decided opinion, he ties a bit of tape about it, puts it away in a pigeon hole, and lapses into unconscious slumber. He leaves off thinking about it.

What is the issue? We lose a thing when we cease to think about it. It is well to have decided thoughts, but it is bad and fatal to stop thinking. There is need in every life for a fresh stream of thought to be continually playing about the most cherished opinions, principles, and beliefs. When the photographer is developing his plate in a dark room, he keeps the liquid in constant motion, moving over the face of the plate, bringing into clearer outline its hidden wealth. Our thought should be continually moving over the face of truths and beliefs, bringing out into discernment lines and beauties never before conceived. Let us "stir up our minds" and turn the stream of our thought on to our accepted beliefs and our decided judgements, that the wealth of these may not remain stationary, but may reveal more and more of the hidden wisdom of grace.

3. There is a sleep which is begotten by failure.

Success can make a man sleep by making him cocksure, but a perilous sleep can also be begotten of failure. When repeated disappointment visits the life, when the "wet blanket" is frequently applied to our fervent ambitions and enthusiasm dies out, the life is inclined to a most dangerous sleep. How many there are who were once awake and enthusiastic in the ministry of Christian instruction who are now sunk in the indifference of a profound sleep? The unattractive lives to which they ministered were never transfigured. The desert never revealed even a tiny patch blossoming like the rose. And so their enthusiasm smoldered. They went to sleep.

Is not this the peril that the Apostle Paul anticipated for young and enthusiastic Timothy? He was beginning his Christian discipleship, fervent, hopeful, optimistic, with the eager consecration of his entire strength. The Apostle knew that disappointment would confront him, that cold water would be thrown upon his enthusiasm and the young recruit would be exposed to the indifference of a fatal sleep.

"Stir up the gift that is in thee." Stir it into flame! Keep your first love ardent and vigorous. Let disappointment only deepen your consecration, and failure keep you near the well-spring of eternal life.

4. There is a sleep which is begotten by the enchanted ground.

When difficulties appear to have vanished from our life, when there is no lion in the way, and the precipitous hills, that took so long to climb, are away back on the far horizon, then we are in imminent peril of a most dangerous sleep. John Bunyan, in Pilgrim's Progress said, "I saw then in my dream that they went on till they came to a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy. And here Hopeful said unto Christian, ‘I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes. Let us lie down here and take a nap.' ‘By no means,' said Christian, ‘lest sleeping, we never awake more. Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober.'" And how did these two pilgrims contrive to keep themselves awake as they journeyed over the enchanted ground? "Now then," said Christian, "to prevent drowsiness, let us fall into good discourse." Bunyan summed up their conversation in this marginal note, "Good discourse prevents drowsiness." They told each other the story of God's redeeming grace. They reviewed the miracles of the Lord's mercy.

That is the secret of safety for any traveler over the enchanted ground. Tell yourself, or others, the early story of the Lord's dealings with you. Stir up your mind with a rehearsal of the wonders and favors of God, and so far from lapsing into sleep, you shall be kept awake in a grateful song. The grace of the Lord will occupy your heart with such intensity that spiritual lapse will be impossible.

"Watch therefore…lest, coming suddenly, He find you sleeping."