Psalm cxxvii. 2
"He Giveth His Beloved Sleep."
by John Dickie
GOD is the most cheerful of givers. He openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing. He giveth always; he giveth to every one; and he giveth without upbraiding. How blessed, then, must their portion be, who lie nearest to the heart of this giving God! Yes, indeed, they are truly happy; for to those who are his beloved he giveth sleep.
Sinful creatures cannot sleep. Uneasy and dissatisfied; out of harmony with themselves, with their fellows, with their circumstances; and, worst of all, out of harmony with God—"there is no rest, saith my God, to the wicked." In another, and a bad sense, the world is sound asleep (1 Thess. v. 6), while the children of God alone are wakeful; but in the sense in which the word is used in this psalm, the world knows not what it is to sleep. They rise up early, they sit up late, they eat the bread of sorrows; but the soft, refreshing, holy sleep of faith is impossible to them. None but the man who has David's God to watch him can say with David, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety."
This safe and holy sleep of heart includes in it two things— perfect confidence in our Divine Keeper, and perfect acquiescence in his sovereign will. If either of these be wanting, sleep is impossible; if either be imperfect, the sleep will be disturbed and broken; but if both be cherished, the peace of God shall keep the heart, and the happy soul shall be able to lie down to sleep in front of ten thousands of enemies, who have set themselves against it round about" (Ps. iii. 5, 6).
And this faith in God has, as its first element, an assured trust in his almighty power. Do you believe, my reader, that God is perfectly able to keep you safe, equally, and amid all dangers? Nay, do not turn to your creed, to see whether the doctrine stands as a proposition there; but turn to your heart, to see whether you can calmly count on the almighty power of your heavenly Father amid every danger. Does the preserving power of God seem as real a thing to you as the danger which threatens you; and can you therefore look forth on the threatened trouble as one whose safe asylum is beneath the shelter of the Almighty wing? Alas! while the creed of each of us is quite far enough in advance on such a point as this, our happy enjoyment of the truth too often lags far behind.
Another element of this faith in God is trust in his unerring wisdom. Like the preceding, the doctrine, as a doctrine is in every one's creed; but it is a reality and a power in the life of very few. What, otherwise, is the meaning of all those disappointed complainings, which certainly seem to go a good way towards charging God foolishly? Why those prayers, far from being rare, which seem to be based on the fear that God has made a mistake in arranging our lot; and which have for their burden, the entreaty that he revise and reverse his arrangement? My brother, be sure of this, that God never mistakes. He who has his mighty hand busy in all that befalls us, is working to a glorious plan; and he is working, too, in perfect wisdom. We cannot understand the vast reaches of his skill, but he understands them all himself; and our only becoming attitude at present, is one of unbounded confidence in the wisdom of our heavenly Guide. As a mere doctrine, this doctrine stands, indeed, in every creed; but the actual and abiding faith of it would change the aspect of most of the professor’s lives, as much as the sun of spring revives the winter fields.
And, as another element of this faith in God, we must add the most assured confidence in his tender love, "as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of his eye." In Christ Jesus, the whole love of his whole heart rests upon his beloved children. And why should we ever doubt this? If words can assure us, if an oath can confirm us, if acts of unwearied goodness can convince us—how could God have spoken more plainly, or sworn more solemnly, or acted more kindly than he has done? Let us be ashamed of our mistrust; and let us lie down in peace to sleep the sleep of God's beloved, taking this for our pillow, that our sleepless Keeper is our Father, "All-wise, All-mighty, and All-good."
But, in addition to faith in God's power, love, and wisdom, there is needed, for this holy sleep, unquestioning submission to his sovereign will. Ah! there is nothing more trying to the natural heart than this. We shall err greatly, if we fancy that in dealing with others, or in the prayerful cultivation of our own hearts, we have to do only with the grievous tendency to self-righteous confidence in our own feelings or doings. An equal, possibly often a greater danger, lies in self-will. We are prone, indeed, to put our own doings in the place of Christ's doings; but we are just as prone to put our own wills in the place of God's will. The one, as well as the other, dishonours God, and breaks up our sleep of peaceful faith. We have no right to a will of our own, apart from God's will; and though he has gifted us with the glorious attribute of will, it is only that we may exercise the noblest service of the creature, by subordinating our wills to his, and responding to every act of his dealings with us, our most hearty and joyous Amen. He never meant us to choose for ourselves, to set up our individual wills in rivalry to his. God's will must be to us, as it is to him, and as it is to every holy being in the universe—the one sovereign will. "Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven." For this have we been redeemed from the earth, that life hence-forward, should be to us but a doing the will of God (Heb. x. 36). For this, have we been renewed after the image of Christ, that, like him, we may find our meat and our drink in doing the Father's will. Ah! my troubled brother or sister, search and see whether most of the bitterness of your sorrow does not arise from this, that God's will is unwelcome to you because it sets aside your own. How can you be happy while you are cherishing this spirit of rebellion, and preferring your own likings to the good and wise and holy will of God? Give up the sinful struggle. Say "Amen" to God's choice for you; say it in the dark; and say it without having any other reason for saying it but only this— it is God's will, and because it is his will, it shall be also mine. And so saying, you shall at once enter into a rest so calm, so sanctifying, so far above all that you have reached in your unbelieving conflict, that you shall thank God for preparing such a sleep for his people, a sleep that can be reached only through perfect faith and perfect patience. "Whenever I can say, 'Thy will be done,' " says Henry Martyn, "it is like throwing ballast out of an air balloon; my soul ascends immediately, and light and happiness shine around me."
This, alas! is not the temper of fallen man—it is not our own spirit by our first nature. We have fallen so far from God, that, when left to ourselves, there is no will in the universe that has less weight with us, in influencing our choice, than God's will. Instead of bowing before it, in self-abandoned worship, as all holy creatures do, it is neglected, despised, opposed in every variety of ways; and this quite as much by the moral and the educated, as by the immoral and the ignorant. Not only under the pressure of strong temptation will man dare to set aside his Maker's will, but he will do it when there is scarcely any temptation at all. For a compliment or for a jest, he will trample on the awful law of God; nay, in mere wanton recklessness, he will oppose God's will for the opposition's sake. The most august and venerated authority in heaven—the holy will of God—is to wicked man on earth no authority whatever. It can scarcely constrain a moment's pause, as he tramples over it to reach the gratification of some of his least imperious cravings. Now, what but misery can come out of all this rebellion; and misery, too, in proportion to the whole-hearted eagerness with which man seeks his own will, in preference to the will of God? It is from this life of sin and misery that grace is designed to set us free; and it does actually free us in proportion to the singlehearted simplicity of our faith. In Christ Jesus we are brought into a new standing before God; and by the Holy Spirit, we are really enabled to feel and to act, in some degree, consistently with this new relationship. To a soul thus enabled to behold God in the face of Jesus, nothing is so beautiful as the Divine character; and no blessedness seems comparable to the blessedness of lying absolutely at the loving disposal of such a Being. All that he is is seen to be so lovely, and all that he does is so loving, that the believing soul cannot but count it all joy to have his concerns taken out of his own hands, that they may be arranged by his heavenly Father. He knows that someone must hold the reins; and he sees that God alone has the right to do it, and that God alone can be trusted to do it, so as not to make the interests of one, be advanced at the expense of another. Unbelief, having no higher end in view than its own selfish ends, and knowing no better guardian of these than itself, would fain guide its own path; but faith, having higher interests in view, rejoices to commit them all to the direction of a better guide. The spirit which we now speak of is not so much submission, as it is sleep. It is not the case of a soul constrained to accept of rule because it cannot help it, but which would, nevertheless, choose to be otherwise if it could; it is the happy attitude of a soul that so realizes its own ignorance, and weakness, and sinfulness; and so realizes, too, the wisdom, power, love, and faithfulness of God, that it rejoices unspeakably in being made the child of such a Father, and, resting in his paternal care, lies down to sleep. It would not have God's will altered, or even modified, for all the world. Even in deepest trial it can say, with Richard Williams dying of hunger on the coast of Patagonia, "I have no longer a choice, when I know his holy will."
How many are there who name the name of Jesus, and who yet know nothing of this sweet sleep of God's beloved! They may have more, or they may have fewer, of what are thought to be the marks of God's children; but this they have not—they never sleep. Their hands are full, and sometimes over-full, of work; their mouths are filled with good words; their feet are weary with ceaseless travail; but they have, in no true sense, entered into rest. Why is it so? They have never sought it in the way of faith. They have learned, perhaps, a great deal about Christ, but only in the smallest measure have they learned Christ." They do not fully know the greatness of the work of love which brought Jesus here; neither do they understand how completely he finished this work which his Father gave him to do. They think more of themselves and of their doings than they should, and they think too little of Christ. They have not learned him so as to make him all and self nothing. They know a little about duties, so they try to do them; and some little about dangers, so they try to avoid them; but the duty of accepting the childlike sleep of God's beloved, they have never thought of, and the danger of self-will and self-reliance, they very imperfectly apprehend. Oh, that they would hearken to God, as he tells them the thoughts of peace which he has been thinking of them; and that they would follow the hand which beckons them towards the perfect rest, which Christ has prepared for all the beloved of the Father!
It is always perfectly safe to sleep under the shelter of God's wing. The Bible teaches us this on every page. Troubled and timid soul, fear no danger, however threatening, if thou be really in the place of obedient trust. He that is keeping thee never slumbers. Leave God's providence to his own management; let his promise suffice thee, and he shall assuredly make all the promise good. Hitherto, thy safety has never depended on thine own unbelieving wakefulness, but on thy Father's unwearying care; therefore, sleep when he bids thee. Yes, sleep; for in one sense God reigns as absolutely on earth as in heaven. Nothing is done without him. His government is a reality, though for the present it is hid beneath the thinnest veil—a veil, however, that is thick enough to hide his hand from every eye but that of faith.
This sleep of the believing heart is not only the great essential of present happiness, but is also our chief sphere of service. God is never honoured by our self-reliant labours as he is by our self-forgetting sleep. The perfect repose of the satisfied affections upon his love, and the perfect acquiescence of the creature's will in the holy sovereign will of God, is, of itself, the foremost kind of service, as well as a great help to every other kind. Then let no one complain that he has nothing wherewith to serve his Lord. You can serve him with what you have; and man or angel can do nothing more. If your strength does not give you opportunity for labour, your very weakness gives you opportunity for patience. If your poverty forbids you to lay thousands at his feet, it does not forbid you to bring the better offering of a resigned will. If you can do nothing else, you can honour your Saviour by your peaceful sleep. Paul's midnight song, ringing cheerfully through the prison, pled as powerfully for Christ as Paul's most eloquent discourses could have done; and, ere now, the joy of some unlettered martyr at the stake has done more, to convince the world, than some gifted brother's contendings for the faith. Sing, then, to God in your deepest trial; lie down to sleep amid circumstances where distracted nature would be driven to extremity; and God will surely make your lowly services fruitful it blessing to yourself and others. He delights to use the feeblest means for the accomplishment of the grandest ends. He who builds a prison-house for the raging ocean with the tiniest grains of sand, has again and again done more with the prattle of some dying infant than with the wisdom of the wisest sage. If, then, we cannot aspire to the wise man's wisdom, let us be content with the better wisdom of the little child. Let us set ourselves to learn the wondrous meaning of the Master's oft-forgotten lesson, when he took a child, and set him in the midst of the disciples, saying, "Behold, your model."
"The sleep of his beloved, much more with God will do.
Than when the wicked wake and pray the whole night through."
We need to pray for the spirit of holy sleep, and we need equally to watch against every frame of mind that would disturb it. Nothing whatever is so easily spoiled as this sleep of soul. More readily startled than "the roes and the hinds of the field," we must walk as carefully as the cautious huntsman, if we would not stir up the soul from its peaceful sleep of faith. Worldly cares will do it. "A dream cometh through the multitude of business" (Eccles. v. 3;) and this dream will suffice to break the sleep we speak of. Wealth, with its consequent disturbances, will also hinder, unless very nicely managed; for the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep this sleep (Eccles. v. 12;) The cares of this life that are so apt to be engendered by poverty, will also hinder, if the poor one does not cast all his cares on God. The wishing for this, and the shrinking from that, the restlessness of desire, and the indulgence of self-will, all of these, in any degree, will render our sleep of faith impossible. Nay, the very grace that is in a soul, at least the low measures of that grace, may help to keep the soul from resting. It was because of his faith that Jacob so valued the birthright and the blessing; but it was because this faith was so feeble, that he took his own most unhappy methods of securing them. Had he been un-believing, like Esau, he would have despised both the birthright and the blessing; while, if his faith had been simpler, it would have led him to wait patiently on God for the promised bestowal of them. And these things are written for our example, for the same dangers beset us every day. Let us, then, ask from our gracious Father an increase of faith, and such increase as shall enable us to cast our every interest on him, while we calmly sleep the sleep which he giveth to his beloved.
"But I cannot sleep," groans some afflicted one; "my circumstances are such as to render sleep impossible. I am full of tossings to and fro, unto the dawning of the day." Perhaps it may be so, my troubled brother; still, it is not your circumstances that make you restless, but your unbelief. Peter, expecting to be put to death on the morrow, slept soundly in his prison. "Feel my pulse," said Argyle, as he stood beside the block on the scaffold; and when the doctor felt it, he declared that it beat more calmly than his own. If you will look around, you will find that the happiest of disciples, the souls who are sleeping most quietly under the shadow of the Almighty, have been trained, every one of them, in the school of sharp affliction, and have been taught their Saviour's sympathy through the extremity of their sorrow. "Tribulation worketh patience;" and the most Christ-like patience is wrought in us only through Christ-like sufferings. "Thou crushest me, O Lord, but it is enough that it is thy hand," said Calvin, dying. "When thou wilt, how thou wilt, what thou wilt," said Baxter in similar circumstances. "Why do you ask me what I like? I am the Lord's patient, and cannot but like everything," said Simeon of Cambridge. "Pray for me," wrote Dr. Samuel Brown, two weeks before his death, "pray for me, not for cure or alleviation—these are mean things to ask from a Father in heaven—but that his perfect will be accomplished in me." "If it should be a year of sickness and of pain, if a year of family affliction, if it be my dying year, welcome the holy will of God," wrote Matthew Henry in his diary. "I would lie against my own soul if I should deny that I would rather have a cross of his choosing for me, than a crown of my own choosing for myself," says Thomas Boston. And the testimony of every one, who has ever slept this sweet sleep of faith, assures us that circumstances have nothing whatever to do with the perfect peace in which God keeps him whose mind is stayed on him. Amid the most sorrowful of circumstances, simple faith and fervent love can find all the elements of a present heaven; while, on the other hand, there is no earthly lot so comfortable that unbelief and self-will cannot make it a nest of troubles. Circumstances, in themselves, have no power to make us either happy or miserable; that depends altogether on the spirit in which these circumstances are met. It is only while we keep our place on Christ's bosom, folded there like helpless lambs, and touched on every side with the pressure of his mighty arms; it is only when we weigh our dangers against his power to guard us, and look at our sorrows in the light of his love which sends them, that we can glorify God by sleeping the sleep of his beloved.
"One good I covet, and that good alone—
To do thy will, from selfish motives free;
And to prefer a cottage to a throne,
And grief to comfort, if it pleases thee."
Many of us may frequently have been struck, on witnessing the death-beds of believers, or on reading their experiences, to observe the extraordinary measures in which, just before the end, this sleep has been enjoyed. Many who have scarcely known this sleep during an active life, have been led into its holy calm upon a dying bed. Perhaps the man had been for years a disciple, humble and sober-minded; but with little of the joy of the Lord in his heart, and with too little of the fire of Pentecost either in life or tongue; and yet this man, when he comes near his end, is not unfrequently found to be filled with a quiet peace, never so abundantly enjoyed before; and to have his heart glowing with a holy zeal, which he was never thought to have been capable of feeling. Why is this? Ah! the problem is easily solved; and the solution of it leads us to deplore the dark side of this cloud, as well as to admire the golden. We had never, till now, slept the sleep of God's beloved. Like Martha, he had been troubled about many things, and cumbered with his much serving. He had Christ, to be sure, to serve and to enjoy; but then he had also something else. There was the business to be attended to, and the family to be cared for, and so many other lawful things to be gone about; and then he took such a burden of all these things, that the heavy-laden heart had never found out the rest of Jesus, the perfect peace that flows from committing one's way to God, and then after that "trusting also in him." Christ was therefore to him, practically, rather like the moon among the stars, the greatest and brightest object in his sky; but Christ was never to him like the mid-day sun, the solitary luminary whose brightness quenches the light of every other. But now the mournful mistake is happily rectified. With dying eyes, he has seen his stupendous guilt and folly. He confesses it with tears, and gladly accepts forgiveness. His family, his business, his everything, are now, in confiding faith, cast on the Lord; not because he loves his dear ones less, but because he can trust his covenant Father more. Freed from every selfish care, he can accept now the sleep which God gives to his beloved. Alas, that he had not done this thing some twenty or thirty years before, when he first formally surrendered himself into his Saviour's hands! and then his life, instead of being the undecided, fruitless thing it has been, might have shone like a lamp in a dark corner, and commended Christ, both to saint and sinner. And alas, too, that we who stand around such beds, so seldom learn the lesson which God is teaching us through a dying brother's lips! or is he not telling us to go and do at once, this very duty which our departing friend mourns that he left so long undone?
Before concluding, it will be proper to observe that there is a spurious sleep as well as a genuine; and that the spurious is the more easily attained. Satan, ever on the watch to weaken or to destroy, will readily present himself as a substitute for the Holy Spirit, to become our comforter. But his sleep is not holy sleep, it is shameful sloth. It is the child, not of clear-eyed faith, which endures as seeing Him who is invisible, but of blind unbelief, which never sees God at all. It is a sleep not only of the earth, earthy, but it is one of the most groveling forms of sinful self-pleasing. It grows best on the world's most worthless soils. The genuine rest which we speak of is a working rest. It is a rest from sin, from self, from unbelieving cares, from rebellious self-will, that, freed from all its sinful burdens, the soul may run unhindered in the ways of God. If, on the one side, it is not careful; equally on the other, it is not careless. It feels the weight of responsibilities so far as to be compelled to cast its burden on the Lord; while, having brought its burden to the throne of grace, it leaves it there. Its model is the Saviour sleeping on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Undisturbed by the howling winds, or by the waves that threatened to swamp the little boat, the wearied Saviour lay fast asleep. Looked at from the merely human point of view, the danger was imminent, since even the experienced fishermen were nearly in despair; but looked at from the standing-point of faith, there was no danger whatever, for, was not his heavenly Father awake and watching? And does he not, in the same way, watch every believer still; does he not keep each of us as the apple of his eye? If, then, in the forgetfulness of this, we get alarmed at the signs of any external danger, let us rend the rebuke as a rebuke to ourselves as well as to the twelve—"Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" But the spurious imitation that we speak of is altogether unlike the sleep of Jesus; it is represented rather by the mournful sleep of Jonah. Though his heart was entirely out of communion with God, yet he slept. Though the darkest guilt lay on his conscience, and the most rebellious self-will was guiding his course, still he slept. Overtaken by the angry tempest, and with all God's waves and billows yawning round him, the infatuated prophet slumbered on. It was a shameful sight to see a guilty prophet sleeping, while even the heathen mariners were awake and troubled, and were crying each one to his gods. And is there no parallel among us to the sinful sleep of Jonah? Alas! it is to be feared that there are multitudes everywhere who make little other use of the "sweet story of old" than merely to keep conscience quiet, that they may sleep without disturbance on the devil's bed of sloth. May the Lord keep us from every measure of this shameful sleep, and may he give us all instead, that holy sleep which none can ever know but his beloved!