By Maurice Roberts
[Editor – Thankfully the condition described below is not true of most of you. Yet there are times when we all need to be encouraged and reminded to persevere and stay alert in every area of life as this article challenges us to do.]
There are not wanting, here and there, the signs that good Christians are suffering from a kind of spiritual metal-fatigue. In our fellowships iron rarely sharpens iron any longer. Much preaching that is orthodox lacks that ring of conviction which is needed to thrust it home into sinners’ consciences. A guilty tameness smothers our zeal. Prayers are hum drum and predictable. The apostolic fire has died down and looks like dying away. The gospel, even where it is preached at all, is clothed with the impeding garments of excessive politeness and respectability. Our sermons are frequently no more than a gentle homily or a quiet talk about good religious ideas. Slowly and imperceptibly evangelical people are coming to terms, emotionally and intellectually, with the spirit of the age.
…The vision which many had only a few years ago has not been realized. …The promises of God are seemingly at variance with his providences. A bewilderment and a confusion has come upon us. There is a widespread feeling that something has gone wrong. Meanwhile we all grow older. There is an unspoken agreement that the fight is too hard for us. When shall we be able to withdraw from the scene of battle with at least some semblance of honor?
Spiritual drowsiness is very catching. The air soon becomes heavy with it. Active life and movement, once so noticeable, gradually dies down as one after another succumbs to the spirit of drowsiness. As the voices of young children in a nursery die down one by one at their rest time, so the once active testimonies of God’s people become gradually silent in a sleepy time.
The Bible portrays for us times when the people of God enter into a period of collective sleepiness. The age in which Moses was born was such a time. Israel had settled down in Egypt. Even their hard servitude did not take from them a love of the Egyptian life-style. They were very loath to follow Moses out into the wilderness. They had dreamed too many this-worldly dreams to want to give up the leeks, the onions and the garlic for the
uncertain prospect of receiving their “promised land.” Four hundred years in Egypt had sent Israel fast asleep.
…It is solemn, too, to recall the words of Christ which inform us, evidently, that the very last period of world history will again be characterized by wide-spread spiritual sleepiness: “They all slumbered and slept.” (Matthew 25:5) Not only the nominal church, represented by the five foolish virgins, will be asleep when the Bridegroom returns, but also the true church herself, though certainly prepared, will have sunk down with weariness and drowsiness just before the wedding day dawns.
…Sleep is a remarkable phenomenon. It is a kind of animated death. In sleep we are oblivious to the real world. The thief may be at the door, or the fire already running up the curtains of the bedroom. But when asleep, we neither notice, nor know, nor care. On the other hand, in the dreams of sleep, we care for what is unreal or delusive. Men flee from savage beasts, or fall from cliffs, or sail to treasure islands. Our attention is taken up with what is fictional and fictitious.
Just so is the sleep which comes upon men’s souls in an age when the gospel is weak. Armies of heresies threaten the church and people of God, but the church’s watchmen are so fast in slumber that they neither realize nor care. When here and there a faithful voice is raised in warning, there is a general outcry and a demand for
the maintenance of silence. Or there may happen some scandalous abuse which threatens to mar the church’s reputation and her credibility. But when sleep has laid the faculties of the soul to rest, men resent the unpopular question and seek to smother the healthy spirit of inquiry. Nothing is so unwelcome to a sleepy man as the alarm which summons him from his bed.
…None who is even half awake needs to wonder what the explanation is for the state of our modern societies. True religion is banished from the school room and from the media. The slaughter of aborted infants proceeds like a daily holocaust. Governments meet to legislate away the Sabbath and to decriminalize sodomy. Leprosy is breaking out in every limb of the body politic and there is no physician to heal us. Scarcely a voice is raised in high places to call us to repentance. Such voices as there are — are either not heard or else are not heeded. Poor nations! Alas, that so great a civilization as ours should be so deep in spiritual slumber!
It is not surprising that evangelical Christians at this hour should feel numb with battle-fatigue. It is no great miracle if they too, catching the general spirit of drowsiness, are tempted to give in to unresisted slumber at this hour. But this is what we must at all costs refuse to do.
By some means or other, Christians must contrive to stay awake and on their feet in these days. If, in order to do so, we must cast out the television set or cut off our right arm, we had better do so. To fall asleep at this hour is treason to Christ and to our own souls. It is to lose our “full reward” (2 John 8).
The way to avoid sleeping when poisonous gas fills the room is to run for fresh air and breathe deeply. We owe it to God and to our salvation to run for fresh oxygen for the soul in this present crisis. What is to stop us all from a radical re-appraisal of our present lifestyle?
…Above all others, preachers must cry to heaven for grace to stay awake at this hour. Let them plunge their heads in the cold waters of God’s truth till their dreams of worldly ease are thrown aside. Never did the world more urgently need an awakening ministry than now. Never was there a more critical hour for lifting high and blowing loud on the gospel trumpet. All heaven watches as we strive to keep awake while all others sleep. It will stand to our eternal credit if we keep at our post.
(Excerpted by permission from an article titled “The Danger of Becoming Battle-Weary“, Maurice Roberts, The Banner of Truth, December 1994, Banner of Truth Trust, P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA 17013.)