AS the spiritual guide of the flock of God along the intricate mazes of experience, it is the duty of the Gospel minister to point out every turning of the road to Heaven, to speak concerning its dangers and its privileges, and to warn any whom he may suspect to be in a position peculiarly perilous. Now, there is a portion of the road which leadeth from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, which has in it, perhaps, more dangers than any other part of the way. It doth not abound with lions; there are no dragons in it; it hath no dark woods, and no deep pit-falls; yet more seeming pilgrims have been destroyed in that portion of the road than anywhere else; and not even Doubting Castle, with all its hosts of bones, can show so many who have been slain there. It is the part of the road called The Enchanted Ground. John Bunyan thus pictured it: — “I say them in my dream, that they went on till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he 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 one nap.’ “ CHR. By no means, said the other; lest, sleeping, we never awake more. “ HOPE. Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap. “ CHR. Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping; ‘therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober’ (1 Thessalonians 5:6).”
There are, no doubt, many of us who are passing over this plain; and I fear that this is the condition of the majority of churches in the present day.
They are lying down on the settles of Lukewarmness in the Arbors of the Enchanted Ground. There is not that activity and zeal we could wish to see among them; they are not, perhaps, notably heterodox; they may not be invaded by the lion of persecution; but they are lying down to slumber, like Heedless and Too-bold in the Arbor of Sloth. God grant that His servants may be the means of arousing the Church from its lethargy, and stirring it up from its slumbers, lest haply, professors should sleep the sleep of death!
Let me picture to you the state of a sleeping Christian.
When a man is asleep, he is insensible. The world moves on, and he knows naught about it. The watchman calls out beneath his window, but he hears him not. A fire is raging in a neighboring street, or his neighbor’s house is burned to ashes; but he is asleep, and is unaware of the calamity. Persons are sick in the house where he lives, but he is not awakened; they may die, yet he weeps not for them. A revolution may be in progress in the streets of his city; a king may be losing his crown; but he that is asleep shares not in the turmoil of politics. A volcano may burst somewhere near him, and he may be in imminent peril; but he knows no fear; he is sound asleep, he is unconscious. The winds are howling, the thunders are rolling across the sky, and the lightnings flash past his window; but he who can sleep on careth for none of these things; he is insensible to them all. The sweetest music is echoing through the street; but he sleeps, and only in dreams doth he hear the sweetness. The most terrific wailings may assail his ears; but sleep has sealed them with the wax of slumber, and he hears not. Let the world break in sunder, and the elements go to ruin, keep him asleep, and he will not perceive it.
Slumbering Christian, behold a picture of your condition. Have you not sometimes mourned your insensibility? You wished you could feel; but all you felt was pain because you could not feel. You wished you could pray.
It was not that you felt prayerless, but that you did not feel at all. You used to sigh once; you would give a world if you could sigh now. You used to groan once; a groan now would be worth a golden star if you could buy it.
As for worldly songs, you can sing them, but your heart does not go with them. You go to the house of God; but when the multitude, that keep holy day, in the full tide of song send their music up to Heaven, you hear it, but your heart does not leap at the sound. Prayer goeth solemnly up to God’s throne, like the smoke of the evening sacrifice; once, you could pray, too; but, now, while your body is in the house of God, your heart is elsewhere.
You have become like a formalist; you feel that there is not that savor, that unction, in the preaching, that there used to be. There is no difference in your minister, you know; the change is in yourself. The hymns and the prayers are just the same, but you have fallen into a state of slumber. Once, if you thought of a man being damned, you felt as if you could weep your very soul out in tears; but, now, you could sit at the very brink of hell, and hear its wailings unmoved. Once, the thought of restoring a sinner from the error of his ways would have made you start from your bed at midnight, and you would have rushed through the cold air to help to rescue a sinner.
Now, talk to you about perishing multitudes, and you hear it as an old, old tale. Tel you of thousands swept by the mighty flood of sin onwards to the precipice of destruction, you express your regret, you give your contribution, but your heart is not stirred within you. You must confess that you are insensible, — not entirely so, perhaps; but far too much so.
You want to be awake, but you groan because you feel yourself to be in this state of slumber.
Again, sleep is a state of inaction. No daily bread is earned by him that sleepeth. The man who is stretched upon his couch neither writeth books, nor tilleth the ground, nor plougheth the sea, nor doeth aught else. His pulse beateth, so he is alive; but he is practically dead as to activity. Alas, beloved! this is the state of many of you. How many Christians are inactive! Once, it was their delight to instruct the young in the Sabbathschool; but that is given up. Once, they attended the early prayer-meeting, but they do not go there now. Once, they would be hewers of woods and drawers of water; but, alas! they are asleep now. Am I talking of what may possibly happen? It is not too true almost universally? Are not the churches asleep? Where are the ministers who really preach? We have men who read essays, but is that preaching? We have men who can amuse an audience for twenty minutes, but is that preaching? Where are the men who preach their very hearts out, and put their souls into every sentence? Where are the men who make it, not a profession, but a vocation, the breath of their bodies, the marrow of their bones, the delight of their spirits? Where are the Whitefields and Wesleys now? Where are the Rowland Hills now, who preached every day, and three times a day, and were not afraid of preaching everywhere the unsearchable riches of Christ? Brethren, the church slumbers. It is not merely that the pulpit is a sentry-box with the sentinel fast asleep; but the pews are affected also. Why are the prayermeetings almost universally neglected? Where is the spirit of prayer, where the life of devotion? Is it not almost extinct? Are not our churches “fallen, fallen, fallen, from their high estate”? God wake them up, and send them more earnest and praying men!
The man who is asleep is also in a state of insecurity. The murderer smitheth him that sleeps; the midnight robber plundereth the house of him that resteth listlessly on his pillow. Jael smiteth a sleeping Sisera. Abishai taketh away the spear from the holster of a slumbering Saul. A sleeping Eutychus falleth from the third loft, and is taken up dead. A sleeping Samson is shorn of his locks, and the Philistines are upon him. Sleeping men are ever in danger; they cannot ward off the blow of the enemy, nor strike in their own defense. Christian, if thou art sleeping, thou art in danger. Thy life, I know, can never be taken from thee, for it is hid with Christ in God. But, oh! thou mayest lose thy spear from thy holster; thou mayest lose much of thy faith; and thy cruse of water, wherewith thou dost moisten thy lips, may be stolen by the prowling thief. Thou little knowest thy danger. Awake, thou slumberer! Start up from the place where thou now liest in thine insecurity. This is not the sleep of Jacob, in which a ladder unites Heaven and earth, and angels tread the ascending rounds; but this is the sleep in which ladders are raised from hell, and devils climb upward from the pit to seize they slumbering spirit.
Sleep Christian, let me shout in thing ears, — thou art sleeping while souls are being lost, — sleeping while men are being damned, — sleeping while hell is being peopled, — sleeping while Christ is being dishonored, — while the devil is grinning at thy sleepy face, — sleeping while demons are dancing round thy slumbering carcass, and telling it in hell that a Christian is asleep. You will never catch the devil asleep; let not the devil catch you asleep. Watch, and be sober, that ye may be always ready to do your duty.
A Christian is most liable to sleep when his temporal circumstances are all right. When your nest is well feathered, you are then most likely to sleep; there is little danger of your sleeping when there is a bramble bush in the bed. When your couch is downy, then the most likely thing for you to say will be, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Let me ask some of you, — when you were more straitened in circumstances, when you had to rely upon providence each hour, and had troubles to take to the throne of grace, were you not more wakeful than you are now? The miller, who hath his wheel turned by a constant stream, goes to sleep; but he that dependeth on the wind, which sometimes bloweth hard and sometimes gently, sleeps not, lest there should not be enough to make them go round. Easy roads tend to make us slumber. Few sleep in a storm; many sleep on a calm night. Why is the church asleep now? She would not sleep if Smithfield were filled with stakes, if St. Bartholomew’s tocsin were ringing in her ears; she would not sleep if Sicilian Vespers might be sun on to-morrow’s eve; she would not sleep if massacres were common now. But what is her condition? Every man sitting under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make him afraid. Tread softly, she is fast asleep!
Another dangerous time is when all goes well in spiritual matters. You do not read that Christian went to sleep when lions were in the way, nor when he was passing through the river of death, nor when he was in Giant Despair’s castle, nor during his fight with Apollyon. Poor creature! he almost wished he could sleep then. But when he had got half way up the Hill Difficulty, and came to a pretty little arbor, in he went, and sat down and began to read his roll. Oh, how he rested himself! How he unstrapped his sandals, and rubbed his weary feet! Very soon his mouth was open, his arms hung down, and he was fast asleep. Again, the Enchanted Ground was a very easy smooth place, and liable to send the pilgrim to sleep. You remember Bunyan’s description of one of the arbors: — “Then they came to an arbor, warm, and promising much refreshing to the Pilgrims; for it was finely wrought above head, beautified with greens, furnished with benches and settles. It also had in it a soft couch, whereon the weary might lean…. This arbor was called The Slothful’s Friend, on purpose to allure, if it might be, some of the pilgrims there to take up their rest when weary.”
Depend upon it, it is in easy places that men shut their eyes, and wander into dreamy land of forgetfulness. Old Erskine said a good thing when he remarked, “I like a roaring devil better than a sleeping devil.” There is no temptation half so bad as not being tempted. The distressed soul does not sleep; it is after we get into confidence and full assurance that we are in danger of slumbering. Take care, thou who art full of gladness. There is no season in which we are so likely to fall asleep as that of high enjoyment.
Take head, joyous Christian, good frames are very dangerous; they often lull into sound slumber.
One of the most likely places for us to sleep in is when we get near our journey’s end. The pilgrims’ guide said to Christiana: — “This Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it standeth against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near to the end of their race. Wherefore, let pilgrims look to themselves, lest it happen to them as it has done to these, that, as you see, are fallen asleep, and none can wake them.”
It is quite true, that those, who have been for years in grace, are most in danger of slumbering. Somehow, we get into the routine of religious observance; it is customary for us to go to the house of God, it is usual for us to belong to the church, and that of itself tends to make people sleepy. If we are always going along the same road, we are liable to sleep. If Moab gets at ease, and is not emptied from vessel to vessel, he sleeps on, for he knows no change; and when years have worn our road with a rut of godliness, we are apt to throw the reins on our horse’s neck, and sleep soundly.
What is to be done to ensure wakefulness when crossing the Enchanted Ground? One of the best plans is to keep Christian company, and talk about the ways of the Lord.
Christian said to Hopeful, “To prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” “With all my heart,” said Hopeful. “Where shall we begin?” asked Christian. “Where God began with us,” replied his companion.
There is no subject so likely to keep a godly man awake as talking of the place where God began with him. When Christian men talk together, they won’t fall asleep together. Keep Christian company, and you will not be so likely to slumber. Christians, who isolate themselves, and stand alone, are very liable to lie down on the settle or the soft couch, and go to sleep; but if you talk much together, as they did in the olden time, you will find it extremely beneficial. Two Christians talking together of the ways of the Lord will go must faster to Heaven than one alone; and when a whole church unites in speaking of the Lord’s loving kindness, verily, beloved, there is no way like that of keeping themselves awake.