THE sleep of the body is the gift of God. So said Homer of old, when he described it as descending from the clouds, and resting on the tents of the warriors around old Troy. And so sang Virgil, when he spoke of Palinurus falling asleep upon the prow of the ship. Sleep is the gift of God. We think that we lay our heads upon our pillows, and compose our bodies in a peaceful posture, and that, therefore, we naturally and necessarily sleep.
But it is not so. Sleep is the gift of God; and not a man would close his eyes, did not God put his fingers on his eyelids — did not the Almighty send a soft and balmy influence over his frame which lulled his thoughts into quiescence, making him enter into that blissful state of rest which we call sleep. True, there be some drugs and narcotics whereby men can poison themselves well-nigh to death, and then call it sleep; but the sleep of the healthy body is the gift of God. The Lord of love bestows it; his tenderness rocks the cradle for us every night; his kindness draws the curtain of darkness about us, and bids the sun cover his blazing lamp. Love comes and says, “Sleep sweetly, my child; I give thee sleep.” Have you not known what it is at times to lie upon your bed and strive in vain to slumber? As it is said of Darius, so might it be said of you: “The king sent for his musicians, but his sleep went from him.” You have attempted to seize sleep, but it escaped you: the more you tried to sleep the more surely were you awake. It is beyond our power to procure a healthy repose. You imagine if you fix your mind upon a certain subject until it shall engross your attention, you will then sleep; but you find yourself unable to do so. Ten thousand things drive through your brain as if the whole earth were whirled before you. You see all things you ever beheld dancing in a wild confusion before your eyes. You close your eyes, but still you see; and there be things in your ear, and head, and brain, which will not let you be quiet. Sleep has forsaken the couch whereon you court its power. It is God alone, who alike seals up the sea-boy’s eyes upon the giddy mast, and gives the monarch rest: for with all appliances and means to boot, the king could not sleep without the aid of God, but would toss to and fro, and envy his slave to whom sheer weariness became the friendly administrator of slumber. It is God who steeps the mind in Lethe, and bids us sleep, that our bodies may be refreshed, so that for to-morrow’s toil we may rise recruited and strengthened.
How thankful should we be for sleep! Sleep is the best physician that I know off Sleep hath healed more pains of wearied heads, and hearts, and bones than the most eminent physicians upon earth. It is the best medicine; the choicest thing of all the names which are written in all the lists of pharmacy. No magic draught of the physician can match with sleep. What a mercy it is that it belongs alike to all? God does not make sleep the boon of the rich man; he does not give it merely to the noble, or the rich, so that they can monopolize it as a peculiar luxury for themselves; but he bestows it upon the poorest and most obscure. Yea, if there be a difference, the sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. He who toils hardest sleeps all the sounder for his work. While luxurious effeminacy cannot rest, tossing itself from side to side upon a bed of eiderdown, the hard-working laborer, with his strong and powerful limbs, worn out and tired, throws himself upon his hard couch and sleeps: and waking, thanks God that he has been refreshed. Ye know not how much ye owe to God, that he gives you rest at night. If ye had sleepless nights, ye would then value the blessing. If for weeks ye lay tossing on your weary beds, ye then would thank God for this favor. As sleep is the merciful appointment of God, it is a gift most precious, one that cannot be valued until it is taken away; yea, even then we cannot appreciate it as we ought.
The Psalmist says there are some men who are so foolish as to deny themselves sleep. For purposes of gain, or ambition, they rise up early and sit up late. We may have been guilty of the same thing. We have risen early in the morning that we might turn over the ponderous volume, in order to acquire knowledge; we have sat at night until our burned-out lamp has chidden us, and told us that the sun was rising; while our eyes have ached, our brain has throbbed, our heart has palpitated. We have been weary and worn out; we have risen up early, and sat up late, and have in that way come to eat the bread of sorrow by failing health and depressed spirits.
Many of you business men are toiling in that fashion. We do not condemn you for it; we do not forbid rising up early and sitting up late; but we remind you of this text: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.”
Sleep is frequently used in a bad sense in the Word of God, to express the condition of carnal and worldly men. Some men have the sleep of carnal ease and sloth: of whom Solomon tells us, they are unwise sons that slumber in the harvest, causing shame; so that when the harvest is spent, and the summer is ended, they are not saved. Sleep often expresses a state of sloth, of deadness, of’ indifference, in which all ungodly men are found, according to the words, “It is high time for us to awake out of sleep.” “Let us not sleep as do others, but let us who are of the day be sober.” There be many who are sleeping the sluggard’s sleep, who are tossing upon the bed of indolent ease; but an awful waking awaits them, when they shall find that the time of their probation has been wasted; that the golden sands of their life have dropped unheeded from the hour-glass; and that they have come into that world where there are no acts of pardon passed, no hope, no refuge, no salvation.
In other places you find sleep used as the figure of carnal security, in which so many are found. Look at Saul, lying asleep in fleshly security. He is not like David, who said, “I will lay me down and sleep, for thou Lord only makest me to dwell in safety.” Abner, the captain of Saul’s host, was there, and all the troops lay around him, but Abner slept. Sleep on, Saul! Sleep on! Abishai is standing at thy pillow, and with a spear in his hand he says, “Let me smite him even to the earth at once.” Still he sleeps: he knows not that he is on the brink of the sleep eternal! Such are many of you, sleeping in jeopardy of your souls; Satan is standing over you, the law is ready to smite, vengeance is prepared; even Providence seems to say, “Shall I smite him? I will smite him but this once, and he shall never wake again.” Jesus, the interposer, cries, “Stay, vengeance, stay.” Lo, the spear is even now quivering — “Stay! Spare the sleeper yet another year, in the hope that he may yet awake from this long sleep of sin.” Like Sisera, I tell thee, sinner, thou art sleeping in the tent of the destroyer; thou mayest have eaten butter out of a lordly dish; but thou art sleeping on the doorstep of hell. Even now the enemy is lifting up the hammer and nail, to smite thee through thy temples, and fasten thee to the earth, that there thou mayest lie for ever in that death of everlasting torment, which is so much worse than common death.
There is also mentioned in Scripture a sleep of lust, like that which Samson had when he lost his locks, and such sleep as many have when they indulge in sin, and wake to find themselves stripped, lost, and ruined. There is also the sleep of negligence, such as the virgins had, when it is said, “they all slumbered and slept;” and the sleep of sorrow, which overcame Peter, James, and John, in the garden of Gethsemane. But none of these are the gifts of God. They are incident to the frailty of our nature; they come upon us because we are fallen men: they creep over us because we are the sons of a lost and ruined parent. These sleeps are not the benisons of God; nor does he bestow them on his beloved.