Necessity of Christian Watchfulness
William Nicholson, 1862
"And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep!" Romans 13:11
It is supposed by some that the Apostle here intended to remind Christians of the superior privileges of Christianity over the state of Heathenism from which they had just emerged. But though the Apostle may have such a reference — yet the important doctrine in verses 11-14, is that a deep conviction of the nearness of eternity, will cause the soul to cleave to Christ, and prompt to an upright life in the fellowship of man with man.
I. The State from Which a Transition Is Necessary.It is a state of sleep.
This term is frequently employed to describe the insensibility of man to his best interests. Ephesians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 7.
1. The term sleep applies to the unregenerate.They are asleep.
This implies darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5:7; and the understanding of the sinner is darkened. Ephesians 4:18.
It implies insensibility. The danger which surrounds him, etc., the voice of mercy calling him to escape for his life, makes no impression upon him.
It implies forgetfulness, for the natural man has lost sight of God — of the end of his creation, etc.
It implies delusion. Even as a man in sleep dreams he is eating, etc., see Isaiah 29:8. What is the sinner but a dreamer — a pursuer of phantoms, etc., to the neglect of that which is substantial in time and eternity!
This is an awful state. Time is rapidly passing away, death is coming, the time of death's arrival is uncertain — and yet the man is sleeping in the midst of such uncertainty, with sin unpardoned and guilt unremoved. "Awake, you that sleep!"
This character attaches to all the unregenerate. Men, by nature, are active only in deeds of wickedness, or business transactions; they are awake to sinful gratification, etc.; but in regard to saving religion, they are insensible, and the slumbers of night are on their eyelids.
2. The term sleep applies to the backslider.He did run well. Once he was awake, the Spirit having aroused and quickened him. Once he was active in the Church; but the world, the creature, or Satan, has cast him down from his former position. He has left his first love, his vows are broken — the eyes are closed; the powers of the mind have become dormant; the man is asleep; and sometimes the second slumber is deeper than the first. Revelation 2:4, 5.
3. The term sleep may also apply to the Church of God.Some of its members are asleep — inactive; they do nothing, and yet are numbered with the people of God.
Some are partially asleep. Perhaps the world has begun to act as an opiate. Hence, they are beginning to decline; to neglect the means of grace, self-examination, etc. If they do not arouse themselves, their eyes will be finally closed, so deadening is the influence of carnal things. This should induce self-examination; "Am I sleeping?"
II. The Nature of the Change Which Is So Necessary:"It is high time to awake out of sleep."
To awake is to arouse from spiritual slumber by an exercise of grace, and leaving off sinful courses, and performing duties required.
1. This change can only be effected by Divine agency. "It is the Spirit who quickens." The slumber is so potent, that none but he can awaken from it. The disease is so powerful, that none but the great Physician can apply an effectual antidote. Vain are all human means, if not combined with the influence of that Spirit which convinces of sin, etc. "Not by might, not by power — but by my Spirit!"
2. Hence, this Divine influence is associated with human instrumentality. The members of Christ's mystical body, who have been awakened themselves, and especially ministers of the Gospel, are appointed by God to awaken others. It is their duty to cry, "Awake you who sleep!" "Knowing the terrors of the Lord, they persuade men." Those who use the means, pray for Divine influence to render their call effectual. Ezekiel 37:9, 10.
3. The result of these operations is a complete change and renovation of character.
The sinner awakes from his sleep. He awakes from his darkness of guilt and condemnation, and enjoys the liberty of the Gospel.
He awakes from a state of insensibility, to a right perception of the truth, and to a full impression of Gospel influence, and of the powers of the world to come.
He awakes from a state of delusion, to a sound judgment and right apprehension of things — from shadows to realities, even as one awakes from the romantic scenery of a dream, to behold things as they really are.
He awakes from a state of inactivity, induced by spiritual slumber, to a state of joyful activity in the service of God — to spend and be spent for Christ.
III. The Necessity and Importance of Such a Change Taking Place Immediately.
"It is high time to awake!" This is a beautiful figure. The dawn of day, the approaching light of the morning, is the time to arouse from slumber. In the darkness of night, men sleep. The world has been sunk in the night of heathenism and sin. But now the morning light of the Gospel dawns. It is time, therefore, for men to cast off the deeds of darkness, and rise to life, and purity, and action.
We shall soon be done with all sublunary things — we shall soon appear before God. It befits us, therefore, to awake, and go forth to meet him, having our loins girded, and our lamps burning.
It is high time to awake out of sleep! Behold the Judge is at the door!
It is high time to awake, because,
1. Such a state of inactivity and insensibility is highly criminal. It involves the resistance of the Gospel, and of the Spirit — which urge the sinner to awake.
2. It has already been attended with great loss Gospel light has been shining, and exhilarating the minds of believers — while you have been in darkness. They have been feeding upon heavenly manna — while you have been eating husks. They have had the witness of God within them — while you have been dreaming about that which satisfies not. Therefore, it is high time to awake!
3. The Church of God is frequently weakened and decreased by death. Therefore it is time for the Church to awake, and fill up these vacant places.
While we are sleeping, the enemy is sowing his tares, hardening the heart, and ensnaring souls. His emissaries are at work. Atheists, infidel socialists, are disseminating their poison. Church of the living God, awake!!
4. Such a state involves the greatest peril.
(1.) The difficulty of awaking increases with delay. Bodily sleep, indeed, becomes lighter as morning approaches. But this slumber of the spirit becomes deeper and deeper, and heavier and heavier, until the individual sleeps the sleep of death!
Every time you hear the gospel in vain — you grow more sleepy, and the preacher's voice becomes mere music to lull you.
Sinai flashes its lightnings, and rolls its thunders now in vain; once you trembled, now you can fold your arms, and close your eyes, and repose at the foot of the burning mount!
The wondrous cross which creates all the harmony and rapture of paradise, and engages the mighty intellects of ethereal spirits, now possesses few charms for you. Heaven, Hell, and eternity are all awake! Time is passing, and you are becoming still more drowsy. Awake, awake!
(2.) The frailty and uncertainty of human existence. Remember that while you are sleeping, you may die. "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes!" James 4:14
You cannot calculate on tomorrow. "Boast not yourself of tomorrow," etc. Would it be honorable for you to die in such a state? Would it be pleasing to your survivors? Would it be attended with happy results? O, it is high time to awake; for,
(3.) You will become the victims of the Divine anger if you awake not. The neglecters of salvation cannot escape — the unholy cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
1. Let Christians watch, lest they begin to sleep.
2. Let Christians be active to awaken others, and pray for the aids of the Divine Spirit.
3. Let those who are beginning to awake be encouraged. The Spirit will quicken you — Christ will save you.