Arthur Pink, July, 1950
(This article and its companion one, Waking, are not written to entertain the curious, but with the endeavor of giving God His true place, by moving His people unto more thankfulness for what are loosely termed, "His common mercies.")
It seems strange that the average person should spend at least one-third of his short life in the sleep state. In comparison with eternity, how exceedingly brief is the span of our mortal existence! Yet the God-fearing soul cannot doubt it has been wisely ordered by his Creator, that such a proportion of that span should be passed in unconsciousness. The Savior Himself, whose life was infinitely more important than ours, was no exception, for we are told that He slept (Mat 8:24) though often the hours of darkness were spent by Him in prayer, while others were slumbering (Mar 1:35; Luke 6:12).
Sleep has been aptly defined as "the nurse for tired nature." What cause for gratitude have we, that frayed nerves and weary muscles are refreshed and renewed by a few hours of repose! How glad is many a one whose body is racked with pain throughout the day to obtain a few hours' respite during the unconsciousness of night! Sleep is indeed a merciful provision of God's, which none of us appreciate as highly as we should.
As common as is this mercy, yet there is an element of mystery about it, for none can define exactly what it is. Nor can any produce it by a mere effort of will. It is not sufficiently recognized, that the same One who gave us being, also puts us to sleep each night. Yes, even when tired out from the heavy labor of the day, we become unconscious almost as soon as our head rests on the pillow. At some time or other, the majority of us are made painfully aware of the fact that we cannot put ourselves to sleep. When a hacking cough refuses to be silenced, when an over-active brain or disturbed mind declines to relax, when what is termed "insomnia" affects us the more eagerly sleep is sought, the more it eludes us.
"And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept" (Gen 2:21) is the first reference to our subject in the Scriptures; and while that instance was an extraordinary one, yet it was illustrative of a principle of universal application our sleep is "caused" by our Maker, and is not brought on by ourselves.
Before proceeding farther, let us here utter an earnest word of warning against attempts to produce artificial sleep, or cure insomnia, by the use of drugs. Any attempt to force "nature" is dangerous, and usually leads to disaster. In nine-tenths of cases, the effect is, in the end, to increase the disorder. Most narcotics and sedatives have to be taken in increasing larger doses, if they are to produce any continued effect; and frequently, the patient becomes the slave of narcotic habits. Far better to spend the night in restless tossing, than resort to what is likely to issue in a complete breakdown. Better still, seek the cause.
Likewise, no form of stimulant is free from risk. Anyone who attempts to do by artificial strength what cannot be done by natural to supply by the use of some stimulant a temporary energy for activity to which one would be unequal without it is courting trouble. There is always a proportionate reaction, and sometimes a collapse is the outcome.
Millions today are suffering from nervous disorders as a result of Sabbath desecration, forfeiting the physical and mental benefits which rest from secular tasks and occupying the mind with divine things produces. There are other passages of Holy Writ, besides Genesis 2:21, which teach that sleep is not only a merciful provision of the Creator's, but also a divine gift, caused by Him. On one occasion, the Psalmist said, "You hold my eyes waking" (Psalm 77:4). The Hebrew word for "hold" here is a very strong one, being rendered to "keep hold on" in 2 Samuel 2:21, and "fastened" in Esther 1:6. Asaph was unable to close his eyes, sleep being withheld from him.
Another example where sleep was divinely denied, is that of Ahasuerus, of whom we read, "On that night the king could not sleep" (Est 6:1); or as the margin more literally renders it, "Sleep fled away" the whole context showing that it was a case of divine interposition which prevented his slumbers.
Sometimes the LORD withholds sleep that He may give us "songs in the night" (Job 35:10); at others, that we may "meditate on Him in the night watches" (Psalm 63:6); at others, to bring sin to remembrance, that it may be confessed unto Him.
The next time the reader suffers from sleeplessness, let him call to mind that awful night when the Savior was hounded from court to court and denied any rest.
Conversely, we are told that God "gives his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2). Most blessed is that. It is not that He "sends" it as one from a distance, but that He Himself gives sleep personally bringing and graciously laying it upon our eyes. That sleep is a fitting emblem of the spiritual rest which He bestows upon the righteous.
But let us look at the verse as a whole: "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows for so he gives his beloved sleep." There appears to be a contrast drawn. All the industry of the natural man avails him nothing without the blessing of God sorrow is then his portion. But the godly man, though diligent in business (Rom 12:11), is enabled confidently to commit all his affairs unto the LORD, and close his eyes at night with a mind free of carking care. "So he gives his beloved sleep," as He did Peter, on the eve of his probable execution, as he lay in prison chained between two soldiers sleeping so sweetly and soundly, that an angel's stroke was needed to arouse him (Act 12:6-7)!
"I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep for you, LORD, alone, make me dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8). We are never more helpless and unable to protect ourselves, than when wrapped in slumber. We are lost to all apprehensions of danger, and lie exposed to the violence of storms, the perils of fire, the menace of robbers, and the assaults of the evil one. At that time, we have no concern for ourselves, being incapable of thinking, much more so of providing for our safety. But the LORD is our Protector, equally during the hours of darkness, as of the light. The One who provided for me when I was awake, watches over my body when I am asleep. I am under the care of Him who "shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). Though I am alone, I am not alone; and therefore it is my privilege to lie down in His loving arms, peacefully assured that I shall be supported and secured by His right hand. But our comfortable beds should cause us to contrast Him who often had no other couch than the cold mountain side (John 7:53; 8:2).
Our preservation during the hours of sleep, is a notable instance of God's concern for our welfare. "When you lie down, you shall not be afraid and your sleep shall be sweet" (Pro 3:24). What comforting assurance that breathes! It is a word for us to lay hold of by faith, and rest on. If I trustfully give myself in charge to my Father there is nothing to fear. Plead His promise, "The angel of the LORD encamps round about those who fear him, and delivers them" (Psalm 34:7). Hundreds of times has this writer made personal use of the same, especially during the years when my wife and I lived alone in a wooden house in an isolated part of the USA countryside, and retired to rest many times with the temperature below zero, which required us to leave a fire burning all night in a stove in the kitchen beneath us. When we lie down in the arms of a "faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19) and covenant God fear is removed and sleep is sweet. "No pillow so soft as a divine promise, no coverlet so warm as an assured interest in Christ!" Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
While one would scarcely be dogmatic on the point, yet it appears to us, that Scripture teaches that sleep is not only designed for the refreshing of our bodies, but is also a time for the instructing of our minds. Those of an energetic and ambitious disposition, are apt to regard the hours spent in sleep as so much time wasted, but such a concept may well be more erroneous than many suppose. Who can say to what extent those things which make a deep impression on our consciousness during the day, are made the subjects of the cogitations of the sub-consciousness during the sleep state? Did not David state, "my thoughts also instruct me in the night seasons" (Psalm 16:7)? Our fathers (so much wiser in many respects than their sons) when called upon to make some important decision, were accustomed to say, "I will sleep on it and Lord willing, let you know tomorrow," having in mind something more than a prayerful deliberation of the same. This writer can testify from repeated experience that "when deep sleep falls upon men," the LORD "opens" the spiritual "ears" and eyes, and "seals their instruction" (Job 33:15-16).
In closing, a word of warning: While sleep is both necessary and desirable for without it we could neither go to our work nor enjoy the blessings of providence yet it can be sinfully perverted. Therefore we are enjoined, "Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty" (Pro 20:13). Alas, what creatures we are liable to abuse every gift God bestows! May His grace preserve us from giving Him occasion to say, "How long will you sleep, O sluggard? When will you arise out of your sleep?" (Pro 6:9). Slothfulness must not be regarded as an infirmity, but as a sin which affects the whole body, and if not watched, grows upon us with unperceived power!