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By Joseph Lathrop (From: Sermons on various subjects… Volume 3)
Ephesians 5. 13, 14, But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
The words, to which the Apostle here alludes are in the beginning of the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah.
“Arise shine,” or be enlightened, “for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people ; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. (Isaiah 60:1,2)” To the Gentiles the Apostle applies these words, as a call to awake from their slumbers, and enjoy the light of the gospel newly risen upon them.
This call addressed to the Ephesians may with equal propriety be addressed to multitudes in the Christian world; for though the light shines, they open not their oyes, but continue in the same dead sleep as if darkness still covered them.
Sleep and death are metaphors often used in scripture, to express the moral state, not only of Heathens, but also of sinners in general; and especially of such as are secure and thoughtless in their sins. To such slumbering souls I beg that you will watch one hour.
I shall describe the character of the persons to whom the call is directed, open the call itself; and press the argument in the text.
I. Let us attend to the character of the persons here addressed: They are such as are in a state of sleep.
In vain is the call in the text addressed to you, unless you are convinced, that you are the men. The most exact description of your character, unless you hear and apply it, will give you no conviction. If you can sit inattentive to a subject in which you are so nearly concerned, it is manifest, that you are under a Spirit of slumber, and, with respect to you, the inquiry may stop here; But let me hope better things of you, though I thus speak. To proceed then,
1. If you allow yourselves in the practice of known wickedness, your conscience is asleep.
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18)” If you had any just apprehension of this wrath, you would not take pleasure in unrighteousness. While therefore you indulge iniquity in your heart, you are in a state of sleep, your conscience is unfeeling to guilt, your reason is blind to interest, and your soul is dead to a sense of danger.
Think not that your condition is safe, because there are some vices which you avoid.” Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” If you are such, in any respect, you must be renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God.
You say, “Good men are imperfect—they offend in many things.” This is true; but they pursue not a course of sin; they yield not themselves servants to it; they obey it not in the lusts thereof. When through infirmity or temptation they are led astray, they think on their ways, and turn their feet unto God’s testimonies. A conviction of their transgressions brings them on their knees before God, and their sorrow works in them carefulness. Is this your character?—There is then ground of hope and comfort. But if, on the contrary, in your general resolutions, you make reserves in favor of this or that sin— if you deliberately contrive the commission of iniquity —if you repeat it often without remorse, and run into temptations without caution—if, when you have done evil, you seek excuses to pacify your conscience—if the imperfections of good men, instead of exciting you to vigilance, encourage you to self flattery—if the mercy of God, which should lead you to repentance, emboldens you to continue in sin—what will you say ? —Do you not love and choose wickedness? Is not your heart set in you to do evil?
2 Corinthians 13.5: Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
2. If you live in the customary neglect of self examination, you are in a state of slumber.
One who is awake to (the gospel), regards it as the one thing needful. He is solicitous to know, whether he possesses the temper, and is entitled to the blessings of it. He examines himself, whether he is in the faith, and proves his works, whether they are wrought in God. That sense of the importance of (the gospel), which engages him in the practice of it, makes him attentive to the exercises of his heart and the actions of his life, that he may know what manner of man he is. This is his prayer, “23: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.(Psalm 139)” Inquire then whether under a serious concern to know your state, you are conversant with your own hearts—whether you often bring them to the law and to the testimony, and try them by the rules which you find there.
But here, I would observe to you; though the entire neglect of self examination proves you to be in a state of sin, it is not every kind of self examination, that will prove the contrary. Sinners, who are usually asleep, may at times rouse up, and spend a few thoughts on their dangerous state, and then sink back into their slumbers. Yea, there is such a thing as making self examination a mean of self deception. If you attend only to those things which seem favorable, and overlook every thing of a contrary aspect— if you dwell upon the good actions you have done, and spread them as a cloak over your iniquities—if you regard only your external conduct, and never explore the motives by which you have been governed—if you compare yourselves with others, and conclude that all is well, because you see in them certain vices which you have not practised; you are but like the Pharisee, who trusted in himself, that he was righteous, because he was not as other men were, extortioners, unjust and adulterers ; and yet never considered the pride, uncharitableness and arrogance, which were in his heart. Your aim, in such a kind of examination, is only to persuade yourselves, that your state is good; not to know whether it really is so. This examination will terminate in stronger delusion.
3. The gospel supposes men to be sinners, and as such to need the salvation which it brings. It is absurd to offer pardon to the guiltless, and vain to offer it to those who think themselves so. Christ came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance— not to save those who ate out of danger, but to seek them who are lost. Nothing can be more manifest, on the least reflection, than that, by violating God’s holy law, we have fallen into condemnation, from which we cannot deliver ourselves. An insensibility of this state is an evidence of a spirit of slumber.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1.
The just live by faith. This faith is something more than a speculative belief, that the Son of God is the saviour of men. As much as this the devils believe. It is such a humbling view of our guilt, and such a sensible persuasion of his authority, grace and sufficiency to save the guilty, as brings the soul to submit to him in all his characters. Conviction of sin must precede faith in Christ. The law, which gives the knowledge of our guilt, is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.
Here, my friends, renew the enquiry—What report does your conscience make on the question under consideration ?
Think it not sufficient, that, on the authority of scripture, which pronounces all men sinners, you are free to acknowledge yourselves such. If this is all your conviction, it is no more to your purpose, than your acknowledgment, that the (others in the world) are sinners. The conviction must not hover around at a distance; it must settle upon yourselves. You must see your own sinfulness—-your own desert of God’s wrath—your own dependence on the great Saviour of sinners. If you have had no such view of yourselves, you are yet concerned in the call, Awake thou that sleepeth and arise from the dead. .
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:10-12.
4. If you have no conflicts with sin and temptation, you are in a state of slumber.
The Christian life is a warfare, not only with flesh and blood, but also with principalities and powers, wicked Spirits, and the rulers of the darkness of this world. The remains of sin, the motions of the flesh, the objects of the world, the examples of sinners, and the temptations of Satan, oppose the Christian in his heavenly course. If he would proceed with constancy, he must wrestle with all these. From this warfare nothing can free us, but absolute victory, or total subjection. The Christian, in this state of imperfection, never gains such an entire conquest over his enemies, as to spoil them of all their power. Though he is delivered from their dominion, he is not freed from their molestation.
If then you know not what it means to resist temptations, to strive against corruptions, to deny yourselves, to crucify the flesh; you are led captive by your enemies at their will.
You may, indeed, have some inward struggles with sin, when you are not delivered from its dominion. An alarming providence, the forebodings of conscience, a sense of shame, a regard to interest, may, at times, excite you to some opposition against particular sins, when there is no principle of holiness in your hearts. But then, if there are no conflicts of this kind, you are in bondage to iniquity. Sin has full, uncontrolled dominion over you.
5. The prevalence of a sensual and carnal disposition is a sign of spiritual death.
They who have risen with Christ to a spiritual life, have set their affections on things above; their conversation is in heaven ; they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; they are laying up treasure in heaven, and their hearts are with their treasure. If you are strangers to such a life as this; if the glory of heaven has never appeared to you in such a light, as to make you despise and forego everything which comes in competition with it; if you are carrying on a scheme for this world only, and not for the future ; if you have no delight in the exercises of (the gospel), nor desire of God’s favor; if you can live contented without the present tokens of his love, and without the hope of a future admission to the presence of his glory ; you are under the influence of spiritual slumber—you are dead in trespasses and sin.