Sibbes ends the sermon with the observation that to be “awake” is a “blessed state”. It is to be in a state of holy communion with God in Jesus Christ and thus is a “happy” condition.
Since a “waking” state is blessed state, that provokes the question, How am I be in waking state. As he puts it:
Quest.How shall we do to keep and preserve our souls in this waking condition, especially in these drowsy times?
If 17thCentury England was a “drowsy time”, what would Sibbes say about the current world?
He provides a series six answers:
Consider the importance of being awake
Stir up the exercise of faith
Pray for the presence of the Spirit
Stir up a godly fear
Keep company with other Christians
You will see that these answers concern both private and public actions. His application concerns our thoughts, our affections, our behavior. We must be considered with both our physical and our spiritual environment. In short, he prescribes a general way of life:
First, must consider the importance of staying awake:
Ans. 1. Propound unto them waking considerations.
He develops this answer in three parts. The first consideration is our need for remaining awake. He begins with the observation that we fall asleep because is not sufficient reason to stay awake (in these drowsy times). What then will give us good reason to stay awake:
To see, and know, and think of what a state we are now advanced unto in Christ; what we shall be ere long, yet the fearful estate we should be in, if God leave us to ourselves! a state of astonishment, miserable and wretched, beyond speech, nay, beyond conceit! [conceit means conception, idea]
We fall asleep because we lose sight of the blessing of being awake. Only when we become drowsy do the things of this world increase in their appeal:
We never fall to sleep in earthly and carnal delights, till the soul let its hold go of the best things, and ceaseth to think of, and to wonder at them.
To sharpen this consideration, Sibbes asks us to consider the shortness of life:
Make the heart think of the shortness and vanity of this life, with the uncertainty of the time of our death; and of what wondrous consequent†it is to be in the state of grace before we die.
This consideration has special consideration for us today since it was written by a man 400 years dead. When we hear this from one who is alive, death seems distant. But when the speaker has already died.
Finally, a judgment is coming and when that judgment comes we will be wholly dependent upon the grace of God:
The necessity of grace, and then the free dispensing of it in God’s good time, and withal the terror of the Lord’s-day, ‘Remembering,’ saith St Paul, ‘the terror of the Lord, I labour to stir up all men,’ &c., 2 Cor. 5:11.
Indeed it should make us stir up our hearts when we consider the terror of the Lord; to think that ere long we shall be all drawn to an exact account, before a strict, precise judge. And shall our eyes then be sleeping and careless? These and such like considerations out of spiritual wisdom we should propound to ourselves, that so we might have waking souls, and preserve them in a right temper.
Second, he counsels us to stir up faith. He makes a couple of related points here. First, faith is a grace which keeps the spiritual life awake. Without faith, there will be no other life. Second, the heart of man, our identity, our soul is conformed to that which it perceives. That is the nature of human beings being in the image of God, we are reflective creatures:
The soul is as the object is that is presented to it, and as the certainty of the apprehension is of that object.
When the soul perceives God by grace, the greatness of the object conforms and enlivens the soul and keeps it awake.
He then counsels how to stir up the soul in faith. Consider the end of all things:
When a man believes, that all these things shall be on fire ere long; that heaven and earth shall fall in pieces; that we shall be called to give an account, [and that] before that time we may be taken away—is it not a wonder we stand so long, when cities, stone walls fall, and kingdoms come to sudden periods? When faith apprehends, and sets this to the eye of the soul, it affects the same marvellously. Therefore let faith set before the soul some present thoughts according to its temper. Sometimes terrible things to awaken it out of its dulness; sometimes glorious things, promises and mercies, to waken it out of its sadness, &c.
When we are in ease, consider the dangers which reside that estate:
When we are in a prosperous estate let faith make present all the sins and temptations that usually accompany such an estate, as pride, security, self-applause, and the like. If in adversity, think also of what sins may beset us there. This will awaken up such graces in us, as are suitable to such an estate, for the preventing of such sins and temptations, and so keep our hearts in ‘exercise to godliness,’ 1 Tim. 4:7; than which, nothing will more prevent sleeping.
Third, he counsels that we,
Pray for the Spirit above all things. It is the life of our life, the soul of our soul. What is the body without the soul, or the soul without the Spirit of God? Even a dead lump. And let us keep ourselves in such good ways, as we may expect the presence of the Spirit to be about us, which will keep us awake.
Fourth, keep our mind and affections filled with “light” that we may be awake. This is similar to Paul’s counsel:
Philippians 4:8–9 (ESV)
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
The principle here articulated is that we will avoid dissonance and conflict in the matters upon which we dwell and the life we lead. We will want there to be a consistency with our thoughts, our attentions and our behavior.
What makes men in their corruptions to avoid the ministry of the word, or anything that may awake their consciences? It is the desire they have to sleep. They know, the more they know, the more they must practise, or else they must have a galled conscience. They see religion will not stand with their ends. Rich they must be, and great they will be; but if they suffer the light to grow upon them, that will tell them they must not rise, and be great, by these and such courses.
Conversely, a mind filled with light will desire light, “A gracious heart will be desirous of spiritual knowledge especially, and not care how near the word comes.”
In short, we will continue on the direction in which we have begun by sheer heart-inertia. “Sleep is a work of darkness. Men therefore of dark and drowsy hearts desire darkness, for that very end that their consciences may sleep.”
Fifth, he counsels to stir up the fear of God.
Ans. 5. Labour to preserve the soul in the fear of God: because fear is a waking affection, yea, one of the wakefullest. For, naturally we are more moved with dangers, than stirred with hopes. Therefore, that affection, that is most conversant about danger, is the most rousing and waking affection. Preserve therefore the fear of God by all means. It is one character of a Christian, who, when he hath lost almost all grace, to his feeling, yet the fear of God is always left with him. He fears sin, and the reward of it, and therefore God makes that awe the bond of the new covenant.
He makes this a distinguishing feature of Christian maturity, “One Christian is better than another, by how much more he wakes, and fears more than another. Of all Christians, mark those are most gracious, spiritual, and heavenly, that are the most awful and careful of their speeches, courses, and demeanours; tender even of offending God in little things.”
But it is not merely fear of correction; it is a fear of loss:
He is afraid to lose that sweet communion any way, or to grieve the Spirit of God. Therefore, always as a man grows in grace, he grows in awfulness, and in jealousy of his own corruptions.
We must exercise steady consideration of our dangers so that we maintain a godly fear. In particular, we should fear those sins which are most likely to affect us personally:
Those that will keep waking souls, must consider the danger of the place where they live, and the times; what sins reign, what sins such a company as they converse with, are subject unto, and their own weakness to be led away with such temptations. This jealousy is a branch of that fear that we spake of before, arising from the searching of our own hearts, and dispositions. It is a notable means to keep us awake, when we keep our hearts in fear of such sins as either by calling, custom, company, or the time we live in, or by our own disposition, we are most prone to.
Here is a true observation: we are each fit for particular sins. We may be fit by disposition, situation, habit, experience. Any number of social and psychological factors may dispose us to some particular sin, but we do have particular sins:
There is no Christian, but he hath some special sin, to which he is more prone than to another, one way or other, either by course of life, or complexion. Here now is the care and watchfulness of a Christian spirit, that knowing by examination, and trial of his own heart, his weakness, he doth especially fence against that, which he is most inclined to; and is able to speak most against that sin of all others, and to bring the strongest arguments to dishearten others from practice of it.
Sixth and finally, we must be careful of our company:
Ans. 6. In the last place it is a thing of no small consequence, that we keep company with waking and faithful Christians, such as neither sleep themselves or do willingly suffer any to sleep that are near them.
We will be encouraged either to wake or sleep by the company we keep. We are greatly influenced by our company, therefore, we must keep the right company. He provides a list tailored to his immediate audience. It is interesting to consider how different and how similar he exhortation sounds:
Certainly a drowsy temper is the most ordinary temper in the world. For would men suffer idle words, yea, filthy and rotten talk to come from their mouths if they were awake? Would a waking man run into a pit? or upon a sword’s point? A man that is asleep may do anything. What do men mean when they fear not to lie, dissemble, and rush upon the pikes of God’s displeasure? When they say one thing and do another, are they not dead? or take them at the best, are they not asleep? Were they awake, would they ever do thus? Will not a fowl that hath wings, avoid the snare? or will a beast run into a pit when it sees it? There is a snare laid in your playhouses, gaming houses, common houses, that gentlemen frequent that generally profess religion, and take the communion. If the eye of their souls were awake, would they run into these snares, that their own conscience tells them are so? If there be any goodness in their souls, it is wondrous sleepy. There is no man, even the best, but may complain something, that they are overtaken in the contagion of these infectious times. They catch drowsy tempers, as our Saviour saith, of those latter times. ‘For the abundance of iniquity, the love of many shall wax cold,’ Mat. 24:12. A chill temper grows ever from the coldness of the times that we live in, wherein the best may complain of coldness; but there is a great difference. The life of many, we see, is a continual sleep.
He then cautions against leisure:
Let us especially watch over ourselves, in the use of liberty and such things as are in themselves lawful. It is a blessed state, when a Christian carries himself so in his liberty, that his heart condemns him not for the abuse of that which it alloweth, and justly in a moderate use. Recreations are lawful; who denies it? To refresh a man’s self, is not only lawful, but necessary. God know it well enough, therefore hath allotted time for sleep, and the like. But we must not turn recreation into a calling, to spend too much time in it.
The trouble with permissible things is that we easily become careless, not seeing the danger:
Where there is least fear, there is most danger always. Now because in lawful things there is least fear, we are there in most danger. It is true for the most part, licitis perimus omnes, more men perish in the church of God by the abuse of lawful things, than by unlawful; more by meat, than by poison. Because every man takes heed of poison, seeing he knows the venom of it, but how many men surfeit, and die by meat! So, many men die by lawful things. They eternally perish in the abuse of their liberties, more than in gross sins.
Sibbes concludes with excellency of being awake:
We will conclude this point with the meditation of the excellency of a waking Christian. When he is in his right temper, he is an excellent person, fit for all attempts. He is then impregnable. Satan hath nothing to do with him, for he, as it is said, is then a wise man, and ‘hath his eyes in his head,’ Eccles. 3:4. He knows himself, his state, his enemies, and adversaries, the snares of prosperity and adversity, and of all conditions, &c. Therefore, he being awake, is not overcome of the evil of any condition, and is ready for the good of any estate. He that hath a waking soul, he sees all the advantages of good, and all the snares that might draw him to ill. Mark 13:37. What a blessed estate is this! In all things therefore watch; in all estates, in all times, and in all actions. There is a danger in everything without watchfulness. There is a scorpion under every stone, as the proverb is, a snare under every blessing of God, and in every condition, which Satan useth as a weapon to hurt us; adversity to discourage us, prosperity to puff us up: when, if a Christian hath not a waking soul, Satan hath him in his snare, in prosperity to be proud and secure; in adversity to murmur, repine, be dejected, and call God’s providence into question. When a Christian hath a heart and grace to awake, then his love, his patience, his faith is awake, as it should be. He is fit for all conditions, to do good in them, and to take good by them.
And his conclusion:
Let us therefore labour to preserve watchful and waking hearts continually, that so we may be fit to live, to die, and to appear before the judgment seat of God; to do what we should do, and suffer what we should suffer, being squared for all estates whatsoever.