“They shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.” – Jeremiah 51:57
The fifty-first chapter of Jeremiah treats of judgment. There is a way to intelligence and wisdom. This way is through the Word. But the people had falsified the Word, destroying the means whereby they might be enlightened and the higher faculties in their souls awakened. Therefore the Lord said of them, “They shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake.”
As used in Scripture the word sleep has two meanings. It may mean the rest which comes when selfish desires and lusts cease to burn. As the Psalmist writes, “So he giveth his beloved sleep,” and in Daniel “His spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.” In its opposite meaning it refers to the state in which one is unconscious of spiritual realities. The “deep sleep” into which Adam fell was ignorance of the happiness of the time when he trusted fully in the Lord. The whole plane of natural life, regarded in itself, is nothing else than sleep. Zechariah writes, “And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.” And when Daniel says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” he is telling us in the language of correspondence that those who in this life have been faithful to the Lord will be received into His kingdom, and the others cast out. This same lesson is taught in the parable of the ten virgins when it is said of them, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” Here slumbering refers to the will and sleeping to the understanding.
“They shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake.”
Within everyone there are two distinct regions of life, the spiritual and the natural. We have a spiritual mind and a natural mind. The spiritual mind looks up to God and heaven. It grasps spiritual truth and sees it in its relation to daily life. The natural mind opens outward into the world through the senses of the body, and inclines only to such things as minister directly to the self-life and its gratifications. The natural mind has no power to rise above its plane, and seeks the satisfactions of life in natural things, wealth, position, and natural pleasures. It has no comprehension of the true aim and glory of human life.
Regeneration effects a union and harmony between these two minds, by bringing the natural mind into subordination to the spiritual mind. This is not accomplished suddenly or without a struggle. It is a gradual subordination and is attended by alternations of state – night and day, sleep and wakefulness follow each other. The soul has its nights and days as well as the body and the world outside of us.
It is night in the soul when one drops down into the natural mind and loses consciousness of the Lord’s presence, when the world absorbs all his interests and desires. One is spiritually awake when he recognizes the claim of the Lord upon his love and service, when he realizes that he is a spiritual being and feels the desire for spiritual guidance.
One is spiritually asleep when the mind is closed to the Lord and to heaven, when he entertains doubts and questions eternal life, when the church and its teachings lose their influence in life, and he drops back into humanistic and materialistic modes of thought and belief.
With the merely natural man, the man who never had his higher or spiritual mind opened, who has never had a vision of the Lord, who has never felt the power of belief in the world to come and has never seen the true ideal of life – with such a one continual night broods over the inner region of the soul, and he is indifferent to all the interests of heaven and the church. With such a man life is one unbroken spiritual sleep. Spiritual things do not appeal to him; he is indifferent to them and they make no impression on him. The spiritual plane of the mind, although it is in him, is asleep.
We are not any of us continually spiritually awake. We have our nights – times when the natural is dominant – as well as our days, times of sleep as well as states of spiritual wakefulness. The difference between the man who is making his spiritual journey and the man who is living a merely natural life is this: the natural man knows no spiritual days; it is always night to him. Daylight of heavenly truth is all about him, but he does not see it. The light in which he sees is the light of mere natural truth, a kind of light which his love of the world gives forth, by which he sees the things that minister to his natural mind and body. He sees how to be shrewd, how to conserve his own interest. But viewed in the light of heaven, he is in a state of night. Darkness broods over the deep things in his soul. He is awake only to the things he loves. He is awake to grasp the first opportunity to get ahead of his neighbor, but never wakes up to anything higher. He sleeps a perpetual sleep.
But the spiritual man, while he has his nights, has his days of wakefulness. It is day time with him when the sun of Divine love warms the affections of his heart and makes active the love of heaven and the church. In such states one is not governed by faith but by love. The affections are kindly, the life affirmative, and the daily conduct considerate and gentle. The Lord, His Word, and His mercy and kind providence are clearly seen and loved.
This state is pictured in the story of the luminaries: “And God divided the light from the darkness; and the light he called day, and the darkness he called night. And God made two great luminaries, the greater luminary to rule by day, and the lesser luminary to rule by night.” The greater luminary was the sun – the symbol of the Divine love shining in the heaven within our souls. And it is day time when the Divine love animates us and inspires our willing, thinking, and doing. We have our nights, or times when we are asleep to heavenly things, but they are not nights of thick black darkness.
In the childhood of the human race the higher planes of the mind were open, and men lived as spiritual beings in the knowledge of God. But they descended to the natural plane of the mind and became engrossed in the things of the world. They fell asleep to the spiritual with its power to enlighten and bless.
The Divine powers are always about us, operating in the spiritual planes of our lives, just as the sun continually bathes the earth in its heat and light. The sun is always shining, but we, like the earth, can turn away from it into darkness. In the degree that we fail to realize that there is an inner life of heavenly affection, thought, and service which can satisfy the longings of the heart to fullness and overflowing, we are asleep.
Today the world is theologically in confusion. Many think that it does not matter how one thinks of God and that the quality of one’s life is not affected by his religious beliefs, that one belief is as good as another. This is spiritual darkness, and those who so think are in imminent danger of sleeping the perpetual sleep.
Above the clouds the sun always shines. May we be awake to our spiritual possibilities in the love, knowledge, and service of the Lord. His powers encompass us, waiting to turn our darkness into day, like the glory that shone about the shepherds and that came upon the Apostles at the Resurrection. Above the mist clouds of the earth the sun always shines.