Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Religious Affections: The Marks of Genuine Christian Faith

By Ian Hamilton

What is a Christian? This is a question the Bible addresses with a number of related answers. A Christian is a "new creation" (2 Cor.5:17), someone born of the Spirit of God (Jn. 3:3-5), a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), a lover of the brethren (Jn. 13:35), someone who worships by the Spirit of God, who glories in Jesus Christ and who puts no confidence in the flesh (Phil.3:2). Much more, of course, could be said. In his treatise, The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards seeks to gather together the teaching of the Bible concerning genuine Christian faith and applies himself to describing, or anatomizing, the characteristics of a genuine Christian.

The great truth that Edwards seeks to establish and explain is, that "True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections" (1.236).

The background to Edwards' treatise was the remarkable revivals, or 'awakenings', that had marked New England in particular in the middle years of the 1730's and the early years of the 1740's. Similar revivals had touched parts of Scotland at the same time, most notably in Kilsyth and Cambuslang. Through his correspondence in particular with James Robe (Kilsyth) and William McCulloch (Cambuslang), Edwards was well aware of the dramatic events that so transformed for a time these two small towns on the outskirts of Glasgow.

In a letter to the James Robe, Edwards reveals his biblically sane approach to the dramatic, often physical experiences that marked the revivals in Scotland and New England: "Many among us have been ready to think, that all high raptures are divine; but experience plainly shows, that it is not the degree of rapture and ecstasy (though it should be to the third heavens), but the nature and kind that must determine us in their favour" [Letter to James Robe, 12 May 1743, Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 16, Letters and Personal Writings (Yale University Press 1998), 109]. Earlier in this letter, Edwards reports to Robe that "There is a great decay of the work of God amongst us, especially as to the awakening and converting influence of the Spirit of God; and the prejudices there are, in a great part of the country, are riveted and inveterate. The people are divided into two parties, those that favor the work and those that are against it, and the distinction has long been growing more and more visible...This is very much owing to imprudent management in the friends of the work, and a corrupt mixture which Satan has found means to introduce, and our manifold sinful errors, by which we have grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit" (16.108-109).

Religious Affections is therefore, in part, Edwards' attempt both to justify the revivals as genuine works of God, but also to subject the revivals to a reasonable and reasoned, biblical critique. Edwards knew well that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

The Religious Affections was written against a background of controversy initiated in the main by a Boston minister, Charles Chauncy (1705-1787). Chauncy, who later taught universal salvation, was especially aggrieved by and opposed to the often extreme physical effects produced in people awakened to their need of salvation through the preaching of men like Edwards and George Whitefield. He believed Christianity was calm, reasonable, careful and "unenthusiastic". He acknowledged, at least initially, that awakened sinners might experience a measure of spiritual distress. However, what he saw and heard in the 1742 Great Awakening deeply alarmed him: "'Tis scarce imaginable", he wrote, "what excesses and extravagances people were running into, and even encouraged in...(I)n the evening...there is a screaming and shrieking to the greatest degree; and the persons thus affected are generally children, young people, and women'" (quoted in George M Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, A Life (Yale University Press, 2003), 269-270.

Edwards does not dismiss out of hand Chauncy's criticisms of the revivals. He knew there had been experiential excesses. He understood from God's word that religious experiences could be dramatic, ecstatic and spiritual, and yet be false. In every genuine work of God, Satan is active, seeking to discredit, mock and oppose.

In his letter to Robe, Edwards acknowledges "It would have been better for us, if all ministers here had taken care diligently to distinguish such joys and raised affections, as were attended with deep humiliation, brokenness of heart, poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, solemnity of spirit, a trembling reverence towards God, tenderness of spirit, self-jealousy and fear, and great engagedness of heart, after holiness of life, and a readiness to esteem others better than themselves..." (16.109).

Chauncey and the opponents of the revivals may well have been wrong in their fundamental assessment of the "rapture and ecstasy" manifested in them, but Edwards recognized that "raised affections", unaccompanied by reverence, humility and holiness of life, were no true "gracious affections". It doesn't help the cause of the gospel when its friends were noted more for "noisy show" than "walking softly" (16.109).

In the light of the controversy, in Religious Affections, Edwards attempts to anatomize the marks of spurious religious experiences and to highlight the marks of genuine religious experiences. His aim was both theological and pastoral. The church needed to understand the nature of true, God honoring religion, and believers needed to be biblically and experientially grounded in their assurance before God. The priority of the moment was to highlight "the nature and kind" (16.109) of truly authentic, as opposed to spurious, religious experience. The public honor of God depended on it. The nature of true religion required it.

In his introduction, Edwards acknowledges that his treatise will not please everyone, but faithfulness to the cause of truth compels him to expose what has been "bad" in the recent revivals and to highlight what has been "good" (Banner ed. 1.234): "It is a difficult thing to be a hearty zealous friend of what has been good and glorious, in the late extraordinary appearances, and to rejoice much in it; and at the same time to see the evil and pernicious tendency of what has been bad, and earnestly to oppose that. But yet, I am humbly but fully persuaded, we shall never be in the way of truth, nor go on in a way acceptable to God, and tending to the advancement of Christ's kingdom, till we do so" (1.234). Far from being an uncritical apologist for the "late extraordinary appearances", Edwards seeks to apply the "clear and abundant light in the word of God to direct us in this matter" (1.234).

Yet, Edwards is sure that the "bad" in the revivals is the result, not of the revivals themselves: "It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ, all along hitherto. It is by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivings of religion, that ever have been since the first founding of the Christian church" (1.235). Edwards understood the fundamental supernatural character of biblical religion and the unceasing attempts of Satan to oppose and discredit true Christianity. This Chauncy never seemed to understand.

The opening words of the Religious Affections make abundantly plain the momentous nature of the work that Edwards is intent on exploring:

"THERE is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and what is more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue which is acceptable in the sight of God?"  (1.234).

Throughout his treatise, Edwards makes it clear that he is not setting doctrine against experience. He knows that any spiritual experience, however heightened and ecstatic, that is not rooted in the truth of God's word, is false and in no sense the gracious result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

What Are Religious Affections?

In appreciating Edwards' exposition we need to understand that by "affections" he does not mean emotions. For Edwards, religious affections are what motivate and determine our actions and the whole course of our life. He distinguishes affections from passions thus: "The affections and passions are frequently spoken of as the same; and yet in the more common use of speech, there is in some respect a difference. Affection is a word, that, in its ordinary signification, seems to be something more extensive than passion, being used for all vigorous lively actings of the will or inclination; but passion for those that are more sudden, and whose effects on the animal spirits are more violent, and the mind being more overpowered, and less in its own command" (1.237). Edwards wants us to understand that true religious affections are more than sudden, overpowering, uncontrollable emotions. Affections are never uncontrolled and always lead to a lifestyle shaped by the chosen desires of the will. The nature of the affection will mean that the lifestyle will be directed and shaped by one of two inclinations: "The exercises... (of the affections) are of two sorts; either, those by which the soul is carried out towards the things in view in approving them; or, those in which the soul opposes the things in view, in disapproving them; and in being displeased with, and averse from, and rejecting them" (1.237).

Religious affections are not unemotional, but neither are they to be equated with emotion as such. To use a word that John Owen uses, Edwards understands true religious affections as having a "relish" in God and the gospel and a distaste for everything and everyone that opposes God and the gospel. A genuine religious affection sees and 'tastes' (Ps.34:8) something of the beauty, excellency and wisdom of Jesus Christ and his gospel and seeks to pattern all of life according to the word and will of God revealed in Holy Scripture.

Edwards main concern, once he has explained what he means by spiritual affections, is to highlight what are not genuine signs, and then what are genuine signs, of godly religious affections. To this end his design is to "contribute my mite" (1.235).

Edwards first highlights twelve marks or features of spiritual experience which, in and of themselves, are no sure indication of the powerful, regenerating, heart and mind transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Showing What are no Certain Signs That Religious Affections are Truly Gracious or That They are Not (2.245)

1.     "It is no sign one way or other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high" (1.245)
2.     "It is no sign that affections have the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they have great effects on the body" (1.246)
3.     "It is no sign that affections are truly gracious, or that they are not, that they cause those who have them, to be fluent, fervent, and abundant in talking of religious things" (1.247)
4.     "It is no sign that affections are gracious, or that they are otherwise, that persons did not excite them by their own endeavours" (1.248)
5.     "It is no sign that religious affections are truly holy and spiritual, or that they are not, that they come to the mind in a remarkable manner with texts of Scripture" (1.249)
6.     "It is no evidence that religious affections are saving, or that they are otherwise, that there is an appearance of love in them" (1.250)
7.     "Persons having religious affections of many kinds, accompanying one another, is not sufficient to determine whether they have any gracious affections or no" (1.250)
8.     "Nothing can certainly be determined concerning the nature of the affections, that comforts and joys seem to follow in a certain order" (1.252)
9.     "It is no certain sign that affections have in them the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship" (1.255)
10.  Nothing can be certainly known of the nature of religious affections, that they much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God" (1.255)
11.  "It is no sign that affections are right, or that they are wrong, that they make persons exceeding confident" (1.256).
12.  "Nothing can be certainly concluded concerning the nature of religious affections, that the relations persons give of them, are very affecting" (1.260).

Edwards is not saying that people who exhibit these marks are not true believers. He is saying that these marks 'by themselves' ('being alone') are no true indication of the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit.

These twelve affirmations are developed in seventeen, double column pages in the Banner of Truth edition. That Edwards' main concern, however, was to focus on the "affections that are spiritual and gracious" (1.262), is seen in the space he gives to anatomizing those truly gracious and authentic gospel affections. In the space of seventy-four pages, in which he highlights twelve (fourteen sections in the Banner of Truth edition, but sections 12-14 all focus on the one theme of "Christian practice") features of godly, Holy Spirit inspired affections, Edwards highlights the essential character of truly Christian affections. He is seeking to establish, as he reflects on the recent revivals, the birthmarks of authentic revival Christianity. Edwards does not mean that these affections will only be found in times of revival. Revivals are but heightened, often remarkably heightened Spiritual occasions that are the native Spirit-wrought birthright and experience of all believers.

The Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections (1.262)

We can best appreciate Edwards' distinguishing signs of truly authentic religious affections by first highlighting his twelfth and final sign. Everything before leads up to this final decisive sign. The space Edwards devotes to his exposition of 'spiritual fruit bearing' underscores how significant he believed this sign to be. Of the seventy-four pages devoted to "gracious and holy affections", twenty-four pages expound the exercise and fruit of gracious and holy affections "in Christian practice". For Edwards this meant three things for a true Christian:

"1. That his behaviour or practice in the world be universally conformed to, and directed by Christian rules. 2. That he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things; that it be a business which he is chiefly engaged in, and devoted to, and pursues with highest earnestness and diligence: so that he may be said to make this practice of religion eminently his work and business. And 3. That he persists in it to the end of life: so that it may be said, not only to be his business at certain seasons, the business of Sabbath days, or certain extraordinary times, or the business of a month, or a year, or of seven years, or his business under certain circumstances; but the business of his life; it being that business which he perseveres in through all changes, and under all trials, as long as he lives" (1.314).

The business or practice of bearing fruit in the day to day walk of the Christian is for Edwards the culminating sign of the presence of gracious and holy affections. Where this is absent, no gracious and holy affection can be present. "Universal obedience" (1.314) to the word and will of God is the fruit produced in any and every life in which gracious and godly affections are present.

It is hard not to think that Edwards has the strictures of Chauncy and other opponents of the revivals in mind. Not only is Edwards concerned to distance himself, and the revivals, from certain physical and emotional excesses, he is also concerned to make it abundantly clear that "universal obedience" to "Christian rules" (1.314) belongs to the essence of affectional Christianity.We are now able better to appreciate the twelve (fourteen) signs that Edwards maintains are to be found in "affections that are truly spiritual and gracious."

1.    "Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine" (1.264)
2.    "The first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things, as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest" (1.274).
3.    "Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the moral excellency of divine things. Or, a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections" (1.278)
4.    "Gracious affections arise from the mind being enlightened rightly and spiritually to apprehend divine things"(1.281)
5.    "Truly gracious affections are attended with a conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things" (1.288)
6.    "Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation" (1.294)
7.    "Another thing, wherein gracious affections are distinguished from others, is, that they are attended with a change of nature" (1.302)
8.    "Truly gracious affections differ from those that are false and delusive, in that they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy, as appeared in Christ" (1.303)
9.    "Gracious affections soften the heart and are attended with a christian tenderness of spirit" (1.307)
10.  "Another thing wherein those affections that are truly gracious and holy, differ from those that are false, is beautiful symmetry and proportion" (1.309)
11.  "Another great and very distinguishing difference is, that the higher gracious affections are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased: on the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves" (1.312)
12.  "Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in christian practice" (1.314)
13.  "Christian practice, or holy life, is a manifestation and sign of the sincerity of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbours and brethren" (1.321)
14.  "Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons' own consciences" (1.324)

For Edwards, "Practice is the best evidence of a saving belief of the truth" and "the most proper evidence of a true coming to Christ, and accepting of and closing with him" (1.331). Thus he concludes, "I have endeavoured to represent the evidence there is, that christian practice is the chief of all the signs of saving grace" (1.333)

Edwards concludes his treatise with an appeal:

"We should then get into the way of appearing lively in religion, more by being lively in the service of God and our generation, than by the forwardness of our tongues, and making a business of proclaiming on the house-tops the holy and eminent acts and exercises of our own hearts. Then Christians who are intimate friends, would talk together of their experiences and comforts, in a manner better becoming christian humility and modesty, and more to each other's profit; their tongues not running before their hands and feet...Thus the light of professors would so shine before men, that others seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven" (1.336).

It is fitting that Edwards' concluding words on religious affections should quote the Lord Jesus Christ's concluding words to his Beatitudes (Matt.5:16). Jesus speaks here of the powerful impact of a grace transformed, gospel obedient life on a fallen, spiritually dark world. It has been said that evangelism is "Christians being Christians in the world" (J.I. Packer). This in no sense denies the importance of concentrated, church-initiated evangelistic endeavors. It does however challenge us to ask ourselves the question, "Does my life evidence me to be a true Christian, a possessor of godly and gracious affections?"

There is much discussion and debate in the church today about how best to commend the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no doubt the church needs to engage relevantly and thoughtfully with world. We need to start where the world is and not where we would like it to be. But surely the church's greatest need is to live grace transformed and gospel obedient lives that compels the world's attention, no doubt much to its own surprise and disgust.

Edwards' Religious Affections searches our hearts. He paints a biblical picture of genuine Christian Faith and life, and invites us to examine our lives in that light. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Resting in the Sovereignty of God: The Spiritual Benefits of Peaceful Slumber

Editor's Note: The following was originally published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, 8, 2, 2016

By Zachary Groff

The increasing use of electronic devices in modern societies presents an old, spiritual problem in a new, more technologically advanced form. Laptops and smartphones have emerged as co-belligerents alongside electric lighting, late-night television programming, sugar, and caffeine in the long war against the singular benefits of restful sleep. For tech-savvy Americans, personal experience confirms what academic studies have observed repeatedly: “night-time use of screen-based gadgets has a bad effect on peoples’ sleep.”1 As influential as new technology may be, voluntary sleep deprivation and neglect is primar­ily related to the spiritual sickness of pride rather than exclusively to the unique challenges presented by modernity. As one correspondent for NPR put it, “I live and report in New York City, and there is definitely a kind of pride or resignation here about lack of sleep.”2
Understanding the activity of sleep as something other than an inconvenience is of the utmost practical importance to Christians in all walks of life. In a society that values maximum productivity, and in a culture that exalts so-called “short sleepers,”3 the biblical injunction to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) in relation to sleep may seem difficult to apply. But sleep is a God-ordained means of both sustaining people physically and humbling them spiritually, enabling them better to glorify Him. In sleep, we not only prepare for the day ahead, but we admit tacitly our inescapable dependence on God as our creator and sustainer. My purpose in this article is to explore how sleep, perhaps surprisingly, helps men and women glorify and enjoy God as creatures bearing His image.

Sleep as a Gift from God

Sleep is an instrument of general revelation in that God makes known to every man and woman their common need for God’s protec­tion every night. Our bodies are part of the creation that testifies to God’s existence and present activity; the universal physical need for sleep testifies to our great need for God as both our protector and our sustainer. Paul wrote forcefully in Romans 1:20, “For the invis­ible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” The frailty of the human physical condition reveals His invisible attributes by contrast rather than by direct analogy. As Albert Martin observes, “It is an established fact of general revelation and nature that optimum physi­cal health is most likely maintained with concern” for physical needs such as exercise, a nutritional diet, and “adequate rest.”4
God gives us a picture of spiritual rest through the analogy of physical sleep. Just as people who are asleep have entered into their slumber, believers, through faith in Jesus Christ, are entering into the spiritual rest prepared for them beforehand by the Father.5 Following this analogy, consider the voluntary insomniac who actively resists sleep and does not find adequate rest. In biblical terms, resistance to the things of God is disobedience against His righteous laws. It is on account of their disobedience that unbelievers fail to enter into God’s rest: “they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief ” (Heb. 4:6b).
What does obedience to the gospel look like? Furthermore, can we apply the principle of that restful obedience to physical sleep? Hebrews 4 builds on a rich redemptive-historical background which can help us understand the kind of disobedience that is in view and the obedience which accompanies the rest promised in Christ. The author of Hebrews (4:7b) appeals to King David’s admonition in Psalm 95, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.” The hardening that David warned against is that which the sons of Israel were guilty of at Massah and Meribah in Exodus 17:1–7. They tested the Lord by grumbling against Moses and demanding that he provide water for them. The Israelites’ grumbling exemplifies obsti­nacy and ungrateful insubordination towards God. The converse of such insubordination is joyous praise and humble worship of God as “a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3), who exer­cises control over all that He has created. David thus exhorted the people, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Ps. 95:6–7). David called believ­ers to submit to God in faith, resting worshipfully in His sovereign care for them.
God Watches Over our Slumber
font-size: 11.0pt;">Believers surrender to God because He is uniquely qualified to receive their absolute trust. Infinite in His holiness, God is set apart from all things, “a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3b). One expression of His infinite power, holiness, and goodness is that “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). The people of God literally lay their heads down at night, trusting their infinitely good God to keep them in His care. The believer submits daily to God’s design when he closes his eyes in restful slumber and trusts his Savior to preserve his soul. The act of sleeping illustrates the surrender of the creature to the Creator. Adrian Reynolds articulates this dynamic well when he writes, “the willingness to lie down and sleep is itself an expression of trust in the sovereign hand of God. Nothing is going to happen to me that He does not determine.”6 The believer places his trust in God unconditionally, regardless of whether God has decreed for him to wake in the morning or to enter into glory that very night.
As a believer prepares to go to sleep, he should reflect on the spiri­tual significance of actively entrusting himself into the Lord’s care. Puritan Henry Scudder (1585–1662) referenced Proverbs 3:21–25 and 6:21–22 to encourage his readers to trust in the Lord at each day’s end. He directed his audience to “fall asleep with some heavenly medita­tion, then will your sleep be more sweet, and more secure…and your heart will be in a better frame when you awake.”7 Those who resist such wise counsel refuse to trust God, who created them as physical beings in need of sleep. Scudder offered a disconcerting alternative: “though you have God to watch when you sleep, you cannot be safe, if he that watches be your enemy.”8
Surrender to God through Sleep
Scripture uses descriptions of physical rest to illustrate the wisdom of surrendering to God’s providence. Though Job’s friend Zophar falsely diagnosed the cause of Job’s affliction, he provided generally good advice when he directed Job to repent of iniquity.9 By doing so, Job would experience security in God’s favor. This finds its physi­cal expression in sleep. Zophar claims, “And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety. Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee” (Job 11:18–19). He that truly trusts in the saving grace of God will not only be assured in his mind and become secure in the Father’s care, but he will reflect that assurance in his life in experiencing daily physical rest.
Sleep also provides a daily occasion of thanksgiving. Even if a man has nothing else, to awake in the morning full of life and breath provides him with great cause for gratitude to God. Rising in the morning to a symphony of life in a home full of children, or to the delicious smells of breakfast, or to a house kept safe overnight should drive a man to his knees in thanksgiving to God for His unmerited favor. Scudder insisted, “In the instant of awaking let your heart be lifted up to God with a thankful acknowledgment of his mercy to you…. For, while you sleep, you are as it were out of actual possession of yourself, and all things else. Now, it was God that kept you, and all that you had, and restored them again, with many new mercies, when you awaked.”10
Sleeping in Humiliation, Waking in Exaltation
As Scudder suggested above, sleep necessarily proves human weak­ness. When practiced rightly, sleep also expresses humility, paralleling the spiritual humiliation with which every believer must come to terms at the foot of the cross. Paul called the church to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus….  And being found in fash­ion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:5, 8–9a).
The Westminster Larger Catechism states that the Mediator between God and man must be human in order to “have a fellow feeling for our infirmities” (Q. 39). It defines Christ’s humiliation as including “subjecting himself to…infirmities in his flesh, whether common to the nature of man, or particularly accompanying that his low condition” (Q. 48). In one notable incident, Christ is recounted in the Gospels as having slept in the midst of a storm!11 Even while bearing the most basic physical weakness “common to the nature of man,” He rested securely in perfect confidence that the Father would preserve Him in sleep. After quelling the tempest, Christ famously reprimanded His disciples by inquiring where their faith was that they should be so fearful in the midst of the storm.12
Just as spiritual humiliation in this life blossoms into perfect spiritual exaltation in the next, so a night of healthy sleep produces a morning of physical and mental vigor. Prefiguring Christ’s exam­ple of sleeping in the storm, King David characterized sleep as an expression of trust in God. In the midst of Absalom’s rebellion, David wrote, “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me” (Ps. 3:5). David continued this theme in song: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). As Reynolds summarizes rightly, “This peace about going to sleep expresses a trust and confidence that God is in control and watching over us.”13
Reynolds further describes sleep as a “part of our created human­ity, a good gift from God to be treasured and enjoyed; an earthly picture of a spiritual reality.”14 Sleep is especially a gift to Christians. It anticipates, by way of analogy, the promised rest described in Hebrews 4. Sleep gives us a daily opportunity to entrust ourselves to the care and provision of the Lord, surrendering to God through the course of our lives.
With a clear picture of what sleep is—a gift of God rather than an inconvenience—we can now move forward to explore the need for and uses of sleep in greater detail.

Sleep is Necessary

The deleterious effects of sleep deprivation on our bodies are peren­nial objects of study to researchers in medical fields ranging from neuroscience and psychology to immunology and cardiology.15 Beyond a doubt, healthy sleep is a basic physical necessity for human well-being. Calvin’s clear injunction applies to us today: “For if we must live, we must also use the necessary instruments for life.”16 Understanding that sleep is a gift from God, Calvin’s follow-up state­ment applies to us with equal force: “the use of gifts of God cannot be wrong, if they are directed to the same purpose for which the Creator himself has created and destined them.”17 Yet a man’s need for healthy sleep habits extends beyond physical requirements. Just as with other divine gifts that are common to all people, there is great spiritual ben­efit in sleeping properly. Scudder described sleep as that “which being taken in its due measure, is a restorer of vigour and strength to your body, and a quickener of the spirits.”18 It is a divine gift to be used wisely and well, to both physical and spiritual ends.
A Physical Need
Maintaining healthy sleep patterns nightly is the foundational means by which we sustain stable and productive energy levels in our work and ministry. Martin observes that the first step for Christian min­isters who seek to achieve healthy physical practices is to “beware of seeking to serve God in the office and functions of the ministry as through you were a disembodied spirit, rather than a creature of flesh and blood.”19 This warning applies equally to all Christians in every vocation. Though Martin’s immediate aim is to encourage ministers to establish healthy physical disciplines for godly living, his ultimate goal is to prevent spiritual burnout, partly due to neglecting physical needs. He writes, “Ministerial burnout ordinarily occurs as a result of neglecting the fundamental mental and physical disciplines ordained by God for our general well-being.”20 Men must recognize that they are physical, not merely spiritual, beings. Only God is a “Spirit, infi­nite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”21 By way of contrast, men are embodied souls. We are finite, temporal, and mutable. Sleep serves as a reminder of the frailty of the human condition, and of our need for God. Sadly, for many, it is a relatively ineffectual reminder quickly squelched by our unreasonable aspirations of improving productivity.

Presenting the Full-Orbed Gospel in Our Sleep

The act of sleep should remind believers of the gospel—namely, of God’s gracious deliverance of His people through Christ out of spiritual deadness. Awaking from sleep provides a picture of the Spirit’s work of regeneration, our experience of sanctification, and a reminder of the promise of future resurrection. In his directions for meditation immediately after waking in the morning, Scudder wrote, “[I]t will be useful to think upon some of these: I must awake from the sleep of sin, to righteousness…. Think also of your awaking out of the sleep of death, and out of the grave, at the sound of the last trumpet, even of your blessed resurrection unto glory, at the last day.”22 Reynolds adds, “[W]hen we wake up and thank God for a good night’s rest we should be thanking Him that one glorious day we will wake in His presence for all eternity.”23
In addition to being a physical necessity and a spiritual reminder, sleep also plays an important role as an instrument of progressive sanctification. Just as healthy sleep patterns implicitly declare the sovereign care of God, they assist in the important work of mortifying sins like anxiety, paranoia, doubt, stress, and unwarranted crankiness. As D. A. Carson affirms, “[I]f you are among those who become nasty, cynical, or even full of doubt when you are missing sleep, you are morally obligated to try to get the sleep you need.”24 This strong rebuke is not only for the rebellious unbeliever seeking to fight against God’s clear designs for human physical well-being. The danger of compromising the value of one’s Christian witness by the consequences of curtailing sleep should cause believers to consider Carson’s words. Martyn Lloyd-Jones provided a cautionary description of the over-wearied well-doer when he wrote, “They are moving in the right direction but the trouble is that they are shuffling along with drooping heads and hands and the whole spectacle and picture they present is the very antithesis of what the Christian is meant to be in this life and world.”25 As Carson suggests, one remedy to such burdensome weariness is restoring healthy, balanced sleep regimens.
Lastly, healthy sleep patterns not only help believers “die unto sin,” but they also empower them to “live unto righteousness” by the effectual work of God’s free grace.26 Establishing a healthy routine of rest promotes diligence, productivity, faithfulness, temperance, purity, and self-control in every aspect and area of life. As Kevin DeYoung notes, “If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.”27 Recognizing that “God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure,”28 it is not unreasonable to expect to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in the lives of believers by means of caring for the body faithfully. We cultivate “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23) in our lives partly by proper care for the whole person, both in body and in spirit. To quote Carson again: “We are whole, complicated beings: our physical existence is tied up to our spiritual well-being, to our mental outlook, to our relationships with others, including our relationship with God.”29

Sleep Under Attack

In order to examine how sleep can be abused and how such abuses violate God’s law, we will explore slothfulness, gluttony, and neglect in relation to sleep, and how they manifest the effects of pride on people’s sleep habits.
Slothfulness involves overindulging in sleep. It is a parody of what sleep should be. As Scudder counselled, “You should sleep only so much as the present state of your body requires; you must not be like the sluggard, to love sleep.”30 DeYoung clarifies the biblical meaning of the term “sluggard”: “When Proverbs talks about the sluggard lying on his bed, it has in mind the kind of person who would rather starve than strive, the person who would rather receive a handout than put his hands to work.”31 The slothful man uses sleep irresponsibly with no plan to work productively and to worship God. He fails to regard sleep as something to be planned for and respected in its appropriate time and place. Slothfulness is ultimately an expression of sinful self-gratification and irresponsibility; these impulses flow from a prideful disregard of God and His mandate that we work as unto His glory. Commenting on Proverbs 20:13,32 Reynolds writes, “Don’t spend all day in bed—get up and do some work! Sleep here is an idol because it supplants the command to work.”33 Lethargy is the result of persistent slothfulness. This leads to restlessness, temptation, and further occasions for sin.
Gluttony is the sinful overindulgence of lawful things, especially with respect to food, alcohol, entertainment, and other things we consume. When allowed to grow in our lives unhindered, these influences consume time, vitality, and reputation. Martin writes, “Scripture does demand that we deny bodily appetites that are inordinate and irregular…lest through the corruption of remaining sin they lead into a course of sin.”34 Like the slothful man, the glutton does not esteem sleep as something to be structured purposefully as he goes about his daily activities. He might, for instance, give no consideration to allowing his body to slow down as he lifts a shot of espresso to his lips late in the day. He might choose to watch another hour of television programming when he should be preparing for bed. Overindulgence in otherwise good things can hinder restful, productive sleep.
Slothfulness and gluttony both exemplify the “scattered, frantic, boundary-less busyness”35 that has defined much of the American experience in the early twenty-first century. Like slothfulness, gluttony will put us on a hedonic treadmill of restlessness, temptation, and more self-indulgence. This pattern of escalating sinfulness is rooted in a prideful rejection of God’s warnings to seek moderation and balance while enjoying His good gifts in this world. As noted by Calvin, taking pleasure in moderate use of the things that are necessary for life should cultivate happiness. 36
The neglect of sleep is another danger. Essentially, neglect mani­fests sinful self-reliance. Though present in slothfulness and gluttony, neglect is seen most clearly in the workaholic who neglects healthy sleep patterns in order to accomplish tasks that seem to require immediate attention. This “workaholism,” when accompanied by the neglect of sleep, leads to over-exhaustion, burn-out, and the inability to strike a healthy balance in life. Self-imposed sleep deprivation is a grave infraction of God’s moral law, summarized in the Ten Com­mandments.37 As the Puritan Thomas Vincent observed, the sixth commandment requires “[t]he nourishing and refreshing our bodies in a sober and moderate use of meat, drink, and sleep.”38 When we reject God’s clear direction to pursue bodily health, we implicitly place ourselves above God as the authority on what is right and wrong in our lives. More directly, neglecting sleep in vain self-reliance may express destructive self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. As DeYoung writes, “God made us to need sleep, and when we think we can sur­vive without it, we not only spurn his gift (Ps. 127:2); we show our mistaken self-reliance…. Going to sleep is our way of saying, ‘I trust you, God. You’ll be okay without me.’”39 Reynolds puts it similarly by writing, “the willingness to lie down and sleep is itself an expression of trust and faith in a sovereign God.”40 In summary, slothfulness, gluttony, and neglect of healthful sleep patterns are born of the age-old desire to dethrone the Father in order to enthrone ourselves.


In order to honor God through sleep, we must recognize that we should devote the entire day to serving and glorifying God. Diligence in work leads to ease in resting at the right time. Healthful eating throughout the day also has the effect of enabling the body to shut down in due time, and to rest without hindrance. By depending on God as described above, we can establish self-control, which helps us to maintain proper sleep regimens. By recognizing the spiritual significance of sleep, we take a fresh approach to slumber by regard­ing it as a cause for thanksgiving rather than as an inconvenience or “necessary evil.”
Sleep provides us with a daily reminder of several universal spir­itual realities. The primary reminder is that we are created beings dependent upon an infinite, ever-wakeful and watchful God. As such, we should receive sleep with gratitude as a divine gift and neither neglect nor abuse it. For Christians, this is especially important since God calls us to worship and glorify Him as He renews us in every aspect of our being after His image. This doxological motivation for taking care of our bodies must accompany us as we travel through this world to our heavenly home—rest stops included.

1.     “To Sleep, Perchance,” The Economist, May 16, 2015. -biggest-teenagers-sleep (October 15, 2015).
2.     Margot Adler, “In Today’s World, the Well-Rested Lose Respect,” National Public Radio. (Octo­ber 15, 2015).
3.     Melinda Beck, “The Sleepless Elite,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2011. (Octo­ber 15, 2015).
4.     Albert N. Martin, You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges, Reprint edition (Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 109.
5.     Hebrews 4:1, 3, 5, 6, 10, 11.
6.      Adrian Reynolds, And so to Bed...: A Biblical View of Sleep (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014), 42.
7.     Henry Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Pub­lications, 1984), 96.
8.     Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 94.
9.     Cf. Job 11:13–15.
10.  Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 29.
11.  Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23.
12.  Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25.
13.  Reynolds, And so to Bed…, 42.
14.  Reynolds, And so to Bed…, 10.
15.  Cf. Janet M. Mullington et al., “Cardiovascular, Inflammatory and Meta­bolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation,” Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases 51, no. 4 (2009): 294–302; David F. Dinges et al., “Sleep Deprivation and Human Immune Function,” Advances in Neuroimmunology 5, no. 2 (1995): 97–110; Michael W. L. Chee and Wei Chieh Choo, “Functional Imaging of Working Memory after 24 Hrs of Total Sleep Deprivation,” The Journal of Neuroscience 24, no. 19 (May 12, 2004): 456–67.
16.  John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, trans. Henry Van Andel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 83.
17.  Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, 86.
18.  Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 96.
19.  Martin, You Lift Me Up, 104, 119.
20.  Martin, You Lift Me Up, 103.
21.  WSC Q. 4.
22.  Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 29–30.
23.  Reynolds, And so to Bed…, 58.
24.  D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 147, as quoted in Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2013), 97.
25.  David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, reprinted edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 191–92.
26.  WSC Q. 35 reads, “What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
27.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 92.
28.  WCF 5:3.
29.  Carson, Scandalous, 147, as quoted in DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 97.
30.  Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 96.
31.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 94.
32.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 92.
33.  WCF 5:3.
34.  Carson, Scandalous, 147, as quoted in DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 97.
35.  Scudder, The Christian’s Daily Walk, 96.
36.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 94.
37.  Prov. 20:13 cautions, “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.”
38.  Reynolds, And so to Bed…, 54.
39.  Martin, You Lift Me Up, 110–11.
40.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 98.
41.  Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, 84.
42.  WSC Q. 41 reads, “Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended? The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.”
43.  Thomas Vincent, “The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained and Proved from Scripture,” Westminster Shorter Catechism Project, (October 16, 2015).
44.  DeYoung, Crazy Busy, 95.
45.  Reynolds, And so to Bed…, 26.