I sleep, but my heart wakes: it is the voice of my beloved that knocks, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love…
The experiences of the saints are useful guide posts on the heavenly road. They help by way of counsel, caution, inspiration, comfort, warning. Some experiences recorded serve as lighthouses, some as beacons. A wise pilgrim will not despise any one of them. If a traveller is about to cross Africa from west to east, he will not fail to ask what were the fortunes and experiences of those who have already made that perilous journey. He will learn from their mistakes and their sufferings what to avoid. He will learn from their successes how far he should tread in their footsteps. The journey is not so difficult now as it was to the first adventurer. A similitude this of the heavenly pilgrimage. Others have passed this way before us. We are indebted to them for the record of their checkered fortunes. They tell us how they climbed the hill Difficulty. They tell us how they were overtaken with the foe unwarily. They tell us how they fought, and by what methods they conquered. They tell us how at times spiritual drowsiness crept over them; how they bemoaned their folly; how they aroused themselves afresh. Then we discover that this infirmity is not peculiar to ourselves. We do not deny ourselves the consolation that we really belong to Christ, though we have been foolish enough to sleep in his service. There is blight upon the tree, and a reduction of fruitfulness; nevertheless, the tree has life in its roots. Blemishes are upon me; still I am in Christ.
I. HERE IS A STATE OF INSENSIBILITY CONFESSED. "I sleep." It is a figure of speech borrowed from the sensations of the body. Our physical nature needs periodic sleep. But many indolent persons sleep when they do not need it; and it is this needless sleep - this ignoble sleep - that is here described. Unlike the body, the soul requires no sleep.
1. It is a state of inaction. For the time being sight and hearing are suspended. All bodily sensations are awaiting. The sleeper is unconscious of all that is occurring round about him. Sleep is the brother of death. So, if the soul sleeps, it is a transient death. Our best Friend is near, but we cannot see him. If he speaks, we do not hear his voice. We have no enjoyment of his friendship. The sun of God's favour may shine upon our path; we do not perceive it. We have no conscious communion with Jesus. We find no nourishment in the sacred Word. The ordinances of the sanctuary have lost their charm. We do not grow in grace. We make no progress heavenward. It is inglorious inaction.
2. It is a blamable condition. We are servants of God, and to sleep is to waste our Master's time. It is an act of unfaithfulness. The Son of God has entrusted to us the campaign against error and sin; yet, lo! we sleep on the battlefield. Tens of thousands round about us know nothing of God's salvation; and yet we sleep. Satan is busy ensnaring men in the pitfalls of vice; and yet we sleep. The heathen world is waiting to hear Heaven's gospel; now and again a voice booms across the sea, "Come over and help us!" yet we sleep. Our own crown is imperilled; yet we sleep. This brief life is slipping from us; the day of service wilt soon terminate; the great assize is close at hand; yet we sleep. Is it not matter for self-condemnation?
3. It is a state of peril. A time of sleep is the time for robbers to do their evil work; and we imperil the heavenly treasures when we slothfully sleep. Our wily adversary lies in wait for our unguarded moments. If he can breathe upon the Church a spirit of slumber, he has gained a great advantage for himself. To lull Christians into sleep is his most successful stratagem. In one of his parables Jesus tells us that "while men slept, the enemy sowed his tares." Saul, the King of Israel, exposed his life to imminent danger when he slept in the cave. If a man is insensible to the deadly paralysis that is creeping over him, he is not far from death. And if we Christians become insensible to our sin, or insensible to our dependence on Christ, or insensible to God's claims, we are in great danger. What if God should say to us, "They prefer their sleep: let them alone"! Then our sleep would deepen into the collapse of death.
4. Spiritual sleep entails loss. How much of spiritual blessing the eleven lost, when they slept in Gethsemane, no tongue can tell. We lose the approval of a good conscience, and that is a serious loss. We lose the approving smile of Christ, and that is a loss far greater. We lose the vigour of our piety. We lose the freshness of enthusiasm. We lose courage. We lose spiritual enjoyment. We lose self-respect. A sense of shame sweeps over the soul. The temperature of our love has gone down. Instead of pressing forward, we have gone backward. It is a loss immeasurable.
II. HERE IS A VERY PROMISING SIGN. "My heart waketh." How true is this record to the facts in ourselves! The heart is the spiritual organ that wakes first. For the heart is the seat of feeling, desire, and affection. The heart must move before the will, and the will before the feet.
1. This language denotes disquietude. The man is neither quite asleep nor quite awake. This is an uncomfortable state. It denotes a divided heart. It is not altogether with Christ nor altogether with the world. We cannot endure the thought of leaving Christ, and so forego the hope of heaven. We like some of the experiences of religion. But then we love self in about an equal proportion. We grasp as much pleasure as we can. Hence this vacillation. This is a great loss of Christ's friendship; a sin to treat Jesus thus. This self-indulgence now will produce a large fruitage of remorse by and by.
2. It is a good sign that this indecision is recognized. It might have been otherwise. The sin might have been unfelt. Conscience might have been drugged with the opiate of self-confidence. When a Christian perceives his own imperfections, and confesses them, there is manifestly some spiritual life within. His state is not hopeless. God's Spirit has not withdrawn his activities from that man. If he will diligently follow the light which he has, it will lead him to his true home and rest.
3. This language indicates desire for a better state. The heart is the seat of desire, and, thank God, the heart is awake. If this desire be not overpowered by stronger desires of an evil sort, all will yet be well. This desire, unhindered, will work like leaven, till it has leavened the whole man. It will disturb the man's peace until it is gratified. This desire is the work of God's good Spirit; and, if we will only yield to his quickening influence, he will make desire ripen into resolve, and resolve into action. A man's desires are a gauge of the man's character. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
4. It is another good sign when a sleepy Christian recognizes Christ's voice. "It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh." The bride in our text not merely heard a sound, but she was so far awake as to know that it was her lover's voice. It is a fact that we hear the voice of one we know, and of one we love, much sooner than we bear the voice of a stranger. A mother will hear the cry of her babe sooner than she will hear the cry of another child. If we hear our Master's voice, then faith is not asleep. "Faith cometh by hearing." Of all Christ's sheep this is a sure mark; they hear Christ's voice. "A stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers." We know well that if any one strives to arouse us out of sleep, it will be our best Friend. No one else will take such pains to bless us. Ah! if I hear in my soul a rousing voice, if I am moved to holier aspiration, I instinctively say, "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh." Then ought I most gladly to respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
III. HERE IS A GRACIOUS CALL. This is the reason why the Christian's heart is awake: Jesus calls and knocks. A Christian cannot sleep under such an appeal.
1. Christ's whole Person engages in this call. He not only speaks with his voice; he knocks with his hand. He knocks by the preaching of faithful ministers. He knocks by the counsels of a pious friend. He knocks by his afflictive providences. He knocks by his royal bounties. Every fresh gift is a fresh appeal. He knocks by many a startling event that happens about us. He knocks at the door of memory, at the door of feeling, at the door of conscience, at the door of affection. He tries every door, if so be his kindly errand may succeed. He has too much earnest love for us easily to desist. Such love is born, not on earth, but in heaven.
2. He not only knocks; he speaks. He appeals to our intelligent nature. He will not use force or compulsion. That were unseemly on the part of love. Jesus will use measures equally potent, but of a winsome, spiritual sort. He speaks to the heart of saints in a "still small voice." There is a latent power in his gentleness. When God spake to despondent Elijah in the desert, he did not speak in earthquake, or in thunder, or in whirlwind, but in a soft human voice. No sound breaks on the ear; the message goes straight to the conscience and to the heart. Have we not, in hours of retirement, often heard the music of his voice, gently chiding us for neglect, or sweetly moving us to closer fellowship? We may resist the appeal, but, alas! we increase our guilt; we cheat our souls of joy.
3. He addresses us by the most endearing epithets. "My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled." Every argument that can move us to a better life he will employ. The whole vocabulary of human speech he will exhaust, to assure us of his interest. He reminds us of our many professions of attachment. He brings to our remembrance our plighted troth. Did we not at one time say that we were his? Have we not pledged ourselves to be faithful over and over again? What an array of perjured vows lie on his book? Can we think of them without self-condemnation?
4. He appeals to us on the ground of his deeds and endurances. "My head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." It is the pathetic picture of a friend who has been refused customary hospitality, and who has spent the cold night appealing for admission. This is the picture, and the meaning thereof is plain. Jesus Christ has to endure hardship and pain through our self-indulgence and our spiritual stupor. Alas! we shut him out from his own temple. We shut out our best Friend'. Alter all that he has done for us, yea, suffered for us, in proof of his strong affection, shall we treat him with cold neglect, with heartless contempt? Shall he be all ardour, and shall we be frigid as an iceberg? Shall his nature be all love, and shall ours be all selfishness? Then we are not like him. Is not this to "crucify our Lord afresh, and put him to open shame"? Surely here is a test of character. He who can hear these gracious appeals unmoved, hath never felt the stirrings of the new life; he hath no part in the covenant of grace. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
WEB: I was asleep, but my heart was awake. It is the voice of my beloved who knocks: "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, and my hair with the dampness of the night."