And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.…
I. THE EXHORTATION. These words are appropriate to the first Sunday in the year. When the bells ring out the old year and ring in the new, they seem to chime, "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep."
1. St. Paul is speaking not to those who were asleep in sin, but to active Christians. And there are few things in Scripture more striking than the remonstrances addressed to such. Ordinarily little or no account seems taken of their progress, but they are dealt with as having yet much to do. The nominal Christian ought to be much struck with this. If he who has been long labouring is thus admonished, what must be the state of those who have not yet taken the first steps in Christianity?
2. But the real Christian may also find cause for alarm, notwithstanding the promises in his favour. And when we call to mind that in the parable all the virgins, the wise as well as the foolish, slumbered, we cannot but conclude that there is no privilege to godly men of dispensing with watchfulness. It is vigilance, not indolence, to which believers are elected. The best proof that a man is not elect, is his making election his pillow, and going to sleep upon his own predestination.
3. Our text, however, may be taken in comparative sense. The righteous may "not sleep as do others." Yet you may find so vast a disproportion between the energy exerted and the energy demanded, that the actual wakefulness is practical listlessness. Spiritual slumber is not necessarily the folding up of every power and faculty, but the not developing them in the necessary degree. Some energy is still torpid, some affection is still spellbound, and thus the whole man is not spiritually roused. And over and above the slumber of certain faculties, those which are awake are but half awake. Where is that struggling which would result from the combination of an eye all faith and a heart all love?
II. THE MOTIVE BY WHICH ST. PAUL STRIVES TO STIR CHRISTIANS FROM COMPARATIVE INDOLENCE — "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."
1. This argument which is drawn from the greater nearness of death is not of equal urgency when applied to believer and unbeliever. In applying it to the latter, I just tell him that he has less time in which to escape, and therefore less likelihood of obtaining deliverance. He must do it before daybreak, and "the night is far spent." But when I turn to the believer, there is by no means the same appearance of force in the motive. If a man be secure of salvation, to tell him that the end is at hand does not look like urging him to exertion. But here comes in that balancing of statements which is discernible through the whole of the Bible. The only Scriptural certainty that a man will be saved is the certainty that he will struggle. Struggling is incipient salvation. It is an intenser struggle which marks a fuller possession. If, then, a man would show that his salvation is nearer, he must also show that he is more wakeful, more in earnest.
2. There are two reasons why the consciousness of having less time to live should urge Christians to be increasingly earnest.
(1) There is much to strive for even if a man be secure of salvation. The degree of our happiness in the next life will be mainly determined by our attainments in holiness in this. We are here on a stage of probation, so that, having been once recovered from apostasy, we are candidates for a prize and wrestlers for a crown. Christianity does not allow the believer to imagine that everything is done when a title to the kingdom is obtained. And if one man become a ruler over ten cities, and another over five, and another over two, each receiving in exact proportion to his improvement of talents, then it is clear that our strivings will have a vast influence on our recompense. To tell the Christian, therefore, that his salvation is nearer than when he believed, is telling the wrestler that his glass is running out, and there is the garland not won; it is telling the warrior that the shadows are thickening and the victory is not complete. Is it a time to sleep when each moment's slumber may take a pearl from the crown, a city from the sceptre?
(2) There remains less time in which to glorify God. If there were no connection between what we do in this life, and what we shall receive in the next, it would still be impossible for true Christians to be indolent. Forasmuch as faith makes us one with Christ, there must be community of interest. And it is a spectacle which should stir all the anxieties and sympathies of the believer — that the world which has been ransomed by Christ's blood is nevertheless overspread with impiety. And over and above this dishonour to his Lord, there is the wretchedness which an ungodly race is weaving for its portion; and he cannot fail to long and to strive that he may be, in some degree, instrumental in the salvation of his fellow-men. Where, then, can you find a stronger motive to energy than is furnished by the shortness of the period during which we may resist the progress of iniquity and win souls for Christ? And what, then, is the text but an admonition that nerve and sinew, time and talent — all must be centred more fixedly than ever in the service of Christ, lest we are summoned to depart ere we have done the little which with all our strenuousness we might possibly effect for the Lord and His kingdom?
(H. Melvill, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.