Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:6
In our preaching through the Word, we have been, these few Sundays, in the fifth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter. And if you will turn to the fifth chapter, the last chapter, of the first Thessalonian epistle, you can follow the sermon with ease and facility. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, preaching on the sermon entitled Awake! — exclamation point.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
For when they shall say, "Peace and safety"; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But ye, but ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and [love]; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
[1 Thessalonians 5:1-10]
Awake! "Therefore let us not sleep . . ." First Thessalonians 5:6: "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober."
One of the sad commentaries on the depravity of the human race is this little fact illustrated here in this figure: that the glories of the plenitude of the mercies of God in nature that ought to be used by simile and metaphor in comparison to magnify His kingdom and glorify His truth that sin has appropriated it and those same things become figures of destruction and judgment and damnation.
For example, take the figure of water: the flood bears on its bosom the commerce of the world. The overflowing stream leaves the alluvial deposit rich and productive in which the farmer sows his seed to reap the grain for the bread of the world – the water of life. Yet sin has appropriated that figure, and the flood is a type of the great judgment day of God [Genesis 6:5-7:24, Amos 5:24] and sin is likened unto the breaking forth of waters.
Or take again the figure of fire: a heavenly gift, if ever there was one, to warm, and comfort, and gladden, and cheer the hearts of the people in the cold of the winter. The fire is a figure of the burning Spirit of God, of His presence in our midst [Acts 2:3-4]. It is a figure of the zeal, the flame, of God’s children. Yet sin has appropriated that metaphor and that figure and that type also for the fires of damnation and the fires of torment and the fires of hell never cease [Mark 9:43-44; Luke 16:24].
So it is here in my text. Of all of the gracious, benign gifts of God, there is none sweeter than that of sleep. It is a figure of the very blessed themselves: "they that sleep in Jesus." In the chapter preceding, we spoke of it [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. David, in one of his Psalms, the 127th, speaks of it as one of the graces of the gifts of God: "For he giveth his beloved sleep" [from Psalm 127:2].
And yet, alas, sin and depravity have appropriated this figure also, for here, this "sleep as do others" [1 Thessalonians 5:6] is the sleep of the carnal dead. It is the sleep of the damned. It is the sleep of the lost, coarse herd of this world. And the appeal of the apostle: "You, brethren, are not in darkness. You are the children of light" [1 Thessalonian 5:4-5]. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as do others [1 Thessalonians 5:6] – the coarse, lost, unquickened herd of this world. There, the figure sleep refers to this earth, this race, this time in sin and in trespass.
Now, the sleep that the Christian falls into is not the slumber of death itself for we who are quickened cannot die [John 11:25-26]. We are alive to God forevermore. But the sleep that can overtake a Christian is so like the slumber of the lost, of the dead, of the damned, of the unquickened, of this herd of humanity in this earth that knows not God. The Christian slumber can be so like it until it is difficult to tell it from it. That’s a truism if ever a preacher said one. A dead Christian looks more like a dead, carnal, ungodly sinner than any two peas you ever saw in a pod.
Now, the appeal of Paul here is that we not sleep, slumber as do others – this lost world – but that we awake, awake, awake! How many times does Paul say that here in the Book of Romans: " . . . knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep" [from Romans 13:11]? He does the same thing again in the fifth chapter of the book of Ephesians in the fourteenth verse: "Wherefore he saith, ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’" [Ephesians 5:14]. "Awake thou that sleepest." "Therefore let us not sleep as do others" [from 1 Thessalonians 5:6].
So Paul first points out here the danger, and it is ever present – the danger into which the Christian can fall. In the description of that celestial road, the glory road, from the City of Destruction to the City of God, the most dangerous place on that road is not where lions abound, and where Apollyon challenges the way, and where dragons are frequent. It’s not even where the Slough of Despond is located, nor the Dark Woods, or the Pitfall. But the most dangerous part of that journey is the Enchanted Ground, the beautiful arbors of the sleep – of those who sleep. The great spiritual geographer John Bunyan [1628-1688] well pictures it like this:
I then saw in my dream, that they went on till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger it to. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, "I do now begin to grow so drowsy, that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here, and take a nap."
Christian: "By no means," said the other, "lest sleeping, we never wake more."
Hopeful: "Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the labouring man; we may be refreshed, if we take a nap."
Christian: "Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping. "Wherefore, let us not sleep as others do, but let us watch and be sober."
[from Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, 1678]
And there John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress quotes my text: "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others" [1 Thessalonians 5:6]. The church at ease in Zion: hush, hush, tread softly, she’s sound asleep.
When does the church sleep? Not when the beasts are roaring in the Coliseum; not when the square in the little town of Smithfield [Smithfield, England] is filled with stakes for the burning of the Baptists. It isn’t when Patmos is waiting in lonely exile for the pastor of Ephesus [Revelation 1:9]. But the church sleeps in its ease and in its luxury when it has in its own persuasions arrived – everything is just so. Sleep.
You don’t read in this story of John Bunyan’s "Pilgrim" – you don’t read that he slept when he was fighting with lions. You don’t read that he slept in the Castle of Giant Despair. You don’t read that he slept in Doubting Castle. You don’t read that he slept when he was fighting with Apollyon. You don’t read that he slept as he went through the waters, cold and dark, of the River of Death. But what you read is when he came toward the end of his journey, at the end of the day, when he came to the beautiful arbor and there – and now may I quote from Bunyan again:
Then they came to an arbor, warm and promising much refreshing to the weary Pilgrims; for it was finely wrought above head, beautiful vines, beautified with greens, and furnished with benches and settles. –
And I’d look up that word "settle." In Bunyan’s day, that was a sofa –
It had also in it a soft couch, where the weary might lean. The arbor was called The Slothful’s Friend and was made on purpose to allure, if it might be, some of the pilgrims to take up their rest there when they were weary. For this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it standeth against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? And when so like to be weary, as when they are almost at the journey’s end? Therefore, it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race. Wherefore, let pilgrims look to themselves, lest it happen to them as it has done to these that, as you see, are fallen asleep, and none can awake them.
[from Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, 1678]
That danger is for every pilgrim. It’s for every life. It is for every church. And it is a greater danger for an older pilgrim, for an adult pilgrim. And it is a greater danger for an older church – for the great, old First Baptist Church. You don’t need to preach a sermon like this to a bunch of teenagers. My soul, they stay up all day and all night, and they don’t show any effects of it. They beat anything I ever saw in my life. Don’t need to preach a sermon to them. You don’t need to preach a sermon like this to a young church. My, they’ve got everything yet to do. They don’t have a building; they don’t have a staff; they don’t have a congregation; they don’t have a lot; they don’t have a place; they don’t have a property; they don’t have anything. They’re out there fighting with odds against them. They’re young! But just like Pilgrim says, we are always in danger, we who have come along the way.
And the church that has a great tradition and is deeply established and has a noble and wonderful history, it is then that we "in the weariness of the way find the arbor of rest and greenery and the settles." I like that: "and the settles, soft and comfortable." And we take off our sandals, and we rub our weary feet, and we stop and take a nap: the Enchanted Ground. "I’ve done my part. I’ve made my contribution. I think it’s time for somebody else now to bear the heat and the storm of the day." So we sit down and rest at ease in Zion and watch the world go by.
Awake! "Therefore let us not sleep, but let us awake! Now, all that sleepest, awake!" Now, why? Brother, I’m preaching the Bible! It says it here in the Bible. Why awake? Because it’s daytime! "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness . . . Ye are the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep as others do" [from 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6]. Awake because it is daytime!
Now, may I illustrate what I think he means by that? Suppose I were to go downtown at 7:30 o’clock in the morning, and suppose I were just to stop on the road to town and look. At 7:30 o’clock in the morning, at 8:00 o’clock in the morning, at 8:30 o’clock in the morning, and at 9:00 o’clock in the morning – suppose I were to go to town and look and there was not a car on the street, not one. There was not a soul moving; nothing going on. This entire, great, thriving city: the same at 8:00 o’clock in the morning as it will be at 2:00 o’clock tonight! I’d look around me and I say, "This is unearthly. This is unseemly. This is not right! This dead, dead town of Dallas will decay. It will die! The people are asleep at daytime!"
That’s what Paul says here: "We are the children of the day" [1 Thessalonians 5:5]. Awake! Awake! Why, man, did you know it? They who are asleep are insensible. The watchman calls from the tower; he hears it not. Revolution rages in the streets; he’s not cognizant of it. The very fire burns underneath his window; he doesn’t know it. He’s asleep! He’s insensible!
Ah, my soul! The church: of how many things is it insensible and has it been insensible? Great opportunities have arisen, and we’ve been asleep. You could cry; you could wring your hands. Great open doors God hath placed before us, and we’ve been asleep, insensible! We have let them slip through our hands. Haven’t got time to enumerate them and wouldn’t if I could. It’d sound like I was being personal. Asleep, asleep: insensible before great opportunities and wide open doors! Awake! Awake!
He that is asleep is not only insensible, he’s inactive – inactive, yes, asleep! The farmer doesn’t plow when he’s asleep; the mariner doesn’t guide his ship when he’s asleep. All of these merchandising men are not at their tasks when they are asleep. Nor is the church cognizant, nor is it active, nor is it pouring life and blood and ministry at the devoted feet of Jesus when it is asleep. Cobwebs by the spiders of sloth and neglect and indifference woven all over the place. "Awake, ye that sleep! Awake and rise from the dead!"
How many children in this city are not taught the Word of God? How many homes in this city have no Christ, no Savior, no foundation upon which to build? How many lives are lost? How much needs to be done and we asleep? Not only is he that is asleep insensible and not only is he that is asleep inactive, but he that is asleep is subject to all kinds of queer and fantastic illusions.
You know what? I could not tell you the number of people that come to me and they’ve been to see a psychiatrist, or the doctor has said for them to go see a psychiatrist and then he also says, "And go see a minister." And so they come and see me. I’ve had two like that already this week. And so I listen to them. And you know what’s the matter?
It’s a strange thing that in the days of a war, in the days of great conflict, you don’t have many suicides; you don’t have many nervous breakdowns; you don’t have many fallings apart because in a day of great and tremendous effort people forget themselves. They’re not thinking about themselves. They’re not feeling of the bumps on their heads. They’re not gouging through all of the inferiorities of their soul. They’re not following all those complexes. "Brother, we’ve got a war to fight. We’ve got machines to make. We got guns to manufacture. We got planes to put out. We’ve got an enemy at our throats. Every man arise and stand and do his part!" Well, that saves him from himself.
That’s what’s the matter with the ailing and the ailing of the American people – more psychiatrists needed, more of those, you don’t call them sÃ©ances, do you? More of those sittings down and lyings down. Why, no wonder we’re half nuts and the rest half crazy! Lying down, trying to tell some fella all of the things on the inside; forget it! Forget it! Get out of bed and get to work and forget yourself, and that’ll be the most healing balm you’ve ever known in your life.
You sit around and sleep around and lie around and think about yourself and all your woes and all of your complexes and all of the things, and no wonder you get crosswise with yourself and everything else. You got to get out of yourself, out of yourself! Awake! And if you’ll fill your life full of the intensist activity, it’ll be the greatest health, the greatest balm, the greatest physician, the greatest touch that you could ever experience in your life. Man, get up! Get out! Get busy! Forget about yourself and leave it to God. Forget the psychiatrist. Forget all of those who try to tinker and meddle on the inside of you. Get away from it and give yourself to a vast, incomparable, busy activity.
"Well, Preacher, I don’t know what to do." My soul, if there’s nothing else for you to do, come down here and help us rock the babies. Come on, we need you. We need you. Many, many times we have more babies here than we have beds, and somebody has to hold the baby and rock the baby. Rock the baby! Be a better balm for you and a better physician’s cure for you than all of those sÃ©ances you could ever go through in your life. Awake! "Awake thou that sleepest, awake and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" [Ephesians 5:14].
Listen, that’s my introduction; time’s going. Look at this, look at this: he says it’s wartime. It’s wartime. Awake! Why? Therefore it’s wartime. Look what he says: "Sudden destruction cometh as upon a woman with child when she labors in travail" [from 1 Thessalonians 5:3]. Look at that: "Put on the breastplate" [Ephesians 6:14]. Look at that: "Put on the helmet" [from Ephesians 6:17]. It’s wartime! Awake! Brother, we have an enemy that labors against us in the day, in the night, every day and all the night, plowing under God’s people, destroying God’s testimony and the Lord’s witness [Ephesians 6:12]. Awake! Awake! Awake!
Oh, what things God does say to His people. It’s wartime, wartime, wartime! Here the enemy is at the gates, knocking, knocking at the very gates. I’m not talking about an enemy across the sea, here against us: our enemy, the adversary, that old devil, that dragon, that Satan [1 Peter 5:8]. We’re in the war, and look, look, the sentinel is asleep in his box! Look, look, look! The captain with his dispatches and his orders is asleep at the table! Look! The soldiers are nodding over their bayonets. Look! The airmen are asleep in the briefing room. Look! A wizard with some magic wand must have put them to sleep.
What has happened? It’s another Pearl Harbor. It’s another Titanic with the wildest telegrapher for the first time using "SOS, SOS, SOS!" The telegrapher on the sister ship California [U.S.S. California] was sound asleep! Oh, how the enemy taketh away when we’re asleep.
I reread the story of Sisera [Judges 4:1-24]. Sisera: mighty, victorious general [Judges 4:13]; his aura, his banner, had waved over many a battlefield in victory. In a woman’s tent, in Jael’s tent, and Jael’s wife took a nail and a hammer and drove it through his temples and pinned him to the floor, and he died there in his sleep [Judges 4:21]. I think of mightier Samson, asleep, and they shave off his locks and the Philistines are upon him [Judges 16:16-21]. Asleep! And I think of Saul, God’s chosen servant – Abner and the host asleep around him. And Abishai says to David, "David, this spear stuck in the ground at his bolster; I will strike him but once. Not twice, but once. Let me strike him but once" [1 Samuel 26:7-11]. And the dark-winged angel says that of us, "I will strike him but once" were it not for the hindering, keeping, merciful hand of God.
Oh, awake! Awake thou that sleepest [from Ephesians 5:14]. Awake! We’re in the war, and we’re in it till we die: in youth, in manhood, and in age. A soldier’s uniform: one thing, among others, I admired in the most abominable of all enemies mankind has produced in our generation. Hitler [Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945] one time, in a fury of address, said, "And the uniform that I wear, I shall never take off but in victory or in death!" Thank God it was death, but the spirit: "A uniform I’ll never take off except in victory or in death." Awake! Awake! "Thou that sleepest, awake!" [from Ephesians 5:14] It’s wartime!
May I conclude? It is death time; it is storm time; it is judgment time; death time. That’s why the passage was written: death time. I read again the great Black Plague. Down the streets of the great city, the bell ringing and the man driving the cart, "Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead" – driving the cart, ringing the bell. And as I reread it, there’s only one difference in then and now. That is in the concentration of the time. We have a little longer, and in the Black Plague they were mowed down as with a scythe. We don’t have a cart; we have a funeral car. And they marked every house where the plague was and death was with a big cross. Now, we put a wreath on the door, but it’s the same; it’s the same: death time.
A little while, before this year is out, there are several in this congregation who will be with the Lord: death time. Before this decade is out, there is a host of us that shall be with the Lord: death time. Before this century is out, practically all of us will be with the Lord: death time. Oh, thou that sleepest, awake, awake [from Ephesians 5:14]. Storm time. Judgment time. "Look! Look at the breakers and the great ship with passengers aboard. Oh, Captain, awake, awake!" Poor condemned man, sentenced by the judge to hang till he died. Underneath the pillow of his friend was a pardon for life, and the friend is asleep! Storm time, judgment time, death time and a pardon in my hand.
"Oh, thou that sleepest, awake, awake" [from Ephesians 5:14] – a message for us who are Christians. God stir us in our souls. "Lord, what I can, here I am, I will do. I may be old and feeble; there’s something for me to do. There’s a task. There’s a ministry. There’s a place." God leaves us here, I think, for a purpose. May be invalid and not be able to arise out of that bed, and listening to the pastor this morning in affliction, but God has a reason; and there is a testimony, and a work, and a ministry for you who lie in a bed of invalidism and affliction. There is a task for you: awake, awake!
Many of you who have been Christians for half a century, no time to quit or to sleep. There is a ministry for you: awake, awake! And the great host in youth or in the prime of life: God’s call, "Awake! Awake, thou that sleepest" [from Ephesians 5:14]. There’s a tremendous work and responsibility for you. Awake!"
And to these to whom Paul would make appeal in this earth, unquickened and lost: "Awake thou that sleepest; awake from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" [from Ephesians 5:14]. Never trusted God? Never turned to Christ? Never believed in Him? Never put your trust? Awake! Awake! I have today, now, this moment, this hour, God’s time. Would you take Him as Lord and Savior and devote the endless days of now and eternity in love and praise and adoration of Him who made us and Who gave Himself for us? Would you do it? Would you do it? As God shall make appeal, as the Lord shall say the word, as Christ shall lead the way, down these stairwells into these aisles, from side to side, somebody you. "Today, today, I’ll put my faith and my trust in the Lord. I shall arise out of the darkness of this earth and out of the dread and the grave of this life. I shall put my hope and trust in Jesus." Would you do it? Would you do it?
While we sing, while we make appeal, while our people pray, while we wait, into the aisle, down to the front: "Here I come, Pastor, and here I stand. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God," or putting your life in the church, one somebody you or a whole family you, while we stand and while we sing.