Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World

Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World

Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
1 Dec, 2017

Sleeplessness is something of a modern epidemic. In general we are sleep-deprived with the average person losing the equivalent of an entire night of sleep every single week. In general, this seems to be caused by the stresses of modern lifestyle and the erosion of a 24/7 online world into the domain of nightly rest. Man seeks to conquer time itself but is overmastered by his own needs. For some of course, sleep is not yielded voluntarily; it is a persistent concern or symptom of deeper health troubles. Insomnia can seem like the hole through which our life is draining away. The need for sleep is not just a divine reminder of our frailty. It also points us away from seeking true rest in this world.

The stresses of a consumer society and its frenetic gathering as well as spending are not uniquely modern. Scripture speaks of how “the abundance of the rich” robs him of sleep  (Ecclesiastes 5:12). We must be diligent in our calling and outward concerns but not in such an excessive and anxious way. Those with responsibilities in the Church or a desire to study God’s Word more may find that it encroaches on their necessary rest. So much more knowledge is available to us in an internet connected age that we may be tempted to spend excessive time in it.

We have the gift of sleep from God to relieve our anxieties and remind us to commit matters in faith to Him once we have done our duty (Psalm 127:2). Perhaps sometimes we need to better appreciate the gift. We pray “give us this day our daily bread”, which includes the ability to get it and all the outward necessities of this life.

Sometimes we cannot give ourselves sleep and it is a severe trial. Our rest is still in the only One who does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4). We may seek to draw near to and meditate on Him in the night watches (Psalm 119:148; Psalm 63:6).

If we seek our best portion in an abundance of the things of this world we will suffer by it. The “rich” referred to in Ecclesiastes 5:12 are not just those who have considerable wealth.  Scripture provides examples of godly rich men such as Abraham and Job who experienced rest in body and soul. It is the covetous that are in view who through excessive love to the world and anxious care about keeping and fears of losing, deprive themselves of what the Lord gives to us. It refers to the ordinary course of events. The Lord may of course try His own dearest people with a lack of rest and may sometimes plague the rich with false peace and rest of body and mind.

Ecclesiastes 5:12 also speaks of a labouring man whose sleep is “sweet”. Alexander Nisbet provides a fuller explanation.  It is someone who despite all his labour has little of this world but is also labouring for the true riches. This must be the case; if he were covetous his anxiety to get would make him as restless as those with abundance. Moderate diligence about our outward calling and seriously seeking the true riches gives sweet sleep and rest both to body and spirit. Diligent labour and a good conscience makes sleep refreshing.


Rest is a Gift from God

Natural rest or sound sleep not interrupted by troubles of body or soul is a sweet mercy from God. It separates us from seeing and feeling the miseries of this life. When rest is sanctified we are refreshed by it and recreated in body and spirit for the further service of the Lord. It is a sweet blessing to the labourer that fears God.


Diligence and Rest Go Together

Ordinarily, the busier we are in honest and moderate labour in our callings, the sweeter will be our rest and sleep from God. Diligence disposes our bodies for rest. Moderate, honest labour prevents the reproaches of conscience that would mar our rest. We should digest the efforts of lawful diligence and beware of gorging ourselves on it. Beware also of marring peace of conscience and the sweetness of the rest and sleep given by God. The one who labours diligently and moderately has sweet sleep.


Moderation and Rest Go Together

Anyone should take a moderate portion of outward things when (in God’s providence) they have less or when calls them to distribute a share to others in need. At other times they may be more liberal (but not excessive) when the Lord blesses their labour with greater success. Their bodies must be upheld for their labours and strengthened by created benefits. Solomon here supposes the labourer to eat more at some times and less at others. He says his sleep is sweet, whether he eats little or much.

The Lord can strengthen their bodies and spirits whether they have little or much to eat.  Their rest and quietness of spirit does not come from how much they have but from God’s blessing. The light of God’s countenance makes their sleep sweet and sound (Psalm 4:8).


There is No Rest to the Wicked

Eternal torment and unrest awaits those who have chosen their portion in this world. They often have the down payment of that everlasting unquietness given them in this life. There are many unquiet nights and vexing thoughts about how to keep and increase what they have. These are many messengers sent to warn them of their folly in having chosen such a god to serve that cannot give his worshippers a sound and sweet sleep. They are foolish in neglecting to serve He who will give “his beloved sleep” when it may be good for them. “The abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep”.

Covetousness Steals Rest

It is evident that mammon is the idol of those whose hearts are so preoccupied with such thoughts that their rest is stolen. Their abundance is a curse and snare to them when their hearts are so distracted with cares and fears about worldly things. They are deprived of the ordinary rest and refreshment which God gives to the children of men in the night time. Solomon identifies this characteristic of the covetous; “his abundance will not suffer him to sleep”.


Our Study Must Not Rob Us of Rest

It is not just those who serve mammon and their lusts who are excessive in their efforts and may be cruel to themselves out of love to their idols. Even the best of God’s children in their best studies, are sometimes in danger of exceeding their efforts. This may be partly out of a love for their own honour and partly due to lack of humble dependence on God. Such dependence would abate any such anxiety and sweetens their study. Ecclesiastes 8:16 speaks of the danger of this; seeking to know wisdom and denying ourselves sleep night and day. It implies excessive effort  seeing that night is appointed for our rest when the Lord gives his beloved sleep. It seems that Solomon himself engaged in excessive study in this way.



We ought to have great sympathy for those who suffer from chronic sleep loss. Sleep is God’s gift to both our souls and bodies. We can’t do without it. Lack of sleep drains our physical resources and immune system. It can have the same impact spiritually and morally.  Nightly rest is also a daily reminder of our dependence on God’s sovereign care (Psalm 4:8). We are able to glorify God by night as well as by day through humble dependence on Him. “Oh, we are little with God! and do all without God! We sleep and wake without Him; we eat, we speak, we journey, we go about worldly business and our calling without God!” (Samuel Rutherford). Modern lifestyles devalue God’s gift of sleep as we fail to observe both the moderation and diligence that Scripture counsels. May we find that our need for rest makes our lives yet more God-centred.



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True Rest in a Restless World

True Rest in a Restless World

True Rest in a Restless World
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
19 Aug, 2016

The hectic lifestyles of the 21st Century make little room for any rest. Even the home is rarely a haven of repose – families struggle to meet their schedule of activities. Sleep deficit is a real challenge as is winding down away from work. The world itself seems to be in constant flux, hurrying on to the next new thing.  Samuel Rutherford gives an evocative description of this: “kingdoms, cities, are on the wheel of changes, up, and down. Mankind runs, and the disease of body-trouble, and soul-trouble on them. They are motion-sick, going on their feet, and kings cannot have beds to rest in.” The restlessness of life this side of eternity may be a necessary reminder that this world cannot offer permanence and true rest. True rest is, of course, spiritual rest. This is a far greater need than mere physical and mental rest – though these are blessings from God. True spiritual rest can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Scottish minister (now virtually forgotten) who was a contemporary of Samuel Rutherford expounds this true rest. Adam Kae (or Kay) ministered at Borgue in Galloway. He is said to have been the only minister in Scotland who warned against the miseries which would come on Scotland if Charles II was made king. He was later imprisoned in Edinburgh for refusing to cease preaching when  ordered by the government after being forcibly ejected from his pulpit along with hundreds of other ministers. The following is extracted and updated from Kae’s sermon on Song of Solomon 2:3. He notes that Christ is often described in Scripture as providing a shadow of rest for His people (see Psalm 57:1; Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 25:4). Kae says that:

(until we come to Christ for rest we will be like) Noah’s dove. She could get no rest for the sole of her foot till she came into the ark again. So we will never get rest, nor be truly well and happy till we come and sit down under Christ’s shadow. But when we come to Him, we shall be well.  O then, do not delay, come and sit down under Christ’s shadow!


1. What is True Rest?

Christ is a shadow of rest and a retiring place to all that come to Him and sit down under His shadow. They get true rest in Him (Matthew 11:28). When a believer comes to Christ, he finds rest for his soul from these things:

  1. The Guilt of Sin. This defiles the conscience and makes it, when awakened, to terrify and condemn the soul. At such times, Christ is a rest to the soul and says: “Soul since you have come to me, as to a rest, I will give you rest. Son or Daughter be of good cheer, for I will give you rest from the guilt of your sin”.
  2. The Punishment of Sin. This is all the evils that should come on the soul because of sin, both in this life and that which is to come. When God is pursuing the soul with both temporal and spiritual punishments, the soul flees to Christ for rest. Christ then says to the soul, “since you have come to me as to a rest, there is no condemnation for you. “There is therefore now no Condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
  3. The Dominion and Tyranny of Sin. This rests on the soul when sin is tyrannising in the soul. The soul then goes to Christ and says:“Alas, sin will undo me! Alas, sin will be my ruin! Alas sin will have my life!” Then Christ comes to the soul and says: “Since you have come to me, you will find rest. I will free you from the tyranny of sin. Sin will not undo you, it will not ruin you  nor your life.
  4. The Filthiness of Sin. The soul cries out: “not only am I pursued with the guilt of sin, with the punishment of sin and with the dominion and tyranny of sin; but I am also pursued with the filthiness of my sins. I am so filthy with sin, that I dare not look God in the face, I dare not look the saints in the face, and I dare not look myself in the face”.  Then Christ comes to the soul, and says: “Soul if you really have come to me, I will wash you and cleanse you from all your sins, and then you will have rest”.

If you would have rest from these four things that are pursuing you night and day, go to Christ. Sit down under His shadow, and He will give you rest.


2. True Rest despite Trouble and Affliction

Christ is a shadow for defence and protection in times of trouble and affliction. If you will come to Him and sit down under His shadow, He will be a defence and protection to you. He will especially protect you in these three ways.

  1. Protection from Trouble. Sometimes He will protect, defend and keep you altogether free from the calamities that He brings on others. They will not hurt your souls (see Psalm 91:7).
  2. Protection in Trouble. Sometimes He will be a defence and protection to you in, and under your trouble, as in Isaiah 43:2. That is, although you are cast into deep waters and a hot furnace of afflictions, yet I will be present with you, and defend you so, that you will neither drown nor burn.
  3. Protection out of All Troubles. Christ is always a sure defence and protection to believers at last by delivering them out of all their troubles (Psalm 34:19).

Therefore if you would have Christ to be a shadow of defence and protection to you, come to Him, and sit down under His Shadow and He will not disappoint you.


3. True Rest brings Delight

Jesus Christ is a shadow for delight and pleasure to believers. The spouse therefore says here: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste”.  The soul that comes to Christ and sits down under His shadow, finds Christ comforting it at all times; but especially at these four times.

  1. Its Greatest and Deepest Humiliation. When the soul is cast down under the consciousness of sin and the wrath of God due to it for sin. At such times the soul is, as it were sun-burnt with the wrath of God and deeply humbled for iniquity. Then Christ comes to the soul, and says: “since you have come to me, and I have found you humbled for your sin, I will have pity on you. I will give you rest when you come to me with a humbled and broken heart for sin. I will comfort you and not forsake you (Isaiah 41:17).
  2. Its Greatest Temptations. When the soul is sorely assaulted by Satan and its own heart, tempted to sin, unbelief and doubting, then Christ comes to the soul and says for its encouragement and strengthening that He will “give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone” (Revelation 2:17).
  3. Its Greatest Desertion. When Christ hides His face, the soul misses Christ and cannot find Him. When desertion is at its darkest and the soul runs to and fro like Noah’s dove seeking rest but cannot find it, Christ comes to the soul. He says: “you have been seeking Me and now I have come to you”. Then the soul will say: “I found him…I held him, and would not let him go” (Song 3:4).
  4. Its Saddest and Sorest Outward Afflictions. He sustains them in troubles, losses, and crosses as He did with the three children in the fire (Daniel 3:24-25) and Daniel in the lion’s den, (Daniel 6:22).



  1. Our Great Need. All God’s people have very great need to come to Christ and to sit down under His shadow. Would you have Christ to be a shadow of rest to retire to, a shadow of defence and a shadow of delight and pleasure? Come and shelter yourselves under His shadow. “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalm 73:28).  Say this yourself, “it is good for me to draw near to Christ, and to sit under His shadow”.
  2. Christ Invites Us. It lets us see that Christ is most willing and well-pleased that we come to Him. He therefore invites and commands us to come and sit down under His shadow as in Isaiah 26:20 and Matthew 11:28. O! Come then, and sit down under His shadow; for I say, you are both invited and commanded to come, and if you come, He will give you rest.
  3. Safety and Security. It lets us see that all those who have come to Christ and are sitting under His shadow are safe and secure. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower” (Proverbs 18:10) That is, the Lord Himself is instead of a strong tower and the soul that is fled to him, and is sitting under his Shadow, is so safe, that he may defy the Devil, and all his Instruments, and say with the Apostle, Rom. 8.31, If God be for us, who can be against us? So when Satan comes, he may say, I defy thee black-mouth’d Satan, my Shadow will save me; for he is betwixt me and thee.
  4. Misery Without this Rest. This lets us see the miserable and lamentable condition of all those who have not come to Christ, and sat down under his shadow.
    • They lack Christ as a shadow and rest to them from the guilt of sin;
    • They lack Christ as a shadow of defence to them from the punishment of sin;
    • They lack Christ as a shadow to them from the dominion of sin; and
    • They lack Christ as a shadow to them from the filthiness of sin.

    In the evil time they have none to protect them. In the time of their deepest humiliation, sorest temptations, darkest desertions and saddest afflictions, they lack Christ to comfort them.

  5. The Only Rest. This lets us see that since Jesus Christ is and will be a shadow to all that will come and sit down under His shadow. We will never be well till we come and sit down under His shadow; for until then we will be like Noah’s dove. She could get no rest for the sole of her foot till she came into the ark again. So we will never get rest, nor be truly well and happy till we come and sit down under Christ’s shadow. But when we come to Him, we shall be well.  O then, do not delay, come and sit down under Christ’s shadow!
  6. Never Leave this Rest. This lets us see that all have come and sat down under Christ’s Shadow should strive to keep Him and keep under His shadow. Therefore, do not leave Him, do not turn your backs on Him. Do not provoke Him to remove His Shadow from you. But let your desire,with the Spouse, be as in Song of Solomon 2:17: “Until the day break and the shadows flee away, turn my Beloved”.  This is as if she had said: “Lord I have chosen thee for my Husband, therefore I desire thee to abide with me and keep me under thy shadow”.  So any of you that have professed Christ, do not turn not your back on Him but keep under His shadow.



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