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Lord Bishop of Rochester
Why sleep ye — Luke xxii. 46. AMO G the manifold infirmities of the Christian life none is more specious, more pervasive, more general than slothfulness. More specious, because there are such fine names by which we hide it, and such plausible excuses with which we defend it ; more pervasive, because it so often passes out of one department of our life's activity into another, and at last sheds the atmosphere and habits of a lotus-eater over the entire being ; more general, because all of us are idle in some way or other ; and c.ireful observation compels the admission that intellectual nimbleness is often to be found in company witli bodily inertness. o sort of slothfulness is tolerable which is preventable ; the world and the Church need every man's complete powers put into their full use, and with their entire energy.
230 QUESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY As hinted already, there are different varieties Varieties of slothfulness. The pictures of sluggards ness, drawn in the Book of Proverbs, and the incisive scorn heaped upon them there, are familiar to all. "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep." "A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again." o doubt there may be detected here the instinct of a statesman's apprehension of loss to the wellbeing of the State through the imperfect discharge of individual duty. Slothfulness in the discharge of the daily offices of life is not without blame before God, since it is more or less
the hiding of a talent in the earth, and the neglecting of a responsibility with which God has entrusted us. It also leaves the commonwealth poorer through the lack of what a full diligence might have supplied. Almost as reprehensible in its way, though not so apparent on the surface and not so palpable in its inevitable, though may be distant, results, is slothfulness of intellect. Through this it comes that so many of us will not be at the pains of exerting such intellectual faculties as we possess for careful study, patient weighing of arguments, sustained reflection, and even keen analysis, whether for ascertaining a practical duty, or solving a difficulty which rightly falls to us to master, or apprehending precious truth. Thinking is hard work. Balancing one statement against another and coming
SECRET FAU1 FS 231 finally, and perhaps slowly, to an actual result about them, implies painstaking of a rare kind. Many never open a book except to while away a passing hour. There are not too many English Bereans who search the Scriptures for themselves to find out the mind of God. It is not the mere listening to sermons, i-t is the comparing and testing them by the word of God that at once strengthens, inspires, and illuminates the understanding. " If thou seekest Wisdom as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Akin to this is a slothful indifference to the growth of Christ's kingdom in the world and to the hope of His second appearing in glory. " Let us not sleep as do others," wrote St. Paul to the Roman Church, " but let us watch and be sober." As Bishop Reichel has remarked, "It is difficult to read the ew Testament attentively without being struck with the difference between the feelings of the first Christians and our own, regarding the second coming of our Lord. We hardly ever look forward to it, I fancy ; with
the exception of a few, death seems to be our horizon. The first Christians, on the other hand, appear to have thought very little about death. All such considerations were absorbed in the expectation of that, great event which to us has all but vanished." We are asleep about it, the Church and the world alike ; and we ought not
232 QUESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY to be asleep. Last of all, but not least, there is slothfulness in our devotion. We give but little time to prayer, considering what we expect from it and mean by it ; and of that little how much we deliberately waste through distraction and inertness. Praying, like thinking, to be worth anything, means real exertion. "The kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, and the violent take it by force." How can we account for this slothfulness ? To account for it is to go half-way towards remedying it. One cause of it, no doubt, is weakness of body. When the fires of life burn slowly the forces of life move feebly. We have our treasure in earthen vessels. The body of our humiliation is, within certain limits, a standing and an incontrovertible plea on behalf of a merciful judgment for shortcomings and deficiencies of duty with Him, whose hands have made and fashioned us, and Who pities as well as knows the creatures He has made. Sorrow is another reason for it, which, in one memorable instance, the inspired penman has adduced as the reason why the apostles slept, instead of watching with their suffering Lord. " When He rose up from prayer, and was come to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow." It is not, however, clear that He altogether acquitted them of blame in their thus sleeping. To Peter He said, " Simon, sleepest thou ? Couldest not thou watch one hour ? " Is there not also
SECRET FAULTS 233 a delicate undertone of almost ironical reproach in I lis last words, when the lanterns and torches were already Hashing in the near distance — " Sleep on, now, and take your rest ; it is enough, the hour is come ; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." Another cause of slothfulness, obvious enough, and, alas ! common enough, on which it can hardly be necessary to dwell at any length, is that people as a whole never exert themselves for objects which have neither interest nor value for them ; and if they do not care for spiritual truth, they are not likely to study the one book which professes to teach it. If Christ is not real to them, His presence will have no charm or power. If the invisible world with its penalties, and its worship, and its rewards, and its society, is either an attractive myth but not an actual reality, or a contingency possible but not probable enough for sensible people to make it a real factor in their conduct or motives, of course they will not trouble themselves to think twice about it ; they will go on to meet it, and it will be awfully and quietly waiting for them, and when it is too late they will find out what they have been doing. On one other cause, however, I. will for a moment touch. It is suggested by the brilliant and thoughtful divine I have already quoted — I mean hopelessness. Men aie tempted to be slothful in duty, because they are doubtful if it is worth
2; l4 " ESTIO S OF FAITH A D DUTY while ; or in philanthropic efforts for others, because they never seem to see much good resulting from it ; or in religious investigation, because there is so much to be said on both sides that prolonged inquiry produces only augmented irresolution ; or in the hope of the Lord's coming, for they have waited so long and to so little purpose, that the scoff has entered
into their ears and benumbed their hearts. " Where is the promise of His coming ? " The years go on, and no sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky. ot only do the foolish virgins sleep, but the wise sleep as well. They, too, succumb to profound exhaustion. On them the bridegroom's delay has a sort of paralysing effect. The baneful result of slothfulness as a whole is self-evident. The individual soul, like the garden of the sluggard in the Proverbs, grows weeds instead of fruit, and its walls are broken down for all who will to enter. The growth in divine knowledge is checked, and the mental forces through not being put into exercise grow feeble and out of hand. Idleness is catching. The tone and atmosphere of the Church's life are demoralised by the listless indifference of her professed children. Christ is put aside and slighted, if not resisted and wounded, in the house of His friends. The entire body suffers loss through the decay or inactivity of the least of its members. It is only when compacted by
SECRET FAULTS 255 that which every joint supplicth that it makes increase of itself in love. Three concluding thoughts may complete and rivet this subject. Slothfulness is in truth a base, a humiliating thing, of whatever sort it be, in whomsoever it happens to manifest itself. The Bible is full of warning against it. While we will not discourage quietness, patience, soberness, humility — they are the essential virtues — we must, in our Lord's words, work while it is called to-day ; " the night cometh, when no man can work." Then let us think of the love of Christ ; what we owe to it, what it claims from us. " Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit ; so shall ye be My disciples." Once more, when He comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, what shall we
have to show Him, out of all the good works which He before ordained for us to walk in, and all of which were possible ? o one, I suppose, will have done all ; a few will have done many. The question is, What shall we have done ?
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