Great Texts of the Bible
Rest after Toil
In peace will I both lay me down and sleep:
For thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.—Psalm 4:8.
1. The Psalms form the most wonderful expression of human feelings that was ever penned. Those who know the Psalms only slightly do not understand this. But those who are wise enough to know them well, to learn them by heart and use them, know that there is not any state of feeling, not any condition in life, for which that wonderful book does not furnish the most exact and well-fitted expressions that can be conceived or desired. With joy and thankfulness the Psalms run over; they abound in expressions of faith, and trust, and cheerful confidence in the mercy and goodness of God. Of penitential sorrow and distress for sins, of humble confession and repentance, they are so full that they almost seem to contain nothing else. For peaceful times, for anxious times, for times of affliction and grief, for reliance on God in the morning or in the evening, awake or asleep, at midnight or at midday, in solitude or in society,—none know so well as those who know the Psalms, or some of them, by heart, what a store of heavenly expressions they furnish by which Christian hearts may pour themselves out to God in strains the most beautiful, and most exactly suitable to all their various states of feeling and condition. It has been said of Holy Scripture in general, and it is more applicable to the Psalms than to any other book in it, that its eye follows us, like the eye of a picture, ever fixed upon us, turn where we will.
Eye of God’s Word! where’er we turn
Ever upon us! Thy keen gaze
Can all the depths of sin discern,
Unravel every bosom’s maze:
Who that has felt thy glance of dread
Thrill through his heart’s remotest cells,
About his path, about his bed,
Can doubt what Spirit in thee dwells?
2. There are two great and equal necessities of man’s nature: work and rest. A man cannot be happy without either, without both, of these. We must have work; and we must have rest. Once the two things were one; and once again they will be one. An unfallen being finds repose in activity. In heaven there is no night. The will of God is done there, not only perfectly, but continually. Those holy spirits which behold the face of God, and are sent forth thence to minister to the heirs of salvation, could do but half, not half, of their office, if they took either night or day for rest from labour. They rest not day nor night. They rest in working. Meanwhile there is, for us, a divorce of the two things which God had joined together, work and rest. Work begins where rest ends: not until work is ended can rest begin. That is the condition of earth. Man goes forth to his work and to his labour until the evening. When night comes, no man can work.
Rest of Body and Mind
1. This is one of those many verses in the Bible, in the Psalms especially, which must come home to every heart of man, if read with any degree of simple faith. It sets full before us the most comfortable and refreshing picture of a devout, sober, honest person, his day’s work ended, his passions kept in order, his sins repented of, and his prayers seriously said, laying himself down to his night’s rest, in the full consciousness that he is neither alone nor unguarded; that as there has been a merciful Eye watching over him, a mighty Hand stretched out to guard him, through the dangers and temptations of the day, so it will be with him in the night also. His eyelids sink down with sleep; the Eye of the Lord never becomes heavy. Therefore such an one, be he young or old, rich or poor, is able to compose himself to sleep without fear.
2. This entire rest and tranquillity of God’s faithful servants, when they lay them down on their bed at night, is beautifully expressed in the text by the words, “In peace will I both lay me down and sleep.” “I will lay me down,” says the Psalmist, “all together”: all my powers of mind and body, agreeing as it were one with another; not torn by violent passions, by desire on the one hand and remorse on the other; not in the condition of the natural man as described by St. Paul, “The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not that I do”; and again, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.” Not so is it with him of whom the Psalmist here speaks; rather he resembles the spiritual man, as described by the same St. Paul: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Beauty consists, says Ruskin, in certain external qualities of bodies which are typical of Divine attributes, and in the appearance of felicitous fulfilment in vital things. Every one has heard of the repose of true beauty; why is repose beautiful? Because it is “a type of Divine Permanence,” and satisfies
The universal instinct of repose,
The longing for confirmed tranquillity,
Inward and outward, humble and sublime—
The life where hope and memory are one.1 [Note: E. T. Cook, The Life of Ruskin, i. 199.]
3. The need of taking rest in sleep is a universal law of God’s providence over men here in this lower world. In respect of it there is no difference between the highest and the lowest. Therefore, as death, so sleep may be truly called a great leveller. The greatest king and the meanest of his subjects, whatever difference there is between them at any given time of their waking moments, must alike forget themselves in sleep before a great many hours are over. To every one of us, one as much as another, there will then be but one chance of safety: that is, if God should be pleased to watch over us, and be with us, when we are away from ourselves. It is one of God’s ways of continually reminding us all what frail, helpless beings we are, what an absolute nothing without Him.
4. Sleep is the image of death, and the slumber of every night, rightly understood, is to a Christian a kind of sacramental token of that last long sleep. These words, therefore, may well be used, and always have been understood by devout persons, as most proper for a dying Christian also. Of a dying Christian: for only such an one has a warrant from Holy Scripture to regard death as no more than a quiet sleep. Observe how these expressions, “fallen asleep,” “sleeping in Jesus,” and the like, are always used in the New Testament. They are constantly employed to denote the death, not of all persons, but of those who die in the Lord. Thus, our Saviour, speaking of Lazarus: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” Again, the word is used of Stephen: when he had prayed for his murderers, “he fell asleep.” So St. Paul speaks with horror of some men’s notion that there was no resurrection, because in that case it must follow that those who are “fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” In another place, he assures the Thessalonians that “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” when He comes to raise the dead.
Sleep was one of the apostolic names for death, full of tenderness and peace, but it must not be understood to mean inaction. It is rest from the weariness and harassment of the present life; it is the entrance into the freedom and buoyancy of the life to come. In the sweetest letter of consolation ever written to a parent on the death of a child, Archbishop Leighton says: “And is he so quickly laid to rest? Happy he!… John is but gone an hour or two sooner to bed, as children used to do, and we are undressing to follow.” Life is a long undressing, during which the frailties and faults of our imperfect nature are gradually slipped, and we enter unburdened into the unseen world. As the wrinkles are smoothed from the face of a sufferer by the gentle hand of death, so that the war-worn veteran returns to his youth, so the weariness departs from the soul, and it enters into the rest for which amid this struggle we often hunger and thirst.1 [Note: John Watson, The Potter’s Wheel, 156.]
Sleep is that death by which we may be literally said to die daily; a death which Adam died before his mortality; a death whereby we live a middle and moderating point between life and death; in fine, so like death, I dare not trust it without my prayers and a half adieu unto the world, and take my farewell in a colloquy with God.
The night is come, like to the day,
Depart not Thou, great God, away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the lustre of Thy light:
Keep still in my horizon; for to me
The sun makes not the day, but Thee.
Thou, whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples sentry keep;
Guard me ’gainst those watchful foes
Whose eyes are open while mine close;
Let no dreams my head infest
But such as Jacob’s temples blest.
While I do rest, my soul advance;
Make my sleep a holy trance;
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some holy thought;
And with as active vigour run
My course as doth the nimble sun.
Sleep is a death: O make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die;
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
Howe’er I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with Thee;
And thus assur’d, behold I lie
Securely, or to awake or die.
These are my drowsy days; in vain
I do now wake to sleep again;
O come that hour, when I shall never
Sleep again, but wake for ever!
This is the dormitive I take to bedward; I need no other laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and sleep unto the Resurrection.1 [Note: Sir Thomas Browne.]
5. Often in the midst of life, often in the very spring-time of life, we are in death. But whenever it comes—the decisive, the final sickness—it brings with it one call, one trial, one necessity, one only possibility—a call to rest. Nothing can now be done but to lie still. And is that so easy? Visit a bed of death, and see whether even patience, whether even submission, much more, whether affiance, whether faith, is the grace of every man! We see then the truth of the saying, “And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God!” To rest on the Lord then is just as impossible with man as it is in life to work for God. But faith—the man of faith—can do it. He thinks this one of the chief blessings, one of the chief evidences too, of Christ’s Gospel, that it never sets a man to do anything impossible; that its demand is always appropriate, its call exactly suitable to youth and to age, to health and to sickness, to life and to death. To him now it says only these two words, Faith, rest! Lie still and look upward. What has been left undone cannot now be done: rest it upon Christ. What has been ill done cannot now be amended: rest it upon Christ. What has been done amiss cannot now be undone: rest it upon Christ. Lean all thy weight upon Him. He is sufficient. He has borne all. Trust Him, and doubt not. He will undertake for thee. It is enough.
Two days later, with no premonitory consciousness of anything but perfect health, he fell suddenly ill, and a serious operation was deemed necessary. He was taken at once to a hospital and the operation was performed. It was apparently wholly successful, but strength was slow in returning, and the end began to be in doubt. For six weeks he lingered, bearing his painful days and nights with cheerful courage and a sweet and patient self-effacement. All his thought was centred in the effort to keep from the one dearest to him the foreboding that was becoming a certainty to him. To a friend who sat by his side he said, “For myself, I regard death merely as the passing shadow on a flower.” On 17th March he expressed a wish to be taken home, and there on 19th March, in the greyness of the deepening twilight, the end came. He met death as he had met life, bravely and serenely, fully conscious of the loosening of the cords that held him to the earth. With his last look and smile he said, “In spite of all, I am going to sleep; put out the lights”; and for those who loved him darkness came.1 [Note: Ferris Greenslet, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 237.]
Mysterious Night, when our first parent knew
Thee by report Divine, and heard thy name,
did he not tremble for this goodly frame,
This glorious canopy of light and blue?
But through a curtain of translucent dew,
Hesperus with the host of heaven came,
Bathed in the hues of the great setting flame,
And lo! Creation broadened to man’s view.
Who could have guessed such darkness la concealed
Within thy beams, O Sun, or who divined,
When flower, and leaf, and insect lay revealed,
Thou to such countless worlds hadst made us blind?
Why should we then shun death with anxious strife
If Light could thus deceive, wherefore not Life?1 [Note: Blanco White.]
Rest of Spirit
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Faith is the apprehension of that rest; the laying hold now upon the promise, the entering at last into the fruition. Faith which works is also a faith which rests.
1. There is a resting of faith which is habitual. Faith rests while it works. This is a peculiarity of the true Gospel. No false religion could teach it. Many human forms even of the true Gospel do not teach it. Many professed disciples of Christ Himself—men to whom the name of religious persons cannot be denied—never learn it. True faith rests habitually; rests in working. It is a paradox; but a paradox full of truth, full of beauty, full of admonition.
When King Asa went out against Zerah the Ethiopian, and set the battle in array against overwhelming numbers, he “cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude.” Faith rested while it wrought. And when King Hezekiah saw the mighty host of Sennacherib coming to fight against Jerusalem, he said to his captains of war, “There be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people,” it is added, “rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah, King of Judah.” It was an example of faith resting (not after, but) in working. The Gospel of Christ lays great stress upon this point. “What shall I do,” asks an awakening conscience, “to work the works of God?” Surely some great feat of self-sacrifice; some “giving of my first-born for my transgression”; some deed of self-mortification and self-crucifixion, after which the world shall be dead to me and I to the world; this surely must be the life to which God calls one who, being a sinner, would be an heir of salvation? Mark the answer. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” To work is to believe. To believe is to rest. “Say not in thine heart, Who shall go up for me into heaven? or, Who shall descend for me into the deep? The word is very nigh thee. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Faith is rest.
It is not by retiring from active life or business, or by going down to a cottage in the country, that a man can secure peace of mind. Trifles may be as exhausting and troublesome, as worrying and irritating, as commerce or concerns of State; leisure leaves the mind open to conscience: the only real peace is in the mind; but if the mind is in a turmoil, to retreat into it is only to exchange one set of troubles for another. No man lived more in the rush and turmoil of the world than our great Prime Minister, Mr. Gladstone, and one of the secrets of his success was that when he returned home from the House of Commons he threw off his cares and left them behind him on the Treasury Bench. He used to call his library at Hawarden “the Temple of Peace.” If he could do so with his immense responsibilities, surely any man might make his mind a sanctuary.1 [Note: Lord Avebury, Peace and Happiness 346.]
O Thou upon whose bosom lay
Those hearts made weary by the way
Of life’s incessant care,
My spirit too, with toil oppressed,
Seeking in vain an earthly rest,
Is driven dove-like to Thy breast,
And bid to nestle there.
It is not that I wish to lie
Forgetful of the earth and sky,
And hid from human ken:
I would not prize, I would not crave
A rest unconscious like the grave,
Nor seek repose that could not brave
The wills and wants of men.
I seek Thy rest that I may find
A stronger impulse to the mind,
And higher stretch of wing,
Even as the lark more freely soars
Because he hears the song he pours,
And is impelled by music’s oars
To work as well as sing.
Thou didst Thyself on earth recline
Upon Thy Father’s breast divine,
And rest on Him Thy will;
And therefore it was given to Thee
The mightiest of all souls to be,—
To walk upon the stormy sea
And bid its waves be still.
If I am sheltered by Thy love,
I Shall not hurt by heaven above
The path of earth below;
But in my spirit’s deep repose
I shall be strong against my foes,
And bear the thorn upon the rose,
Unmurmuring as I go.
If first upon the mountain height
I see Thy radiance calm and bright
Before I seek the plain,
With face illumined by the skies
I’ll go where the demoniac lies,
And by Thy rest will soothe his cries,
And burst his iron chain.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Sacred Songs, 134.]
2. There is a resting of faith which is occasional.
(1) After long confusions and conflicts within, as to the true way of salvation, at last we see and apprehend it. Christ is all. He has made peace. He has brought in an everlasting righteousness. In Him God is well pleased. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Can it be but that the soul, finding Him, should, for joy of that finding, rest and refresh itself, consciously, in the Lord?
(2) Sometimes doubt returns. A book which has fallen in our way, the conversation of an unbeliever, something less palpable—a thought of unbelief, springing we know not whence within—has caused us new perplexity, new searchings of heart. What are we to think of Christ? Art Thou He that should come? or must we still look out, as of old, for some one who shall come—or perhaps never come—to be the Saviour of sinners and the Light of the world? At last the clouds disperse, and we see above the brightness of the firmament a form like that of the Son of God in heaven. The clear shining after rain has been vouchsafed to us and faith has rest and is edified.
(3) So it is sometimes after great labour. We have undertaken some work which is all for God. Ashamed of the idleness and self-indulgence which has so long bound and debased us; feeling the wickedness of such a return for the self-forgetting, self-sacrificing love of Christ; seeing the days passing away, and nothing done, nothing even attempted, to bring Him one life, one soul, for His travail even unto death for us; we did at last arouse ourselves by the help of prayer, and calling Him in went forth into the vineyard to bear something of the burden and heat of the day. The toil was at first difficult; flesh and blood rebelled, Satan opposed, conscience misgave me; but I persevered; persevered unto weariness; came back at late evening, faint and hungry; but faith strengthened and brightened within me as I stood before the Lord to report to Him of my poor endeavours: I found Him nearer to me when I thus began to treat Him as a Person, as One who had work for me and would receive my reckoning; that night I was able to say, as never before, “In peace will I both lay me down and sleep: For thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.”
(4) It would be ungrateful if we did not add one more to these occasional restings of faith, one which depends not upon any circumstance, inward or outward, of human life, but is provided everywhere, of God’s goodness, in that blessed communion and fellowship which is the Church and body of Christ. When faith droops, under the pressure of things temporal, whether adverse or prosperous, how often does it draw newness of vigour from obeying the call, “Let us go unto the house of the Lord,” or the charge, “Do this in remembrance of me!” It is only presumption—it is not faith—that can dispense with these things. Christ judged better for us, as men not of the world yet in it, when He bade us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, promised to be with even two or three thus gathered, and affixed a peculiar grace to the petition in which two should agree. If faith would know what is meant by her resting, she must frequent, with earnestness and large expectation, the table provided in the wilderness, the feast of which it is written, that, when Jesus took bread and blessed it, and gave it to them, “their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” Faith, struggling elsewhere, rests here. “Handle me, and see.”
On the next day Francis clothed Divini in the grey clothes of the Order and girded his loins with the cord, and gave him the name “Pacificus,” because he had left the world’s tumult for the peace of God. Thus, too, a century later, another much greater poet was to seek for peace among the children of St. Francis. One evening he, already grey and bowed down, stood before a lonely cloister in the Apennines and knocked at the door. And to the porter’s question as to what he sought there, the great Florentine (Dante) gave only the one all-including answer, “Pace!” (“Peace!”)1 [Note: J. Jörgensen, St. Francis of Assisi, 155.]
The Giver of Rest
The giver of rest is God—“thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.” God is here revealed to us as exercising personal care in the still chamber. And there is something here which should be inexpressibly sweet to the believer; for this shows the minuteness of God’s care, the individuality of His love; how it condescends, and stoops, and acts, not only in great, but also in little spheres; not only where glory might be procured from great results, but where nought is to be had save the gratitude and love of a poor feeble creature, whose life has been protected and preserved, in a period of helplessness and sleep. There is something inexpressibly touching in this “lay me down” of the Psalmist. In thus lying down, he voluntarily gave up any guardianship of himself; he resigned himself into the hands of another; he did so completely, for, in the absence of all care, he slept; there was here a perfect trust.
My barque is wafted to the strand
By breath Divine,
And on the helm there rests a Hand
Other than mine.
One who has known in storms to sail
I have on board;
Above the raging of the gale
I have my Lord.
He holds me when the billows smite,
I shall not fall.
If sharp, ’tis short; if long, ’tis light;
He tempers all.
Safe to the land! Safe to the land!
The end is this;
And then with Him go hand in hand
Far into bliss.1 [Note: Dean Alford.]
There is no peace like the peace of the man who loves to lie down at night with the thought of God possessing his mind and heart. Happy the man who delights to recall the thought of God before he sinks into slumber!
Be my last thought how sweet to rest
For ever on my Saviour’s breast.
There is no peace like the peace of a man who, when he awakes in the morning, gives first welcome to the thought of God.
Fairer than the morning, lovelier than the daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
The man who finds in God his shield, who seeks in Him his glory, and who makes in Him his boast, will have mornings of joy, and evening times of light.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Thirsting for the Springs, 99.]
Let us learn as Luther did, who, looking out of his window one summer evening, saw, on a tree at hand, a little bird making his brief and easy dispositions for a night’s rest. “Look,” he said, “how that little fellow preaches faith to us all. He takes hold of his twig, tucks his head under his wing, and goes to sleep, leaving God to think for him!”3 [Note: P. B. Power, The “I Wills” of the Psalms , 19.]
In The Sunday Magazine for 1877 the following hymn, written by a young Brahmin lady, was published:—
I lay me down in peace
Beneath Thy wing,
And safely sleep.
Thy watch can never cease,
For Thou, O King,
My soul wilt keep!
My sins are all forgiven,
So now I see
Thy Presence bright.
A day’s march nearer heaven
And nearer Thee
I am this night.
For all the tenderness
Which Thou hast shown
To me this day,
For strength in feebleness,
To Thee alone
My thanks I pay.
Thy holy angels stand
As guards above
My lowly bed;
And Thine own gracious hand,
Thy hand of love,
Is ’neath my head.
What if, before the morn,
Thou bid’st me rise
And come to Thee?
Then homeward swiftly borne,
Beyond the skies,
My soul shall be.
Or if it be Thy will
That I should see
O let Thy presence still
Remain with me,
And be my stay!1 [Note: Ellen Lakshmi Goreh.]
Jerdan (C.), For the Lambs of the Flock, 15.
Jowett (J. H.), Thirsting for the Springs, 94.
Moberly (G.), Plain Sermons Preached at Brighstone, 34.
Power (P. B.), The “I Wills” of the Psalms , 1.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, xi. 353.
Vaughan (C. J.), Voices of the Prophets, 75.
Vaughan (C. J.), The Family Prayer and Sermon Book, i. 737.
Churchman’s Pulpit: Good Friday and Easter Even, vii. 189 (Keble).
Expositor’s Library: Psalms, i. 167 (Keble), 173 (Greenwood).
Good Words, 1866, p. 818 (Vaughan).
Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times,” vi. 85 (Keble).
Sunday Magazine, 1895, pp. 494, 496, 499 (Wells).