“… A great part of our life is spent in sleep, wherein the soul is bound up from exerting any regular thoughts, confined every night to a periodical delirium, subjected to all the fluttering tyranny of the animal spirits, and dragged away into all the wild wanderings of dreaming nature ; and indeed the thoughts of many of us always, and of all of us sometimes, even when we are awake, are but little better, because we perpetually dance after the motions of passion and fancy, and our reason seldom judges without them. Alas ! how imperfect is the best of us in knowledge here ! But knowledge is not the only good of which the body deprives the spirit. The necessities of the body, hunger and thirst, weakness, and weariness, and drowsy spirits, sit very heavy upon the soul, and hinder it in the pursuit of holy and heavenly thoughts, break off many a divine meditation, and interrupt and spoil many a delightful piece of worship. In sickness or in old age, what long and weighty troubles, what tiresome infirmities clog the soul, and what restless pains of nature overwhelm the spirit, and forbid the lively exercises of devotion !
… And as our knowledge and our holiness are rendered very imperfect, by reason of these sensible and corrupt engines of flesh and blood, so are the joys and satisfactions of the soul perpetually impaired and diminished hereby. The heart of the saint is in pain to feel sin working in it, and the conscience complains under the anguish of guilt. Blessed be God for the balm that is found in the blood of Christ to ease the anguish of conscience ! Besides, what spirit can enjoy perfect peace, while it is tied to so many thousand nerves, each of which may become an instrument of intense pain and torture? And the body itself has sharp humors enough in it to corrode those nerves, and fill the indwelling spirit with agonies. What millions of seeds of painful disease lurk in animal nature, that render this body a most uncomfortable dwelling! And how many thousand strokes and accidents are we liable to from abroad, whence new pains and sorrows are derived to the soul! The wind and the weather, the rain and the hail, and the scorching sun, the air, the water, and fire, and every element, may afflict the animal, and pain the unhappy spirit.
But happy souls, that are free from all the cumbersome and mischievous influences of flesh and blood ! from these instruments of iniquity, and springs of deadly guilt and torment ! Happy souls, that are released from sick and languishing bodies, from feeble and burdensome limbs, and all the tiresome and painful disorders of dying nature! that are raised beyond the reach and injury of all these lower elements, these mediums of disease and pain! Rejoice and triumph, ye prisoners newly discharged; ye feel the pleasurable truths that we guess at, but ye feel and enjoy them with a relish of sublime pleasure beyond all our conjectures. Rejoice and exult in your new liberty, like a bird released from the imprisoning cage, and sing with sweetest notes to the praise of your Redeemer. O worship and serve him in the full freedom of all your active powers; attend at his feet with intense delight, and love him with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
Isaac Watts, “”Discourse II: The happiness of separate spirits: Attempted in a funeral discourse in memory of Sir John Hartopp”, The Life and Choice Works of Isacc Watts
Isaac Watts lived from 1674 to 1748 and was a Congregationalist minister in England. His description of the mental discomforts of sleep sounds like one well-acquainted with the worries and anguishes of modern life. There’s the concerns of the animal needs. There’s afflictions from nature. There’s the burden on the conscience of sin. What’s a person to do?
I was actually having trouble figuring out how to respond, so I asked a good friend. She writes: “this passage is not about the suffering, it’s about the hope of the end of suffering. It helps us to endure the suffering to know the end of it will not be Nothing-ness, but relief, joy, complete healing. The souls who are truly weary are the ones who are suffering with no sight of the end of it while they live on earth. God will give them rest. For us who are still relatively young and healthy, God grants us rest each day and to wake and face life again the next day, but as we age and become infirm, the reality of death faces us, but we need not face the conundrum of choosing between fear of death and the unrelenting suffering. So much more less of a burden is for us. The future is in God’s hands and we only have to face today.”
PRAYER: Dear Lord, we know this life is uncomfortable. So many cares on the mind. Give us the peace of conscience that comes from Christ. Give us a reassurance that you will give us rest. We place our future in your hands, and ask you give us peace to get on with the business of our lives today. AMEN.