Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuiper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
As in reading a book you skip a part that does not interest you, so there are those who between the days of their life simply skip the nights.
So a day does not have twenty-four, but sixteen or seventeen hours. They keep count of time from their rising in the morning until they pillow their head by night; but the night that lies in between does not count. This is especially so with persons in good health, who sleep at once when they touch the pillow, and, though they may have dreamed, know nothing of it. To such as they the night is simply a something thatgoes out of their life. When they go to sleep they are lost in unconsciousness, and when the sun is above the horizon again, they raise their head above the waters of self-forgetfulness. This is yet more strongly the case with little children who as roses have slept all night long, and at awakening have no faint perception of the length or duration of the time that they slept.
The sick, they know about it. And no less they of weary head, people whose nerves are over strung, or whose head is crowded with carping cares. When one struggles to get to sleep, and cannot succeed, or if lost for a moment in unconsciousness at once wakes up again with anxious fear. Then, especially, a long winter’s night seems almost endless, and the first ray of light that enters in by the window brings a feeling of deliverance. For those, too, who watch with the sick, such a night can creep along with oppressive slowness. But by far the most people, especially they who labor with their hands, know nothing of this. In the evening they are tired. They long with their garment to drop the cares of life from their shoulders. And though they live through the night, into what the night is they do not enter. But with men of deep spirituality, like a David and Asaph, it is altogether different.
The night, too, is a subject of deep thought. Of the night, count is kept, and the honor of the night is brought to our faithful God and Father.
“I laid me down and slept, and rose again: for the Lord sustained me” (Ps. 3:5).
As Asaph exclaimed: “The day is thine, the night also is thine, O my God” (Ps. 74:16).
Do you not perceive the higher seriousness of life in this?
The night of sleep is usually a third part of your life’s day. With retiring and rising again, each day eight of the twenty-four hours. He who may reach the age of seventy-five years, loses by sleep twenty-five full years, counting day and night together.
And would you be unmindful of that third part of your life, take no heed of it, have no eye for it, and act as though you had no knowledge of it?
“Teach us to number our days,” prays the psalmist, “that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90), and the “Teach us also to number our nights” is included in it.
Also at night, when you lie down in unconsciousness, you are there, you exist after soul and body, and something takes place in you, and something with you. When you rise, you are not just as you were when you lay down, but altogether different, refreshed in thought and refreshed in strength.
The night is even of so much importance that it is none too strongly put when we say that by day you live on the capital which you lay up by night. In other words: impoverished as to strength you go to bed, and in the morning rich in power you go into life again.
Let there be a night when sleeplessness tormented you, or one which in your folly, asJob 17:12 has it, you had “changed into day,” and in your inability to apply yourself to work and in the depressed condition of your nerves you realize what it is, for a single night, to have missed the supply of strength from the Fountain of Life.
And with this for the most part we think only of our physical strength. Of the healing of our tired muscles by rest. Of the healthy tension of our weakened nerves by that surcease for hours together of all excitement. Of the cooling of our blood. Of the relaxation of our whole body by lying down, the freedom from the weight of our garments, and the gentle equable warming of the skin and the opening of the pores.
But apart from that renewal of physical strength, there is still something more in sleep. Sleep also affects your spiritual existence.
Even in every way.
Sleep affects your thought, and many a one experiences the truth of the French proverb: La nuit porte conseil, i.e., in the night we form our best plans. It is folly, of course, when a schoolboy puts his book under his pillow, but it is not folly that a lesson learned at night, and is only half committed, in the quietness of night sinks into us more deeply, and thereby is more firmly imprinted in the memory. And apart from this, as everyone knows, when in the evening the head refused to work, and was utterly disabled, and the spring of thought ceased to flow, in the morning that same fountain flows fresh and abundant again and makes thoughts stream toward us.
But even to this the inworking of sleep upon our spiritual existence does not limit itself.
“In the night seasons,” the psalmist sings, “my reins also instruct me” (16:7). And from the remembrance of many a dream everyone knows how, at night, while we sleep and the body rests, great activities can be going on in our inward man.
Sometimes it seems as though, at midnight, someone enters into our soul, to put in order there again, what by day was spoiled, to refill the lamp with oil, and inwardly to prepare us for the life-task of the following day.
Truly this is no self-deception, it is reality.
Every evening when you go to sleep, you let yourself go, and there is some One else who takes you up in the arms of His compassion, and that some One else is the Lord your God.
It is He alone who at the entrance of night takes you from yourself, during the long hours of night, to protect and to refresh you, and in the morning renewed again to return you to yourself.
But in the night He has possession of you; it is He who carries and keeps you, who takes you in hand after body and after soul to mold you. And so all the night long your God is busy with you, while you are not in the least aware of it.
By day you are also in His hand, but by night in a different way and far more effectively, for in the night God takes you away from yourself, independently of yourself, to fashion and to purify you, to equip you with new capital of physical and spiritual strength, and after that to bring you back again to conscious life.
The world calls this Nature, and undergoes it without giving itself an account of it, as the bear ensconces himself in his winter-sleep.
But to him who honors and fears God, there opens in that life of night more and more a world of rich meaning. For him, that life by night obtains the significance of an extremely important chapter of history. And more yet than by day it is by night that God’s child learns to observe the work which God works on his body and to his soul.
A third part of our life, i.e., every night, like the small boat from the water is pulled on land, so are we taken by God out of the stream of life. In the night He repairs the suffered injuries. And when in the morning the cock crows, that same God brings us without damage back again into the waterway of life.
Now you can say: “If that is so, it all goes on outside of myself and can imply no instruction for my soul.” But this is not so.
All Scripture and experience of the saints teaches differently.
Not merely does the psalmist say that at night his reins instruct him, but time and again the Scripture brings you the active attestation of the man who meditates in the law of the Lord day and night (Ps. 1:2), or the declaration: “The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Ps. 42:8).
For sleep is indeed sleep, and when one is once “gone” in sleep, one does no more conscious thinking; but it makes a difference how, and with what deliberations and thoughts, one goes to sleep, and what sensations rise in us at waking.
The more godly among the children of God have ever striven, before retiring at night, to loosen their thoughts from the world, by reading of the Word and by prayer to connect their thoughts to the things of the eternal kingdom, and in lying down, before they slept, to seek fellowship with the Eternal Being.
So going to sleep is even most rich and most blessed, and is as it were a sinking away into a night from which on this earth one might not awake. This imparts discipline to the soul. It prepares the soul. So that when at last death does come, he cannot so greatly surprise you.
In this way your going to sleep is no longer a surrender of yourself to your pillow, but a conscious surrender of yourself into the hand of your God, who for that whole night long takes you away from yourself, only at dawn of the new day to give you back to yourself again.
What is said in the Moravian evening hymn: “Let me sleeping wait on Thee. Then my sleep shall peaceful be. Holy thoughts inspire in me. Dreaming let my joy be Thee,” is somewhat strained. Most rarely indeed have we fellowship with Jesus in our dream. For we know Him no more after the flesh. In the dream everything is representation, outward appearance. But this aside, this prayer breathes piety and devotion. A deep appreciation of the fact that night also is a part of our life, that of the night honor must come to our Lord, and that night must not separate us from our God but must bring Him closer to us.
The day is Thine, the night also is Thine.
That in the end is the main thing that counts.
He who can go to sleep, and all night long let himself be healed and operated upon and refreshed by his faithful God, and can rise again in the morning without a thought of what during all those hours of night God has done in him and for him, is a Christian with a faded religion. If he does company with the Lord’s people, his piety is offensively superficial.
He, on the other hand, who has an eye for this great work of God which goes on through all those hours of night and is affected will praise God and thank Him, O, most truly, for all help accorded him by day, but no less warmly and earnestly for the supply of strength and grace that was accorded him by night, after soul and body, whereby alone success of life became possible on the new day.
Night is the instrument in God’s hand not only to strengthen our body and to pour fresh oil again into the stiffened joints of our spiritual existence, but night must also renew our faith and no less our fellowship with our God.
The sprinkling of the blood of the Lamb of God must every morning be upon you.