Spriritual Lethargy

September 18, 2016 / No. 3846

Dear Radio Friends,
Our program today issues the warning of the Lord Jesus Christ against the shameful and all too common sin of spiritual lethargy, spiritual dullness, sluggishness, complacency, apathy, a lackadaisical attitude toward the spiritual things of the Lord Jesus Christ, a lethargy not so much seen in the outward aspects of the Christian’s life, although they can be seen there, but a lethargy that proceeds from the inward decay of the heart toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake. We will guard and confess the precious truth of the indestructible nature of the true grace of God. When God’s grace has been imparted by the Holy Spirit into the soul, that grace can never die, it cannot fall away. “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (I Pet. 1:5). “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand” (Ps. 37:24). The faithfulness of God keeps us as His children. The covenant of grace secures us. The finished work of Jesus Christ preserves us. And the indwelling of the Holy Spirit seals us to eternal glory.
But, due to our own sin and weakness as we are surrounded by a wicked world, and due to our own folly, that life of grace that is imparted to our hearts may experience a decline in our own soul—a painful process of spiritual disease, which may advance slowly, imperceptibly, silently, and unobserved. Suddenly we awake to the realization that there is in our life as Christians no power of holiness, no revulsion to sin; that there is a loss of the experience of the joy of the Lord; and that there is an actual playing with sin and a lukewarm attitude toward the church. Maybe, even further, we find ourselves withdrawing from spiritual things and from the church; we experience bitterness in our heart; and we have no felt-presence of Jesus’ walking with us in our life.
Then we ask the question: How came it so? What is the root and origin of these things? The answer of the Word of God is: the sin of spiritual lethargy.
The passage that I want to use to bring this sin out and the Lord’s words of rebuke against it is found in an Old Testament book called the Song of Solomon. Please open your Bible to the fifth chapter of that book. The Song of Solomon is a picture of Christ and His bride, the church, a picture taken from the life of Solomon as he was married to his wife. In this book, chapter 4:16, we read this: “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.” There the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking through His Spirit, calls for His Spirit to blow upon the church in order that out of the church, the gathering of His people, spices (that is, sweet smells of praise) may flow up to the nostrils of God. In response, the wife of Solomon, the church, says, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.” The church, you and I, long for the Lord to come among us in His felt-presence and to be with us as His people.
The church, then, is the garden of the Lord—a garden in which He desires and is pleased to live and enjoy Himself; a garden that He has planted to give off pleasing fragrances of praise to Him. You plant a garden in your backyard, you landscape your yard. Why do you do that? You do that to enjoy it, to relax, to find rest and wonderment in that. You plant an herb garden that is peaceful. There are delicate fragrances to be smelled. There is the bee balm. Then you put your mouth down to the sage and you taste the thyme and rosemary and cilantro.
So, the Word of God says, is the church. It is the garden that God has planted in order that it might emit rare and delicate and pleasing fragrances of trust and love and joy and worship before the living God. The church is not a dump. The world of sin, from which we were taken, is like a landfill. It emits an odor, a stench, of hatred and greed and covetousness and lust and envy. But in that present world, and indeed out of those who were once of that world, out of the desolate weed bed of the world, God has planted for Himself a garden. And His grace has germinated every seed. The Holy Spirit waters the Word upon the seed in order that we in the church might bring forth that which is pleasing to God.
So, we could well ask the question: “What does the Lord smell in His garden today? What does He smell in your church? What does He smell in your life? Is it the pleasing fragrances of trust, love, joy, and worship?”
In response to the church, we read the words from chapter 5:1ff., “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse.” And the Lord Jesus Christ comes into His garden in such a way that He reveals all His beauty and sufficiency. First of all, the husband (therefore, really, Christ) comes to His wife in the garden in all of His eternal love. He says, “I am come my sister, my spouse, my love, my dove, my undefiled.” Is that not wonderful? The Lord calls us as the church “my sister.” That tells us that He was made one with us, that He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, that He took upon us our flesh so that we might be made the family of God. The church is not only the Lord’s wife and bride. We are His sister, His brethren. We have fellowship in Him.
He says the church is “my spouse, I am married to you, I am covenanted to take care of you as my church and to love you. You are my love,” He says, “my dove, my undefiled!” He comes in all of His love.
But He comes also as the Lord, and as the crucified and risen Savior. If you are reading the passage with me, you will see in verse 2 that the husband, as he comes to his garden, says, “my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.” That is, he appears before the garden as one who has undergone privation, the coldness of the night has fallen upon him, he bears the signs of suffering. Christ has gone through the eternal night of our darkness. All that was out there to condemn us, all the frightening things of judgment and wrath of a holy God, He has suffered.
Then if you read further, in verses 4 and 5, the wife says that “my beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door.” And, when she does finally arise to open to her beloved, her “hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.” When the Lord comes He is covered with myrrh. Myrrh is a spice of embalming, of death, to cover the odors of death. Christ comes to His church in all the wonder of His atoning grace. So to speak, when you touch the handle of the church, it is covered with myrrh. When you think of the church, you must think of the death of Jesus Christ. The church is covered in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then, further, He comes in all the blessings of salvation. He comes in His love, He comes as the crucified Savior, and He comes with the blessings of salvation (v. 1). He comes with all the rich blessings of the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, divine grace to strengthen our spiritual lives, the wine of joy to lift our souls, treasures, bounties, riches. Not earthly things. The Lord does not come to you as His child with the promise of money and French food and dresses and human beauty. All of these things perish in a moment. These are the things that those who live in the desert and in the weeds of sin think are great things. But Christ comes to His garden with true spiritual riches of His salvation.
And the response of the bride of the church is (v. 2): “I sleep, but my heart waketh.” Then the cry of Christ is expressed again, “Open to me, my sister, my dove.” Then in verse 3 she says this: “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?” She is too sleepy. Her husband has come to the garden, but she cannot get up to greet him. She cannot get herself going. Oh, she has excuses. “It’s not convenient, it’s too much bother, it will upset my plans. I’ve gone to bed, I don’t want to get up and get my feet dirty again. I don’t want to have to get dressed again.” But the point is that her own spiritual indifference, her own lethargy, prevents the enjoyment of the blessings of the visit of her lord, of her husband, into her life.
Note here that it was the existence of divine grace that was still in her (I sleep, but my heart waketh). Christ preserves the life of grace within us by grace alone. The point is this: the church, the believer, has fallen into carelessness. The wife knew she fell into carelessness. She knew she should get up. She knew what she should be doing with her spiritual life. But she did not feel like it. And the awful feature is that she was content that it be so. She gives in and accepts her state. She is too sleepy. She is not going to get up. Her love had grown cold.
How much is this true of you and of me with regard to spiritual things, with regard to Christ, to dedication to His church and to His Word? Are you and I characterized by a sickly, spiritual feebleness? Is ours, young people, the spiritual life that constantly says, “Oh, yeah, I know”? Are we the kind of Christian who forever is saying, “I’ll get around to that spiritual activity and that spiritual virtue someday” but he never does?
Is it too far for you to go to church? Is it too much for you to go twice? Do you say on Sunday evening, “I’ve taken off my coat, my shoes; I’ve made my plans”? Is it too much for you to go to the Bible study of your church? You say, “I’ve made my plans. I’ve been busy all day. I’m staying home. I’m too tired.” Are you alert for the pleasures of the world? Do the attractions and pleasures of the world dominate you? Then, do you sleep with regard to the spiritual life? Do you greet the spiritual things with half a heart and the world with all your heart? Where is the world in your life? Be honest! Where is the Word of God in your life? Do you read the Word of God? Do you thirst after the Word of God? What captures your heart? For what do you watch? For what will you get up to see and stay awake to see? For what will you experience inconvenience? A movie? The things of this earth? Earthly friends? For Christ and His Word and His truth and His church?
Are we content that this be so, when we fall into spiritual indifference? Do we think that spiritual indifference is just the way that it goes, that young Christians and new converts are the ones who are enthused, but the people who have been Christians for twenty or thirty years—well, it is just the way it is? Is that the way you think? It is no little thing, you know. For indifference to the Lord Jesus Christ wounds love. What wounds, what hurts your heart as a parent? Probably more than anything else, indifference to your love from your child—the “I don’t care” attitude, the statement: “Yes, Dad, I know. Go ahead, say what you want, but I’m not going to listen. I don’t care.”
Do you and I mourn over the sin of indifference, spiritual indifference to the Lord and to the things of the kingdom, to our Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ? This is often something that begins inwardly. This deals with the secret walk of your heart with the Savior. Do not fool yourself here. Our outward walk can be without fault. In fact, we can be bristling and bursting with activity—while all the time our hearts beat faintly before God. Does sin run roughshod over you? Do you find yourself yielding to it? Is there sloth and worldliness and pride and unforgiveness and carnality ruling in your heart? Do you perceive the loveliness of the truth of Jesus Christ and of His holy Word? Do the truths of divine grace occupy the supreme position in your heart and are they the great value and beauty?
Beloved, beware of spiritual lethargy.
When the bride did at last arise, she discovered that her husband had withdrawn himself (v. 6). “I opened to my beloved [so finally she did get up]; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” That he withdrew himself does not mean that he abandoned, divorced her. But it means this: the cost of her lethargy was the felt presence of her lord and her husband. If you read on in the Song of Solomon, you discover that she does indeed find him again; or he comes to her and comforts her. But for a time, for a very painful time, she could not find him. And he did not appear to her to answer her.
The Lord does not do this without reason. For He delights in us His people and church. He rejoices to walk many a mile, experientially, with us. But He is righteous, and the intimacy of His presence is experienced only in the way of repentance and love. The Lord will not give us to experience in our hearts the joy of His presence if we greet Him with lukewarmness and complacency, if we try duplicity with Him, cherishing our sin and still trying to have Him. In His love He withdraws Himself in our experience to correct us and to make us confess and acknowledge our sin. This is painful. There is nothing so painful. It is painful because of the work of grace in our hearts. We have been made to love Him. The wife loved her husband. And when he was not at the door, it pained her: “I opened to my love and he was not there.” The pain of lost fellowship is rooted in love. If someone departs from you and you do not love him, you are not pained by his departure. But if you love that person and you know that it was your folly, your meanness, your simple lack of caring about him that drove him from you, then you are pained in your heart.
That pain produced tears of repentance. “Oh, what a fool I’ve been. How cursed be my sloth. Why did I surrender to indifference?” Do you know that type of spiritual pain and repentance? Do you feel horrible when Christ gives you to see the lethargy with which you greet Him? Does it bother you, does it upset you? Do you cry out, “Why?” Heed the warning! Is this what it must take in the righteousness of God and in God’s providence for us to understand the wonder of His presence? Does it take this: that we must first be made to experience the lack of His presence due to our own sin and lethargy? Does the truth of the gospel of the Reformed faith first have to be taken away before we understand its wonder and preciousness? Do opportunities for you to know the truth in your church first have to cease before you understand the brilliance and the wonder of such opportunities? Does the peace of the church have to be removed before you know its wonder? Does indifference first have to drag us to spiritual bankruptcy before we understand the riches of Jesus Christ?
Address spiritual lethargy now! I do not want that pain of feeling that He is not present. I do not want the pain of thinking that He does not hear me when I call. I do not want to learn that way! Search out your heart.
Is there spiritual lethargy in your heart? Is church attendance, Bible reading, and prayer an experience of strength and joy and spiritual sweetness? Do you experience the joy of your God in your religious duties? If you do not, then do not criticize the church or the preacher or the Bible version or how you were taught about how to pray right. Do not do that! If there is no life in your spiritual activities, look at yourself! Are you lifeless? Are the world and the things of this world more important to you than your Savior? Do you love the Scriptures with a holy relish? Do you read the Scriptures with deep and solemn conviction that God is speaking to you? Do you treasure them up in your heart? Do you pray? Do you have dealings with Jesus Christ personally in your life? If the answer to any of these is “No,” do not look anywhere else, but look to yourself and repent.
What is the state of your soul today toward the things of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you lethargic? Repent! Are you enamored with the world? Are you unwilling to part with your pet sin? Are you bitter against God? Search out the reason. Repent.
For He is our only Lord, our only Husband. He is our only good. And His church and the things of His salvation are the treasures of life eternal. Oh, may we never greet them with indifference!
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the Word. We pray for its blessing today upon our hearts through Jesus Christ, Amen.