GILBERT BEEBE – DEAR BROTHER IN THE LORD: – As my mind has been running of late mostly in a certain channel, and as I often fear it will carry me into strange doctrine, I have concluded to ask your views of the scriptural meaning of the words “asleep,” “sleep in Jesus,” “dead in Christ,” “therefore let us not sleep,” as is seen from 1 Thess. iv. 13 to v. 6. Also, do these terms have the same signification as the term “slept,” as seen in Matthew xiii. 25?
D. F. RICHARDSON.
Pennington, Texas, July, 1880
REPLY: – All intelligent members of the human family know by experience what it is to sleep literally, when the voluntary actions of our reasoning powers are lulled into a temporary suspension, and the natural mind wanders through regions of imagination unguided by reason. Our natural mind grows weary from the cares of life, and like our physical powers, requires that rest and repose which our beneficent Creator has wisely and graciously provided.
Sleeping is mentioned in the scriptures in a figurative sense, to illustrate various states and conditions incidental to us. Sometimes to represent a state of inertness, like that of the sluggard mentioned in Proverbs, whose garden is neglected and overgrown with weeds. It is sometimes used to represent the sweet and refreshing repose which the precious Redeemer gives to his beloved bride, as expressed in Psalm cxxvii. 2. In the passage mentioned by brother Richardson, Matthew xiii. 25, the word sleep is evidently used to signify the unconsciousness of men, when they like men asleep were not watching the movements of the enemy. But in those passages referred to in first Thessalonians, we understand the apostle to apply the figure of sleep to that repose which the children of God enjoy when released from the cares, turmoil and perplexities of this world. Those of whom the apostle speaks as being asleep in Jesus, we have understood to be those who have finished their course on earth, and have fallen asleep in Jesus, who are securely preserved in him, notwithstanding the mortality and death of the body, and who, when he shall appear, shall appear with him in glory.
Jesus has given the consoling assurance that he will raise up all his people at the last day. He says, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, and that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John vi. 39, 40. With this assurance that all the saints who have finished their course in the flesh are securely kept in Christ by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time, surely they who have this blessed hope need not sorrow as they who have no hope of immortality beyond the grave. For they who sleep in Jesus thus, will God our Savior bring with him. For the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ (that is, they who have or shall have finished their course in the flesh, and whose immortal life is hid with Christ in God) shall rise first, and “then we which are alive and remain [until his coming] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” When our Lord said, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth,” he explained his meaning that he was dead, or in that state that we call death. All that was mortal in him was extinguished, but still there was a sense in which it was truly said of him that he was only sleeping; for although his mortal elements were prostrate in death, his immortality was still secure in Christ. And it is evidently so with all who sleep in Jesus.
But in the admonition in the fifth chapter and sixth verse, the word sleep is used figuratively in a very different sense. The saints are exhorted to vigilance as children of the light, to watch and be sober. Sleeping, in this application of the figure, means carelessness, heedlessness, and neglect to watch and be sober. The vigilance required is explained thus: “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
We do not know to what strange doctrine our brother alludes, as we can discover nothing in the passages referred to which seems to us subvertive of the gospel of Christ. We need, however, to be watchful, lest we should misconstrue or fail to understand the plain and scriptural meaning of the inspired word. May God, who is our Sun and Shield, give us light, life and comfort from above, and lead us in all truth and righteousness for his name’s sake.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 16
August 15, 1880