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Our Saviour had described in the parable of the sower, the different kinds of hearers, which are found in religious assemblies, where the word is preached; and the effects which the word produced upon them. Hence he took occasion to give the exhortation contained in our text: "Take heed therefore how ye hear."
We have in former discourses, attended to the manner in which the word of God ought to be read and preached; we come now in course to consider how it ought to be heard when preached. Our duty in this respect, we have pointed out in the answer to the 90th question of our Catechism.
"How is the word to be read and heard that it may become effectual unto salvation?
That the word may become effectual unto salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practise it in our lives."
Our text evidently implies that it is our duty to hear the word or wait upon the preaching of it. And that this is the duty of all who can have access to the word preached, is evident from other passages of Scripture, such as the exhortation, "Not forsaking the assembling ourselves together, as the manner of some is;" Heb. x. 25; and the command to ministers to "Preach the gospel to every creature" Mark xvi. 15; which undoubtedly implies the duty of every one to hear it; and also from the numerous examples, of attendance upon the preaching of the word which we find in Scripture, and the happy effects which result from the word preached.
But it is a lamentable truth that many who live where
the word of God is preached, seldom or never hear it. They forsake the assembling of themselves together. Most certainly such are exceedingly guilty, and unless they repent and change their conduct, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, and Tyre and Sidon, in the day of judgment, than for them.
But our business at this time is not so much with these persons, who neglect attendance upon the preaching of the word, as with those who do externally wait upon it. Many such receive no saving benefit. And, even among those, who, we have reason to believe, are the people of God, many at times, appear to bring forth little or no fruit. Corrupt nature will be ready to frame excuses for this unprofitable hearing of the word; but the real reason is, that these hearers do not wait upon the word preached in a proper manner. They do not sufficiently take heed how they hear.
If we would profit by the word preached we ought, 1. To attend to it with diligence. This diligence implies a frequent hearing of the word preached; or embracing every opportunity to hear it that can be done consistently with other duties, both in season, and out of season, or statedly and occasionally; and not suffer trifles, as many do, to keep us away from the house of God.
When we are sitting under the sound of the preached gospel, we ought to give a diligent attention to the word delivered. Thus our Saviour, when he began his sermon concerning the sower, called upon his hearers to "hearken," or give a diligent attention. And several times he gave the exhortation, "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." So also Paul when he was about to address an assembly of people, exhorted them to give a strict attention. "Men of Israel, and ye that fear God give audience;" Acts xiii. 16. It is for want of a due attention, while waiting on the preaching of the word, that so many receive so little profit from it. Without attention it is impossible that the word should profit us. And this attention should be uninterrupted; for by losing a part we frequently lose the sense of the whole; and unless we understand what we hear we cannot be profited. To this diligent attention to the word while it is preached, stands opposed every thing which has a tendency to divert the attention. Wandering thoughts ought to be carefully guarded a
gainst; and our hearts ought to be fixed, and intent upon the word which we are hearing: Hence I would observe that late attendance, unnecessarily leaving the house of God, before the conclusion of worship, drowsiness, sleeping, smiling, whispering, and the like are highly improper; as the person, who is guilty of any of these actions, cannot give that attention to the word which he ought, and generally he disturbs others and distracts their attention, as well as his own.
They who come late into the house of God, must lose all the benefit which might be derived from the exercises attended to before they appear. And almost certainly they disturb the devotions, and distract the attention of others; which is a serious consideration. I know that persons may sometimes be necessarily detained until after the service has commenced. But it is not at all probable that necessity can be plead in behalf of those, who are habitually late in their attendance; nor is it probable that those who feel so little interested in the exercises of the sanctuary, as to be willing, unnecessarily, to lose a part, can have that temper, which will fit them to derive profit from the word, when they do come. Neither is it to be expected that those who stand about the doors of the house of worship, conversing on worldly subjects, or who unnecessarily delay, and are not present to unite in asking a blessing on the exercises of the day, will receive the blessing about which they manifest so much indifference. Brethren, I confidently assert it; no person who feels as he ought to feel, will be willingly absent, at the commencement of the public worship of God's house.
Those again who unnecessarily leave the house of God, before the conclusion of the religious exercises, most assuredly do not hear the word with diligence, and cannot be supposed to have received any profit. Those who unnecessarily go away before the blessing is pronounced, as well as those who come after it is asked, we have every reason to believe, receive no profit. Besides they disturb others, and interrupt their attention which is a very serious evil.
Again, all whispering, smiling, and light gestures,are inconsistent with a diligent hearing of the word. Persons who act thus, certainly, cannot have that reverence for God and his truth, which is indispensable to a profitable
hearing of the word preached. Nor can their attention be fixed while they act in such a way. Yea, persons who act thus, not only, receive no good, but greatly provoke God, who "Is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him" Ps. Lxxxix. 7. And who has said "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified;" Lev. x. 3. Besides the evil extends further. Persons guilty of such conduct, injure others, as well as themselves, by diverting their attention, and distracting their minds, and thus hindering the good which they might otherwise receive.
Another practice, which is inconsistent with a diligent attention to the word preached is, sleeping under the preaching of the word. Such persons certainly cannot be profited. This can need no proof. A minister might as well preach to the seats in which they sit, as to them. Besides, they not only receive no benefit themselves; but they also injure others, by distracting their attention. And if those who indulge in this practice be persons to whom others look up for example, as is sometimes the case, their example, becomes peculiarly pernicious, as it must vilify the ordinance of preaching in the estimation of others, and they probably will take a license from it to do the same. Besides this practice of sleeping under the preaching of the word has a direct tendency to abate the ardour and zeal of a minister, and to discourage him, both in his preparations, and his delivery; and it is calculated to injure his feelings as a man, and much more as a minister of Christ; and it is certainly a great indignity offered to God.
Let those addicted to this practice, be exhorted, to watch and war, and pray against this sin. Let them hearken to our text, "Take heed, therefore how ye hear." If they obey this injunction of him who will shortly be their judge, they will no more sleep under the preaching of his word.
2. If we would take heed how we hear, and profit by the word preached we ought to prepare ourselves for atteoding upon it. We ought seasonably to lay aside worldly business, and exclude from our minds worldly thoughts. If thoughts of the world, its business, riches, honours, or pleasures, occupy our minds, when we go into the house
of God, we cannot reasonably expect to derive profit from the word preached. Such thoughts will either entirely exclude the word, or else choke it and render it unfruitful. And this is one great reason why the word is so often unfruitful in those who appear in the house of God. They have not endeavoured to banish worldly thoughts from their minds; but have brought them with them to the place of worship; and while the word is sounding in their ears, their thoughts like the fool's eyes are in the ends of the earth, intent upon their farms, their merchandize, or other means of gain, their sinful pleasures, and their schemes of ambition, for the attainment of worldly hon
It therefore becomes us to abstract ourselves from the world; and this is not the work of a moment, but requires time. And here I would observe, that it would be an excellent custom, to have worldly business seasonably out of the way on Saturday evening, that we might begin to prepare for the Sabbath before it arrives.
Again, we ought to endeavour, previously to hearing the word, not only to have our minds abstracted from the world, but to have them impressed with a reverential fear of that God into whose presence we are about to go, and with a sense of the importance of profiting under the word which we are about to hear. God is a being of infinite majesty, and of spotless purity. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins,and requireth that those who worship him, should worship him in spirit and truth. He is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. He is fearful in praises and has declared he will be sanctified in all them that come nigh unto him. The word which we are about to hear, when we are going to the house of God, is the word of this God, in which we are most deeply interested; and which will be either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. With these solemn truths we ought to labour to have our minds impressed. We ought also to endeavour to have a sense of our necessities, and of the fulness and excellency of the blessings which God dispenses in his house, that we may come feeling our emptiness, and hungering and thirsting after the bread of life. If we were to come with such a preparation, we have every