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reason to believe we would not generally go away so barren as we do. 3. We ought to hear the word with We ought prayer. to look to God for his blessing before we come, while we are hearing, and after we have heard. Paul will plant and Apollos water in vain, until the Lord gives the increase. And the constitution which he has established is, "Ask and it shall be given you-every one that asketh receiveth;" Mat. vii. 7, 8. "I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them;" Ezek. xxxvi. 37. If therefore we would profit by the word preached, it becomes us to be fervent in prayer for the divine blessing. We ought to go to the house of God after having sought his blessing. And doubtless one great reason why many profit so little, under the preaching of the word is, they do not pray for the divine blessing. As the apostle James said, "Ye have not, because ye ask not;" Jam. iv. 2. Or they do not pray aright, as James said again," Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss;" Jam. iv. 3. Before you come to the house of God, you ought to implore the divine blessing, on the word and ordinances of God. You ought to pray for your minister, that the Lord would be with him, help him to speak in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, and divide to every one their portion in due season, and especially enable him to speak a word in season and with power to your soul. The apostle Paul exhorted most of the churches to which he wrote, "Brethren pray for me-pray for us." The prayers of faith offered up for the ministers of God, are oftentimes answered by blessings upon the offerer. You ought to pray also for the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon his church, and particularly that part of it, in which your lot is cast. If you have that disposition which you ought to have to profit by the word, you will desire the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the saving good of others. 66 Pray (said the Psalmist) for the peace of Jerusalem they shall prosper that love thee;" Ps. cxxii. 6. If your petitions be answered, and the Lord build up Zion, you yourselves may expect to receive a share of the blessing. And you ought especially to pray each one for yourself, that the Lord would grant his blessing, and give you the composed mind, and the hearing ear; and that he would enable you to understand and apply what you hear, and bring forth fruit unto eternal life.
While you are hearing the word it would be profitable, frequently to put up short ejaculations for the divine blessing. And after you have heard the word, prayer is still a duty. If you would profit, follow what you have heard, with prayer to God, that he would seal instruction upon your heart, preserve the seed of the word by his Spirit, and make it fruitful.
4. If we would profit under the preaching of the word, we must receive it with faith. It was for want of this that the Israelites of whom the Apostle spake did not profit."For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it ;" Heb. iv. 2. If the word is not believed, in vain is it preached to us.We ought to believe it to be the word of God, if it be according to the Scriptures of truth. As the Bereans did, try what you hear by this rule. And when the word of God, according to the Scriptures is preached, hear it with faith, assenting to its truth, and with a realizing sense of its importance as the word of God, and with a determination implicitly to follow the truth of God.
5. Receive the word not only with faith, but also with love. A want of love to the truth was one reason why some concerning whom the Apostle wrote failed of salvation. "They receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved;" 2 Thes. ii. 10. Some hearers hate the truth, cannot bear to hear it, and dislike the preacher for uttering it. Thus Ahab said respecting Micaiah, who was a faithful prophet of the Lord and told the king the truth, "I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil;" 1 Kings xxii. 8. In like manner the Jews were frequently offended with the prophets, and our Saviour, and his Apostles, for telling them the truth; and this anger effectually prevented profit from the word. For instead of hating their sins and crucifying them, as they ought to have done, they hated and persecuted the preachers, who doubtless had the purest benevolence in their hearts towards them. Unless ministers speak the truth of God, they cannot reasonably have any prospect of success. And the truth generally must condemn a portion of the hearers. If therefore those who hear the word would profit by it, it becomes them as James directs, to "Receive with meekness the ingrafted word;" Jam. i. 21.
It becomes them to love the truth, however it may condemn them, and whatever self-denial and sacrifice of selfish inclinations it may require. When the truth condemns them, they ought to condemn themselves, and change their conduct instead of cavil with the truth and condemn the preacher, who out of love to their souls faithfully delivers to them the truth of God.
6. If we would profit by the preaching of the word, we ought to lay up what we hear in our hearts. Thy word (said David) have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee;" Ps. cxix. 11. We should labour to treasure up what we hear in our memories; for unless we remember what we hear, we can receive but little permanent advantage from the word; our feelings may be exci ted, but unless we remember what we hear we lay up nothing for future usc. And that we may lay up what we hear in our hearts, and preserve it there, we ought most carefully to avoid every thing, which may have a tendency to take away the word, and destroy the impressions which have been made. Hence vain company, or any company whose conversation does not savour of religion, ought to be avoided as much as possible when we come from the house of God. Hence also, all vain conversation, or even talking about our worldly business, ought to be avoided, when we are coming out of the house God, or have returned from hearing the word. The seed of the word is very easily rooted out. The evil one, as represented in the parable of the sower, ever stands ready to pluck it out of our hearts, lest it should produce a saving effect. And doubtless the word is often rendered unfruitful, before the hearers have left the place of worship by engaging in worldly conversation.
7. Lastly. If we would profitably hear the word preached, we must reduce what we hear to practice. Practice is the great end of all preaching. We ought therefore to hear the word with a view to practice. Should you follow all the other directions and not this, you would fail to derive spiritual profit from the word preached. Accordingly our Saviour hath told us," Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not for it was
founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it;" Mat. vii. 24-27.
Thus, my brethren, I have pointed out to you, how you ought to hear the word, when it is preached, if you would profit by it.
In the conclusion of this discourse, let me urge upon you to take heed how you hear. Remember that this is the command of the Saviour who died for sinners, and will shortly be your judge. Remember that the word which is preached, is that by which you will be tried in the great day of account; that which is able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ; that which is your eternal life; and that also which if not improved aright will be your eternal death. Every sermon which you hear delivered, agreeably to the word of God, if not heard aright, increases your condemnation. The word of God delivered by his faithful ambassadors, will not return unto him void, but will accomplish something. If it does not prove a savour of life, it will prove a savour of death unto death. If those who come to the house of God were duly impressed with these considerations, they could not rush thoughtlessly into the presence of God; they would ask his blessing before they came; they would be filled with reverence in his house; they would not indulge in light or trifling behaviour or sleep under the preaching of that word which will be life or death to their souls; and they would with eagerness, receive the word, pray over it, endeavour to remember it, and reduce it to practice.
May the Lord enable you my hearers, thus to take heed how you hear, that the word preached may prove an eternal benefit to your souls.-Amen.
ROMANS. IV, 11. FIRST CLAUSE.
"And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised."
The leading object of the Apostle, in this Epistle, was, to prove the great doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. The Jews held to justification by works, and especially to the necessity of circumcision, and an observance of the ceremonial law. To show that this sentiment was erroneous, and at the same time to establish the doctrine of justification by faith, the Apostle, among other arguments, adduced the example of Abraham, of whom they boasted as their father; and proved from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, that he was justified by faith as it was written, "He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness :" Gen. xv. 6. The Apostle then asked the question, "How was it reckoned ?" That is, the faith of Abraham for righteousness. When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?" This question he answered, "Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision;" verse 10. Abraham was not circumcised for many years, after it was said of him, "He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Circumcision therefore could have had no effect upon his justification; for he was justified before he was circumcised; and as stated in our text, "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised."
The object of selecting this text at this time is, to lead to an illustration of the three following questions in our Catechism, which come next in course to be considered, viz.
"How do the sacraments become effectual means of salva