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HOW THE WORD IS TO BE READ AND HEARD.
LUKE viii. 18,-Take heed therefore how ye
HIS is an admonition inferred by our Lord from the parable of the sower in the preceding part of the chapter, in which he had shewn the very different events of people's hearing the word. To some it is effectual, to more it is not: Take heed therefore how ye hear, says he. Much depends on the right manner of hearing the word; and the case is the same as to the reading of it, for therein we are to hear God speak by his word. Men may hear what is very good, yet get no good by it, unless they hear in the due
The doctrine of the text is,
DOCT. As the hearers of the word would profit by it, they should take heed how they hear it.'
1. Some things are to go before hearing. II. Some things are to go along with it. III. Some things are to follow after it.
Here I shall consider that one point, How we should hear? or How the word is to be read and heard, that it may be come effectual to salvation? Ans. That the word may be. come effectual to 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.'
There are three things necessary to be heeded and prac tised, if we would so manage these ordinances, as they may become effectual for our salvation.
I. Some things are to go before hearing; namely, preparation and prayer.
First, Preparation. We should prepare ourselves for the ordinances, as Jacob said, Gen. xxxv. 2, 3. Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change
your garments. And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will inake there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with mein the way which I went.' It is true, God may by his sovereign grace catch the unprepared heart by his word, as he says, Isa. lxv. 1. 'I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not:' and there are not wanting instances of such a surprising dispensation of grace. But it is the way of preparation in which we have ground to look for good by it, Isa. lxiv. 5. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, and worketh righteousness; those that remember thee in thy ways; other, wise we are not in the way of getting good by it.
This preparation lies in these five things.
1. Getting the heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of that God into whose presence we are going, and whose word we are to hear, Psal. lxxxix. 6. Though the voice is on earth, the speaker is in heaven, and we should consider it so as to come to hear what God says to us, Acts x. 33. And the more this be on our spirits, we may expect the more good by the word, Isa. Ixvi. 2.
2. Banishing out of the heart worldly cares that are lawful at other times, Matth. xiii. 7. We should say to all these as Abraham did to his young men, Abide ye here—, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship,' Gen. xxii. 5. The heart going after the world at such a time, renders the word ineffectual: but a contrary disposition is a token for good.
3. Application of the blood of Christ to the soul for removing of guilt, and doing away any controversy betwixt God and the soul, Amos iii. 3. How can two walk toge ther, except they be agreed? Psal. xxvi. 6. I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord. The laver stood before the entrance into the temple, that they might wash there who were to go in: So spiritually, "before the throne there is a sea of glass like unto crystal,' in which filthy polluted souls are to wash, ere they be admitted to the throne, Rev. iv. 6. And happy they who come thus washed to hear the word; for they may expect to hold communion with Christ therein.
4. Purging the heart of carnal and corrupt lusts and affections, 1 Pet. ii. 1, 2. This is to put off one's shoes when coming on the holy ground, laying by the earthly frame, and putting on a heavenly one. For what good effect can be ex
pected on the heart, filled with corrupt lusts, passions, and prejudices, nourished and not striven against; Surely none at all. Whereas, if the heart be purged from these, the happiest effects may be looked for. It is impossible to profit by the word, where the heart is full of vain and carnal thoughts and projects.
5. Lastly, Stirring up in the heart spiritual desires, 1 Pet. ii. 2. As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby,' longing for communion with God, seeing his glory in the sanctuary, the supply of soul wants, and particularly for something suitable to our And therefore a deep consideration of our own case is a necessary part of preparation, 1 Kings viii. 38. and, if properly attended to, would be attended with great blessings. This preparation for the ordinances is necessary, considering two things especially. (1.) The greatness of him with whom we have to do, Heb. xii. 28, 29. Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear for our God is a consuming fire. One would not rush without consideration into the presence of his princes why then should one rush thoughtlessly into the presence of his God? (2.) The weight of the work. To hear God's mind declared to us is a business of the greatest importance; eternity depends on it to us; life and death hang upon our improving or not improving it, 2 Cor. ii. 16. To the one (says the apostle) we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.' And were this duly considered, it would stir us all up to the most diligent preparation.
Secondly, Prayer. We should be much in prayer before we go to ordinances, family prayer, and secret prayer, and therefore ought not to spend the Lord's day morning so as not to have time for these. If ye would have good of the word read or preached, pray, and pray earnestly, before it. Pray,
1. For assistance to the minister. Hence the apostle says," 'Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified,' 2 Thess. iii. 1. Pray that the Lord himself would come out with him, directing him, instructing him, and exciting him, what to speak, and how to speak. It is rare to see a lively people under a dead mini
stry; and therefore people's own interest should engage them in concern for ministers.
2. For a meal to yourselves, Psal. cxix. 18. 'Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law.' Pray that God would direct the word to your case, and send it home on your hearts with his blessing, that ye may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as your case requires. And in order to attain this, pray and wrestle earnestly,
3. For an outpouring of the Spirit in his own ordinances, agreeably to the Lord's own promises, Prov. i. 23. Behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you; that yourselves and others may be bettered by the word. Every one should be concerned for the success of the gospel, not to themselves only, but to others also. Love to God and our neighbours souls should engage to this, 2 Thess. iii. 1. above cited.
Now, both this preparation and prayer beforehand being done, beware ye lean not on them, but remember that all depends on the Spirit's influences, and that he is debtor to none, Cant. iv. 16. 'Awake, O north wind, and come thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.' John iii. 8. The wind bloweth where it listeth.' Cry therefore that the Spirit may render the word effectual.
II. Some things are to go along with hearing.
First, Attending unto the word diligently. This implies, 1. Waiting diligently upon the ordinances, so as people make it their business to catch opportunities of the word, and let none slip which Providence will allow them to overtake. That they hang on about the Lord's hands in the galleries of ordinances, labouring to keep the tryst which God makes with sinners there, 1 Tim. iv. 13. They that are only chance-customers to ordinances, whose attendance is ruled by their own conveniences, without conscience of duty, causing them to take them only now and then as their fancy takes them, cannot expect good of them. • Blessed is the man (says the personal Wisdom of God) that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors,' Prov. viii. 34.
2. Diligent attention to the word, Isa. lv. 2. • Hearken diligently unto me;' listening carefully to it, as a matter of
the greatest weight, keeping the mind off other things in the time, and bending it wholly unto the word. In this there are these four things comprehended.
(1.) Outward gravity and composure, without which attention is marred, Luke iv. 20. If men do believe it to be God's word which they are hearing, this is as little respect to it, as they can shew, namely, outward gravity; and therefore they are not to lay down their heads and sleep, nor to gaze hither and thither, far less to laugh, or to go out and in, here and there, in the time. This kind of behaviour is not without contempt of God, who speaks to men by his word.
(2.) A fixing and bending of the ear and mind to what is spoken. Hence is that counsel of the wise man, Prov. ii. 1, 2. My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.'-People must take care that they be not wandering in their heart while the Lord's words sound before them. If the heart wander, and be thinking on other things, how can the word do them good, while Satan has thus stolen away the heart?
(3.) A discerning of what they hear, so as to distinguish betwixt truth and error, the corn and the chaff, Mark iv. 24. 'Take heed what ye hear:' and therefore to mark always the agreement betwixt what is preached and the written word, for which the Bereans are highly commended, Acts xvii. 11. For they attend not rightly to the word who do not thus endeavour to discern what they hear.
(4.) An endeavouring to know the mind of God in his word, to hear with understanding. This is to attend not only to the words, but to the things wrapt up in these words; as Lydia did, 'whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul,' Acts xvi. 14. It is not enough to hear the words, but the message from the Lord is to be weighed and seriously considered, and the mind of God taken up therein.
There is great need of attending unto the word with dili gence, and making serious work of it. For,
(1.) The matter in hand is of the greatest weight; it concerns eternity; it is a treaty of peace betwixt. God and our souls; the proposal of a method to preserve our souls from ruin, Luke xvi. 29. They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them;' and this proposal is not to be carelessly VOL. III. Ti