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King.' But the heralds must proclaim the subjects duty, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
(4.) As the Lord and master of the family, who has provided liberally for all of his house. Ministers are the stew. ards of the house; but he is the Master, that has made the provision in the gospel, Isa. xxv. 6. He sends out his servants, saying, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled,' Prov. ix. 5. Look then how obedient children will stand and wait for supply of their necessities from an affectionate parent.; so ought we to stand and wait on in ordinances for the supply of our spiritual wants from our heavenly Father.
(5.) Lastly, As our God, which should strike us with reverence, Psal. lxxxix. 7. God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints; and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.' Psal. xcv. 6. O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. And this challenges the most serious disposition of our hearts to worship him.
III. I proceed to consider the disposition of soul wherewith people should come to the public ordinances. It is with a spirit ready to hear all things commanded ministers of God. It implies the following things.
1. That ministers are to preach nothing to the people but what is the mind and will of God. Lawyers must not speak without authority of the law; and ministers must not speak but with a Thus saith the Lord; otherwise they go beyond their commission. The scriptures contain what is to be be lieved and practised by us. To coin new articles of faith, is the work of Antichrist, not of the ministers of Christ. To impose and teach significant rites and ceremonies in the worship of God, is a piece of Popish dregs in the church of England; concerning which our Lord says, 'In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,' Matth. xv. 9.
2. That it is the duty of ministers to labour to know the mind of God, as to particular messages which they are to carry to their people. Ministers are not to preach, hand over head, whatever truths they can get to say to spend a half-hour in a sermon to the people. A word in season is
very precious, Prov. xxv. 11; and xv. 23; And ministers had need of the tongue of the learned.
3. Whatever message the Lord gives them to a people, they are to deliver it impartially, All things commanded them. It was Paul's comfort that he had done so, Acts xx. 20; I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you,' says he to the elders of Ephesus.
4. Lastly, People ought to receive these messages from ministers as from the mouth of the Lord, and comply with them; for it is not bare hearing, but hearing with obedience, that is the hearing pointed at in the text. And with this disposition of soul should people come to ordinances.
Now, this hearing of the word has these properties. (1.) We should hear reverentially. God speaks by ministers mouths; and seeing God speaks at all, we must hear so, Psal. lxxxix. 7; forecited. See how Eglon behaved, when he was accosted by Ehud, Judg. iii. 20, 21; 'I have a message from God unto thee,' said Ehud. It is added,
And he [Eglon] arose out of his seat;' denoting the reverence with which he was to receive the message. And so should we.
(2.) Diligently and attentively, Isa. lv. 2; Hearken diligently unto me,' says the Lord. God sends no message to us but what is of great concernment to us to hear; he does not take up our time with trifles; and when God speaks, it becomes us to be attentive.
(3.) Understandingly, so as to know the mind of God in. what is preached, Matth. xiii. 11; We must endeavour to see heavenly things in their divine lustre, and to understand the things as well as the words. We should look into the perfect law of liberty, and continue therein, being not forgetful hearers, but doers of the word.' And were this the way of hearing, ministers would get more soul-cases to resolve than they do.
(4.) Believingly, John ix. 27; He that hears as out of the mouth of God must needs believe what is said. If the word be not believed, it is all one as if it were not heard, Heb. iv. 2; The soul rightly disposed to hear, is ready to yield itself the captive of divine revelation, and receive the kingdom of God as a little child to hear with application. The Lord's word is compared to rain, Amos vii. 16; and the soul should be as the dry and gaping ground, ready to
drink it in, Psal. exliii. 6; though, alas! most are like the rock, upon which the rain makes no impression. Ministers make the plaister, but faith of application makes it stick.
5. Lastly, So as to practise what we hear. Though the ear hear, if the feet be not set on God's way, it is not acceptable to God, Jam. i. 22; That hearing that fills the head with knowledge, but not the heart with holiness, will serve only to let people see the way to hell more clearly.
I come now to the improvement of this doctrine.
1. Those who absent themselves from ordinances, and will not come to hear what is commanded us of God. A very small matter will prevail with many to sit at home, and loiter away the Lord's day, in many places. When ministers are at pains to seek something that might edify their souls, they will not be at the pains to hear, O what contempt is poured on the gospel at this day by the pride of some, and the laziness of others! Whatever temptations any of you may have this way, I advise such, when they meet any thing that may seem to hinder them from the public ordinances, that they do, in the first place, weigh the matter before the Lord, and see if it will bear weight there. If it do, they may look to God for the upmaking of their loss; if not, they cannot. For it is a most deceitful principle of some, that they can spend the Sabbath-day as well at home. It reflects on the wisdom of God in appointing public ordinances, and is most unlike the practice of the saints, to whom it was a great burden to be deprived of them. As for those who separate from our communion, I wish they would consider that Christ keeps communion with us, as many of the children of God can testify; and then say, as Zech. viii. 23; We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.'
2. It reproves those who come to ordinances, but hear not the word as becomes those who are to hear what is commanded of God. Such are,
(1.) Irreverent hearers. Many behave so as it appears there is no fear of God before their eyes. Some are sleeping, others gazing hither and thither, altogether careless and inattentive, to whom the word is as the seed presently picked up by the fowls. Their bodies are present, but their hearts
are gone; they are the idols that have eyes, but see not; that have ears, but hear not.
(2.) Supercilious nice hearers, who sit as Judges of the word, and not as they that are to be judged by it. Hence such will be ready to commend the preacher, not to loath themselves; or else to reproach the preacher, and endeavour to expose him: like the riddle that lets through the good grain, and keeps the chaff; or like flies that fasten on festering sores.
(3.) Ignorant and stupid hearers, who hear the word, but neither know nor endeavour to know God's mind in it. A good voice and good word please them. These are not concerned to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
(4.) Unbelieving hearers, Isa. liii. 1; Unbelief is a defence against the power of the word, Matth. xiii. 58; and an unbelieving heart is a proud heart, ready to storm at the word, like Ahab. And if the word hit them, their passion ariseth, the minister meant them, and wanted to expose them, and so they are filled with prejudice.
5. Lastly, Such as make no application of the word to themselves, but are ready to give it away to others. It is the weakness of godly souls, sometimes to give car to nothing but what may tend to their discouragement; and it is the neckbreak of others to give away threats from themselves.
3. It reproves those who do not set themselves to hear what God commands ministers to preach, but will command ministers to preach so and so. Thus bands have been laid on the gospel in our land in the late persecuting times, when the exercise of the ministry was allowed by the magistrate with limitations, which could neither be imposed nor accepted without sin. And as little power have the people to limit them, or give orders concerning what we should preach; but every faithful minister will say as Micaiah, 1 Kings xxii. 14; As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak.'
USE II. Of exhortation. Attend on ordinances, and come with a design reverently, diligently, attentively, understandingly, believingly, and so as to practise, to hear what is commanded us of God. We desire you to take nothing as matter of faith on our authority, but to do as the Bereans, who searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so
Acts xvii. 11; I offer the following motives to press this exhortation.
1. Consider the way how the word came to the world. It was by the Mediator, John i. 18; When Adam fell, death stared him in the face; and he ran away from God, till the word of reconciliation came forth, Gen. iii. 15; which disappointed the expectation of devils, surprised angels, and revived the self-murdering creature.
2. Consider, it is the word of life, Deut. xxxii. 46, 47; Nothing concerns us so nearly as this. If ye do not prize the word, and hear what is commanded us of God, there can be no comfort on a deathbed. It will make us table complaints against you before the Lord; and we will have a sad meeting at the great day. But if ye will hear, ye will be our joy and crown; your souls shall be saved in the day of the Lord, and we will bless the day that ever we met. Come to ordinances with a keen appetite after the bread of life; and pray for us, that the Lord may deal kindly with us, and furnish us with proper nourishment for your souls.
A CAVEAT AGAINST RECEIVING THE GOSPEL IN VAIN.
2 COR. vi. 1.-We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
HAVE been calling you to a diligent attendance upon the ordinances, and now I come to beseech you not to receive the grace of God in vain: for if you should attend the means of grace ever so carefully, yet if you receive the grace of God in vain, all your labour is lost, and ye must perish in your sins at last.
The words I have read are a pathetical exhortation, in which,
1. The party exhorting is the apostle, in his own name, and that of all faithful ministers, who are called workers together with God. Compare 1.Cor. iii 9; In the purchase of salvation Christ had none with him; but in the application of it he makes use of gospel-ministers, working with him, as