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subject of our examination : and for the solution of it, several reasons may be assigned.
IV. 1. First, then, of those, who hear the word, but do it not, some do not understand it. And wherefore is this? Is it, because the word is delivered in an unknown tongue? is it, because it is wrapped up in hard and unintelligible language? is it, because they have not a capacity to understand it? Nothing of all this is the case. But both the case itself, and the occasion of it, are plainly set before us by our Lord himself: for in them, as he observed of the unbelieving Jews, “ is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand ; by seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed ; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts; and should be converted; and I should heal them i."
Matt. xiii. 14, 15.
Here then, from the mouth of Christ, we have both the case itself and the reason of it. Such persons do not understand the word, because they will not. They wilfully shut their eyes against the word. They are resolved not to be converted by it. The word therefore hath no effect upon them; but, as our Saviour again instructs us, “ the wicked One cometh, and catcheth away that which was sown in their hearts k.".
Thus buried in ignorance of their own choosing, and their eyes closed by wilful blindness, they do not what they hear, because they understand it not. They can be diligent indeed in: acquiring a knowledge of their calling, and in learning the management of their worldly concerns : but as to understanding the word of God, or even so much as the first principles of their religion, for that they care not. They were not perhaps instructed in them when they were young, and now they disdain to learn them. They choose rather to remain
* Matt. xiii. 19.
in ignorance, than to be at the trouble of having it removed, and seeing the pit of destruction, into which they are going. As to such “ hearers of the word” as these, it is impossible that they should be doers of it. God grant that this may not be the case of some who are here present!
2. Again; of those who do, or at least can, understand the word, if they would attend to it, there are but few, that give it more attention, than if they did not, or could not, understand it at all. :, Their bodies indeed may be present, where the word is read or preached : but their minds are absent. They are wandering abroad, among other things :: among their houses, or their shops; their land, or their money ; their creditors, or their debtors; their friends, or their enemies ; in short they are engaged with any thing but that, by which they ought to be occupied. The Prophet Ezekiel described them, when he said, “ They come unto thee, as the people cometh, and they sit before thee, as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they
show much love; but their heart goeth after their covetousness !.” Can we ask why hearers, such as these, are not doers of the word? Wherefore indeed is it, but that, whilst they hear, “ their hearts going after their covetousness,” after their worldly affairs or occupations, and so being full of other things, there is not room for the word to enter in, and take possession of them, and operate to their edification and improvement?
Is there no man here present, who knows that this is his own condition? I presume not to judge any man; but I appeal to every one's conscience, and I leave him to answer it to himself. Since you came into this place, are there no other places, to which your hearts have been wandering? Since you have been hearing the word of God read and explained to you, have no worldly thoughts been crowding in, together with the word, so as to stifle and overwhelm it? Have not some of you been altogether occupied with other
concerns, totally unconnected with the word of God? Nay, at this very moment, are not some of you engaged in thinking upon things on earth, and not at all in meditating upon what you hear, so as to lay it up and digest it in your hearts ?And can you promise yourselves any benefit from the word, thus idly and carelessly received ? Is it to be believed, is it to be expected, is it to be even hoped, that seed, scattered thus thinly upon the surface of the heart, should plentifully bring forth the fruit of well-doing? Believe it not, my brethren. If thus you hear, believe rather, that, as to all essential purposes, your hearts are shut against the word l; and unless it please God to open them, as he “ opened the heart of Lydia,” so that you may “ attend to the things that are 'spoken m," your hearing must be ineffectual and vain; and the word of God might as profitably be addressed to “ the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears."
: 3. But further: it is not sufficient for a man to understand and attend to the