HOW TO HEAR SERMONS
“Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.” Luke 8.18.
The occasion of our Lord’s giving this caution was this:Â— perceiving many people were gathered together to hear Him out of every city, and knowing (for He is God, and knows all things) that many, if not most of them, would be hearers only, and not doers of the word. He spoke to them by a parable, wherein, under the similitude of a sower that went out to sow his seed. He plainly intimated how few there were amongst them who would receive any saving benefit from His doctrine, or bring forth fruit to perfection.
First, I shall prove, that every one ought to take all opportunities of hearing sermons.
That there have always been particular persons set apart by God, to instruct and exhort His people to practise what He should require of them, is evident from many passages of scripture.
But if it be the duty of ministers to preach, (and woe be to them if they do not preach the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon them,) no doubt the people are obliged to attend to them; for otherwise, why are ministers sent?
The Holy Ghost is to furnish them with proper gifts and graces, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the Ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” O how insensible are those persons of this unspeakable gift, who do despite to the Spirit of grace! How much more tolerable will it be for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for such sinners!
The Second general thing proposed, is to lay down some cautions and directions, in order to your hearing sermons with profit and advantage.
And here, if we consider that preaching is an ordinance of God, a means appointed by Jesus Christ Himself for promoting His kingdom amongst men, you cannot reasonably be offended, if, in order that you may hear sermons with profit and advantage, I –
1. Direct or entreat you to come to hear, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty.
Formality and hypocrisy in any religious exercise is an abomination unto the Lord. And to enter His house merely to have our ears entertained and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the most high God as well as unprofitable to ourselves. Flee, therefore, my brethren, flee curiosity, and prepare your hearts by a humble disposition to receive with meekness the engrafted word, and then it will be a means, under God, to quicken, build up, purify, and save your souls.
2. A second direction I shall lay down for the same purpose, is to give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the word of God.
If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, on which the life or death of his subjects entirely depended, how eager would they be to hear! And shall not we pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness, may be secured?
When God descended on Mount Sinai in terrible majesty, to give to His people the law, how attentive were they to His servant Moses! And if they were so earnest to hear the thunderings or threatenings of the law, shall not we be as solicitous to hear from the ministers of Christ the glad tidings of the gospel?
But how regardless are those of this direction, who, instead of hanging on the preacher to hear him, doze or sleep whilst he is speaking to them from God! Unhappy men! Can they not watch with our blessed Lord one hour? What! have they never read how Eutychus fell down as he was sleeping, when Paul continued his discourse till midnight, and was taken up dead?
3. A third argument is, not to entertain the least prejudice against the minister. For could a preacher speak with the tongue of men and angels, if his audience were prejudiced against him, he would be but as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.
That was the reason why Jesus Christ Himself, the eternal Word, could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country, for they were offended at Him. And were this same Jesus, this God incarnate, again to bow the heavens, and to come down speaking as never man spake, yet, if we were prejudiced against Him, as the Jews were, we should harden our hearts as the Jews did theirs.
Fourthly. As you ought not to be prejudiced against, so you should be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. For though this be an extreme that people seldom run into, yet preferring one teacher to another has often had bad consequences in the church of God. “For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?”
A Fifth direction I would recommend, is to make a particular application of everything that is delivered, to your own hearts.
When our Saviour was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples, and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart, and said, “Lord, is it I?” But we are apt to wander too much abroad; always looking at the mote which is in our neighbour’s eye, rather than at the beam which is in our own.
A Sixth and last direction: If you would receive a blessing from the Lord, when you hear His word preached, pray to Him, both before, in, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the book of God to be your duty. This would be an excellent means to render the word preached effectual to the enlightening and inflaming your hearts; and without this all the other means before prescribed will be in vain.
O that all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practise what has now been told them! How would ministers see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the word preached sharper than a two-edged sword, and mighty through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strong holds!
Take heed, therefore, ye careless, curious professors, how you hear. Remember, that whether we think of it or not, “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ;” where ministers must give a strict account of the doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict an account how you have improved under it. And, good God! how will you be able to
stand at the bar of an angry, sin-avenging Judge, and see so many discourses you have despised, so many ministers who once longed and laboured for the salvation of your precious and immortal souls, brought out as so many swift witnesses against you?
But fear not, you little flock, who with meekness receive the engrafted word, and bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness; for it shall not be so with you. No, you will be your ministers’ joy, and their crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus: and they will present you in a holy triumph, Faultless and unblameable, to our common Redeemer, saying, “Behold us, O Lord, and the children which thou hast given us.”