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brought on themselves by a wretched choice that of refusing duly to hear aright,
Hearing the word aright is then a duty of vast importance; and a duty which it will be desirable more fully to explain. The church of England, ever alive to man's insufficiency, beautifully states this duty in a prayer in the Litany-"That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace, to hear meekly thy word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit." The same duty is fully summed up in the following answers in the Assembly's Catechism—" It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer, examine what they hear by the Scriptures, receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruits of it in their lives."
But let us enter more particularly into our Lord's direction, Take heed how ye hear, in the way of prac tical rules, only bearing in mind, that while the grace of the Holy Spirit blesses the word to our real good, that same Spirit prepares the heart to receive it aright, and gives suitable dispositions that we may hear with profit.
We will first shew what is to be guarded against in hearing; then explain the nature of due hearing; and lastly, give some practical directions that may assist us thus to hear.
I. The precept, take heed, teaches us to GUARD
THOSE DANGERS TO WHICH WE ARE
Let us consider in what respects we should take heed :
1. TAKE HEED TO YOUR MOTIVES IN GOING TO HEAR: What is the object which you have in view? There are many unworthy ends, such as curiosity, criticism, entertainment, or even mere general information about religious topics. These are not the ends at which we should aim. Hearing is not to gratify men's curiosity, but to save their souls; yet it is rather some novelty that attracts most men's attention that the simple statement of the most solid truths. If there be a funeral sermon for any public character, crowded congregations will attend, and eagerly listen to those parts which relate to the individual; if there be a missionary sermon, those parts which contain facts relative to the heathen will excite most attention. If we may judge of men's motives by their conversation, some come merely like the Athenians, to hear something new; some to know what will be said on any particular doctrines by the preacher, or to be able to talk about him, and his style, and manner of preaching: others come rather to see what is passing than to hear; but
to enter the house of God, to have our eyes and ears entertained and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be most displeasing to God." Inconstancy of attendance is frequently connected with this spirit, and such lose the benefits of that full course of divine truth which regular hearers attending one ministry receive. Let us, like the poor man at the pool of Bethesda, who patiently waited many years, and at last was blessed by the Saviour, patiently attend the ministry of the Gospel, and we shall also doubtless receive a blessing. The preaching of the word is an act of grace proclaiming infinitely more than the remission of human penalties, or any temporal evil; it proclaims God's favour to sinners for their eternal good. Shall we spend
upon disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear."
Suppose again a minister FAITHFUL, but UNTALENTED, dull, and perhaps tedious: still, what is the state of your own heart? Do you say, There is one in a neighbouring parish, or in a dissenting meeting, who interests you more: but your own parish minister allowedly preaches the truth; attend him, then, and look more simply to the Lord for his blessing. Remember the general benefits of order and of the established church. Sacrifice something of taste and feeling for the general good. The spirit of wandering is very bad; it destroys pastoral unity, and cuts up that sympathy which should ever subsist between a minister and his people. Wanderers are not thrivers in the Christian life themselves; and their examples are injurious to others. Go regularly to one minister, and one place; and while you are depending on divine teaching, your soul shall flourish under the divine blessing. It has been observed, even by those who dissent from us, "Be sure you do not mistake the true nature of spiritua! edification, in thinking that nothing edifies but what either pleases our fancies or raises our sensitive passions. Such qualifications in ministers should be the ground of our choice and esteem, as are truly ministerial, and most adapted to answer the great ends of the ministry; and after all, we must expect more from it as the ordinance of Christ, than barely the performance of a man, though ever so wise and skilful, pious and faithful. By overlooking the institution of God, and having, too, raised expectations from man, we provoke him to blast the most promising means. On the contrary, a weaker ministry is often greatly blessed when it is the best persons can conveniently and regularly enjoy, and is
attended from a sense of duty to God, in obedience to his commands, and in a dependence on his presence and blessing."
Suppose yet another case—a minister is FAITHful IN HIS DOCTRINES, BUT HIS CONDUCT OR TEMPER DOES NOT CORRESPOND TO THEM.
is a case provided for by our Lord, Matt. xxiii, 2, 3; The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not. St. Paul shewed a conformity to the spirit of this when he said, Some preach Christ even of envy and strife; not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. What then? notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I do therein rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. Phil. i, 15. Surely, if he rejoiced in their preaching, though their spirit was bad, others might and did hear with advantage what they preached ; though it is not said that he advised attendance on such. There are probably cases of this kind where one would be more reluctant to attend, than where there was less knowledge, but more sanctity of character.
But suppose one case more, have the happiness to be in the parish of which the clergyman is A
FAITHFUL AND WELL-INSTRUCTED MINISTER OF
THE NEW COVENANT.
for continuing to hear, and in general such a minister has large and attentive congregations. Yet even here the great enemy is vigilant to hinder the progress of the truth. If such a minister have not popular talents, he will often be slighted. It is also a striking and an affecting fact, that while those who live at a distance make many self-denying efforts, and come in all weathers to hear, those who live in the immediate neighbourhood,
and have every advantage and facility, too often neglect all their privileges, and make some objection or other, to justify themselves in this neglect. O be not fastidious, and slight not your greatest privilege, because it may be easily attained. There is many a soul hungering for the bread of life, that would be filled with joy and gratitude for such means as you neglect. Are you sincere in your profession of attachment to the established church? do not then so act as to weaken and destroy that system which has been so large a blessing to the country.*
But besides hearing the minister, there are, in connection with our duties to him, other important things to be attended to, some of which have already been mentioned, and some will be more fully considered hereafter. There is one point more that the present state of the church peculiarly presses on our attention.
Hearers should CO-OPERATE WITH THEIR
* There are other cases arising from want of church room which, in the present state of many parishes, it is impossible to meet; one can only hope that it is an evil which will by degrees be remedied by the measures which happily are now in progress for this purpose under the government Had the members of the Church of England had greater facilities for erecting places of worship, and a large degree of the patronage of the places which they erect; had they had something of the same facilities which Roman Catholics, Socinians, and every other body of Dissenters have, there would have been an almost infinitely larger body of attached members to that church through the whole country, and there would hardly in any parish have been want of church room, or of zealous ministers to fill the churches. A groundless fear of opening the door to doctrines, merely imagined to be injurious to the establishment, has been one grand cause of the increase of the multiplied bodies of Christians now separated from that establishment. It is most probable that the British parishes were first formed, and British churches first built and endowed, by that system of private benevolence and piety, in lords of manors and others, which some in power seem now above all things to dread as injurious to the establishment.