Directions how to hear Sermons.
Luke 8:18, "Take heed, therefore, how ye hear."
The occasion of our Lord's giving this caution, was this: Perceiving
that much people were gathered together to hear him out of every city, and
knowing (for he is God, and knoweth all things) that many, if not most of
them, would be hearers only, and not doers of the word; he spake 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 unto
The application one would imagine should have been plain and obvious;
but the disciples, as yet unenlightened in any great degree by the Holy
Spirit, and therefore unable to see into the hidden mysteries of the
kingdom of God, dealt with our Savior, as people ought to deal with their
ministers; they discoursed with him privately about the meaning of what he
had taught them in public; and with a sincere desire of doing their duty,
asked for an interpretation of the parable.
Our blessed Lord, as he always was willing to instruct those that were
teachable, (herein setting his ministers an example to be courteous and
easy of access) freely told them the signification. And withal, to make
them more cautious and more attentive to his doctrine for the future, he
tells them, that they were in an especial manner to be the light of the
world, and were to proclaim on the house-top whatsoever he told them in
secret: and as their improving the knowledge already imparted, was the only
condition upon which more was to be given them, it therefore highly
concerned them to "take heed how they heard."
From the context then it appears, that the words were primarily spoken
to the Apostles themselves. But as it is to be feared, out of those many
thousands that flock to hear sermons, but few, comparatively speaking, are
effectually influenced by them, I cannot but think it very necessary to
remind you of the caution given by our Lord to his disciples, and to exhort
you with the utmost earnestness, to "take heed how you hear."
In prosecution of which design I shall,
FIRST, Prove that every one ought to take all opportunities of hearing
SECONDLY, I shall lay down some cautions and directions, in order to
your hearing with profit and advantage.
FIRST, I am to 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 practice what he should require of them,
is evident from many passages of scripture. St. Jude tells us, that "Enoch,
the seventh from Adam, prophesied (or preached) concerning the Lord's
coming with ten thousand of his saints to judgment." And Noah, who lived
not long after, is stiled by St. Peter, "a preacher of righteousness." And
though in all the intermediate space between the flood and giving of the
law, we hear but of few preachers, yet we may reasonably conclude, that God
never left himself without witness, but at sundry times, and after diverse
manners, spoke to our fathers by the patriarchs and prophets.
But however it was before, we are assured that after the delivery of
the law, God constantly separated to himself a certain order of men to
preach to, as well as pray for his people; and commanded them to inquire
their duty at the priests mouths. And thought the Jews were frequently led
into captivity, and for their sins scattered abroad on the face of the
earth, yet he never utterly forsook his church, but still kept up a remnant
of prophets and preachers, as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others, to
reprove, instruct, and call them to repentance.
Thus was it under the law. Nor has the church been worse, but
infinitely better provided for under the gospel. For when Jesus Christ,
that great High-priest, had through the eternal Spirit offered himself, as
a full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice and satisfaction for the sins of the
whole world, and after his resurrection had all power committed to him,
both in heaven and earth, he gave commission to his Apostles, and in them
to all succeeding ministers, to "go and preach his gospel to every
creature;" promising to "to be with them, to guide, assist, strengthen, and
comfort them always, even to the end of the world."
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, wherefore are
And how can we here avoid admiring the love and tender care which our
dear Redeemer has expressed for his spouse the church? Who, because he
could not be always with us in person, on account it was expedient he
should go away, and as our forerunner take possession of that glory he had
purchased by his precious blood, yet would not leave us comfortless, but
first settled a sufficient number of pastors and teachers; and afterwards,
according to his promise, actually did and will continue to sent down the
Holy Ghost, to furnish them and their successors with proper gifts and
graces "for the work of the ministry, for the perfecting of the saints, for
the edifying of his body in love, till we all come in the unity of the
spirit, to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ."
O how insensible are those persons of this unspeakable gift, who do
despite to the Spirit of grace, who crucify the Son of God afresh, and put
him to an open shame, by willfully refusing to attend on so great a means
of salvation? How dreadful will the end of such men be? How aggravating,
that light should come into the world, that the glad tidings of salvation
should be so very frequently proclaimed in this populous city, and that so
many should loath this spiritual manna, this angels food, and call it light
bread? How much more tolerable will it be for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and
Gomorrah, than for such sinners? Better, that men had never heard of a
Savior being born, than after they have heard, not to give heed to the
ministry of those, who are employed as his ambassadors, to transact affairs
between God and their souls.
We may, though at a distance, without a spirit of prophesy, foretell
the deplorable condition of such men; behold them cast into hell, lifting
up their eyes, being in torment, and crying out, How often would our
ministers have gathered us, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her
wings? But we would not. O that we had known in that our day, the things
that belonged to our everlasting peace! But now they are for ever hid from
Thus wretched, thus inconceivably miserable, will such be as slight
and make a mock at the public preaching of the gospel. But taking it for
granted, there are but few, if any, of this unhappy stamp, who think it
worth their while to tread the courts of the Lord's house, I pass on not to
SECOND general thing proposed, to lay down some cautions and
directions, in order to your hearing sermons with profit and advantage.
And here, if we reflect on what has been already delivered, and
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
1. Direct or entreat you to come to hear them, 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.
Hence it is, that so many remain unconverted, yea, unaffected with the
most evangelical preaching; so that like St. Paul's companions, before his
conversion, they only hear the preacher's voice with their outward ears,
but do not experience the power of it inwardly in their hearts. Or, like
the ground near Gideon's fleece, they remain untouched; whilst others, who
came to be fed with the sincere milk of the word, like the fleece itself,
are watered by the dew of God's heavenly blessing, and grow thereby.
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
2. A second direction I shall lay down for the same purpose, is, not
only to prepare your hearts before you hear, but also to give diligent heed
to the things that are spoken from the word of God.
If an earthly king was to issue out a royal proclamation, on
performing or not performing the conditions therein contained, the life or
death of his subjects entirely depended, how solicitous would they be to
hear what those conditions were? 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 unto
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?
Whilst Christ was himself on earth, it is said, that the people hung
upon him to hear the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. And if
we looked on ministers as we ought, as the sent of Jesus Christ, we should
hang upon them to hear their words also.
Besides, the sacred truths that gospel ministers deliver, are not dry
insipid lectures on moral philosophy, intended only to amuse us for a
while; but the great mysteries of godliness, which, therefore, we are bound
studiously to liken to, left through our negligence we should either not
understand them, or by any other means let them slip.
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 St. Paul continued like discourse till midnight, and was taken up
But to return. Though you may prepare your hearts, as you may think,
by a teachable disposition, and be attentive whilst discourses are
delivering, yet this will profit you little, unless you observe a
3. A third direction, Not to entertain any the least prejudice against
For could a preacher speak with the tongue of men and angels, if his
audience was prejudiced against him, he would be but as sounding brass, or
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 was 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.
Take heed therefore, my brethren, and beware of entertaining any
dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you.
Consider that the clergy are men of lie passions with yourselves: and
though we should even hear a person teaching others to do, what he has not
learned himself; yet, that is no sufficient reason for rejecting his
doctrine: for ministers speak not in their own, but Christ's name. And we
know who commanded the people to do whatsoever the Scribes and Pharisees
should say unto them, though they said but did not. But
4 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 in apposition to another, has
often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which
the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians. For whereas
one said, "I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are ye not carnal," says
he? "For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God's hands by
whom you believed?" And are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering
ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all
therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work's sake.
The Apostle, it is true, commands us to pay double honor to those who
labor in the word and doctrine: but then to prefer one minister at the
expense of another, (perhaps, to such a degree, as when you have actually
entered a church, to come out again because he does not preach) is earthly,
Not to mention that popularity and applause cannot but be exceedingly
dangerous, even to a rightly informed mind; and must necessarily fill any
thinking man with a holy jealousy, lest he should take that honor to
himself, which is due only to God, who alone qualifies him for his
ministerial labors, and from whom alone every good and perfect gift cometh.
5. A Fifth direction I would recommend is, to make a particular
application of every thing that is delivered to your own hearts.
When our Savior 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?" And
would persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin,
or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, this was designed against
such and such a one, turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, Lord, is it I?
How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be, than now they
But we are apt to wander too much abroad; always looking at the mote
with is in our neighbor's eye, rather than at the beam which is in our own.
Haste we now to the
6. 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 in 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 enflaming your hearts; and without this, all the
other means before prescribed will be in vain.
No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly
entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: "Praying
always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the spirit, and for
me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the
mysteries of the gospel." And if so great an Apostle as St. Paul, needed
the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers, who have only the
ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Besides, this would be a good proof that you sincerely desired to do,
as well as to know the will of God. And it must highly profit both
ministers and people; because God, through your prayers, will give them a
double portion of his Holy Spirit, whereby they will be enabled to instruct
you more fully in the things which pertain to the kingdom of God.
And O that all who hear me this day, would seriously apply their
hearts to practice 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!
The Holy Ghost would then fall on all them that hear the word, as when
St. Peter preached; the gospel of Christ would have free course, run very
swiftly, and thousands again be converted by a sermon.
For "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He has
promised to be with his ministers always, even unto the end of the world.
And the reason why we do not receive larger effusions of the blessed Spirit
of God, is not because our all-powerful Redeemer's hand is shortened, but
because we do not expect them, and confine them to the primitive times.
It does indeed sometimes happen, that God, to magnify his free grace
in Christ Jesus, is found of them that sought him not; a notorious sinner
is forcibly worked upon by a public sermon, and plucked as a firebrand out
of the fire. But this is not God's ordinary way of acting; No, for the
generality, he only visits those with the power of his word, who humbly
wait to know what he would have them to do; and sends unqualified hearers
not only empty, but hardened away.
Take heed, therefore, ye careless, curious professors, if any such be
here present, 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 a one, 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
labored for the salvation of your precious and immortal souls, brought out
as so many swift witnesses against you? Will it be sufficient then, think
you, to alledge, that you went to hear them only out of curiosity, to pass
away an idle hour, to admire the oratory, or ridicule the simplicity of the
preacher? No; God will then let you know, that you ought to have come out
of better principles; that every sermon has been put down to your account,
and that you must then be justly punished for not improving by them.
But fear not, you little flock, who with meekness receive the
ingrafted word, and bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness; for
it shall not be so with you. No, you will be your minister's 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."
But still take heed how you hear: for upon your improving the grace
you have, more shall be given, and you shall have abundance. "He is
faithful that ha promised, who also will do it." Nay, God from out of Zion,
shall so bless you, that every sermon you hear shall communicate to you a
fresh supply of spiritual knowledge. The word of God shall dwell in you
richly; you shall go on from strength to strength, from one degree of grace
unto another, till being grown up to be perfect men in Christ Jesus, and
filled with all the fullness of God, you shall be translated by death to
see him as he is, and to sing praises before his throne with angels and
archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and the general assembly of the first-
born, whose names are written in heaven, for ever and ever.
Which God, &c.