Hearing the Word of God
“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” (Luke 8:16-18)
There is much need for some plain, simple, biblical instruction about hearing the Word of God, about how we ought to hear the preaching of the gospel.
“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:17-22)
In Luke 8:18 the Lord Jesus Christ is addressing his own disciples, both those who truly were his disciples and those who merely professed to be. Knowing that a great multitude of people were gathered together to hear him out of every city, and knowing (He is God, and knows all things.) that most of them would be hearers only, and not doers of the Word, our Lord spoke to them by a parable. He used the similitude of a farmer who went out to sow his seed (vv. 4-16). In that parable the Savior plainly tells us that few there are, in any group of hearers, who receive any saving benefit from the preaching of the gospel. Three things are evident in the parable of the sower…
1. The preaching of the gospel is the sowing of the seed of life.
2. Only those whose hearts are made good by the regenerating power and grace of God the Holy Spirit receive the Word to the saving of their souls. And…
3. Once we have received the good seed of the gospel into our hearts, we must take care that nothing chokes it out and destroys its influence.
Then, in verse 18 the Lord Jesus says to all who hear the gospel preached, “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.” If we would profit from the ordinance of God, if we would profit spiritually and eternally from the preaching of the gospel, we must take heed how we hear it. Let us take heed what we hear, making certain that we hear no preaching, but the preaching of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. And let us take heed how we hear the gospel preached.
Seize Every Opportunity
Let it be clearly understood that we ought to seize every opportunity God gives us to hear the gospel. If you are wise, you will avail yourself of every opportunity God gives you to gather with his saints in public worship, to give him praise and hear his Word. I am not talking about just going to church. I urge all under my influence never to attend those religious circuses called churches. In those places, they hardly let people breathe, for fear of losing them. They keep people busy doing something every night of the week and most days. I do not suggest that we should simply go to church and entertain ourselves in the hearing of sermons and in the pursuit of religious activities. That will profit your soul nothing.
However, there is a trend today in many places that concerns me. The trend in many places, places where the gospel is preached, is to have less and less preaching, less and less public worship. I know of many places where the assembly meets only twice a week, others where they only have one service a week and others where they have even less. Many reasons are given for this. Perhaps there are situations in which it is justified. But I get hungry more often than that. Don’t you? I need to be with my family more than that. I need to hear from God more often than that. — Don’t you? The Word of God does not tell us how often we should meet together. So we must set no rules in this regard; and we must never attempt to impose our practices upon others in areas where the Scriptures are silent.
Still, I think there is something terribly dangerous and unhealthy about squeezing our time in the house of God down to as little as we can comfortably fit into our lives. Let us take care that nothing chokes out the influence of the gospel in our lives. Like Simeon and Anna, I want to be found in the house of God, beholding God’s Salvation, speaking the praise of Christ and learning of him. Like Mephibosheth, I want to be found sitting at the King’s table. Like Mary, I want to be found sitting at his feet.
The Gospel and Gospel Preaching
Make certain that in hearing, you hear the gospel. Do not ever delude yourself into thinking that religion is good. Only gospel religion is good. All other religion is deadly and damning. It is not going to church that profits our souls. It is not the hearing of sermons that profits us. It is not religious chatter that benefits us. It is the preaching of the gospel, the declaration of our great God, his greatness, his goodness, his glory and his wondrous works in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).
It is from the house of God, the assembled body of Christ, that God commands the blessing upon his people (Psalm. 133:3). No wonder David sang as he did about the blessedness of public worship (Psalms 122:1-9; 84:10). This matter of hearing the gospel is so important that our risen Savior has specifically given the ministry of the gospel to his church as one of his chief ascension gifts (Psalm 68:18-19; Ephesians 4:11-12).
God has always gifted specific, chosen men for the work of the ministry, to serve the souls of men, men whom he has specifically called to that great work. 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.” Peter tells us that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness,” the righteousness of God in Christ. God never left himself without a witness, even in those earliest times, but at sundry times, and after diverse manners, spoke to our fathers by the patriarchs and prophets.
After the giving of the law, the Lord God constantly separated to himself a certain order of men to preach to, as well as pray for his people. Israel always had her prophets and her priests. Though the Jews were often carried away into captivity, and, because of their sins, scattered abroad among the nations, yet God faithfully and graciously kept up a remnant of prophets and preachers, like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel and others, to reprove, instruct and call men to repentance.
Great as those days were, we live in a better day, with better provisions. When our Lord Jesus Christ, our great High-priest, had through the eternal Spirit offered himself as a full, perfect, sufficient, effectual sacrifice and satisfaction for the sins of his people, and after his resurrection had all power committed to him, both in heaven and on earth, he gave commission to his Apostles, and in them to all succeeding gospel preachers, to “go into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature,” promising “to be with us, (to guide, assist, strengthen, and comfort us always,) even unto the end of the world.”
It it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of God’s servants everywhere to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16), it is your responsibility to hear the message God sends his servant to deliver. God does not send a man to beat the air.
How insensible most people are of this unspeakable gift! They do despite to the Spirit of grace, crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame, by willfully refusing to attend God’s ordained means of grace! How terrible will the end of such men be? How tormenting it will be that light should come into the world, that the glad tidings of salvation should be so very frequently proclaimed in a place, only to be despised by many! The spiritual manna of the gospel, this angel’s food is despised as a worthless thing. Our Lord declares that it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for those who despise the gospel (Matthew 11:20-24). Better that men had never heard of a Savior being born, than after they have heard (or despised the opportunity to hear), not to give heed to the ministry of those who are employed as God’s ambassadors to declare the good news of free, saving grace in Christ! George Whitefield accurately interpreted our Savior’s doctrine when he said…
“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 forever hid from our eyes. Thus wretched, thus inconceivably miserable, will such be as slight and make a mock at the public preaching of the gospel.”
Suggestions for Hearing
Here are some suggestions that may, with the blessing Of God the Holy Spirit, help you to hear the gospel with spiritual profit. Gospel preaching is the ordinance of God, the means appointed by Christ himself for the saving of his people and the building of his kingdom among men. This is the method by which God the Holy Spirit does his work in the souls of men. Consider these facts, and you will gladly heed these four admonitions, though they may reprove you and though the reproof may be painful.
1. Never come to the house of God to gratify your religious curiosity.
When we come to the house of God, let us come seeking to know Christ, to hear of Christ, to learn of Christ and to worship Christ. It is not an honorable thing, but a contemptible thing to sit around and discuss endless questions about nothing, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:5-7). Flee, flee religious curiosity, as you would flee the plague! Come to the house of God with humility, ready to receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your soul.
2. Listen carefully, attentively, to the message God sends his servant to deliver to your soul.
Give earnest heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. Take great care to hear what God has to say to you. When the Lord God descended on Mt. Sinai in terrible majesty to give his law, the children of Israel sat up and paid attention to his servant Moses. If they were earnest to hear the thunderings, threatenings and terrors of the law, how gladly sinners ought to sit up and anxiously hear the preacher of the gospel, as he proclaims the glad tidings of free grace in Christ!
No gospel preacher is sent to deliver a dry, insipid lecture on moral philosophy, legal duty, religious history, or creedal accuracy. God Almighty sends his messengers to unfold before eternity bound sinners the great mystery of godliness and the mysteries of the kingdom of his grace: redemption, forgiveness, salvation, peace, pardon, free justification and eternal life in, by and with the Lord Jesus Christ! When a man opens the Word of God before men, he is not reading a dime store novel to you. He is proclaiming the Word of the eternal God.
Here is a third word of counsel we will all be wise to heed.
3. Do not allow Satan, or any by whom he is served, to prejudice your mind against faithful men sent of God to preach the gospel to you.
Take heed and beware of entertaining any dislike of those the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you. If a man faithfully preaches the gospel, receive him like the Galatians received Paul, before the Judaizers corrupted them, as an angel of God.
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:17)
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7)
4. As you ought not to be prejudiced against God’s servant, so you must be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think.
God’s servants are instruments in his hands, no more and no less, just instruments by which God works in his vineyard (1 Corinthians 3:5-9, 21-23). Their labors are made profitable to your soul only by the blessing of God. So pray for that man who is God’s messenger to your soul. Pray that God will preserve him, give him a message for your soul and grace to deliver it; and pray that the Lord will graciously enable you to hear the message.
5. Always seek grace from God to personally apply the message to your own heart and life.
Always presume that the message was prepared with you in mind, and spoken to you alone. We are all terribly inclined to look across the room and behold a little splinter in our brother’s eye, rather than deal with the two by four in our own. Seek grace from God always to personally appropriate his message.
6. If you would receive a blessing from the Lord, when you hear his gospel preached, you should do something before the sermon, during the sermon and after the sermon.
Before the sermon, set things in order in you life so that you come to the house of God awake and alert. Pray for the preacher and for yourself; but do not neglect to pray for your brothers and sisters and for lost sinners who hear the gospel with you.
During the sermon, listen attentively, constantly praying for God to speak to your heart, for Christ’s sake, exposing and convincing you of your sin, correcting you, comforting your soul, reviving your heart, giving you a fresh view of the Lord Jesus. Again, seek the same for your brothers and sisters.
After the sermon, discuss the message with one another and with you family; and ask God to plant the seed sown in your own heart and in the hearts of others, for Christ’s sake.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1)
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)
If we would but take heed how we hear, we might yet, again, see Satan cast out like lightning. We might yet see sinners converted. We might yet see God work in us, with us and in our midst! We might yet find the Word preached sharper than any two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strong holds!
The Holy Spirit might yet fall upon our assemblies, as he did when Peter preached the gospel of Christ! The gospel of God might again run swiftly and run well, having free course in the hearts of men. God Almighty, our great God and Savior, is he with whom nothing is impossible. He who added three thousand to the church on one day in one place is perfectly capable of doing the same again today!
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” — He has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the world. I am convinced that the reason we do not receive larger blessings from the presence of the Lord is not because our all-powerful Redeemer’s hand is shortened, but because we do not expect them (Psalms 81:13-14; Isaiah 48:17-19).
Yes, sometimes, our God, to magnify his free grace in Christ Jesus, is found of them that sought him not. Notorious sinners are, sometimes, forcibly plucked as a firebrand out of the fire; but that is not God’s ordinary way of acting. Normally, he visits those with the power of his Spirit who humbly take heed how they hear, seeking to know him, his will and his way, and sends the careless away not only empty, but hardened!
Take heed, therefore, how you hear. Remember, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” How will they stand at the bar of an angry, sin-avenging Judge, and see so many messages they have despised, so many preachers, who once longed and labored for the salvation of their immortal souls, brought out as swift witnesses against them! But it shall not be so with you, who with meekness receive the engrafted Word. You will be your pastor’s joy, and crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus: In that day he will present you in a holy triumph, faultless, and unblameable, as a chaste virgin to Christ your common Redeemer, saying, “Behold I, O Lord, and the children which thou hast given me!”
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