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A SERMON, On LUKE 8th, 18.

Take heed therefore how you hear.

Preached in one of the Churches in London.

By GEORGE WHITEFIELD, Before he embarked the first time for Georgia.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul.— Mat. 16.26.

Re-printed, 1792.

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DIRECTIONS HOW TO HEAR SERMONS.

LUKE viii.18.‘Take heed therefore how you 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, [...]nd 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 Doct [...]ine, or bring forth Fruit unto Perfection.

The Application, one would imagine, should be 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 Saviour, as People ought to deal with their Ministers—discours­ed [Page 3] with them privately about the Meaning of what he had taught them in Publick, 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 courteou [...] and e [...]sy o [...] Access) freely told [...]hem the Signification of it. And withal, to make them more cautious and more attentive to his Doctrine for the future. He tells them, that they were in an [...]special Manner to b [...] the Light of the [...], 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 because they were the Re­presentatives of the whole Church, and 'tis 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 [...].

In Prosecution of which Design I shall in the following Discourse,

  • I. FIRST, Prove that every one ought to take all Opportunities of hearing Ser­mons. And
  • [Page 4]II. SECONDLY, I shall lay down some Cau­tions and Directions, in order to your hearing them with Profit and Advantage.

I. And, 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 divers 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 has constantly separated to himself a certain Order of Men to preach to, as well as pray for his People; and commanded them to enquire their Duty at the Priests Mouths. And tho' the Jews were frequently led into Captivity, and for their Sins scattered abroad through the Face of the Earth, yet he never utterly forsook his Church, but still kept up a Rem­nant of Prophets and Preachers, as Ezekiel, [Page 5] 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, Oblation 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 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 Ministers sent?

And how can we here avoid admiring the Love and the 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 afterward according to his Promise, actually did and will continue to send down the Holy Ghost to furnish them and their Successors with proper Gifts and Graces for the Work [Page 6] of the Minstry, 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 Fulness of the Measure of the Stature of CHRIST.

Oh! how insensible are those 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 wilfully refusing to attend so great a Means of their 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 City, and that so many should loath this spiritual Manna, his Angels rood, and call it light bread? How much more to­lerable will it be for [...]yre and S [...]on, for So­dom and Gomorrah, than for [...]uch Sinners? For better, Men had never heard of a Savi­our's b [...]ing born, than after they have heard, not to give heed to the Ministry of those, who are employ [...], as his Ambassadors, to transact Affairs between GOD and their Souls.

We may, though at a Distance, without a Spirit of Prophesy, foretel the deplorable Con­dition of su [...]h Men; and 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.—Oh that we had known in that our Day, the Thing that belonged to our everlasting Peace! —But now they are for ever hid from our Eyes.

Thus wretched, thus inconceivably mise­rable, will such be as slight and make a mock [Page 7] at the public Preaching [...]f the Gospel.—But taking it for granted, there are b [...]t few, if any of this unhappy Stamp, who think it not worth their while to tre [...]d the Courts of the LORD's House, I pass on now to the

II. 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 Advantage, I

First, direct or intreat you to come to hear them, not out of Curiosity, but from a sincere Desire to know and do your Duty.

For [...]ality 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, 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 [Page 8] that 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 your Souls.

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, whilst you are hearing the Word of GOD.

If an earthly King was to issue out a Royal Proclamation, on performing or not perform­ing the Conditions wherein 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 Ambassadors, when they are decla­ring in his Name on what Terms our Pardon, Peace, and Happiness may be secured?

When GOD descended [...]n 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 Thundrings or Threatnings of the Law, shall not we be as solicitous to hear from the Ministers of CHRIST, the glad Tidings of the Gospel?

In particular, take heed therefore how you hear the Redeemer's calls. See Luke 11.9. Ask [Page 9] and it shall be given you. It is not do this or that, or the other duty, and it shall be given you, but ask, and it shall be given you. Your duties are what you owe to GOD, and they are his right; if you should take the goods of a neighbour, to purchase any thing of him, it would be no better than stealing. See what our Saviour says, John 10.1. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheep-fold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

But to neglect doing duties, is the way to provoke the Most High.

The next words are, seek and ye shall find. The word seek implies a great earnestness to find some valuable thing that is lost, or some­thing of great value or importance, and what can be of greater importance than the resto­ration of a dead soul to life. Remember the importunate widow, how by her importunity she obtained the restoration of her daughter. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. When any person sees what is in his own heart, he sees his nature is depraved; but let no one, even in his heart, charge GOD with a fault in that matter, whether his shallow reason can comprehend it or not. Therefore, to be re­newed in the spirit of your minds, it is the gift of GOD."

Whilst CHRIST was himself on Earth, it is said, that 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 representatives of JESUS CHRIST, we should hang upon them to hear their Words also.

[Page 10]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 listen to, lest through our Negligence we should either not understand them, or by any other [...] 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 Eutichus fell down as he was sleeping, when St. Paul continued his discourse till Midnight, and was taken up dead?

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

Third Direction,—not to entertain any the least Prejudice against the Minister.

For could a Preacher speak with the Tongue of Men and Angels, if his Audience was prejudiced against him, he would be but as a sounding Brass, or a 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 was this same JESUS, this GOD incarnate again to bow the Heavens, and to come down speaking as never Man spoke; yet if we were prejudiced [Page 11] against him, as the Jews were, we should har­den our hearts as the Jews did theirs.

But, 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 godly Teacher, in Opposition to another, has often been of ill Consequence to the church of GOD.

That, we read, 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 Hand by whom you believed? And are not all godly Minis­ters sent forth to be ministring 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 Honour to those who labour in the Word and Doctrine. But then to perfer one truly pious Minister at the Expence of the Character of another, is earthly, sensu­al, devilish.

Not to mention that Popularity and Ap­plause cannot but be exceeding dangerous e­ven to a rightly informed Mind; and must necessarily fill any thinking Man with a holy Jealousy, lest he should take that honour to himself, which is due only to GOD; who a­lone qualifies him for his Ministerial Labours, [Page 12] and from whom alone every good and perfect Gift cometh.

A Fifth Direction I would recommend is, to make a particular Application of every Thing that is delivered, to your own Hearts.

When our Saviour was discoursing at his 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 Vice, or persuad­ing to any Virtue, instead of crying, this w [...] 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 they generally are now?

But we are apt to wander too much abroad: Always looking at the Mote which is in our Neighbour's Eye, rather than the Beam which is in our own.

Haste we now to the 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 shew from the Book of GOD to be your Duty.

This would be an excellent Means to ren­der the Word preached effectual to the en­lightning 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 [Page 13] intreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with GOD for him,—Praying always, says he, 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 mis­teries of the Gospel. And if so great an Apo­stle as 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 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 oh, that all that 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!

The Holy Ghost would then fall on all them that heard 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, to Day, and for ever. His all-powerful Hand is not shortened. He has promised to be with his Ministers always, even unto the End of the World.

[Page 14]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 publick Sermon, and plucked as a Fire-brand 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 Acco [...]nt of the Doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict a one, how you have impro [...]ed und [...]r 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 mortal 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.

[Page 15]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 you heed how you hear. For upon your improving the Grace you have, more shall be given, and you shall have abun­dance. For He is faithful that has promised. Who also will do it. Nay, GOD from out of Sion 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 Fulness of GOD, you shall be translated by Death to see him as he is, and to sing Praise before the Throne with Angels and Archangels, Cherubims and Seraphims, and the general Assembly of the First-born, whose Names are written in Hea­ven for ever and ever.

AMEN.

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[...] [...]erhaps some people in the state of nature, may dispute [...] the last line of the 4th verse in the following Hymn, they [...] de [...] to consider the following texts in the word of God, [...] [...]. 15, 16. Jereh. 5.2. John 1.49. and chap. 8.19. and [...] the experience of christians.
HYMN.

1.
WHEN the blest day of penticost,
Was fully come, the Holy Ghost
Descended from above,
That ministers be fit to teach,
And Christ's redemption fully preach,
The Lord of life and love.
2.
To ev'ry nation under heav'n,
To hear the gospel sound is giv'n▪
The call to all extends:
As ours was parted long ago,
So God divides his language too,
And after sinners sends.
3.
And were these first disciples blest
With heav'nly gifts, and shall the rest
Be past unheeded by:
What, has the Holy Ghost forgot,
To quicken souls that Christ has bought,
And let them lifeless lie?
4.
No, thou Almighty God of love,
Thou send'st thy mercy from above,
Thou visit'st sinners still:
With breath of life, with quick'ning flame,
O let thy mercy be the same,
Thy self to souls reveal.
5.
Not for the gift of tongues we pray,
Nor deafs nor blinds to take away;
Nor pow'r the sick to heal,
But O to be renew'd within,
To have our souls wash'd clean from sin,
And love to do thy will.'

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