My Dear Friends,
With what care do you listen to the preaching of God’s holy word? Our Lord Jesus once said to his hearers, “Take care how you hear.” He was only too conscious that many among his hearers listened with less than rapt attention, to their eternal loss. What about you?
In answer to the question, “What is required of those that hear the word preached?”, the Westminster Larger Catechism states: “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 and meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”
Does this begin to describe you? This is not how the “super-spiritual” listen to God’s word. This is what the Lord expects of all his children. Why? Because in the preaching of his word it is God himself who speaks through his servants (cf. Rom. 10:14 - Not, “of whom”, but simply “whom”!) When John Calvin defined the distinctives or “marks” of a true church, he highlighted the presence of the “right hearing”, as well as the “right preaching”, of God’s word. Calvin was in no sense over-stating the importance of the “right hearing” of the preached word. A careless hearing of God’s preached word indicates a heart that is careless, even indifferent, to the things of God and of eternity.
Preaching is a “momentous event.” Every time we sit under the ministry of God’s word, whether the preacher be a Martin Lloyd-Jones or a provincial “nobody”, our whole disposition should be that of Samuel’s; “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” I am only too conscious of the many potential distractions that can make us “dull of hearing.” We come to worship often “bowed down beneath a load of care, by Satan sorely pressed.” We have loved ones who are struggling with temptation or illness. We are battling with the down-drag of indwelling sin in our own hearts. Like Paul we may have a “thorn in the flesh” that distresses and debilitates us. It is no easy thing to listen to God’s word with un-distracted attention. And yet it is absolutely vital that we do.
The reason why this is vital should be obvious to us all: It is in the “momentous event” of preaching that our gracious Father speaks to us his words of counsel, hope, rebuke, comfort, and assurance (cf. 2 Tim.3:16-17). Preaching God’s holy word is the supreme means of grace. David Clarkson, John Owen’s assistant and later successor, spoke these words about the importance of preaching: “Here the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and those that hear do live. Here he cures diseased souls with a word...Here he dispossesses Satan. Wonders these are, and would be so accounted were they not the common work of the public ministry. It is true indeed, the Lord hath not confined himself to work these wonderful things only in public; yet the public ministry is the only ordinary means whereby he works them.” (3.193f). If we came to worship with this conviction there is little doubt that we would come “all ears”, eager, even panting, to hear what God the Lord would speak.
In his remarkable exposition of the doctrine of the Church, Calvin makes the following comment: “This is the best and most useful exercise in humility, when he accustoms us to obey his Word, even though it be preached through men like us and sometimes even by those of lower worth than we. If he spoke from heaven, it would not be surprising if his sacred oracles were to be reverently received without delay by the ears and minds of all. But when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing” (4.3.1). Satan is accomplished in the dark art of dulling and distracting our minds and hearts to the privilege and blessing of hearing the word of the living God. And yet it is in the open declaration of his gospel that the Lord most especially draws near to us to bless us and do us good.
“Take care how you hear!” Let me encourage you to come to worship with a new, prayerful resolve to listen to God’s word, read and preached, as if your life depended on it. Help the preacher by drawing the word out of him (as it were) by your eager, whole-souled, attentive listening. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
With my warmest greetings as ever,